Saturday, October 8, 2016

Driver's License Photo Shoot

Five years ago, I lived in West LA and visited the Santa Monica branch of the DMV to get the address on my driver's license updated. The stars must have aligned on that glorious day, because there was no line, my home-styled blow out miraculously did not deflate and frizz out, the DMV rep adjusted the camera height and angle to fit my giraffe frame, minimizing the protrusion of my gregarious double chin which loves a good photo op, let me inspect every photo taken, and took a final photo that was just hazy enough to make any imperfections be blurred out. When I received my new driver's license in the mail, I was thrilled to see I resembled an actual female in her late 20s and not the typical "greasy convict with a drug addiction" which is the default photo profile in all of my other official documents. 

I vowed to guard this photo for life and never update it. From that day forth, I renewed my license or updated my address online if possible and if not, asked to keep my current photo. Until that fateful day when in addition to updating my address, I stupidly requested my contact lens restriction be removed since I got LASIK. That was a bad day. 

Visiting the Thousand Oaks DMV branch this time, I was expecting to fill out some forms to reflect my new 20/20 vision and be mailed an updated driver's license with my much beloved hazy photo intact. I was not expecting to be instructed to go stand in the photo line to get a new photo. Harried, with unwashed hair secured in a brain-numbingly tight bun, no makeup on, and a wrinkled blouse, I was not prepared to be anywhere near a camera lens that day. When the reality of the situation hit me, I realized my error. 

"You know, on second thought, let's just leave that restriction in place. No need to change it. Sorry! Ha, ha!" I nervously stammered to the DMV rep. 

"Ma'am, you just told me you got LASIK and you want to remove the corrective lens restriction from your license. Did you or did you not have corrective surgery?"

"I did."

"Ok, well then you'll need to get in that line over there and get a new photo taken. That's the policy. You have to get a new photo taken."

"But I don't want to!"

I know how ridiculous I must have seemed to that DMV rep. A grown woman so vain that she couldn't part with her old driver's license photo. I wish I could tell you I realized in that moment that I should own my beauty or lack thereof and who cares about a driver's license photo anyways, I was a fearless, confident female, who was going to channel her inner Beyoncé to work that camera lens in all of her rumpled greasy glory. Instead, I darted to the restroom and furiously dug in my purse to find whatever beauty products I had on hand. Safely sequestered in a stall, I tried to coax what little photogenic attributes I had that day to the surface of my face with my mascara wand and powder puff. The finished product was uninspiring at best. I gave myself a little pep talk. 

Eyes, you need to pop!

Eyelashes, thicken and lengthen.

Teeth, brighten. 

Lips, channel Kylie Jenner. But channel her when she finally got the ratio of lip filler-to-face more or less correct. Once she resembled a Bratz doll and not a Bravo Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County cast member. I know there's barely a distinction there, but I'm all about precision. 

Hamster Cheeks, let's try to suck yourselves in as much as possible even though we all know you guys are a lost cause.  

Hair, I'm at a complete loss with you lot today. You're greasy and limp and I absolutely can't let you out of your bun jail because that would just be a travesty. But in your bun jail, you make me look bald and accentuate Hamster Cheeks and Gregarious Double Chin. 

Gregarious Double Chin, don't you dare surface today. You better hug Jaw Bones so tightly, that you become one. Unless you somehow manage to work yourself down to Boobs, I'm going to Kybella you out of existence as soon as I win the lottery. 

Jaw Bones, do you even exist? Where are you guys? I need some angles! 

Brain, why do you need so much sleep? If you didn't keep propelling Hand to hit the snooze button five times, I could have had enough time to shower and actually make myself presentable and we wouldn't be in this sad predicament now. You are needy and too demanding with your nightly eight hours of sleep requests. I hate you right now, Brain. 

With that pep talk in place, I approached the fat bald man operating the DMV camera. One look at him and I knew with a sinking heart that there would be no driver's license photo shoot that day. 

"Sir, since I'm quite tall, could you pull the camera up to get a more flattering angle?"


"Oh. Um, could you then maybe just tilt it down a bit while I squat?"

"No. You're done. You can go now."

"Wait, what? Can I look at the photo you took?"



"Ma'am, it's just a driver's license photo."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Evening Gardening

Isn't the purpose of drought-resistant landscaping to do less work? Less water, less maintenance, leas fuss, less everything? I was sold on this concept as the lazy woman's garden. So why am I wielding a kitchen knife in my pajamas, while I crawl on my hands and knees at dusk in one of the planters that flank the front of my house, poking additional holes in a drip-line so that the plants that supposedly need little water can get the right amount of water and not wither and die like the four plants before them? This is not my idea of low-maintenance. And me with a kitchen knife, poking the ground while muttering obscenities under my breath as I curse the landscaper for installing this system that underwaters plants, is probably not my neighbors' idea of a sane and well-balanced next door resident, but yet here we are. 

Naturally I have no clue what I am doing yet am fully committed to the task at hand. I don't really know how drip-lines operate but surmise that water drips out of the holes so the more holes I poke in the hose, the more water will come out. I have no concept of water pressure being mysteriously regulated within those drip-lines, so suffice it to say I am remarkably surprised when I step out of the house the next morning to discover that my front yard has been transformed into the Bellagio fountains, minus the synchronized music. 

Geysers of water are exploding out of the dozens of holes I have so effectively poked in the drip-line, watering my car, the roof, the side of the house, the driveway, and passing birds and airplanes. I have basically set up a water fountain for God himself. I have no earthly idea what to do with this spectacle, so as I do with many things that I don't want to deal with in my life, I pretend they don't exist and leave to go to work. 

The week of this DIY mishap Michael happened to be in the Philippines (little surprise there since he tempers my Crazy and when he's not here, Crazy runs free) so imagine his surprise when he stepped out of his Uber on the way back from the airport at the exact time the drip-line timer went off and was treated to his very own water show? Visually and physically. It was a multidimensional experience (watch out Cirque du Soleil's O, I'm coming for you!) I don't think you'd be shocked to discover that I did not get a warm hug and a kiss when I opened the front door to find a soaking fiancé. 

You might be scratching your head, wondering how I knew that the plants weren't getting enough water. I flexed my deduction skills, which are loosely based in reality, and applied the same principles of human water consumption to plant water consumption. I need a lot of water to survive and so must the plants. Never mind the fact that not all plants are created equal and these are drought-resistant plants consisting of succulents and decorative prairie grasses. That. Don't. Need. Much. Water. 

No, instead of this logical course of reasoning, I was convinced that the ground was too dry and plants were dying as a result and the landscaper who created my drought-resistant oasis screwed up. And I proceeded to call him and when he didn't pick up, leave a vehement voicemail berating him for his incompetence. I blame the wine for that stellar display of class and dignity. And also for the drip-line massacre. But "Doing Stupid Shit After Consuming Multiple Glasses of Wine" is not the topic of this tale, so we'll carry on. 

When the gardener came the next week for his weekly round of maintenance, I was actually home and pounced on him for answers. Before I could get my first sentence out, he asked me why I continued to overwater the plants. Because it was very hard for him to save them if they were being waterboarded daily. My front yard desert oasis was turning into a swamp and the plants were being drowned to death by my own ignorant hand. The lesson learned here is that I am very ignorant but very confident. And that's a deadly combination, especially when wine is added to the equation. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Death by Printer

What happened to the good old days of office printers when you pressed the print button on your computer and the printer printed your document for you? This simple process worked quite well for me. Why did we need to upgrade to a megatron the size of a small house that requires you to submit a saliva sample, scan your iris, donate a kidney, and do a rain dance just to activate it? 

95% of the requests for a printer revolve around printing a document in some format. Letter-sized, legal-sized, black and white, or color. Collate and staple. Done. Scanning to email takes care of another 2%. Why do these modern beasts focus on the remaining 3% of features that no one actually uses?? I don't need my printer to brew my coffee and knit me a sweater. Why does it come with 879 buttons, 538 settings, and 317 sounds that activate a furious eye twitch every time I approach it? It takes me half an hour to figure out how to print my document. I can fax, bake a biscuit, and pay my mortgage with that damn machine but God help me if I want to print on 11 by 14 paper. That will take one full working day to figure out. And I can assure you it will still end in failure. 

The accompanying noises leave me feeling like I've missed out on learning some obscure computer language. Five beeps and five flashing red lights go off when the printer is out of paper, but don't confuse this with five beeps and seven flashing orange lights when the printer is out of legal paper. Four staccato beeps and three vibrations to notify you the toner is running low, but don't confuse this with three staccato beeps and two vibrations which is a helpful reminder that you're printing excessively and need to slow your roll. Which is infuriating because if this machine could stop printing hieroglyphic gibberish on the third and second-to-last page of every document I printed, I wouldn't have to reprint all of my documents. 

Every time I need to print, I prepare for battle. I take deep breaths and begin my internal meditation process so I don't flip my shit on this $9,000 box of bells and whistles when it won't automatically "wake up" when I send my documents to print. No, this needy asshat requires you to press the "awake" button which is different from the "on/off" button but is the same shade of green. And of course you press the "on/off" button assuming you need to turn the printer on to print your document but since the printer was only hibernating you've turned it off by mistake and it will now require nineteen minutes to start up again and re-calibrate its internal settings before being ready to print. But by that point, the six documents you needed to print have been mysteriously wiped from the printer queue and you are one eye twitch away from losing all of your marbles. The point of a printer is to enable your job, not increase the administrative burden and your deep desire for a Vodka-Xanax cocktail. 

As soon as I made peace with this printer from hell, my company instituted an ever more rage-inducing form of printer torture: follow-me printing. Sounds stalkerish, but I can assure you that this printer does not pay any attention to you. The idea of follow-me printing is that you send documents to print and they queue up in your very own printing cloud and when you walk up to any of these follow-me printers around campus you swipe your badge and your documents show up in the queue to print. All of this sounds fabulous. You don't have to worry about printing confidential documents and running to the printer to get them before anyone else comes. You can't print the wrong documents or too many copies by mistake since you can edit your queue before you print. You can print in different buildings around campus so you are not tied to one printer in one building across a mile-wide campus. All of these features are lovely but for a printer that works one day out of a five-day work week, utterly useless. This futuristic prima donna breaks down before you even get a chance to send anything to your queue. And assuming that you can continue to collect documents in your queue until the printer is operational again is a pipe dream. Conveniently, as soon as your printer cloud is one document away from a thunderstorm and the printer is working again, your queue has been reset to empty. Voila, let the eye twitching commence.   

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tuxedo Ninja

Sixteen years ago when my family moved to Pittsburgh, we went to the Humane Society to adopt a cat. There were two tuxedo kittens available, one docile, one feisty as hell. We chose the feisty one. I named him Moby. I wish I could tell you it's because I was a bibliophile and loved Moby Dick. But no, I was an awkward alternakid getting into techno and Moby was all the rage in 2000. The one and only photo that I have of Moby as a kitten is of him chomping down on the handle of the desk in my room. And it's a fitting photo. Because that little ball of spunk grew into quite the gangster cat.

He patrolled our yard and defended his territory, growling at the mailman, attacking deer, skunks, raccoons, and our terrified friends and family. When grandma would visit from Belarus, she armed herself with first a plastic devil's pitchfork from one of our Halloween costumes, then upgraded her weaponry to a broom, and when that proved futile, grabbed a frying pan as a last resort. When Moby would spy an exposed piece of flesh, you could almost feel glee radiate from his body as he plotted his attack. Bonus points if it was a new stranger visiting his home. His position of choice was two-fold. On the stairs leading up from the basement to the kitchen, where he would swat at you as you made your way up. And on the second-floor landing blocking the guest bathroom. Overnight guests learned not to walk barefoot to the bathroom. Or at all. You prayed that your bladder would hold out until morning. And brushing your teeth was a luxury you decided you could forego for one night. 

Moby was a ninja cat and a good actor. He fooled everyone who first met him into thinking he was harmless because he looked harmless. He sat quietly, calmly, assessing your weaknesses. As soon as you relaxed and let down your guard, Tuxedo Ninja would strike. When we took Moby to the vet, I warned the technicians that he should be gassed before he was examined because they would not be able to handle him. They looked at me horrified as they spied Moby looking at them through the cat carrier slats with loving green eyes. Gas this handsome, peaceful young man? Not necessary! I sighed with resignation and waited for the bloodshed to begin. Moby didn't even wait to be let out of the carrier. As the technician grabbed the handle of his carrier, he raised one paw, squeezed his well-sharpened talon through the top slat, and with deft precision sliced the exposed wrist of the dumbfounded technician. Blood gushing, a unanimous decision was made to bust out the gas. And a muzzle to boot. 

For sixteen years, Moby was the benevolent dictator of the Adamchik household. And we loved him dearly. This feline terror loved to be around us. He demanded to be petted for a certain amount of time, after which he would bite you to let you know that he was done. He would drink water only from the faucet and would shred your calves if you did not comply. He was a big fan of Christmas and couldn't wait to open presents so he could frolic in every box and play with all the bows and ribbons. He played hide and seek and tag. Although with the latter, you never wanted to actually be tagged by him. Since I went to college a year after we adopted him, he grew very fond of my sister and chose her bedroom as his prime sleeping spot. She would lay her head down on one pillow and Moby would do the same on the pillow next to hers. I was relegated to the floor when I came home to visit. 

Throughout the years, Moby aged but never lost his spunk. At his last vet visit, this geriatric gladiator got one last swipe in before departing for kitty heaven. I'm glad I was able to see him through the gates. 

Rest in peace, you handsome devil. I hope you have a ball shredding angel wings up there. 

Moby Adamchik - July 7, 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hermit de Gomela

I can be terribly hermetic. I prefer to be alone, talking to my imaginary friends, munching on bread, petting cats, and reading books in bed. I'm not the type of person who needs to be surrounded by people. I usually feel overwhelmed and drained in social situations and have to prepare myself for human interaction. However, if I do have to interact with humans, my social pendulum swings to the other extreme - I go from hermit to manic socialite. Chatty Kathy, as Michael has dubbed my alter ego, emerges. 

I can see fear start to develop in Michael's eyes when Chatty Kathy awakens from her slumber. Because I don't just hover in the middle of the pendulum of social interaction. I'm either a shut-in who goes to bed at 9pm on a Saturday or a hot mess who downs wine like water, chats up patrons at the bar, tries to flirt embarrassingly with the waiter, and makes besties in line to the loo. I get loud and bold and hyper. 

The environment has everything to do with it. It's the yeast to my dough. If the right combination is present, Chatty Kathy will rise. And most likely overflow and then be terribly hungover for the entirety of the next day. Because at 32 years old, I cannot shoot firewater after a fourth bottle of wine after a mojito. 

What's firewater you ask? Just what it sounds like. Something that burns going down and singes off your modesty. "Fire water" is the national spirit of Colombia: Aguardiente. It tastes overwhelmingly like black licorice because it's made from anise. It's disgusting. But a disgustingly effective ignition for Chatty Kathy. 

When we were in Bogota in April, we went to a restaurant called Andres Carne de Res. With four levels that take approximately 1,300 reservations and have the capacity to entertain 4,000 diners, this place is massive. And a massively good time. The first level is the basement, appropriately called Inferno. Then comes Purgatory, followed by "Tierra" (Earth, where we dined), and ending with Heaven. 

At Andres Carnes de Res, I started off with a mojito followed by a fourth bottle of red wine, which was accompanied by strawberries. How romantic! I learned how to toast my new friends by enthusiastically screaming "Salud, marica!" I decided I would toast everyone with this exclamation from now on. It sounded so friendly and easy to pronounce. I wasn't attuned to the nuance of Colombian slang and so was dismayed to discover that when said to a friend, this proclamation meant "Cheers, buddy!" But to a stranger, it was an enthusiastic slur of "Cheers, fag!" So I had to quickly unlearn this one because God knows, it will be the only phrase I retain and use inappropriately. 

A more appropriate word that I learned was "gomela". Used to refer to a female who likes the finer things in life, it perfectly described booshie me and I was pleased to find a word I could use. Gomela Kasey! 

Not only did I learn Colombian slang, but I tasted a fruit I had never tasted before in my life - ychuva. It's a grape-sized, bright yellow citrus-like berry that tastes like an orange or clementine and smells like a mango. Strange and delicious. 

Chatty Kathy was in her element now. My laughs got louder and my chattiness extended beyond our group of friends. I spotted our waiter and saw "German" written down the back of his apron. I thought, how multicultural! This must be the kind of place where the waiters declare which country they are from, much like on a cruise ship. Next time he approached our table I asked him what part of Germany he was from. In return, I got a confused look and a kind smile. Michael looked at me like I had grown two heads and asked me how drunk I was.

"Why? I'm not drunk. I just wanted to know where in Germany he was from unless he's wearing someone else's apron and he's not from Germany?"

"Kasey, that's his name. His name is German, pronounced Herman."  


By this time, the music had been turned up and was thumping from the loudspeakers. Diners on all levels started to get up from their tables to dance. We were treated to samba from Brazil, traditional Colombian music called cumbia, and champeta, Colombian reggaton. Chatty Kathy danced to it all. With no rhythm to speak of, I swiveled my hips and shook my arms and enjoyed the hedonistic happiness of it all. When a song came on that everyone started to sing along to, I asked what it was. It was by a band called Systema Solar and the song was "El Boton del Pantalon". The buttons of the pants? I asked for clarification. It's a song about hard times when you can't even afford a belt so you better tighten your buttons. Gomela, it was not. But I was happy to be there, undulating to the pulsing music, Chatty Kathy in all of her glory. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Omg! I just got born!

I did not think that after thirty-two years of being a human being, of which at least twenty were spent shopping in grocery stores, I could still have my mind blown perusing one of the aisles. But alas, a few weeks ago was that day. I felt like I was just born and entered the grocery store for the first time. 

As I meandered through the vegetable section of my neighborhood Pavilions, my eyes bulged out of my head when I spotted what I thought was a moldy olive but in fact was a "fresh almond." Who knew fresh almonds looked like this in their natural state? Who knew they had a luscious and fuzzy green coat and are huge? Mind blown. 

I was tempted to purchase these fresh almonds out of sheer curiosity but had no idea what I would do with them. So many questions were running through my mind making me painfully aware of how ignorant I am. It's a freaking almond, get it together Kasey! But what do you do with fresh almonds?? Can you eat them as is? Do you peel them? Roast them? Peel them then roast them? How do they turn into the shriveled brown ovals that are comforting and familiar? I was so disconcerted by discovering what fresh almonds looked like and realizing how obtuse I am that I shamefully scuttled away from these fresh almonds as fast as I could. No one needs produce that produces (witty pun alert!) this kind of self-doubt. 

My next mind-blowing moment came a few minutes later when I was searching for pumpkin seeds. I couldn't find them anywhere and had to ask one of the workers for help. 

"Ma'am, do you know where I can find the pumpkin seeds?"

"Oh, do you mean pepitas, honey?"

"Uhh, no? I just need the raw pumpkin seeds. Not salted or umm, sweetened, or whatever."

"Pepitas are raw pumpkin seeds. End of aisle 12."

Ok, what the hell? Why do they need another name?  And a name that in no way explains what the food actually is. I think "pumpkin seeds" is the perfect name for seeds that come from a pumpkin. No need to invent another name. It's like meeting someone who introduces herself as Jennifer but tells you that you can call her Guadalupe. No Jennifer, I will not call you Guadalupe. How are those two names even marginally related? I can understand a Barbara going by Barbie. But a Jennifer going by Guadalupe? No, just, no. Unless you're in the witness protection program but then you really shouldn't have disclosed your real name, Jennifer. 

I was so irate I had to google this term. Apparently, pepita "is the Spanish culinary term for the pumpkin seed." Why are we complicating this? We don't need a Spanish culinary term. It's not even the Spanish word for pumpkin seeds, which is semillas de calabaza. There is no reason that pumpkin seeds need two names. What kind of pompous food is this? They're not even used that frequently in recipes! I can understand milk going by two names. Milk is a staple. It's prominently featured on the food pyramid. Pumpkin seeds are lumped into the "Meat/Poultry/Fish/Dry Beans/Eggs & Nuts group (I think. I actually have not a clue what group these snooty seeds are part of). Milk is humble. Milk just goes by milk. Even though it's displayed in a huge refrigerated section at the back of every grocery store. And here we have pumpkin seeds, stuck in some dusty corner of Aisle 12 but going by two names. Unbelievable. 

Bathroom Situation

South America has me doing double takes with its bathroom signage. I'm used to clear designations between the spelling or visual aids distinguishing the male from the female sign. And maybe sober it wouldn't be so hard. But add in a few drinks (or a bottle of wine) to the equations, and I'm at a loss. 

In Bogota, I was confounded by "Ellos" and "Ellas." I know you are mentally chastising me. "Kasey, there's a letter A in the female sign as opposed to the letter O in the male sign." Picture yourself in a dank, dark dungeon of a bar, two hours deep in a trough of alcohol. Do you think you could instantaneously discriminate? I don't think so. 

And I wasn't the only one. As I rounded the corner to the banos, I did a double take at the identical western-style swinging doors. On the left was the word "Ellas" painted in peeling paint from the 1500s, most likely scribbled by Christopher Columbus himself the day he discovered the Americas and was celebrating with a congratulatory margarita. On the right was the same door with the same peeling paint with the same word except instead of an A there was a faint and peeling O. In the dimly-lit hallway, I could not distinguish the difference in the two. As I stood gawking with perplexity left then right, then left again, I was met with a hapless British gentleman in the same predicament as me. 

"My Spanish is not so good today." He sheepishly confided in me as we continued to crane our necks in unison left then right. I was hoping to take my cue from him and go the opposite direction but I think he was hoping the same thing from me. So we kept prancing around each other until a frustrated local took me by the shoulders and guided me to the left. 

"Ellas. Women. You. Go!"

Santiago was no better. In another dimly-lit bar I was greeted with another A versus O situation. Companeras and Companeros. C'mon! 

Visual aides did nothing to help my perplexity at a steakhouse in Santiago where instead of any verbiage, the signs are museum-worthy Michelangelo sculptures. I know in the sober light of day this would not be such a difficult predicament. But again, picture yourself around midnight, sated with fatty steak and lubricated with heavy wine, navigating a narrow labyrinth of a hallway to get to the restroom. In the hazy light, you are greeted by two sculptures of limbless naked bodies cast in shadows. Squinting your eyes, you try to discern the female body from the male body and curse whoever made the male member so small that it's basically a fat vagina. 

Mendoza continued this frustrating trend in miniature, which proved a challenge at the tail-end of a wine tasting tour. After orienting myself to the human-looking sculptures chiseled during the Neolithic Age, I took offense at the female sculpture having a drooping lower belly, as if that is as distinguishing a feature of femaleness as a skirt. And why the raised arms? Are both of these deformed souls being chased by police? Most likely they're cheering the patrons who correctly identify which bathroom to use, because that is a feat in and of itself. Hooray! You are a woman and correctly figured out which of these flailing figures point to the women's restroom! 

Buenos Aires was better but no less comfortable. In one bar in Palermo, the sculptures where life-sized and attached to the actual bathroom door. And there was no handle. So, yes, you knew which door you had to open, but to do so, you either had to grab the lass by the the bosom, the waist, or the punani to let yourself in. What a treat! I struggled with finding the least germy area to touch, and settled on the clavicles. As you can see from the dirty hand marks below, most patrons did not choose the clavicles. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

A proposal in style, a proposal in crampons.

It's fascinating to rewind back the time and see where life took you in the last year, five years, or ten years, because it usually takes you where you least expect it to go. If a psychic stopped me on the way to my first date with Michael on May 16, 2011 and told me that five years from then I would buy a house with this man I was about to meet, who would perplexingly be wearing white pants and a blue peacoat in the balmy L.A. weather, accumulate cats at an alarming rate, and that he would then propose to me on top of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina's Patagonia while wearing crampons, I would have laughed off such a far-fetched prediction. What would have seemed utterly strange five years ago is reality today. 

I would love to tell you that I have a vivid memory of how Michael proposed to me. That I heard and retained it all to be able to regale my friends and family with the story. But it's me we're talking about so clearly that is not the case. Looking down on my ring finger after we got off the glacier, I smiled blankly at Michael and asked him, "Can you tell me how you proposed again?" Because at the top of the 240 foot tall Perito Moreno glacier, navigating the ice with crampons strapped to my wobbly feet, balancing the celebratory glass of whiskey made with ice freshly chiseled off the side of the glacier in one hand and the ring in the other, all my mental energy was exhausted on keeping myself upright. 

I'm not what you would call an adventurous sort. I usually have trouble balancing on even ground and regularly trip over my own feet. So when you plop me on the side of a mountain or glacier, or any uneven surface for that matter, my odds of maiming myself quadruple. All of my mental energy goes to concentrating on walking/crawling up whatever slope I'm faced with. Add to this already sad state of affairs my fear of heights and predilection for panic attacks, and voila, you have an unstable woman, both physically and mentally. 

But I must have a marginally-brave midget somewhere inside me prodding me to explore the world and try new things and take some small risks and nudge myself out of my comfort zone because I find myself proposing activities that I know would set off my anxiety. My anxiety threshold is basically non-existent so it doesn't take much to set it off. Activities outside of my comfort zone do not include something truly wild, like sky diving, which I would never do because I'm sure I would die of an anxiety-induced heart attack while still on the ground, but activities such as helmet diving, hiking up Huayna Picchu or a glacier, driving twenty miles above the speed limit, or running to the grocery store without a bra. 

And that brings us to me giving myself a pep talk before we begin our hike up the side of the Perito Moreno glacier, as our glacier guide explains how to walk with crampons on, which he pronounces as "grandpas". Which produces hyena-like chortling from me every time I hear him say things like "Ok, everyone, let's get our grandpas on." And "Who needs grandpas on their feet?" And "Anxious woman, do you need help with your grandpas?"

As our group of 25 strap on their crampons and start the hour-and-a-half-long trek, I zone into my deer-in-headlights phase where I hear nothing, see nothing, and retain nothing as I mentally recite to myself "Keep your feet wide apart so you don't trip over your crampons and hurtle down to your death. Stick your crampons firmly into the ice path so you don't slip and hurtle down to your death. Do not walk sideways on your way down or you will twist your ankle and then hurtle down to your death." If you want a great ass workout, get your crampons on. The right way to descend is to get in a seated position, lean back, and stick your crampons firmly in the ice ahead of you as you squat your way down the glacier. 

By the time we reached the end of our hike, my legs were linguini and I was ready for a nap. That's when Michael asked me how long we've been together. I looked at him in my addled state trying to siphon off some of my mental energy from battling my anxiety to understanding what he was asking and why he was asking it. And then he hits me with "I don't want to be your boyfriend anymore." That's certainly one way to start a proposal. At this point, linguini legs have morphed into mashed potatoes and it took all my energy to remain standing upright. 

"The past five years have been the best years of my life. And now I don't want to be your boyfriend anymore. I want to be your husband. Will you marry me?"


Friday, April 29, 2016

Argentina: half the price and double the flavor.

I love lunch. It's my favorite meal of the day. On vacation, you can treat yourself to a bottle of wine without judgement and still have the rest of the day to burn off half of the cow that you consumed during your meal. Unlike the U.S. where the dinner rush hour is 6-8pm, here it's 9-11pm which unfortunately coincides with my grannyesque bedtime. By the time dinner is finished, the sun has risen and I have yet to start the digestion process. 

But at lunch, you have half the day ahead of you. Over a glass of local red, with grilled intestines and mollejas digesting in your stomach, you are sated and sleepy. You can then take a nap and wake up just in time for dinner. And that's the true definition of a good vacation. And Argentina is the definition of a good vacation for me.  

The official tourism slogan for Argentina that I found on the Internet but that I've never heard of is "Argentina beats to your rhythm." If the rhythm the government is referring to is the sound of a Malbec cork popping and a steak searing on the grill, then yes, this is quite accurate. But I think a much more effective one would be "Argentina: half the price and double the flavor." Because a grass-grazed hunk of succulent, mouth-watering, perfectly grilled, crispy-on-the-outside with a cool blood-red center bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) will cost you $20. Compare that with the U.S. where this morsel from heaven will take you back $50.

I rely on Michael to do the ordering for us in restaurants. He can wow the locals with his "gangster Mexican Spanish" as I call it. He's fluent and knows all the slang but leaves the locals perplexed as to where the hell he comes from. Asian-looking from one angle, Mexican from the other, with the right kind of accent and clipped, easy slang of a local from some Spanish-speaking country. But which one? He understands everything they say and can respond in a flowing dialect that leaves me simmering with jealousy. Because naturally, I am competitive, even when I have no business being so. What can I say, I'm a Leo by birth and a Leo by action. So here I go again, trying to get attention by impressing the locals with my Spanish. If you've read any of my previous blogs, you know how this goes. 


"Kasey, we will be here for ten days so just tell them that when they ask. In English, please."

"No, I can do this in Spanish. Diez dios!"

"Ten gods is not it."

"Dios, dias, it's close enough. They'll understand me."


"I want a coffee with dessert but I will order it myself. I don't need your help so please don't talk. Thanks."

"Ok. What will you say?"

"Una copa de caballo, por favor senõr."

"No. That's not it. Just let me do the ordering."

"What did I say wrong??"

"You ordered a cup of horse."

"Ok. Wait, you're right, I was way off. I got it now. Una copa de caballero?"

"Again, no. But you have succeeded with continuing the western theme."


"You ordered cup of cowboy."

"Ok, well that's not what I intended but that's doesn't sound too bad. He he."

Michael is not amused. In the end he orders the "cortado" (espresso with a drop of frothy milk) that I want. 

I might have been defeated today but tomorrow is a new day and with fresh wine flowing through my veins, who knows what I will attempt to order next. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Winter is coming.

We're visiting Chile and Argentina as the Southern Hemisphere transitions from autumn into winter. This Russian bear relishes this chilly climate. Anytime the temperature dips below 65 degrees, I am in my element. This body is not meant for California weather. I break a sweat as soon as we near the 70s. So here in 50 degree weather, I am in my zen zone. With a tunic and a cardigan on, mama is ready to sightsee. Michael, on the other hand, completely falls apart. Every morning as I pull on a sweater, I see him layering up. First comes the t-shirt, followed by a sweater, followed by a coat, followed by a scarf, gloves and a hat. And still, when we exit our hotel, he starts shivering uncontrollably. The curse of being born in the Philippines. He can handle 110 degrees and 99% humidity but as soon as we dip into chilly weather, this man is petrified. I feel energized and ready to burn some extra calories by doing absolutely nothing but just being cold. Shivering can burn an additional 100 calories in 15 minutes. As an extra bonus, not only do you burn calories but your fat stores burn calories. Hello, lazy woman's workout! Forget the juice diet, send me to the tundra, stat. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Baba Yaga

I like to tell everyone that Michael and I "backpack" when we travel. I like the wide-eyed looks I get, as if I achieved something great by not requiring a suitcase. This backpack signifies that I'm someone who is easy-going and low-maintenance. I just throw a few versatile clothing items into a rucksack and off I go, mixing outfits into chic ensembles. Being able to transform one pair of jeans, a tunic, sweater, and blouse into endless combinations. I imagine my friends and coworkers having conversations about me, impressed by my packing abilities. 

"Wow, look at Kasey, she's going on a two-week trip to two different countries and three climates with just a backpack!"

"Now that is one smart traveler. How does she do it?"  

I don't do it. What I leave out of my conversations is my definition of "backpack". It's more or less a suitcase with shoulder straps. I will shove the entire contents of my house into it and as long as I can hoist it over my shoulder, voila! It's a backpack. The square shape might be a rhombus now, the seams bursting open, and I might not be able to walk with it on my back, but it's still a backpack and I'm still "backpacking". 

It took me four hours to whittle down what I originally wanted to bring to the items that I actually brought, which was a feat in and of itself but clearly not good enough because I can barely zip the backpack closed. And the only way is by first expanding the expander section, then sitting on it, then desperately pulling the two sides closed as Michael works the zipper. It's a two-person job and requires some serious Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. 

If there's one animal I resemble on my travels, it's a snail. I carry my walk-in closet on my shoulders, slowly inching my way forward, leaving a slimy trail in my wake because I'm slick with sweat after carting this deformed beast on my back. And here comes Michael again, spouting his words of wisdom. "We all make choices, Kasey. This is the choice you made and you have to live with it." Ok Morpheus with your blue pill. I chose the red pill and here I am with my bulging, seam-bursting, wide-load monstrosity that I can barely lift to my shoulders. 

When we checked in at LAX, the attendant took one look at my "backpack" and promptly told me I had to check it in. To make things worse, this enormity kept growing throughout our trip, because of course I had to buy two bottles of wine at the boutique winery we visited in the Casablanca valley. And somehow shove these two bottles into my already packed-to-the-brim backpack. I started out with a 25 pounder and ended up checking in a 31 pounder on our way from Chile to Argentina. Ebags would be duly impressed with me as I'm fairly certain they advertise this backpack as "fitting up to 25 pounds." Compared to Michael's slim guy, who clocks in at a measly 18 pounds, my fattie looks even more heinous. And this is the "good" angle - everyone knows a tilted-down view is flattering. 

Any ancillary items that couldn't make it into my "backpack" ended up in my "purse." I use quotation marks around the word purse because when a handbag weighs as much as Michael's backpack, I don't think it qualifies as a purse. This "purse" contains my travel toiletries, snacks, tissues, iPhone, iPad, wet wipes, disinfectant spray, rain poncho, travel laundry detergent, makeup, more snacks, hair accessories, jewelry, camera, scarf, books, even more snacks, travel socks, and my entire medicine cabinet. 

If you worry about getting sick during your travels, travel with me. I got you covered. I have medication that is sold over-the-counter and behind-the-counter, under-the-counter and next-to-the-counter, inside-the-counter and any other counter variation. If you need antibiotics, have stomach issues or anxiety, I have a prescription pill for that. I have Flonase, Benadryl, DayQuil, NyQuil, Advil, ibuprofen, Aleve, cough drops, anti-vomit pills, Sudafed, Immodium, Pepto Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, Airborne, Dramamine, and Recoverors (clinical electrolyte rehydration) travel powder packs. You know, for those times when you're scaling Mount Everest or have a wicked hangover. I even have an extra month's supply of birth control. I am basically a pharmacy on legs. Doctor Baba Yaga at your service. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Mother of Dragons

Chile's three main industries, in order of significance, are mining (copper exports are one-third of the government's income), wine-making, and fishing. I have little interest in exploring the first one. I read "Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle that Set Them Free" by Hector Tobar so I think I'm decently educated about the Chilean mining industry. A book title with 21 words and a colon is not a book title. It's a sentence. Get it together, Hector. 

Now wine-making and fishing does draw my interest. Yesterday we drove 75 miles north-west of Santiago to visit the Casablanca valley for some wine tasting followed by the port city of Valparaiso, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's the third largest city in Chile and translates to "Paradise Valley."

Along the way, our lovely guide, Fernando, told us about the history of Chile and out of the full day's history, geography, and cultural lesson, I naturally retained the most unconnected of facts. Let me wow you with my knowledge:

- The condor is the national bird of Chile. The only reason I remember this fact is because Fernando gave me a condor pin as a gift so either this bird is indeed the national bird of Chile or I have a random pin with a condor on it. 

- A third of the 17 million people in Chile live in Santiago. Why? Because 80% of the country is either the Andes mountains, Atacama desert, or frigid Patagonia which sees 220 days of rain a year. The country is divided into 13 regions, so basically like the Latin American version of The Hunger Games. Regions 1-4 at the top of Chile are dry and that's where the Atacama desert is. This is the part of the Hunger Games where you battle the sand and die of thirst. Then come the central regions, which are more or less the Capitol. This is where Santiago lies and where you have four seasons and temperate weather. You get good food and good wine and everyone is drunk and merry. Then come the southern regions which are windy, cold, and dominated by perpetual rain. But they have penguins, which is the only benefit because penguins are cute and they waddle. Throw in perennial 8.7 magnitude earthquakes and 2,000 volcanoes, out of which 150 are active and you have Chile in a nutshell. May the odds be ever in your favor. 

- Chile has palm trees. With temperatures in the 30s at night, I was surprised to see palm trees growing in Santiago. And even more surprised to learn these are special Chilean palm trees (Chilean wine palm or cocopalm) native to the area - hearty trees that can withstand 5 degree Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius) temperatures. As the tour guide on our free walking tour of Santiago clarified, "We didn't import them - we're not trying to be Miami." With smooth bark, a full head of verdant leaves at the crown, and a thick trunk that can get up to 4 feet in diameter at the base, these palms don't look like their tall, insecure, and anorexic cousins back in L.A. They're big-boned and proud. They don't sway at the hint of a breeze, exfoliating themselves left and right, littering palm bark all over the streets. Get it together, L.A. palm trees. 

- There are roughly 400,000 stray dogs in Santiago. They started out as abandoned dogs who multiplied until the government set up programs to neuter/spade and immunize them instead of putting them down. Now they're a part of the city. Local shopkeepers and restaurateurs feed them. This happy mutt followed us on our four-hour walking tour of Santiago, diligently marking his territory every block of the way. 

As Fernando told us all about Chile, we entered the Casablanca valley known for its white wine production and drove to Casas del Bosque (Houses of the Forests) to sample their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Carménère, Syrah, and dessert Riesling. I would love to wow you with my tasting notes but the only thing I wrote down was "smells like celery" next to the Sauvignon Blanc. I did enjoy the Carménère and learned that 98% of the world's production of Carménère comes from Chile. Taste-wise, it's heavier than the Merlot but lighter than the Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the description, it has a "voluptuous structure, well-rounded tannins, and intense chocolaty notes, coffee, roses, plums, cinnamon, strawberries, blackberries, and moist soil." You had me at moist soil, you little minx. 

I was thrilled to bust out my furry cream vest for this trip. The 50-to-60 degree weather during the day made it a perfect accessory and I wore it proudly for the first five minutes until Michael ogled me with a bemused look. 

"Ok, Game of Thrones. What's going on here?" 

"What? It's a furry warm vest. It's practical and chic." 

"It looks like you skinned a sheep and draped it over your shoulders. We're not in Norway you Viking wannabe."

For the rest of the day, Michael checked in on me periodically with a "How's my little barbarian doing?" 

This Mother of Dragons was not amused. 

After our wine tasting, we drove into Valparaiso, walked around the historic port city, and tasted some of its delicious seafood. Although fishing is Chile's third largest industry, I was dubious about the quality of the seafood. I started to become convinced after trying the Paila Marina, the Chilean seafood stew, at Mares de Chile, a small restaurant on the border of the Mercado Central, Santiago's fish market. It was as if the entire ocean was condensed into one steaming bowl of seafood broth. Foaming and bubbling on the surface, dense with an indiscriminate assortment of shellfish and native fish on the inside, 90% of the patrons in the restaurant ordered it and I could see why. It was undeniably scrumptious. 

The seafood is so varied and plentiful in Chile because of the strong current in the south which makes its way up the coast to Santiago. Although this southern current makes the beaches ice-cold year-round, it oxygenates the ocean and enables a wide assortment of fish and crustaceans to thrive in the coastal waters. The octopus was no exception. Grilled and drizzled with an olive tapenade sauce, it was so fresh and meaty that I couldn't believe I was actually eating octopus. It might not be visually stunning, but it was gastronomically divine. I could pair this with a Carménère all day long. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

K-assay Adam, welcome to Chile.

I'm always amused by how easily and frequently my name is butchered. I've been a Kathy, CeeCee, Cassie, Kase, Katie, and Katty. My last name produces even wilder variations. I've been Adamick, Amchik, Chik, Adamchytchyz, Aick, Amik, Chewbacca, Lake Titicaca, Montezuma. I'm so used to this by now that when the LAN flight attendant, who was confirming passengers on the flight from Lima to Santiago, tentatively called out for a K-assay Adam, I nodded my head and raised my hand. Yes, ma'am, K-assay Adam at your service. 

Flying LAN proved to be quite an enjoyable experience. The wine was actually palatable as opposed to the vinegar served on other airlines. The flight attendants handed out M&Ms and little caramel candies as treats throughout the flight and frequently came by with water refills. On my last trip to South America, flying Avianca to Bogota, I shriveled up into a prune from lack of hydration. I had to walk to the back of the plane to ask for more water throughout the flight since after the initial food service, the flight attendants disappeared for the remainder of the flight. 

We landed in Santiago around 7am and the airport was surprisingly quiet at that hour. Besides us, there was only one other international flight arriving at the same time and immigration proved painless. As usual, after we get our bags we look for an ATM to withdraw local currency since the rate is better at an ATM than at a currency exchange. We had a hard time locating an ATM and I suggested we go to the right of the arrivals terminal. As typical of men, Michael responded by going left, which proved fruitless. After asking a security guard where we could find an ATM, he pointed us to the right. I gave Michael my best I-Told-You-So look and in response I was gifted with one of the infinite adages he stores in his big (literally and figuratively) head, most likely just for these kinds of situations: 

"Even a broken clock tells the right time sometimes." 

We drove into the city in the dark, foggy, and sleepy early morning accompanied by the hypnotic strains of "Hotel California" playing in our taxi. Since we couldn't check in to our hotel until 3pm, we explored the city. We took the creaky funicular, built in 1925, to San Cristobal Hill, part of the Santiago Metropolitan Park, to get stunning views of the city, ringed with snow-peaked mountains. 

We then walked to Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago, and rode the metro back to our bohemian neighborhood of Barrio Bellavista. Stopping for lunch at Bellavista Grill, I got quite the eyefull in the ladies room. I happened to look up at the ceiling as I was handling my business and was met with a nine foot by six foot black and white photograph of a chiseled nude man cupping his balls as he hovered above my stall. While his physique was fetching, I don't know what the motivation was behind hanging this oversized Adonis on the ceiling for ladies to stare up at while they do their unsexy business. I felt like he was seconds away from unleashing a rainshower over my head. Quite the welcome, Chile. Gracias. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Take a Bow

I morph into an Asian tourist when I visit a country where I don't speak the native language. I smile and bow incessantly, like an Adderall-popping wind-up toy. At the hint of eye contact and the beginning of a verbal greeting, I whip out my nervous smile, eyes darting wildly from lack of comprehension, and head instinctively starting the short journey down to my chest. I do this not out of deference, but apologetic embarrassment at the fact that I can barely string two words together in a simple greeting let alone a handful to form a cohesive sentence in response. 

I used to look at Asian tourists with bemused condescension when I observed them bowing and smiling when abroad but now I stand with them in solidarity. When you don't understand a thing, it makes sense to smile and bow. I have come to define smiles and bows as the universal non-verbal signs of greeting and gratitude. Exhibited in tandem, these gestures are your hello and thank you wrapped in one very friendly package of utter confusion. 

The difference when I smile and bow in a foreign country is two-fold. First, the obvious - that as much as I may think I am Asian on the inside, I am very white and very tall and very Eastern European-looking and American-acting so the bowing completely does not make cultural sense to the perplexed observer of this action. And second, I commit to my smiling and bowing with such gusto that I communicate the very opposite of greeting and gratitude. I believe that if I smile just a little bigger and bow just a little harder, I will communicate not just "Hi" but "HELLO!!! I AM SO HAPPY TO MEET YOU!!!" and not just "Thanks" but "THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I LOVE YOUR COUNTRY AND THE FOOD!!!" And so naturally, my bared teeth and aggressive bowing make me seem deranged rather than immensely appreciative of the salutation. 

You would think that after Argentina and Costa Rica, I would command some kind of basic Spanish. But just like Dory in Finding Nemo, my memory eludes me. And just like Dory, this is the frozen expression plastered on my face when I am approached by a kind, Spanish-speaking soul here in Bogota:

Every Spanish phrase that Michael had drilled into my head has flittered away, leaving random groupings of words that make little sense. This short-term memory loss makes me rely even more on my manic smiling and bowing. When I'm with Michael, this non-verbal lunacy is masked by his charming fluency. I may get a strange look here and there but mostly I am ignored. However, when I am left to my own devices, it's a different story. 

I decided to venture up to the roof-top pool deck of our hotel in Bogota because the 8th-floor, 360-degree views were bound to be quite lovely. And they most certainly were. I planned on reading in solitude as I looked over the cityscape. However, these quixotic plans were dashed by my exuberant Greeting and Gratitude. As I was making my way up the spiral staircase, I ran into the pool attendant. As we made eye contact and he started speaking to me in Spanish, I panicked and turned up my smiling and bowing to overdrive so what greeted this friendly attendant was not a nice and calm female tourist but this psychopath:

After this unsettling interaction, I was not surprised to see the cautious attendant follow me up to the deck, probably thinking that I could be capable of who knows what given my feral nature. Conscious of his eyes on me at all times as I made my way around the perimeter of the pool, I took a few photos of the vista and aborted my original plan of a leisurely reading session on one of the chaise lounges. His relief was palpable when I finally descended the stairs back to the hotel and was no longer his liability to deal with.