It only matters what works for you.

Cold things only.

The other day a friend of mine posted to Facebook and used the hashtag #coldthingsonly.

I had a moment of profound and overwhelming empathy. Oh, my friend, I wish you weren’t there. And then a moment of “I thought it was only me, I’m not alone.”

#coldthingsonly is about running out of spoons before the day’s work is done. It means you had enough energy to go to the store (or no choice) but you used up all the energy you had shopping and when you get home, you hurt too much, or don’t have the energy to bring in all the groceries. Just the cold things. The rest will just have to stay in the car until you get back to them. Or urgently need them. Or if you’re very fortunate someone in your life will bring them in for you.

Because, remember, bringing in the cold things isn’t the end of the chore. You have to have the energy to put things away once you’re all in. This is one of the things I know normally healthy people don’t really think about.

Is it selfish to have a moment of comfort because you aren’t the only one? It’s a hard mental place. I don’t want my friends to suffer. I don’t want others to be in pain or exhausted. But there is a small comfort from knowing that someone else can viscerally understand what your situation is. What ever it is.

I’ve got your back my friend.

 

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Unico 20.87- Unplugged

 

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Riviera Maya let us unplug. That’s not to say that Unico didn’t have complete wireless access everywhere on the property. It did. They also assured me that they offered free long distance calls to the States and Canada. But we had agreed that we would treat it as a cruise, where internet or phone access is ridiculously priced so we opt out. I checked my email twice a day to see if there was anything from my cat sitters and that was it. We unplugged. No phone, no news, no social media.

I don’t realize how much all the frantic activity wears on me until I opt out of it. I ‘knew’ that I’ve found this year to be particularly stressful, but I didn’t really ‘know’ until I got away. And now that I’m back, I’m very reluctant to completely reconnect.

I really enjoyed reading for long hours. I enjoyed having good conversations with my Beloved, and several with the random other people I met in the pool, or at the spa. I loved feeling that I had plenty of time to just sit back and watch the clouds and listen to the wind.

Where do we balance our need to be informed citizens and the desire to participate with our friends and loved ones, even if only online, with the need for quiet introspection and space to just think? Daily meditation practice, even when I’m good about it, isn’t quite enough.

One thing that surprised me was how distressed I felt watching other people at the quiet pool be on their phones. Not talking, that would have been rude, but intent on their screens. I thought it was sad. To go to such a beautiful place and stay connected to the electronic tether. To miss out on the moment while glued to the every day world by screen. That may not be at all fair. Maybe they were e-readers and no different from my own vacation choices. Not that it was any of my business anyway, but it bothered me quite a bit. Such an amazing moment was offered, and it seemed like they were missing it.

The other thing I didn’t notice until we returned was how beautifully quiet it was. I live outside DC and even though my neighborhood is thoroughly suburban and could be anywhere, you can always just barely hear the sound of the traffic, of airplanes. Of neighbors tending their lawns. It’s always something. The only mechanical sound I really heard there was the constant hum of the air conditioners, and honestly, I’d have really missed those if they weren’t there.

I wonder if there is a way to find that quiet and peace at home, or if it really requires stepping out into another world? The holiday season is almost upon us, so I guess I’ll have time to experiment.

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Unico 20.87- The Quiet Pool

The quiet pool was really the focus of our vacation I think. After a leisurely waking and a nice walk to the breakfast buffet, we retired to the quiet pool. It was a bit cooler than the two main pools and it was tucked off to the side. The music was lower, easily talked over. There was no beer pong. All the beer pong was over in the main pool.

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This really sums up our vacation. The clear cool water of the pool. Blue sky with decorative puffy white clouds. Palm trees swaying in the breeze. The swim up bar opened at about 11, or maybe 10:30. But we didn’t have to actually swim to the bar because the amazing Bianca would come by every little bit to refresh the ice buckets keeping our water bottles cold and see if we needed another pina colada, or maybe another daiquiri, or a chi-chi, which is what Bianca told me a pina colada with grenadine is called, although Google differs.

When we got warm, just hop up and take another dip in the pool. Gustavo, a young man not long out of school and saving for University, was tasked with making sure our umbrella constantly moved to keep us out of the sun. We didn’t take advantage of the lunch delivery, but it was available.

Partway through the morning our Host, Leonardo, would come by to see if we needed anything. Dinner reservations? Spa reservations? Could I please have an electric fan in our room? Certainly! No problem. Everything we could possibly need, including change for a $20 on the last day to tip our favorite servers, he made possible.

They were running some great specials, so after a leisurely morning reading and swimming at the pool, and a late lunch, I took myself off to the spa. Daily massage has become a goal. Some were good, some were amazing. Volcanic hot stone massage is a favorite, but I tried some of everything.

One day Beloved took off on an excursion to see the ruins at Tulum. He came back full of excellent educational details. He said the quality of the excursion and the education was much, much higher than the cruise excursions we’re used to. I didn’t think I’d be up to the walking, so I was in the spa and then had a lovely reading day.

After the pool and the spa was always a leisurely dinner. Beloved made extensive use of the jacuzzi tub on the deck every evening.

But when I plug into the memory to relax and bask in the joy, it’s laying on a sunbed at the quiet pool in the breeze that is the strongest memory. That’s what I look forward to in our next vacation.

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Unico 20.87- the Food.

Food, glorious food!

One of the questions we always have to ask is, can they handle a guest with food allergies. Yes, they did, and they did a fantastic job.

Breakfast and lunch every day was at the 20 87 restaurant, which is an enormous buffet. In the US I am particularly leery of buffets because you can’t be certain what is actually in the food, and cross contamination is a big problem. I ate at their buffet twice a day for 5 days and never had a single issue. You should be impressed.

While they did have all the traditional things an American tourist will expect, made to order omelettes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, and pancakes, that was the very least of the breakfast offerings. There was an array of things to make breakfast tacos, which I never fully investigated. There were so many things, I often wished they were still offering breakfast at lunch so I could try things I missed. Every day I had beautiful creamy scrambled eggs and bacon and gluten free bread. Other offerings that rotated were various preparations of potatoes. Poached eggs with salsa, with salsa verde, and some creamy cheesy sauce that I sadly skipped. Several times shredded beef or chicken that was beautifully seasoned. An entire section…six or seven trays…of sliced meats specifically a salami type item that I ate for breakfast and lunch every day. Trays of cheeses that made me sad I can’t eat cheese any more. Tray after tray of cut fruit, the expected watermelon and pineapple, cantaloupe, mango, something I didn’t recognize, and sliced peaches and plums, which was a very nice treat for me.

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And a huge selection of every possible pastry that my Beloved enjoyed ruthlessly. On the weekend they offered a selection of gluten free muffins that were lovely.

The juice flowed endlessly, and if you’re a fan of watermelon, I’d just like to recommend fresh squeezed watermelon juice to start your day. Or strawberry juice, if that’s your thing. Definitely my thing, along with orange juice, which was always fresh squeezed and far superior to what I can usually purchase here in the DC area.

Lunch was the same layout. More fruit, cheese, and sliced meats. Made to order lunch steaks, hamburgers, or fish. Tacos. Curries. Random veggies. Interesting potatoes. So much variety every day. Beloved was particularly enamored of the no less than 5 varieties of ceviche that were presented every day. And of course, desserts, if you possibly had any room. The gluten free chocolate chip cookies were very nice.

For less formal lunch or afternoon snacks there were several choices. There were some areas around the pools that were just walk up bars. One specialized in fried fish, one had a big brick pizza oven, one seemed to specialize in sandwiches. I never had room to try them.

For dinner, things were just a bit more formal. The space that was a buffet two meals a day became a steak house. I had to most amazing flank steak possible. It didn’t taste like anything but flank steak, but it was the richest, most tender flank steak you can imagine and I have no idea how they managed it. Beloved had something they called a strip roast, which seems to be what a rib roast would be if you cut it the other direction along the ribs. It was also very good, but we agreed mine was the best tasting.

There was a Italian restaurant that I admit we didn’t try. They do offer a gluten free pasta, but neither of us were particularly intrigued by the menu.

Mura House is their Japanese restaurant. We ate there twice because Beloved adores sushi. Everything he ate was beautiful and he raved about the freshness. They offered gluten free soy sauce, so all the sushi was available to me, except that I don’t care for it. Instead I had custom prepared teppanyaki, which wonderful. They also offered a specialty beverage called a Momo which went down so smooth on a hot day that it’s only by careful pre-planning that I didn’t over do. They are saki, peach liqueur, peach juice, and something else I think. Really spectacular. In this picture Beloved has received his tempura, but we’re still waiting on our drinks. With multiple open grills, I found it a bit warm, hence the fan.

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Cueve Siete is their Mexican signature restaurant. It is not what you think of as Mexican, but it was amazing anyway. One night there was table-side fresh to order guacamole. My favorite dish was a beef and sheep’s tongue appetizer that was just amazing, tender and flavorful. Both nights we were there I had the duck as my main course. It was rich and tender and not under cooked the way it often is here where it’s practically raw in the middle. It is not done to lick the plate, but it was difficult to maintain my composure. Sex on the Beach was the drink of choice those nights.

And on the off chance you might possibly still be looking for more food, Cafe Inez was on the walk from the restaurants back to our room and they offered a dangerous selection of desserts, baked goods, and they had a little three-tier case with three lovely gluten free choices, a fantastic apple tart with an almond base, a super rich frosted chocolate brownie-thing, and a lovely crumbly round pastry with a rich sweet taste and a light chocolaty layer in the middle. I’ve never seen one before, but it was delicious.

They took being accessible to those of us with food allergies very seriously. After check-in I was presented with a laminated card with all the food allergies I’d submitted printed on it. I showed this at every restaurant and it was noted down. I think that as they go along they’ll come up with a better method for keeping the information on file, but for now, in their first year of operation, they are obsessively keeping statistics.

It made our experience that much more stress free.

And because it matters to me, so maybe to you, in a conversation with part of the customer care team we ran into on the way back to our room one afternoon, I learned that almost all the food is local, either organically or hydroponically grown. They have a very aggressive recycling policy and have a whole team devoted to minimizing their impact.

Here at home I eat organic as much as possible, and I try to make the freshest choices, but the difference in the  food is astounding. Everything just tasted better there, and I don’t think it was solely because I didn’t have to cook it myself. I think real, fresh, untainted food is a gift it’s hard to get here. I’m not sure we as a culture even know where we’re missing any more.

If you missed the first part, it’s here.

 

 

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Unico 20 87 on the beautiful Riviera Maya is where we spent our amazing vacation. The 20 87 are the longitude and latitude, although it may be the other way around. It’s about an hour outside of Cancun, and the property is owned by the same people as the Hard Rock resorts. But it’s their latest upscale idea.

Oh boy is it up scale.

It’s new. It’s beautiful. Someone put a LOT of thought into how it looks and what their clients need. As you can see, the property is built in an arc so everyone has good access to the restaurants in the main building, the pools, and the beach. The buildings are narrow, so almost all the rooms are ‘good’ rooms with great views. Most of the ground floor rooms are ‘swim up’ rooms, with a little river area you can access right from your room. Many of the upper floors have enormous jacuzzi tubs on the balcony. This was ours.

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The rooms are big and luxurious. The floors are textured concrete, I think. They look like stone, but they had a rougher texture. I didn’t ask anyone so I can’t say for sure. They were lovely and cool after coming in from the warm outside. There were heavily textured rugs around the seating area and bed. I think everything was designed to wear well in a hot humid environment, and yet still look and feel expensive.

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I think the rest of the world uses some other size for ‘king sized bed’. We technically have a king sized bed at home, but this bed was possibly the most enormous I’ve ever slept in, much bigger than the one at home. We’re both big people, and we never touched at all when sleeping if we didn’t do it on purpose. The mattress was really deep. The sheets barely fit. It’s just the mattress on slats, but it’s so thick it was one of the more comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept on. No trouble with sleeping and the linens were soft and silky. And all the pillows you want. I requested extra.

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But my actual favorite part of the room was the shower.

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Textured floor so it isn’t quite so insanely slippery. Check. Bench for sitting on while I was my waist length hair and bask in endless warm water. Check. Shower wand and rainfall overhead fixture, check. You can’t see it, but it’s there. The shower wand fixture swiveled in multiple directions. The bath products were so fantastic I tried to bring them home. (The bottles are slightly too big, they didn’t make it through security.) I have permanent shower envy. I’d also like to point out the safety bar on the wall. Just in case. The water pressure was good and the wand head was adjustable. My favorite shower ever!

We didn’t take a picture, but the toilet closet was generously sized. I hate the ones that have 4.2 inches on either side of the commode and the door almost touches your knees. This one had plenty of space so it didn’t feel claustrophobic, even to me at my size.

There was bottled water everywhere. 2 bottles every morning in the bathroom to remind you not to drink the tap water. Half the in-room fridge was full of water. And then gatorade, wine, beer, and eventually the Fanta I requested. It was restocked every morning. There was a drawer of snacks just in case you needed a nibble instead of going out to one of the many amazing restaurant options or just calling room service.

I really liked the feeling of space. I had a nice bench to sit on at the end of the bed to put on my shoes or just to sit. The couch was firm so I didn’t have trouble getting up off it.

I talked to some managers. They put a lot of thought into making the place accessible to those with mobility issues. Except for the pool, I don’t think I climbed any stairs the whole time. The pool had wide stairs and a sturdy railing. My one very minor complaint was that with some of the distances, it would have been nice if there were a few more benches, maybe strategically placed so people could sit and watch the fountains. There were sun beds everywhere, but those are very low and hard to get off of. But other than that minor issue, I was able to get everywhere I needed to. They put a lot of effort into being accommodating. I would return here without question any time, and I definitely recommend it.

They were also particularly accommodating with the food. Which is up next.

 

We just got back from an amazing trip to Mexico, so of course I’d like to talk about wheelchairs.

Let me back up. Last year I finally saw pictures of my arthritic knees. Poor knees. They need replacing, but I am both too young and too fat, so that isn’t an option right now. What I may, or may not be doing about that is for a different day. Today is about how can I make the most of life with the knees I have today.

First step involved the cane I got for my trip to visit family in Missouri. I got the cane last year for the trip that got cancelled in favor of my beloved having heart surgery. So I was able to use the cane for innumerable trips back and forth to the hospital. And everywhere I’ve gone since when I’m concerned about how far I’ll really need to walk. It makes a surprising difference. I thought it would just help for things like stairs, but it makes me much more stable and limp less. Who knew?

Next stop was upping my regular workout at the pool. Walking mostly. Stretching. Practicing range of motion with my weight and gravity taken out of the equation, although the inertia is higher, so that’s an adventure. Walking in water gives the same benefits as land walking in terms of joint mobility and gaining strength without stressing the poor damaged joint. The goal is 45 minutes 4 days a week.  I usually get close to that.

Next up, extend the timing out a month and get my quarterly cortisone shot in October instead of September, two weeks before leaving so my knees are at their best. It does the job for now.

My insurance covers a certain amount of physical therapy, so I asked my doctor to send me. I got really lucky with my therapist and he did much better work than the people I saw last summer. He explained that my worse knee doesn’t fully extend, and he was able to dramatically improve my range of motion in just the number of visits my insurance would approve. And he gave me stretches and exercises that will help me continue improving on my own going forward.

And then there was the wheelchair. That’s a tough call to make, because it trips some sort of mental switch. My beloved is pretty unhappy with the idea. But it works like this. I can use up everything I have and all the work I’ve done struggling through airports, or I can accept help, get rolled through concrete floors and have a place to sit for long lines, and save my endurance for walking to the pool, to the spa, and to lovely places for dinner.

So it is not, in fact, ‘giving in’, it is making the most of what I have. Can I just point out that Beloved’s step counter said he walked about 3 miles yesterday. Just dealing with airports.

There are lots of places the same lesson applies. Figure out what you can do, and what you can’t do, and then figure out how to close the gap. If you need a wheel chair, or a wheel barrow, or whatever, get one.

Once upon a time in 2010, Southwest messed up but good. They kicked a fat guy off a plane in a ham handed decision to unevenly apply their rule about larger passengers who encroach on other seats.

They picked the wrong fat guy, because that happened to be Kevin Smith of Mallrats and Dogma fame. He’s a fat guy with a rabidly loyal fan base and a mouth more like Jay than Silent Bob. So, seriously bad move on their part.

On the other hand, every business will eventually publicly make a horrible decision (United anyone?), so what will set them apart is how they fix the issue.

Southwest claimed at the time to have a written policy, and their FAQ says their policy has been in place 30 years. I don’t know. I don’t really need to do that much research on the past when I know they are getting it right today.

Today, Southwest has a clear policy that is easy to find, and actually makes sense, and has worked for me exactly as advertised.

If you need a third seat, you can negotiate at the counter with staff and they may, or may not have one to issue you. Flights these days are often packed completely full. Also, with their boarding method, it doesn’t guarantee you early boarding if you check in later. So the only other spare seat may be in a different row, which is not useful and awkward and embarrassing to fix.

Buy a third seat. Just do it. And when you get home from your trip, call Southwest, give them your details, and they will refund the cost. In full. Super easy. You’ll get your money back in about a week. No fuss, no hassle.

A third seat will guarantee you have the space you need. You’ll even get an extra boarding pass that says reserved seat that you can discretely place in the empty so the Fight Attendants all know why that seat is empty and not include it in the empty count on a full flight.

Your third seat will also allow you priority boarding, meaning you skip the lines and you can pick your spot. It will allow one companion to join you in priority boarding, so you can claim your whole row (not the exit row, don’t be ridiculous) with minimal fuss.

I know it’s an extra expense up front, but it is worth it. My stress levels about travel have fallen dramatically. I have never had a Southwest employee be anything less than professional and pleasant about what I need, and frankly, my extra seat is more comfortable for everyone.

That’s how we got here:

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