Goodbye, 2016!!!

I am sure we all agree that this year has been full of surprises, heartaches and uncertainty. From the political world to the world of entertainment, from our personal lives to the state of humanity, things have tossed and turned all year round. It is also true that there has been some good news here and there. Harder to find, but not less true.

Let’s accept what happened that changed our lives, the ones we could control and the ones that are out of our hands. This would be the hardest part. It is only human to just go out and try to change the world when we have witness things we cannot comprehend. Now, we must remember that some people will find those same things to their liking. We must not judge them too harshly, not everyone is wicked, racist, misogynist and evil. Good people exist in every group, as do bad ones. I want to stick to that premise. It gives me hope!!!

When it comes to accept each other, I am unapologetic. Never would say it’s easy, but also never would completely give up on people I like and love because we have disagreements. What I see missing is the willingness to talk to each other. To listen to the other side, to present our arguments without insults. To try to agree to disagree is not simple. Some opinions are so deeply felt, we cannot pretend to change them in one wave of a magic wand. Unfortunately, this is what I see: if you do not agree with me, I will disown you, break all tides with you, even if you are family. Sorry, not me!!!

Life has taught me that things rarely remain the same. Opinions change, circumstances change, the world keeps moving no matter what. Whatever is going on today, will end at some point, nothing is eternal. So I am not willing to give up on my friends and family because we disagree. I say, let’s concentrate on making the world around us a better place. There is no way we can changed most unpleasant things that happened, but there are many small things we can make better and should!!!

The fact that we lost so many wonderful people this year is a sobering thought. I lost my mother and my most favorite cousin, my brother, in a matter of months. Most difficult months I have had in years. The experience left me thinking that there is more to the world than politics. At the same time, it taught me that family is not always the group you were born into, family is also the friends that are there when you need them. I have been blessed with many.

Then there are the people that we always saw as part of our world because we saw them in movies, television, read their books, saw them performing, sang their songs. They made the background of our lives and we are definitely going to miss them. It gave me hope that every time one of them passed away, the world mourned regardless of political views.

Humanity has been specially cruel to itself this year. We only have to look to Aleppo. Famine and disease, terrorist attacks and senseless murder have been in the news seemly every day. It was so hard, I stopped  watching television. Books offered me a calmer, happier and more sensible world. As you can imagine, I read many books this year!!!

Uncertainty is part of what 2016 leaves behind, but it’s up to us to try and make sense of that. It is our duty to ourselves and our families and friends to come together and work for a better year than 2016. May 2017 give us that chance!!!

Why Happy Holidays….

Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Also marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people don’t even realize the importance of this day throughout history, but we sure take part in celebrations born in those ancient times!!! I am sure you are wondering what does this have to do with the holidays. Bear with me.

Back in those days, the solstice marked the rebirth of the sun. In other words, this marked a reversal: shorter days and longer nights, but also the promise that from this day forward the sun would stay in the sky a bit longer every day. Celebrations lasted for days involving everyone. Sharing food, an important part of the celebration, was meaningful because it represented faith in the return of the sun and the harvest.

Many cultures practiced this reversal. Romans had the Saturnalia, a seven-day celebration. Men dressed as women, masters as servants. There were greenery decorations, lighted candles, exchanges of gifts. The Celts had the Yule Log burning brightly for days to encourage the sun to come back. Druids gave mistletoe as blessings. In Scandinavian countries, presents of apples and oranges decorated with cloves, huge pine trees decorated with lights were part of the celebrations. Everyone was served mead and ale, or wine and beer depending on the country.

Aside from the celebrations, there were other activities designed to help the people survive the cold months. First, the slaughtering of animals because they would not have to be fed in the winter. So fresh food was plentiful for days. The rest of the meat was preserved to last through the cold months. Second, fruits and roots were stored in dry and dark places for the same reason. It was a matter of survival to monitor the food stored for those months ahead. Ancient people took this very seriously.

Regardless of our spiritual or cultural heritage, if we live in the Northern Hemisphere today, we find ourselves caught up, perhaps out of habit, in the commercial swirl known as the holidays that leaves us depleted in more ways than one. I don’t have to remind you of our endless trips to stores, supermarkets and such to prepare for the celebrations to come.

In our quest to please ourselves, our families and friends, to follow tradition or simple go with the flow, this is why we mark this event. In our cultures, this is ingrained one way or another. So many religious and pagan and cultural traditions begin around this day. A good reason for calling these days: Happy Holidays!!!

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.