Everybody lies

Everybody lies. Everybody has secrets. Even you, even me. It’s a wonder we trust anyone at all.

It’s always amazing to me how much a person can lie to you to keep you around but once they are finished with you, they suddenly become agents of truth.

Lie: I love you.

Truth: I hate you.

Lie: I can’t ever live without you.

Truth: I can’t wait to be far away from you.

Lie: You are so beautiful.

Truth: I am no longer attractive to you.

This blog started out as our adventures when we moved to Europe in December 2009 and has now been up-cycled to be the mutterings of a suddenly single 50-something, sometimes jaded, sometimes drunk, sometimes happy, sometimes content, sometimes reflective but all the times human being trying to deal with what life has handed her.

Sometimes this will be brutal honesty, sometimes you will cry, sometimes you will smile, sometimes you’ll laugh out loud. But I’m done with the lies and liars, so I promise you this – it will always come from a place of sincere, heartfelt truth.

In a divorce there are three truths; his truth, her truth and the truth.

I am not going to rehash what happened, what is or what will happen. That doesn’t help anything or anyone, so please don’t ask. If I feel there is some news that is important for you to know, I will be sure to share it with you. Besides, it’s only my truth and you would only be getting 1/3 of the truth, hardly enough to form a complete picture.

And with that, on with the show. Come on, hold my hand and join me on this fabulous adventure.

Glad you are here, and that’s the truth. 🙂

 

 

She Was a Nice Lady

I cannot remember exactly when I saw the little 5 year old speak after a funeral; all I can remember is that it was a newscast. With microphone in her face all the little girl said was, “She was a nice lady and she was always in a good mood”. An eloquent eulogy if I’ve ever heard one. Those words, and the idea that we should all have 5 year olds do our eulogies has stuck with way of thinking ever since.

Ah, out of the mouths of babes. It was of no consequence what this woman did for a living, how many children she raised, what type of car she drove, whether she was a size 6, how many times she was married, or what type of house she lived in. Also not mentioned was volunteer work, extended family, travels, if she was rich or poor, or other external virtues. All that mattered was that she was a nice lady and always in a good mood. And at the end of the day, she is right.

Being a nice lady has nothing to do with what you have or what you do; being a nice lady is something you strive to be. You can be nice whilst standing in line or complimenting someone on their efforts. You can be nice at work, to your children, to yourself, to your spouse, to your family, to your community and to humanity in general. If you live in a grand mansion, you can be nice to the cleaning staff. If you live in a 3-bedroom bungalow with 5 other people, you can be nice to the person after you who needs toilet paper refreshed.

What exactly is being nice? It comes down to common courtesy. Being nice is a pleasant way to live your life; and talk about so simple – all you have to do, in every situation is ask yourself, “Is this being nice/courteous?” or even “How would a nice person handle this?” Being nice never means having to say sorry. Or undermines your confidence. Or upsets your inner calm. Being nice gives you a little lift and a skip in your step. You never walk away from being nice feeling blue.

The most important person we need to be nice to however, is ourselves. Honestly, how many times do you catch yourself talking to yourself in a degrading tone that you would never speak to anybody else that you loved? Would you tell your daughter she had better not eat those fries, no matter how strong the craving, because what would people think? Would you tell your child that they were stupid? Would you tell your niece that she’ll never amount to anything and it’s too late now, so why bother? Then why on earth would you speak to yourself like that? Why is it so difficult to be nice to ourselves? Ask yourself, “If someone else said this statement to me directly, how would I feel?” If you feel anger or sadness, that’s your first clue that you are not being nice to yourself.

So, how do you be nice to yourself? First, by listening to your body. Sleep when it’s tired, eat when it’s hungry, expel as necessary. Wash regularly. Rest in the way that you feel happy resting, whether it is reading, crafts, puzzles, watching TV, naps or anything that gives you a mental break, but don’t feel guilty about it. Second, change your thinking habits; try saying the negative statements aloud to help understand how derogatory they sound. Pretend you are saying them to a loved one; you’ll be amazed at how fast you stop mid-sentence. Third, surround yourself with beautiful objects – a tidy home, photos of loved ones, a drawing from your child, plants, favourite blanket or anything else that makes your heart happy. In other words, treat yourself just as you would treat anybody who you loved and needed your attention to be happy.

Now, being nice isn’t the same as being a doormat. Being nice also is being nice to ourselves in a way that we can radiate the pleasantries of society coming from a base of confidence. Being a doormat is not being nice to you as it creates all kinds of emotions that torture our souls. You can be nice without being taken advantage of, for example, letting someone with only two items ahead of you in line at the grocery store. That’s being nice and you’ll feel good about yourself. Letting the next three people with only two items ahead of you to the cashier is being a doormat; you will feel taken advantage of and possibly angry if it has made you late for your next appointment.

Being nice is buying a package of Girl Guide cookies when they ring the doorbell. Being a doormat is letting in the door-to-door sales and buying the $1200 vacuum cleaner because you could not say no, even when it put you in debt and you didn’t need a new vacuum in the first place.

Being nice is:

  • holding open a door for the person behind you
  • unexpectedly buying the person behind you a coffee
  • shovelling your neighbour’s walkways
  • sharing the bounty of your garden with neighbours
  • bringing a pot of soup to someone alone who is ill
  • taking an extra turn at dishes
  • volunteering before being asked
  • carrying a heavy box for someone
  • remembering someone’s birthday with a phone call
  • truly listening to someone’s story
  • going one step above and beyond of what people are expecting
  • letting someone in at a bottle neck on the road
  • anything that makes the other person feel like they’ve been given a gift (because they have!)

If there has been an abuse during act of being nice, you will feel angry, guilty, disappointed, fearful, sad, discontent, or any other negative emotion, indicating you have been a doormat. I think this is why people have resisted being nice, so fearful of being taken advantage of especially at present with the proliferation of scams. Stop and think, “Will this act give me positive or negative emotions? Am I presenting this from a place of confidence or a place of need?” Within the answer will be your next step, whether it is to abruptly stop the act of niceness or continue as planned.

And always in a good mood? That’s a no-brainer, being nice to people automatically puts you and them in a good mood. After all, if you show up angry, bitter, sad, negative and project that onto the other person, are you being nice to them? If you whine and complain all the time, how does that lift the other person up? Will that person deem you to be in a good mood or always cranky? “Oh, she’s so nice, she came by and gave me a headache.”

I’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse nor certificates of achievement keeping you on life support. I’m vowing to live my life as if a 5 year old is writing my eulogy. Let’s start a club; who’s with me?

My Bucket List Kicked the Bucket

IMG_8892I’ve deleted my so-called ‘bucket list’, the list of things I wanted to do before I kicked the bucket, or left Europe; whichever came first. And so should you. Why? Because you tend to ponder on what you haven’t done or is missing than appreciating what you have accomplished. The list haunted me and pulled me in a direction that invoked inadequacy attitude and feeling.

One year after we sold everything and left for Europe, I was still fretting over what we haven’t set out to undertake. Can you believe that? Do you know how many people have let me know they envy what we have done and they wish they could do the same, only if… (fill in the blank)? I wonder if all those people would like to shake me and yell, “Get a grip! You are living a dream life!” And I would warrant that response and would like to think I would thank them for pointing out the obvious.

Having a bucket list keeps you from living in the moment and/or constantly striving to the next ‘thing’ rather than relishing the current ‘thing.’ Keeping that bucket list keeps you in the lack mindset rather than the abundance mindset, a much nicer place to hang around. Keeping that bucket list keeps a person in regret rather than appreciation. Besides, keeping a bucket list reminds us there’s an end-point and living in the future rather than the now. IMG_3634

What if you complete your bucket list, then what? You die? Then why the hell would you complete your bucket list – isn’t that a great line for procrastinators! Or what if you have nothing for your bucket list? Is that a wasted life? Are you boring? Who came up with this damn list anyways???

Here lays my European bucket list dated December 2009 – January 2010, gone and forgotten. I hope we never meet again.

1. Move to a new country every 4 months. Fail. Sure, we have visited 6 countries this past year, but shortly after we arrived in Spain, we realized how unrealistic moving around Europe is, unless we want to a) spend tons of money or b) live in hostels or c) camp, none of which tickled my fancy. Cancel.

2. Take in as much as we can in those 4 months so we are experts on said country. Epic fail. (See above.)

3. Learn at least one other language. Review and revise. Well, being a native English speaker affords one the greatest gift of never having to learn another language, and I’m okay with that.

4. Embrace the European lifestyle of walking everywhere; being fabulously fit and well dressed. Double fail. Actually, it’s such a double fail that my recent trip back to Canada I bought two new pairs of yoga pants (good ones, to wear out and about) a size bigger than when I left Canada.

5. Bungee jump. Okay, I was drunk to put this on my list. Delete.

6. Become an expert Mediterranean wine and food connoisseurs. Sort of completed; I’m an expert Mediterranean ‘value priced’ wine and food consumer. Check.

IMG_2312 - CopyLooking at everything I hadn’t accomplished in the past year, and considering I didn’t even accomplish ONE item on my bucket list, I really could consider everything to be a grand waste of time and money. Or is it?

I have grown, stretched and mangled the little box I previously lived in. (Priceless.)

I have become a happier person. (I think so.)

I have learned to slow down. (More than just my drinking a bottle of wine.)

I know more of who I am and what I can actually do. (I can feel the fear and do it anyway and know that it always works out in the end.)

I am okay to sit and be in silence and just observe. (And not only from the next door bathroom stall.)

I get to see my children more often. (They get to ask me for money more often.)

I have discovered that Europe really isn’t that expensive, once you get away from the tourist trappings. (Except for gasoline – everybody gets ripped off there.)

I really AM interested in other’s life stories, because they can teach me something, plus they are all so different and interesting. (When did we become so afraid of our neighbours?)

I’ve learned to be rather than to do. (Not like Frank and do be do be do.)

I’ve learned that everyday doesn’t have to be something worth blogging about. (It’s okay to have pyjama days, even in Spain.)

I didn’t number these because each as important as the other and they showed up in no particular order. Note that none of these gems where on my bucket list at all. I’m not even sure if I would have included them I was so focused on the end result rather than the journey to arrive at said end result.IMG_2020

What’s on your bucket list? Even if you don’t think you have a bucket list, you do. How many of us give ourselves deadlines for marriage, babies, career, success, mortgage paid, retirement, etc. Bucket lists don’t have to be worldly or fabulous to be a bucket list. More importantly, which items on your bucket list are keeping you from living in the moment, from living today, from appreciating today, from appreciating who’s around you and the nuances of simply living.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with goals and dreams and wishes. If we all stood still, we wouldn’t get anywhere as a society or a species. But the real snag is when we step out of today to live for tomorrow. Tomorrow is never promised but we can do our best to make the tomorrow that does arrive worth living. We can work towards that great destination we have in mind by saving a little bit of money today. We can work towards anything by preparing today, that’s still living in the moment because we are doing our best with what we have today. We can study today for a career somewhere down the line. We can do our best today, so the best shows up tomorrow. But to do our best today, we have to live in today. We have to appreciate today and everything it has brought with it, because to dismiss today would be to dismiss everything that we have done that brought us to today. Whew. I think I got that, did you?IMG_3460

If I would have stuck to clearing my bucket list, I would have zoomed past all these significant life experiences that taught me that it’s never too late to grow and learn. I would have zoomed past life with only a few t-shirts, photos and knick-knacks to show for it. And that would have been a big waste of time and money.

I’m Expecting

How do those words sit with you? Are you horrified or excited?

I have been expecting since the minute I stepped off the airplane in Amsterdam one year ago. Already blessed with a long list of reasons to be happy, I was moving in a new direction expecting a completely new experience. Very quickly, I found my expectations and actualities were on two different pages but discovered that never the two shall meet.

IMG_0829 (2)In the dream of moving to Europe, there were high expectations of a whirlwind of fabulous wine, food, landscapes, languages, laughs, explorations, meeting exotic new friends, travels and experiences. Unexpectedly, almost exactly one year later, I find myself living a rather normal life. Sure, it’s not in my birth country, but my day-to-day existence has not really shifted. Nor has my language. The only thing that has moved in any direction is my weight and bank account.

Not one of the three psychics I saw before I left mentioned the biggest lesson I would have to learn is the acceptance that the more things change; the more things stay the same.

The checklist of how my life is different from December 10, 2009 includes value priced wine, climate, living without a clothes dryer and polished hunting skills to find favourite foods. Nothing spectacular to write on a postcard from this edge.IMG_2429

The checklist of how it’s the same includes cooking, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, dealing with long absences with Wayne, arguing with the bathroom scale and chatting with friends on Facebook. (Albeit with a fabulous view of the Mediterranean and a quick flight to see my children, along with other little perks.) The rhythm of life never did entirely abandon us, as much as I sometimes wanted it to.

The shift of expectations to compromise slowly seeped into our lives. It’s exhausting living in a strange country; existing is very much different from visiting. Everything takes twice as much effort, for example spending all day on the phone to simply set up an internet connection. Or wasting a whole morning negotiating to open a bank account. Or resetting your Blackberry to English, again. How about relearning actions you take for granted and by rote, all are now under new circumstances, such as becoming comfortable with the lay of the land and directions.

Didn’t see or count on the exhaustion factor in my dreams of living in Europe at all, which made it even easier to simply become complacent and take the so-called ‘easy’ way out. This feeling of walking around in mud-caked rubber boots lead us settling for a one-year lease on a villa rental, giving us time to re-group, re-think and re-plan. In addition, now I don’t have to apply for internet connection or change banks for another year.IMG_7184

What are you expecting in your life? Has anything that you expected ever really turned out the way you envisioned it to be? Interestingly enough, unexpected events are just as mysterious to us as expected events. The words expected and unexpected can be used interchangeably in some circumstances. Ergo: I expected someone else to do the laundry. Alas, it was unexpected that I had still had to do laundry. Both sentences in fact, mean literally same thing.

Our expectations of how life should be, or only would be, can set us up for disappointment more times than we care to consider. However, expecting to never have expectations is setting you up for more expectations of disappointment as expectations are human nature. (Got that?) Moreover, sometimes expectations do come true. When we cook a meal, we expect it will be successful, and it is. When we jump in the car to go for a drive, we expect it will start and we will be on our way. When we drink too much cheap wine, we expect to have a hangover or at the very least a solid headache. IMG_8892

Expectations have taken some of the joy and gratitude from what I do have; the expectations that swirl in my mind only created regrets and frustrations. But the good news is that I now recognise it for what it is; pressures to not live in the moment. Expectations suck all the surprise out of life and leave guilt and frustrations.

I expected to write on my blog at the very minimum every two weeks. It’s now been 5 months. I expected to have a on-line website up and running and contributing to the budget by now. Nope, running just a ‘little’ behind on that one. I expected to have lived in at least two countries by now. Well, does two villas in Spain count?

IMG_2865At the start of year two of this great adventure, which is evolving into more of a respectable adventure, I find I am more accepting of what is and what will be. Now, instead of expecting, I am wishing. Not wishing my life away type of wishing, simply wishing for more of what I want and less of what I don’t. Morphing the word expectations into wishes, sounds softer and more joyful with no expectations implied. Besides, it will be utterly unexpected if my wish actually does comes true. In other words, I have no expectations the wish will come true. UGGGH…

It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day

Unbelievably, it has been six months since we set off on our little adventure. Moreover, a one-year adventure has now turned into at least 18 months and I will not be surprised if it morphs into a two-year life altering session.

IMG_4496 I have experienced many interesting places, some mesmerizing, some reminding me of home. I have spent time Greece, Holland (of course), driven across the continent three times, was stuck in London for the ash cloud airspace shut down, Barcelona and of course have put on many miles in the our area around Calpe. Additionally, I have also been able to spend quality occasions with my two children, which is the reason we are doing this in the first place.

However, as fabulous as that all sounds, I find myself still shaking off the longing for my own ‘stuff’. Some of my struggles such as missing friends, family, and learning to cook again rear their ugly heads more than I care to admit. Filling my days can be a challenge, especially when Wayne is not here with me. However, the days that are brilliant more than make up for the life review that greats me every morning.

I have regrets and doubts, just like I did before we left, the things I mull about now are just different, that’s all. I still have anxiety over certain things but they too have changed focus. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know we are doing the right thing but that does not mean I cannot question and review every now and then. All I have to do is check the weather back home and then look out my window here in Spain and it turns everything around in a moment.

One of the regrets I have is taking our North American vehicle over here with us. The paperwork, the delays, the hoops to jump through and the frustration simply is not worth the other conveniences we were expecting, such as saving money and buying a vehicle with foreign language contracts. Not to mention the size of it. IMG_4316 I never thought of my car as a large vehicle; it is on a Camry base, considered mid-size back home. Here, it is a monster car and in the oldest parts of Spain and Europe, I deem it gigantic. For highway traveling, it is perfect, that is until you get to your destination and try to park the goofy thing. Our other options were not that great and expensive, so in the end, I think it will work out that we made the correct decision. 

As much as I am enjoying the freedom of not be responsible for anything other than my 20 pairs of socks that I brought over (yes, I brought 20 pairs of socks and only 7 pairs of underwear, that’s the ‘what the hell was I thinking’ if I ever heard one). I really miss my favourite things such as books, my much-loved housecoat or my pillow. Mostly, it is the touchstones of my life I long for when those moments of doubt creep into my thinking. Usually it’s when I am having my first coffee and thinking about my favourite coffee mug packed away in some box in storage.

I yearn to speak in my home language, Canadian with another IMG_2041Canadian. (Yes, Canadian is a language.) Somehow talking on the phone is not the same. What I would not do to order a coffee, (with cream!) complain about the weather and sit down for a face-to-face chitchat with another Canadian. Sorry my British and American friends, even though you speak English, and I enjoy and appreciate you, there is something about chatting in your home slang that makes a conversation worth the attempt. Funny, I have no inclination to learn Spanish at all, even at the encouragement of my husband. I think it has more to do with looking back rather than forward that is feeding the resistance.

Now that I know we will be here at least another year, why not buy a new favourite housecoat? (Although it will not be the one Spooky snuggled up in with me.) Why not buy a new favourite coffee mug? (Although it will not be the 26-year-old matching mug I bought for a very special friend and I back in 1984.) Why not make new friends? (I have been resisting putting in the investment of making new friends when I thought we would only be here a few months.)

IMG_1907 Familiarity is what I am without a doubt craving. A friendly face, a prairie storm, hockey and  Costco. The only solution to my longing is to distract myself, change my thinking and behaviours but I’m finding that near impossible. My day to day has not changed that much from when I was living back home. I wake up worrying about the kids, check my email, surf Facebook and then plan my day. Laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning and bills still need attention. I try to get to the beach for a walk every day. (Okay, that has changed.) Maybe I am trying to hard to hang on to a little bit of my familiarity or maybe we are just creatures of habit. I still can’t answer that one but I tend to find my rhythms soothing to me, somehow ensuring I have not forgotten who I am or where I came from.

Its easier said than done to constantly live facing forward in the moment and not long for the past when your moments are so brand new, all the time. New surroundings, new climate, new food, new language, new routines. Nevertheless, is not every moment brand-new? Anything can change in a moment. A phone call can send you in a different direction. An accident could happen in a split second. Heaven forbid if you lost everything to a fire or a flood. Every moment is always brand new, whether you are in your daily routine, traveling or longing for people and things you miss.

Doubts and regrets, I think no matter where you are in life you will  always carry with you, reflective of the life situation you currently inhabit. Touchstones and familiarity reminds us of who we are and how far we have come. IMG_3991Learning to live in the moment certainly helps. Counting blessings and being grateful definitely helps. As Helen Keller said so eloquently, “Keep your face to the sun and you won’t see the shadows.” – Good advice that’s easy to take here in all my moments in sunny Spain.

Self induced comas

There is a difference between having no choices and choosing not to choose. Having no choices in life is a handicap of freedoms. Having too many choices is a paralyzing coma induced nightmare which then eventually becomes a handicap of freedoms.

P7100005 My Granny had a couple of nice outfits, sufficient clothing items with matching shoes, purses and they seemed to work for all situations. For years she had one nice burgundy polyester outfit that she wore to every family function and one special dress that she wore to every wedding and extra-special family function, like traveling on a plane to see her son in the States. She had a couple of day wear dresses, skirts (later pants), blouses and sweaters for daily wear. She had a few aprons that she rotated and one special one she wore for Christmas. She had a tan pair of shoes with small heels that matched everything and of course her famous white Keds sneakers, which she wore every day, even with her skirts. When they wore out, mostly from over washing, she bought another pair exactly the same. She could have easily fit every item of clothing she owned into the two suitcases most of us take on a two-week holiday. I can still hear her, “How many sweaters does one person need? I can only wear one at a time. Stop buying me more sweaters.” Now I wonder if it really was the number of sweaters or the fact it made her life more complicated making the choice of which sweater to wear on any particular day.

I’m still not sure if she was amazed or disgusted over the amount of clothing my sister and I owned growing up and especially into our teen years. Some time ago she saw the number of clothing items and toys our children were endowed with she gave up commenting completely.

I dream about her simplicity of life, how her self-imposed lack of choiceIMG_5469 actually gave her more freedom. A life of choosing to live simply and to a certain extent, a life with no choices to be made verses a life with no choices. As we embarked on our adventure, I had imaginings of a life less complicated, floating from country to country, sipping wine, savouring cultural food with closed eyes moans. We have successfully maintained somewhat of a vagabond lifestyle in that we have left a lot of belongings behind and live without the clutter of attainment, but we have a far way to go to reach the level of ease we are ultimately striving towards.

Case in point: we had come to a fork in the road so to speak of where our next stop on this train ride would let us off. We spent hours analyzing every option which included, but not limited to:

  1. Barcelona
  2. Costa del Sol
  3. Portugal
  4. South of France
  5. Italy
  6. Greece
  7. Holland
  8. UK

Brother. We spent hours upon hours on the internet reviewing villa rental prices and travel advice blogs and websites. Country vs.. country; city vs.. city; culture vs.. culture; cost vs.. cost. The only thing we were successful in was a self-induced paralyzing coma of indecision, sometimes brought on by too much wine whilst surfing the web. Too much information actually took away our choices. Throwing our arms up as if in giving up and asking for divine wisdom, it was at this point we realized that we haven’t really embraced the Spanish culture and decided (at last) that we would stay in Spain. But where in Spain? Madrid? Barcelona? Malaga? Costa del Sol? Costa Brava? Brother.

IMG_5550 Once we narrowed it down to two choices, Barcelona or Costa Blanca (where we are now) we drove up to Barcelona to investigate it further. Driving in the traffic of a large world-class city and realizing we would be in an apartment (both undesirable on our wish list) helped make our decision a little easier. In the end we chose lifestyle over substance. Beach over city. Stability over having to make this choice again sometime in the near future.

We signed a one year contract for a place close by to Calpe, just outside of Denia. It has a few more creature comforts and extended room for company. It has a lot of features on our check list – a view of the sea and a pool from the top of the list. It certainly doesn’t have the vibe of Barcelona but that’s okay because Barcelona isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; it’s only an afternoon’s drive away to the cultural investigation and small boutique cafe’s I am yearning for but miles away from the traffic and crowds we so want to avoid.IMG_5801

I believe when you own the uncomplicated life, the owner of fewer choices, the happier you will be. It has nothing to do with where you are, how much you make, how much you have or what culture you are embracing. It has to do with peace of mind that the choice you made is right for you and over analyzing many choices will always uncover the negative side to every choice. Having too many choices forces you to see the negative side of all choices, so no matter which choice you end up with, it starts with a twinge of regret and that regret eventually invites his friends doubt and proof.

Although I am happy with our choice I can’t help wondering if we made the right choice. Will I be bored sticking around for a full year? Will we grow a root and completely bury our original dreams of touring Europe? Are we too isolated? Did we go too big? Too small? Where was simplicity of living life by the coat tails and hanging on? See how easy it is to over analyze a choice and bring up doubts and watch for proof? IMG_5793

When we would visit Calgary, we always took my Opa out for lunch. Soon after we sat down and ordered our first drinks, the tension would start. Opa always asked for a ‘beer’, never mentioning it by brand. Of course the waitress would rattle off all the brands they carried and Opa always the replied with Bud as it was easy to understand with his thick Dutch accent. When she arrived with the drinks, it was time to take the order. Opa, in his simplicity, (wearing the same jacket and pants he always wore when he went out) one time asked for a ham sandwich. We all braced ourselves for what was coming as the exchanged always went something like this:

White or brown? White.

Toasted? No.

Cheese? Yes

Lettuce and tomato? Yes.

Mustard or Mayo? Mustard.

Fries or Salad? Fries.

Gravy on your fries? <Insert Dutch swear word>! All I want is a ham sandwich and a beer, what is the problem?

So many choices upset him. In his mind they took something very simple and complicated it beyond his comprehension.

Chose what is worth making choices on and let the rest fall into place. Chose not to have so many choices and let the simplicity fall into place. Choose the simplicity and let the happiness fall into place. Choose the happiness and let your life fall into place.

 

That’s an interesting choice

Wayne was headed home from work on my birthday, and I found a flight that I would land within a few hours of him right at Gatwick, so we thought, why not? Why not ‘run to London’ for a weekend? We had a little bit of site-seeing in mind, dinner and show (The Lion King) to officially celebrate my birthday and back home within four days. Well, I’ll be damned if the skies weren’t shut down IMG_4429due to the Iceland volcano within 24 hours of us meeting at Gatwick.

At first we really paid no attention thinking that of course it will be cleared up within a day or two, surely they wouldn’t shut down all air traffic for that long? How could they – we’re talking London here. Well they did and they could, six full days to be precise. We were living in what will turn out to be an historic event; the longest UK airspace was shut down since WWII. Our original flight was cancelled, then the rebook was cancelled and eventually we made it home five days later than we planned.

IMG_4727 We had two choices: 1) get angry, upset and demanding or 2) roll with the adventure. We chose to roll with the adventure because that’s why we are here anyways, isn’t it? And getting angry and upset doesn’t change a thing and only adds to the negative group consciousness. Plus, it takes hours away from happiness that I will never get back. (I did have a bit of a pout because the airline we were with was refusing all assistance but luckily Wayne was very easy-going about the whole situation and managed to pull me out of the foot stomping once or twice.)

It’s times like this I become crystal-clear-aware of how fortunate I am and how splendid my life truly has become. IMG_4506We didn’t have a job we had to get back to in fear of losing wages, we didn’t have young children to fuss about, we didn’t have any pressing matters to attend to back in Spain, as well as we have the funds to shrug our shoulders and go with the flow. Plus, we had the wherewithal to both believe there was something we needed to understand and once that reason clears up, our flights will be un-blocked and we will move on.

London is so much more than little fancy pubs on every corner.   My favourite hobby, people watching, was in full glory in London. I would venture to say that London inhabitants are much more interesting than New Yorker’s. New Yorker’s tend to be more businesslike, trendy and uptight about it all. Londoners are much freer to be themselves. If you can’t find it in London, it simply does not exist.

I observed people in all different situations; the theatre district (we accidently walked into a gay pub that specialized in transvestites but that’s another blog completely), Convent Gardens, in a multi-cultural area, a business area, touristy area and a small town. Riding The Tube was an eye-opener in itself (unless it was packed solid) and I enjoyed the entertainment of different people along the way. IMG_4623Wayne and I were the perfect team; it was so satisfying to sit at the corner pub window and he was happy to join me to simply observe the street life. I would order one large wine (250ml – there’s my 3 glasses per bottle theory) and he would order one beer, then another and we would be finished at the same time. Happy days!

I soon found myself judging people. I wasn’t comfortable with this as I don’t like to be judged myself. Judging brings down my vibe somewhat and has a negative feel. Reaching for another way to frame my observations, I happily arrived at my new motto, “That’s an interesting choice.”  IMG_4405Soon, everything was tagged with ‘That’s an interesting choice’ including their hairstyles, clothing, partners, newspaper headlines, people’s reactions to the air disruptions, hotel room decorations and so on. It wasn’t in judgement at all; it opened my mind and started me thinking about the choices people make and wondering why they make those choices. Soon I was turning it inwards, why was I making the choices I am making? Am I in self judgement or objectively making choices that bring me to my goal of happiness?

I originally thought the reason the universe is arranging for our stay a little longer in London was to make the trek to Stonehenge, a tour we put off because of our short trip this time. Once the week opened up to us, we jumped on the opportunity to take a special tour that allowed you to walk within the stones. Surely there is some deep mystical, life changing reason we must see this ancient site of megaliths. IMG_5215Alas, as wonderful as the stones are (they have what we call the Mona Lisa syndrome – smaller than you think) and we are grateful for opportunity to walk among a wonder of the world, we both agreed nothing really stirred us, nothing shifted.

On the encouragement of one of Wayne’s colleagues, we bought tickets for ‘Blood Brothers’, the longest running show in London. I thought it was fabulous, by the time the play ended something definitely shifted within me and something was stirred. The premise of the show starts with a life changing choice – a single mother chooses to separate her newborn twins as she doesn’t believe she has the money to raise both of them. One is raised with her in poverty and one is raised by a very wealthy family. Now, the creators of the show may have had a completely different motive for writing the play (I think the message was regarding the class barriers in the UK but since I have no life reference to class difference, I made up my significance.) I was so attentive to the choices that were being made by the characters throughout the play. A very interesting observation of my viewpoint, I thought.

IMG_4565London eventually had a strong message for me, one that coincided with my birthday and will hopefully bond with me for the whole birth year until my next birthday and beyond. And that message is a strong reminder that I am in complete control of my choices. For instance, I can complain about my weight or I can make a choice to exercise daily and be aware of every bite that passes my lips. I can complain about being lonely or I can go out and meet people. I can choose to absorb everything around me or I can filter and make up my mind about what is happening. I can continue writing my book or I can complain I am bored. I can choose in every moment, in every instance. Wow – how’s that for a proper birthday present?

I always knew this, we all know this, but like most people we tend to beat the drum of what is; it seems on the surface to simply be easier. We complain that this isn’t perfect; I don’t have this or that; or they have all the luck and poor little me. We choose to smoke, drink too much, eat too much (or not enough), gossip, judge, buy too much, remain in a constant state of stress, and ignore our heart urgings and intuition. We prefer not to choose a different way; we close our eyes to the option that moves us towards what we truly want. And isn’t that an interesting choice?

All photos are my own and cannot be used without express written permission.

Put Your Fork Down, Walk Away

Colourful building

 

It was already past 2:00 p.m. and I was hungry. I found one of those little hole-in-the-wall types of bistros that are never listed in any tourist books but loaded with locals; I took a seat in the so-called non-smoking and ordered a vino tinto. I honestly don’t mind wandering alone as it gives me time to pursue my other favourite interest; people watching.  

And there she was, at a table of 7 other people. Eat, eat, eat, chat, chat, chat, eat – and without warning – SHE PUT HER FORK DOWN. She took a sip of wine, laugh, laugh, laugh and her fork was – gasp – exactly where she left it. Nobody took it away! Nobody stole her food! She calmly picked the fork up and continued to eat. And – AND – she did this more than once during the same meal. I was left speechless. Who knew?  

In North America, we don’t eat. We feed. Whatever we can get, as fast as we can get it and the most we can fit in all at once because only God knows, in the land of abundance, where our next meal will come from. It might actually be 10 minutes late and we would find ourselves starving to death. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the proliferation of fast food outlets but I may have to point out the hundreds of ‘quick cooking’ cookbooks and/or shows on the Food Network that encourages a gourmet meal in 30 minutes or less. Cooking and eating an inconvenience we must rush through and not an opportunity for pleasure, connection and time for us. Time for us to linger. There are actually courses now on how to eat like a family.  

Old town Calpe

 

Ask any North American about the wait service in Europe and you will hear moans and groans about how terrible it is. How s-l-o-w they are. Many countries will not bring you your bill until you specifically ask for it; they never assume you are finished, nor are you rushed to get out until you tell them you are complete. And complete mostly includes lengthy conversation with the people you are enjoying your meal with and the wait staff would never consider interrupting that connection time. Nobody from North America assumes the fast service is wrong, we think the Europeans have it wrong with their ‘crappy service’. How mistaken we really are. In Europe, lunches and suppers are given sacred time and take at least an hour and a half, if not more. In Spain, everything shuts down from 2-5 so that a long leisurely lunch is enjoyed. Most stores in Europe are closed by 6 pm so that the shop owners can be home to enjoy supper with their family. Eating is enjoyment and not something you ‘stop for’ but rather look ‘forward to’.  

Beach in Calpe

 

Food as pleasure is intertwined with body as well. For what I can tell, no one here has a ‘body image’ problem. Many languages don´t have a translation or concept of “body image”. On the beach I can tell you that bikinis rule in Europe. Big and small, young and old, mostly everyone wears a bikini and with absolute confidence. Men wear Speedos and some, thongs. And trust me, not everyone is svelte and toned. Nor hair free. They are at the beach to soak up some Vitamin D and enjoy themselves and if you don’t like what they look like, don’t look. Females of all ages and sizes have no trouble topless sunbathing and from what I can see have no awkwardness whatsoever. I for one could not imagine tanning topless around my two adult children and I’m sure they would be equally horrified. Sitting at the beach is for pleasure, connection and time for you to recharge and everyone respects that.  

The first thing that springs to my mind is how did it we get all so screwed up? Did not most of us come from European stock? How did food and pleasure and body image get all turned upside down and inside out? When did food become something we fight? We measure, we control, we judge? When did our body become something we fight? We measure, we control, we judge? And how are the two connected?  

Just my theory and I may be totally way off base but I summarize the European eating and body culture as akin to the wise Queen, she is confident in her ways, her authority and her presence. She rushes for no one or nothing. She has become and is becoming. She asks no one for permission but is also not permissive. She is aware of the wisdom that has arrived with her age and uses it to her advantage. The food culture, for the most part, has remained in calm order and overall her Queendom is happy and content.  

North American eating and body culture, however, is the Princess; attention seeking, navel gazing and reliant on her looks and using her looks, for power. Although she doesn’t like to admit it, nothing matters to her more than how she is perceived by others. (Young, skinny, sexy advertising.) She has so much ‘to do’ she has time for nothing. (Busy, busy, busy.) She can’t be thin enough or young enough for her Prince. (Gyms, workout equipment, diet food.) She wants everyone to be just like her for her own security. (Best selling diet books, Oprah phenomenon, judgement) Unfortunately, she is well aware of the coming end to her Princess age and is trying to control everything and fighting it all the way, (plastic surgery, Botox, superficial body changes) which can also show up as fighting with others to release the anger. None of this has worked well for the masses and now there is a mess of things. (Obesity epidemic, 23 year olds with 10 plastic surgeries in one day, diet mentality, family breakdown.)  

But we know; we remember. When there is a special occasion, holiday, or celebration, what do we naturally gravitate towards? Loved ones and food. We give our inner Queens room to take control shine through. We prepare, we dress up and meet. Whether as a family, friends or date and have a special meal either at home or in a restaurant. We break bread, as it were, we eat. We linger, we laugh, we smile. We know how to do this, we have just lost our way, that’s all. 

A few years ago concerned about my health and particularly some weight I gained, I saw a Chinese doctor and I mentioned to him that I was trying to lose some weight but nothing was helping. I asked him for some suggestions and as he began to speak I was sure he was going to transmit some ancient Chinese secret for a long life in my skinny jeans. Listening intensively, on the edge of my seat, all he said was, “Put your fork down, walk away.”  

I’m taking that advice now – except for the walking away part. I’m going to let go of my North American Princess manners around food and body image, develop into the natural progression of things and be my own Queen, more confident in my journey and in my wisdom. And receive pleasure from my food. And connect. And enjoy. And slow down, linger and relax about it all. I’m going to put my fork down and stay.

So far, so good.

They were 40 and 47. Their sons were 18, 10 and 8 plus they left one in the ground at home. They fearlessly, on the words of someone they trusted, embarked on a journey that would change all of their lives forever. They set sail for a mysterious land, a land that produced such fine young men who liberated their country, in hopes of better things for their children. They set sail for a strange land in hopes of a better chance of their children living.

My Oma and Opa reached the shores of Canada in 1958. They had not had it easy up to that point. Opa lived through 2 World Wars, the death of a son during the Second World War, imprisonment by the Nazi’s in WWII and almost losing the love of his life to breast cancer in 1949. Oma was born during WWI, married and had her first child on the eve of WWII, lost a son during that war, had her husband taken from their home in the middle of the night, never knowing if she would see him again, and beat breast cancer in 1949. In 1949.

My father was 18 and eligible for the Navy, something he was eager to sign up for, which terrified my Oma. She already lost one son due to war and the Cold War was heating up. At the time, they saw no other option but to leave Holland, to leave Europe far, far away, for the peace of Canada.

Opa quit his very prestigious job (at that time) as a supervisor at a box factory. They packed up their precious belongings and boarded the ship from Rotterdam. It took two weeks to arrive at their first official Canadian address in Bowness, Alberta after landing in Montreal.

They didn’t speak a word of English. Not a single, solitary word. There was no welfare, no safety nets, and no free English-speaking classes. Sink or swim, baby. Promised work, upon arrival, had dissipated into thin air and suddenly Opa had no idea whatsoever how he was going to support his young family. (The consequence of surgery to cure Oma’s breast cancer she was unable to ever work again.) Opa finally found work cleaning offices at night. He did such a great job (no English needed – cleaning is universal and there was no one to talk to anyways) before he knew it he had a second job and then a third cleaning at a bank. (He was always so proud that he was trusted enough to clean at the bank.) He was lucky to catch 4 or 5 hours of sleep a day. He never considered it work beneath him, any work is honorable and you do your best, no matter what you may think. My father helped him with cleaning and the boys went to school to bring home the English lessons. As my father’s English improved, he was able to secure a job at Eaton’s which income also helped support the family.

I am in awe of the brazenness of it all. I am in awe of the sacrifices they made for their children. They started their second lives, from scratch, at an age where most are enjoying their middle years, and they did it with young children in tow. On the days I complain the internet isn’t as good as it was back home, I think of Oma who didn’t find out her sister died until two months after the fact because of the communication hurdles back in the time. (Remember Europe was still rebuilding from the devastation from WWII and telephones and telephone lines were beyond reach of ordinary citizens.) I can talk to my sister every day, free. I have the internet, cell phones and cheap long distance. A letter can travel the world in a week.

I can complain I long for the Canadian foods I am familiar with and fire up the internet and have them delivered pronto.  Some days I feel silly I kvetching about myself imposed situation when I think of her isolation and how homesick she must have been. There were no Dutch Import food stores back then and only a handful of Dutch people to commiserate with. Not only did she study a brand new language, she also had to learn to cook all over again with most foods she never saw before and without her favorite ingredients. (Corn was pig food in Europe back in the day. Opa never could bring himself to eat it in the 92 years he lived.)

You know, I never remember them complaining. I never remember them awfulizing how bad it is or what a wrong decision they made. I’m sure there were tears of some sort but I never saw them. I was only shown the joy of how happy they were to have me and my sister in their lives. Sure, they terribly pined for their family and culture back in Holland but the new life that was blossoming in front of them at some point became all worth the sacrifice. They moved on from missing what they had to looking forward to what was coming.

Sadly, Oma passed away from cancer after only living in Canada for eleven years. She was only 51 but realistically lived two full lives. After Oma died, Opa was somewhat encouraged to maybe move back to Holland to retire. It was at this lonesome period in his life I did sense some despair of wondering what would have been had they stayed in Holland but as the grief of losing his partner in this journey eased, these thoughts dissipated.  (In his later years he wouldn’t even leave the Calgary area in fear he would die while gone and we wouldn’t bury him next to her. )

So, on those days I feel sorry for myself that I miss a Timmy’s, or a dryer or my friends and family, I remember what Oma and Opa went through to make sure their family and future family had safer lives. And I am thankful that I have such powerful and deeply rooted examples of perseverance and bravery. It truly puts everything immediately into perspective. I keep thinking of the Buddhist saying, “I complained I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”

Have we made the correct decision to pack up and live an adventure half way around the world? To strange lands and countries we have only heard of or seen in documentaries? We are very similar in age to Oma and Opa when they began their second lives.  (Both situations were choices to change things up, although we do not have young children in tow and our income is secure. Also, for the most part, we can find our own language just about anywhere in the world.)  Nevertheless, are we putting our future retirement in perilous conditions?

I am approaching the age my Oma passed away. Although difficult, I’m sure if she had a choice she would have never reneged on her last 11 years of life living in Canada. I sincerely hope they were her most peaceful and fulfilling. Besides, how do I know I don’t have only 11 years left myself? Do I really want to spend them in fear of the known and unknown? Playing it safe but somewhat (to me) boring? Or do I want to create my legacy of being brave enough to shake it up and live my (and our) dreams, even though I have and will continue to have moments of aloneness, misgivings and worries.  (But never regrets.)

In the words of my beloved Opa, “I woke up breathing today. Another bonus day. So far, so good.”

Red at night, flyers delight

I was on my way from Calpe to Rotterdam, a sunset flight. As I normally do when I get frustrated with life, I throw on ‘Desert Rose’ by Sting on replay in the iPod until I get the message that ‘nothing is at it seems’.

Looking out the window assisted in my mood transformation by allowing the nothingness to permeate my mind, thus erasing the troubles of the day. Engaged in books, electronic devices and napping, the other passengers were all missing it. Was I the only one peering out the window, enthralled in the magical show of the sun disappearing into the horizon, leaving only intense red, pink, and then orange to hold away the darkness? The colours of the sun-trail literally holding up and away the blackness as best it can – supporting and squeezing out one more moment of this day.

Now I know where neon colours come from. If you‘ve never been on a sunset flight, may I suggest you put it on your to do list. The colours are spectacular; the navy is darker, the purples richer, the red-hot intensity, the bright pink neon and the royal blue heavenly. With nothing to block the view, the sunset, along with the colours, seems to last forever, especially if you are chasing the sun south to north. Wisps of purple lace-like clouds dance among the band of colours, uniting them into one collage.

Try as it might, the blue on top of the ribbon band starts to give way to the heavy navy, then purple, which in turn gives way to the night. Compressed by the enormity of the night sky, the colours magically grow richer and deeper.

Glowing red, orange, yellow, green (yes, green where the golden yellow kisses the blue sky) blue, indigo and violet. These are the colours of transformation. These colours transform day to night, brightness to darkness. And these are the colours of our chakras, the energy centers in our body whose significance can transform us from cave dwellers to angels.

On the other side of the sunset, a sunrise emerges. Now, the night is dissolving as the golden rays of the sun fights to lift the veil of night by illuminating the sky. A gentle reminder that night does not always win this epic battle steeped in eternity and light will prevail.

The land turns dark first, lights on the ground start to sparkle, one here or there and it’s not long before full villages are illuminated. Soon, a star appears. And then another. As you look up, full constellations are in view. The universe and man, in a beautiful demonstration of ‘as above, so below’, with only a thin band of visible spectrum of colours separating the two. European villages twinkle like the dew in the morning on the spider’s web. Each little village with their spoke like roads and alleys connect to each other with a fine silk line. Only the football pitches brightly lit are discernable, randomly scattered, like the bugs caught in the webs.

My analytical mind wonders what all of this means. Why am I obsessed with all of this? Why has this enthralled me for over an hour? And am I not weary of Desert Rose yet? Is this a metaphor that darkness compresses the light, intensifying it not unlike negative issues should only make the positives brighter? The darkness overtakes the light but the light never gives up and also pushes the darkness to back from which it came.

As we approached nearer to the ground, more people took notice of the happenings outside of the cabin. Some to simply point out their house, some to just wonder in the miniature landscape of it all. In the end, I realized it didn’t mean anything at all. It wasn’t a deeply hidden metaphor. That’s my previous life (BA – before adventure) chatting to me that everything needs meaning, everything needs to be analyzed and anything that grabs your attention and fills your time needs to have value. How many of us make an excuse to take time to sit and read a book? How many of us find the occasion to sit watch a whole sunset – without doing anything else? How many of us purely do just one thing at a time?

Unexpectedly, I was aware I was simply observing the beauty of the world without all the day to day distraction and noises that most people cope with. Without all the details of living in a modern world, my life is becoming less stressful and more meaningful. Without possessions to worry and fret about, other parts of my experience are able to shine through, and most importantly, without self judgment.

My ambition now is to pay attention to not only the moment but the full exquisiteness of the moment, whether I am observing or doing. Basically, I have removed the muddle we call details to reveal that some things are spectacular just as they are – even uncomplicated things like colours and sparkling lights in the air.