Your Greatest Strength is Also Your Greatest Weakness

I didn’t know what she meant when she told me, “Shanta, your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.” I didn’t understand what she meant, nodded but I didn’t comprehend. I knew there was a nugget of great truth in there and for me to get the most out of it; I had to figure it out on my own.

Roughly a year later, one day walking the dog, I realized I was happy. I was smiling, and happy for no good reason. Content. Relaxed. Cheerful. And the only reason I could come up with why I was happy was because I simply didn’t care anymore.

I didn’t care what people thought of me. I didn’t care what they were nattering about. I didn’t give a rip what they were doing this exact moment. But mostly it was because I didn’t care what people were saying or thought of me.

 There is no moment in time that defined when I stopped caring. Or a death. Or an ah-ha moment. Or an argument.

I was happy. And I didn’t care anymore. Then it came to me: My greatest strength was that I cared too much. About everything. My husband, my children, my house, my volunteerism, my passions, my everything.

 If there were ever a poster child for The Overachievers Society, it would be me.

If I was going to be a wife, I was going to win Wife of the Year. Every year. I was going to care for him so hard, he couldn’t live without me.

If I were going to be a mother, I’d put every other mother in the history of the universe to shame.

If I were going to volunteer, I’d be Chairperson and make record-breaking years. (True story – when I started helping with Girl Guides in Fox Creek, within two years I was running the whole district and we sold record-breaking number of cookie boxes. When I started as a driver for wildlife rehabilitation, within a year I was chair of the fund raising and five years later, they still haven’t broken the record I set. I sincerely wish they could.)

And so on. Above and beyond what was expected. Insisted by me and me only. Like I had something to prove. Or maybe I was hoping that if I cared so much, it would be returned. (Spoiler alert – it never was.)

The problem was, I assume people wanted my caring. I assumed it would be nice to have someone help. I assumed they needed my help. I assumed my blow-it-out of the water attitude was appreciated.

They didn’t and for the most part, it wasn’t.

 My greatest strength, caring, became my greatest weakness.

I over care. I hurt when people hurt. I tried to relieve their hurt to relieve my own suffering.

The problem was forgetting to alleviate my own hurt. I was forgetting to put ME first. I was getting lost in the over-caring. I was losing myself because I never got to myself. By the time everything and everyone was looked after, I was too exhausted to look after me.

And no one was caring for me; especially in the way I was caring for others. When disaster hit, I stumbled, and hard. I had nothing to give myself. I gave it all away. Every last drop. I collapsed because there was nothing to hold me up. I had no foundations on how to look after myself.

It’s been over two years now since that terrible day I was told I was no longer loved, needed or wanted, and I am finally content. Genuinely, smile on my face before coffee, happy. Joyful and positive. And it’s all because and for me. There is no one else here to make me happy.

 And the best part is, because someone else didn’t bring in the happiness, no one can take that happiness from me. It’s all mine.

I gave the keys to my happiness away once and they lost them. I’ve rekeyed and no one is getting these ones. You can play with them but you’ll never get to keep them. They’re precious and they’re mine alone.

have turned my greatest strength on myself. And now I don’t care. And it’s fabulous.

I haven’t lost my empathy, I’ve gained my self-preservation, but without being selfish. Au contraire, generosity still pulses through my veins, maybe even more so now. It’s just altered.

I’ve turned my greatest strength back into my greatest strength. And I can’t imagine living any other way, ever again.

Lion

Divorce hardens you

Divorce hardens you.

I don’t think divorce changes the core of your personality, the process of divorce only emphasizes personality traits that are already there.

If you value money above all else, your actions of fighting for the last penny or crock pot will speak louder than your words.

If you are a control freak, this will show up in co-parenting situations.

If you are a nutbar level 7, this will show up in stalking and other crazy behaviours.

And so on. Those behaviours are not new to you, you didn’t change, you now have the opportunity to express them without excuses. Release the hounds, if you will.

But no matter how you choose to deal with your divorce, divorce hardens you.

According to many psychological tests, on a scale of 1-100, 100 being the most stress you can ever experience, divorce or death of spouse is a 100 stressor.

I disagree. Divorce is more stressful than death.

As tragic as a death is, the widow(er) doesn’t have to ‘fight’ for half their life accumulations. They get it all, without question.

They get the house. Moving is a choice, not a necessity.

They get all the money, no need to wonder how to survive in retirement on half of what you saved or half of your pension.

They never have to wonder if this is the month the support payment is late or doesn’t show up at all.

They also never have to see their former spouse kiss another partner. Or hear they are remarrying, noting the new wife has a bigger diamond than you were ever given.

They don’t have to share the children at Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, or vacation.

They don’t have to fend off rumours, lies and gossip.

They never have to defend their actions and choices.

They don’t bring a shitload of baggage (trust issues, lying issues, money issues, ex issues) to the next relationship.

They don’t have to compartmentalized their friends and family into 1) Here for me, 2) Wasn’t here for me, 3) Never have to deal with again and 4) GFY.

They get meals brought to them and invited to people’s homes for Sunday dinner, out of sympathy.

They don’t have to hear of your family inviting the ex for Sunday dinner because ‘we’d like to stay friends’ as you quietly note you haven’t been invited over.

They don’t have to deal with dividing lines in any way, shape or form.

They cry just the same.

They miss them just the same.

They find it difficult to move on, just the same.

If you have children, the ripple effects of divorce last your whole lifetime, until one of you dies. After raising the children, you will be sharing the weddings and the grandchildren. It never goes away. Divorce moves sideways in your life, laterally along, forever.

Losing a spouse to death, using time as the great healer, one day the sun will shine a little brighter, the songs will start to get happier and food tastes better once again. Yes, you miss them with all your being but the death is the rock bottom, you can only move up from losing a spouse to death.

But they don’t get hardened. If anything, they eventually soften, learning how precious life is and to embrace love, life and happiness every day and in every which way because they know it can all be taken away by death.

They don’t get hardened. They don’t learn to hate their partner and wish them dead.

Divorce hardens you, in ways you never see coming. In ways you never imagined. In ways you would hope it wouldn’t. It colours everything you do. But it doesn’t change you.

Just Shut Your Cake Hole

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People like to hand out free advice or opinion, especially if you are going through a life event. Unless you have been specifically asked, such as “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” please, for the love of Gods, keep your opinion to yourself.

People just want to be helpful, I get that. But have you ever considered your particular quip might be the third or fourth person that day who has chimed in? Do you like to be reminded how wrong or stupid you are, two, three, or four times in a day?

Or that the person has figured shit out but hasn’t said anything?

Or that you may just be adding fuel to the fire?

OR that your advice is just plain dumb?

Not to mention that one person who feels it’s their duty to inform me with a tidbit or gossip about my previous partner. That’s just an asshole thing to do. Unless I ask you about him, shut your cake hole, would ya? Newsflash: I don’t care. Also, I don’t care. In addition, I don’t care. [Also makes me wonder if you are passing information along to him about me. Hmmm…]

I’m not exactly sure why some people feel they are Dr. Phil or CNN, spewing crappy advice or news at will. But it’s annoying as hell. So stop it.

Sure, if you know I’m about to sign a document that will wipe out my savings, stop me. If I’m about to get messed up in a scam, please, say something! If you feel I’m in danger, by all means, speak up. But for the life skills and day-to-day living and struggles, let me be. Let me learn MY way.

I have stopped telling people my personal battles in fear that I’m doing it wrong. In fear I’m stuck listening to their advice ad nauseam. But especially in fear that I will have to cross off one more friend.

If you know someone who is struggling, whether it’s an illness or a life event, do your best to refrain from telling them what to do or what you think they should do. If they trust you enough to talk to you about their problems, just listen.

Just listen, without mentally forming your reply. Be that person who is a witness to the words and thoughts that are expressed. Be that person that acknowledges the pain, sorrow and worries – a simple yes nodding motion will do. Be that person they know won’t tell them they are doing it wrong.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, most people like to know you are interested in hearing their thoughts. And most people won’t answer if they don’t want to, but for the most part, they like the questions, it shows you are paying attention.

And NEVER, EVER, EVER, say or reply with, “Everything happens for a reason.” Ever. There is never a good time for that rubbish saying. Well, maybe that one instance in time which is appropriate, Never O’Clock. But other than that…

Just listen for their specific request for your opinion before handing out yours. Otherwise, the only words they want and need to hear from you are, “How do you like your coffee?” or better, “Shall I open another bottle?”

Don’t Try This At Home

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Quite often I get asked about travelling tips, so in no particular order, here are my favourites. This is a long post, so feel free to TL;DR it.

Money and phone

  1. Leave the Traveller’s Cheques at home. Nobody takes these anymore, not even the banks. Cash or cash works best.
  2. As for cash, every major airport that you land at will have an ATM, where you can draw the local currency as soon as you land, you’ll have that cold local beer or wine in your hand in no time. Don’t be suckered into buying it at home before you leave, you’ll pay a premium.
  3. Speaking of ATMs, they aren’t called ATMs everywhere. Automated Teller Machines are a North American term. Use Google Translate to find out what ‘bank or banking machine’ is in the language of the country you are landing and use that term when asking for assistance. Most are clearly and plainly marked and look just like the ones from home. On that note, don’t assume banking machines are everywhere, like at home. [Ditto getting extra cash at the checkout.] Pretend ATMs are like clean toilets – when you see one, use it, even if you don’t have an urgency. 
  4. And it’s not Interac – it’s Debit outside of our known world.

  5. Remember to contact your bank and credit cards and let them know you’ll be travelling. They’ll want your itinerary, so have it handy when you call. I always say I’ll be home one day later, just incase of a delay or cancellation. Nothing like already being in a foul mood because your flight is delayed 8 hours, only to find out you can’t even buy a f*%^&$g glass of wine because your card is denied.
  6. Yes, your debit card will work around the world but only for cash withdrawal at a bank machine. It will spit out the local currency and charge your account in your home currency. Usually there will be a small charge plus the exchange rate. It will not work at the point of purchase, like we use Interac at home, so don’t even try.
  7. Most countries have daily maximum withdraws – they don’t give a rip if your bank allows $1000/day back in Canada, some countries have only $300/day and sometimes countries change it to stop a run on the banks, so be prepared. Don’t argue with the bank lady, she doesn’t make the rules. Be prepared if you have a big purchase. I have two accounts for this reason alone. If a country has a small daily amount, it’s per account, not card. So I take the small daily amount out of each account. Not always, but it will work in a pinch.
  8. Cash is king – never assume you can use your credit cards, especially at Bed & Breakfasts, boutique stores, markets and restaurants.

  9. If you do use your credit card, be prepared to be charged a fee by the proprietor. Yes, this is legal. It ranges between 2-3%. (Not including the fee the credit card will charge you, along with the exchange rate.)
  10. Never give your card to the waiter/sales person if they have to walk away with it. Ask them to bring the machine to you or walk with them. One of the places my card has been compromised – twice – was the UK. Don’t assume you are safe in any country.
  11. You MUST have a PIN card to use a credit card for shopping in Europe. If you still don’t have a new card with a PIN, get one before you head over otherwise it will be useless. American’s always get caught with this as their cards don’t have PINs for some reason.
  12. Never, ever, ever, leave your backpack, purse, bag, or whatever hanging on the back of your chair. Always place it in front of you, even on the floor if necessary.
  13. And it’s not cell phone – outside of Canada and the USA, it’s a mobile phone. (Ask for a cell phone and they’ll think you’ve been in jail.)

  14. Turn your locked North American roaming phone off and pick up a cheap unlocked phone with a SIM card at the first convenience, usually at the larger airports. You’ll be amazed how cheap they are here – the phone and SIM, which would easily last your whole trip won’t even be $30. You can add a data plan and it still won’t be more than say $50. Don’t fall for buying an unlocked phone and SIM card for $80 before you leave, buy them here – unless of course you want to pay double.
  15. If you have an unlocked phone, just buy the SIM card, mine was less than $20, which included 1000 free minutes and 1GB of data. You can top up minutes/data just about anywhere; grocery stores, tobacco stores, corner stores, gas stations, internet cafes, etc.. Japan has these cool WiFi boxes you can rent right from the airport, for $40/two weeks and voilà – unlimited WiFi everywhere you go – if you use Skype, no need for a SIM card. Absolutely no reason to come home to a $500+ cell phone bill for roaming charges anymore.
  16. When you see a price overseas, especially in Europe, it’s the total price – they don’t add the sales tax at the checkout till like we do at home. The VAT (Value Added Tax) can be up to 21% in some countries, so it’s best just to hide it within the price tag. I actually like this policy; just tell me bottomline what it will cost me, with no surprises at the checkout or when the bill arrives. If you look at your receipt, most will break the costs down for you, especially at restaurants, hotels and department stores. But honestly, best not to look.

What to pack

  1. Clothes. Coin laundry is few and far between. Pack enough to wear your whole trip, remembering in the summer it is very humid and sticky, with most clothes worn once. Most laundry services, if you do find one, will insist they do it and you pick it up in a few hours. These will be in the residential areas and not the tourist areas, so ask your hotel staff where to find them. Expect about $15/load, including soap. Ironing will be extra. Although expensive, but cheaper than buying new, in an emergency get the hotel to do it for you but only if you have at least two days before departure. (Irons are not in every hotel room, so pack non-wrinkly stuff. I once was charged $15 to have a blouse ironed by the hotel.)
  2. Clothes. European sizes are smaller than what we use at home, so if you are a medium at home, you will be a large here. And in Asia you’ll be an extra-large. It’s very demoralizing and you will quickly learn to hate shopping abroad.

  3. Clothes. Leave your exercise/workout/yoga pants at home or for the hotel. Europeans, Japanese, etc. dress appropriately and you’ll be out of place in your yoga pants when everyone else is wearing pants with a zipper. Leggings are considered what you wear under your skirt or dress, they are not pants and people will giggle at you for walking around in your underwear. Jeans are good. Khaki’s are good. Capri’s are good. You don’t have to wear a tuxedo everywhere but wear proper clothes, please and thanks.
  4. Clothes. Modest clothes. You might find that your shorts or flip flops are not considered proper in a casino, church or out for a meal after 7. Some church tours forbid bare arms. Some cultures don’t allow tight clothing on women. Some places insist on collars for the men. Ladies, a scarf can become a shawl in a pinch when you are wearing sleeveless. Men, leave your shorts for the beach; polo type shirts are cool and welcomed everywhere. Be prepared to be flexible and considerate. Leave the plunging necklines for the bathing suit and pool.
  5. Good walking shoes, not including Crocs or big honking runners. You’ll find you have to walk a lot, more than you do at home. Good walking shoes are a must but please no serious training runners. (Sketchers are okay. Nice white tennis runners are okay. Obvious trainers will be out of place.)
  6. Your medications. Never assume you can get Advil or Tylenol outside of North America. Or your regular medication. Always carry it on the plane, never pack it in your luggage.

  7. On that note, bring lots of Advil or Tylenol, allergy meds, Gravol, Tums/Rolaids and Polysporin. You can’t get those easily over here and won’t find Tylenol, Gravol or Polysporin anywhere. Most countries you have to buy common ailment relief in pharmacies, not grocery stores or gas stations like we do at home. I once had a smashing headache at the Frankfurt airport and couldn’t find one store to buy an Advil or Tylenol. They are only sold in pharmacies in Germany. Remember to never assume and be prepared.
  8. Bring plug-in adapters from home. They are quite a bit cheaper at home and easier to find. Most luggage stores have a great selection. Unless you are bringing a curling iron or some such small personal appliance, no need for a voltage adaptor. Most electronics (laptop, iPad, phones, etc.) have built-in voltage adapters and you just need to bring the plug adaptor. Know the difference! If you are not sure, just bring your cord to an electronic store and ask them. But 99% of cords for electronics these days have a voltage adaptor or USB plugs into a voltage adaptor. (Hint: If your cord has a big square box or plugs into a big square plug-in, like the square Apple ones you just need a plug-in adaptor, not a voltage adaptor.)
  9. Protein bars. Don’t be surprised when lunch doesn’t start until after 2 or dinner restaurants aren’t even open until 8. Or your tour overruns because of traffic. When you are starving, gum won’t do it. Protein bars are easy to pack, light to carry around and difficult to find outside of North America. Also, if you have an early morning, they are a quick breakfast. They can also replace that whatchamacallit you ordered at supper but couldn’t quite finish.
  10. Batteries. Batteries are very expensive in Europe and elsewhere. Also, you may not know what you are getting – they could already be expired by the time you buy them. Bring what you need.
  11. Never assume you can buy what you need when you get there. If you can’t live without it, for example your favourite toothpaste, bring it.

  12. Forewarned: Airlines within Europe are bag weight crazy. The agents get commission on every bag that they charge that’s overweight, so most do, even if it’s only over by 0.5kg. The majority of airlines have a purchased baggage allowance of 23kg, but some are only 20kg. Always double check the baggage restrictions online and bring a travel bag weigh scale from home.

Odd tips

  1. If you find yourself ill on your trip, first go to a pharmacist. They are trained and can legally prescribe basic medications. For example, swimmer’s ear, sinus infection, strep throat, digestive problems or any other type of general health complaint. Only after their suggestion doesn’t work, then seek out a doctor. If you are seriously ill, first call your health insurance company for instructions on where to go or who to see that will speak English. If you don’t, you could be denied reimbursement or coverage. Obviously, if you are in an accident, go where the ambulance takes you and have someone from the hospital call them ASAP. (They probably will anyway, to make sure you are covered.)
  2. In Europe you will find most things closed on Sundays.  If a family run store is open on a Saturday, it will most likely be closed on a Monday. Restaurants are the exception, open 7 days a week in the tourist areas and closed once a week (usually during the week) in the villages.
  3. Eating times vary from country to country, be prepared for breakfast to be over by 9:30 or not start until 11. General rule of thumb is the warmer a country is, the later they eat the final meal of the day. In Spain it is quite common to eat supper at 10:00 pm or later in the summer.
  4. You can drive with your North American driver’s licence in most countries, all you need to do is go to the CAA or AAA and get an international licence, which is basically the translation of your DL in different languages. It ranges from $35 and up and is good for a year, just bring your DL and two passport photos. Most car rental agencies won’t even ask to see it, as long as your DL is in Latin lettering. The police will ask to see it. (At least that’s what I’ve heard.)
  5. If you are going to the UK, you will be limited to automatic vehicles only.
  6. If you are going to Japan or Asia, just don’t drive. Cabs and public transport is cheap and the way to go.
  7. If you are going to any third world country, just don’t. See #5 above.
  8. If you don’t know how to drive a standard, learn because even though you can request an automatic transmission car, it’s never guaranteed. Chances are, you’ll get a standard. Every time.
  9. Food tastes different abroad, even your favourites. It’s part of the experience. Don’t whine when your hotdog doesn’t taste like they make it back home. Nobody cares.

  10. There’s no such thing as free refills abroad. Not for coffee, tea or pop.
  11. You’ll find wine and beer are much cheaper and spirits or spirit drinks more expensive than back at home. Adjust accordingly.
  12. Water isn’t automatically served at restaurants overseas, you will have to ask for it if you want some with your meal. If you don’t want to pay for water, ask specifically for tap water, otherwise you will get a bottle water. (Note: I always get the bottled water unless in places I know they have great water standards, like Holland or Germany. France, Spain, Greece and Italy are surprisingly not tap water recommended, mostly due to old piping systems.)
  13. Sure, see the big tourist item but then walk three or four blocks away to get the authentic, better food, service and experience for much cheaper.
  14. In Holland, a coffee shop is where they smoke pot. A café is where you drink coffee. Know the difference. If you are unsure, look for the green triangle on the door, that’s the marijuana licence.
  15. In most places abroad, children are welcomed into pubs and bars but they cannot order or drink alcohol. Ditto dogs and cats.

  16. Speaking of dogs and cats, don’t be alarmed when you see them in the malls or  restaurants; as long as they are on a leash, it’s allowed.
  17. Tips: Every country is different, so check. In Japan a tip is an insult, so no tipping allowed. In Europe it’s any where from simply rounding the bill up to 10%, depending on country and venue. Some places automatically add a tip, so check the bill. Africa is the same as Europe, check first so you don’t insult them by leaving a tip or too little. But generally it’s nothing like the out of control tipping in North America.

Oh, and one more thing…

Always try to book yourself, directly with the hotel/airline/tour, etc.. I know travel agencies don’t like to hear this, but when you are in a delay or cancellation situation, the hotel/airline/tour, etc. won’t deal with you, they will refer you to the booking agent. And guess what? It’s 3 A fu&*%$g M in the morning back home. Your booking agent is sleeping… And the hotel clerk isn’t budging… and the next plane out is already boarding.

But, if you had booked directly with the hotel/airline/tour, etc., they’ll gladly rebook you, re-route you and generally give a little bit more shit about you because they consider you their customer. I know it shouldn’t matter, but it does overseas. They will consider the booking agent the customer, not you. (Customer service overseas is a whole separate discussion.)

Booking directly with the hotel/airline/tour, etc. is easy and quick. Just do it.  (But DON’T waste your travel agent’s time, get them to gather all the information then book on your own. They work for commission and that’s not only stealing, it’s just rude. Google is your friend – they don’t care how much time you waste or who you book with in the end.)

My dream trip is to show up at the KLM desk in Amsterdam and say, “I want to go on the next flight out, as long as my passport/visa will allow.” And my own personal caveat, just to make things interesting, is that I can only bring 10 items with me. Then repeat at least twice, with the last flight my flight home. Still working on my list of 10 things. When I think it’s complete, I’ll do a post about the 10 essential travel things.

Do you have any general travel and packing tips that I didn’t mention here? Feel free to chime in, in the comments area below. Or if you think this is the most brilliant travel information you have ever read in your life, share it with the world – on Facebook, Twitter, whatever. I’m not picky.

And thanks for making it all the way to the end. 😀

Two Things That Terrify Europeans

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Europeans are terrified of being cold.

I landed in Madrid on a nice, hot, sunny +29C day, jeans, sweater and NorthFace down jacket firmly wrapped around my hips. What was I thinking? Europeans, and especially Spaniards are terrified of being cold.

And I suddenly remembered, in October, all air conditioners are shut down en masse across Europe.There was no way in hell the airport would be air conditioned simply because it was October. And it wasn’t. It was sweltering.

Certainly my hotel room, in a world-wide hotel chain, at an international airport with world traveler passing through, would be air-conditioned. Wrong. Big nope. My room was +27.5C and the lowest you could set it was +21C! The lowest! A quick call down to the front desk realized my greatest fear. “I’m sorry, the aircon is now shut down for the season.”

I was dying. The only option left was to get into my car rental and run the AC, I just had to cool off somehow. My thick Canadian blood was boiling in more way than one.

Europeans loathe air conditioning and refuse to turn it on, that is if they have it, until late May and only if it’s over +30C. It’s shocking how many malls and stores you walk into and the temperature is clearly indicating at least +26, if not warmer, as if they are bragging how much they are keeping you nice and toasty warm. In July.

They even advertise here in the summer not to turn your air conditioners on lower than +26C to save on electrical costs. Not the temperature outside at +26, the setting on your air conditioner is not to be lower than +26C. What the hell is the point, then?

But in the winter, the stores blast the heat as if money was no object. (They frequently complain about how much it costs to run an air conditioner.) Malls proudly display a +27C indoor heat comfort. I just about die from heat exhaustion.

In December, if someone walks past quickly, creating a momentary breeze, the patio heaters are on and blankets passed around like free cigarettes, even if it’s a sunny +20C outside.

They don’t wear scarves to be stylish, it’s because they are imagining they will be soon freezing to death.

Yes, Europeans, especially southern Europeans, are terrified of being cold.

The second terror in a European’s life is running out of sugar. Especially sugar in your coffee.

The looks I get when I say I don’t need sugar in my coffee range anywhere from horrified to perplexed. It usually goes like this:

Uno cafe con leche, por favor.

Azucar?

Sin azucar.

No azucar?

No azucar.

No azucar?

No.

Uno azucar?

Vally, uno azucar.

Gracias.

Gracias.

[Throws out sugar packet.]

Uno vino tinto, por favor…….

How do you start over? You start over.

It takes two people to make a relationship work and only one person to end it.

And I wasn’t the one who ended it. It’s been a rocky two years – maybe more roller coaster than rocky but it certainly hasn’t been my best two years. It wasn’t my choice to start my life over at age 50 and my life decisions lately reflect that I am still not happy about the position I was forced into.

But that’s about to change. I’m choosing to starting over.

Starting over my life, starting over how I’m handling my divorce, starting over with some of the choices I made. Besides, who ever said you have to drag your choices around like a big bag of rocks? ‘Let ‘er go, you never know!’ is much more than just something you shout at a hockey game.

How do you start over? You start over.

When I get off that airplane in Valencia next week, it will be TA-DA! – Single Shanta. Audios, Mrs. Ostafichuk. Hola, Ms. Meeder. I will no longer refer to myself or consider myself still legally married or separated. I will no longer attach the word wife or ex-wife to my name. I will be Just Shanta and if anyone asks about my status, it’s single. I don’t need a signed piece of paper to have peace of mind.

Single Shanta – I like it.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m first on the list, schedule, and care.

I’m going to make mistakes but if I want to forget them, I shall. Is the fear of failing or the fear of the witness reminding us of our mistakes (over and over and over and over…) that petrifies us?

My bad decisions are going to be much more worthwhile. And memorable. And fun.

And ‘NO’ will be my go-to word.

I think I’m off to a great start.

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Unintended Lessons

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When embarking on a new lifestyle, there are always things that come up that you never considered. And how could you?

Some things are only experienced fully when you jump in the deep end or learned the difficult way. After the excitement wears down, the reality revs up. And it’s been waiting a long time for you to hear their side of the story. A real long time. So, without further ado, here are the surprising unintended lessons I have learned from my first move to Europe in 2009.

  • I don’t miss stuff. At all. Ditto cleaning said stuff. I can live with very little. A shocking revelation after collecting and piling up goods for 27 years. Two suitcases, a backpack full of electronics, and my dog is all I need for six months of traveling.

  • I don’t miss my 3800 sq ft home and actually prefer my little one bedroom apartment right on the Med Sea. Takes me less than one hour to scrub it, top to bottom vs. the four-plus hours it took to clean my house.

  • I’ve slooooowed dooooown. I sit to have a coffee and loathe drive-through food. I enjoy two hour lunches and dinners that last into the wee hours of the morning.

  • I now enjoy walking everywhere and find driving/parking cumbersome.

  • I realize how expensive it is to live in Canada, especially mobile phones, electricity, food, car insurance, travel and booze.

  • After having driven across the European continent many times by myself, I’m not afraid of much anymore. That might not be a good thing.

  • I’ve lost all respect for name brands. Brands and trends are local for the most part. A Coach purse means nothing in Spain. And Levi’s are €120 ($150) in Spain and $39.99 back home at Sears. It’s all hype and good marketing.

  • Health care in Europe is amazing and not free. They pay monthly in Spain and Holland. (The only two I accessed, so the only two I can comment on.) Don’t believe the propaganda, they have functioning private and public side by side; no one is denied and no one goes without. Oh, and emergency wait times are less than 30 minutes and appointments with specialists happen within weeks, not months.

  • Canadian is a language. I missed speaking Canadian. Sure, I had friends that spoke English (Brits, Americans and Dutch) but they didn’t speak Canadian.

  • I am no longer offended when someone asks me if I’m American. Especially once I found out they aren’t asking if I’m from the USA, they are referring to North American continent. No different when we group all of them as Europeans or Asians. No wonder they look perplexed when you answer, “No! I’m Canadian!” It’s embarrassing, so stop it. [Yes, I’m American from Canada is the correct response.]

  • We have it pretty good in Canada. We can buy a car in the morning, have it insured, licensed and driven off the lot within hours. Not so much in Europe. It can sometimes take up to six weeks between purchase and your garage. I won’t even start on business licenses or other types of registrations.

  • I miss hockey. A lot. And I refuse to call it ice hockey. It’s hockey, period.

  • At 21% VAT (equivalent to our GST) I will never, ever, ever, ever complain about our 5% GST ever again. Even if it went back up to 7%.

  • That being said, I like that European prices are all inclusive. If it says 10 euros on the sticker, that’s the price you pay at the cash register. There’s no additional taxes/fees added on – finally our air industry in Canada has started this practice, if it would only expand to everything. Just tell me what I owe with no surprises at the till, thanks.

  • Tipping is ridiculous. The expected 15-20-25% in North America is out of control. It took me a lot of restraint to only leave 10%, then finally just a round up or one euro. The guilt was overwhelming leaving such pittance, but it really wasn’t that long ago we only added 10% in Canada. Just exactly when did tipping become so extreme?

I wonder which unintended lessons I will be observing this go-round? Even though I’m going back as a seasoned traveling pro, I’m also going back single with fresh eyes, outlook, and agenda. What unintended lessons did you learn when you travelled outside of Canada? [Other than, of course, how far your body can repel cheap tequila?]

T minus 10 days

Only ten short days and I’ll be headed back to Europe, specifically Spain – back to Calpe where my first European adventure began in December 2009. Oh, how my life has changed since then, let me count the ways:

1. I am returning as a single. The original adventure started out as a renewal of our marriage, a new beginning, a new chapter. It was also the last chapter of our marriage.

2. It is my choice, and my choice alone where I live. No obligations to work schedules or airport access.

3. It certainly won’t be as lush as the first time I moved to Europe. I’m on my own in more ways than one.

4. I’m going with Estée, the first time we moved over we brought Paxil.

5. I have friends there now. The first time I went I didn’t know a soul.

6. I am well aware of the ways of Spain and Europe. In December of 2009, I didn’t have a clue what I was up against.

7. I’m not bringing my vehicle from Canada. Expensive lesson learned the first time.

8. I know enough of the language to get by day to day. The first time I went with Mexican Holiday language skills for Spanish.

9. I know where to shop, where to get my hair cut, how to book a doctor appointment and so on, the learning curve is now only a blip.

10. My children are not in Europe, they are back in Canada vs. the first time I moved over. I specifically moved to Europe in 2009 because they were both in school in Holland. Will this make a difference? I don’t know.

11. One thing has remained the same – I’m so looking forward to this new adventure, this new chapter, this new beginning. But this time it’s going to be better. Way better.

Come on, hold my hand and join me. Let’s share this amazing journey called life. I encourage you to comment, share your thoughts and share my Slog with your friends; I don’t want this to be a one way conversation otherwise I would simply chat with Estée.

I’m just as interested in what’s happening in your life and back home. Feel free to post photos, meme’s or your words. Let’s make this our own private FaceBook. Just you and me and all my friends.

Beach in Calpe

Beach in Calpe