Monday, September 21, 2009

Drama Over

Well, it all went very well. I can't say enough for Escondido Endodontics. It is one of the best-run medical offices I have ever been in. Rob was seen at 7:30AM, his face drained, root canal performed, and given prescription strength ibuprofen AND narcotics, just in case he needs it.

He is happily snuggled in bed, watching a documentary with a plethora of soft foods waiting for him.

We are all relieved- both physically and psychologically.

More Dental Nightmare

If you don't want to read about dental sh*t, skip this post. I am writing it more for my own benefit of being able to look back on it later.

It's 6AM Monday morning, and we have an appointment at the endodontist at 7:30AM. We made it through the weekend. Yesterday, thankfully, Rob was starting to feel a little better. I think the penicillin must have started kicking in, because taking ibuprofen seemed to keep the pain at bay without the need for any other pain medication. In fact, Rob was starting to feel a little silly about the scene with the urgent care doctor guy earlier that day.

Until last night. When he dozed off and slammed his teeth together in his sleep.

I have never seen ANYONE in so much pain in my life. It was awful. He took the rest of his pain meds and was agonizing for about twenty minutes. Agonizing doesn't even describe it. How do you describe someone who is at the very limit of their pain threshold? And this is not muscle pain. It's nerve pain. Eyes glazed over, drooling uncontrollably, not knowing whether to walk or sit, clenching fists, groaning, short, shallow breaths. It made ME want to throw up. All I could do was watch.

So, to avoid that incident again, he stayed awake the rest of the night. I dozed and slept, intermittently checking on him. His face is more swollen than it was yesterday. The swelling is all the way up just below his eye. The pain seems to be at bay, however, as long as he does not talk too much or eat anything. He has a low-grade fever, but it hasn't gotten any worse.

Please, please, let this doctor be able to help. All I want is for him to feel better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taxes: Everyone Wants Their Piece

Living in a foreign country brings with it a whole host of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out how to pay what to whom. If taxes in the United States aren't complicated enough, now there are two countries to worry about. I'm not an expert at this, and I don't do it all myself, but here is some of what I have learned so far:

Income tax: If you earn U.S. dollars but live abroad, there are some pros and cons:
  • The foreign-earned income exemption: You don't need to pay U.S, taxes on the first 85k you earn in a foreign country. Yes, even if you work for a U.S. company. The hitch is, you have to have been in that country for all but 30 days of the calendar year (which we have not been-- doh!)
  • State Taxes: If you haven't been in the U.S. and don't have a house there, you are not a resident of any state. So you don't pay any state tax, right? Well, each state has different rules about what qualifies as a resident, and CA is VERY tough on this one. You have to be careful how you prove you are not a resident. AND if you are NOT a resident of any state, complications arise with all kinds of other bureaucratic tasks, such as banking.
  • What do I withhold? When I got a job working virtually, my status as an overseas resident stumped the accounting department. What taxes are they supposed to withhold? The solution was to create my own business, and just send the company an invoice. So technically, my boss is my client. Now I have to include the business income on my tax returns.
  • Argentina: Don't know much about Argentine income taxes yet, as we are not residents, But there is no treaty between the countries, and Argentina requires you to pay taxes on worldwide income. No exemptions for what you already paid in the U.S. I'm procrastinating on this one. Needless to say, I will try my hardest to stay within the letter of the law in both countries while not getting f**ked. (I know what you are going to say- it doesn't matter whether you are a resident- only the length of time you have been there.... *has hands over ears* BLAH BLAH BLAH- I CAN'T HEAR YOU....)
Property Taxes:
  • If you own property in Argentina, you have to pay annual property taxes on that property (usually about 1.5% of the purchase price.) NO ONE WILL TELL YOU THIS UNLESS YOU ASK ABOUT IT, AND THERE IS NO BILL. If you don't pay these taxes, you won't be able to sell the property in the future without a lot of complications. An Argentine accountant needs to register the payment with the government, so don't do this by yourself. This is different than the tax bills you get to cover the cost of city services (below:)
  • City taxes: I don't know about other cities, but in Buenos Aires, you get a quarterly bill for a tax that covers the cost of trash pickup, etc. Not very expensive, but don't pay the bill late, or you will have to take 1/2 a day to go do it at the city office.
Sales Taxes:
  • Taxes on imported goods in Argentina are insane. You can end up paying twice or three times the cost of electronic equipment you would pay in the U.S. All I can see this doing is keeping laptops from teenagers who could use them to learn highly valuable skills. There is wifi on every corner, but only the elite use it. What a shame.
That's all the taxes I can think of. I didn't get into a lot of details, since I am not an accountant, but it gives you an idea of the issues you have to deal with between two countries. It takes a little bit of the romance out of traveling abroad. It requires organization, patience, and tenacity.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How I Deal With Thyroid-induced Depression

With our family histories of mental illness, I think Rob and I are both secretly afraid that one of us is going to crack up some day. Hence, the worried expression on his face when I wake up in tears. Literally. Coming out of the fog of sleep, there is a weight pushing down on my chest, making me feel acutely, profoundly, sad.

He asks me what's wrong. I don't know. He asks if it's something he did... No. He asks if I had a bad dream... No. He asks if something has happened... No. It's not rational. I've experienced a rational grief before when my father died. I know when it's justified. This time it's not. It feels like someone has died, but nothing serious has changed in my life.

If you have read my blog before, perhaps you know that I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, which makes my thyroid under-function. This depression happens occasionally, I believe, due to hormonal fluctuations, despite the medication I take working fine most of the time.

And so the way I deal with it is this: I think of the depression as something separate from me. It's not me; it's a symptom. I deal with it the same way I deal with a bad cold. When a virus hits you, you do what you can to get through it. I'm sad for a day, or a few. I let myself be sad. I cry at sappy commercials, feel pessimistic about the world, feel lonely, turn off the chat clients, and unplug the phone (and I'm usually more productive at work- like a cold, it's not debilitating, just annoying).

Then, over a few days, I gradually begin to feel better. I giggle at something. I put on a dress and make-up. I clean something, want to go out, and at some point it dawns on me that the dark cloud has passed, much the same way you realize after a cold you are not coughing or blowing your nose anymore.

Depression is really not as big of a deal as commercials for anti-depressants make it out to be. If it went on for months with no end in sight, then it would be a problem. But temporary mild or even moderate depression is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. It's not "crazy." It's just part of life. If it weren't for depression, we wouldn't have half of the great poetry that exists in the world, or Russian novels.

I think there is too much pressure on us to be in a good mood all the time. Where does this pressure come from? Is it an American thing? I don't know, but it's just not life. Embrace your melancholia. It makes the happy times that much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life By Default

Coming back to the U.S. for a while has been a nice break from struggling with a different language and culture. But after being away, it has also given me some perspective on the culture I grew up with.

In this economic downturn, a lot of people are struggling with houses they can no longer afford, keeping up with car payments, the cost of children, etc. You can blame it on bad decisions, causing people to live beyond their means (as conservatives do). Or you can blame it on the evil corporate empire taking advantage of people in a big marketing machine (as liberals do). But I think it's a much more complicated intertwining of both. For a long time, my generation (X) in the United States has had it very easy. Unless you were a complete moron, you could land a job doing SOMETHING and get by. The economic situation was so good, you could major in philosophy, backpack through Europe, start a career late and still land on your feet. This has made us lazy about making decisions, and so a lot of people live life by default.

What is life by default? It's doing what everyone else does or what the great public relations and advertising machine tells you to do without thinking about whether it really fits the context of your life. It's having a huge white wedding because you dreamt of it since a child even though it will start your marriage in debt. It's getting into a mortgage that costs 40% of your income every month because the bank said you could "afford" it. It's getting saddled with a new car payment because you are too embarrassed to drive a clunker to the office. For a long time these "non-decision decisions," or default decisions didn't really matter, because even though you made major economic mistakes, you could sell your house at a profit, change jobs for a 20% raise, or cash in some stock options to make up for it. Not any more. I think for the first time in a long time, my generation has to economically grow up. The fantasy is over, kids.

I've made my share of "default" mistakes. I have a student loan hanging over my head that some "counselor" in a financial aid office stamped me through with a ten-minute decision that has stayed with me for over ten years. But I've tried to make my decisions with increasing deliberation as I have gotten older. When I asked myself why I wanted to have children in my twenties, the answer "because I always thought I would" was not good enough. It had to fit what was going on in the immediate context of my life. I wanted a lot of things as a little girl--to be a princess or a ballerina--but that doesn't fit whom I have become. I have responsibilities to a spouse whose feelings I need to respect, I have health issues I never could have anticipated, I have increasing awareness of my capacity to handle new burdens, whether financial or otherwise. Any decision has to fit who I am now, not who I was or who I want others to see me as.

It's O.K. to take the bus. It's O.K. to live in a trailer, not own a TV, get a job wherever you can to make ends meet, reconsider your political views, cut your hair short, change religions, change careers, have children, decide NOT to have children, as long as it's deliberate. As long as it fits. As long as it is YOU.

The next time I find myself being manipulated into something that doesn't feel right, whether it's pressure from a sales person to buy something I can't afford, or pressure from people to "keep up with the Joneses," I'm going to tell whoever it is to fuck off. No more decisions by default. That's my new mantra. When anyone asks why I have made a decision, I have an answer. That way, if my life takes a tumble, at least I know I have been true to myself.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Tour de Maine: final Thoughts

It's been a few days since we have been back, and I've done a lot of resting and recuperating from the bicycle tour. I've had some time to think back about it, and organize my thoughts:

The Challenges:

  1. Bike handling. My balance is terrible, and it definitely hampered my progress. I need to go downhill slowly, and I get nervous on dirt and rocky roads. I have never done much cycling, however, so this should improve with more time on the bike.
  2. Health. I had two health challenges: My thyroid, which made me a little emotional and tired, and my hands, of which I think I managed to injure the tendons a bit. My thyroid made me slightly moody which caused me to be depressed some mornings, and took some enjoyment out of the trip. I think this was because I'm not used to prolonged effort day after day. Next time, I think I may need to increase my meds just a touch- I will talk to a doctor about it. The injury to my hands made me incapable of performing a lot of tasks involved with packing, setting up the tent, etc. I think if my hands had held up I would have a better sense of efficacy and not felt so useless. This can be solved by adjusting my handlebars, and loosening my grip as I get more comfortable on the bike.
  3. Difference in fitness: Rob is much more fit than I am, so the pace of the tour was a compromise; he had to slow down for me, and I had to push against my limits. He carried most of the weight which served to mitigate this somewhat, but I think he would enjoy a tour with someone who can ride 50-80 miles a day.
The good stuff:

  1. The feeling of self-sufficiency. There is something very rewarding knowing that you can pack up and head out wherever you want, carrying everything you need with you. Even with all my problems, I felt so proud when people asked, "You are carrying everything on your bikes?" and said they had always wanted to do it. We came across a group tour with riders that carried nothing but fanny packs and had all their stuff in a van that rode behind them, and I have to admit I felt a little smug.
  2. The connection with place. Getting to know a place by bicycle is very different than by car- you don't have the barrier between you and the world. You can smell the fields, read the hand-made signs outside people's driveways, and feel the undulations of the land. I feel like I know the Maine coast better than if I had driven it in a car.
  3. The people we met. Our bikes were an easy topic of conversation for people who were interested, and I have to say, that people who are interested in bike touring are pretty cool. We had some really nice conversations with really nice people. It made me feel optimistic about humanity.
The future:

Will I tour again in the future? Definitely. What we might do differently next time:
  1. Different handlebars. My hands are still not healed.
  2. I need to work on my bike handling skills. It is still hard for me to look behind me or take a drink on the bike without losing my balance.
  3. Take less stuff. I had too many clothes, and we didn't use our stove after we realized we were close to delis with warm food, even at our campsites.
  4. Up my thyroid meds. Don't want to be so moody.
  5. Pay more attention (via map or GPS) to the terrain. 30 miles with hills is as difficult (or more) as 50 miles of flats.
  6. Keep stuff in dedicated bags. WE ended up doing this by the end of the trip, but we spent a lot of time in the beginning of the trip just looking for stuff.
Overall, I'm proud that we survived. It was a big leap for someone who hadn't done much cycling before, and Rob had a lot of patience with me. On balance, the sense of self-sufficiency and adventure outweigh the challenges. After I recover a bit, I'm ready for more. Patagonia, here we come!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What to Do About My Drinking

I'm going back to Buenos Aires in three and a half weeks, and on my mind is how I am going to stay healthy when I get back. I am going to try and stay active, and eat a paleo-ish type diet.

One question I still haven't completely come to a decision on is what to do about drinking. Here in the U.S., I drink moderately by most standards. I have a hangover usually twice a year or so, on New Year's Day and the day after my birthday. I have wine or cocktails two or three times a week, and don't have more than three drinks usually. Two drinks is probably average.

When I was in Buenos Aires, I drank more than that. I couldn't give an average per day or week, but I was hung over a lot more than twice in a year. There are several reasons that drinking is easier there:
  • It's cheap. If you earn dollars, alcohol is very inexpensive. You can get a good bottle of Malbec for about $5 U.S. You can get a liter of beer for $2.
  • It's easily available. The grocery store is 50 yards from my front door. Two of the most popular bars for tourists and expats are within two blocks. Some stores deliver.
  • It's the center of social activities: Social gatherings are almost always in bars, and at parties, I am given a filled wine glass as soon as I walk in the door.
  • I don't have to drive. After dinner, I only have to be coherent enough to give a taxi driver my address, and I'm home.
  • I have more leisure time. Because I have domestic help, my life is centered around work and play. When work is over, it's over, and I have more time to enjoy myself.
There are a lot of expats over 40 who develop red noses and drink in the early afternoon. Bars are full of them. I know several people whom I think are on the edge of drinking dangerously, and one who has a definite problem. I don't want to be one of them. I don't think I have to quit drinking altogether. But I need to monitor myself.

So the question is: how do I maintain moderation while surrounded by excess? Give myself rules? Two drink max? No alcohol at home?

How do you handle moderation?

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Tour de Maine: The End

Well, we did it! I'm back at Mom's house safe and sound. I feel quite lucky to have air conditioning, cable TV, and a nice bed.

We rode from Wiscasset to Freeport, and stayed at a campsite for two nights at the Desert of Maine. The Desert is this weird sand dune in the middle of the forest where they have a cheesy little museum and give guided tours.

On Wednesday, we rode into Freeport, about three miles from the campsite and did a little shopping and site seeing. The biggest attraction in Freeport is the L.L. Bean "campus":

It's a Mecca of outdoor activities. They have a whole building dedicated to fishing and hunting, another building dedicated to bikes and kayaking, etc. It's HUGE. They have created it as not just a store, but a destination, where they do concerts in the park. It seems a little weird to me to build an "experience"around a product, but whatever. (I bought a pair of shorts).

The reason I had to buy some stuff was that we finally left some stuff behind somewhere. With packing and unpacking almost every day, keeping track of our stuff was no small task. We finally left a compression bag of cycling clothes behind somewhere. Disappointing, but not a big deal.

Overall, I think the trip was a little more challenging than I thought- not physically, but psychologically. I was out of my element, and it is difficult to persevere in something you are not competent in. But I'm glad to have done it, and I'm sure after some time, I will do another one.

I'll have some final thoughts about the whole thing a little late after reflection, but for now, resting and catching up.