Just came back from three weeks visiting my mother, so you can imagine the rest of the sentence!!! Since she had a stroke about seven years ago, my sisters and I have made several trips a year to visit. Not easy, but necessary; stressful, but somehow enjoyable. This time, she spent the days dozing off and the nights talking non-stop. Nobody in the house got much sleep, it was frustrating and funny……as everything else in our lives these days: full of contradictions.
My mother was very active, caring, generous to a fault and involved in the things she loved. Careful with her appearance, always impeccable, not a hair out-of-place and surrounded by exquisite perfume. Her grandchildren were her joy even if she didn’t see them all the time. She came for their First Communions, high school and college graduations, all the important events in their lives. Taught my children to read in Spanish! Spent about two months every Summer at a beach house she and her family own. Those were happy times when she could spend time with her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. After all, her three daughters left to study in the States, got married and never lived in Panama again. We visited her, she visited us and we traveled together, but we lived apart most of our adult lives.
When she had the stroke, December 31st, 2006, everything changed. The stroke was massive and it was nothing short of a miracle that she survived. About a year of physical and speech therapy later, she was able to walk with help, feed herself and speak her mind. No small accomplishment for an 83-year-old! The first few years, she lived with a nurse and a housekeeper. We visited regularly and some of our cousins were there for support. We knew this couldn’t last, but were unable to come up with a better solution.
Three years ago, this arrangement just became an impossible task. Everything she worked so hard to re-learned was forgotten and she is now dependent on her nurse for everything. It is hard to see and harder to deal with, but it is what it is. My sister Laura moved from Venezuela and took control of the everyday caring. I admire her enormously because I would not have done it, not for anything! She is the constant presence that keeps the machinery running smoothly; and she does it with common sense and a healthy dose of good humor. I can enjoy my visits to Panama because she has made our mother’s care as natural as it can possibly be.
Mami, as we call her, is in a wheelchair and has difficulty talking. On the other hand, her mind is alert and she is aware of everything. Don’t know if this is good or bad, so I try not to dwell on it. On February 26th, Mami turned 90. We were all there, made her day easy, made her laugh and had cake and ice-cream. It was impossibly hot, but she stayed up pass her bedtime to receive her nieces and nephews who came to wish her well. Her family sent her flowers, which she liked. Her grandchildren called and she smiled and tried to talk to them when she heard their voices!!! It was a good day and these days, that is more than enough.
What is going to happen? We are not getting any younger, traveling back and forth is taking its toll. Frankie and I haven’t been able to take a long vacation in a while. Ana and her husband haven’t either. Laura hardly has time to visit her children. Our lives are in suspended animation. Tossing the arrangement we have now is not an option, Listening to the obvious solution is difficult. There is no easy answer because….if it’s not one thing, it’s our mother!!!!!
I have been away for days, but the need to communicate my thoughts have not been iddle. While visiting my mother on the occassion of her 90th birthday, my sisters and I have been spending a lot of time together. We have laughed and reminisced, we have eaten great food and we have had a few drinks…..It has been a lot of fun.
Since my mother had a stroke about seven years ago, these trips to visit, supervise her care, spend time with her, have also been a reason to spend time with each other away from our husbands, children, friends. In other words, a time away from the lives we have made away from the country of our birth. A reason to have time to see the friends we went to school with, the cousins we like, see the changes that have taken place……
This trip has been a bit different. Mother’s birthday was on February 26th. Carnaval started on Friday the 28th. She lives in a small city in the Azuero Peninsula in Panama. This colonial town has been here since 1679 more or less. It is not close to the sea, It has no rivers closed by. People are descendants from Spaniards that came from the arid fields of Castille and Leon and the warm towns of Andalucia. They are fiercerly independent, very proud and not too friendly towards strangers. This time of the year, amazingly enough, they open their town to the hoards of people that descend to celebrate Carnaval.
I will be posting photos of this celeration later on. Suffice to say, that Rio de Janeiro, with all it’s wealth has nothing on this town. The amount of money spent, the beauty and splendour of the costumes, the fabulous floats and the display of fireworks is something I cannot explain…you need to see them!!! So I will come back with details. This post is more about us.
I have two sisters, I am the eldest. Ages are not important, so we will not talk about that. Especially since both Ana and Laura do not talk about it either. That is as it should be, we should live everyday and not put too much emphasis in time. We are very different, and when we are apart, we seem to have little in common. When we are here, we seem to have a lot more. Why? Maybe it’s the atmosphere, the fact that we are aware of the passing of time. The fact that we do not know when it will be the last trip to see our mother. Or maybe it is that we are hanging on to our memories, enjoying this time as we did those other times long ago.
Days pass very slowly in this climate. Fortunately, we have errands to run and things to do for our mother that keep us occupied. The heat is overwhelming. There is a hint of breeze, but not much shade. Trees are not very important in this region. The people prefer their yards devoid of any shade, incomprehensible to me. Laura thinks they prefer to show-off their homes. Nights are a bit better, at least there is no relentless sun. The breezes are more likely to come at night as well. So they are spent talking and remembering the times when we used to spend school holidays here, visiting our grandmother.
Internet connection is fantastic. Did you know the government of Panama has a special server…..free of charge…that anyone can use, in any town or city? Where else, tell me? Still, I have read a lot. So much better since back home I have no time to do it as much as I want. There is excellent food to enjoy, siestas to take and trips to the seaside to have seafood!! Must important….NO HOUSEWORK!!!!
So far, so good. We are still having fun, not even talking about the day we have to leave…..a day that will come too soon!!!
My hair saga continues. This is a longer process than I thought, but not as difficult as I was told. Let’s go back a few weeks: I had a haircut just before Christmas. Not totally in agreement because I liked the length of my hair . What to do. Some of the blond had to go and that required cutting it. I thought it was too short, but it turned out very easy to manage and style.
Christmas came and went. I was using a special shampoo for blond/white hair. Slowly, but surely, my hair started to become too light. In photos, it looks like a halo around my face and that was not very flattering!! I started wearing darker colors and fancy necklaces and scarves to draw attention away from it. It was getting tiresome. Something had to be done and I was just delaying the inevitable.
My family and friends have been very supportive, but I do think they were not telling me what they really thought of this change. I saw myself in the mirror and wasn’t that happy. I had to do something…..
My roots were about 41/2 inches and cutting my hair shorter was not an option. It will take me forever to grow it again. So I needed a solution and I needed it fast. Of course, besides accessories I thought of losing weight. Why do women think losing weight is the answer? Whatever. I mostly kept my hair styled and ignore the looks. Didn’t I tell you? I have started to be noticed again…..
Finally, I found out a few things: the need for a new round at the stylist was necessary and we had to add a bit of color. The answer was simple: lowlights!!! That is the second phase of the process. Lowlights are darkening strands of hair achieved by using colors that are darker than your natural color. Remember, highlights are the exact opposite! The things I have learned during this time…..
An appointment was made and the day arrived. Little did I know I was going to have even less length and a different look. My hair was again separated into strands, colored a greyish-brown (if that is a color at all!!!). Again my head looked as if I could get signals from Mars, but I spent half the time waiting. The stylist declared all had worked out, cut about an inch off my hair and styled it again. A new look: the third in as many months. What to do.
I am not sure this is what I expected. My hair is darker in places and my roots are still grey. It looks as if I colored it, but it has bounce and shine and that is important. I have learned that the process is going to take longer than I thought. There is no way to get through this quickly, unless I cut my hair short. I don’t want to do that, so I’ll wait. I can’t avoid the two-tone effect, unless I keep doing lowlights and highlights. I am not interested in keep coloring my hair, no matter what it’s called. That was the point: I wanted to go natural. I wanted to stop the time and expense, the damage and the irritation that come from coloring my hair.
So there you have it. I am going to do this the hard way, apparently. Will continue to draw attention away from my multicolored hair, will try to lose some weight (which will be a wonderful thing!!!) and will ignore the looks and stares. The latter will be the easiest part!!! I will keep you posted.
For those who know me well, this would be a very strange post. Adriana, my mother-in-law, and I had the kind of relationship that people write jokes about, the kind most people are afraid of when they marry or warn their daughters about. You do not see eye to eye or have opposite views on most everything or she is just so difficult. In my case, all of the above!!!
Yes, when I got married, I had already met her. Knew exactly what to expect……and I was wrong. It was actually worse and it didn’t get much better all the years she was alive after our marriage. This is not to say that we didn’t have our moments; I made an effort from time to time and she adored my children, which made a big difference in our relationship. It was stormy to say the least and I am sure people felt sorry for me, she was just difficult with everyone around her. Not a walk in the park, but a learning experience for me. Absolutely, I am admitting I learned from her. This is something I would have never done even a few years ago…….much less write about for everyone to read!!! It is the truth, though, and it’s never too late to accept that fact.Adriana was very true to herself. She knew what she wanted and got it most of the time. Her opinions and views were firm, unquestionable and never abandoned. You might not have agreed with them, but you could not have been but in awe of her perseverance. Having an argument with her was useless. She never lost her cool, never raised her voice. It could be infuriating!!! Still, I learned that if you want to make a point, getting hysterical and losing your cool was NOT the way to go. Here is lesson Number One: know who you are and be true to yourself.
She knew how to take care of herself. Since she was in her teens, when she spent a year without being able to walk, she learned the value of exercise. Yes, she took care of getting some exercise everyday, rain or shine. Be it a swim in the ocean or a walk in her yard. Her friends told me that she went on a diet for three months before her wedding, so she could fit in the dress she had designed….This was in 1945!!! When I met her, she was 52, slim and impeccably groomed: just right, never overdone. Later in life, she would take a day off a week and she didn’t work! She would go swimming, have lunch by herself or with friends and return home in the early afternoon. I have walked and lifted my 5 pound weights for years and learned to enjoy traveling on my own and to play bridge. Here is lesson Number Two: take care of your body and make time for yourself.
Adriana knew how to get the best service everywhere she went. From restaurants to boutiques, from airports to hotels, she always got someone to do her bidding. She got the best table or the room with the best view. She could convince sales staff to bring her clothing or shoes to her car for her to try at home. Then return what she didn’t want and pay for the rest!!! Would ask for a wheelchair at the airport when it wasn’t the thing to do and would hand over her carry-on to some stranger to handle for her. Never lost anything……Not there yet, but I have learned to get the best table and change rooms if I am not pleased. Here is lesson Number Three: it’s all in the way you ask and the way you present yourself.
She was not interested in housework, but knew how entertain. Something we had in common, I don’t like housework, as you know by now. Adriana had a flair for ignoring the whole thing, never letting a little dust or an unswept floor get in the way of her day. I am still trying to learn that one. She’d rather entertain and when she decided to, she would get organized: whipped a few munchies or a full dinner in a matter of hours, called everyone she wanted to see and practically ordered them to come. Most people would just come and ended up enjoying themselves!! I learned to take it easy with housework, still working on entertaining. Did learn from her to make a mean roast-beef. Here is lesson Number Four: learn to live the day, don’t stress about housework, it can wait.
Adriana passed away in 2001, after a short illness. In the years since, I have slowly realized that without meaning to, I learned a lot from her. I find myself, at times, appreciating the way she did things. Who would have known…..maybe it means I am getting older!!!
TIME magazine dedicated this week’s cover to mindful breathing. The article is fabulous, a must read. TIME editor, Radhika Jones, says “multitasking is affecting our concentration and mindfulness can sharpen our focus“. Well, who would have thought? We have been told for years that multitasking was something to be proud of. The ability to do several things at a time proved what organized human beings we were, capable of achieving anything. It seems now that we were confusing movement with achievement: running this way and that did not mean we were accomplishing much!!!
I don’t know about you, but I feel so much better about this. I could never, really, do more than a couple of things at a time comfortably and then, I wasn’t sure I was completing or doing them right. In the meantime, I have discovered that we have to do things mindfully. This involves breathing properly and I wasn’t….Yes, it all comes down to that: breathing!!!
Frequently, we are told or we tell our friends to breathe. I was just telling a friend a few days ago to do just that. She responded that she was too tired to breathe!! Since we usually mean an inhale/exhale motion when we are flustered, frazzled or upset, that is not enough to produce all the benefits people are talking about. Here is an article that would explain those benefits better than I ever could: Benefits of Deep Breathing
We know that situations in our lives can make us stressed, tense, nervous. In this modern world, when we think of fighting stress, we think of changing our diet or our exercise routine. We even think of medication! Very seldom do we think about changing the way we breathe. We take breathing for granted and think we are doing it right, but we are mistaken. This is what I have learned and tried on and off for years. Unfortunately, I only tried it when I was upset and ready to scream….you understand what I mean. The trick is to do it all the time. From now on, I will try to do this on a regular basis, until this becomes my breathing pattern: breathe slowly, deeply in your abdomen not your chest. Holding the air in your lungs and exhaling through your nose or slightly parted mouth. Keep an even rhythm. It is definitely a learning process, but one we must learn. Soon!!!
Breathing properly makes us powerful because it makes us concentrate and focus. When we learned to do this, we can apply mindfulness to all aspects of our lives. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present, on the task at hand, on our present goal. A statement I found on the Psychology Today website says: “when you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience”
So it’s back to basics: BREATHE, so we can achieve, live better, be healthy and enjoy life!!!
I am afraid of flying, something I don’t see changing in the near future, but that is another post, another challenge. It gets so bad, just buying my ticket gets me into a panic mode. Short trips are the worst, all the anxiety without time in between to relax for the next leg of the trip. So our weekend trip to Baltimore presented its challenges. Fortunately, I have decided to Toss and Listen. In other words, a time for learning and I did.
These are simple and obvious lessons that I never spent time considering before. What was I thinking?
I don’t have to take part in any planning to enjoy the trip!! Camille and Frankie planned the whole thing with Frank’s help. After years of involvement in planning vacations, this was the best lesson. Yes, they can plan and execute without me having to decide or arrange anything. Tickets were bought, hotel reservations made, where were we going for dinner or what attractions to visit: all planned to the last detail. Splendid! All I had to do was pack my suitcase. There was something to learn from that as well.
You can take everything you need for a weekend trip in just a carry-on bag. You might think this was a given…..but then you don’t know me well. I dislike dragging a bag, pass all the TSA inspectors at the airport and then take it on board, lift the thing up to the overhead compartment, take it down when you arrive. I have refused to do this for ages. On a short trip, I’ve learned finally, this is better. Who would have known? Now, there is a trick in the packing for a short trip.
Pack only what you need. Yes, another news flash. Mix and match clothing, shoes that are comfortable and stylish, preferably two pairs only. I always pack so much, for every trip. The reality is: do not carry three sweaters if two are enough! Nowadays, all toiletries come in travel sizes: take advantage!!! If not, use the ones offered by the hotel. Travel size make-up and perfume are also available! Time to accept the inevitable.
These three seem so obvious, you might be laughing at this point. For me, these were lessons I had refused to learned for years. Leaving the planning to others was the easiest to learn. I can get used to that AND probably will. The carry-on bag and the selective packing were a bit harder, but I can do that as well. After all, if I have to carry the suitcase, I might as well pack light!!
Once we got past the planning and packing, there was the flight and the hotel. Relax with a drink as soon as you get on the plane and if the flight is bumpy……you’d not feel a thing! The hotel is another thing: I like nice, fluffy pillows and enough covers to keep me warm. The bed should not be hard and I am picky about the room, the size, the temperature, what to do?. So you will not be surprised by what’s next.
I am too old to give up my comforts!!! This is not a lesson in itself, just a realization, but it is SO important. For years, I have been a bit accepting, telling myself: it’s a short trip, I only go to the room to sleep, we can compromise. Well, I finally accepted that there are things in life you don’t compromise on. Let’s change rooms if we don’t like the first one we get. Ask for fresh towels everyday, sorry about the environment! Once you have the room you need, make good use of it.
Go back to the hotel during the day and take a nap. I am sure some of you think this is a given. It usually is on long trips, but never on short trips. After all, we are there for a short time, let us walk and visit and do as much as possible…we’ll rest later. Not anymore: if I walk all day and visit every museum and attraction, I’d be in NO condition to go out and enjoy my dinner….and I’ll be cranky! Logically, get back, kick off your shoes and take a power nap before going out again. It works beautifully, especially if the weather is not to your liking. Age has it benefits, don’t forget it. You don’t have to look old or feel old, you just have to take advantage of the age thing.
Slow down and sit down if needed!!! Where is it written that you have to keep up? Traveling is a pleasure, not a marathon. Walk ahead and sit on that comfortable bench, they will come to you in time. Put your feet up while admiring a painting or sculpture. Sit down and have a cup of tea or a drink while others wander around. These are nothing new, but before, I felt a bit guilty doing them: not anymore. Accept your limitations and you’ll enjoy yourself more, trust me! I have nothing to prove to anyone and it feels great.
In keeping with my early proposal of taking each moment and make it the best it can be, I will apply these lessons when I travel from now on. Who knows, traveling might be easier and less stressful for me and whoever travels with me. That is the best lesson I learned in Baltimore!!!
Between Christmas and New Year’s we had a weekend celebration for Camille’s birthday…in Baltimore!!! Absolutely understand your surprised look, but remember, Frank is working there and couldn’t make it for the Holidays. Seemed perfectly natural to travel there…..and what a great idea this was!
Baltimore is a small city, but very welcoming and has been selected as one of the Coziest Cities in the US. It’s a walking city, full of life and friendly people. We were happy to find imaginative and different places to visit. Important lesson learned: Baltimore is surprisingly interesting and true to its moniker, it’s Charming!!! Be open to enjoy any place you visit and you’ll find wonder.
This is what we found. From our hotel, we walked to the Emerson Tower, also known as the Bromo Seltzer Tower. It was built in 1911 for Captain Issac E. Emerson…….he of bromo seltzer fame. Remember that? It’s a copy of the famous tower at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In 2007 it was converted into 33 artist studios by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. A fabulous concept to help promote local artists. We met Kathryn Holt, a visual artist, who showed us her studio and gave us a brief history of the tower and some of the artists in residence. Her work is amazing!
Another excellent find was the American Visionary Art Museum. It specializes in the preservation and display of visionary art (known as outsider art, “raw art,” or “art brut”). It is a place of wonder not to be missed if you visit the city. Here you can see the many, vibrant and unusual faces of art……quite unique!!!
Last, but not least the National Aquarium. It is connected to the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., hence the name. Beautifully constructed, it shows you all the water habitats: from the reefs, to the coastal marshes, to the rainforest. Perfect visit on a rainy day to learn how to preserve each ecosystem
We visited quaint neighborhoods, like Fells Point. This historical waterfront part of the city has cobblestone streets and it’s listed in the National Register of Historic Districts. There are 120 pubs in this area and a sense of old-fashioned seafaring town that is very appealing. Lots of antique shops, boutiques and small restaurants to keep you busy. This was also a port of entry into the US. You can still visit the building where immigrants were processed all those years ago. This is a must visit spot, for sure. Fells Point can be reached by water taxis, small barges that transport people around the Inner Harbor. You buy your day-ticket and go around the harbor….so convenient!
Along the way, you take a good look at the USS Constellation, a sloop commissioned in 1854; and the USS Torsk, a WWII submarine commissioned in 1944. Of course, you can go up Federal Hill. Nowadays, it’s a park. It has the best view of the Inner Harbor. The picture of us at the top was taken here.
On Camille’s birthday, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant: La Scala Ristorante. Located in Baltimore’s Little Italy, it was an experience. Family owned, it features an indoors bocce ball court and a wine tasting room. Relaxed atmosphere, excellent food and gracious service, we will go back!
The weekend was a resounding success. The city has a lot to offer and I think we only scratched the surface. We still need to explore what there is to know about Chessy!!!