Saturday, June 9, 2018

Life Choices

One of the challenges of being single is that I don't have a significant other to help me with major life/financial decisions.  On the flip side, not having to take anyone else's opinions into consideration is also a plus of being single.

When I retired I had a lot of decisions to make about finances.  It made me nervous but so far they seem to be working out.  Yesterday, I made another big choice.

I won't bore you with the backstory and all the mental to-and-froing I did before I made the decision but bottom line, I plunked down a deposit on the Holland America World Cruise in 2020.  Not my first, I first sailed the Rotterdam on the 2000 World Cruise.  In 2020, I'll be on the sister ship - the Amsterdam.

This will be home for 128 nights.

That means I'll be on a strict budget (and diet) for the next 1 1/2 years.  And will be doing a lot of planning and research.

The itinerary for this cruise is what sold me.  It will let me visit my 7th continent and 92nd country.  And most of the places at the top of my bucket list, including the Maldives, Seychelles and South Africa.  Check out the whole itinerary here. 

Am I nervous about spending this kind of money on a one-time adventure?  Oh, yeah.  Am I uber excited about it?  YES!

Now I just need to figure out a way to help finance this trip in case I live to be an old lady.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ramadan Mubarack!

Dinner delivered by my neighbor for night one of Ramadan.  She also sent over  half a watermelon.  Dinner was spicy rice, potatoes and chicken.

My neighbor is from India.  She's also Muslim.  And the best neighbor I've had since I was growing up in Arizona.

She has three kids (one with special needs) and a husband so doesn't have a lot of free time.  We don't spend hours hanging out.  But we talk regularly and are there for each other.  Whoever notices the trash guys have come bring in the empty bins for both houses.  Junk papers tossed in driveways?  We pick them up for each other.

I feed the cat they adopted when they're out of town, which is not often.  Their car broke down recently and I picked them up.  Small potatoes when you consider what she does for me. 

She keeps an eye on my house when I'm gone (which is a lot).  She checks on me if I don't follow my normal daily routine.  She came by to check on me every day when I broke my leg. 

Mostly, she feeds me.  She says she's not a great cook.  I disagree.  She makes complicated, spicy, delicious Indian food every day.  And she frequently brings me some.

What does all that have to do with Ramadan?  Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.  They also ramp up their giving.  As I understand it, their faith advocates an emphasis on sharing and kindness during this month-long holiday.

One way my neighbor does that is by sharing food with me.  Last year she brought me dinner every night of Ramadan.  That's a month of dinners.  Delicious dinners.  Usually with enough leftovers for lunch the next day.

Ramadan began this week and so did the food sharing.  I love my neighbor.  Happy Ramadan - Ramadan Mubarack!
Ramadan 2018 - dinner, day 2.  Shrimp fettuccine and puff pastry wrapped around a hard boiled egg.  I teased her about the "traditional" menu.  She said that the kids are so hungry during Ramadan they get to choose anything they want for breakfast and dinner - and they love Italian food.  BTW, it was delicious and she put some spices in so it had a nice zip. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It's a Wonderful Life

It's a family tradition to have a jigsaw puzzle in progress in the house.  I'll go for years without one then get addicted.  I finished this one yesterday and will be buying a new one today.

I woke up yesterday contemplating the question of the day - should I try out my new MoviePass and see a movie or go to the beach?  Or, perhaps both?  As I was brushing my teeth and contemplating the question at hand I realized, once again, what an amazing life I have.

Aside from the minor aches and pains that come with a well-lived life, I am very healthy.  I am not rich but have a wonderful home and enough money to cover expenses and have the occasional adventure.  I have friends I love dearly and who add so much to my life.  I am incredibly blessed.

What did I decide?  Movie!  After taking care of a few household chores, I headed for the Lake Mary Amstar Theater to see "A Quiet Place".  I'm not a big fan of horror films.  When I see a monster is one of the stars, I move on.  But I'd heard so many positives about this film I decided to try it.

I also was trying my new MoviePass account.  I parked and pulled up the MP app on my phone.  One touch and I had checked into the time/movie I wanted.  I presented my MP card at the ticket booth and was given the appropriate movie ticket, with a smile.  The MP account is $9.95 a month and allows me to see a different movie every day.  The senior discount rate for the movie was $11.50.  I'm already ahead of the game for the month.

There were only two of us in the movie theater.  It was cool and quiet.  And, they'd upgraded the theater since I was there last to recliner seats.  Very comfortable.
Reclining seats!

With only two of us in the theater and a recliner, it was ideal for watching a movie.

The movie was excellent.  I won't give details but it did what thrillers are meant to do.  I found myself holding my breath as the movie progressed.  Think "Wait Until Dark", "Play Misty For Me", "Psycho" and "The Birds".   I think this will be a classic.

After running a couple of errands on my way home, I puttered around the house for awhile.  Then I stopped at the kitchen table because I saw a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that needed to be placed.  The next thing I knew, two hours had passed and the puzzle was done.

I really do have a wonderful life.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tucson Botanical Garden

I went to a favorite place in Tucson this morning, the Botanical Gardens.  Five acres, in town, on Alvernon between Grant and Pima. 

I got there early to avoid both the heat and the crowds.  If you are in Tucson, especially in the spring, when so many plants are in bloom, be sure to go.

Here are some photos.  The desert isn't just brown.  You may have assumed that I would label each photo with their scientific and common names.  Too much work.  It was Sunday and I was just enjoying the beauty.  Use google.  Or, go to the Botanical Gardens - they have signs to identify each plant.

Clearly this guy isn't a plant.  He and his buddies were everywhere in the gardens.

It took seven years for this corpse flower to bloom.  I missed it by a week.  On the left of the plant is the bloom that has fallen over.  Luckily, I also missed the stench.

Lots of orchids and butterflies in the Butterfly House.

Just as I took this photo the two butterflies enjoying a snack took off.  Still pretty.

Love this Mexican Lipstick plant.  Sadly, past it's peak of blooming but still pretty.

The fruit of the barrel cactus.  Edible and the cactus is a good source of water if you are stranded in the desert.  

This cactus and the ones in the photo above were all over where I played as a kid.  Not a surprise that my mom spent a lot of time pulling thorns out of me.

Love that this cactus looks fuzzy.

Another type of barrel cactus.

Flowers on a saguaro - the cactus that epitomizes southern Arizona and northern Sonora.

Standing so straight! 
Spring in the desert is more subtle than in the mid-west but just as spectacular.

Yes, roses grow in the desert.  They just need a little help from a loving gardener.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Across the Line for Medical Care

The results of my trip "across the line" into Mexico for dental work and new glasses.
One of my new year's resolutions was to deal with all the routine medical tests that I've put off for years.  I was committed to taking care of things for several reasons.  I now had medicare/insurance to pay for the tests.  I'm not getting any younger and want to stay as healthy as possible.  Mostly, because Humana gives me a gift card for $10 for every routine test I get.  Yes, the lure of a $10 Walmart gift card got me to get my first colonoscopy.

I'm happy to report I have now completed all my doctor stuff.  Mammogram, bone density test, colonoscopy, hearing test, echocardiogram, nuclear stress test, blood test, and overall physical.  And, just for fun, I tossed in an MRI to rule out a brain tumor (because I had sudden loss of most hearing in one ear.)

After all the tests the various doctors agreed that I'm very healthy.  Fat and old, but healthy.  Only the dentist was left.  I was overdue for a cleaning and had noticed that my upper front teeth were getting thin.

The dentist said I was correct.  My "bite" has shifted over the years so my front teeth were rubbing against my bottom teeth and I'd lost a lot of enamel.  The solution was four new crowns.  My insurance hands out gift cards like Santa Claus but only covers one filling per year.  No crowns.  My dentist said she would give me a discounted rate of only $1,400 per crown.  Normal fee was $1,600.  Each crown would require two appointments with two weeks between each appointment.  I was not happy.

Coincidentally, I was heading to Arizona on vacation.  My 50 year reunion is April 27-28 and I was planning to drive to Yuma to see my cousins.  Poor things, they're not getting any younger, you know.  I like to remind them of that, since I'm the youngest of our generation.

Only 15 minutes from Yuma is Los Algodones.  A small border town in Baja Mexico which is known for providing dental services to the 150,000 snowbirds who visit Yuma each winter.  I checked dental clinics on line and chose one, based on good Yelp reviews.  I made an appointment online with Alamo Dental Clinic.

I'm very happy I did.  The first visit took about an hour.  They took x-rays and ground down all four front teeth.  Then they popped on temps.  My cousin had decided to come with me at the last minute.  Since she was still in the chair, I went out to stroll around town. 

I didn't realize that there are almost as many optical clinics as dental clinics.  I strolled into one and 15 minutes later walked out, having had an eye exam and ordered a new pair of trifocals - with progressive lenses, transition (turn into sunglasses outdoors) and antiglare coating.  All for $170.

I'd been getting frustrated since my cataract surgery.  I expected to wear "cheaters" for reading but needed not only those but also different "cheaters" for using the computer, prescription glasses for night driving and sunglasses.  Watching me switch glasses was like watching the Three Stooges.  I needed a separate purse just for my glasses!

I made it back to the dental clinic just before my cousin was done getting a new crown, root canal and a filling.  We did what everyone with a mouth numbed at the dentist does - we headed for a nearby restaurant.  And because we were in Mexico, it was Mexican food!  Luckily, by the time my food came my numbness had worn off and the only drooling I was doing was because the food looked so good.

Our adventure didn't stop there.  As we walked back to the border we passed a small store which sold "genuine authentic" knock off purses.  I happily plunked down money for a nice "Coach" with a matching wallet.  After all, I saved so much money at the dentist!

We went back to the dentist the next morning to finish our work.  My cousin got her permanent crown and I had mine fitted but I needed to make one more visit.  They'd made the crowns but needed the final enamel put on.  After the dentist we picked up my glasses - they are fabulous.

Sadly, Candy couldn't eat or drink for two hours after getting her new crown so we had to pass on another Mexican lunch.

We made the 15 minute drive for the third morning to get my permanent crowns.  We walked a few blocks across the border and after about 20 minutes, my dental work was done.  My dentist said there was no problem with eating or drinking so off we went for more Mexican food.  Delicious.

Between the glasses and the crowns, I saved $5,070 over what I was going to pay in the United States.  The treatment I received was professional.  Everything was clean.  Everyone spoke English.  My glasses have a one year guarantee.   The dental work has a three year guarantee.  In my opinion, it's worth a trip to Yuma and the quick trip into Mexico.

The food alone was worth the trip.

Parking on the US side of the border is plentiful and costs $6.  You do need a passport to cross back into the US.

There were plenty of seats in the waiting room at the dental clinic and lots of older Americans waiting for treatment.  I made a point of trying not to get them in the photos.

My dentist, Dr. Lopez, studied in Mexico and the United States. 
You can make an appointment on-line.  BTW, there is another Alamo clinic which is different.  I went to the one on Alamo Alley.

This is where I got my $170 trifocals.

My Big Break

My repaired tibia.  The two short screws are from a very similar break about 40 years ago.
This post is a little late.  I broke my leg in early September, 2017.

One of the things I'm often asked when I tell people I like to travel alone is "But what if something happens?"  Well, on my trip to Europe in September, 2017, something did happen.  I broke my tibia.  Specifically, it was a spiral fracture of my tibia.

After three frustrating and painful days on board ship, I disembarked in Genoa, Italy.  And one more time let me say "DO NOT sail on MSC!"  The doctor misdiagnosed my broken leg, they offered no assistance (details like food, personal care, etc.)  and after DOZENS of calls after I got home, I never received a return call.  All I wanted was a refund of the hundreds of dollars I was charged on board ship for "medical care".

Anyway, I went by taxi to the public hospital in Genoa.  They asked for my name and a copy of my passport when I arrived at the ortho ER but nothing else.  No mention was made of payment.

I was given an x-ray, where they confirmed my leg was broken.  Then a nurse shoved my leg into a temporary cast.  I really do mean shoved.  She was the only person during my hospital stay who made it clear she did not like Americans and seemed to delight in causing me pain.  Luckily, I spent very little time with her.

After a brief consult with the female orthopedic surgeon, I was transferred by ambulance to the orthopedic wing.  I'd agreed with the doctor's recommendation that I have surgery to install a plate in my leg.  I was admitted on Thursday, they were booked on Friday, didn't operate on weekends so I'd be having surgery on Monday, then staying on for a few days to recover.  Still no discussion of money.

I was installed in a comfortable bed in a large room.  My 85 year old roommate was there for a broken hip.  What I saw of the hospital and the room were what you would expect from a large hospital in the United States.  It was clean and modern.  Two differences, though - the staff spoke Italian and there seemed to be more of them than in an American hospital.

While there was always someone available who spoke English, there were times when I was surrounded by Italian language.  Not a bad thing, since I could just be in my own world and not try to figure out what was happening around me.  I did learn some Italian.  "Please", "thank you" and "bed pan" were key.

After a fairly good night's sleep, I woke to what seems to be a typical morning in hospitals around the world.  Lots of conversation at the nurses' station (which was just down the hall) as they changed shifts.  The clanking of the cart hauling breakfast trays and sounds of visitors beginning their early arrivals.

I was surprised by a troop of medical personnel coming in to see me.  There was a lot of talking, most of it in Italian.  Finally, as they were wheeling me in my bed into the hall, someone explained there'd been a cancellation and I was on my way to surgery.  Okey dokey, then.

I wish I had photos to explain the process of being moved from the hall into the operating room.  If you've ever been to a pizza shop in Detroit it would be easier for you to imagine.  There, they have a bullet proof glass wall with a slot in the bottom where they slide through the pizza.  It was very similar in this case except the wall was made of metal and I was being slid through a small gap in the bottom, that closed once I was passed through.  It was very disconcerting but easily done, with no effort at all on my part.

Once on the working side of the surgical suite things happened quickly.  An IV was started and I was given something to relax me.  I was told I'd be awake for the surgery so asked for an extra shot of the relaxation stuff.  Next thing I knew, two men had turned me onto my side and were trying to curl me into a tight ball.  They were loudly asking me to curl up and I was doing my best to help since I realized they were getting ready to do an epidural so I wouldn't feel anything during the surgery.

I'm not sure what they'd given me to relax me but it was working.  I was doing my best to curl into a ball on my side, with the two men helping but I had a couple of problems.  First was that I have large boobs.  And one of the guys was determined to tuck my chin into my chest.  My boobs were in the way and I felt like I was being smothered.  Thanks to the really good drugs I found that very amusing, so started laughing which didn't make the "being smothered by my boobs" thing any easier.  Then I started imagining people being told I was killed by my boobs, which made me laugh harder.  All the while, the patient men were trying to twist me into a pretzel shape while jamming a needle the size of a straw into my spine.

I won't bore you with every detail of my hospital stay.  But here are some key takeaways:

  • With the exception of the unpleasant ER nurse, everyone (nurses, hospital staff, doctors, other patients and visitors) were wonderful.  They were kind and helpful and went out of their way to make sure I had everything I needed.
  • Hospital food stinks, except at Camillian Hospital in Bangkok.  The good news was that each lunch and dinner menu offered a soft cheese (burrata, mozzarella, etc.), fresh bread and a green salad.  Can't go wrong with that.
  • Staff was knowledgeable and equipment was up-to-date.
I wasn't charged anything during my stay.  The nurses arranged to have a hair dresser come in to give me a shampoo, which cost about 20 Euro.  I treated my roommate, whose family had been wonderful to me.  It boosted both our spirits.

About a month after getting home I received a bill for about $5,200 from the hospital.  I immediately wired the funds for it.  I later filed a claim with Humana, my medigap insurance company.  They paid all but about $200 of it with no question.  I was both shocked and happy.

Bottom line, the unexpected can happen when you travel.  It may have caused me to miss a big portion of my planned vacation but it didn't ruin my trip.  And now, my leg is just fine although I plan to continue to use it for years to come to get out of any kind of exercise.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

How I Spend My Time At Home: Cooking!

I love food.  I like the smell, texture, look and taste.  I love to eat.  Luckily, I also love to cook.  Some people are surprised that I cook full meals for "just me" but to me, it's generally not a chore.  If I'm feeling too lazy to cook, I don't.  Most of the time, though, I cook.

As you look through these plates you might be thinking "Dear heavens, does this woman make mac and cheese every day?"  No, but when I make a pan of it, it lasts for several meals. 

Here are some recent examples:

I confess, this isn't something I made.  My neighbor, who is from southern India, regularly brings me delicious food.  Last year she fed me every single day of Ramadan so I could try the special food she makes for the holiday.  She described this dish as Indian gruel - sort of Indian comfort food.  It was delicious.

Another meal I didn't exactly cook.  In December, 2017, my friend Heidi had major surgery in NOLA (New Orleans, if you're not from these parts).  I was her rescue squirrel. As she recuperated (and I relaxed) in the hotel post-surgery, I foraged at the nearby fancy grocery store and put together this plate of goodness.  Calories do not count when surgery is involved.  Or ever, apparently, given my diet recently.

Ah, a meal I actually prepared in my kitchen.  With the help of Fresh Market.  Roasted asparagus, leftover 4 cheese macaroni, kale salad and crab cakes that had trouble coming out of the pan.  Looks shaky but was delicious.  And it had kale so must be low cal and healthy!

I can't always count on my Indian neighbor to provide me with food.  I made Butter Chicken.  It was as good as any I've had in a restaurant.  

I took shortcuts to make the curry.  I got this spice blend from a nearby Indian store.  And, instead of starting with raw chicken, I just use white meat from a Sam's rotisserie chicken. I also use canned pureed tomatoes instead of doing my own.  I grate my own ginger and garlic but you could save even more time by buying prepared.  The recipe, btw, is on the spice packet box.  Adjust the heat by how much spice you use.  The recipe makes it spicy.
Here's an easy dinner - and one of my favorites.  Crab cakes, seafood salad (from Publix), avocado and mango - both drizzled with pineapple white balsamic vinegar.

I was in a cooking mood.  Steamed green beans, 4 cheese macaroni pie and slow-roasted country style pork ribs with carrots, onions, garlic and a mango-chile sauce.

Fresh from the oven - 4 cheese macaroni pie (ricotta, cambozola, cheddar, parmesan) with some jalapeno for a bit of a kick and a key lime pie.

Clearly I like this meal, since I have it a lot.  Mac and cheese, crab cake, seafood salad and a salad of grape tomatoes, asparagus and avocado with a lemon/jalapeno vinaigrette.

This was both quick and delicious.  Shrimp sauteed with a bit of butter, lots of butter and asparagus along with a spinach salad with leftover 3 bean salad tossed on top.

I did not make this dinner.  Nor did I eat it.  It was dinner my first night in the Italian hospital.  Plain rice and plain boiled potatoes.  I tried to explain that my stomach was fine, it was my leg that had the problem.

Another go-to meal.  Chicken thigh with an orange glaze, steamed carrots, zucchini casserole and Kraft mac and cheese.  The last was because I was too lazy to make real mac and cheese.

Breakfast - homemade biscuits, bacon and homemade blueberry jelly.