Lessons Learned Led to Downsizing

For years I have been de-cluttering: donating, selling and throwing away. It has been a never-ending story. Still, things seem to reproduce in my home. I have to say, it’s discouraging, so I have finally decided to end this once and for all. I am downsizing!!!

Of course, this would seem similar. Isn’t it the same thing? I ask myself….well, not really. I have neglected to make some big decisions and it is time to correct that. So I have made a list of things that need doing.

First: asking my children to take their things and dispose of them. Take boxes out of my storage space and send them somewhere else, somewhere where they cannot come back. Could it be that simple?

Do not know for certain, but I have started. My son moved to Houston a couple of months back. With everything he was taking there, I managed to send some boxes that have been in my possession for more than 10 years. There could have been more, but I discovered that later. Still, it felt wonderful!!!

This week I plan to spend some time looking through boxes again, making sure I find those which escaped me last time. I am sure a couple of more will be on their way to Houston soon. 

While down there, I will make sure that boxes belonging to my daughter will be found. She needs to go through them and decide what she wants to keep and what she wants to get rid of. Going back into my storage is not a choice. These are their things and they should do with them as they see fit.

Second: being ruthless, concentrating on what I want to achieve instead of getting lost in the memories and the sentimental value of my stuff. This has been the hardest lesson to learn. To work through it, I do not dwell on it. I make decisions on the spot and carry them out right away.

Boxes are open and I follow simple rules. If I haven’t seen in years, I already learned to live without it. There are plenty of charities that would take them. If not,  throw them away. If there are papers older than 5 years, shred them. Clothes, shoes and accessories, handbags and hats. Do I really need that much? Donating is the best way to get rid of most of them. More space in my closet and drawers is a great reward.

Third: organizing what to sell is important. Why not make some cash out of this exercise? This has been tricky. We live in an apartment building……garage sales are not allow. Fortunately, there is always a friend with a home who does not shy away from helping you with that. Hopefully I think I have found mine.

Separating these items, then be ready to price them without getting involved with the way you feel about them. Be realistic when it comes to what you think they are worth and what they are really worth!!! This is another lesson that has taken some time to learn. Being objective is not always easy, it helps to put myself in someone else’s shoes. How much would I pay for this, if I was buying at a yard sale? Still working on it.

Fourth: books, CDs, DVDs, even vinyl records and VHS tapes is more exasperating than others things you want to get rid of. Books are slowly going out of style, no matter how I feel about that. There are too many books, apparently, and no more are needed. Finding places that would take your books and give you credits to get different ones has been relatively easy……but that is not my goal. I wanted to just get rid of them. Making sure I separate the ones I would keep because I love them and would read them gain. Donating to public libraries, school libraries, nursing homes, hospitals…..they are still accepting books!!! Will try to sell the others.

In these days when we can stream anything on you computer or television…..who would want these relics of the past? Well, I found out that there are places that buy CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes and even vinyl records, but not everything. They require you to go to them, they inspect what you bring and then pick and choose what they want. Do not expect to get too much. What is left, I am keeping  for your garage or yard sale…and hope for the best.

Fifth: big pieces such as furniture and appliances are difficult to get rid of. Especially if you do not have a vehicle to transport them. Getting any charity to pick up these items is easier said than done. We waited for weeks to get the Salvation Army to pick up some pieces of furniture from our son’s apartment. When they finally came, everything was inspected and a few things were rejected. Thankfully we had a Plan B……because you cannot just put them out on the sidewalk. City Ordinances say you must pay a fine and still end up disposing of the items yourself.

Once I have completed all these steps, I will have just what I want, need and find beautiful. I will have space in my home to make it feel bigger and more spacious than it is. Hopefully, I will also be reluctant to buy anything to replace what  I sold or gave away. This looks more promising that just de-cluttering.

 

Lessons Learned and High School Reunions

Just came back from my 50th High School Reunion!!! It was a wonderful week of celebrations and reacquainting myself with old friends. What an experience!!! We went to an all-girl school and most of us were together from kindergarten to our high school graduation. Our class had only 30 students, so you can imagine. We had the well-behaved, the mischievous, the studious, the fun-loving, the glamorous, the quiet ones, the I couldn’t care less ones, the stylish, the care-free, you name it. Most of all, we knew each other rather well and were on friendly terms…….most of the time.

Attending an all-girl school has advantages that are now being discovered by different studies in American universities. Seems girls who study together have a healthier approach to education, have a higher interest in subjects like science and math and develop self-esteem early in life. Well, apparently our parents knew this and gave us this great advantage!!! Not a shrinking violet in the group, I am glad to report. Five doctors, engineers, writers, business women, nutritionists, university professors, partners in international firms, well-traveled, speakers of several languages…….amazing women each and everyone.

Once we graduated, we went our different ways to study, get married, develop careers and raise families. We gave to our communities, and still do, by working with local charities and spreading goodwill. We have taken care of ourselves and have many years to enjoy what we have sown. Life has been good and this celebration brought together a group of women who are seriously talented and full of life. They have learned from their mistakes, moved on and can now flaunt their successes without shying away.

The Organizing Committee had a year to plan and they did a fantastic job. They even started a chat on WhatsApp to keep us informed of the ideas as they developed. This brought everyone together, before the celebration even started.

Most still live in Panama and have kept in touch through the years on and off. For the ones, like myself, who live abroad it has been harder. So this was a brilliant idea. Here’s to Social Media!!! We immediately clicked again and it was as if time had stood still. All those years melted away and we had so much to talk about, to reminisce, to laugh at and even to shed a tear or two while sharing stories and details of our lives. Let me not forget about hugs……there were more hugs given and received than I could count.

Each activity throughout the 5 days was wonderful. Did I mention that our school was run by nuns? Yes, so the first order of business was attending a special mass, followed by dinner at the Club Union, best one in town. We danced, sang at top of our voices, ate and drank and were merry. Only us girls, as we were all those years ago. Even better, since this time there was no thought of boyfriends or flirting. One day we walked along the cobblestone streets of the Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historical neighborhood. Then dinner, drinks and dancing. The next day, we went by bus to see the works of the new addition to the canal on the Atlantic side of the country. Lunch afterwards. The trip was part of the fun we had that day.

The last day we travel to a mountain resort town, El Valle. Stayed in different homes, got together for dinner, drinks, more singing and dancing and fireworks!!! The next morning, we had brunch with everyone high on the side of the mountain. More hugs and goodbyes, promises to get together again soon. Plans are already in the works. I will not miss any of them for the world. The adventure will continue. Hats off to the organizers for taking time off from their busy lives to make sure our celebration was fun, unique, warm and just perfect!!!

 

 

 

 

Perfecting the Art of Wasting Time

Haven’t you felt at times that you should be doing something? haven’t you felt restless because you are just sitting enjoying a cup of tea? or coffee? I know I have, especially these days. Somehow, we feel we must be doing something productive at all times. We are conditioned to feel that way, aren’t we?

That may be so, but I am here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. Nowhere is it written that we must do something indispensable at all hours. It is fine to just take a deep breath and figure out what you really do not want to do……and don’t!!!

The world moves on, with or without us. That we stop to just breathe and relax will not cause a major shift in its path. As much as we worry about what is going on, as much as we will like to change some things, we cannot do this constantly. We must stop and smell the flowers, we must make ourselves learn how to waste time…..in us!!!

I have read somewhere that nobody can pour from an empty vessel. If we do not replenish ours, how are we to give to others? The art of wasting time is all about that. We must step back once in a while and look inside instead of out. We must be ready to be selfish and replenish our vessel, so we can give again. Each and every one of us has the duty to ourselves to see this happen. It is the only way.

So sit on your balcony or porch with a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine. Go outside and walk in your garden, admire the flowers, look at the sky. Make sure your patio furniture is comfortable and sit there with your eyes closed. Put aside your smart phone, your computer and listen to your thoughts.

Take a nap in the middle of the day, just do it. Take your dog for a walk following a new path or simply let him run free in the yard while you sit in the sun. Go to a park and just sit while people watching. Go window shopping, go for a car ride without a destination. Read a self-help book. I love those and mostly I wouldn’t do anything they suggest, but it does make me smile to read about them. The whole point is to just do nothing you must do: no shopping, no watering the plants, no cooking or baking. Try it!!!

Just one more thought, this is about wasting time not procrastinating. It is refusing to be ruled by schedules and having a purpose for whatever you do, if only for a while. This is about slowing down, looking around you. This is about trying for a more balanced lifestyle. If we perfect this art, we don’t only become better persons, we then can help others do the same. So go ahead: Waste some Time!!!

photos: top by Julieta  Reyes Flores and bottom by Nancy Tripp

 

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 ties 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!!!