Christmas has come and gone. As most everyone else, I love this time of the year. On the other hand, I never know what to do: just let go and enjoy every minute or just reminisce. Those are not mutually exclusive, you would tell me, but they are in my mind. What to do!
My family loves Christmas and I have made it special throughout the years. I kept traditions, cooked, wrapped presents, decorated…I was exhausted by the time the Big Day arrived. Everyone seemed to enjoy the season, and I guess I did too. We all know this fact: Christmas is made of memories. These memories can be sad and happy, all at the same time. I am usually nostalgic at this time, as if I am thrilled and upset about having to celebrate. I have been told this is normal, whatever that means. Have never strived to be normal!!!
To be truthful, I tend to dwell on my past lives more than some during these days. Friends and family and celebrations we shared. From my earliest memories, back in Panama, when celebrations were not at all like the ones I learned to put together later on in life. Everything centered in the birth of Jesus, the manger in a place of honor with beautiful porcelain figurines. Family dinner on Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass and exchange of presents before going to bed. Everyone got enough presents to be happy, but never too many to appear wasteful. My parents were very good at this. Some days, I find myself humming Christmas carols I haven’t heard in years!!! In Spanish and very sentimental, these carols were part of my mother’s repertoire when she used to sing with us. Wonderful times.
Then I came to school in the States. Completely different culture, not unknown, but not totally familiar either. Santa and stories of snowy celebrations, carols that were joyful hymns about sleighing and frightful weather and jingle bells became favorites!! I added them up to my traditions. During this time I met and married Frankie. His traditions were different, so when we had children, we adjusted and took from one and from the other and made new ones for our new family. Our children grew up with them and I have to say, it has been successful!
We settled in Curaçao and our Christmases became more than special. Most of Frankie’s family on the island is Jewish, so our celebration was very family oriented…very much only for ourselves! My in-laws, the children and us: dinner, presents, watching some special movies, carols. Morning Mass on Christmas Day. Those were the days when, I think, Christmas became such an important part of our family traditions: a time really for ourselves only. In many ways, it still is….but we are changing!
Since moving to Miami, new traditions have been started. We share Christmas Eve with my family and Frankie’s when we are here. He has enough cousins to make this celebration huge! We go there first. Then we go to Ana and Laura and her children. It is family, relaxed and fun. Some years, we have traveled and we have shared with friends. Of course, we have also been know to suffer from FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. Missing the reunions with family and friends, missing the traditions, missing not sharing….just plain missing.
This year, Frank couldn’t be here for Christmas. He came the week before to celebrate with us. Dinner celebration for our anniversary and presents exchange afterwards. Worked beautifully!! The house was decorated: a real tree with all our ornaments, the ones we have bought along the years of being together, the ones the children have given us or made themselves all those years ago. Poinsettias, lights on the balcony, candles. It’s been a while since I did this.
Then there were the messages from friends all around the world. In these days when people are so stressed and so busy, it is wonderful to see that my friends take the time to keep in touch. Some of them do during the year, but others only touch base at this Joyous time. Never mind, all the news are important, all messages answered, good news celebrated and sympathy went out to those with not so good news…thankfully these were few and far between. These remnants of previous lives, of years spent abroad when your friends were your family and ties were formed that will always be there, make a good part of our cheer…every Christmas!
Christmas Eve was very peaceful, my family only at my sister Ana’s beautiful home….with delicious food and gift exchange. This is a time to celebrate being together and so we did. Laughter and enjoyable recollections of times past. It is wonderful to see that after all these years, my sisters and I still can make each other laugh. Unfortunately, I was under the weather, so Camille, Frankie and I went home early.
Next year, we will get together again and celebrate our similarities and our differences!! After all that is the real Spirit of Christmas!!!
This is me a few days ago. …..It has been three months, one week and 4 days, since I last colored my hair, but who is counting…..well, maybe the people who see me everyday and do not know me well enough to ask what is happening, strangers I meet when I run my errands. The ones that know me well enough are either impressed I have lasted this long or are silently hoping I would come to my senses and color my hair again!! No cheering section yet.
I have to say it’s been easier than I thought, maybe because my hair grows fast and I had become a blonde a while ago….roots blend better, sort of. I also had a new haircut and keep it styled more than I used to. In the end, it’s been easier, I believe, because most of the time I don’t care what people think!! Do not get me wrong, even not caring about what they say, I have found myself doubting my decision a couple of times. Not enough to give up yet, but enough to consider wearing a hat when I went out! Why not? Love hats and they are fashionable, are they not? Seriously, the reward will be amazing, but the way there is paved with doubts and impatience, you need to keep convincing yourself. You need help!
One very good idea is to read about others that have embarked on this journey. So far, I have read everything I found about letting your hair go natural, looking for encouragement and finding it. There are Facebook pages and older women sites that give tips and advise: Vibrant Nation, Zest Now and Sixty and Me. There are also Going Grey – Google Search, I couldn’t believe the amount of information you can find! This is how I have discovered that many women have decided to do this, more than I would have ever imagined. Reasons go from being tired of coloring to the cost, the time and the aggravation. Maybe it’s that they do not need to prove anything to anyone, or the fact that so many celebrities are going grey. There are now examples of glamorous women flaunting their grey locks everywhere!!! Not a moment to soon, I say.
Now, there are women that simply cannot let their hair go grey; either their white hair turns yellow, it’s too coarse and dry or the color just doesn’t go with their complexion. What to do. You would need to try it before you are sure it’s not for you. There is also that you need to be your best when you let your hair go grey. You might need to change your make-up, your hairstyle, your clothes style and your attitude. I know, too much work…..but it will be so worth it… I am sure!!!
I have about three and a half inches of growth already and the Holidays are coming. Christmas is a special time in our home and five days before it’s our anniversary: 40 years!!! Something needed to be done. Enter my beautiful daughter. Camille has a most wonderful stylist….leave it to her to find the best in her new city: Europa Hair Studio. Yesterday, I went to see him and had a whole afternoon worth of work on my hair. Fernando, the stylist, did almost white highlights all over. I looked as if my head could receive signals from Mars! After that, he applied heat to make the hair-lightener work, a violet mask to take away as much of the blonde as possible and a toner to give the hair an even color. When I tell you my hair hurt, trust me, that’s an understatement. It was a long day….
In the end….. voilá, totally worth it! Thank you, Camille!!!!
My husband and daughter accompanied me to watch About Time, a British movie written and directed by the very clever Richard Curtis. He has given us other gems: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually. This is another one. Do not want to spoil it for you, so all I am saying is that I came out with a brilliant idea for a challenge!! Can see your eyebrows raising and your mouth slightly open. What is she talking about? What is she up to now? Very simple: I am setting a challenge for myself, a challenge that will last through the Holidays and into the New Year. It is about time I see every day as I would have like it to be from the beginning.
This movie opened my eyes to something so true, I should have seen it before. Life is made out of days, taken one at a time. Days, in turn, are made of moments and moments are what life is all about. Why? because it would be moments that we remember, good ones and not so good ones. Moments that would make our memories, especially as we grow older. So let’s pay attention, let’s put an effort into making our moments memorable. This is the only way to make your day just as it should have been…from the beginning.
Have you come to the end of the day and asked yourself: why did I do this or that? why didn’t I keep my mouth shut or why did I say those things? I know I have, more than once. It is not full regret all the time, it’s just a wish, a vague feeling that the day could have gone better! It happens to all of us, it’s life……
Life, the rhythm of life actually, is different for each one of us. It depends on our personalities, our goals, our work, our family. Some people seem to glide along with a smile on their faces. Others, and I count myself in this group, smile once in a while, but struggle along. What to do. I always thought that there was nothing to be done, after all it was a matter of personality, wasn’t it? All I had to do was move on and make the best of it, right? Absolutely not…..Fortunately, I went to see About Time!!!
Watching what must be the feel-good movie so far this year, my eyes opened and my mind decided. This is what I propose to do. Take every moment and make it the best it can be. Think before I speak, harder than you think in my case, so I have to make sure to breathe at least twice before I open my mouth! Consider what the other person is going to feel if I say what I want to say, breathe again of course! Don’t rush into any reaction, breathe before you respond to anything, be it words or actions. For now, I think this is enough. I can’t overwhelm myself. I will, though, keep you posted on this.
Tropic lover that I am, laid-back lifestyle that I crave and all the writing and talking about missing the Tropics, I have NEVER been one for a SIESTA. Don’t get me wrong, I could lie down after lunch every day while living in Curaçao. Catch up with reading, the news or just rest, sleeping was something else. I never could, and if by chance fatigue overtook me….I woke up in such a mood, you wouldn’t want to talk to me….
My sister Laura, who always lived in Latin America is a firm believer in the power nap. She swears by it and is convinced it gives you a second wind in the middle of the day. I never agreed and couldn’t understand how she could do it. Slowly I have come to believe she is right and I am now a believer!!! Of course, more than just words were needed….I needed proof. Read everything I could about napping. This was the clincher: in a study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, doctors have discovered that:
The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes.
It doesn’t need to be long, it doesn’t need to be a complex process. All you need is ten minutes of restful sleep! What a concept. I was going to try it. There are also the benefits of taking a siesta. Napping can restore alertness and prevent burnout; it can improve your creativity and helps keep your heart healthy. Now those are perfect reasons, don’t you agree? For me it is also important that it helps you have a clear mind in the afternoons!!!
You must not forget that there have been great people throughout history that took siestas: from Leonardo da Vinci to Napoleon, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, John D. Rockefeller and at least three Presidents of the USA: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan. So you’ll be in good company.
With all this knowledge, I started lying down and closing my eyes, trying to sleep. At the beginning, it was difficult. Napping involves more than just giving in and letting go. In my case, age more that anything has come to my aid. When we aged…did I say that?... we just know who we are, what we want and where we want to be. It is liberating and wonderful. I realized I have nothing to prove to anyone; there is no sense of urgency about chores and I know I can complete what I have to. I accepted this and Siesta has become part of my life. You should try it too!!!
This is the time to give thanks. We should do this everyday, but the idea of millions gathering with family and friends to give thanks for the blessings they have received, it’s amazing!! It gives us a warm feeling, so we celebrate. Of course, as with everything else we do as a celebration, Thanksgiving comes with much planning and hard work. Most people love precisely that and thrive on the stress and anxiety of it all. Good for you, I say.
However, this is not the case with many of us. After years of celebrating at home and stressing for days, we want something different. For the ones that find this holiday overwhelming, let’s find a better way. Yes, why not take charge of the celebration and do it your way. You still want to share with your family, right? There is a way and you can do it.
Toss aside the stress, hassle and hard work of the holiday. Listen instead to this idea for a family gathering with all the warmth of sharing with the people you love. Plan a pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner. It is not a novel idea, but it’s ideal. You’ll see. The planning would be all you do. Make a list of everyone attending. Make another list of the things that would be needed: main courses, appetizers, desserts, drinks, plates and cutlery, napkins and such. Send these lists to everyone. Flatter the ones that love to cook into bringing their favorite dishes. The ones that do not cook can bring the rest! Remember to ask for volunteers for setting up and cleaning up. Make it fun, getting people involved and excited. You’ll enjoy the day and this could be the last year you cook and stress and end up exhausted!!
This is possible, believe me!!! Since my husband and I are empty nesters, we do not celebrate at home. I did this for years because this is my favorite holiday. Nowadays, the thought of cooking for more than four people sends me into a panic attack!! Thankfully, now that we live in Miami, we have been offer a solution. We join his very large family. I prepare a dish, we bring some wine and help with anything once we get there. We spend some time with them and partake of the goodies in moderation. We then go to my sister Ana. She is a wonderful cook and loves to entertain and her husband is a great host. The gathering is much smaller, we savor the excellent food and drinks, conversation is relaxed. We come home sated and happy. Perfect!!!
Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend, she is moving back to Curaçao. She has had it with the hectic life in Miami and decided, very wisely, that she should go home. Now, for me, home is where I am at the moment. This is the result of having lived most of my life away from the country of my birth. Understandably, I am jealous. We all want to go back, at one point, don’t we? but go back where? to find what? and why?
For generations, people used to stay in their own countries, the same city, town, village. There was no moving far, no marrying foreigners or studying abroad. That is a world long gone. Nowadays, we move from here to there, marry into other cultures and move to other countries for work. Where we are born, where we live or where we work are completely different places, for some the last two change constantly. So how do we keep family and friends close? and it is possible?
For years, I have followed: Nomadic Matt. A blog by a young man from Boston who has traveled around the world documenting his adventures. He said he has made friends everywhere, shared experiences with so many during the years he has traveled the world; but doesn’t want to go back to those places thinking to relive the experiences or meet the same people. Going back, in that sense would be like chasing ghosts, he writes. I understand this, so clearly: you cannot go back, make it as it was, no matter how hard you try.
When you moved around, leaving your own country and becoming a citizen of the world, you keep some friends, always. The ones that you can share your secrets with, the ones you have fun with, the ones you can cry with. They are always there, in your heart, and you miss them. When you meet them, you pick up the thread of your lives with ease. Of course, you remember the others you met along the way, the ones that are glad to see you when you visit and whose company you enjoy when you meet. You are glad for what you shared, but do not miss them….not really. There are also the ones you remember occasionally, but never see again.
Then it is the matter you know so well: out of sight, out of mind. The same thing happens to you. For many, you become the one friend people miss and think of fondly. The one they want to keep in touch with. For others, you’re the one people remember at times, the one they are glad to see only occasionally. You have no control over this, it’s just how it is. The only thing that is certain is that for most people you have met, you become a ghost. As they become ghosts for you! How truthful…..
Talking to Joan, I realized this is happening again! It is a cycle and it repeats itself in our lives. Our friends move away, or we move away. We get involved in our new home and we make a new life. Our friends will do the same, it’s just how it is. So if you are chasing ghosts, remember that we cannot recreate what we had…even home will feel new! It is all part of this life we have chosen. So home is where we make it! We must enjoy everything when it happens, then keep the memories, share them, treasure them. They enrich our lives like nothing else.
Magnolia trees are amazing. These flowering beauties have been around for 95 million years, even before the bees appeared on Earth. Consequently, they are pollinated by wingless beetles. Not the most subtle of insects, they are rough and heavy. So magnolias have developed a special flower, one that looks beautiful, smells wonderfully and is tough! This flower is made of just one sturdy flower part: tepal, a combination of petal and sepal. Quite unique and shared only by the water-lily and the buttercup families.
These amazing plants can be shrubs or towering trees, with flowers in every color from creamy white through a range of pinks to deep purple. They do well in partial shade or direct sunlight. Easy to care for and pest-free. They produce a cone-like receptacle that protects the seeds until maturity. There are 210 kinds of magnolias flowering on every continent on the planet.
You must be wondering why I am giving such an explanation about flowers on this blog. Simple: I have learned that women are like magnolias. Remember the movie? Steel Magnolias? About women that can appeared fragile, but can withstand hardship and pain and come out of that stronger and wiser. Women endure and survive and are better for it. We are a force to be reckon with!
At this stage of our lives, we think we have experienced most everything. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. It is never too late to be faced with another challenge and another heartache. This week I heard another of my friends has been stricken with breast cancer. It makes eight of them. Fortunately, most are survivors and doing well!!! The two dear friends I lost taught me a lot about friendship, caring, selflessness and love. Of course for all the learning, I would have preferred to have them with us.
Is it me or statistics are getting scarier? It seems as if each one of us know and care for several extraordinary women that have breast cancer. As Andrea Mitchell said the other day: “It’s a sorority none of us wanted to join“, but unfortunately is growing. There is much to be done to stop this disease and it is up to us to keep putting pressure on governments and doctors, researchers and pharmaceutical companies to find the cure.
I have seen my friends battle this illness. I have seen them go through this challenge and I have been amazed. I have seen their grace in gathering themselves and giving strength to their families and friends, I have seen their courage in the face of pain and I have seen their dignity above all. They proved, once again, that women are like magnolias: beautiful, strong and resilient. Here’s to Steel Magnolias everywhere!!!
P.S. I want to thank my friend Seema for letting me use her beautiful photograph. I hope you keep enjoying your trips to your friend’s bungalow in Mussoorie!!
Feel free to visit these sites. You can find information, get involved and donate:
This I have learned and continue to learn: Civility has been tossed out the window and very few people seem to mind. Am I being old-fashioned? Am I showing my age? Well, so be it. It is driving me to distraction. Why can’t people be civil? It is an undeniable truth: good manners can get you results.
There is no age in good manners and there is nothing wrong with behaving with civility. Cannot be blamed only on the fact that technology has taken over. Yes, communicating via mobile phones, emails, social networks, has become a way of life. That is all fantastic, it’s the future, it’s the world moving forward. Still, I feel this has made us forget human contact. Face to face exchanges have become so rare, eye contact almost non-existent. Let’s not mention the need to exchange ideas with spoken words.
Exchanging ideas, there is another casualty. Answering curtly is the rule of the day. Could it be that this is the way we behave when we live in big places? There is no time to get to know each other, no desire to exchange pleasantries, not need to be nice. That is sad and frustrating. Too much to do, too little time!
Big cities don’t lend themselves to warm relationships. All work and no play is a way of life. We commute from home to work. Once there, we deal with deadlines, demanding boss, competition. Commute back home. When we get there, we need to solve every crisis that has presented itself during the time we were away at work. We need to complete tasks started before we can start new ones. Then we sit to watch the 24 hours cable news, comedies, dramas, sport events and other so called entertainment. Sitting around the dinner table is a thing of the past, and if it happens…there is little to talk about. We are cranky, upset, tired and have no patience for anyone. No wonder we explode in uncivil behavior.
When we are outside the home, we behave in the same manner. We are impatient and rude and want to get our way quickly before we move on to another thing. Is it me or shopping has become a chore most of us dread? Rude sales people, rude customers and all done at high speed! Nothing is done at a leisurely pace, there is no time. We must remember that civilization comes from civility. How is civilization going to survive is civility is the first casualty of modernization?
This is unfortunate because you can get so many things done, so much accomplished when you’re civil! Let’s listen and get back to simple things, paying attention to what is said to us before we react. We have to remember how to answer, how to ask for things and how to say please and thank you. How to smile at people! Try it, it will surprise you!!!
Don’t forget to play, it is so important. More than anything we do in life, this will keep us going. First, let me make one thing clear though, this is not about tennis, golf, shuffleboard or any other sport. I don’t sweat on purpose, so you can understand. Neither is this about bridge, which I play and love and consider a mental sport. Those are wonderful for our physical and mental health, but that is another post. What I am talking about is emotional health. I found this definition:
“Emotional health is defined by the degree to which you feel emotionally secure and relaxed in everyday life. An emotionally healthy person has a relaxed body, an open mind and an open heart” Dr. Doris Jeanette, PsyD
Emotional health is imperative to live a good and healthy and happy life. It is what balances everything else, what truly makes us who we are. So pay attention.
George Bernard Shaw once said that we don’t stop playing because we become old, we become old because we stop playing. Words of wisdom, indeed. Retaining your playfulness is the secret of longevity. It’s been proven.
We all remember our grandparents, old aunts, family friends and such. While growing up, they seemed ancient, but not all of them. Some had a twinkle in their eyes, a laugh that sounded clear and joyful. They could tell a funny story, go down on the floor to be closer to us, join in our games, play practical jokes and knew the secret of making us believe in fun!! We want to be like them, right? I know I do!
Have you seen older couples holding hands while they laugh at some private joke? You cannot help but wonder about their obvious happiness. Have you seen a group of mature women shopping, trying on clothes, make-up, shoes? They absolutely glow and look so much younger than they are. They have not forgotten to play!
We need to remember that keeping a young heart is indeed a way to keep ourselves young. Playing is not something only children do: playing is the secret of the Fountain of Youth. Ponce de Leon should have been more inclined to be playful, his quest would have not taken him so far from home.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy since society tends to look at playfulness after a certain age with stern eyes. Never mind the belief that age has to be dignified...whatever that means. We confuse growing older with being stern and straight-laced. So many of us are old before our time, caring too much about what would people think. What nonsense! Play, joke, enjoy every moment and show the world that you do.
I have always had a silly sense of humor. I can walk into a store and try on the hats, the strange shawls, the weirdest shoes…making whoever is with me laugh hysterically. I come up with silly songs for my children and sing them without any embarrassment. I break into a small dance when I wait for the elevator.
I love walking around the small island where I live, listening to music and I have been known to do some quick dancing steps! I tend to stop to inspect the sea grape trees looking to see if their small tart fruit are ready to be picked. Nobody even pays attention to these beautiful trees, but I love them. They are funny looking, sturdy, with glossy round leaves. The fruit is delicious!
Of course I get strange looks. I cannot be bothered, feeling good about myself is what counts. I am sure you have different ways to have fun, silly and fun for the heck of it, fun. Go ahead, give yourself the freedom to play! Don’t let fear of what people might think stop you. When we loose the ability to be playful, our curiosity or zest for life: then we become old. Remember: you are as old as you think or as old as you remember. Can you resist a swing? the feel of the wind in your face? the little scary feeling when you go really high? Don’t forget to play!!!
This is a very hard one: a challenge women face everyday, no matter where they live and who they are. Every woman I know seems to be always saying yes when she means no. Women have been programmed to meet everyone else’s needs leaving their own unattended. It is nothing we are doing wrong, or something we do to ourselves. It is just the way it has been and is for so many of us. It’s time to toss that concept, don’t you think?
At this stage of my life, I feel I owe myself more time, more dedication, more care. Don’t you feel the same way? There is nothing wrong with that, no matter how badly we feel about it. Consequently, we need to start becoming assertive.
Now, that is a tricky word. This is how Collins English Dictionary defines it:
2. given to making assertions or bold demands; dogmatic or aggressive
You can imagine……more than a few of us would have a problem with this. We do not want to appear too bold or aggressive, or too set in our ways. Absolutely out of the question! Even worse, we do not want to rock the boat and put our family, friends or co-workers on the defensive. An absolute conundrum, isn’t it? Until we carefully listen and weight the alternative: giving in, agreeing to things we don’t want to do, adding more stress to our lives and who knows what else. Oh, no!!!
So let’s start with a simple fact: No is a complete sentence. It might be the shortest sentence in any language, but a sentence it is, trust me! As someone said: it doesn’t require justification or explanation. Of course, some will tell me that we also need to be polite. If you feel this way, add something like: No, I have commitments or No, I am very busy at the moment. Use your judgement.
Throughout our lives, we have been so conditioned to try to please everyone, to keep the peace, to be agreeable and understanding that we have forgotten to set boundaries. Yes, you read right. We may have to consider assertiveness a challenge, but boundaries are essential to our well-being!
Setting boundaries can be stressful and can take time. Like anything else in life, we need to approach this with full knowledge that we can loose friends, upset family members, make our co-workers suspicious. You are going to be changing the way the game has been played and most people are not good at change. It comes with the territory, so don’t fret.
First things, first: what bothers you most? what stresses you more often? Be truthful, it’s the only way. Family is usually the biggest culprit. You are always available, always there for them and this is exhausting! Start with simple things: it’s your yoga lesson night, dinner will be whatever they prepare. It’s a movie you really do not want to see, stand firm in saying you rather stay home and read. Most families will be understanding, but there will be the ones that would not accept the new you easily. Just keep at it!
Our friends are up there too. Toxic friendships, a term that is now everywhere, can drag you down and make your life stressful. These friendships are not good for us, but it is very hard to break a pattern. We all know them: the friend that needs constant advise, the one that needs a shoulder to cry on. Ask yourselves, are they there for you in the same circumstances? No?, then you have to start setting those boundaries. Real friendship will survive them, if not…..good riddance!
Finally, our co-workers….in these times when financial uncertainty is a reality we will be tempted to shy away from saying NO. That would a mistake, unless you think your job is at risk. If not, use the same idea. Start small: No, I can’t do this for you today, I have a lot on my plate or No, I will not be able to stay after hours today, I have an appointment. The ones that will get the message are the ones worth having a work relationship with, you’ll see.
This exercise will lead us to a very important place: a place where we respect and like ourselves. So, by all means be assertive, learn to say NO!!!