Choosing A Place to Call Home

Or Having a Place Choose You

A few months ago I posted something on Facebook about possibly moving. I was intentionally vague, having no idea if I will stay-put or migrate somewhere else in the world at some time. Many people find a place they like and remain there for as long as possible. I have a close friend in her sixties, who lives in the house she grew up in. She seems extremely content and has never spoken of leaving (at least not to me). No judgment, but that’s just not me.

How Your Belief System Drives You

Religion plays a big part in decision making for many people. I respect that. I consider myself spiritual, introspective, and organized religion-averse. I think I’ve been an atheist since pre-school. What this means for me, is that the here and now is pretty much it. I can choose to embrace this journey and try to fulfill my hopes and dreams or I can choose to settle in and just be comfortable. It’s not in my nature to choose the latter. It is for this reason that I have decided to leave all of my options open.

I’ve said this before, however, it’s worth repeating: I am well aware that not all individuals have been afforded this kind of freedom. I know that marriage, family, career, etc., all play a role in the decisions we make in our lives. I have created a life where I am unencumbered by these restraints; I can live in many different places. To deny or ignore this magnificent gift would be unfortunate.

What Have You Got To Lose

I always play the worst case scenario game with myself. Many of my decisions have been based on the worst that could happen. In the case of a big move, the answer has always been that if it doesn’t work out, I’d move. I believe that there are opportunities to learn life lessons and experience magical moments just about anywhere. I did not love Portland, Maine, however, it was there that I found out who I am and what I want out of life; invaluable knowledge, reinforcing my beliefs and helping me choose my future goals. I met some people there that are friends for life; that’s about as good as it gets.

When Your Roots Strangle You

Many of our beliefs and values form early on in our lives. What our parents teach us, what we learn in school, what we see in our environment, and what the media tries to instil in us. Much of what we are taught or shown is for our own good and necessary, however, a good deal of it is an attempt to short circuit our ambition. A lot of people in our lives would prefer that we play it safe, keep the peace, color inside the lines. A bit of rebellious thinking is a good thing. Life is all about balance.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

— Dalai Lama XIV

Culture is not something we think or talk about very much. Having lived in several different places has helped me to realize that culture is a driving force in the way we behave and think. The culture of a community is developed over a long period of time. Many factors contribute to the culture of a place. There are community cultures that are so strong that it feels as if a physical force intended to keep you in your place, surrounds you. If you can, get to know what that culture is before you decide whether or not to live in a place.

My biggest pet peeve is being judged by others. Some people put you in a box before they have any idea of who you are. There are cities and towns where this could be a big issue. One of my favorite things about New York City, is that people who choose to live with 8.5 million people from all over the world, all races, all religions, all nationalities, every possible sexual orientation and gender choice, often choose New York because of those things — diversity and differences are celebrated. I’m not saying it’s a utopia; however, in my mind it’s a better choice for most than random town U.S.A. with one church, one race, and one biased mentality.

Group Speak is one of the scariest things I’ve ever encountered; when whole groups of people espouse the same jargon, the same lies, the same hate. I have found places in the world where followers flock to stand behind one individual or a group of individuals with almost cult-like devotion. These people choose to live in what they think is the “right” kind of place — a safe place to raise your children or retire. I believe these places are dangerous and sad. It’s best you know about a place like this before you accidentally end up there.

Religious Condemnation is more prevalent in parts of the world than we are often aware. There are communities of religious groups that will welcome and embrace you, but only if you abide by their beliefs. I’m afraid that if you do not go along with their dogma, you will be ostracized and punished. This is a whole other blog topic. For now, let’s just agree that this may not be the best choice for a place to call home.

It seems to me that more and more, some of our political leaders and influencers are giving us permission to:

  • impose our beliefs on others
  • criticize and scrutinize those who do not think the way we do
  • make others uncomfortable and unsafe in their chosen space
  • be toxic and publicly vocal in social media and in an open forum

This makes living in a place where your values may not line up difficult. Changing the way people think and behave is nearly impossible; therefore, it may be best to avoid these places and settle elsewhere. I may have written something very different when I was in my 20s; young, rebellious, and intent on changing the world. I would have said fight the establishment and make a difference. I’m afraid that once you’ve been around for awhile, you realize some things are greater than yourself.

The Future

The subtitle of this piece was, “Or Having a Home Choose you.” Sometimes it feels as if all the stars are lining up in order to tell us something. I recall walking up for flights of stairs in a 1890 brownstown in Brooklyn and feeling as if I was home. It was almost surreal.

Before we even stepped foot in the building my broker said, “Now Chris, I’m not showing you this apartment because I think you should buy it; I want to hear what you think about brownstone living, the layout, finishes, stairs, etc. It doesn’t have a fireplace which is your number one requirement (true).”

The owner opened the door and I immediately noticed a beautiful large fireplace in the corner of the living room. I’m not sure how exactly I ended up there that day, but I am quite sure that this apartment was meant to be my home. Of all the places I have owned in my life, this will always be my favorite. This was the first apartment I saw, the first apartment I purchased, it was a dump. I had a great time turning into a comfortable, beautiful home. You just never know when your next place will present itself to you. Just be open to the possibility.

I believe that the absolute best thing about my life right now is not knowing what the future holds. Big questions like: will I remain healthy? Will my savings hold out? Will I meet someone who will become my partner? All a big mystery and that’s the way I like it. I’m a fairly realistic and practical person, however, when it comes to life’s big questions about the future, it’s the not knowing that I find exciting and intriguing. I Know that I can determine some of what happens to me tomorrow and the day after that, beyond that who knows. What I have learned is that fear can and will prevent you from fully embracing whatever is yet to come. I am not fearless; what I fear is that others will attempt to interfere with my happiness and for that I am prepared to guard and defend what is yet to come.

future quotes influences present just much past friedrich nietzsche wisdom

On Excess Poundage

This post will seem odd and ridiculous to some and perfectly normal to others. If you struggle with your weight read on:

Why Have One Without the Other?

To say that I live to eat is not a gross exaggeration, it is truth. If you know me at all, you know that what I eat, where I eat, and when I eat, consume my thoughts the better part of the day. I’m okay with that.

I’ll start where I would usually end:

It is time to come to terms with being overweight.

A History to Dieting

Some people can eat anything and never gain an ounce; I hate these people. No seriously, my greatest challenge since I was a pudgy tennager, has been keeping weight off. I have had a few very successful periods of my life when I was satisfied with my weight, not all were healthy:

  1. I started running when I was 17 years old and discovered I could eat carbs and keep the weight off. I trained for and ran several marathons in my 30s, keeping me at my ideal weight. Numerous injuries and arthritis prevent me from running today. Accepting this reality has been one of the greatest challenges of my life; I loved running.
  2. I had a jaw realignment when I was 20 years old. Having your jaw wired shut for six weeks will do the trick. I was thinner than I have ever been. I needed the surgery so that I could chew better; it’s true.
  3. When I was struggling with a career matter in my late 40s, I lost over 20 pounds. This was by far the worst way to lose weight. I usually eat more when I am stressed; however, this situation was so bad even food didn’t help.
  4. I had stomach surgery for a hernia three years ago and I couldn’t eat solids for weeks. I lost a good amount of weight before and after the surgery. This kind of weight loss is temporary and very unpleasant.
  5. I have had some success with fasting, but after a good deal of research, I’m not an advocate of this weight loss method.

I dieted in my early teens. I had no idea what I was doing and I starved myself. No doubt I did some serious damage to my body. I had an eating disorder in that I was fasting without any knowledge of the nutrients and important life sustaining foods; I starved myself. I cut everything out, not just the bad stuff.

I played the if this diet doesn’t work I’ll try another one game. I lived in a house of fat shaming and name calling; my mother was the bandleader and my slender siblings unfortunately joined the party. Being overweight is a lonely state of being; very few people understand your pain. I should also acknowledge that my mother was much harder on my sisters and she lost her personal battle with weight gain in her 50s and 60s.

It is my understanding that gaining and losing weight frequently is very bad for your vital organs. In my case it was a fluctuation of only a few pounds, but I know people who go up and down 20 or more pounds on a regular basis — not good.

My college years proved healthier for me because I learned about nutrition and proper eating. For the most part, I was able to retain the knowledge and stick with a healthier lifestyle diet. Admittedly, I never truly conquered sugar and snacking. Guilty eating had been a lifelong challenge until about a year ago. I seldom feel guilt about food anymore. Part of this has to do with the unpleasant feeling I have when I’m bloated — overeating is no longer an option.

What I Finally Learned

Vanity is alive and well and ever present in my life. On one hand I’m glad that I care and on the other I wish I didn’t care so much.

What I learned is very simple: there are certain foods that are nutritious and delicious and you can basically eat them at anytime and in any quantity. Fruits and vegetables are excellent foods; nutritious and delicious if prepared properly. Two important factors when eating these foods: first, whenever possible eat them fresh, and secondly, what you pile on top of them is important. For example, carrots are very healthy, but if you boil them to death and then pour processed sugar all over them, you are take away all of benefits of eating something healthy. I love steamed carrots with fresh ginger and a drop of honey. I also love cold carrots with some extra virgin olive oil and some fresh thyme. The same is true for most fresh vegetables, they can be very satisfying. Have you ever had a tomato salad when tomatoes are in season? Heaven. Growing herbs on my terrace is a good way to enhance the taste of my foods. I grow seven different herbs and use them almost every day. Watching them grow is and saving money on buying them is an added bonus.

I have not been on any sort of diet to lose weight for almost thirty years. I monitor my eating and keep away from sugar as much as possible. The truth is that I love ice cream, cake, and cookies. I refuse to cut them out completely, so I allow myself small amounts of them on a daily basis. Cutting them out doesn’t work, it just leaves me wanting them even more. Again, all things in moderation.

It helps to live in a warmer climate where fresh produce is available all year-round. The Atlantic Ocean offers many varieties of fish that are good for you and delicious. Also, eating your larger meal at lunch and just having a few bites for dinner, makes for better digestion. I’ve noticed it’s easier to keep the weight off and I do not go to bed with a full tummy. Europeans have been eating this was for many years. Again, whatever works best for you and your digestive system.

Where I Am Today

For the most part, I am eating what I want to eat, when I want to eat. The difference is having a better understanding of what my limits are and knowing what makes my body work better. When I was 17 years years old and craved ice cream, I would buy a pint or a quart and eat the entire contents in one sitting. Today, I can have a pint of ice cream in my freezer for two weeks. I can eat a small portion slowly and be completely satisfied. Instead of shoveling it in, I savour each bite.

I have also learned that not having any sweets in the house doesn’t work for me. It’s a psychological thing; if I deny myself completely I want sugar even more. My mind becomes focused on having a piece of cake or cookies and I will inevitably have to go out and buy something right then and there. If I have a few healthy snacks in my pantry, that works better for me. I’ll have two Fig Newtons or some Greek yogurt and local honey. I have found that fresh fruit in the summer is a delicious dessert. A nutritious smoothie on a warm day is also delightful.

Reminding myself that I am not obese is important for my mental health. Being just a few pounds overweight is not going to make me a diabetic or prevent me from getting around. I go to the gym for a solid one hour workout five or six times a week and I truly enjoy it. I like that I’m doing something good for myself and I enjoy the social interaction. It helps keep the weight off as well; although clearly, it has to be combined with healthy eating.

Where I’m Going

Accepting my body type and current weight is essential for my happiness and well-being. I don’t want to feel guilty about having a snack or a good steak. I want to enjoy healthy amounts of any food and not think about weight gain. I’m nearly there. Like anything we attempt to conquer, old habits are hard to break. I’m listening to my body and it’s saying: enjoy food, eat fresh and eat local. Have a little something sweet now and then and savor it. Embrace the body you have and stop longing for the body you cannot have. All things in moderation.

Acceptance Quotes - One Mind Dharma

Respect Others (excerpt from article)

Respect all people, regardless of size. Think positively about yourself, and remember to think positively about others. Accept each other at any size; compliment behavior, ideas and character instead of appearance and develop more self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-respect. PychCentral, “Accepting Your Body,” Jan. 2020.

Because, believe it or not, when you DO accept where you are, that’s when you CAN begin to change. (excerpt)

You can’t hate, criticize, and berate your body enough to create lasting change. It just doesn’t work.

You can, however, be mindful, loving, and gentle with yourself and your body; with where you are now in your journey. And be courageous enough not to hide or be ashamed of how you look.

So, as warmer weather comes and sweatpants/sweatshirts/sweaters are put away, I encourage you to throw out your beliefs of having to look a certain way or be a certain size to accept yourself. HuffPost, “The Real Reason You Can’t Accept Your Body,” Dec.6, 2017.

And remember, you’ll look thinner if you hold the camera above your head

How happy will you be when this election cycle is over? Between COVID-19, the economy, travel restrictions, and the election, it seems as if everyone is on edge and deeply concerned. Eating foods that are nutritious and satisfying will help you feel better. For me cookies are a great comfort as well. I saw an interview this week with David Letterman and Kanye West (terrific Netflix series); Kanye told Letterman he was about 20 pounds heavier than he’d like to be. Letterman asked Kanye about dieting and he said something about being a part of a culture that doesn’t use the word diet because it has the word “die” in it. For once, Kanye made sense.

Note: From time to time I revisit a topic for a number of reasons; hopefully I am ever evolving and I either learn or discover new things or I change my way of thinking. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Your contributions and feedback are invaluable.

Missing in Italy

Sometimes I shake my head wondering: did this really happen?

Advanced Italian Cuisine
Alma, an Italian Cooking School outside of Parma, Italy
Education Fee's

I’ve waited for quite awhile to tell this story. It’s a rather sensitive matter, therefore, I will use almost all fictitious names to protect those involved. There are people in this story who were supportive, sympathetic, and brave and then there are the rest. I should start by saying that the entire matter was surreal for me. As I went through the motions and experienced it, I felt as though I was on the set of a movie shoot; none of it seemed real, and all of it bizarre. What I know for certain, is that it happened and it changed me.

Searching for a Needle in an Italian Haystack

It was an ordinary day at The International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City when I received the call. At the time, I was School Director and Dean of Student Affairs. The year was the early 2000s. I had worked with others to create an Italian cooking training program in Italy. Students would start their training at ICC and then travel to Alma in Colorno, Italy for the final six weeks of their training. I had traveled to Colorno (by way of Milan) several times. Our relationship with the staff in Italy was solid and the student experience was exceptional. I was proud to be a part of a very unique cooking school experience. Most of the students were in the 20s and 30s; very mature and focused.

We did several rotations a year and enrollment was better than expected. I was the administrator-in-charge of the program; however, there were over ten faculty and staff members doing the real work of executing the experience. The cost of the complete course was close to $50,000 and because part of it was overseas, there were many moving parts. My father was born in Italy; in many ways, it felt as if I had come full-circle in my Italian heritage. While I worked with others to create the program, I learned a lot about regional Italian cooking, its rich history, and I got to try every dish taught. In addition, I was a proud judge during finals in Italy on several occasions.

Francesca (her real name) was my contact person at Alma. What we were about to experience created a bond and lifelong friendship born out of a terrifying situation. Francesca’s call about one of our students in Italy, continues to make me anxious all these years later. There are deeply felt emotions that are never lost and never leave us.

“Chris, I need to tell you something, but I don’t want you to worry too much.”

My body tensed and I stayed quiet and I listened.

“One of your ICA (at that time we called the program Italian Culinary Academy) students has disappeared.”

Francesca was not an alarmist and she took care of nearly any incident on the Alma campus, so I knew this was serious. Sal was gone for two days and no one had heard from him. His passport and toothbrush were still in his room and there appeared to be no foul play. Administrators at both schools agreed that he had probably met a girl and he was with her on a sun drenched beach. Sal’s friends and classmates didn’t believe that was the case and this caused great concern. Apparently, there were witnesses to an argument outside of a bar the night before he’d gone missing; in fact, the last time Sal was seen. The argument was between Sal and several locals. Some students speculated that the argument was over a Russian girl from the bar, but no one was certain. Francesca and I agreed that Sal’s parents should be informed. She was also going to call the Colorno carabinieri (local police).

I quickly booked a flight to Milan, packed a small bag, and headed for JFK. Alma had a car pick me up in Milan and I attempted to rest my eyes and calm my brain on the 2.5 hour drive to Colorno. It had been 16 hours since hearing from Francesca and by this time, I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios. Growing up in Brooklyn during the 60s and 70s made me tough, street smart, and terribly jaded. Film and murder mysteries didn’t help.

Riccardo (head of the school) and Francesca met me at the school when I arrived. There was no news from Sal and everyone was thinking the worst. Sal’s parents were on their way from the States and Francesca was arranging their accommodations. Jet lag was helping make a bad situation untenable; my thoughts toggling between despair about what might have happened to Sal and dread concerning meeting his parents. A living nightmare and nowhere to hide.

Francesca drove me to the police station for a conversation regarding next steps. I sat with several carabinieri officers asking every question I could think of. Francesca was interpreting for me and I could tell she was exhausted and worried. The carabinieri would not confirm or deny a street argument or that there might have been a Russian girl involved.

After hours at the police station and talking with students, I headed for my hotel room to close my eyes. Francesca agreed to contact me with any news.

There was one particular bar not far from the school that was popular with the American students attending Alma. Colorno is a very small town and everyone knows everyone. There were rumors among the students a number of Russian woman were available for hire and that Sal might have owed money to one of the handlers of these woman. Administrators at Alma seemed genuinely surprised to hear that prostitution was taking place under their noses. My mind took me to dark place; imagining Sal buried six feet underground somewhere outside of Colorno.

Sal’s parents arrived the evening of my first day, however, they did not show up on campus until the following morning. By then, I had slept a few hours and I was more prepared to meet with them. Alma was very sympathetic to their anxiety and did everything possible to make them comfortable. Looking back, I was actually quite surprised by their calm and decorum. They too spent time with the local police. They also took several students close to Sal for lunch and tried to better understand where he might be.

At some point at the end of our first full day, we all met to discuss what we might do next — parents intentionally left out. Alma seemed reluctant to contact the press, for fear the school’s reputation might be harmed. I believe we were secretly hoping Sal would turn up on campus behaving as if he’d done nothing wrong.

As time passed, the street argument became more of a factor; all involved were called in and questioned by the police. The carabinieri were convinced that there was no there there. I started to feel as if there might be a cover-up and Sal’s parents were skeptical as well. Although his parents and I were in communication throughout the day during early days of the incident, I felt fairly distant from them; detached. They were understandably frustrated, tired, and concerned.

On the fourth day, none of us believed Sal would just reappear. If he had run away with a girl or decided to bail from the program, he would have taken his passport at the very least. We were all fairly certain foul play of some sort had taken place. The Italian state police were brought in after Alma’s administration began to feel as if the local police were not doing enough. Word got out to the press and just about every local and regional news outlet was covering the disappearance. When word got out that an American student was missing and there was speculation that the Russian mafia might have been involved, a search party was dispatched and the rivers and lakes in the area were dredged. I silently hoped Sal would call us to say that he’d see the reports of his disappearance and wanted to let us know that he was fine and that he was sorry for all of the trouble he’d caused. That didn’t happen, but all I had was hope.

I wasn’t sleeping very well and couldn’t help thinking that this would probably be the last class studying at Alma. One incident, completely unrelated to the cooking experience could threaten the viability of a program we worked on for two years. The pubic relations machine at both schools was working hard to highlight how positive the Alma experience was and that this was an unfortunate one-off situation. Sal’s parents were angry that the Italian police and government were not doing more to locate their son; we were mindful that they alone could potentially raise enough concern to shut us down.

His parents decided that a trip to the American Embassy in Milan might help get the Italian government to take this more seriously. I regretfully volunteered to drive them to the embassy. They sat together in the back seat; Sal’s father consoling his mother most of the way to Milan. Over two hours in a vehicle with someone crying hysterically is not easy for the person at the wheel. I didn’t say much for fear of saying the wrong thing. I tried my best to be supportive and reassuring. I didn’t think the people at the embassy would help, but it wasn’t my son who was missing.

When we got to the embassy it was a well-guarded fortress. I dropped them off as close as I could get to the entrance and parked the car. Just as I arrived they were being escorted in. The guards told me that only the parents would be allowed. I called for Sal’s father and he walked over and apologized. He knew that I would be staying in Milan that night and flying back to the States the next morning. It had been a full week since Sal had gone missing and there was nothing more I could do in Italy. Sal’s father agreed to call me if they needed anything and we said our goodbyes. I felt very sorry for Sal’s parents and I was exhausted.

I recall making a call to Gary, ICA’s president, that afternoon and becoming emotional on the phone. The fear of learning that a dead body was found was becoming more and more real. Gary, as always, was extremely supportive and grateful. He and the rest of the staff at ICC were hoping for the best. He asked me to remain calm and to get home safely. The administration at Alma was also very supportive and assured me that they would do everything possible to find Sal. I flew back to the States the next morning.

Time passed and still no word from Sal. His parents stayed in Italy for a couple of weeks and then returned home when hope of finding him had diminished. They became angry, resentful, and blamed both schools for gross negligence. They claimed that we had placed their son in an unsafe environment. Sal’s brother publicly posted a scathing letter, claiming the school was completely negligent. Threats of a lawsuit were being bandied about. The students in Italy had gone on with their studies hoping to complete the program. I had all but given up hope.

Graduation at Alma was scheduled a few weeks out; I knew it would be best for be to return and attend. When I arrived on campus, the students, whom I had stayed in contact with, greeted me warmly. They all assured me that the ICC was not to blame for Sal’s disappearance. We all wondered if this great mystery would ever be solved. I met with the local and state police for an update — there was none. Still much speculation that there was foul play, however, the guilty party or parties, had not revealed themselves. I returned to New York having lost quite a few pounds and feeling like I’d let a lot of people down.

Thanksgiving came and went. Each day brought less talk of Sal’s whereabouts. My emotions had gone from remorse to sadness to anger; acceptance was not within reach. Then, out of nowhere, shorty before Christmas, a call from Francesca in Italy, Sal had been located. He had joined the French Foreign Legion. Apparently, when you join, you leave behind the material world and those you once cared about; some join to escape their lives. Sal somehow managed to slip a note with his parents telephone Number to an Asian guy who was leaving the Legion and had agreed to make a call. It was the best Christmas gift of my life.

There are several takeaways from this life event that are forever etched in my brain. First, Sal’s family never apologized for their treatment of the two schools. They blamed us for Sal’s disappearance for months and when he turned up, not one of them came forward to acknowledge they were unfair and had hurt several good people. Lastly, when Sal left the French Foreign Legion he did not contact me to explain himself, apologize or thank me or the ICC for trying to find him. Oddly, I didn’t care. It bothered others at the school and it made several people in my life angry, but I had something far more important to me, I had peace-of-mind and Christmas that unfortunate year.

Disclaimer: This incident occurred over ten years ago, therefore, I cannot swear by every detail outlined in my accounting of the story. Due to the seriousness of the situation and my own personal involvement, I can only vouch for my own recollection of what took place.

Flag of legion.svg
The French Foreign Legion Emblem

Routine Versus Spontaneity

Jazzing Up Your Day

Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art.

— Oscar Wilde

Ho hum versus devil may care

Spontaneity is a goal I have been striving to achieve since I could spell the word. Seriously, I could teach the armed forces a thing or two about order and precision. I want to be unpredictable, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Why Routine and Checking Boxes Works

We are creatures of habit and we find great comfort in routine. For me, it’s waking up, playing torture Paco in bed, and quiet time with my morning coffee on the terrace. It delights me so; it gets me out of bed in the morning excited to start the day. I add the gym and a trip to the market to the mix and I am thrilled to be alive, but that’s not good enough.

My “To Do” list also offers great comfort. Chores and projects I am eager to check off as completed. It provides a sense of accomplishment and a satisfying feeling. I don’t like how good it makes me feel because like any addiction, it’s hard to stay away.

Don’t try this at home: I actually fill my hourly calendar with small chores (i.e., feed Paco, tighten eyeglasses) so that it makes me feel like I have a lot going on. Throughout the day I delete these items and each time I remove something from my date book, I get a little adrenalin rush — sick right? And I’m only sharing part of it.

The Benefits of Spontaneity

I have been telling myself that being more spontaneous and less scheduled, is good for me. When I have been able to break out of my daily routine and do something just because I felt like it or because someone called and said let’s do xy or z, it was more often than not, very satisfying.

There have been several unforgettable moments in my life that I can happily recall; the irony is, many of these moments were unplanned. If this is the case, why do people like me spend so much time mapping out every minute of their lives. The satisfaction I get from checking boxes on my to do list doesn’t come close to the positive feelings I have taken away from an unplanned outing. The only explanation I have is that the routine is daily and the unplanned is rare. The mind is so powerful, it forces your “go to” behavior right back to the safe, the familiar, the known. Like any other thing in life you are committed to, you have to work hard to change it.

What I force myself to focus on:

  • The feeling I have when a surprise is exciting and new.
  • What occurs in my life when something unexpected changes my day. The snowball effect of positivity.
  • How changing things up takes your mind away from the small/minor things that bog you down.
  • How short life truly is and how the mondaine can eat up your time.
  • My desire for adventure and change.
  • How much I believe other people enjoy my spontaneity.

Coloring outside of the lines can be risky because you never know what the outcome might be. This makes whatever it is you are doing that much more exciting. The unknown can be titillating and growth fostering.

A short story: A few years ago I was riding the subway; the same train I squeezed myself into daily. After another horrendous day at work, I got home and thought something has got to give. I called a friend who had joined me on a couple of adventures and asked her if she might like to meet me in Belize. Without hesitation, she said yes. There was a Madonna song that I heard in my head a thousand times; the lyrics went like, “. . . last night I dreamt of San Pedro,” and that’s where I had to go. San Pedro is a small island. You can get to it by ferry from Belize City — it’s a very pleasant two hours heading to paradise.

This trip was without a doubt one of the most memorable getaways of my life. I only had a short time to plan and hardly any of the details were mapped out (eg., excursions, meals). I decided to allow my days in Belize to be organic; to wake up naturally, to eat when I was hungry, and to do basically nothing unless I was moved to do otherwise. For the most part Kathy, who is much more relaxed than I am, and I, stuck to our plan. The resort was fairly quiet and clearly, this is an island you go to to chillout. This was a time in my life when chilling was medicinal and restorative. Keeping my mind and days uncluttered allowed me to think freely. I was able to take long walks with Kathy and spend quite a bit of alone time on an unspoiled, virtually empty beach. I returned home enlightened and resolute. It was during this time that I made the decision to resign from my position at The International Culinary Center and leave New York City. Possibly two of the best decisions of my life.

This is one of the many reasons I am convinced that spontaneity provides a space for out-of-the-box thinking. I believe we schedule ourselves to the max in order to avoid organic thinking; our fear of the possibilities life might present bog us down and keep us from truly being free.

Ways to Get Yourself to Loosen Up

Here are some of the the things you can do to be more spontaneous:

  • I know this will seem crazy, but you can pencil it in. Don’t write what you will do, but when you might do it. Say you open your date book or laptop calendar on on Thursday morning you’ve written “do something you’ve never done before.” It will force you to think of something on the spot and then follow through and do it.
  • Tell your friends you are trying to be more spontaneous and have them call you when they are about to do something fun or different.
  • Allow yourself days where absolutely nothing is planned.
  • Talk to yourself about the pleasures of discovering the unknown.
  • Wake up, pack a bag, and take a trip to a place you’ve never be.
  • Throw away the leftovers and go to a new restaurant (call someone and ask them to join you and then treat them).
  • If you have a guest room, do something as simple as sleeping in a different room in your own house.

Imagine a Life Where You Do What You Want, When You Want

Use your imagination to consider a world where you are free of the bondage you have inflicted upon yourself. We lie to ourselves to keep from doing something crazy. We tell ourselves we’ll get into trouble, that we have no money or that we’ll lose all of our money, that freedom will make us seem undisciplined, hard work is the only way to achieve happiness, that minor indulgence leads to frivolity and a loss of control, and on and on and on.

I will, no doubt, continue to plan most of my life going forward. It’s not even about teaching an old dog new tricks, it’s about comfort — the older you get, the more you seek comfort and stability. Still, I figure if I keep reminding myself about Belize, I may occasionally surprise myself by choosing the road less travelled.

Resources:

How Not to be Boring

True Happiness . . .

Why Most Unplanned Adventures Are Often the Best Ones

An Aside

I don’t know about you, but I watched the first presidential debate and found myself angry, disgusted, and fed-up. I sat down with myself and wondered how these emotions were taking control of my life and why it had to stop. I believe that allowing myself the freedom to just be, is a useful tool going forward. There are things happening all around that I can change or control; however, what I can control is my own life, my own behavior, my own path.

The President’s COVID-19 status is a topic I am choosing to stay clear of.

An Alternative Universe

Drapetomania (n.) — An overwhelming urge to run away.

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

There is so much coming at us from every which way, it’s easy to imagine an alternative universe. I’m personally conjuring up a place where people respect one another, where one feels safe at all times, and where good health is more of a given than a wish.

I live in a city that is extremely safe, tranquil, and where COVID-19 is much less of a threat. One would think that I could just sit on my sofa and relish in gratitude; easier said than done I’m afraid. We are all a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves. If you care about your friends and family, your neighbors, your fellow citizens, people starving all over the world, social inequality, fiscal inequality, the planet . . . to name a few, it’s difficult to not be swimming in despair.

A Quiet Place

I learned how to use visual mediation many years ago when I was in college in North Carolina. It was a great tool for coping with peer pressure, term papers, exams, and the lack of funds. As I got older, those life problems were replaced by others such as mounting debt and relationship turmoil. The truth is, there will always be one hardship or another to cope with. Meditation is a life saver at times like this. People don’t realize you can meditate just about anywhere at anytime. Even Alexa can help now.

Allowing your mind to take you to a safe and quiet place is extremely effective. I usually invision water and an absence of people. The beauty of this method is that you have complete control — anytime, anyplace, and any visual you choose. It’s free and easy to call upon; at times it can save you from the worst anxiety producing situations. My alternative universe has become easier to access each time I employ visual meditation. Go on-line and read about various techniques and tools; meditation can become a positive addiction.

A World Only You Inhabit

Our imagination is vast. Children use their imagination quite often and most times to create a world totally unlike the one they inhabit. As we get older and become more serious and sadly, more jaded, our imagination becomes more inhibited and less colorful. Give yourself permission to visit a place in your mind not yet explored or unlocked.

Travel is a great way to escape; leave your environment, leave your head, leave your life. I do it quite often these days and I swear by it. It’s more effective as a way to clear your head when you are committed to it. Unfortunately, I have transported myself to another city or country and found myself even more concerned and vulnerable; you have to be able to turn it off and call upon your inner strength.

I love dreaming at night. Every so often I can recall a dream as I am walking up and less often, I can close my eyes and slip back into it. If you work at it, you can allow your mind to return to that dream while you’re awake during the day (daydreaming). It’s quite a gift, if you will allow yourself the pleasure.

An Altered State of Being

There are natural and synthetic substances that assist you in expanding your imagination. Some of these substances are widely used and accepted and others are more dangerous and often illegal. It is not my intention to promote or speak out against such substances. As with anything in life, the problem is often moderation. Drugs can be additive and destructive; one must be aware of the risk and dangers involved and make an informed decision. Everyone is different in terms of tolerance, genetics, and moral values. I can say that early use of several less harmful drugs did help me to cope with some fairly serious “life” issues (e.g., physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual identity). Again, a very personal matter one must carefully consider.

All of the Above

There is rarely one solution to a problem and so it is true for escape and mind relaxation. Whatever it takes to ease the burden of anxiety is probably better for you in the long run. The key is moderation; doing whatever it is you need to do often enough to make a difference, without allowing it to consume you and/or interfere with your “normal” obligations (i.e., work, childcare, partner).

Death

I honestly do not mean to be a downer or morbidly dark; however, the reality that at some point or another, you or I might say that we have had enough, is a possibility and understandable. I am not referring to suicide, another topic altogether.

A few days before my father passed he looked at me and said, “I’ve had enough Chris, I’m ready,” and a feeling of peace washed over us.

And then there is this:

“One of the best ways to get out of your own head is to help others.”

— Zack Efron, Down to Earth

The Pitfalls of Entitlement

The World Owes Me Nothing

I have to preface this blog with some very strong feelings: I write from a place of disgust. The number of wealthy Americans is greater now than it has ever been. I believe in capitalism and I think money is a legitimate incentive for working hard and being productive. My issue is with greed and what it does to people.

About 7,647,278 US households earn $2 million or more, covering about 6.07% of American households. 4,665,039 US households earn over $3 million or more, covering about 3.70% of all US households (Spendmenot).

We all view the world from a different lens. The haves and the haves not dilemma has been debated since the beginning of civilization. I have some very strong feelings about extreme wealth and what that means; however, the purpose of my rant this week is more about entitlement and how it plays out in society.

What is Entitlement

entitlement: the fact of having a right to something.

  1. the amount to which a person has a right.

2. the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

It is #2 that I am addressing today.

What I Observe

As I navigate through life, I have observed entitlement at its ugliest. Unlike others who believe it is worse now than it ever was, I believe it has been a big part of American life for a long time. Because I’m traveling more now, I do witness it quite a bit. Fortunately, I live in a place where I see more equality than anything else (Faro, Portugal). The premise of social democracy is that all human beings have the right to fulfillment of their basic needs: food, shelter, and medical treatment to name a few. To me this translates to compassion, empathy, and the sharing of resources. The “every person for themselves” mentality is dangerous and divisive.

How Some People Live With Themselves Keeps Me Up at Night

Extreme greed and the thinking that one person somehow deserves special treatment over another, rattles my core. I understand the concept that money buys certain luxuries and I believe that hard work should enable a person to enjoy the good things life has to offer. However, that does not mean, for example, that the rich should have the first access to a COVID-19 vaccine or that they should go to the top of a list for an organ transplant.

What Can Be Done About It

This is obviously a very complicated problem because it involves human beings. People are not going to suddenly stop believing they are entitled to certain privileges and the businesses and corporations providing these privileges will continue to do so. Unfortunately, I don’t think this issue is going to go away, but we as individuals can do something about it. The every “man” for himself mentality does not sit well with me and I can’t help feeling badly for those who struggle to put food on the table while others worry about what’s in their goody bags.

What I’m Doing About It

Assessing who we are and how we interface with the world should be a constant consideration. You’d have to forgive yourself for being subjective, after all it is your life you’re judging. It is for this reason I occasionally check-in with people I trust. For example, after a night out with friends I might ask what they thought about my interaction with wait staff at the restaurant or what I was like with a new person who just joined the group. I preface the question by telling them that I am working on my communication skills. I think in this situation, most friends or close family members will be honest; sometimes brutally honest. I was once told that I was way too chatty with people I didn’t know. “They don’t have time for your banter Chris.” I wouldn’t call that entitlement and I don’t believe it’s something I can change (or want to change).

Another thing I’m doing that is somewhat more delicate: calling out people around me that are behaving as if they are entitled. I am going to generalize here: people who behave as if they have a God given right to special treatment or privilege are usually the very same people who blame everyone but themselves for all of the issues in their lives or often, people who cannot understand why they are not well liked or respected.

For My Part:

I can afford to do some things that would put me first in line, but because of what I stand for, it’s best for me to keep the money in my pocket:

  1. I do not pay to use the first class lounge at the airport (if it is given to me, I’d use it — does it make me a hypocrite?).
  2. I do not pay for Fast Track security or boarding at the airport.
  3. I do not try to jump the line no matter where I am.
  4. I make reservations whenever possible.
  5. When in line to exit a highway, I do my best not to allow others to exit before me. There are people who never wait in line, they attempt to muscle their way right to the front — drives me mad.
  6. If I see someone trying to jump the line, If I can, I speak up.
  7. I do not participate in entitlement programs.

There are some incentive or enticement programs that are harmless and legitimate; programs that do not impact other people.

This Happened Recently

I was staying at a hotel in Madeira this past week and this happened: At the hotel bar ordering a cocktail and the menu was open in front of me. I was asking the bar person if she made non-frozen Margaritas, because the menu only listed frozen Margarita. The bartender was about to answer my question and a gorilla stepped up:

“I know what I want, can I have a Shirley Temple?”

It’s five days later and I still cannot believe this happened. Even if I was taking time to make up my mind, which I wasn’t, I still cannot imagine someone having that much nerve. To the bartender’s credit, she told the guy to, “please wait.” Can you imagine what he is like everywhere else? I’m sure I was red in the face, but since the bartender set him straight, I kept my mouth shut. I decided then and there, that there was no helping this man.

Having scruples and doing “the right thing” is absolutely a good thing, but I find myself way too caught up in it — thinking about it way too much. It seems that being empowered to do what I can as a individual is my only recourse, but being righteous has its pitfalls too.

Life Advancer on Twitter: "Just Pinned: Self Entitlement Quotes. QuotesGram  #lifeadvancer #quotes | Please ReTweet This | via @lifeadvancer… "

My thoughts are with the family of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; a woman whom I and many admired and respected. May all that she fought for not be in vain. I’m hoping her passing inspires many of us to be our best selves. A toast to you Ruth: a truly magnificent human being.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Madeira, Portugal

If you’re thinking about flying into Madeira and you’re one of these people who gets all tense when it’s time to land, DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1130293/SCARY-plane-landing-caught-camera-Madeira-Airport.html.

The World's Most Dangerous Airports | WanderWisdom
Madeira Airport landing strip (Cristiano Ronaldo Airport)
The Island of Madeira, a hikers utopia

I was fortunate to have my entire row on the TAP flight coming into Madeira. I slid over from my aisle seat (I always sit in this seat so I can get up to pee without bothering anyone; I pee a lot), to get a good view of the landing. I had heard about the sometimes high winds and cancelled flights due to the aforementioned, but I stopped myself from watching videos or reading about my impending landing. Once it was happening in real time, I had to see it. We were approaching this magnificent island and the landing strip came into view. I had never seen it before and from a distance, it looked like columns on a huge palace. The whole experience was thrilling.

Just before landing, an announcement was made about a COVID-19 test at the airport. I was unaware that the government, the day before, had instituted a new policy about testing at the airport. I must admit that even though I was fairly certain I’d be negative, there was that .5% chance that I could have had the virus and I was asymptomatic. I was glad I had paid a little extra for additional legroom because I was at the front of the plane and I would be tested quickly. I have to compliment the Portuguese for their organization skills; this process was exceptionally well orchestrated. I had registered on-line, how I was traveling and where I was staying, and that saved me a bit of time. Honestly, it might have been six minutes from start to finish. The test is a bit uncomfortable, but not as bad as I had anticipated — only a few seconds of poking and swabbing. I was told the results would be emailed to me within the next 12 hours. I confess I didn’t check until this morning; I knew that if I’d tested positive I wouldn’t sleep. Fortunately, I had a very pleasant eight hours and woke-up to negative test results. You can talk yourself into almost anything.

One of the reasons I decided to fly to Madeira, aside from the island being on my “must go” list, is that most of Europe is a bargain (if you can go) right now. I get all happy inside when I land on a great deal. My four star hotel is normally double the price this time of year and I flew round trip for less than $200. I am on an island off of the northwest coast of Africa; not sure how much more exotic and perfect you could get?

There is a Aerobus right outside the airport that will get you very close to most hotels in Funchal for 5 Euros (8 roundtrip). The bus driver announced my stop and the Hotel Allegro was right across the street — no dragging of luggage and searching for my hotel with Google Maps.

I woke up to this on my first morning

image
Junior Suite — view of the ocean from my bed (two balconies)

I spent quite a lot of time booking my hotel. I didn’t even consider Airbnb this time for three reasons:

  1. I wanted a room with a seaview
  2. I wanted a big breakfast in the morning
  3. It had to be an “adults only” hotel (love, love, love the little ones, but not on this trip)

They do breakfast at hotels really well in Portugal. It’s often included in the rate and it is quite a treat with omlets, fresh fruit, homemade jams, yogurt, granola and all sorts of delicious cakes. There is a photo below, but I don’t think you can tell that there is a mimosa in the photo; trust me, they had fresh orange juice and sparkling wine, I had two every morning.

The Hotel Allegro is in an area called Lido (allegro means: at a brisk speed and that sums me up) . The hotel is minutes from the beach, walking distance (or city bus) to Old Town, and surrounded by some very good restaurants. It’s a four star hotel, but I’d put it in the mid-range price group — important to have enough money to eat and drink while traveling. The room was spacious, comfortable, and had a Nespresso coffee maker. I was supplied with pods for the entire week. I bought some whole milk right next store and I had my 5:30 a.m. coffee in my room, every morning. You know by now how much the “little things” mean to me. The hotel also had a very nice gym overlooking the pool (used it four times) and a jacuzzi and sauna that were not in use due to the freakin’ virus. When you use the gym on vacation, you feel as if you can eat more pastry and so I did . . . eat more pastry.

image
Rooftop Bar down the hall from my room

I spent my entire first day sitting by the pool with a Grisham novel. The pool bar served a variety of cocktails and the bar menu was adequate. I had a delicious Caesar salad with huge chunks of chicken and fresh parmesan. Happy thoughts, happy body, happy tummy. By the way, pretty spectacular weather in early September; some clouds, but mostly sunny with temps in the high 70s and low 80s. I was told the weather is always good in Madeira. You’d have to look that up.

The Prince Albert Pub, a British Pub with British eats, for my first dinner. I wasn’t very hungry, I had battered shrimp and a margarita. Lots of people from the UK come here on holiday; their presence can be felt everywhere — not a criticism, more an observation.

A Casa do Vizinho for a scrumptious dinner my second evening. I had settled on a nicely reviewed Italian restaurant, however, it was closed on Monday night. Casa do Vizinho was a lovely alternative. Very pleasant outdoor seating, a view of the Atlantic, and a quiet side street. I had pork, mashed potatoes, all smothered with a rich & creamy mushroom gravy; delicious, but it would not have photographed well.

Mostly just relaxed and figured out where everything was on my second day.

Day Three in the Old Town

I ain’t gonna lie, you’ve seen one Old Town in Portugal, you’ve seen them all. Always a pretty church, always lots of cafés, and most assuredly, old architecture. There was something in Funchal’s Old Town I wanted to see and that was Rua do Santa Maria, a street filled with art covered buildings:

I was not at all disappointed. Many other streets in the Old Town were crowded, however, Rua do Santa Maria was all mine to take-in and enjoy. Sorry, I was not focusing on my photography skills. I did not get to see all the artwork, but I have learned over time, to always leave a bit for another trip.

Next on my day of playing tourist, I took the Teleférico do Funchal (cable car) up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city. I paid 11 Euros for a one-way ticket thinking it would be nice to take a bus down and see Funchal from a different perspective — very bad idea. Sitting on a hot city bus with a mask on, going down some very curvy roads, stopping to pick people up way too often, made me sick to my stomach. One hour of this and I was done.

The last photo is of community garden plots. I kept thinking about my time in Maine and how great it was to have a garden plot to grow vegetables.

Cable car ride — I’m getting better at holding the camera steady

At Carreiros do Monte you can have two men run you down the mountain in a wicker basket. It cost 25 Euros for one person (add another 5 or 10 for a tip) and 30 for two. It’s a very unique Madeira experience I just wasn’t in the mood to partake. There was a time in my life I would not have missed this experience, but alas those days are over. My heart goes out to these men whom I’m certain would normally be making a decent living; now they’re mostly standing around waiting for tourists who may not come for quite some time.

I’m not kidding there were 50 of these men waiting to take you down in a basket
Carreiros do Monte - Monte Toboggan Wicker Sledges
As you can see, they’ve been doing this for a long time

After hours of sightseeing and exploring, all I wanted to do was take a dive into my hotel pool, cool off, nap, and enjoy a well deserved ice cold cocktail. There was a German couple staying at Allegro and I could not help noticing them; in their 60s and very much in love. They held each other in the water, looked into one another’s eyes for what seemed like hours, kissed a lot and generally behaved like teenagers. I was jealous and awestruck. I honestly hope to feel this way about someone once again; very sweet and heartwarming indeed.

Dinner my third night at a local Italian restaurant with a view of the sea and a very talented guitar player. I had a half-bottle of some very nice Douro red, melon and Portuguese ham (the melon wasn’t ripe), and some “just okay” seafood tagliatelle. I won’t mention the name because although it was fine for my purposes, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are times when I’m travelling when all I want is a simple hot meal and a short walk back to my hotel. This restaurant was was perfect for what I required that night.

Day 4 — Skywalk, Wine Tasting and the Bumpiest Ride of My Life

You cannot and should not go to Madeira without going to Skywalk. I booked a full day island tour through Airbnb. I usually find their tours to be smaller and friendlier.

Dinner at The Wanderer

I made this reservation about a month ago. The restaurant only opened in October, but the reviews were excellent. Crazy concept: one day a week, one time slot, one table, one price, and whatever the chef is serving. I love that. 125 Euros, however, by most standards, a cocktail, five courses, and wine pairings, all in — that’s pretty darn reasonable. This was my one big splurge in Madeira. Save for the AC being out, this was an experience worth waiting for. Good company at the table and impeccable service. All around a winner.

My review for the Fork:

Christopher P. September 8, 2020 •

We live in a world of uniformity; these days very few experiences stand out as unique and memorable. Chef Selim is engaging, intelligent and masterful. His dishes are difficult to describe because they’re unlike other dishes you have been served and that’s a good thing. He and his staff will make you feel “at home” from the moment you enter this thoughtfully designed, intimate space. Each bite was magic and every pairing, complimentary. I’ve been dining out for 50 years and I have never had an experience that compared to The Wanderer. Perhaps Chef Selim will inspire others to follow suit.

That’s not soil in the center of the second photo (top right); Chef Selim forages mushrooms and prepares them many different ways.

Day Five

Dolphin Watching and a swim in the Atlantic — I normally do not partake in large group activities, however, dolphin watching was included in my day four tour and I was able to push it off to the next day. I was welcomed aboard the Seaborn and I have to admit, it was an extremely pleasant three hours. The catamaran was not at all overcrowded and everyone was well-behaved. It was a gorgeous day and there were dolphins swimming alongside the boat a good part of the trip (there really are dolphins in the last photo below — they were black dolphins). We had a chance to take a dip and the water was delightful. Proving to myself, once again, that I need to keep an open mind; easier said than done when you think you’ve done it all.

Dinner at Asian Flavours (the Brits put a “u” in flavor; not a British island, but as I said, you see their influence everywhere); a nice 15 minute walk from the hotel. My sweet & sour chicken and egg fried rice was delicious and exactly what I wanted in my belly. I had a view of the sea, great service and I was showered and in my pjs by 9:30 p.m.

I must have been exhausted from sailing and walking for the better part of the day. I crawled into my comfy bed and slept 10 hours. I think the last time that happened, I was 15 years old. Honestly, when you’ve had a restful night like that, you wake up feeling like you could accomplish just about anything.

My Last Full Day (day six)

I was excited to get home to Paco in 24 hours. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my trip than a long workout at my hotel’s gym, followed by a return to the pool with Grisham’s novel (yes, same novel), The Rooster Bar. The Madeira Wine Festival was taking place and I admittedly was tempted, but sometimes you just have to be horizontal and relax.

Lunch at a local fresh fish restaurant that has been open for years and had good reviews. I’m not going to write about it. I have been eyeing a bakery near my hotel since my arrival and dessert was imperative and perfection. Lots of offerings and good coffee — Boutique Lido. Definitely worth the calories; pastry eye candy.

I can have my cake and eat it too.

Final Words

I got to have a bonus day in Madeira. TAP changed my original flight about a week prior to my trip and pushed it back eight hours, which would have had me returning to Faro at midnight. I called the airline (got them on the phone right away) and told them it was unacceptable to have me sit in the airport in Madeira for eight hours due to a noon hotel checkout. The very agreeable operator said he’d be happy to book me on another flight. I asked if I could return the next day; he quickly booked me on a flight the following morning. Apparently, they have this policy that if the change is 5 hours or more, you can make a flight change without a fee; good policy. I called my hotel and added a day. Whenever I have been able to add a day to a vacation, my “bonus day” has always been special. Making lemonade out of lemons.

There was so much to see and do on the island of Madeira, I believe I must return. When I lived in the States, the Caribbean was a quick and reasonable getaway, now I have Madeira. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been; the people are lovely, the accommodations superb, it’s safe, it’s affordable, and it’s Portuguese. I hit a home run choosing to travel to Madeira during the time of COVID-19 and I look forward to returning sometime soon. Six full days on the island was perfect; good to know for the next time.

Praia do Seixal
This is Sexial Port on the north coast of the island. Black sand beach and my next Madeira destination.
Seixal On The North Coast Of The Island Madeira, Portugal Stock Photo -  Image of buildings, madeira: 106630478
Next time

Stole this from a friend

Yes, I do spoil myself. Admittedly, taking care of myself and attending to mind, body and spirit, has been the greatest lesson of my life so far. I dare say, it may end up being the greatest lesson of my life period. Well, that and knowing when to say, I have had enough.

Looks like Bristol, England, September 30 is off. The UK is bringing back the quarantine regulation for travellers from Portugal due to increased COVID-19 cases. EasyJet made it easy to change my flights and the hotel had a free cancellation policy — the only way to book these days. I’m learning to live with these daily changes and minore upsets.

Friendship

VACATION REBLOG (worth revisiting)

Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:

  • Friendship with a life partner
  • A close friend
  • A sibling who is also a friend
  • Your parent as friend (I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
  • A co-worker who is a friend

My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.

To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances (see 2.2 below): acquaintance əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/ noun

  1. 1. knowledge or experience of something. “the pupils had little acquaintance with the language” synonyms: familiarity, conversance, conversancy, contact, acquaintanceship; More            
  2. 2. a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend. “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances” synonyms: contact, associate, connection, ally, colleague;   confrère “Mr Barnet was no more than a business acquaintance”

I am certain you all have many acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be in big trouble and extremely disappointed.

Friends With a Life Partner

This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.

Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful beliefs about your partner.

Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.

Keep in mind that if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.

A Close Friend

Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.

We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.

I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.

Caution:  Be careful to make sure that  sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.

Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.

A Sibling

Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were.

A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing.

Your Parent as Friend

It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.

Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile,

“Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”

She was a smart lady, my mom.

Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They want your friendship and they deserve it.

“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”

Rebecca Hall

A Co-Worker Who is Also a Friend

This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.

Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.

There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.

Separation from a Friend

As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you.

Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.

For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.

Reconnecting

Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course:  1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?

People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways.

I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.

“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”      

Ben Franklin 

“The best mirror is an old friend.”     

George Herbert 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”     

Thomas Aquinas

Next week: Medeira, Portugal. I am excited to share this travel experience.

Do you have a story to tell or would you like to share some advice? Please add your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you.

What I’m Really Thinking

You Don’t Want to Know

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

I vaguely recall a Jim Carey film where he actually says what he is thinking everytime he opens his mouth. I can’t tell you the title of the film or the outcome, however, what I do know is that it was a disaster. We live in a society where many people choose to stay in the dark because the truth is just too painful and that’s fair.

This isn’t the first time I am writing about truth and it won’t be the last. It’s front and center in my life and I grapple with it on a daily basis. I feel terribly self-righteous and I don’t like it. I’m finding middle ground through discussion and writing. The political untruths hurled at us on a daily basis are disgusting and getting worse. As an individual I feel powerless to change the direction humanity seems to be going in. The best I can do and will do, is allow truth to lead the way in my own life and to be truthful with others.

When People Say, “Tell Me The Truth,” Beware

I’m often asked what I think about this or that. Having had all kinds of different reactions to my candor, I find myself choosing my words very carefully. I’ve noticed that people say they want to hear the truth, what they really mean is: “Tell me the truth-light, water it down a bit, sugar coat it, couch it in praise, make it so it doesn’t hurt, tell me a white lie, don’t damage my ego, and what I don’t know won’t hurt me.” That’s a lot to sift through.

For example, I recently had a friend speak to me about a girl he’s seeing from overseas. He wanted my approval. Sometimes I want to crawl into a hole and put up a sign that says, “Leave me the fuck alone. What I think doesn’t matter and even if it did, you don’t really want to know.” The truth is, in this case I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep seeing this girl. I see a my friend as a ticket out of her country, a golden ticket. Trust me, he doesn’t want to hear what I think and I don’t want to lose a friend.

Here’s what I said, “How do you feel about the relationship? If you’re enjoying seeing this woman and she makes you happy, how can anyone tell you to stop seeing her.”

Fortunately, that satisfied him and I came away unharmed; eardrums and peaceful day still intact.

I once introduced a friend to a boyfriend of mine who was 20 years my junior. I asked her what she thought of him. She politely suggested that he might be a little young for me. This happened over 20 years ago and I’m still angry with her. The truth is, that is what she believed and she thought it might cause a problem in my relationship with him. She was right, it did cause a problem. At the time I knew she was right, but I never expected her to share her truth. I wanted her to tell me he was handsome and exotic and smart and that we were perfect for one another and that she was happy for me. In reality, she might have believed some of those things to be true, but she cared about me and thought that somebody had to tell me the obvious truth. The problem is that the truth seldom initiates a change. Instead, it causes resentment and sometimes pain. So why do we keep asking for it? Are human beings truth seekers?

I love the Housewives of (fill in the blank) franchise for so many reasons. I believe the producers tell the reality stars to share their truth as much as possible. That’s all we need for good, honest entertainment. Watch people get hurt and angry because they are being told things they don’t want to hear. And it’s their supposed friends telling them these things.

“I can’t believe you shared that with Betthany.”

“Who are you to go around telling people things I’ve shared with you in confidence.”

“What makes you think you know what really happened?”

“You’re doing this to destroy me because your jealous of my life.”

The beauty of it is that it’s all real. They are shedding real tears. These women are truly angry, feeling betrayed, and honestly scorned. I’m always surprised when any of them kiss and make up. How do you ever forgive some of what’s been put out there for all the world to hear?

Image may contain: text that says 'YOU KNOW THAT THING INSIDE YOUR HEAD THAT KEEPS YOU FROM SAYING STUFF YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN'T? YEAH, MINE'S BROKEN. fb/ Gotta Love It'

Ask Yourself Whether or Not You Want the Truth

Just because I believe it to be true, does not actually make it true. That is my barometer; it’s a mantra I repeat over and over again.

I only ask for a person’s opinion or thoughts when I know I can handle what they have to say. There are a handful of people in my life that I can count on to be real and honest: really honest. I know that when I ask these people to share their thoughts, their response will come from love and kindness. It may be difficult to process, but it will be honest and said in the most compassionate way; empathy and sympathy are so important when a person is in this position. We’ve all been there; don’t beat me up when I’m already broken. Don’t say it in a way that will sting worse than the actual truth. Always be kind and save the painful stuff for when the person is in a good place and they can handle it.

If you’re one of these people that says, “You can’t be angry with me because you asked for the truth,” you are not a nice person. Consider the reason you choose to suddenly be 100% honest; whom did it benefit.

Who Can You Really Trust?

This is so important. Take an inventory of the people you know and decide who among your friends and family you can go to for the absolute truth. These are people who care about you, your feelings, your well-being, your best interest. They will be thoughtful about what they say without hurting you. These cherished few will find a way to get the message across without sending you to therapy or to a medical doctor for Xanax.

No doubt most people in your life would like to think that they are “that” person — the one you can confide in. In truth, it’s not an easy position to be in. It’s like walking a tightrope without holding a pole for balance. If and when it’s done correctly and with compassion, it can change a life forever. I can count on one hand, the number of times this kind of honesty has come my way. I remember the time, the place, and every word said to me. I love and respect the person who delivered those words and I repeat those words whenever possible. The impact cannot be measured. Consider the weight of this role.

A Difficult Challenge, but worth the effort

Half-Truth

Leaving out some of the details, can be just as effective when you are providing feedback. It doesn’t make you a liar, it makes you a compassionate person.

If someone you care about asks you if you love them, why not just say, “yes I do.” Saying, “Yes, but you make me angry when you . . ., or I have been questioning my love lately,” is unnecessary. There is a time and place for absolute candor, never when a person is vulnerable or in pain.

Growing Up & Growing Wiser

Just because we get older, doesn’t necessarily mean we become wiser; like anything in life you have to work at it. We also have to accept that because we are human, we might occasionally mess up. For me it’s all about intention. If someone intentionally lies to me, I have little or no tolerance. Tell me a white lie to protect me from the truth, and I am a whole lot more forgiving.

Knowing when to share the truth, how much truth to share, and with whom you can be truthful, is all part of maturing and knowing yourself and others better. “The truth will set you free,” because truth liberates your heart and mind. You learn to trust what’s in your heart when your thoughts have been validated. It feels great when the heart and mind are in sync. The strength and confidence that comes from truth cannot be underestimated. So why do people lie?

There is so much lying these days, sometimes it’s difficult to sort through it all. Consider the source, consider the intention, and consider the weight of the truth. No lie is a good lie and most liars are not worth your time or energy. It’s okay to rely on your gut because your instincts are so often correct, when when there is a lot at stake, it’s better to check the facts and side with truth.

I have spend the last few years sorting considering how and with whom I spend my time. I made the conscious decision to rid my life of toxic liars and people who bring me pain. The result has validated the process; the friends and family I currently hold dear enrich my life. I have a whole lot less drama to deal with and life is fulfilling. Trusting yourself, treating yourself with love and respect, are all keys to honest exchanges with others. Two steps forward, one step back, the dance of life.

92 Quotes About Justice (To Make You Question What Is Fair)
Keep this in mind when you vote

Headed to Madeira next Saturday (5th). Will be reposting a blog before I leave and then the following Blog, September 12 will be about Madeira. With all that is going on with the virus and travel changes, I won’t believe it until I’m on the plane. Adults-only hotel with a seaview room; very excited.

Madeira Island News - maps of Madeira islands and Funchal
I’ll be in Funchal. Madeira is an island off of the Northwest coast of Africa

Consumer Frustration

You Can Either Win or Give-in: Choosing Win

Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come.

Anonymous

At first I thought: are you really going to start pissing and moaning about anything other than our collective health and well-being? The answer is: yes I am. Keep reading if you are a frustrated consumer:

I consider myself a demanding consumer. I worked hard for what I was able to put away and when I’m spending money, I deserve nothing less than what I am paying for — whatever that may be. I’m going to address the way companies are handling customer service during the COVID-19 crisis. What was it like pre-virus and what is it like now? How are small businesses handling customer service? What has changed for consumers? What will this lead to? Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? How you can come out on top.

I write this piece as an older (not old), middle income consumer. I do not have the luxury of spending without giving thought to value and price. I’m not sure all that really matters; when you’re purchasing, you deserve a fair and reasonable response from the merchant or business you are dealing with, when something goes wrong.

Corporate Customer Service

Corporate culture in the U.S. centers around entitlement and political favoritism. If you follow the money, you’ll easily determine why they’ve been getting a pass and who gave it to them. Tax breaks, deregulation, Super Pac money, and corporate donations, all point to greed and screwing the consumer. How do you fight the big guys (yes, they’re mostly men)? All we have today is social media. Mainstream media is in the pockets of big business, making it difficult to rely on calling them or holding them accountable in the news. In truth, big business knows that they can lose millions in a 24 hour period if an embarrassing misstep were to occur. Consider posted videos in Walmart, Target or KFC, for example. Use social media to your advantage. I’ve gone so far as to send corporations a draft of what I might post or blog. It doesn’t always work, but it can be very effective.

Two short stories:

  • First: EasyJet cancels my flight and offers either a refund that you have to formally request or you can take a full credit voucher and an in-flight Bistro voucher (value $5) as a “thank you” for choosing the voucher. You get the credit voucher and you cannot book on-line, you must speak to a representative. You get the in-flight voucher; however, in order to redeem it for actually in-flight Bistro credit, you have to print out a form, complete it and then wait 30 days for the in-flight Bistro credit. I’m sorry but this is bullshit. When the airline cancels a flight, you should get an automatic refund and . . . if you get a thank you for taking a credit voucher, you shouldn’t have to fill out a form. Taking a voucher keeps the cash in the companies coffers. You should get the bleepin’ in-flight Bistro credit as soon as you use your credit voucher. I assume EasyJet expects most people to look at the form and delete it. Why would anyone want to fly with EasyJet again. After all this ranting, I have to say they’re still better than RyanAir. I may or may not complete the form for the inflight credit, I go back and forth; after all, it is my money.
  • Second: I contact Hotels.com because an IBIS Hotel in France cancels my reservation due to COVID and then IBIS informs me that I can only get a credit for future nights or wait for a refund (see below). Hotels.com tells me they cannot help me. I try to re-book my nights through IBIS and they are now up 40%. I don’t know why, but I thought they’d honor the original price I’d paid. They refuse to do just that, so I tell them I want a refund. They send me a regulation from the French government which dictates that they can refund me my money within 18 months of the booking; yes you read it correctly 18 months. Who the #@&*%! cares what the French government dictates, I want my money now. Companies demand to be paid at the booking to hold a reservation, however, you’ll take 18 months to return my money to me? I guess they’re hoping I die before the 18 months are up and the credit card I used to book is no longer valid. Why would I ever book IBIS again? As a side note: Hotels.com chat line is a quick and easy way to resolve issues and their reps are very understanding . . . for the most part.
From IBIS:

With reference to the French government order 2020-315, known as the “heritage order”. We must offer a voucher for all reservations canceled between March 1 and September 15, 2020. This voucher can be used for 18 months. At the end of these 18 months, we will refund you if it has not been used. We cannot refund you now.

I have many, many examples of ridiculous corporate shenanigans; I’m certain you do as well.

Small Business Customer Service

There is a special place in my heart for small businesses. Many are struggling these days and most have struggled in the past. Getting a business going is a huge risk and the hours one must put in are anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week (firsthand information). I do whatever I can to support small businesses if and when I can. There are small businesses working hard to cash out and sell to large businesses; these businesses are less appealing to me. It’s usually the founders hoping to get rich and leave their employees fending for themselves.

Pricing is currently out of control in the States due to less competition in the marketplace. Consumers have fewer choices and they are forced to either pay more for less or get less for more.

I find customer service friendly and more accomodating with small business. There is more at stake and you’re usually not too many degrees away from the owner of the company. Often, if you can get to the owner, you’re more likely to resolve your issue. I don’t want more than I paid for, I want exactly what I paid for.

The risk of the company going out of business, is greater for small companies. Before you make a purchase, review their track record and read what other buyers have to say. The same is true for the hiring of small business professionals (e.g., accountants, lawyers, doctors). The more you take control and the more research you do, the more likely you are to come out a winner. I hired an attorney here in Portugal a few years ago who charged me five times the going rate for his services. It’s my fault because I paid it, but I will never refer him to anyone.

Frustration and Reaction

As you know I travel quite a bit. Years ago when I was in my twenties traveling to Europe (pre-Hotels.com) I noticed that a majority of the hotels I stayed in had twin beds. Sometimes they’d push them together for you and sometimes they would tell you they could not; sometimes they’d even make them up as a king (here they call this a double bed, in the U.S. a double bed is smaller than a queen, 54×75 to be exact). The truth is I hate twin beds. I’m 6′ tall and I weigh 200 lbs., a twin bed is much too small. When I sleep in one I feel like I’m 10 years old again. The first thing I do when I book is look to see if they have queen beds; fortunately more and more hotels are offering a queen. When I book a double bed, I often write the hotel to confirm. The following are the replies I usually receive:

  1. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to honor your request. When you check-in we will check availability.
  2. All special requests are subject to availability.
  3. You are confirmed for a double bed.

#1 & #2 are ridiculous. How do you put a man my size in a twin bed, especially when I am paying the same price for the room that a couple is paying. I noticed that boutique hotels are much better about either offering a queen bed or confirming a double. The point I’m making is that in 2020 with Airbnbs and other types of accomodations doing so well, hotels need to be stepping it up and offering excellent mattresses in the right size. And what’s with the crappy pillows?

I was with friends at a hotel is Vila Viçosa last week. They upgraded to a suite and their bed was so squeaky they had to move it onto the floor the second night — that’s just not right.

Choosing Win

It’s not rocket science; we all want to come out on top. In today’s world, if you do not speak up for yourself and demand excellence, you will be forced to settle for less. You have to go into every consumer situation with the knowledge that you may have to fight for what you’re paying for. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? We should always assume that will be be getting a quality product, excellent service, and the desire to keep a customer (loyalty). I’m afraid, for the most part, those days are over. There is so much competition for your dollar, you have to be at the top of your game. I always find it empowering to take on the big guns and win. Good luck and stay strong.