Lessons Learned and Simplicity

IMG_3723This might be the year I finish my never-ending de-cluttering project. I have been at it since we moved to Miami 13 years ago. Yes, that is a long time, but I did have too much to get rid of. All in the pursue of Simplicity, a simpler life. It’s a long story, so bear with me.IMG_3725

In 2003, after more than 20 years in Curaçao, my husband and I made Miami our home. He came to work here and I followed. At the time, it was the thing to do, but that did not make it any easier. I did a lot of throwing away, donating, selling and packing. In the end, I had still too much because I was holding on to memories in the guise of possessions. It was difficult to just let go of them, so I brought them with us.

I have learned a lot since then. Every move we have made here has resulted in more donating and throwing away….no more selling for some reason. Since we have moved three times, you can imagine how much I have de-cluttered. Still, it has not been enough. So regularly, I go through our closets, our kitchen, our books, CDs and DVDs. I have participated in two de-clutter projects as well. I have one day every two weeks when I shred papers that are of no use anymore. I must have done some damage to my storage space, you would think. Not so fast…

IMG_1697It is true that we started with two storage cages in our first apartment building. They were full to the top, mostly with boxes that came from Curaçao, boxes our children brought to us when they moved from place to place. We now have only one storage cage, but it is full to the top!!

Having decided that we need to move on, look for a more relaxed place to live than Miami, I have started again in earnest to diminish the clutter we brought and the one we have accumulated. I kid you not, sometimes I feel our things just multiply!!

IMG_4985Now, I have learned one important lesson: this is not de-cluttering anymore…this is downsizing!!! All I have done is a preparation for this most important ritual in our lives: moving on and live in the day. Memories will be there, but our  are being weeded out. I have taken many photos  to have a record of what I am getting rid of. A less complicated home is coming soon.

IMG_4989The other lesson I have taken away from this long process is that I will downsize my way. Simplicity is not the same for everyone, each of us have our own definition. Mine is, well, simple!!! I will keep my photographs, my videos, my books, my photo albums (remember them?). They tell my story, they are my memories and in the great scheme of life, they take less space than furniture, china, glassware, silverware and other assorted items I have dragged with me for years.

It is liberating and I am enjoying it so far……of course there have been some emotional moments along the way. That is part of the process, part of what life is all about. I will keep you posted on this leg of my Simplicity journey.

Lessons Learned and 25 Trips

Driving from Panama City after my flight from Miami to visit my mother, I realized that this was my 25th trip since she had a stroke in December 2006. It was mind-boggling. Never thought to keep track, but apparently my brain was doing just that. Usually, I just concentrate on the task at hand: we need a new nurse, she has had a set back or it’s her birthday. Overthinking gets me nowhere and I try to avoid it. This time, because the trip was so unexpected and I was driving myself the 3 1/2 hours right after my flight……..I just let my mind wander.

I remembered my first one, just after New Year’s 2007, frantic with worry because we still didn’t know if she was going to make it. I stayed for a month. Too much to absorb, decide and do, every day brought new challenges and I was exhausted when I got back home. I remembered the last one, at Easter. It was a sort of reunion with my sisters, time to reassess her care. Nothing new, since we have been doing this on and off for the last two years.

Then I tried to bring on the trips that were just for pleasure, even if they have been fewer. Her 85th birthday, her 90th, the year my children spent a week with her, the trips I took to spent time with my sisters. Unfortunately, there have been more trips when we just went to find someone to care for her. She now requires 24 hour care and it is harder to find anyone willing to work at a private home. It is not an easy job and I must confessed, I wouldn’t do it.

When I arrived, my sister had been alone with her all weekend. She had some part-time help, but hardly enough. She was exhausted and so was I. After a shower and something to eat, we settled to watch the final of the US Open. She prefers Djokovic, I am a Federer fan. We had a glass of wine and pondered on our choices and decided we had few.

Monday we stared our search. Interviews, visits to the different nursing schools and hospitals: repeat, repeat, repeat. Not easy and so frustrating. Still it needed to be done and we did it. This was not different from other trips, but at the same time, it was. We considered alternatives we never considered before.  We were open to everything and anything that would give her the care she has been receiving all these years.

At night, when we had the time to go over our day, we talked about the cards we have been dealt. Three daughters, all married to foreigners and living away from Panama, with lives as different as you can imagine from the reality of our mother’s life. All trying to get her the best care, no matter the cost and struggling to keep up with everything.

Yes, 25 trips…….it seems unreal. Even if I do remember some of them, others are just a passing flash in my mind. We have put so many things in the back burner, it’s not worth thinking about it. We do what we most, but I have learned a few lessons and I am grateful.

I have learned that taking care of our parents is the harder thing we can do. We become parents ourselves and our parents not always become willing children. Taking care of our parents when they live far from us becomes an impossibly hard task that absorbs us, drags us into a stressful and exhausting journey that we cannot stop. I have learned that no matter how many times you think you have solved the problem, it will come back more complicated than before.

Working on such a delicate balance as is the care of an aging and ill parent is something beyond any explanation I can give here. If they happen to live far from you, them the task becomes monumental. Those who are in the same boat, would be the ones to understand; those who are not, I wish you don’t have to see yourselves in that position.

I have learned that there is satisfaction in what you do, but you could be too discombobulated to understand it. I learned that every little step forward can bring more than one step backward……there is no escaping this!!!

The 9 days past quickly, there was no time to think too much, no time to feel sorry for myself. We made new arrangements, we hope they work and we prepare ourselves for when they do not. That is the biggest lesson.

When it was time to leave, I just drove back to the city. Trying not to think about much while I drove the 3 1/2 hours. Finally got to the hotel in the city and I felt oddly calm. I had no doubts in my mind that the care we have given our mother couldn’t have been better. Since there is only one of us living in Panama, it is more than amazing what we have been able to accomplish.

 Here is to the next 25 trips!!!!

Dress like you are having Fun!!! (Part Two)

IMG_4200Here I am, a woman of a certain age, having fun again. Life is short, I don’t need to remind you, so there is no time for deeley-daly. After all, thinking too much can take the joy out of living. Just go with the flow.

IMG_0657Moving to Miami, more than a decade ago, was not easy. Making new friends, changing my lifestyle, embracing my new home, all came slowly. Needless to say, this gave me time to explore a few ideas. I wrote a book Here, started two blogs, traveled more and let my hair go grey. Most importantly, I enjoyed choosing my clothes once more!!!031_31

281884_10150265571164670_2322063_n                         Getting in touch with my inner style maven was a gradual projection. Remember I had spent a while just pretending I had to adhere to rules. Of course, you would think I should have known better.  I am sure I did, but ignored the feeling for a while. What a faux pas!!!

IMG_2468This is how it went. Slowly, I went from brunette to blonde. As my hair got more and more grey, I lightened it. It was a riot, since it not always turned out the color I wanted…….but, I could have cared less. It was fun!!!

IMG_4023Then, I changed the color palette of my wardrobe. Needed to get the right background for my new look……this was hilarious. Can you imagine? Shopping as a new person to dress yourself as a new person. Have to admit, it was a great experience. Besides, retail therapy can only help with whatever is ailing you!!!11245509_10153410853541802_2516595544563633616_n

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I thought my body had changed enough, but was I ever wrong. My walking routine became a once-in-while effort, there were new restaurants, new cuisines to try…….all this took a toll. I gained weight!!! It was all I could do to keep within my clothes size.

Unfortunately, losing weight and keeping an exercise routine gets harder as we grow older. What to do. It took time and effort, still not back to my ideal weight……I am still somewhere between pleasantly plump and svelte. After all, I am short, five pounds can look like twenty.IMG_4093

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Well, my legs are still holding, I reckoned, so short skirts and cropped pants!!! Hats, chunky jewellery and brooches, high heels and elegant flats, scarves were added for good measure. After all, the point is to have fun….and all of the above can help you with just that. No comfortable clothing…….unless it is also stylish…….my only rule!!!

IMG_1531.JPGWe are individuals, but sometimes we tend to follow the herd.  I figured, that out there we can find kindred spirits that can help us go back to the right path: we are unique and we must not forget that if there are rules, we must not be tied down by them.IMG_1617.JPG

With that in mind, I joined a couple of sites for older women. Besides advise I didn’t always follow, there were conversations with women that were interesting, centered, sure of themselves and fabulous!!!! It was educational.

As we grow older, we tend to over think our choices in everything. We listen to others and forget to listen to ourselves. Somehow we DSC00124convince ourselves that we need to look our age. Whatever that means!!!

-4Not me, not anymore…….I feel better than ever in my skin. I can and do wear things I love and things I find  flattering. Mostly, I wear what makes me  happy and I am having fun!!!

Dress like you’re having Fun!!! (Part One)

IMG_4001No, I don’t wear that, it’s too young-looking for me, I don’t know about bright colors at my age, no sleeveless anything, too short, too much cleavage, too fitted, too loose, no bikinis, no shorts and let’s forget about form-fitting clothes……”  Who makes these rules? and why do women feel obliged to follow them? Judith Boyd, whose blog Style Crone is one of my favorites, says that “we should know the rules, so we can break them“……I like that. Patti Gibbons from Not Dead yet Style, it’s also an inspiration. She advises us “to burst out with a love for fashion and style“….Couldn’t agree more!!!

When we were young, we could wear anything and be called original,  innovative, unique. Nowadays we are called old-fashioned, out-of-touch with the times and who knows what else. Well, I am not going to be bothered by any of that. I have come to the conclusion that women of a certain age have been held back long enough. We do not have to listen and still look fabulous!!!IMG_4009

IMG_3996Do you remember when our mothers decided what we wore? I am one of three sisters. For years, our mother dressed us alike, different colors, a bow here, a belt there, but basically the same dress. Oh, we thought nothing of it for years. Did you wear a hat on Easter Sunday? My sisters and I wore ours on Palm Sunday. Mothers knew best and we had no saying in our outfits. Those days were gone as soon as we hit middle school, remember?. Our personalities took over to a point. We had some freedom, but still not complete control.

FullSizeRenderHigh school was a lot freer and more fun. We discovered that our clothes could say a lot about us. It was an epiphany, especially where I grew up. I had my hair styled as Twiggy’s famous do, wore huge white sunglasses, plastic bangles and earrings, false eyelashes and much more. It was so much fun. Remembering that, I realize that I once was one of those young women that were considered unique and original…….if not a bit off in my circle of friends.

Never mind when I came to the States for college, it was the 60s after all. Boston was home to students from around the globe, bringing with them so many interesting things to wear. So, I learned to wear what I liked, took risks with my clothes, wore the shortest skirts, knee-high boots with hot-pants……you name it, I wore it!!!

IMG_4002Then I grew up, got married, started a family, became more conventional, but only to a point.  I’ve always loved being myself, not always expecting anyone to like my style. Unfortunately, I started to get too comfortable. Our bodies change, mine did and somehow, I thought I should conform with rules. What was I thinking? Why was I listening to outside influences when I never cared about them? Still, it did happened. Now, I am back to my old self………and I am having fun again!!! I will tell you all about it soon. Stay tuned……for Part Two!!!IMG_0809

Striving for a Mindful / Meaningful Lifestyle

IMG_3830Ah, how things can change!!! I have always been opinionated, felt I could be right in many instances and be in control of most situations. Since starting this blog, this has changed. It is now my goal to live mindfully. Enough, I think, of always wanting to be right or getting upset about things I cannot control.

Turning the page has not been easy.  I started last year with: Tossing out Control, it was my first attempt, first chapter so to speak. Unfortunately, since then, I have so  much to share and write about, I have not followed on this path. I have not put the effort into it.

Tossing Out the Old is one reason I started this blog. Listening to the New is the other. It is only logical that I should go back and keep at it until I can say I am Living Mindfully. First, though, what is Living Mindfully?IMG_3834

According to author Micki Fine (M.Ed., L.P.C. )Mindfulness is about waking up to life and what it means to be fully human.”  Sounds easy, something we can all achieve, isn’t it? Putting these thoughts into practice is another story because it brings us to other questions such as : what does being human mean? what does she mean by waking up to life? and most important, are all definitions of mindfulness the same, or different people feel differently about the concept?

Obviously, I am running off with something that should only be felt not analyzed. After all, Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”. Here comes my very active personality, though, ready to think too much and dig too deeply. Breathe…IMG_3490

Let’s go with the flow, to use a cliché. After all, we must be open and curious about the world that surrounds us, without imposing our judgement on anything. Easier said than done.

Being aware of the world around us, focusing in our daily experience, letting go of preconceived ideas, embracing new ones, having an open mind to accept others and their actions as they are, that is what mindfulness will bring to our lives. It is said that once we achieve this……our stress will disappear. A very important reason to strive for this, right?

Understanding the concept and putting it into practice…..there is where the whole thing becomes a conundrum. This is what I have come up with. Living mindfully equals meaningful lifestyle. It is concentrating on the fact that we have more years behind us than ahead. There is not a lifetime to experiment, try different approaches and then change. It is the time to grab life with both hands and live it!!!IMG_3827

Accepting this has made a difference in my attitude. It is so simple I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. Now, I am. These past weeks I have started to do things I truly enjoy, even completing projects I wanted to do for a while. The results have been wonderful. Not only I have reasons to be proud, I have objects to remind me that I am actually moving forward!!! You can see on the photos I have posted here.

Believe me, my body aches and I am exhausted. On the other hand, I sleep profoundly and wake up refreshed. I smile a lot and I am not taking myself so seriously. I am more carefree. Problems, unless they are of real importance, are being left to work themselves out or let to be solved by others, plans are made for purely enjoyable activities. Not everything is peachy, living mindfully and meaningfully my way is still a work in progress, a never-ending task. Life is made of challenges and I believe I am actually winning this one!!!

Life is a Great Balancing Act!!!

IMG_3342One of my favorite quotes, and I think Dr. Seuss hit the nail on the head with this one. Of course, not everyone knows this. Most of us just go through life pretending that we know what we are doing, forgetting that balance is what makes our life so interesting.

Everything in life is a choice, everything depends on which one choice we make in every situation we face. There is no escaping that fact. Keeping that magical balance in which we know what to let go and what to hold on to is so simple, so important, so difficult.

These past weeks have been incredible hectic. I have had more than my usual share of situations that needed my immediate attention. Yes, we all have one or two of these challenges: from what to do about our mother’s care to what to say to our adult children without overstepping into their lives, from trying to keep in touch with friends we might have outgrown to keeping in touch with the ones that still mean a lot to us, from deciding what is really important in our everyday life to accepting the fact that we cannot possibly please everyone. Talking about balance!!!

Why balance is so important in life? Because it requires more than just picking one option or another. What you keep, what you decide to deal with needs as careful consideration as what you let go and what you just ignore.

In our younger years, we all tried to keep everything in our lives. We did not even consider letting go. Remember when even giving away something was a decision that we weighted carefully? I do remember. This did not only apply to material things, but to emotional, mental or behavioral issues as well. Ah, some of you will say, those were the days!!! Well, I have found out that indeed those were the days, the days of having too much in our plates and juggling too many relationships, emotional challenges, behaviors that were not good for us. Times have change, at least for me they have.

IMG_3333With age and maturity, I have begun to see all aspects of my life in a way that is centered on ME. This is my time. Life has giving me the chance to act as I want, to let go of what I don’t need, to keep what makes me happy, whole and centered. It’s a feeling that makes me smile sometimes and has caused me to change and acquire a new assertiveness.

In June of last year, I participated in a de-cluttering challenge. Not that I needed the idea, but it was pleasant to have company. I have done his before, many times, but it is a never-ending task. It was wonderful to have some company this time around. Letting go of all those material things left space in my home for what I really love and wanted to stay in my life. With less clutter, I appreciate what I kept more.  It has been a wonderful experience. There was another benefit, somehow the challenge is still going. The group is still putting out ideas, supporting each other’s efforts, accepting new members. Why?

Here is the simple answer. Once we let go of material things, we started letting go of emotional baggage, behavioral issues and preconceived ideas. This was the hardest part, but the most rewarding. This was when our change really started and we learned an important lesson. Life becomes simpler and more rewarding, we determine our own expectations without society or family pressure. Liberating. Of course, as with any de-cluttering process, this is a never-ending task.

Any change we introduce in our lives comes with a measure of guilt. This challenge was not an exception. The ever-present feeling that we should be paying attention to everyone around us and if we are not, then we are being selfish: guilt. For most of us women, it’s very hard to shake this feeling, but we must remember that it’s in the challenge of keeping things balanced in our lives, that we achieve a new kind of happiness. Believe it or not, we would also achieve a new kind of serenity. Everyone who knows me, must be smiling by now. I do not radiate serenity, usually, but I am learning fast. Trust me!!!

Life is a great balancing act and, finally, I have arrived at that place where I can manage without feeling guilty……most of the time!!!!! After all, this is a work in progress.

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Twists and Turns: my attempts at Yoga

IMG_3199I have bought a set of videos about yoga for older women. Cat Kabira, an American yoga instructor living in Bali is the host. Margaret Manning, of Sixty and Me, came up with the idea. Such a good idea because today older women are trying new things, new ideas, new attitudes. I am not shying away from any of these, hence this new adventure.

Not that I haven’t tried yoga before, in more than one occasion. I still do a couple of poses everyday to help me relax and start my day a bit more in tune with my inner self. Of course, by now I have no clue if I am doing them right or just following my version. Doesn’t matter, it has worked for me, sort of!!!

Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that started  in India thousands of years ago. Linked to Hinduism, the practice of yoga is more complicated than many people realize. Introduced into the Western world around the middle of the 19th century, yoga has had many rebirths. Starting as a purely philosophical practice, it is now basically a physical exercise. This is what most people practice and it’s called Asana Yoga. I am sure you realize this is a very basic definition, but unfortunately this is what most people accept as yoga.

I IMG_3208 have never been a fan of exercise. Sweating on purpose is not my idea of time well-spent……well, maybe relaxing in a sauna. On the other hand, I am well aware that we all need to have a routine to keep us healthy, nimble, connected with our inner self, happy……you name your reason. I did tried several times to start an exercise routine without too much success. The only constant has been my small weight exercises that I do everyday. Did not want to have flabby arms!!!

IMG_0207Now, my friends know that I am an admirer of Indian culture. I am vegetarian on Mondays and Thursdays, I read anything about India I can get my hands on and I love Indian food, jhutis and glass bangles. I think a sari is the most alluring dress a woman can wear. Some of my Indian friends think I might have been Indian in a previous life. My husband is sure of that!!!

In the last few years, a new version has become the thing: Bikram Hot Yoga. This is practiced in a hot room that helps you sweat your way into flexibility. Supposedly this makes you do your poses better resulting the elimination of stress. I don’t know about that. Heat is never a good thing for me unless it is a hot pad when my lower back bothers me or a beautiful fire when it’s cold outside. You already know how I feel about sweating!!!

I digress. Let’s go back to my yoga practice or lack thereof. I did take, ages ago, some basic lessons. I have beautiful books about it and a small set of cards that explains the basic poses….they come out once in a while. After all, I have tried to keep this going. I take out my yoga mat and wear comfortable clothing, I close my eyes and breathe mindfully, I do some poses and stretches. Believe me, it might not be the real thing, but it does help me.

IMG_3206First of all, the time I’ve spent trying to get my body into these poses is time well spent. I have kept my posture, walking straight and have no problems with osteoporosis. My twists and turns, done consistently, have made me more nimble. It feels great. Right there, I am ahead, don’t you agree?

Second, and very important, my breathing has improved. There are two kinds of breathing that have helped me. The Stimulating Breath: Inhale and exhale through your nose three times in a row, very fast and noisily. This makes you feel energized. After that, rest for a short while. Repeat up to 15 breaths. The 4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale and open your hands to the count of four. Hold your breath and stretch your fingers to the count of seven. Exhale and close your hands to the count of eight. Repeat four times. This is so relaxing!!!

Last, but not least, my balance has improved. It was never great, still is not perfect, but much better. This is important, believe me. I am short and still wear high heels. As we grow older, this is not easy. I refused to always wear flats. They do nothing for your posture, but you need to have good balance. So my yoga poses have helped with this too.

 Back to my new tapes, there was a good reason to buy them besides the obvious: relearning the real yoga asanas. I will not go to a gym or yoga studio, I know myself. These tapes will keep me going for a long time to come. They will be my partners in the battle against settling into a sedentary life. I refuse to do that!!!

Gifts to Give Yourself: #4

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Barb has posted her last gift to herself. This, she says, is the hardest one to work with. She is so right. In these uncertain times, when we are bombarded by horrible news, tragedies and acts of inhumanity, we feel dispirited and holding on to this gift is difficult. Still, if we do, we are certain to come up with another way, another solution, a better day. I am sure you can guess that this last gift is The Gift of Hope.

The world is not the perfect place we want it to be, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on it. Let’s hope for something better, and then act upon it. Hope that turns into action can accomplish anything. Everyday we should look forward to tomorrow with the certainty that we can make it better than today. There is always a new job, a new move, a new relationship, a new chapter in our lives and we must hope they’d turn out for the best. Let’s hope that we can heal emotional wounds and broken hearts. Let ‘s hope  that we can make this a better place for our loved ones.

There is nothing we cannot do if we have hope in another day or in another chance. “Hope makes all things work…”, a very wise quote by my friend Brenda. Because it’s so true, let’s give ourselves The Give of Hope.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season: a Season to write your story, a Season to understand your fear, a Season of giving of yourselves and a Season of hope!!!

Gifts to give Yourself: #3

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Throughout my life I have celebrated this season in different ways. I think this is true for whoever has moved away from their home country, married someone who is from another country, another culture. Each stage in my life has given me reasons to be happy during these days; even if I felt a bit sad or nostalgic, Giving was a constant.

This week, Barb provided us with her next gift idea: The Gift of Giving. As we all know, this is the crazy shopping season. We go out of our way to see what we can give our love ones, our friends, our colleagues, each and every person in our lives. It becomes exhausting and frustrating. We plan surprises, we try to figure out what our children, spouse or significant other would like. We try to find the perfect gift for the ones that have everything, for the ones that need everything. We all know people who plan, know exactly what to buy and buy with time to spare. I am not one of those people: this is a nightmare for me. This is why I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping!!!

Now, the GIVING Barb is talking about is the one that should make all of us feel wonderful. She is talking about the gift of giving yourself to others!!! These are the gifts that give back instantly, the ones that gladden your heart and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, the ones that become memories you will cherish forever.

In this Season to give, generosity and caring are the best gifts. Volunteer at a food bank, visit an old-people home and bring home-made cookies, sing along with them. If the urge to engage in some retail therapy is strong:  buy some toys, some fine toiletries and deliver them to a shelter for battered women. Make a point to give something to the people asking for money at an intersection. Whatever you decide, do it in person, see the faces of those you are helping. Your Season of Giving will give you back tenfold!!!!

 

 

Gifts to give Yourself: #1 and #2

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-christmas-gifts-front-lights-image7511835I belong to an online group of women over 50. I can see you smiling….I am over 60 actually, but who is counting. This is one of my favorite sites: a community of older women that can really express themselves, give advice, conjure smiles, tears, laughs, serious thoughts. For a while now, I have followed Barb Parcells. She writes a blog under the screen name: Flower Bear.

Her posts are always a delight to read. Her blog is relaxing, with soft colors, flowers. It is her garden because she is planting the seeds for the second half of life. Doesn’t that sound inspiring?

During this Christmas Season, she has decided to give herself four gifts that speak to “her true, beautiful self”. One gift every week leading to Christmas Day. I discovered this just now and was absolutely taken by the idea.

This I am going to do for myself, following her direction. I am sharing the idea, why don’t you join me? Her ideas might not be exactly what you would do for yourself, but I am certain they will speak to you once you read the reason behind each one.

The first week, she is giving herself The Gift of Story. I love it!!! I keep journals, so this one should be good for me. I am going to go through my writings and I will write my story, happy ending and all!!!. Why and how you ask? very simple: I am writing about the experiences that touched me, the special moments that made me smile, the words of wisdom that helped my loved ones. Sounds like an adventure, can’t wait.

On this second week of December, she is giving herself The Gift of Fear. I have to say, this sounded a bit odd. As I continued reading, it became clear: “danger is the warning…… Fear, on the other hand, is a choice”. That was a revelation. Barb lets us know that if we fear something it’s because we are missing something in our lives. We are not living in the present moment, the past should just be left behind. Beautiful thoughts.

                                               Flower Bear’s Garden

P.S. visit her blog, it’s worth it!!!