I Was Taught to Keep it All Inside

I’ve been on an honesty kick for a long time and it doesn’t always work for me.

 

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Up against a wall

 

You hear a lot about gay people “coming out” these days. There are many incredible stories; each is unique and compelling. Mine is no different — act straight, marry, keep it from the boss, tell your sister first; she of course tells you she already knew and so it goes. What you don’t hear is that when you’re gay, you don’t only come out once, you come out again and again . . . and again.

Allow me to explain. I’m at a fundraiser sitting at a table with eight strangers. They have no idea who I am, where I am from, and what I do for a living — let alone know about my sexual orientation. To be polite, we all make small talk. If I bring a female friend, she is automatically my wife. I am not being critical mind you, it’s a reasonable assumption. So one of the first comments is, “So how long have you two been together?” or “Do you have any children?” I’m wondering to myself whether or not to tell the truth. If I stay silent or play along with the charade, am I doing a disservice to all gays and lesbians? We fought long and hard to be out and proud; if I stay silent, I am complicit?

When I am honest with people I sometimes get these reactions:

“You don’t look gay.”

“I had no idea.”

“But you act so straight!” (Having worked so hard at acting straight in my teens and 20’s, this is my personal favorite.)

“If you were married to a woman, you must be bisexual.”

“Are you the man or the woman in a relationship?”

I have learned over the years that people can say some fairly stupid and insensitive things without intentionally meaning to offend. I either nervously chuckle or ignore the comment. Either reaction is not very honest, is it? What I would like to say is, “Now that your made your bias clear, tell me what you really think about gay people?”

Let’s put it out there, have some dialogue. But, I don’t say what I’m thinking, I keep my mouth shut, remain silent and hope that the moment passes quickly. I do this because it’s what I was taught to do since I was old enough to comprehend life lessons. Adults teach children to keep the truth inside:

  • to spare the hurt feelings of others
  • to keep them out of trouble
  • to keep them safe
  • to keep children from sharing the truth about their parent’s lives (i.e., what happens in this family, stays with this family)
  • it’s the “norm;” that’s how we’ve always done it

I hid the truth until I was 28 years old; up until that point I worked hard to hide who I was from myself and everyone else.

Being honest, telling the truth, telling the whole truth, speaking your mind, sharing secrets, whistle blowing, and so on. They’re not the same things are they? Everyone seems to define “truth” differently these days. So when someone tells you that they are telling the truth, what exactly does that mean?

 

The Truth Can be Painful and Consequences Can be Real

Having made a conscious effort to be honest has been fairly difficult at times. People say that they want to hear the truth when in fact, they cannot handle the truth. I acknowledge that my truth may not be someone else’s truth — for example, politics:  I may believe that our current administration is corrupt and dangerous and others might believe that it’s the best leadership we’ve had in a long time. This is a difficult debate because one will argue the facts which are fairly skewed these days, depending on the reporting. This kind of truth aside, deciding to share the truth with someone can put both parties in a difficult position. The truth can do irreparable damage and that is something you may have to live with. I don’t believe examples are necessary since most people have experienced what I am referring to.

Many of us make a conscious decision to keep the truth to ourselves in order to keep the peace.  The problem with this decision is that individuals who need to be told they have an alcohol problem, or that they are being psychologically abused or that their severe weight problem is killing them, will continue to talk themselves into a lie. I have a friend who told me that her doctor told her that it is better for her to smoke cigarettes because if she quits she might have a nervous breakdown. She’s told herself this lie so many times, she actually believes that it’s true.

 

Coming to Terms with the Truth you Tell Yourself

A few years ago I found myself in a toxic work environment. Telling ourselves we are no longer happy at work; I believe it is one of the most common truths we may have to tell ourselves. It’s very easy to become comfortable and feel safe in a toxic environment; after all, it’s all you know and the alternative might be too frightening to face.

Once you are able and willing to be honest with yourself about your career or work environment, change needs to happen and the old adage that “change is good” will prove true once again.

There are many truths we keep from ourselves:  failing health, toxic relationships, financial ruin, alcohol or drug abuse, missed opportunities, why having an affair is hurting many people, etc. Facing any and all of these life issues can be challenging; however, failure to do so will only mean future problems that may end up being insurmountable.

 

My Future and How I Intend to Deal with Truth

One of the reasons for moving overseas was to find truth. Life for me was becoming mundane and way too simple; I was choosing the path of least resistance nearly every time. I’m not referring to seeking the truth about our existence, what I’m trying to find is my on truth:  who am I, what am I looking for, and how do I find it?

I am aware that these are big questions and finding the answers is a lifelong journey. I believe the answers lie in self-reflection, self-assessment and shaking things up. Looking in the mirror can be difficult. If you look hard enough, you might see the truth. So many are reluctant to look because they’re afraid of what they might find. I’m not so much afraid as I am concerned. I’m concerned that I will not be able to change what I don’t like. For example, I learned awhile back that I can be unfairly critical. I can hold people to a standard that is unrealistic and unfair. I don’t like this one bit. The question is, can I change it? I’m not sure that I can, but I have made a commitment to try.

Other lies I tell myself:

  • One more cocktail won’t hurt you
  • You can leave your bicycle helmet home this one time
  • It’s better not to put yourself out there because men are all slime buckets
  • Trump will definitely be impeached
  • You don’t have to cover your head from the sun
  • You can eat whatever you want and work it off

Being open about these lies is a good first step; it’s time to face them. My friends and family tell me I’m too hard on myself. I believe it’s an easy out — I don’t want to face my shit so I’d prefer you didn’t face yours. I’ll have none of that:  “the truth shall set me free” (to paraphrase the bible and that may be a first for me).

 

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Tattoo on my forearm is the Chinese word for TRUTH. I had the word tattooed in this location as a constant reminder.

 

 

Disclaimer:  You may find that I repeat myself in a blog by sharing something I have previously shared. I must admit that I do not reread previously published blogs. If I re-introduce a story or topic, it is because I believe it is worth mentioning again. The way I see it, there will only be a problem if my story changes.

 

Friendship and What it Means to be a Friend

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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: contactassociateconnectionallycolleague;

    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.

 

Friendship 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 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.

 

Politics

I could do an entire blog on friendship and today’s political climate, but if I were to dwell on the topic for more than a few minutes, I’d have to make myself a double.

When Trump was elected president, I was angry, upset, terrified, and disappointed, and I still am. I let family members know how I felt and some of them said a version of this:

“Family always comes first and you should never let politics come between you and family.”

And that’s where we disagree.  If I know for a fact that you hated Obama as president because he is African-American, and that you consequently voted for a conservative man because he was going to undo everything the last administration did or that you don’t believe a woman can hold our highest office, then I do not want to be your friend and it is has undoubtedly come between us. Does that mean that I love immigrants and medicare recipients more than I love my family and friends? It does not; however, what it does mean is that I love my fellow human being and when I think about the one percent wealthiest Americans, the biased, the racist and the greed of some politicians, I am always going to be sympathetic to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the unemployed, the drug addict, and the LGBT community (not an exhaustive list).

Acknowledging the doors that were opened for you or the opportunities you have had that others have not had, will help you to be a more empathetic and giving person.

If family know how I feel and still want me in their lives, well then they’re stuck with me.

 

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

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.

 

 

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Airbnb Travel

 

 

The Host

Much has been written and battles have been fought around Airbnb and because so many are hosting or booking these days, I must say up front, that I am fearful I will offend one of my “host” readers. Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, I feel compelled to share some of my experiences and thoughts about Airbnb with you. It is my hope that the Airbnb experience will soon be elevated and booking will be less of a shot in the dark.

There are several different ways to view the host experience. Unfortunately, I believe that too many see it as a way to make quick and easy money. This pattern of thinking is too easily conveyed to your guests. Those who are trying to create a unique and memorable experience for their guests are more likely to reap financial rewards. Good reviews will come if you treat your guests as you might treat a friend or relative who will be staying with you in your home or using your home on a temporary basis. There are some inexpensive and simple things you can do to make your space welcoming and comfortable.

As with most matters in life, good communication is essential. The following are numbered according to their importance to me as a guest:

  1. When you describe the space on your home page, be clear about what you’re offering. If it’s bedroom and a sleeping alcove, don’t call it a two bedroom.
  2. If there are several flights of stairs to navigate, be upfront about that in your description and don’t bury it at the bottom or as an addendum.
  3. If it’s a small kitchen or a kitchenette, make that clear.
  4. If your place is hard to find, provide explicit instructions on how to get there. There is nothing worse than being lost in a foreign cities while you’re dragging two suitcases.
  5. Create a list of grocery stores, restaurants, and attractions in your area. It doesn’t have to be a book; two or three pages should suffice. Videos work nicely these days as well.

 

What a good host MUST provide:

It is all about comfort and value. Too often a host will try to cut corners in order to save money. This practice will come back to bite you in the rear quickly and end up costing you a whole lot more than what you might have saved.

  1. A good mattress is non-negotiable. It is your responsibility to provide a comfortable and well made mattress. It does not have to be plush or super expensive. Be clear about the size of the mattress in your description. If it’s a high-end mattress, say so.
  2. If you’re renting your entire apartment, be sure to have decent, clean, and comfortable furniture.
  3. Be sure your kitchen is stocked with pots, pans, dishes, glassware (wine glasses), small equipment (coffee maker, etc.) and a corkscrew.
  4. Towels that you cannot see through would be nice and good linen is important.
  5. Outlets for electronic devices are necessary these days.
  6. If you do not have air conditioning, it would be good to provide a fan or fans. I once stayed with a host couple at an Airbnb in the Cayman Islands. It was 100 degrees and the wife wouldn’t allow me to turn on the AC because she said the electricity cost too much. My thinking was, “Why don’t you just charge more?”
  7. Either show your guests how to use appliances at check-in or provide instructions.
  8. Provide a contact telephone number. If you are not going to be available, find someone who can respond to an emergency. I once had a guest stuck in my building’s elevator at 1:00 a.m. and she had idea who to contact.
  9. If you have rugs they should be clean and not sliding all over your floor. Make sure your space is super safe.
  10. You should have soap and shampoo in your bathroom.  Little extras such as razors, cotton swabs, and air fresheners are a big plus.
  11. Provide extra toilet paper and trash bags. Some guests like to tidy up before they leave and there is nothing bad about that.

Remember the difference between booking a hotel room and your place is convenience, the ability for the guest to prepare meals, tips from a local, non-cookie cutter interior (your personal touch), location and cost. Your guests should feel good about having made the right choice. The more you share in the description and communication, the happier they will be with their choice.

People are looking for experiences they cannot find at a hotel or resort. Airbnb in most big cities provides a variety of experiences such as concerts in people’s homes, cooking classes, food tours, sailing trips, and so much more. You can share your recommendations on these experiences with your guests and therefore, help shape the ultimate vacation.

Being a Super Host on Airbnb is a tremendous plus. It will give you better placement in a very crowded market — that’s not changing any time soon; if anything it will get worse. You can become a Super Host by being responsive and securing outstanding reviews. Airbnb has some good tips on their site.

Tips for being an exceptional host:  

  • a small gift upon arrival, such as a bottle of wine or a package of sea salts or bath salts, will make your guests very happy.
  • share your knowledge without pushing your thoughts on your guests
  • let your guest know that you are not too far away if they need anything. I had a bad experience in Lisbon recently; my host lived in Australia. I had to make a toll call halfway around the world — not good. No apologies were given and it was reflected in my review.
  • offer to show your guest around the neighborhood if you have the time.

Being an exceptional host is a lot of work and  personally, I have no desire to do it again. I have to say when I did do it, I enjoyed it. I was meeting wonderful people from all over the world and the extra cash came in handy. Keep in mind that there will be wear and tear on your home and by the time you pay taxes on your earned income, you may not be making as much money as you hoped or expected.

 

The Guest

As a guest you have several considerations that will help ensure you choose the right accommodation and pay the right price. So may just look at the photos and book. There are a few problems with that. As you know, if you point your camera at the right angle, you can make a trash site look good. The other consideration is that a photo will tell you little or nothing about the location. Here are a few things you should consider before booking:

  1. What are your priorities? Location, price, space, authenticity, good reviews, air conditioning, big kitchen/small kitchen, water view, mountain view, near restaurants; you get the picture.
  2. Read the reviews! People will usually convey a problem even if there is a lot of praise and fluff.
  3. Is the host a Super Host?
  4. Do they respond quickly to your inquiry.
  5. Do you have to climb a lot of stairs?
  6. Is it in a noisy, touristy area. Some travellers like that (I don not).

Look at the fee breakdown. Some shrewd hosts make the base price reasonable and then charge crazy amounts for additional guests or cleaning. If you are asked to pay more than $50 to clean a one bedroom, your being charged too much. If your being charged a cleaning fee for a bedroom in someone’s home, well, I’d rethink that one.

There will sometimes be added taxes and that’s fair. Anything else besides taxes, cleaning or additional guests seems unreasonable to me.

If a host offers to pick you up at the airport for a set amount, do some comparison shopping. I once paid a host 50 Euros and later learned I could have taken a taxi for 20. A small mark-up is acceptable, but 30 Euros?

There are other sites out there (VRBO, Homestay.com, House Sitters, etc.). Comparison shop.

The truth is sometimes hotels are a better option. You might find more flexible check-ins, you might like to have a concierge, it may mean more privacy, sometimes there is an excellent restaurant in the hotel, and frankly, the whole guest review process on Airbnb can be unnerving. And because hotels now have loads of competition, you might get a great rate at a beautiful resort with lots of amenities. This why I believe there is plenty of room for both in the accommodation space.

Be a gracious guest. If you had a wonderful experience, repay your host with an excellent review. A small thank you gift is also a nice way to show your appreciation. In many cases you’ve saved a lot of money and got to live like the locals.

Postscript

A friend contacted me about Airbnb travel for women traveling alone. In short she doesn’t feel safe traveling this way and I completely understand her concern — another consideration. She likes being able to call to the front desk and getting an immediate response/help. If you think of anything I have not included, please let me know.

 

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IN LOVING MEMORY OF GIORGIO, WHO GAVE ME NOTHING BUT LOVE & JOYNo automatic alt text available.

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Love & Devotion

Giorgio’s nicknames:  G, Mr. G., Duka Do, Dukkas and Georgie.

 

 

I’m writing while in Lisbon with a friend, but to be honest, I’m having a very difficult time because Giorgio is at home and his little heart is failing him. A couple of months ago he developed a hacking cough and I learned his heart valve on the left side is almost completely blocked. Giorgio’s been with me for 11 wonderful years; he was flown in from Texas to LaGuardia Airport when he was eight weeks old. He has given me so much joy, it’s difficult to put into words, but I’m going to because I must. Anyone who has a pet or has lost a pet will know what I am feeling right now. I have a constant lump in my throat. I didn’t want to wait until he passes to express what he means to me.

His Current State

He’s on three different types of medication and for now he’s comfortable . . . I hope.  The blood that is backing up into his lungs is prompting an occasional cough. Sometimes I can hear the fluid in his breathing. It scares me, it hurts me, and it only makes me love him more. Although the medication is helping for the moment, I’m not sure and the vet is not sure, how long it will help. It feels like it won’t be long. I know I talked about being present last week and for me this is what is happening presently; I can’t escape from it and I don’t want to. I have made the decision to put him down at the first sign of distress. I cannot watch my dog suffer and I am certain that he will let me know when it’s time.

 

A few weeks ago, he had a very difficult night and I held him and wept. I was certain that it was the end; I should have known better. Giorgio has survived several near death experiences and he rallied once again. I think you’ll enjoy this story about Giorgio tying one on:

My Drunken Dog

Some of you have heard this story so I apologize in advance. Several of you were even in my life when it happened. It was almost 11 years ago, I had a rough day at work and after getting off of the disgusting New York City subway, I was ready for a cocktail. White Russians are a rare choice for me, but on that particular occasion, that’s what I craved and needed; I made a tall one. I placed it on my living room coffee table and went into the bedroom to shed my work clothes. When I returned to the living room, the glass was empty. I thought,

“I don’t recall drinking this drink, but I guess I did.”

You know how your mind works when you’re overworked and stressed. I made another White Russian and plopped myself down on my sofa. Two minutes later, Giorgio stumbled into the room and keeled over. He was six months old and weighed about four pounds. Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that he might have helped himself to my cocktail. There were no signs of anyone else having touched the glass. He had lapped it up skillfully and quietly, as is his way.

White Russian recipe — Jamie Oliver. Love this chef.

I rushed to get my phone and called Animal Poison Control. A kind person answered on the first ring and asked if he could help. This is a group of veterinarians volunteering their time for a public service — I am grateful for what they do. I stammered and shared what Giorgio had imbibed as tears of panic washed over my face.  He advised me to get Giorgio to an emergency animal hospital right away and made it clear that if I did not take his advice, Giorgio would probably die. My little guy drank about 8 ounces of alcohol; a larger dog would have been fine.

I had a car and I knew that his vet in Park Slope had a 24 hour animal hospital. I put Giorgio on the seat beside me and started driving. On the way to the hospital, I looked over and found him passed out. I stopped the car to shake him and I begged him not to die on me. I’m still not sure how I made it to the hospital without wrecking the car.

I double parked, ran him into the vet and the assistant who greeted me at the door asked me what happened.

“He’s drunk!”

The assistant took Giorgio from my arms and asked me to wait in the waiting room. I called two different friends who both had pets, knew Giorgio and whom I knew, could calm me down. I was feeling guilty, scared, fear and about 46 other emotions.

One hour and a stomach pump later, he was admitted. He had to be on an IV and observed for 24 hours; 24 of the longest hours of my life. He pulled through and hasn’t had a drink since.

Giorgio Has Nine Lives

There have been several close calls throughout Giorgio’s life, but none took the wind out of me more than the time he fell off of a deck 18 feet off the ground. It was the day after he had received all of his annual shots and I was told he might be a bit “out of it” that evening, but there was no mention of how it would affect him the next day. By the time we arrived at the home of friends on Shelter Island, I had completely forgotten about the vaccinations. Giorgio had been up on this deck a dozen times and never went anywhere near the edge. On this day he wasn’t himself and ended up falling off the deck. I watched him approach the edge and I called out his name. He never turned around; he just went straight over. I was in a state of shock and I could not get up off of the chair I was sitting in. Because I did not hear a sound when he hit the ground, I assumed the worst.

My friend Angelina looked over the edge of the deck and told me that Giorgio was not there. I ran down to look for him. When dogs are hurt, they hide and nurse their wounds. He was hiding under my car and would not come out. I sat and waited and he eventually crawled out from under my car. I don’t know how he survived that fall without breaking anything. He’s my little miracle.

One Happy Dog

I don’t believe there is a happier dog alive. He unmakes my bed every day just for shits and giggles. He grabs my shoes and shakes them with his teeth, before he goes out for a walk. He pees with his hind paws in the air so as not to get urine anywhere on his fur. He lets those he loves know how he feels by letting out tiny yelps. He performs tricks for biscuits I never taught him. Giorgio, when walking unleashed, will always walk several feet ahead of me. He looks back constantly to make sure that I am still there. He listens and stays clear of traffic. Sometimes when he is outside my building or in the woods or on the beach, he appears to be smiling — unbridled joy.

Giorgio has more friends than I could ever hope to have. His love is unconditional and pure.

As you can see I’m preparing myself. He’s lost several pounds and now all I can feel are his bones. He urinates in the house, something he never did. He sleeps most of the time and he’s not eating. He knows he’s not well and I believe he knows he’ll be leaving us soon. I like to think animals understand the life cycle and accept it. He’s showing me his love and gratitude with his eyes and for that I am grateful. He’s trying to make this easier for me. He’s always been there for me and I know that he will be my true companion until the end.

Mr. G at nine weeks

 

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Maggie & Giorgio — BFFs

 

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Mauro Fermariellio, a professional photographer, and friend, took this photograph of Giorgio about six years ago and sent it to me as a gift; a gift I will cherish.

 

That’s daddy’s boy. He always puts his paw on my face when I hold him.

Did I Do the Right Thing?

Time to Check In

 

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This is usually where I sit with my morning coffee (sometimes breakfast). The Ria Formosa looks different depending on the tide, time of day, and season. In other words, it looks different every day.

 

I thought this might be a good time to step back and consider my decision to relocate overseas. I’m going to ask myself some tough questions:

  1. Is Faro everything I hoped it would be?
  2. Did the move cost me more than expected?
  3. Have I made friends?
  4. Do I miss the States?
  5. Are there things I did not consider?
  6. Have I learned anything about myself?
  7. Would I do it again and would I choose the same place?
  8. Where do I go from here?

When I left New York City and moved to Maine a little over five years ago, I was fairly certain it would be the last time I was to move in my life. I’m still not sure why I felt that way, perhaps I was just tired. One of the biggest lessons this recent move has taught me is this:

Most decisions are not etched in stone and you’re allowed to change your mind.

When I make a decision now, it’s for today, tomorrow, and maybe next month. I no longer think about years from now. I’ve learned that living in the moment is much more satisfying and that whatever lies ahead, will somehow sort itself out. All the great philosophers talk about being present; experiencing the moment you are in. Until now, it seemed rather trite and esoteric. These words were meant for others, not for me. I knew what I was doing, where I was going and how I was going to get there, no? The truth is I spent much too much time in the future — planning, always planning. And it’s not that I don’t plan now; I plan, but I plan a lot less. When you’re enjoying the moment, thoughts pass through your mind with less urgency. What you find interesting and worthwhile will stick and the rest will fade.

Now is as good a time as any to look back and learn from the past so that the present will be that much more fulfilling.

  1. Is Faro what I hoped it would be? In a word, no; Faro is far more than I ever imagined. My mind did not have the capacity to extend that far; the unknown was frightening. I had never lived outside of the States, so in truth, I could not imagine what it would be like. I had an idea, I had hopes, and I had people telling me, but none of it was a true picture of reality and that’s a good thing. Why is it so important for us to know the future? Why can’t we just let the future unfold before us? Some of what I could not have anticipated:
  • The light:  I loved the light in Maine, the sky was often so blue, I didn’t know a blue so deep existed. The light in Portugal is different; it’s very bright and your skin reacts to it differently. I realize this probably has more to do with my own growth and awareness. Still, I am dazzled by and grateful for the light.
  • The environment:  taking care of Earth is paramount. It seems to be a consideration for nearly every decision.
  • The youth of Faro:  I’m seeing a lot of cigarette smoking and rudeness. Older people get on the bus and the young people on the bus rarely, if ever, get up to allow them to be seated. I see young people sitting at cafés drinking coffee and smoking — they’re mimicking their role models and that’s not good. This concerns me.
  • Food:  I’m just beginning to see a change in the food scene here. Most of the restaurants are either small bistro style restaurants that are very plain and unappealing (but cheap) or a lot of very traditional Portuguese food. Don’t get me wrong, the Portuguese food is delicious and except for at festivals and fairs, you unfortunately, don’t see street food or food trucks. I admittedly loved the food scene in the States and I miss the variety. The upside is that my diet is more stable and healthier — not a bad thing.
  • The absence of crime:  you do not see drug addicts passed out on the street, police cars everywhere and there is no talk of crime. This is a very pleasant surprise. I’ve written about the decriminalization of drugs here and very low crime rates. Makes you wonder why this is not the case elsewhere.
  • Money:  your money goes a lot further. Whether it’s the grocery store, restaurants, public transportation, etc. your Euro goes a lot further than your dollar did in the States. I’m sure it has a lot to do with annual salaries and government regulations. I saw a bit of this in Maine as well:  when an item is overpriced, people will not buy it.
  • The weather:  it is absolutely perfect nearly every day. I had to get used to the dry heat, but it’s a small price to pay for paradise. Keeping in mind I have only been here for five months. I did visit in October and February and it was beautiful then as well.

2. Did the move cost me more than expected? Not at all. I did a good deal of research on what my expenses would be and I would say that I ended up spending exactly what I anticipated I’d spend. I couldn’t bring a whole lot of my things with me and I’ve been careful not to buy things I don’t need. When I was selling and giving away stuff in Portland, I realized I often had two or three sets of certain household things. We buy more than we need these days and I’m trying my best to avoid doing that. I like being a minimalist; it feels less burdensome and it will make life simpler if I move again.

3. Have I made friends? Friendship is something that happens over a period of time. You can know someone for a very long time and never consider them a friend and you can know someone a very short period of time and call them a good friend. I have met a handful of people who will be lifelong friends. Portuguese people are very private and not easy to get to know; however, the woman who runs my gym is social, funny, and very warm. She has welcomed me to Faro and introduced me to several wonderful potential friends. I’ve also met a few people through friends in the States. In addition, I have had a few people reach out to me through my blog. I have to say I didn’t expect that to happen. I have been very fortunate about having rich friendships my entire life; it’s been pretty much the same here.

I’ve been dating more than I did in Portland or New York. I think there is a simple explanation for that:  I am open to meeting someone.

4. Do I miss the States? I miss my family, my friends and the food. I do not miss the politics, the cost of living, and/or the climate.

5. Are there things I didn’t consider? I did not consider how the change in environment would affect Giorgio’s health. The new bacteria and the climate change, did a number on Giorgio. We’ve had to visit the vet several times. I have also had allergies resurface. I have learned that all of this is normal and I guess I just didn’t think about it or anticipate it.

 6. Have I learned anything about myself? If you stop to think about it and you are willing to access your life, you come to realize that there is always something to learn about yourself. Maine revealed things related to ego and the leaving of New York City, my career and birthplace. In Portugal, I rarely if ever talk about the past. I’m writing about it in my blog, but what I discuss more than anything these days is the present; the now.

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Acceptance of my age, my wrinkles, and my many imperfections. Someday soon I hope to recognize that some might consider me an attractive 59-year-old. In truth, that reality seems far away.

 

7. Would I do it again and would I choose the same place? Yes and definitely. The same country, the same city and the same condominium.

8. Where do I go from here? Well . . . I’m going to just wait and see (that’s the new me). Two moves ago I said, “This is my last move.” I don’t say this or think this anymore. Property value is going up, up, up in Faro. Maybe in a few years I’ll buy an Italian villa on the Amalfi coast or a place right on the ocean in the Algarve. Or maybe I’ll just use Faro as my home-base and go to all the places I’ve dreamed about visiting.

A side note:  It’s not necessarily better here, it’s just a welcome change. Change is good, right?

Blogging has been an excellent way to let family and friends know how I’m doing. I’ve been keeping a journal for 35 years and blogging has sort of taken the place of journaling. It’s very intimate and freeing. I highly recommend either or both.

 

Coming up:

Lisbon this week for a few days

Catania, Sicily, October 1 to 7

Morocco in December (with friends from Maine)

 

 

 

 

 

My Stepfather, Our Complicated Relationship and the Impact it Had on My Life

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This is my mother Lulu and my stepfather Frank, just a few years before they passed away. My mom died first and then my stepfather died about 18 months later.  Lots of irony because she took care of him for years after a stroke and then he outlived her. He actually came on to a mourner at her funeral. They had one of those on again, off again, mostly on again, relationships; it lasted over 40 years. I didn’t much care for Frank. He was an alcoholic who stopped drinking at a certain point, I don’t recall when. He married my mother with seven children, but he was selfish, crass and a racist. The conflict between us began the day they returned from their quickie marriage in Mexico. She divorced my father and married Frank on the same day. I still don’t know if that’s even possible; they might have been lying to me. Truthfully, I didn’t care.

I was eight years old when they married and my mother walked through the door first. She was in a festive mood and introduced her new husband; my stepfather.

Mom said, “Kids, this is your new father Frank,”

and he said, “You kids can call me dad.”

I thought to myself, “I don’t want to call this man dad, I have a dad,” but he insisted.

I knew of course that my mother had been sleeping with this cretin for a while; a long while. I knew that my father found out about their affair and threw my mother out on the street. She took us all to a Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, hotel that night and none of us got any sleep or at least I didn’t. Frank (not yet my stepfather) picked us up the next morning and I stared him down in the hotel elevator and point-blank asked him,

“Are you sleeping with my mother?”

I already knew the answer, but of course he denied it. One of the many reasons I hated the pig. It wasn’t long after this incident that they were married or at least said they were married. I admit I was a precocious child. I was super observant (still am) and I didn’t like what I saw. I felt that I was being forced into a situation I didn’t want to be in and I felt shame. Lots happened that seems almost fictional when I think about it today. Like the time we were camping in the woods and my mother pulled a rifle on Frank and we, my brothers and sisters, were certain she was going to kill him. I would have preferred to have Frank out of our lives, but I didn’t want to see my mother in prison. There were always lots of rifles around, Frank was a deer and rabbit hunter. He went hunting one time and my mother was in a panic because she hadn’t heard from him for days. I secretly wished him dead. A couple of days later he brought home a buck and we had to eat venison for a month. He often boasted about his kill and the number rifles he owned.

His rifles didn’t scare me, he scared me. There was a time when they were having a huge brawl in their locked bedroom. My mother was screaming my name and begging for help, but I couldn’t open their locked door. I called 911. When the police arrived they asked if there were any weapons in the room and I replied,

“No, just my stepfather’s hunting rifles.”

I remember the look the two police officers gave me. This was the chaos I lived in; sad to say, it all seemed very normal to me. I learned to be independent and resilient. I stayed away from home a lot and never told my mother where I was  and she didn’t ask. When it was just my mom and I, she would discuss her marriage with me. I liked being her confidant. I didn’t offer much in the way of advice; I hardly knew what to say. I  hoped she should leave him and she did leave him several times. Each time she’d call my father or her first husband Joe and allow them back into her life for a brief moment. Frank was always who she wanted to be with and she’d take him back in short order. As a child I believed that all marriages worked this way.

I viewed my own marriage as inevitable; everyone married didn’t they? My father had a gay son from a previous marriage and when I would ask why he wasn’t married, my father would say,

“He’s different.”

I certainly did not want to be different; therefore, despite my orientation, I started thinking about a wife and family. When I was nineteen years old and a college student in North Carolina, I was set up on a blind date with Lisa (not her name). Lisa was beautiful, smart, funny and perfect in just about every way and I knew almost instantly that I wanted her to be the mother of my children. Did I know I was gay? I knew that I had an attraction to men, but it was very easy to tuck that away into the far corners of my troubled mind. What I wanted more than anything else was a “normal” life. Of course I regret having pulled Lisa into this dishonest vortex, but that story is for another time.

Lisa and I were engaged about a year after we met and decided to marry after completing our undergraduate degrees. I can only tell you how it was for me; I was excited to have found someone exceptional to spend my life with. We spent all of our time away from university, together. My mother was thrilled to have a family Thanksgiving dinner that included Lisa and her twin sister. We were all excited about the day as we awaited its arrival. However, as with my holidays in our house, this one too would be filled with drama — I should have known better.

On Thanksgiving eve, 1979, my mother and stepfather had a big argument. My mother called me when I was in my dorm room preparing to return home for the holiday (I was about 35 minutes from home and I had a car). My mom asked me to come home right away. She said that my stepfather had “come after her” while they were arguing and that she was hemorrhaging badly. I said,

“Mom, shouldn’t you call 911?” and she replied,

“I’d rather wait for you to get here.”

I was home in 30 minutes, having gone way over the speed limit, to once again, rescue my mother. We sat in the emergency room for four hours until she was finally admitted. She kept repeating,

“I feel so badly that Thanksgiving is ruined.”

I, of course, assured her that we would find a way to make it happen and we did. My mother was released Thanksgiving morning and I agreed to do all of the cooking. The only dish I was unsure of was her stuffing recipe and my mom said she’d walk me through it. The whole time I was cooking, I was concerned that my stepfather would return home. At one point I heard him enter his camper in the backyard. My mother assured me that we didn’t have to worry about him. She said that he’d just stay in his camper and get drunk. She also shared that he was very angry that I brought her to the hospital. He felt that even though he had argued with her, it was his place, as her husband, to care for her. This was the mother/son, husband/wife, tug of war we battled throughout their entire marriage. What happened that Thanksgiving day is forever etched in my mind.

I cooked all day preparing for a 4:00 p.m. dinner. Lisa and her sister arrived at around 3:00 p.m. They sat with my mom and I was happy to hear laughter coming from the living room. I began thinking that I might be able to pull this off. My younger sister set the table and we called everyone to dinner; there were seven or eight of us. We were in middle of expressing our gratitude, about what I’m not sure, and my stepfather walked into the dining room, obviously intoxicated. He had come into the house to get a jug of wine. I couldn’t even look at him. Odd that this is almost 40 years ago, but I can see and hear it as it were yesterday. Frank glanced around the table, showed his teeth and said,

“I hope you all choke on your food.”

I admittedly have never been able to remain quiet and so I spoke up,

“Maybe you’ll choke on that wine.”

Then, all hell broke loose. He lunged for my throat and most of what was on the table ended up on the floor. There was lots of screaming and Frank’s hands were squeezing harder. I could not breathe. My younger brother grabbed him from behind, but Frank threw him off; my mother pleaded with him to let me go. I don’t actually remember what I was feeling while he was choking me. I do remember thinking that this was the way I was going to die. Frank must have had a moment of clarity and he finally let me go. I gasped for air and surveyed the dining room. Dishes, glass and food were everywhere; not a morsel was edible. Lisa and her sister were holding each other and crying. My brother Leo was talking Frank down and my mother was weeping in the corner of the room. The turkey was upside down on the floor next to the table.

I walked over to Lisa and her sister and said,

“Come on, we’re getting the hell out of here.”

We went to Lisa’s house so that we could calm down and process what had happened. My neck had huge welts and two large handprints. My mother called me and begged me not to involve the police. I told her that I wouldn’t call the police and that I never wanted to see or speak to my stepfather again. She said she understood and that she would be throwing him out and divorcing him.

Lisa’s family prayed and asked me to join them; I pretended to talk to God. What I did instead, was to tell myself that I would never again subject myself or anyone else I loved, to such abhorrent abuse.

I did eventually forgive my stepfather. I also stopped calling him dad.

 

 

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My intention is not to hurt anyone by dredging up the past. My parents (all of them) are deceased and my siblings have moved on. It’s more about sorting it out in my own mind; giving myself permission to be truthful with myself and others. I believe it helps for friends and family to know why I married and why I often react the way I do, in certain situations. Why I often seem insecure and why I fight certain causes; why honesty in relationships is so important to me.

 

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This is me with friends on our 66th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I’m the kid on the top far left. I always hid behind others; I lacked confidence. I didn’t like to be in photos then and I don’t like it now. The kid with the bat was my best friend Joey. He had enough confidence for all of us. I followed him everywhere and kept my mouth shut. Joey’s parents were my self-appointed God parents and they knew all about what was happening at home. It was so bad for me at one point, they crossed the street and calmly spoke to my mother. They asked her if it might be easier on her if I lived with them for a while. They told her I’d be close by and could see her everyday. My mother threw them out and I was grounded for a week. Myrna and Joe were the best kind of people. They raised me up and empowered me. The two of them and Myrna’s mother Anne, taught me the power of education and hope. We all have a story and our stories sum up who we are.

 

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Dad and I at one of our weekly dinners @1976. Notice how I was hunched over and looking away from the camera.

More Money on Experiences and Less Money on Stuff

 

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The 34 footer I spent the weekend on in Portimão

 

Since giving up my consulting business in Maine and moving to Faro, I’m finding I have more time to think about how I want to spend my time . . .  and money. I have also been noticing that more is being written on how to spend your money — probably because I’m living on a set budget.

Note:  Good piece by Travis Bradberry in Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/08/09/why-you-should-spend-your-money-on-experiences-not-things/#2a7c4fd76520

Also see several good Ted Talks on Money & Happiness (Ted Talks does not allow me to copy link; Google it) — love Ted Talks.

What I am hearing and reading is that it is wiser to spend less on things and more on life experiences. You can read (see above) what the experts are saying so I won’t go into the “why.” Having just shed 98% of my material things to move overseas, I have to say, I like that advice. I’m also at an age where I believe I have lived over half my life. I’m 59 years old and I like red meat, alcohol and ice cream —  you do the math.

I learned in marketing seminars, that people will spend more money on experiences that they cannot create for themselves. For example, when I worked at the French Culinary Institute, I learned that people were willing to spend a boat load of money to cook with Jacques Pépin or other celebrity chefs. I get it, it would be a difficult experience to arrange on your own. I’ve decided to create more experiences based on what I have desired, dreamed or thought about in the past.

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Me with Jacques Pépin and Julia Child about 20 years ago. We were honoring Jacques and Julia and I had the good fortune to host the event.

 

Portimão Sailboat Experience:  My Big Adventure

I know this will sound crazy, but I love sleeping on boats and I don’t mind if they’re not moving. I know that unless boats are dry docked, they’re always moving; but you know what I mean. One of my favorite vacations was a tall ship cruise off of the coast of Maine. We stayed anchored near to the coast in the evening and that slow and steady rocking would put me to sleep. We sailed and docked at different towns during the day. So I planned a big adventure aboard a 34 foot, classic Swedish yacht, docked in the marina in Portimão, Portugal.

Yes, that’s my Macbook baking in the sun. And that’s the bed I had to crawl in and out of.

I visited Portimão briefly a few months ago. It is in the Algarve; therefore, very easily accessible by train or bus, there are many restaurants, beautiful beaches, and they have a casino. I figured now that I have a wonderful woman named Sandra to take care of Giorgio, I could enjoy a few of days of sun and fun; doing something I’ve never done before.

Day One

I’m still having trouble managing the train and bus schedules here. I waited on the train platform for an hour and realized my train schedule was outdated. I walked home — it was 100 degrees; by far the warmest day since I arrived in Portugal. I thought if I could sit in my cool apartment, I’d come up with an alternative plan. The next train was a few hours away, so I looked at the bus schedule. Great, a bus in 90 minutes that would get be there by 4:15 p.m. I lost a big part of the day, but my host was willing to pick me up at the bus stop. Honestly, the heat was extremely oppressive and I never drink enough water, therefore, my brain was fuzzy. I arrived at the bus terminal at about 4:30 p.m.

I settled onto my yacht (I like the sound of that), showered and headed for a nearby watering hole. I had a frozen daiquiri because I was very thirsty and I have to say, it was probably the best daiquiri I’ve ever had — fresh strawberries and as I said, it was extremely hot outside. When I finished my cocktail, the sun had gone down and the heat was more bearable. I walked to the casino (everything was in walking distance from the marina), and discovered the blackjack table wouldn’t open until 8:30 p.m. I played some slots (hate slots) and of course, regretted it immediately. By this time I was hungry and I thought that 7:30 p.m. was a safe bet for getting a table at a restaurant. The great thing about eating early in Portugal, is that you almost always get a table. Avoiding the smokers wasn’t easy; however, I managed to get a corner table at a nice tapas wine bar with a great view of the ocean and lots of people watching. I had a nice dinner and I’ll leave it at that.

After dinner it was time for some blackjack at the Casino. I’m not a big gambler; but I do enjoy an hour or two of gaming. There was only one blackjack table, so I had no choice concerning where to play. I observed the table for a bit before diving in. There was a crazy Frenchman chastising this poor newcomer to the world of gambling at the table. The bewildered chap had no idea what he was being yelled at for and I could tell he wouldn’t last. In blackjack, the last seat at the table leaves one open to the scrutiny of the other players. Making the wrong decision could prevent the dealer from busting and nobody at the table likes that. The chap left shortly after my arrival. Anyway, I wasn’t there very long and a woman visiting from China sat down beside me. We were both enjoying the crazy Frenchman’s antics and started chatting it up. Well Frenchie didn’t appreciate that we were talking and started giving me a hard time. Had he known I was from Brooklyn he might have thought twice about confronting me. Long story short, I gave him a piece of my mind and the pit boss came over to tell him that if he didn’t behave he’d be thrown out. That made him even angrier and he lost his concentration, made some stupid moves (like sitting on 12 when the dealer had a jack showing) and started losing big money. I admit I was secretly pleased. After awhile I got bored watching my Chinese friend rake it in while I lost almost every hand and I left. I did put 20 Euros into a slot machine because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Time to go back to the boat to enjoy the “experience” I paid for. Here’s are some thoughts before you run to purchase a boat:

  1. Buy or rent a sailboat that is large enough or fancy enough to have air conditioning.
  2. If you have to pump the toilet and sink to get water, wear shoes. I wasn’t permitted to (boat rules).
  3. People who sleep on boats like to party, so if you’re docked in a marina, you’re probably not going to get any sleep.
  4. Showering on a 34 foot sailboat is not really feasible.
  5. Getting up to use the bathroom is not an easy task. By the time you shimmy your way out of bed, you’re wide awake.
  6. The bathroom is sort of stinky and there is no way around that.
  7. If you have a glamorous notion of what it’s like to sleep on a sailboat, don’t do it. Doing it will destroy that notion forever.
  8. Always rent first.

Day 2

Exhausted from no sleep, I made myself some breakfast. The owners left me some delicious oranges to squeeze and some other healthy breakfast treats. I ate on the deck and watched the sunrise. I decided that it would be nice to spend the day at a pool club on the ocean. I had no interest in doing any group tours and I have a cave trip coming up in Lagos in a few weeks. Don’t worry, these are shallow caves.

When I got to club, the receptionist politely asked if I had a reservation and of course, I did not. She looked down at this massive chart and every beach chair had an X over it. I spotted one that was sort of half rubbed out and asked her about that one. She said, “Um, I don’t know,” and called over a colleague. Her colleague informed us that the party who had that pair of chairs had just cancelled. Well, there you go then, one of those two chairs was meant to be mine. I was fortunate that they didn’t have a “you had to rent two” policy. The beach club wasn’t cheap, but I honestly loved the people watching and the club was beautiful. I decided that they were probably not well-known for their food, so I decided to eat at an authentic Portuguese restaurant right next door. I made the correct choice, the food and the view were the highlight of my weekend (I’m not endorsing any businesses in this particular blog). A beautiful green-eyed black cat joined me for lunch. He was affectionate, sweet and very hungry. This always seems to happen when I’m missing Giorgio — animals sense everything.

I was pretty certain I’d have lunch and then nap all afternoon, but for some reason, sleep was elusive. Instead I drank frozen daiquiri and ogled the pretty people by the pool. I was struck by how many lovers there were enjoying a day at the club; lots of PDA (public display of affection for my older readers).

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Daiquiri
Cocktail
Daiquiri is a family of cocktails whose main ingredients are rum, citrus juice, and sugar or other sweetener. Wikipedia
Ingredients1 1/2 oz White rum, 1/2 oz Simple syrup, 1 oz Lime juice
PreparationPour all ingredients into shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain in chilled cocktail glass.
ServedStraight up; without ice
DrinkwareCocktail glass

At about 6:00 p.m., I headed back to the sail boat. I thought I’d have a gin & tonic (like the Brits) and read Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes — the perfect novel for this occasion. I took a sponge bath and it didn’t help, it was too darned hot. There was smoke in the distance and you could feel the intense heat from the fires in the hills. Soon after I cracked my book open, the wind started howling and the boat starting rocking fiercely. Not long after, it started raining. It’s been weeks and weeks since I felt a rain drop and this made me happy. You would think wind and rain would bring relief, fat chance.

Day 3

I slept a little better, but there was a massive “Back to the 90s” concert in the distance and falling asleep to Cher is like sleeping while standing; it ain’t gonna happen.

Again I watched the sunrise and had a healthy breakfast. The oranges in the Algarve are unbelievably sweet and tart and even a little salty; I had fresh squeezed juice again. My dad squeezed fresh oranges every morning when he retired in Florida.

I knew the heat was coming and I wanted off that freakin’ boat before it arrived. Now that I had learned to read the bus schedule, I knew when and were to catch the one that would drop me off a few feet away from my apartment. I was home by 11:00 a.m. and Giorgio was back in my arms by 12:30 p.m.

 

 

Looking back on my adventure, it’s safe to say I have no regrets. If I had known what I was in for, I would have chosen to book it in September or October. But honestly, life doesn’t happen unless we make it happen. This past weekend, life happened.

 

Other Adventures

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I paid to fly a plane; an experience I’ll never forget. I paid to jump out of one too (another one)!
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In Mexico. It was really hot and sticky and I was thinking, “Why did I do this?”
The day I learned how to butcher a hog
My friend MJ and I tooled around Sintra in this three-wheeled sardine can

I Couldn’t Save My Mother

But I Can Share My Story . . .

 

It was the middle of the night and a timid five-year old boy lied awake listening to his parents argue. They’d argued before; many times before. Their voices were raised and his six brothers and sisters who were all sleeping nearby, didn’t seem to hear them. Conflicted, he loved his parents, but he wished they’d stop. His mother seemed to be making his father angry and he didn’t understand why she was doing it; why she was cursing at him; why she was being so mean. In his head he just kept repeating,

“Mom, why don’t you just leave Daddy alone.”

But his mother was his entire world and he couldn’t be angry with her. And if his mother was his world, his father was his universe.

Scared and afraid to wake his siblings, he crawled out of bed to a dark corner of the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. It was a safe corner where he could become invisible. Nobody ever noticed him there. And there he sat, curled up in a blanket, listening and wondering what he had done this time; was he the cause of their argument? He didn’t know or understand that things happen in the world that he had nothing to do with. He was never told that he was not to blame. And so he sat in the corner and cried and wished it would stop. It never stopped and it wasn’t going to stop on that scarring night.

Just when he’d thought his parents might have gone to bed, he heard his mother scream. He was frightened, but his mother needed his help. He ran to the kitchen where the voices were loud and the language biting. As he entered the hallway facing the kitchen he could see his mother yelling at his father and then suddenly a coffee cup hit her head and blood spattered on the wall behind her. His mother slid down the wall and her tears fell to the cold tile floor. The boy ran to console her, but she was inconsolable.

His father ordered him to go back to bed; instead, he crawled under the kitchen table. Then his father grabbed his sobbing mother’s arms and began to throw her against the wall. The boy dared not leave his hiding place. He’d never seen his father this angry; he feared for his mother’s life; he didn’t know what to do. If he ran to try to find help, his father might  beat him as well. He waited, shivering and watching for his father’s next move.

His father raised his fist and was about to strike his mother again; she begged him to stop and he hesitated. He mumbled something about how she drove him to this point — she would never leave him alone. He turned and walked out of the kitchen. His mother spotted him under the table and placed her finger up to her mouth. The boy dared not move. The front doors slammed and they waited in silence. It seemed like hours before his mother pushed herself up off of the floor and grabbed a rag from the sink. She placed the rag up to her head to stop the bleeding and silently wept.

The boy tentatively moved toward his mother and she opened her arms to embrace him. He told himself to be strong for her, but he wanted to cry and knew he could not. He kept hearing voices from everywhere telling him that boys didn’t cry. He didn’t cry, he whispered,

“Mom, I won’t let him hurt you.”

The boy’s mother appeared broken and exhausted. She slowly retreated to her bedroom and collapsed onto her bed. He followed her and listened for the front door. She motioned for him to sit on the edge of the bed. Her movements were slow and she seemed to be in a great deal of pain. He didn’t know what to do; how to help her. He watched her eyes flutter as she fought sleep. She reached over, grabbed his forearm and said,

“Watch for daddy, if he comes home wake me,” and then she slept.

The boy knew that if his father returned home, it would be bad. His thoughts went from terror to relief; relieved that his mother was still alive, but terrified his father would soon come home. He knew that if his father came home, he wouldn’t be able to protect his mother. All he could do was wait and warn her.

The boy stared into the darkness and listened for any sound. The boy was me.

Postscript:

Friends and relatives called me after reading my story. Most were supportive and wanted to show their love and support and some asked me why I wrote this now.

There are many reasons I wanted to put my experience out there, but I’ll share just a couple. First and foremost, the constant emotional abuse I experienced throughout my childhood followed me into adulthood and created problems for me in almost every relationship. Therapy and a good deal of soul-searching has been helpful. I want parents to be aware that exposure to domestic upheaval will cause a lifetime of pain for a child; their innocence and naiveté prevent them from understanding their role in the anger and pain around them. I believe one of the reasons I never had children, was the fear of putting a child through what I went through.

I also told my story because of my present life journey. To be blunt, I’ve had enough of carrying this shit around and it is time to shed it; writing about it is one way to accomplish that goal.

Coming soon:

Portimão, Portugal next weekend:  I’ll be sleeping on a sailboat and documenting the whole thing . . . well, almost the whole thing.

Catania, Sicily, October 1 to 8

 

 

 

 

Why Portugal, Why the Algarve, & Why Faro

 

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Magnificent architecture in Faro:  Moorish, Roman & Gothic throughout the city.

When you make a big and unexpected decision in your life, people are curious about why you went in a particular direction; it’s a reasonable curiosity. I’ve spent a bit of time on why I moved to Portugal in previous blogs; however, I thought since I am frequently asked this question, I would answer it thoroughly.

One of the most important things I learned throughout my career is to question “why” before you do anything. You want to start a business? Why? You want to get married? Why? You want to move overseas? Why? Asking this important question and answering it thoroughly and honestly, will help to insure that you are doing whatever you are doing for the right reasons — well most of the time.

So when I started to feel that U.S. politics were the cause of a good deal of my anxiety, I asked myself why I was wallowing in pity rather than working to change my situation. I had done some letter writing and personal campaigning for Hilary and then of course, I blamed myself for not doing enough. After a lot of soul-searching, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just that Hilary lost the election, it is the direction politics in general is going in, in the States. I’m not going to do a deep dive into politics; however, the big issues for me are gun control, healthcare, taxation, greed in Washington, and the negative perception Americans have of democratic socialism, www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism. The conclusion that I came to was that I had to move to a country where the values of the government and the people more closely matched my own. In other words, why stay in a country where values will not be changing anytime soon.

Some “Why” Questions:

  1. Why am I leaning in this direction?
  2. Why is now the right time?
  3. Why is my heart telling me to do this?
  4. Why am I struggling with this decision?
  5. Why not?
  6. Why am I questioning the status quo?

 

Why Overseas?

Politics in the U.S. has become more conservative over the past few years. Some say it happens whenever you have a power base in office that leans in a particular direction (surprise, I lean left), the majority will tend to swing in the opposite direction the next election — that certainly is what happened in November 2016. This is likely to occur in any democratic society; however, in many European countries liberal policies and attitudes have a strong foundation, therefore, the bar is set higher.

The other reason I decided to move overseas is that I have never resided outside of the United States. I tend to agree with those who believe that life is not a dress rehearsal; this was an opportunity I may not have had again.

 

Why Portugal?

I have considered many other countries over the past few years. At one point I was certain I’d end up in Concon, Chile. I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the coast and the lifestyle. Well then they had a big earthquake and read that there would be others. Sure enough, a short time later they were hit with a second large earthquake. I thought I had tempted fate far too many times to buy a condo in a high-rise there. I’ve thought about Italy because it is my father’s birthplace. I love visiting Italy; however, the instability of Italy’s government and economy concerns me. The Caribbean is too humid and has those pesky, life-threatening hurricanes; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark make it very difficult to reside there; and frankly other places were too expensive or too risky.

I had read a good deal about Portugal and decided to check it out. I’ve been told that it is dangerous to decide on relocating to a place having only visited once. Knowing that some advice is sound advice, I decided to do my homework. I read articles about retiring in Portugal, I joined a couple of expat groups on Facebook, I had several conversations with individuals who have made the move, and I returned to spend more time here.

 

Why Faro?

Most expats who decide to live in the Algarve DO NOT choose Faro. I discovered on several trips prior to moving to Faro that there are expat communities in many towns all along the coast; however, most people see Faro as a place to land or switch trains. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, so I hope no one takes it that way:  I did not want to be in the center of a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, tourists visit Faro; however, compared to other towns in the Algarve, Faro is not overrun. In fact, there are very few Americans in Faro.

The following are some of the wonderful things that drew me to this beautiful city:

Culture — music (Fado), theatre, festivals, food, ceramic tiles, history and art.

Portuguese — A majority of the people living in Faro are Portuguese or immigrants from struggling countries. I recently learned that when the European Union decided how many migrants each country should take based on their population, Portugal said, “We’ll take double that number.”

Faro is not as much a tourist city as say Lisbon, Porto or other parts of the Algarve. I’m happy about that.

Restaurants — I can find traditional Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Indian and several other ethnic foods and the quality and value is outstanding.

The Market (Mercado Municipal) — in a huge open space (indoor) close to my apartment, it is probably the gift I will never take for granted.

Walking city — I can walk to just about every place I need to go.

Access to everywhere else — Faro is the capital of the Algarve; therefore, the airport, trains, buses, and highways, can get you just about everywhere and quickly.

Architecture — Preserved, historic, eclectic, and beautiful. Everything is understated.

Government offices — all of the Portuguese government offices I need to deal with are here in Faro.

What more can I ask of a city?

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Catholic Cathedral in Old Town — a short walk from my apartment and where the outdoor market is on Sundays (stock photo)

 

I took these photos when I was walking to the ferry yesterday — beside Faro Castle. This is Old Town, Faro and it dates back centuries. It’s a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I come here often to read, walk and eat. Some of the remains are from the 9th century.

And by the way . . . that blue sky is real (no touching up or color added). There is no smog to speak of here.

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.
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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

For the first time in my life, I am not thinking about what’s next. I’m going to enjoy the here and now and see where it takes me.

Às vezes não consigo deixar de pensar se escolhi Portugal ou Portugal me escolheu.

Translation:  Sometimes I can’t help wondering if I chose Portugal or Portugal chose me.

 

Coming to Terms With Aging

 

 

*See note below

 

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

When I made the decision to leave the States:  my friends, my family, and my home; I also made the decision to leave some baggage behind as well. I’m not ashamed to say I have baggage; I’m fairly certain that all adults have baggage and lots of it. Coming to terms with getting older and losing my youth, has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. As with so many other things I write about, I know others, many others, share my angst.

I decided awhile back, that rather than ignore the inner turmoil about aging, I would face those feelings head on. I challenged myself to look in the mirror when I didn’t want to, to tug on that sagging skin under my chin, to grab and hold onto my growing love handles; by doing this, I am fully embracing every imperfection. In truth, they are only imperfections because I identify them as such. I am learning that it is much healthier to just accept my aging body. To admire every line and to see the aches and brown spots as a reminder that I am alive. Not so easy this. Often I take two steps forward and three steps back. I know that it’s a process and I am determined to conquer this challenge. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

 

Men are from Mars . . .

I don’t think it is sexist or stereotyping to state that this aging gracefully challenge is greater for women and gay men. Western society places a great deal of pressure on these two groups to stay young; the goal is to remain desirable. You have an inner desire to walk into a room and be noticed. When this stops happening, and it stopped for me over 20 years ago, you begin to feel less than.

There are things I have done to convince myself that I am still young and vital. One of them is something many men do, gay or straight, and that is to buy a shiny new sports car. I’ve done this more than once and although it does actually help make you believe you are young and fetching, trust me, it doesn’t last. Another thing I have done is to shop and purchase clothing that is suited for a younger customer. I actually wore skinny jeans for a few months last year, a truth I am not proud to admit. Thank goodness I came to my senses by summer. Why didn’t anyone tell me that it was very wrong. I know that my friends and family members are reluctant to share their thoughts in fear of hurting my feelings or facing a defensive me — I assure you that I’d rather be gently slapped into a more appropriate conscious state.

 

When I Started Feeling the Effects of Aging

I’m getting very close to being 60, so it may be difficult to recall when I started to feel the effects of aging. I remember when my hair started thinning and receding in college, I became very concerned about baldness. Although, embracing baldness seems to more prevalent these days, clearly society and the media place a huge emphasis on a full head of hair. When a person is described as someone who is getting older and letting themselves go, “fat and bald” are usually adjectives used in that description. If you yourself are bald, that seems somewhat derogatory. Now I know there are women out there that will say that they find baldness in men attractive. I believe that to be true because woman are much less concerned with physical attractiveness and more concerned with character and other attributes — sorry for the generalization, but that’s been my experience (it’s what women tell me). And you gay men know what I’m talking about. Just go to a gay resort and you’ll see what I mean. Many men cover up their bald heads in shame or surround themselves with eye candy in order to feel better.

Then there is the “fat” part of that “fat and bald” description. We all know that it is more difficult to keep weight off when you’re older. You reach a point in your life when you could afford a nicer bottle of wine and a thick steak and then you find yourself having to cut back on these foods because they negatively affect your health; not just your appearance, but your overall health. I don’t have to tell you about heart attacks rates, stroke, diabetes and other weight related illnesses. At a certain age you begin to think about the future and your quality of life.

 

 

*See note below

 

Dating Sites

I hate dating sites and I refuse to revisit this painful way of meeting people. Not all, but many people on dating sites have no regard whatsoever for your feelings. They send you flattering emails and attractive photos with promises of meeting up for a cocktail and then, poof, they’re gone! You haven’t said or done anything at all to warrant such rude behavior and you’re left wondering if it was you. Why put yourself through that kind of torture. For those of you out there who have been successful . . . good on you!

Of course there is always the meeting someone at a club option; however, in my world, you have to stay awake until 1:00 a.m. and that is no longer even a possibility.

 

Slowing Down or Halting the Process

There are a number of people in my life who believe they have discovered the formula for keeping aging at bay. They take 23 supplements at various times of the day, they eat only fresh vegetables they themselves witnessed being plucked from the ground, no bread, no carbs, no meat, no alcohol, no life! And then of course it is essential that they share their secret with you and convince you that they know better . . . well the experts said so. I have always said that if I learned today that I would live five years longer if I never ate bread again, I would eat bread and die a happier fella. True, I am only 59 years old, if you share the same truth when I’m 80, my answer may be different.

 

Golden Hawn said it best:

“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?”

 

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Pria de Faro this week. I wouldn’t use this photo for a dating site (if I were to ever go on one again). My big nose, double chin, big bald head; show prominently.
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But I might use this one. The graininess makes it even artsier (like a Renoir).

*stock photos