Holiday Sales

Today is Memorial Day, set aside for the good citizens of the United States of America to remember those who have died while protecting and serving our country. Our remembrance might also extend to anyone who has served in the Armed Forces and, even further, to those who have gone on before us.

Like most holidays, retailers have made it a shopping holiday. All weekend my inbox has overflowed with emails promising huge holiday price reductions.

Mostly, I hit “delete, delete, delete…” I click on a few, just in case this or that company from which I actually shop has a deal on something I regularly purchase. So far, that’s meant one online purchase. To how many deleted emails?

Last week on holiday in Puerto Vallarta celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we got sucked into the worst holiday sales pitch: the time share.

I’ve sat through a few time share pitches and, while I hate the hard sell, the experience came and went with little to-do. This one, though, made an impression I’m still pondering.

First, let’s be clear: we didn’t buy. We’re in no position to drop a chunk of change on a vacation property, especially with two kids facing down college. Family is our priority. You could say family benefits from awesome resort vacations (they did say that), but our family priorities look a little different.

We got snagged in the airport. A guy directed us to a counter to arrange hotel transportation. This, friends, was something of a ruse: we did get hotel transportation after we agreed to the time share presentation the next morning. We also got transportation to and from the resort (subject of the sales pitch), and (super expensive and amazingly cool) excursion tickets including drinks, sunset boat cruise, Cirque de Soleil show, delicious buffet dinner which we ate on a beach while being serenaded, and an entertaining lip synch ‘concert’ on the return boat ride. The perks outweighed the pain.

Still…

As the cab driver entered the gated resort property—and drove and drove through lush foliage that precluded our ability to see anything but road and plants—I was reminded of Jurassic Park. Had we been kidnapped, or otherwise lured into something that looked incredible but posed danger?

One smiling face after another directed us to Jeff, our guide, who took us to a pool-side breakfast. A young, good-looking American straight out of military service, he’d been on the job only three weeks. He’d travelled to Puerto Vallarta on a whim and found a job because he’d fallen in love with Mexico. He showed us around the resort—more accurately seven resorts which will be nine plus a Disney-style theme-park—including several ‘model’ rooms/suites at various price points.

The promised “breakfast plus an hour” stretched over four hours. Jeff gave an extended sales pitch. His boss presented us with four or five offers. Two other guys followed up: “The sales pitch is over. But have you looked at these numbers…?” By the end, it almost seemed if we could put down a credit card for a reasonable charge today, the resort would pay for itself within a few years. Math must work differently in Mexico.

Of course it would be lovely to vacation in PV every year, by ourselves or with the kids. But our vacations are so low-key. We don’t typically fly. We camp, or borrow a vacation house, or VRBO. We cook for ourselves. We get out into the wilderness and out with the locals. Those who stay at this place would never leave. It’s pristine. It has its own grocery store, nineteen pools, and obviously beach access. It also has the corner on excursions, which means that even if you get out, you’d do so with people working for or staying at the resort.

Toward the end, I gently challenged Jeff. The guy who admitted he lives with locals and speaks only Spanish after work, the guy newly committed to living an authentic Mexican lifestyle. I asked how he justified selling such an inauthentic version of Mexico to people who might never interact with Mexico because of their experience at this resort. He wouldn’t go there with me.

We don’t live in a perfect world. On-site, this resort employs 7,000 people. How many more off-site, at the airport or as excursion operators? And what about all the others, the landscapers, builders, taxi drivers, who benefit from increased tourism? All good.

Except it’s a manufactured experience. They literally took one landscape and created a new ecosystem. The resort may be in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it’s Mexican.

I’m not one to judge, not at all. For those who have money and leisure to travel, this is a gorgeous option. And obviously the resort has created countless jobs benefitting the economy and the families of Puerto Vallarta. The parent company has done good, but I still wonder: at what cost?

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.

Meatless Monday – Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

Well, this day did not go to plan!

Guy left this morning for a full week of travel. So of course, not one, but TWO cars to which I had access didn’t work.

Commence panic attack: I’m Stranded!

After I pulled myself together from a toddler-worthy temper tantrum, I calmed down and decided to take one car to a mechanic.

Not one, not two, but three mechanics later, someone took my key and my phone number. And I haven’t heard from him since, so I’m really trying not to think the worst.

So what do I do? After checking email and social media and wisely deciding not to rant (although, here I am ranting, and this will post to social media…), I start checking recipes to decide what I can make for dinner with what I have on hand.

Hash–roasted potatoes tossed in last minute with sauteed onion, vegan Field Roast Italian and chipotle sausages, bell peppers, and black beans–over a modified version of Quinoa & Black Bean Salad.

Enough, right? Except my curiosity wasn’t satisfied and I remembered a) I had some white beans in the fridge and a can of artichoke hearts in the pantry, b) I have a Tower Garden filled with glorious spinach, and c) I made a holiday party dip and forgot to make notes at the time.

Have you heard about Tower Gardens? These things are amazing! Generous friends gave us one, and we currently have so much mint and spinach and baby lettuce on the way; a few months ago we had abundant arugula. I’m not the best gardener but this thing seems fool-proof!

So I made a Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip. It comes together so quickly and then bakes to warm, gooey deliciousness. Just as it had cooled, Q14 dashed through the kitchen for a taste test. He declared, “Too spicy…” (I was heavy-handed with the Tapatio) “…and needs cheese” (it doesn’t, that’s just his way of teasing/answer for everything).

Spinach Artichoke Dip was one of my favorite party recipes before leaning plant-based, and I’m so happy to have a yummy non-dairy replacement. You could use kale instead of spinach. To satisfy the kid’s cheese request, I might another time add 2-4 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast, but maybe not. Tonight I’ll eat it with chips. Tomorrow I’ll put it on a toasted bagel or in a veggie wrap sandwich. Ooh, or maybe in a black bean no-cheese quesadilla. It’s versatile that way!

Spinach Artichoke White Bean Dip

2 c packed fresh spinach
1 14-oz can water-packed artichoke hearts, well drained
1/2 c non-dairy mayo
1/2 c white beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 large garlic cloves
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp Tapatio or hot sauce of choice (start with less and add more)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb seasoning)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Say the Words

Twice this week I’ve found myself in conversation with people who have recently and unexpectedly lost a parent, a woman whose father died and a man whose mother died, both from a stroke.

Last night as I listened to my friend describe the events surrounding his mother’s last days, he said, “Tell the people you love that you love them, over and over, as often as you can. I’d do anything for her to have regained consciousness one more time so that I could tell her again that I love her…”

This morning I awoke from vivid dreams with an uncomfortable heaviness in my chest. I realized my dad had come to me, wearing a nice coat that must have been his Pan American Airlines uniform. As hale and hearty as he had been when I was a child, he greeted me with a big bear hug. I turned to see Q13, looking exactly as he does today except that he was dressed up, too, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. I introduced my son to his grandfather. They embraced, and I woke up.

It didn’t take more than a moment to address the ruminations of my unconscious brain.

This weekend we will celebrate Q13’s fourteenth birthday. Also, the thirteenth anniversary of my dad’s passing on the morning of my son’s first birthday. It’s a weird day, always.

Thankfully, we had time to say the words. In fact, while I have regularly been a gushing fountain of emotion, Dad got better at expressing his love as he recognized the end of his life drawing near. Still, what I wouldn’t do to say it again, and to hear again that he loved me. What I wouldn’t do to watch my son enjoy his own relationship with the grandpa he didn’t have time to know.

Say the words, people. We don’t know how many breaths have been allotted to any of us. Use all the breath you have to share love.