It’s December, be Generous

img_7608November was to be thankful, December is to be generous!!! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, isn’t it? Everywhere we see decorations, hear Christmas carols, see the SALE signs. We have decorated our homes and are busy buying our presents. Of course, some of us  already have them. I am not that organized.

img_7600I love Christmas, but it has never been my favorite holiday. It is, though, an important part of my family’s celebrations. They simply love the whole package: from buying the tree, to decorating, to planning to spending time with loved ones, to figuring out what to give to whom. I have made it my job to organize this time every year. It’s what gives me the most pleasure, and I do it all for them. It’s a warm feeling, a feeling I revel on.

Now, in the middle of the planning, decorating and organizing, I have another important task. I remember the different charities I support during the year with my donations. I help where I think it’s most needed and there is a lot of need out there. The thought that I can bring a small amount of joy to others besides my family, really makes this the best time of the year!!!

img_7570Of course, you can do this in so many different ways. When I lived abroad, my involvement was more personal, more hands on: helping collect and wrap Sinterklaas presents for children who otherwise would not get any, helping organize a Christmas party for the elderly with the American Women’s Club.  Before that, just getting presents to people I knew needed them more than we did. Didn’t take much, but was so rewarding.

The thought that you can make a difference to one person, makes it worthy. Our lives are so much better than most, our duty is to be generous. It can be anything:  donate to a women’s shelter, volunteer to spend time with the children, visit a hospital and bring some small presents, help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, visit an old people’s home. Make it personal, see how your gesture makes them smile.

It’s December, it’s the month to share our good fortune, it’s the time to extend our hand in friendship. This month, more than any other, should be the time to get out there and give back!!!img_7571

Being Thankful!!!

disney-s-citizen-kid-november-media-thankfulness-shaping-youth-ecqbsb-clipartThis has been a very contentious year and we all can agree with that. So many instances of intolerance, so many insults thrown without thinking, so many hateful actions have taken a toll on all of us. Usually, after an election, everything is colored by who won and who didn’t. That is not a surprise. This year a lot more was involved than differences of opinion and ideology. We find ourselves facing the fact that some of our friends and family voted one way and others voted another. Nothing to do about that since I believe you cannot change people’s mind unless both sides are willing to engage in civil dialogue.

That is what I find disturbing this time around: the unwillingness of either side to extend a hand, to try and heal relationships or to just talk politely to each other. It has floored me!!! I come across as very opinionated and very forthcoming and, in many ways, I am. I am also a firm believer in trying to find common ground and to be thankful when it’s found. We should be able to speak out, but also to listen.

Having lived here and there, I have developed friendships with people of diverse backgrounds, religions and ethnicity. What I have discovered, and I am not alone in this, is that we all have more things in common than we believe. That is the point. We have more similarities than differences, but I am finding that goes over people’s heads nowadays. It worries me.

Still, I am thankful for each and everyone in my life. They have all contributed to make it better, have taught me lessons, have share my good and bad times, have been there when I needed them, have allowed me to be there for them. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Never give up on each other, we are better than we even imagine. Differences of opinion should not make us forget how we really feel about each other. Let’s agree to disagree and enjoy our similarities. It’s Thanksgiving and we all have so much to be thankful for!!!

P.S. The picture used above belongs to Disney’s Citizen Kid. Thank you!!!

Rethinking Our Next Move……..

img_6981It is that time in our lives……we want to settle in a place where we can be happy while retaining our independence. It is important to accept that our lives have changed, along with our bodies, forcing us to adjust our lifestyle. We just do not call it retirement…..we are following a new path!!!

img_6983Our last experience preparing for a major hurricane in our ocean front apartment, has made us realize that in a major emergency, it would not be easy to stay safe. Evacuation plans, moving to a shelter, having others decide what is to be done, is definitely not our intention. We want to be in charge, while we still live in the place of our choice. In other words, we have to make our plans now.

In the last few months, we have considered a move. We have visited places and spend time exploring them. Our plan was to decide where we wanted to  settle. Have to report, we did not find anything we that took our breath away. I think this is because there is no such place, but I  could be wrong. Who knows, it might be that we were not looking in the right places or were overlooking something closer to home. In either case, we have changed out tactics.img_6984

About 15 minutes by car from our apartment, is Coconut Grove. A beautiful neighborhood settled in the late 1800s, just on Biscayne Bay. It has survived this long without too many extreme changes. It still has shady streets, parks, a waterfront that allows you to walk right by the water. The library is a historical building, the Women’s Club has a lovely building dating from early 1900s. Peacock Park is still used for games, theater presentations, yoga classes. The Barnacle and The Kampong Botanical Gardens are also in the area. They offer events throughout the year: from concerts to weddings. This neighborhood has a sense of community that no other part of Miami has. Small boutiques, quaint restaurants and farmers’ markets, a nationally recognized Art Festival are just cherries on this pie.

img_1663Now, you would say, what are you waiting for? This is where things get complicated. Despite the work of long-time residents, the long arm of the developers is getting a grip on this peaceful place. Sure enough, rents are higher, real estate prices have skyrocketed, new buildings are sprouting on the street facing the bay and a younger, more affluent crowd is moving in. If they were just looking for a more relaxed lifestyle, I would not worry….unfortunately, they are looking to change the very thing that attracted them to the Grove: it’s casual, laid-back atmosphere. They want it trendy……and that is not a good thing, a trend is just a passing fad.

IMG_1667.JPGI digress, this might not happen right away. In the meantime, the place has an undeniable attraction. You can walk everywhere, you can actually live there without venturing farther into Miami and be perfectly happy. At the same time,  the city is all around you. I would like that!!! So we are looking into it, or I am looking into it. Life, as I always remind myself, is short. We need to enjoy everything that comes our way and start doing it yesterday!!!

A friend once told me, that as we get older, we must look into a place we love and settle there. We can still travel, visit friends and family and enjoy the  what the world offers….but we would be there in our later years when we cannot travel or move around as we want. We will be in place we love and that would make all the difference. Of course, she has done this in her own special way. She traveled around and has settled in Tucson…….for now!!! Her inner gypsy is still restless.

img_6204Following this wise advise, I am exploring everything about this neighborhood. I want to know it well, know what it offers. Walk through streets and parks, attend events, visit art galleries and gardens and sample the wide variety of restaurants. It promises to be a wonderful adventure. I will keep you posted!!!

Matthew’s Brief Visit

img_6824It is a brand new day…Matthew came  and went leaving us not worse for wear. A couple of days of preparations and a day and a half of worrying about its visit was all we had to remember Matthew in Miami. The monster hurricane took its time wobbling its way to us leaving destruction and death in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Anxiously, most of us, couldn’t stop watching its every move and dreading its visit.

161004-hurricane-matthew-cr-0517_1090abcfc45fe31e5b9f0e73c31f9a90-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Like an unwelcome guest, Matthew, made us cringe at the thought of its visit. Sort of like when we have to receive in our home some relative we rather never came. We know it’s inevitable, but you still wish they stay away. Unfortunately, with Mother Nature, we have no say in the matter. If it heading your way, you better prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That is what we did.

Of course, the constant updates only cause people to go overboard with their preparations. Seriously, there is so much you would need even if the emergency lasts more than a week. Rushing to the market and buying everything you think of, it’s not the way. Preparing without a plan, it’s like not preparing at all. On the other hand, the updates are needed to make everyone understand what to do…….or at least most of us.

img_6826Which brings me to that group of wise guys who think they know best and literally do not prepare or plan a party or go surfing or worse: take to the streets and put their well-being at risk. They are sure nothing is going to happen, the meteorologists have no clue what they are doing and the government only wants you to spend money. They do not realize that when it comes to Mother Nature, you can predict, but cannot ascertain anything for sure.

Going out to enjoy the hurricane is very stupid and very selfish. If anything happens, First Responders will have to go get them and risk their own lives for these irresponsible folks. So, no, it is not alright to just do as you please. Period!!!img_6815

Miami was spared this time. There was rain and winds and some downed trees. Some people lost power and some got water in their homes, but nothing major. This doesn’t mean that next time we should disregard the warnings of the meteorologists or the government. Each case must be evaluated on its own merits, each case should be taken seriously until the danger passes. Today, the sun is shinning on my little island, the sea is calm and the birds are singing. That in itself is a blessing!!!

img_6834I am so grateful for all our friends near and far who took the time to wish us well, who monitored the path of the storm and celebrated with us when the danger had passed. Thank you!!! Hopefully, Matthew will not cause more death and destruction before it fades into oblivion. Take care, everyone!!!

Matthew Comes Calling…..

img_6802After rampaging through the Caribbean for the last 10 days, Hurricane Matthew is on its way to Florida. Leaving destruction and death in its wake, the powerful storm has its sights on us. It is a sobering thought, a grim reality. Nothing to do, but prepare and pray.

Since we moved to Miami, more than a decade ago, we have experience several hurricanes. Of course there was little impact on the area and they continued to cause havoc in other parts of the country. Charlie, Jean, Hugo, Katrina, Wilma, Sandy…..all passed by, but left their marks in other places. We prepared for them, stayed inside, even saw coconuts flying by our windows and survived it all.

This time, it seems, we are in Matthew’s path and it’s a huge and powerful storm. Even if it stays offshore, the devastation it can cause is frightening. We are under Hurricane Watch, which means we can experience hurricane force winds, lots of rain and high ocean surge. Since we live on Brickell Key, a small man-made island at the mouth of the Miami River…..you can imagine how that will play.

Today, we are just getting our apartment ready: all furniture and plants  will be moved inside, we have enough food and water for 3 days for each of us, medications, flashlights, batteries, candles, matches. Our cars have gas, our phones and tables are kept charged….we are just waiting. Unnerving!!!

img_6805Outside, it is calm. This morning it was sunny and clear. Now, we have a few clouds, calm ocean and not a sound: birds have flown away, very smart little things!!! You would never believe anything that big and dangerous is approaching us. Still, it is coming. I just wish it would come and we can get this waiting over with.

We have nothing else to do, but wait, pay attention to the warnings from authorities and NOAA. Keep us all in your thoughts and prayers. May Matthew spare us the worst!!!

Caring for our Minds

books-1578589_640We are aging, there is no spinning this one. Yes, and if not we would be dead….think about it!!! I know not all my friends will appreciate the fact that I am calling us aging. I apologize. Life goes on, regardless of what we want to happen. We cannot stop time. Accepting is the best way because it allows us to concentrate in staying vibrant and involved and happy.

Never mind what we do to our bodies to keep healthier and younger looking, we are still middle aged. Looking great is fantastic, feeling good and being healthy is priceless, but keeping our minds alert and sharp is even more important. Unfortunately, some of us pay too much attention to our bodies and not enough to our minds!!!

I am sure everyone will say: well, that is not me!!! I would be willing to bet each and everyone of my friends feels this way…..but is it true? Do we all read, play mind and card games on our tablets, do jigsaw or crossword puzzles? Do we listen to music, attend the theater or have a hobby? Do we keep up with the news…..as awful as they are nowadays? You tell me.

I have friends that definitely do all of those things and more. They are on top of their game, as they say. They can talk about current events, enjoy a great book, keep up with life. They travel and visit different places, try new foods, entertain new ideas. They are good with social media and love having younger friends. Women in their middle years, but so involved and vibrant, they break stereotypes. More than worry about their looks, these women worry about not letting their minds go to waste.

These women have kept on learning, striving for a better self. Everything for them is an adventure. Some have literally drove around the country on their own, taken a volunteer vacation in Third World countries, have meditated in Bali and hiked in Machu Pichu. Never mind the ones that have started businesses after retirement or have become successful writers or bloggers.

Besides, they mostly look fabulous, dress impeccably and exude elegance and poise. Still, it’s the fact that they can talk about any topic, hold opinions that could be considered advanced, what makes them so interesting. Confidence is the best quality they posses. I am proud to call them friends.

Then, I have other friends who have so many things to complain and rant about. Who forget that aging is not a choice. They are the opposite of my other friends: they cannot stop telling themselves that this is it, life is not going to get better, old age is creeping in and soon they will be useless. Nothing seems to energize them more than talking about imaginary illnesses, aches and pains and feeling their age. A long life is a blessing, why waste these years lost in fearing the inevitable.

They might do some reading, maybe watch the news, but always with a sense of foreboding or a sense of I told you so. New things interest them little, so no new music talent, promising new artists, forget about  books expressing different ideas. Traveling is out of the question since it can be so complicated. They believe that: I know all I wanted to know, seen what I wanted to see and heard all I wanted to hear. Cultivating new attitudes is not even considered. I love them too, but I have been slowly distancing myself from them. Part of living in the moment!!!

Aging will happen, it matters not what you do or want. So cultivate your mind to keep feeling alive and happy. Make friends with younger people, people from other cultures. Engage in conversations about anything and everything, who knows, you might find new interests. Become part of a group that caters to older women, there a few out there. I belong to some and have made friends and learned about things I thought I knew everything about. It’s exhilarating!!!

Finally, just go out and try whatever you always wanted to do. You owe it to yourself, what is the worse that could happen? that it turns out it’s not as interesting as you thought? or you actually love it or you move to a small place by the beach? or your blog, business or whatever is a resounding success? At any rate, it will be fabulous, trust me!!!glasses-664078_640

Living in the Moment

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This year has been hard so far. I have lost my mother, dear friends and have seen others suffer with terminal illness. It is true that I am in no way unique. Everyone, everywhere confronts the same challenges everyday. Not one of us reacts or deals with these events in the same way, so I can only speak for myself.

I have done the crying, the denial, the anger, the acceptance. Grief has to be worked through for us to move on. In my case, there has been more than that. I am making a conscientious effort to live in the moment!!! Not very original and not the first time anyone has tried this route. The difference for me is that this time I am older, I know myself better and I want to spend as much time as possible enjoying life, living the moments that make it worthwhile.

Blogging has been a way of keeping my sanity, but also a way to complain or keep up with the past or think too much about what I am doing or want to do. I am sure that is the reason I cannot write more than a couple of posts a month. Why I don’t seem to find new and interesting subjects to write about, or why I seem to get lost in reading instead of writing.

I feels as if a door has opened and I have walked through to find an exciting place. A place that was always there, but which I rarely visited. Some small things have shown up, though, like trying to post only positive messages on Facebook, changing the kind of books I read. Even started again de-cluttering my home, my closet, my life. Slowly, but surely I have come to this point. It is wonderful and I am most grateful.

There is no more time to waste in planning, it is time to grab what is offered and run with it. Take that trip, buy that handbag, go out with your friends, dress as you please, change your hair color, keep in touch with your loved ones. It is time to actually let go and live in the moment!!!

 

Of Extended Family and Endings

10151194_10153250732136766_5871828394969407407_nIt could be that I am wrong putting these two things together, but my experience has taught me differently lately. My immediate family, husband and children, is the center of my life. My sisters and their families come a close second. I imagine it is the same for most of us, never mind our background. We also have extended families. They are important, they fulfill a role that is necessary in society, especially where I come from. That is what I always thought and how I always believed. Could it be that I was wrong? Let me tell you why.

When my sisters and I came to college in the States, our parents stayed behind. Of course, you would say. I am also sure you know that in those days traveling back and forth, calling home and keeping in touch, was very different from what it is today. Traveling, actually, was the easiest part. Now, calling home was another story. You needed hundreds of quarters, dimes etc, you needed to know the right operator for International Calls and you needed patience. Let’s not even mention keeping in touch. Letters would take more than a few days: write, then mail and deliver. Yes, I am that old!!!

Boston is not around the corner from Panama, but we managed. During those years, we visited our parents, our parents came to visit us and we spent many hours trying to conduct long distance conversations from a pay phone in our college dorms. It also happened that we all fell in love with boys we met there and going back home after college was not to be.

Of course, then, we didn’t stop to consider that our lives would be changed forever and going back and forth to Panama was not going to happened as we thought. That’s youth for you: we were happy, everything else took second place. We see that now, but our parents saw it then. Still, they never tried to change our minds or made us feel guilty about it. Their lives changed as well and in many ways not always for the better since their children were living far away and the grandchildren were not there for them to spoil and cuddle and love!!! .

We were busy with our lives, our families, but we visited them regularly……or they came to us. Life continued. Our children adored their grandparents, but had lives so different and so far removed from them. My parents grew older and my father passed away in 1984. He was younger than I am today!!! It was a wake up call and very difficult to accept.  In the years that followed, my mother grew more and more attached to her family in Panama.

They took our places in her everyday life, but we never minded. We kept in touch, visited, took her on our vacation trips, she visited us. Those were happy times in many ways, but hard times too. Saying good-bye was harder and harder. We could see she was getting older and all those family times would become difficult to arrange. Our children went away to college, another step in the never-ending march of Time.

My mother’s life made her happy. Every time we visited she had a new project or she was moving to the beach house for the Summer. She kept active and was with people she loved. Her peace of mind and her happiness had no price. She was happy and that was enough for us.

Yes, she was happy helping everyone. Her family, even today, say how wonderful she was and how she took care of everything, no matter what. Then she had a massive stroke. No point talking about that since I have before. As she got progressively worse, we discovered that extended families are not always what we thought they were. Ideally, everyone should be able to talk and express their opinions without arguments. Resentments never solved anything.

Slowly, our extended family shrunk and this is what I mean by endings. What was is no longer and that tells me it was not real. With this ending came another realization: we do have some wonderful people in our family. Finally, we are left with the ones we love, the ones that were there for us. We have the time and the openness to get to know them again, to enjoy their company. As someone who loved her family, my mother would have understood.

My mother’s illness made us stronger. Her passing made us free of whatever attachments we thought we had. The peace of mind and serenity we now enjoy is priceless. Endings are a beginning and for that, we are grateful.

On Becoming an Orphan and Other Musings……

13119046_10154293342686802_7816716738816642024_nMy mother passed away at the end of June: not unexpectedly, but not less painful. After almost 10 years living after a massive stroke, battling fibrosis and old age, her body just let go. She died in her sleep, we should all be that lucky.

In November, my sisters and I made the incredibly difficult decision to put her in a home. We had battled this for years. She stayed at her home, looked after by nurses, by the woman who had been her faithful companion for many years. My sisters and I visited several times a year, everything was perfectly planned, executed. Slowly it became obvious that it was impossible to care for her without an expert staff, but getting anyone to work at a private home became a big challenge. Finally, we realized, she wasn’t getting the care she needed and deserved. This was not done lightly, it was not done with anyone in mind, but her……her well-being, her health, her comfort. That was always our goal.

Now, you would tell me that orphans are generally young children that need their mother’s care. I don’t think anyone our age would think of themselves as orphans, but we are. My mother maintained that an orphan is one who has lost their mother. It is ingrained in me, I believe it with all my heart and because of that, I am officially an orphan.

First things first, her passing also made me the eldest in our family. Have no idea how that works, but it feels sort of strange. My sisters and I are the oldest generation. We are those women who not long ago we used to consider: old!!! What does that mean? What has changed? It is definitely more than just that I have become the eldest. I have, but there is more to that statement.

As long as my mother was alive, I was still a daughter. There was someone higher than me in the hierarchy of life. There was someone before me when it came to longevity, someone ahead of me in the pecking order and that kept me happy. Why? because children are always children as long as our parents are alive.  We can convince ourselves that there is still time to do what we want, to change and enjoy new things, don’t we? This might sound strange, but I am sure we all have felt this way, at one point or another.

Jeanne Safer, a psychotherapist and author of Death Benefits, wrote:  “The death of a parent — any parent — can set us free. It offers us our last, best chance to become our truest, deepest selves. Nothing else in adult life has so much unrecognized potential to help us become more fulfilled human beings — wiser, more mature, more open, less afraid.” A very interesting thought, but one that I find I can completely understand now.

Didn’t we always look up to our parents? didn’t we listen to their opinions and tried, as we grew older, not to have arguments because we disagreed with them? didn’t we learn to avoid certain topics because it would just take too much time to explain we have changed, that our opinions were so different? or wasn’t it easier to just let them pretend they were in charge or that we took their opinions into consideration? I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of doing most, if not all, of the above.

I have expected the sadness and the sense of emptiness that would follow my mother’s death. I have gone through her things with my sisters and relived so many happy moments and so many sad ones as well. I cherish the visits over the last 9 years, the gifts I received from her, the interactions and the sharp comments she was capable of until her last weeks. I can feel my heart contract when I remember her smile, but I also remember when she rolled her eyes in disagreement with whatever we were saying!!!

What did not expect and surprised me is the sense of relief. Yes, relief. The sense that she is at rest is part of that. Her last years were not easy. She was very much aware of her limitations and didn’t like that at all. Deep in my heart, I think that she just let go, said enough, that’s it. On the other hand, there is the fact that now I have more freedom to do things I had put on hold for all these years: vacations with my husband, time to spend with my children, visits to dear friends. I can plan, never miss another important date, go to bed without fear that I can receive a call in the middle of the night. What does that make me?

I think it makes me human, period. If I have learned something these past years is that we must be kind to ourselves. We do all we can and it should be enough. We should never over think or doubt our decisions. What is there to gain by that? and can we do it? I am not sure yet, but I am willing to explore the possibilities. Right now, I am an orphan trying to adjust to my new role. I am myself, without parental boundaries……will see where this takes me and will share my findings.

 

Accepting our Aging Bodies

What? That was my reaction when I read a post by Margaret Manning, from Sixty and Me. She has been on a trip to Bali for 8 weeks, rediscovering herself and accepting who she has become. It was very powerful. See for yourself HERE .

IMG_5294My mind understands this is essential to acceptance of ourselves as older women. Changes in our bodies are the first sign we are no longer the young, pretty things we once were. They creep in and slowly transform us. I know that, but since changes come slowly or we are not paying attention, we just wake up one morning and we are older!!! It’s not easy for me to post this picture, but I thought it necessary.

Margaret, of course, is right. This is who we are today and accepting, loving it and moving on is the thing to do. Now, what each one of us mean by accepting is the difference between living in harmony with ourselves or fighting to stay young by any means. This would be hardly harmonious. The desire to hang on to our youth is powerful, I understand. Millions of women spend fortunes in beauty products and surgery to try just that. Who are we to criticize….. but is it worth it? For some it is, but more and more women are changing this view.

IMG_3555The most important thing we should remember: keep healthy, active and involved. Living in harmony with our aging bodies, accepting them, does not mean we are going to let go. Nobody is saying we should just stay home, gain weight, slow down in our activities, dress like our grandmothers did and sit and wait for old age to fully take charge of our lives. Absolutely NOT!!!

Accepting our bodies as they are today involves a lot of work, dedication and care. We should work at keeping our bodies healthy and performing at their best. Make sure you have your physical exams regularly, listen to your body and tell your doctor anything you do not like or understand. This is most important. If you need medication, take it and do not forget to take your vitamins and supplements.

Eat right for your age. I know, here I go again mentioning age, but it’s important. At this stage of our lives we need certain nutrients more than others. We cannot tolerate certain foods and certain drinks. Alcohol should always be taken in moderation, but these days it’s more important. Make sure you know what agrees with you and what doesn’t. There is also the fact that overeating or eating at certain hours could be upsetting to our bodies, pay attention.

If you are exercising, great!!! If you do not like to exercise, try yoga or tai-chi. Your body needs to stay nimble, it will help your aches and pains, your posture and your attitude. Walking tall is always a confidence booster!!!IMG_5828

Finally, and very important, learn to dress as you please. It’s our time, wear what you like, what makes you feel attractive, what feels good. There are no rules about how we should dress…..never mind what certain people say. If you Google this topic, there are countless articles. Ignore them!!! Best go online and look at older women’s blogs: Not Dressed as Lamb, The Sequinist, No Fear of Fashion, Style Crone and Idiosyncratic Fashionistas. You’ll be surprised in a most wonderful way.

Now you know: accepting our aging bodies it’s a powerful statement in a world obsessed with youth. Go out and make it with pride!!!

P.S. Header photograph by Alan Maduro at Caracasbaai, Curaçao. Thank you!!!