|Dr. Mirkin and his wife Diana (so smug!)|
Friday, September 19, 2014
I just ate a bowl of cardboard. Well, it might as well have been cardboard. In my never-ending quest to keep my weight below cruise-ship tilting, and to attempt to live past the grand old age of 2-years-from-now, and also to try to stem the ever-growing number of aches and pains and body parts that have decided to just pack it in, I am trying to eat healthy. But that is no easy feat.
As I poured the whole-grain cereal into my cereal bowl, I noticed that if I squint just a bit, or take off my glasses, I could not discern the difference between the cereal and the cardboard box it came in. The cereal is a dark coffee-brown, with specks of something lighter running through it. The cardboard is a dark coffee-brown, with specks of something lighter running through it. I suddenly lost my appetite and gave in to a powerful desire to eat food that actually had taste. So I began scouring the fridge. A leftover pizza, perhaps? Tuesday’s pasta? A tomato? An onion?! But, alas, there was nothing else to be had (because when Steve and I eat, we leave no morsel untouched – when the trash man picks up our trash, I notice how he stares at the pizza delivery boxes, wondering why they are all lick-stained).
So, whole-grain cereal it would be, topped off with, no, not milk – I’m allergic to milk – but with Almond Milk. Whenever I look at the label, I question just who decided to name this concoction milk. Are there tiny little milkmaids sitting on tiny little stools in tiny little factories in Holland, pulling at tiny little teats on the almonds to extract what must be miniscule amounts of “milk” from them? And just how many almonds does it take to fill a liter box? And the taste! Oh, the taste. It’s not bad enough that the cereal tastes like stale cardboard; I top it off with this thin liquid that hints of water mixed with tree bark (not that I’ve ever eaten tree bark, but if you made a liquid out of it, almond milk tastes like how I would guess it would taste). I drank Soy milk for a long time (you think milking an almond is tough!), but then I heard that it causes man-boobs, and I don’t need any extra help in that department, thank you.
The only saving grace of this horrendous breakfast is that it is crunchy. Somehow, the cereal companies have discovered how to keep cereal crunchy in tree bark water. All that crunching and chomping keeps your mind off the fact that you are eating flavorless wood pulp. And it takes a long time to chomp and chew all that wood and get it down your throat, which actually has one other advantage: it takes 45 minutes to grind it all down to small enough pieces to swallow, so that after all that time you feel full. But at what price? There is no satisfaction in eating tasteless pieces of plywood coated with sugar. And what about all that sugar? In my attempt to eat healthy, and the cereal companies’ attempt to make a crunchy cereal, a lot of sugar leaves the factory and enters my gullet. That’s healthy?
Steve and I began this quest to change our eating habits over 25 years ago when we were living in D.C. We listened each morning to a Dr. Mirkin, who prompted his listeners to eat healthy and exercise regularly. He got us to eat a lot of brown rice and beans…a lot of beans – and we didn’t even notice when our small circle of friends shrunk smaller and smaller. Was it something we did?
We cut meat out of our diets and ate lots of fruits and vegetables. And we did keep the weight off. But something about the good doctor began to peeve me. Hard as we would try, we could not live up to the colossally-high standards set by Dr. Mirkin.
Dr. Mirkin was always bragging about riding his bicycle everywhere. Big deal. If I was a rich doctor, raking in the cash with a lucrative medical practice and supplementing it with a radio program and endorsing all kinds of “healthy” products, I would have time to ride my bike everywhere, too. But we are working stiffs, and healthy eating and regular exercise sometimes makes way for paying the rent. (I looked up Dr. Mirkin on the Internet, recently, hoping he had met his doom crashing his stupid bike or being crushed by a barbell that came crashing down on him. But, no such luck, he is still healthy, still has his radio show (and an internet presence), and he and his wife continue to bike all over the place, putting me to shame still today.)
For breakfast I have begun to buy two are three different cereals and mix them together so as to make the healthy cereal go down easier. These days I eat half a bowl of some whole-grain something or other, and half a bowl of super-sugar-coated-infused-with-honey-and-freeze-dried-syrup-corny-ploppers (“They’re corny-licious!”). Healthy, no? And if you sprinkle it with 14 tablespoons of Splenda® sugar substitute, you have the added satisfaction of adding a man-made substance that sweetens the mess all the more (I guess “Mary Poppins” DID have some lessons to teach). I just wonder what kind of cancer I’ll end up with.
Splenda® is the only sugar substitute I can stomach right now (I’m still pissed off about that cyclamate ban in ’69). We now know that aspartame, the substance in Equal®, converts to formaldehyde in the body. I used to use a lot of Equal®, until I awoke from a 2-year cycle of migraines and realized it might be some miracle-of-science sugar substitute causing my pain. It was. I have not had aspartame in 10 years and I’ve had no migraines since. So now it’s Splenda® and now I spend my life questioning every little ache, pain, and failed body-part for evidence of what problems Splenda® might be causing.
My problem is that aspartame is everywhere, in almost everything. Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, sugar-free cookies, sugar-free candies, diet and sugar-free anything. So I’m consuming a lot of it. When we go to the movies, I naturally want my popcorn and Coke. But all that sugar can’t help me keep the cruise-ship upright, so I sheepishly ask the person behind the counter if they could mix half-and-half, Coke and Diet Coke, and voila! I’m fooling myself that I am eating healthy - even at the movies! Instead of 64 teaspoons of sugar I’m only ingesting 32; I’m certain my liver thanks me.
And with the calories I save I don’t feel so bad taking advantage of the 10-peso refill of that wheelbarrow-size popcorn, dripping with what I am certain is real butter and not some oil-based flavored amalgam.
But being the first meal of the day, I find it difficult to begin the day fooling myself. It’s like awakening on New Year’s day every day. I make my new day resolution to begin eating healthy and to get more exercise. At least I can stick to it through breakfast – some days.
This morning, as I filled my bowl with the luscious brown cardboard, I snipped off a corner of the cereal box and tasted it. With a bit of Splenda®, it wasn’t so bad. I think I’m on to something, here. The taste is the same, it’s a lot cheaper (I have an endless supply just buying eggs and ordering pizza), and just think of all that fiber! My body is definitely going to thank me for this. And even if I run out of egg cartons, I can fall back on the cereal boxes. I just wonder what to do with all that cereal.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
I waited 57 years to experience an illness severe enough to land me in the hospital. That’s living a pretty lucky life, to be certain. And when I recently did spend a very long 24-hours in a local hospital, it was an eye-opening experience on many levels. I expected something between squeaky-clean American and my idea of what a Mexican hospital might be like. As one can likely guess, the truth lies somewhere in-between.
I had been suffering lower abdomen pain for a week that had at first been misdiagnosed as an infection by a private doctor. When the infection did not “clear up” and the pain progressively became worse, I decided to head to my local IMSS office in Merida Centro to see what might be done. I have a National Healthcare card and pay annually for the right to be on the Mexican healthcare system, but I had never used it before. This would be a good test.
From the moment you enter the clinic on Calle 64 it is evident the departments are run with a clear mandate, very organized, and well-staffed. The building may not evoke the clean lines and antiseptic feel of U.S. healthcare facilities with their concrete, tile, and Formica surfaces, but if I had any trepidations about placing my life in the hands of the medical personnel there because of it, it was due to my own prejudices.
I began at the information desk, where a young woman helped me to begin wading through the many steps it would take to receive help (it is a bureaucracy, after all). She pointed me upstairs to “Urgencia”, or Urgent Care. When this stupid gringo couldn’t understand exactly where to go, a security guard walked me up the stairs to the correct department.
In Urgencia I handed the receptionist a printout of my problem I had translated into Spanish; I figured I was going to have to tell the story of the past week to many people, and in my pained state I thought it best to be clear and concise and not “uh” my way through my history, trying to string my broken Spanish into coherent sentences. When you feel like someone has a grip on your lower abdomen and is twisting and pulling for all they’re worth, you don’t want to screw around.
The woman input my data into the computer, then told me to take a seat and wait for the next medical practitioner. “Oh great”, I thought. “How long is THIS going to take?”
I could barely sit, and standing brought even less relief, so I was up and down, one second sitting in a splayed out position, the next walking back and forth in front of the four chairs provided for patients in my continual search for a position that would provide some comfort. There was no such position to be found.
In about 10 minutes (it seemed like an hour) the doors opened and I was ushered into the exam room. A male nurse took my blood pressure, checked my heart rate, and then pressed on my abdomen in several places to discern where was my pain. He input all the data into the computer on his desk and told me I needed to go to the hospital. Yeah, I kinda knew that, but was pretty relieved someone agreed with me. They sent me to the Administrative office to get a form approved that would admit me to the hospital. To the woman in Administration I must have looked like I was hopped up on some kind of drugs, what with the way I could not stand straight, or still, for even one second. I was also sweating profusely, which only heightened the effect. But she stamped my papers and I hit the street, grabbed a taxi, and headed for Benito Juarez Hospital on Avenida Colon. I had walked past the hospital a number of times, and the front of the Emergencia/Urgencia entrance was always teeming with people. I always wondered why they were outside instead of waiting inside.
From this point it all got really, really interesting. I suppose most Americans would be kind of shocked at the conditions inside the hospital; we have such an antiseptic point of view about how things should be in a hospital. But I had given up my “cushy” American life for life in Mexico, and I was determined to experience life here as the locals do. Besides, what choice did I have?
I approached the Urgent Care doors and noticed that no one was getting in without some type of form. I later learned it was because there are set visiting hours, even in emergency, so if you were not accompanying a patient at intake or helping them home after checking out, they figured you had no business being inside. And from the conditions I would soon see inside the hospital, I have to agree with that point of view.
From the entrance door I looked to my left and saw there was a waiting room with an information desk, so I proceeded there. I showed the woman at the desk my form and she pointed me to a window just at the door, which I hadn’t noticed when I entered. Another woman at the intake window took my form and stamped it, then motioned me to enter Urgent Care. I approached the door just as the security guard walked away for a moment. Upon seeing me standing there, a little girl, no more than 7, ran to the door and locked it. No gringos here! A few moments later the security guard returned, having seen the girl lock the door, and unlocked it, giving her a grimace as he did so. I wanted to stick my tongue out at her as I walked passed, but my illness, not my maturity, kept me from it.
I showed the guard my documents and he ushered me inside and to the left. I walked down a hallway and found a small room maybe 20 by 30 feet, with a tiny office just off the end of the hall. The room was packed with people. There were, maybe, a dozen gurneys with sick folk, one gurney shoved against the wall in the hallway with a man awaiting admission, perhaps another 30 people seated in chairs, and doctors and nurses running around, trying to take care of the crowd.
I was guided to a seat in the tiny office to await my admission. I held on to my papers until I noticed others placing their papers at the bottom of a stack on the counter. That’s when I figured I better place mine there, as well, if I wanted help.
The tiny office was no larger than 6 by 10 feet. There were four seats for incoming patients, two dirty, rusting shelving units on the floor with paper towels and medicines, and space for two more chairs, which were occupied by two doctors typing. That’s right. The doctors were typing their notes onto hospital forms using ancient portable typewriters. There were probably four typewriters floating around that office, so I figured that if you wanted to type your notes you had to bring your own typewriter. It was fascinating to see the doctors peck on the typewriters, spending at least 20 minutes on each sheet. I was both amazed and kinda horrified they did not have a computer system to enter their notes. (Well, they do, but that comes later.) All this typing finally answered my wondering how a typewriter repair shop I had recently passed stayed in business – it’s the medical profession! It also brought up other queries: If they still used typewriters for keeping documents, what might I expect in terms of medical care? Bloodletting? Leeches? Lobotomy?
The noise and seeming confusion in the room was a little off-putting. But I figured I would not be in this waiting area long and just needed to hang in there to get admitted to a room.
After about 15 minutes a woman came to the office and called out my name. I waved to her and followed her to her examining office. She read my notes and did a little pounding on my abdomen, then said she thought I had a kidney stone, but that they needed to complete some tests before they would know for certain. She gave me a hospital gown to put on and showed me to the men’s bathroom.
Now, let me say that in the two years I have lived in Mexico I have grown accustomed to a great many things that are different from what I am used to in the U.S. Bathrooms are one of them. Whenever I use a bathroom out in public it can range from neat and tidy, if old and worn out, to downright filthy. This hospital bathroom was the latter. There was a toilet with no seat and a shower stall. The shower was a lake of pee, and the toilet was full of blood. It did not flush. This is when it began to hit me that things might be different, here. There was a working sink, but no soap and nothing to dry the hands.
I put on the gown, and made certain my clothes did not touch anything in that bathroom. Thanks to removing one piece of clothing at a time with one hand and holding onto them in the other, I now have a new skill: I can put on a hospital gown and even tie it shut in the back with just one hand. (At least, I HOPE it was closed in the back. I wonder if that was what all the snickering was about out in the hallway.) Only 45 minutes later I was heading back to the waiting room office.
A nurse ushered me into the main waiting room where were all the other people waiting for medical care and told me to take a seat. I took one of the last remaining seats – one of four blue plastic chairs all attached to a metal frame. I wondered how long I might have to wait for a room.
About 25 minutes later a nurse came to my chair, pushing a cart of medical supplies. She was going to hook me up to an IV drip, just as every single person in the room had already been. After a few failures finding my veins – my mother and I both have notoriously difficult veins to stick – she finally found success on the top of my right hand. She took some blood for testing and then hooked me up to the IV drip. I would not be off that IV drip for the next 24 hours, right up to the last five minutes of my stay.
The nurse then gave me a sample jar and told me to go to the bathroom to give her a urine sample. Oh, no…that bathroom again…and so soon! For the first time in my life I actually preferred to pee in a jar rather than a toilet. I contemplated doing it right there in the hallway, but then figured this was not the best time to also check out the Mexican penal system. They also took me to X-Ray for a picture of my abdomen, but it proved to be of no help.
Back in the waiting room I waited for my tests to come back. I surmised I would not get a room until the tests came back with some information to warrant giving me a room. When might that be, I could only wonder. As I waited I began to look around the room. There were spaces for 6 gurneys. There were 12 in the room. There were also 36 seats stuffed in that space, and all were filled with patients. It didn’t seem any were going anywhere, and that’s when it hit me: I wasn’t waiting for a room – THIS was my room. This was an urgent care facility and you sit in a chair, if you can, or lie on a gurney, if one is available. We were all receiving our treatments right in this room.
During the next rounds the doctors confirmed I had two kidney stones and that I would have to stay in Urgencia until they passed. The good news is that all my other blood and urine levels were good, so all they needed to do was to dissolve those pesky little jagged edge stones that were wreaking havoc with my kidney. But how long would that take? I could only guess.
After accepting the fact that this was how it was going to be, I began to loosen up and see the positive side. Because about 40 patients could be cared for in the same room, things were much more efficient. The nurses and doctors were always in the room, so you never had to do more than raise your hand if you needed anything.
About 8 hours into my stay, my butt began hurting and I would stand, periodically, to try to restore blood flow to my nether regions. (Two weeks later I am still trying to massage some life back into my left butt-cheek.) Then they moved me to a chair in the back of the room. This chair was different. It was metal, with a metal seat that had many holes punched into it. It was like a seat you might have out of doors; the holes allow rain to flow through. But why was this needed in a hospital, in urgent care? Lucky me, I was about to find out.
The seat next to me was empty, for a few moments. About 20 minutes after I was moved, the nurses brought in a woman of, maybe, 75 years old. She was in bad shape. She could barely walk and when they sat her in the chair next to me, she did not leave it until she was moved to a gurney that finally opened up. But before that I learned why this Urgent Care method may not go over too well in the U.S. The woman in the next chair needed to go to the bathroom. But as I said, she could barely walk. So the nurses lifted her up and placed an absorbent pad on her seat. They then place a bedpan on the floor directly under her seat. Oh, God, no, no, no! Tell me this is not going to be what I think it is. You guessed it, she let loose and the overflow went through the holes in the seat bottom and I’m certain at least some of it actually went into the bedpan. I just closed my eyes, turned to my left, and envisioned fields of sunflowers and children running through. But I was brought back to reality when I heard the splash of liquid hitting the floor. Do I continue this charade and pretend I don’t notice the horror show going on six inches to my right, or do I grab my IV and make a run for it, hoping the two stones would eventually pass on their own?
It would be hours before anyone moved a mop under that seat. And when the woman moved to her gurney, in came the next patient to sit in that chair before anyone had a chance to clean it. That’s when I stood to look at my own seat bottom and wondered what might have taken place before I sat there.
The next few hours I began to take mental notes of the situation. It was not my favorite situation, to be certain, but I was also immensely interested in the way this hospital was operated.
To my left was a small corner of the room that was curtained off. Inside were bedpans and urine pitchers, all waiting to be emptied and cleaned. This is also where they placed any patient sick at their stomach. Apparently they just vomited on the floor. I could tell when just a few split seconds after hearing a woman in that corner of the room wretch, there followed the plop plop sounds of what in my mind resembled thick potato soup hitting the floor. And to top it off, this is also the room where the food was brought and dispersed from. I just told the attendant I wasn’t hungry.
To my left was a sink that seemed to be used exclusively for emptying leftover IV drip bags. Problem was, the sink leaked and the bags’ contents flowed under and behind my chair. I had to play tag with my backpack and keep moving it around to avoid the spill. It was a thick, syrupy-like concoction, and it dried up before it was mopped up.
The gurneys were old, the wheels rusted. The medicine cart the nurses used was begging for a cleaning. The walls were beat up and in need of repairs, and at least two of the overhead lights were not functioning. One was barely hanging from the ceiling; I thought any minute that light would be adding to the suffering of the poor woman on the gurney under it. And all the while you could hear the constant sound of those portable typewriters pecking, pecking, pecking.
I began to think I might turn 58 sitting in that chair, with little old ladies peeing in their seats, people on gurneys constantly moaning and crying, and me all the while pounding on my left butt-cheek to try to force some blood flow down there. Even Stephen King could not envision this.
I did not sleep that night. I have never been one to sleep sitting in a chair, and this was not the time to try to change my ways.
By about 4:00 AM I was feeling no pain. I surmised there was also a pain killer in my IV drip. At 8:00 I was taken to have a sonogram of my abdomen. A man came with a wheelchair to push me there. I protested that I could walk, but he would have none of it. And when he dropped me off in the sonogram room, he told me to wait for him after I was done.
The sonogram took only five minutes, and I was back in my semi-private room shortly thereafter. About an hour later, several doctors arrived and made the rounds to each of the chairs or gurneys to consult about and with each patient. When they came to me they said the sonogram indicated I had passed the stones and could go home. Yea! I got up to go change into my street clothes, but the doctor said it would be a few minutes; a nurse had to type my case notes into the one computer that was available to them. So that was it – they typed their original notes on a typewriter, then someone input all those notes into the main computer system. I guess it saves time from having to read to the nurse what they had written in their stereotypically bad doctors’ penmanship.
Two hours later I had the okay to go home. The nurses asked who was there to pick me up. When I said no one and that I would go home alone, they said that was a problem. They began discussing what to do when I said I could call someone to come pick me up. They said it had to be a family member, to which I responded, “no problemo” (Rosetta Stone, YES!). So I called Steve and told him he better run to the hospital as fast as he could to get me out of there. He took a cab and was there in 10 minutes. Only then was I taken off the IV drip. I returned to my bathroom oasis to change clothes while Steve went to the checkout window and got my meds and off we went.
All in all, it was quite the experience. And all in all I felt I actually received excellent care. They competently diagnosed my problem and eradicated it in 24 hours. What more could I ask?
Well, maybe a shower.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Change: make or become different, alter in terms of, take or use another instead of, move from one to another, give up (something) in exchange for something else, remove (something dirty or faulty) and replace it with another of the same kind.
Synonyms: alter, make/become different, adjust, adapt, amend, modify, revise, refine;
Noun: the act or instance of making or becoming different.
I’ve been noticing recently how much humans love the word “change”. We use it all the time, in many different situations. We are going to “change” our lives. We are going to “change” our diets. We are going to “change” the world. I’m struck by how much the word is used…maybe over-used. Here are some of the types of “change” I have come across:
Time for Change
Momentum for Change
Change your Life (yeah, but how?)
Change is in the Air (really, can you smell it?)
Developmental Change (what, one step at a time?)
Transformational Change (doesn’t this really just mean “change-change”?)
Temporary Change (if it’s temporary, why change it?)
Permanent Change (well, make up your mind!)
Planned vs. Emergent Change (oooooo, that’s deep.)
Change.org (yeah, right.)
Episodic vs. Continuous Change
Incremental and Core Change
Performance Change (I’ve been trying to do this for years!)
Change in Leadership (A really popular one.)
Change in Attitude (You need to change your attitude, young man.)
Thought Change (aren’t there police for that?)
Social Change (what, as opposed to anti-social change?)
Biological Change (I won’t even go there.)
Change your mind
Change the baby (you mean you don't like this one?)
There are untold numbers of books with “change” in the title. Here are a few:
“How to Change Things When Things Are Hard”
“Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”
“Change Management Masterclass”
“Influencer: The Power To Change Anything”
“The Truth About Thriving in Change”
“Immunity to Change”
“Making Sense of Change Management”
“The Heart of Change”
“Change is Here To Stay”
You might be amazed at how many songs are titled, simply “change”:
Change, by Taylor Swift
Change, by Blind Melon
Change, by Banks
Change, by Tracy Chapman
Change, by Tears for Fears
Change, by Bleach
Change, by Poets of the Fall
Change, by Carrie Underwood
Change Your Life, by Iggy Azaela
Change (In the House of Flies), by Deftones
Change Your Life, by Little Mix
Be the Change, by MC Yogi
Never Change, by Denace
So after all this change in the world, why are we still looking to change things? Why haven’t we perfected things, yet? Well, I’ve been thinking (for a change) and come to realize that all this talk of change is just that: talk. Change is an abstract term; it gives us no guidance about who, what, where, when, and how to change.
“Change your life.”
Sounds good, but exactly how do I do that? What change do you want me to make? What are the steps?
And here is where they get us. They don’t tell us. They just prod us to make a change.
“He’ll bring Illinois the change it needs”
What change? A change in taxes? A change in interest rates? A change in our paycheck? To what change are they referring? A change in the hour and a half it takes to get to O’Hare Airport? A change to your status when you become governor?
Why do we allow them to get away with it?
“Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.”
Thank you, Margaret. That’s a great quote, and I believe you. But give me something to work with, here. HOW do I change the world?
I guess we’re going to have to ask them, from now on. When a politician says “I’m for change”, we must ask, “Exactly what change are you referring to? What changes are you going to make? (and please be specific)”
When Principal Skinner tells me to “change my attitude”, I gotta’ ask him how I do that? What specifically about my attitude and thinking needs to change?
When Ford or General Motors says they have made “changes for the better”, they better tell me what those changes are and how they came into being. How do I know they are changes for the better unless they explain them to me in precise detail.
I am certain by now that you have picked up on my disdain for the ways in which people use the word “change”. Start paying attention to how many times a day you read or hear the word “change”. I bet it will blow you away how often it’s thrown around. It’s so easy to say, “We need a change”. It’s easy to say, and it promises nothing. So please stop using “change” and replace (change?) it with specific things we need to change. And make them meaningful. I can change my socks, but is that a life change?
Recognizing a problem is halfway to solving it. So let’s start recognizing the way people manipulate us by promising us “change”.
Finally, here are some quotes from some well-known people. Ask yourself after each quote, exactly what are they saying?
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw
If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.
There is nothing permanent except change.
Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.
Change brings opportunity.
For changes to be of any true value, they've got to be lasting and consistent.
I thought of ending this piece by trying to come up with a really creative way of using "change" that would be funny, inspiring, and thought-provoking, but I changed my mind.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
We got five things done today. FIVE! That’s a new Mexico record for us.
When Steve and I arrived in Merida, one of the first things we noticed was that life moves at a slower pace here. And that was exactly what I was looking for. I was never very good at multi-tasking – I’m a linear thinker and can only work on one thing at a time. When I was teaching and working on something while the class worked on their own project, if a student walked up to me and asked me a question it would take me a moment or two to break away from what I was doing and turn my attention to focus on the student. They usually had to repeat their question. I guess they thought Mr. Hines was a bit slow.
But life in Mexico has really agreed with me. I move from task to task, working at my own pace, and have learned to slow down in some areas of my life. (Not walking, however…I still walk like there’s a fire behind me.) So the fact that you can usually get only one thing accomplished each day has actually been a way for me to force myself to slow down. If I can go to the bank and pay the electric bill, that’s a good day. Shopping for new shoes? Takes a day. Buying groceries: a good afternoon when you add in the bus rides to and from Mega.
There are other projects, such as sealing the roof, painting the metal staircase, or cleaning the air conditioning filters that allow more leeway. I can finish three or four of THOSE each day. The problem is whenever I leave the house. Anything you must do that involves other people, just plan on completing one project each day and consider yourself fortunate. And get used to standing in line. It’s just a way of life, here. I've stood in so many lines in the past 2 years that now I am drawn to them like the proverbial moth to a flame. If I don't have anything to purchase when I leave a store, I break out in a cold sweat and my upper lip trembles as I by-pass the checkout lines.
So, one project per day is the norm. Still, there are projects that take even longer. Take renewing your visa, for example. The first day we went to immigration we were given the forms to fill out and the list of other items we must bring with us when we returned. The second trip we turned in the documents. We were told to look online for our appointment date. Three weeks later our third visit resulted in us leaving with documents to take to a bank to pay our fees. The fourth trip was to turn in the payment vouchers. The fifth trip was to turn in our photos (they would not take the photos from us until we had paid the fee). The sixth trip I was certain we would receive our renewed visas. Our seventh trip was to have all documents stamped “approved” by someone somewhere in D.F. The eighth trip we walked out with our visas good for another 3 years. Yay!
So except for that fast-walking thing, I’ve adjusted pretty well to the slower paced life. So color me hyper-excited because today I actually got FIVE things done.
It all started with an appointment with our attorney, who needed some documents from us to file some annual something about our whatever. From there we headed to Home Depot to pick up a couple of items – we walked out with a dozen in three bags. Then we walked across Prolongacion and down a side street to catch a bus on Technologico to Costco. Did our weekly shopping for the B&B, then hopped a taxi stuffed with 4 cases of water and sundry other items, and dropped Steve off at Hacienda to pay our June taxes. I know, I know…I hear you. We cheated because while Steve stood in line at Hacienda, I continued home, put away all our purchases, and walked to a copy shop down the street to make more copies of a map we give our guests. But I DON’T CARE! We bucked the system – We looked death in the eye – We fought the law and the (Uh!), law LOST!
Five things in one day. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL.
A new world record, ladies and gentlemen!
And I still have time to watch an episode of Modern Family.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Steve has known Rick since their seminary days. Don’t try cleaning your ears, I said SEMINARY.
Whereas Steve decided there was no future for him in the Baptist Church – professionally, at least- Rick stayed on and earned his Ph.D. There have been many years when we have not communicated with Rick, but when we do we just pick up right where we left off. Rick is a professor at a small, private college in Kentucky, so his proximity to Louisville, my hometown and where Steve also lived for a while, has been the impetus for us to get together over the years.
While we were staying with our friend, Diana, in Chicago, Steve wrote Rick to catch up. Rick wrote back that he envied our “adventure” (we just saw it as a failure – Rick always sees the positive side of things) and that he had a great suggestion for us that he would talk about when we got together.
So we got together.
Steve and I drove to see Rick and at dinner he said that the college had a program and campus in the town of Mérida, in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula. Seems Rick had run the program two different years, so he was pretty well versed on the town. Rick highly recommended the city as a great place to live; he missed living there, himself.
Mexico? Really?? MEXICO???
We had been studying many exotic locales: Hawaii, several islands in the Caribbean, countries in South America, such as Ecuador, and many warm climes in the U.S. I certainly did not see Mexico as a viable choice. I mean, people go there to lose their heads, right?
A look at some websites about Mérida and the Yucatan touted many positive aspects of the peninsula. There were beaches, cenotes (what’s a cenote?), Mayan ruins (what’s a Mayan and why do they live in ruins?), a growing economy, tourism (so they said), and a quality of life that was said to be healthier and happier.
Steve and I had made a checklist of what we wanted our next B&B attempt to have: a warm climate (Mérida, check), a good economy (check), a growing tourism industry (check), affordable (double-check), a government more welcoming to entrepreneurs (check), an international airport, good healthcare, excellent educational opportunities (check, check, check), plenty of culture and a local population who would be glad to see us arrive.
On paper – or on the Internet I guess I should say- Mérida was right on target. In fact, we were hard-pressed to check off even half the number of our “wants” when we looked at other places around the world, and I’m not certain we quite believed all the great things we were hearing about Mérida. But it begged a visit, at the very least, so when Rick offered to accompany us on a week-long investigative trip to the colonial town, we all made plans to fly to the Yucatan and give it a once-over.
We all arrived in Mérida the second week of January, 2012. Steve had made reservations at a few B&Bs in town. We wanted to experience as many of the existing accommodation venues as possible so as to see what was available and also to help form our idea of what a great B&B should be.
The first place at which we stayed had been open in Mérida for 20 years. The owners have run the place the entire 20 years and are beginning to look towards retirement. 20 years in the B&B business is like 150 human years; statistically, most B&B operators suffer burnout in 5. Each of the 8 rooms at this place are decorated in an old-world style, highlighting a famous Mexican artist. Staircases wind their way up and around to the various rooms, and until you learn the layout you get lost exploring the many nooks and crannies. We stayed in a room on the ground floor dedicated to the very famous and much loved Frida Kahlo. There was a double bed with a single bed in a loft overhead. It was a bit dark for our taste, but interesting. It showed its age; we stayed three nights.
The owner is a real character, what we used to call a “Key West character”, and at breakfast one morning we learned that he had actually lived in Key West many years ago.
The second night in town we ate at a very popular restaurant. Expats, particularly, love it. We each ordered our own plates, of course, and when Rick offered a taste of his crabcakes, Steve took him up on it. I did not. As we were going out the door after our meal, both Steve and Rick were complaining of an oily taste in their mouths. I did not. On the way back to our room, the oily tastes in their mouths moved southward and they mentioned a bloated feeling in their stomachs. I did... yeah, okay, I was spared.
About 2:00 AM in the morning, I awoke to hear Steve in the bathroom, obviously in distress. His entire gastrointestinal system had been compromised. From the loft I heard Rick ask if Steve was sick.
“Yeah, sounds like something is definitely disagreeing with him”, I said.
By morning both Steve and Rick were in deep trouble, and without being too graphic, suffice it to say their new best friend was a gleaming porcelain entity that never fails to offer us all comfort in times of distress.
“When I find myself in times of trouble,
Porcelain Fairy comfort me,
Seeking stomach freedom
Let me be.”
Fortunately the B&B owners had a doctor in their Rolodex who makes housecalls. (If you know what a Rolodex is we can be great friends.)
Dr. Castro arrived to our room in less than 30 minutes, quickly and assuredly diagnosed the problem, went to the pharmacy, and returned with antibiotic shots for both our suffering hombres. This was another check on our list – a doctor who makes house calls. How great is that?! Nevertheless, we all spent the next two days cooped up in our room, and even moved to our second B&B on the third day. Steve and Rick were still recovering when we checked into Los Arcos B&B. We love Los Arcos, and David is a great guy and very talented artist. He has only three rooms, but he is always full as he knows how to treat guests. All guests gathered for breakfast each morning at his dining table. We enjoyed it, but thought that we would probably offer separate tables for guests; that way they can join in the conversation or keep to themselves.
When the guys finally recovered from their bouts, I was chomping at the bit to get out and see Mérida. And see Mérida, we did. We walked and walked that town, which I loved. One of my favorite things in the world to do is walk and hike. Steve, too. Whenever we travel we look for hiking opportunities.
We got a fairly good sense of the layout of the town and liked what we saw very much. Beautiful parks every few blocks with cocina economicas (inexpensive kitchen), fruit and vegetable markets, museums both large and small, historic and modern, restaurants to appease all tastes and preferences, all kinds of Mom and Pop stores selling everything from hardware and paint to appliance parts, piňatas, paper goods, electronics, furniture, candy, food – in short, everything one would require on a daily basis for life in a colonial city.
At breakfast the next morning our host, David, hooked us up with his friend and realtor, Jim. Jim showed us several properties that were very interesting. However, none of them spoke to us that they could be our B&B.
From Los Arcos we next moved to Medio Mundo, another great B&B in Mérida. We enjoyed their use of color on the property and knew that was the direction we wanted to go, should we be able to open our own place. The owners have run this B&B for about 12 years, and it was beginning to show. We didn’t see much of them. However, they run a very nice place: clean, comfortable, inviting, with a good staff and a continental breakfast that, if not completely filling, sufficed until lunch. However, this is where we decided that at our B&B we would offer a full breakfast to our guests and start them on their day ready for anything.
Another thing we liked about Medio Mundo is their gift shop. They have items from all over Latin America, which is a nice idea and one that we definitely want to include in our own venture.
Our week was over in a flash, but we felt we had a good idea of the city. On our last day walking around town, Rick asked where we might like to eat dinner. Since we were so new to the city, we had been letting Rick guide us and make most of these kinds of decisions. But now he seemed at odds about it. He stopped and said something about us not liking Mérida and that he was sorry it didn’t work out.
Didn’t work out? We loved Mérida.
I guess we were so focused on discovering the town that we hadn’t been very animated about it all. Rick had interpreted our focus and concentration as dislike of the city.
But we liked just about everything we saw, heard, and did, and had already decided that Mérida would be our next attempt at a B&B.
Back in Chicago we made plans to return to Mérida in March to see if we could find a property that would suit our needs. We met with Jim again, and he showed us a lot of properties – probably 15 – 20 – I lost count. After Jim showed them to us in the mornings, we spent the afternoons walking from the Zocalo to each one. But, still, none of them fit the bill. One was too far from the Zocalo, another too small to have 6 guestrooms (the minimum number of rooms we had decided upon), some would cost too much to renovate, some flooded during rainy season, some too expensive, etc., etc., etc. We could tell Jim was a bit frustrated with our rejection of every property and probably thought we were not serious buyers. But if this was going to be the place we spent the rest of our working lives, it had to be right. I guess it was too much to walk into the first property and fall in love, like we had in Italy.
On the last day we again saw a few properties and again they were not right. The last property of the day was in Santa Ana. We were walking to the property from the car when we ran into the property’s owner. Jim told him we were about to look at his house. But the man said the house already had been sold and the realtor had neglected to remove the listing from the website. We were a bit depressed and started to form plans to return to Mérida again in a few months to look at properties. But that would prolong our feeling of being in life-limbo.
Then the owner of the house that was already sold said he had another property for sale. It was just around the corner and he said he had just lowered the price.
Jim looked at us and said we had to see it. He knew the property, but had forgotten it was for sale as it was not listed on all the real estate websites; it was only listed on the website of the real estate company that the owner worked with. So the man took us to the property. It was in Santa Ana, three blocks from the park and four from Paseo de Montejo.
The front of the place was not very special – just a double door and a window. Through the front door we entered into the living room. It was a dull grey color, with grey pasta tiles that had probably been laid in the 1970’s, judging from their pattern.
There was a staircase to the right that led to a second floor, we surmised. Beyond the living room were a small kitchen on the left that led to the back door, and a dining room on the right that led to another room beyond. That room was being used as another living room and there was beautiful, old pasta tiles on the floor. They were probably as old as the house – maybe 100 years. It had a bathroom off it that was shared with a bedroom beyond. You could pass from the second living room to the bedroom by crossing through the bathroom. The bedroom had bright pink past tiles on the floor. Could we work with these? There were also two exterior doors to both these rooms off a small vestibule outside.
Beyond the back kitchen door ran a long walkway next to the living room and bedroom to the right. Beyond that was a patio and then a small garden. An old cement above-ground cistern was located on the right side, and a small laundry room past that. The rest of the yard was dirt, save for two medium-size trees and a small square of plantings – mostly succulents.
The property was narrow – just 7 meters in the front, and narrowed to just under 6 in the rear, but it was long: 69 meters.
The second floor had one large room and a terrace overlooking the street. There was a very small bath, but we immediately felt we could live in that room, if we had to.
Well, Steve and I both got that excited feeling we had had with Coppo 7. We felt the property was about as good as we were going to get for the price. We felt we could afford to renovate it into 6 rooms: the two existing rooms on either side of the first-floor bathroom. With a little creativity on Steve’s part, we could manage to build four more rooms and put in our requisite pool.
As we had with the other properties we had seen, we again walked from the Zocalo to the house on Calle 66. Some of the routes weren’t the greatest of walks, but if we guided our guests three blocks up Calle 47 to Calle 60, then they would arrive at the perfect place to either turn right and head South to the Zocalo, cross the street to Santa Ana park, or walk one more block to Paseo de Montejo with its mansions, museums, and monuments.
The street the house sat on is a mix of old and new, pretty much like the rest of Mérida Centro. Every other property seems to be in the process of renovation. Three had already been renovated and another was in the process of a first-class upgrade. Seemed like a great place to locate a business. Plus, cross the street and you can hop a bus down to Centro and the main market for 6 pesos (A bus ride has since risen to an outrageous 7 pesos).
We snapped photo after photo of the place, made drawings, and already made plans in our minds for renovations. Suffice it to say we liked the place.
As all realtors like to do, Jim told us there was another offer coming in on the property and that if we didn’t “jump on it” we would lose it. Well, we don’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff, but we had already decided that this was the property for us, so we wrote a contract that afternoon.
The owner accepted the offer and we made plans to close by proxy from Chicago.
And so in three short months we had gone from homeless, living off the kindness of our good friend, Diana, to budding B&B owners. All we had to do was more than double the living space on the property, squeeze in a pool and breakfast terrace, and include a laundry and maintenance space.
That next phase would prove to be the most challenging, yet.
|Front of house|
|Living room and stairs leading to second floor|
|Dining room with second living room beyond|
|Second living room|
|Walkway out back door|
|Cistern and laundry building|
|Second living room|
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Ode to a Fossa Septica
O, wondrous tanks I see
Work your magic when I pee
Hidden under limey loam
Grey, ivory, plastic, foam
Trio of tapas cover all
No need to lift until the Fall
We can’t see your inner world
None wish to see the innards curl’d
Now my lucky fingers cross
The cost won’t feel a total loss
Praying all will flow and go
As it all swirls down the bowl
So let the people do their best
The soft’ner, washer, all the rest
Send it down the deep, deep hole
And free me from my weekly dole