Corners of the World Away From Technology

I spent the day in Sayulita today, eating chocobananas and climbing Monkey Mountain. It was an amazing day, not least of which because I spent almost the entire thing almost entirely away from technology. Obviously I can have the technology if I want it (or I would not be able to post this), but I’m going to keep with the excuse of being away from the technology routine (and also stuck with nothing but my phone’s keyboard) as an excuse to keep this post brief.

Instead of a thank-you note, then, this is just a note of gratitude that there are times and places to really get away from routines. Today has been an exceptional example of that, and I’ll post more about it later, but for now know that this mountain-jungle-beach thing is really working out for me, and I’m grateful to be here today.

❤ Laura


Mexican Taxi Drivers

Dear Taxi Drivers,

Thank you for always being so pleasant, not to mention speedy and brave.

In one of the very first posts I ever wrote about being in Puerto Vallarta, I talked about the harrowing bus rides. Everything I said about those buses remains true to this day, but by now I no longer expect anyone – on the bus or on the street outside – to die in the fray. Crazy buses are just how people get from one place to another. Now, ten years later, it costs 8 pesos instead of 6, but you get the same amount of excitement for your money.

These days, though, buses are a little too exciting for Grandma, who appreciates an extra hand getting up and down stairs. These days, we take taxis almost everywhere. For the price of 100 pesos, we can get a taxi from our condo to the middle of town, or to just about any restaurant worth visiting. In half the time it would take on the bus, with front-door service, for about $5.50, anywhere you want to go. Amazing.

The best part is that you drivers are always so, so pleasant. Sometimes your English is amazing, sometimes it’s very limited, but I’ve never once met a one of you who didn’t try to make a little small talk, even with the most limited English vocabulary. Here we are, speaking English in your Spanish-speaking country, and still you make cheerful conversation in our language.

Those of you who speak English well tend to be delightfully full of helpful comments and conversations. Heck, I think Grandma might have a couple of your personal phone numbers on hand for emergencies. We almost always wind up taking at least one ride with the one of you that Grandma calls “Mario Andretti,” and god bless you for still laughing at that joke four years later. One of you told Dustin and I how to find the hike that starts about a mile away from our condo that goes back to a waterfall. That tip made for a wonderful afternoon last year. You’ve recommended great restaurants, hat shops, and taco stands. Last year, a whole group of you banded together to help us find Grandma’s lost phone. THAT was simply miraculous.

So thank you all for your wicked narrow-cobbled-street driving skills, your tips on town, and your pleasant chatter. May your roads be smooth (hahaha!) and your tips be generous.
❤ Laura

Grandpa Norman Wenk, who would have turned 100 today

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Wenk.

Today would have been your 100th birthday. My Aunt BJ posted this photo of you on Facebook earlier today, and it kind of took my breath away:

Somehow, it’s always surprising to think of the people who were our grandparents as having ever been young. Look at that man – he has the whole world in front of him. I’m not sure, but I suppose this was probably a senior photo, which means this was taken before the War was even a thought in his head, nor was my Grandma or any of us who followed after. (Or maybe Grandma was a thought in his head already?! I just realized I have no idea when or how they met. Help me out, family?)

Summers on the “farm” in Michigan were among the highlights of my childhood. Grandpa’s two-acre yard was covered with gardens, berry bushes, apple trees, a Christmas tree plot (one tree planted for every grandchild born) and so many hidden nooks and corners. I remember riding on the lawnmower with Grandpa as he carefully manicured his beautiful yard. The house was built (if I remember right) in 1904, after a tornado took down the house that originally sat there, along with most of Freedom Township. Grandpa was born in that house, and raised his family there.

When he and Grandma moved out in the early 2000s, they asked if I would like to take my Christmas tree. It was such a beautiful tree, I couldn’t bear the idea of cutting it down, so I said no. I went back to see the house and the yard about ten years ago, and I could not tell which tree was mine anymore. I like to hope it’s still there, though, that it has simply grown wild and scraggly and has its roots still dug deep in that beautiful place.

Grandpa always loved cars, and he helped me as I was learning to drive. On one particularly memorable outing, we drove together to the mechanic to see about getting some little thing or other taken care of, and as I tried to back out of the parking lot to go home, I ran the blasted truck right into a cement barricade, necessitating a return right back into my parking spot and the shop. Grandpa was very patient with me. I suspect he found the whole episode a lot funnier than I did, though he never laughed about it.

The last time I visited Grandpa was in 2009, while he and Grandma were living in the apartment unit at the Chelsea retirement home. We joined them at church for a sauerkraut dinner and taught them to play the card game Sevens. Grandpa would take his time and think about his next move, which led Grandma to continually lean over and try to show him the best card, as if he couldn’t remember the rules. In fact, the truth was that Grandpa understood the rules much better than Grandma did, and he was working out a strategy to crush the rest of us. When he played the winning card in spite of Grandma’s “help,” he giggled like a little boy. I loved that moment.

A toast then, Grandpa, to your birthday and to your memory. Here’s to a life well lived, to the wonderful family you brought into this world, and to all the good you did while you were in it. May the rest of us aspire to live and love as well.
❤ Laura

Marina, World’s Best Chilaquiles Chef

Dear Marina,

You and (the people I suspect are) your family make the best chilaquiles in the world. I look forward to my first lunch at your counter starting in October. While I am here in Mexico, I will visit your counter as many times as humanly possible, to the point where I start to be a little embarrassed to show up again because you all pass knowing “here comes that gringa” looks between yourselves. We always talk about trying some of the other lunch counters, but I love your chilaquiles so much, I just don’t know what the point is.

I don’t even know how to recommend you to other Puerto Vallarta visitors. Your counter doesn’t even have a proper name. It’s just “one of the lunch counters behind the Zapata market, with Marina’s name painted on a pipe that runs overhead.”

(Adventurous travelers can look up the Zapata market. From there, go into the courtyard on the side of the street that hosts the Fruteria California. Walk out the other side of the courtyard to where three lunch counters line the little back ally. Marina’s is the first you come to, and as noted, her name is painted on a pipe above the tables.)

An entire meal – including a drink! – for about $2.50. You guys, look at this:

Okay, we’ve already established I’m a terrible photographer, and we actually showed up about 10 minutes before you closed today, which is to say, the gates to the little courtyard you sit behind were already closed so  there was no sunlight shining in, but you readers all have to trust me: this food is amazing. I watch you, Marina, and your mother, maybe, blending up the sauce fresh out of chilies and onions and other mystery ingredients of amazingness.

Dustin and I are talking about going on a food cart tour this year. Your counter will be the gold standard I’ll be holding everyone else up to.

Thank you for all the years of delicious, delicious lunches.
❤ Laura

Bonnie Krueger, Tropical Grandma

Dear Bonnie,

Today’s thank-you note is obvious. Although I gave a half second’s thought to thanking the airplane from Dallas to Puerto Vallarta for having the heat cranked up, I am far more grateful to you for having been our gracious and generous host in PV for the past ten years. Through all those years, you’ve shared your beautiful condo, your knowledge of shopping and dining in town, your knowledge of the Punta Negra beach. You have provided countless delicious meals, both in the condo kitchen and at all of PV’s best restaurants (and there are some VERY good restaurants). Tonight, you treated us to an incredible three course dinner at Vista Grill (On the Beach) for Dustin’s birthday. We almost had to roll me home after I unwisely finished my entire meal, even though I had no space left for that dessert. It was just so good.

But then, that you are a first-class host is the very first thing I remember knowing about you. I met you while I was still in high school, when I joined Dustin, Nyla, and Travis for a tour of midwest colleges. We stopped by your home in Sioux Falls either coming or going, where you made all of us welcome for the night (even the strange girl who demanded her own bedroom) and treated us to a meal. Later, after Dustin and I chose that midwest school, you frequently provided us with a place to stop halfway along the trip, either just for a quick break and a meal, or for a rest for the night. You fed us chili on one of those stop-overs, and it was the first time I’d ever eaten a bowl of chili that I liked.

Heck, you are such a good hostess, Dustin and I actually moved in with you after we got married. We hadn’t exactly sorted out where to live, and you had recently moved out to Deadwood and had an extra room. With all our wedding gifts still in their boxes stacked around the edges of the room like so much cardboard decor, you let us stay in your extra bedroom for three months until we found our first house. You were about the best roommate I can ever remember having. You were quiet, low-maintenance, and never stole anyone’s lunch out of the fridge.

You have treated me like a member of your family since long before I was an official member, and even well before there was any reason to think I ever would be. No girl could ask to gain a more loving and thoughtful grandma. I am so very, very grateful to have you in my family, and to be able to spend time with you for the next couple weeks.

For all the hours by the pool, bowls of tortilla soup at the palapa, and comfortable nights sleeping to the sound of crashing waves – thank you, thank you, thank you.
❤ Laura

This is from the year Bonnie went to St. Croix instead of Puerto Vallarta. We spent a lot of time at the rum distilleries. What can I say? She’s that’ kind of grandma.

Delmonico and Murphy’s – Delicious Dining in Rapid City

Dear restaurants who participated in Rapid City’s Restaurant Week,

Thanks for the delicious food for the really good prices. We had a chance to eat at Murphy’s for lunch on Saturday, and Delmonico for dinner tonight, and we had two really great meals. The service at Delmonico’s was first-rate. The service at Murphy’s was exactly as oddball hipster as you could possibly want from a gastropub. The calories, in both cases, were well worth the $20 each we paid for our three-course meals. I’m only sorry I didn’t also get a chance to go check out the offerings at the Blind Lion. Another day, then.

The rest of you locals: if you’ll be out and about in Rapid for the next few days, check out the offerings – there’s some good eats in town these days!

Bon appetit!
❤ Laura

Mousehunt, my silly online game

Dear Mousehunt (and all you quirky dudes who invented it and keep it running),

I’ve been building better mousetraps and catching stranger mice for nearly ten years now. That seems a little silly, and I guess your game is also a little silly, but I think a little silly is exactly what everyone needs now and then. Some people spend their game time immersed in rich fantasy worlds, living out stories and making friends from all over the world. I do things like assemble an Arcane Capturing Rod Of Never Yielding Mystery trap to catch pirate mice and assassin mice and mice who think they are chess pieces.

I’ve also got a pretty cool crew of friends who dork along with me. Heyo, Dustin, Jeremy, Robert, Laura, Jodi, and Jordan! The game may be silly, but it’s also been a great way to keep up with all of you, and several others who have faded in and out over the years.
❤ Laura

(You can come dork with me too, if you wanna. 🙂 Just sayin’. If you wanna.)

((Also, I’m going to write way better thank you notes when I’m on vacation next week.))


My social network, on That Social Network

Dear all my friends on Facebook who replied to my request for recommendations on earbuds,

Thank you for all your input. Me and my tiny ears have you to thank for the fact that I’ll be able to listen to my 12 hours of audiobooks every day without sore ears. (Probably. To be fair, I guess I’ve only tried the new earbuds out for about 30 seconds so far, but the results seem super promising.)

I wound up with a wired pair of Yurbuds that I found on super sale at Scheel’s, and a bluetooth pair of Jbuds that my BestBuy gift card bought me.

My plane trip next week will also be considerably better for these finds, and my ears will continue to thank you for saving the pain of wedging hard plastic bits where they don’t wanna go.
❤ Laura

Carole & Dimitri, who helped make miracles happen today

Dear Carole & Dimitri,

It seems a little unfair to the rest of the world that I’m thanking you twice in one week, but let’s face it: I basically only keep company with Dustin and the two of you, with rare forays out into the real world where I might interact with other human beings. Oh, and I guess I keep company with Rainbow Mike as well, although even that has been somewhat frustratingly rare lately.

In any case, today was the day we reopened the B&B to real live breakfast-eating guests. We’ve had plenty of non-breakfast-eating guests already this year – way more than normal, in fact – but the breakfast-eating part is everything. Today, not only did we gear up to do the regular breakfast work – the planning, prepping, serving, and cleaning parts – we had to do a major Dining Room & Kitchen Recovery effort.

Apparently I didn’t take any photos of the dining room full chaos mode, with the entire contents of my kitchen sitting on the table, and all the cabinets from the kitchen stacked up around the edges of the room and crammed with more kitchen stuff. This is the best photo I took, and this was sort of pre-chaos:

Imagine that every space in the room looked like this, but much, MUCH dustier.

I started moving things back into the kitchen on Wednesday, the day the last of our existing cabinets was hung. Not much got moved yesterday as I did battle with the new cabinetry (ordering custom cabinets online is a nightmare) and attended a couple meetings outside the house (living wild!). But today… today was the day. It all had to go.

While I sorted through the huge stacks of things that had accumulated everywhere, you hauled piles down to the basement, helped me shove around the refrigerator and that awful tall cabinet, stuffed my kitchen supplies into every available kitchen cranny, and then you started cleaning.

Oh! The Dust! After three weeks of mudding, sanding, mudding, sanding, breaking up 120-year-old plaster, leveling and sanding the floor… the dust. I cannot speak of all the dust.

You dusted all the furniture in the dining room. You dusted the ridges and edges along all the doors and drawers and sills. You vacuumed and swiffered and mopped. You moved furniture and got to dust that’s been piling up so long it’s in drifts. I sorted and sorted and worked on the kitchen, and when I came out, magic had happened. I had my dining room back.

Miracles, I tell you.

Okay, so there’s still a random, half-painted door hanging out by a table covered in cookbooks, none of which belongs there, but they are now all dust-free and super tidy. It looks like maybe we want people to see our cookbooks, and maybe we’re working on one little door project. No big deal.

Tonight we’ll make breakfast to feed our greedy guests, and next Tuesday I will leave town knowing that I’m absolutely leaving my Inn in the best of all possible hands.

Thank you for everything you do, the graciousness you do it with, and for being such excellent company along the way.
❤ Laura

Carmella Varriano, friend in transition

Dear Carmella,

Thank you so much for taking the time to have lunch with me today. I know how stressful and unsettled your life is right now, and it means a lot to me you carved out a little time to catch up before you go.

It’s been about six hundred years since we last saw each other, and I’d gotten about 100% out of touch in the meanwhile. You’ve had a heck of a year. Nothing more needs to be said about that here, but I do want to say this:

I’m so excited for your new adventures. It sounds terrifying as hell, but I really believe the exciting and wonderful aspects will wind up outweighing the anxious and unpleasant ones. I see so much bravery in your decision to pick up and move on, despite every incentive to just keep doing the same thing. I will be following you as closely as modern technology allows as you get on with your journey because I want to see what it looks like when someone actually pulls the trigger and makes the jump so many of us dream of but do not dare.

I’m excited for your new adventures, but I’m also sorry to see you go. For all those six hundred years of being out of touch, after our conversation today I feel like there could be so many more fascinating conversations to have. Two people with two really different lives and two really different sets of challenges somehow in a eerily similar emotional place.

I’m going to watch you kick ass and take notes so I can follow in your footsteps, ASAP. Much love, best wishes, and many thanks –
❤ Laura

Postscript: Because someone asked, and I see it upon rereading this post, I’d like to point out that this post is not about death or suicide. The triggers being pulled at the jumps being taken are all metaphoric life changes. Many smooches to the person who checked in with me, just in case.