It’s The Little Things

I flood my mind with conundrums, so that I don’t have time to think about what really matters:

Life Sometimes Deals You An Impossible Hand

A friend sent me the above text this week and at first I read it and thought oh, that’s poignant. Then I spent the next few days thinking about Sherman’s words. I often contemplate projects that I have not completed, however, I am fairly certain I am finished with them (e.g., becoming an accountant in my twenties or trying to be hetersexual early on in my life — more difficult than the former).

Then there are projects that I believe I have completed, but as life often dictates, I cannot finish. One of many examples is my teeth. I pine over a tooth that I lost and I go to the dentist for an expensive, but necessary, implant. After much discomfort, a great deal of money, and many office visits, I get a new tooth. I walk away satisfied and feeling complete; however, I am far from finished. A few months will go by and I’ll either have implant problems or another tooth becomes problematic. I am never finished dealing with my teeth. Unfortunately, teeth issues will persist throughout my life. I feel better when I recall that both my parents had a mouth full of dentures.

A Set Of Dentures In A Glass Of Water On A White Background Stock Photo,  Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 26352319.
What I had to see everyday in our only bathroom growing up

As I have said before, I am an avid list maker. The satisfaction I get from being able to check a project off as completed is greater than I can or should admit. However, the number of times I thought something was done and done and it wasn’t, is too many times. You get to sit and just enjoy and admire your completed deck only to see paint peel during the next rain. You finally save enough to buy the latest iphone and then you drop it three days after removing the packaging. You tie the knot and smile lovingly at your new husband only to have him spend the day in his underwear on the sofa (the last not my story). We seldom completely finish anything.

Mba Completion Quotes, Quotations & Sayings 2020

Completed Projects

There have been a few instances in my life when I felt that I had completely finished something. Sometimes this knowledge give me a feeling of satisfaction and gratitude and other times, it leaves me feeling blue. I have to stop and tell myself that these mixed emotions are to be expected.

There is a danger in convincing yourself that you are done with something and then having it resurface or even worse, having it thrown in your face. It has become apparent to me as I grow older, that being prepared for any outcome is helpful for peace of mind — the worst case scenario. I’m learning to take a deep breath before I react; sometimes I’m more successful than others. The power and ability to forgive, is all yours.

Why Finishing Something Matters

How many times have you silently said, “I’m finished with you?” Self-preservation is a gift not all of have embraced. Walking away from anything toxic is a good thing, but not always easy to do. If someone does something terribly egregious to us or to humanity, they do not deserve our love.

Another thing that seems to be difficult for many people, is allowing others to finish their sentences. I often wonder if people who are poor listeners have any clue about how rude it can be to cut people off. We’ve become terrible listeners and one of the reasons for this is that so few people are willing to confront the culprits. Every so often I get very angry with someone for constantly cutting me off before I finish a thought. I say something like, please let me finish, but it doesn’t stop them from doing it over and over again. The old, “I was so excited I couldn’t help myself,” just doesn’t work for me anymore. Let’s try to be courteous people. It shows respect and caring when we listen. Good listeners go far in life; mostly because it’s such a rare asset.

Finishing matters because a sense of accomplishment feels good.

On to the Next Thing . . .

I’m going to keep making lists and dreaming up new projects until the day I die. It provides purpose and hope.

Here are some of the things I have finished, but not completed:

  • learning how to speak Spanish. Funny thing is, as I learn Portuguese, the Spanish resurfaces.
  • traveling to all 50 states in the U.S. (there are some states I have decided to stay away from)
  • cooking organ meats
  • a novel I started 25 years ago (trust me you wouldn’t want to read it)
  • I started learning how to paint landscapes years ago and decided I’d never complete a painting . . . I haven’t and I won’t
  • musical instruments have forever been spared my lips and fingers
  • I started reading the classics 20 years ago and stopped six months in
  • I once started the process for finding a surrogate mother for a child I never fathered
  • I did Rogaine for awhile
  • tried mushrooms — not shiitakes
  • collected antique furniture (thank God that’s over)
  • I ran marathons for a few years and ruined my right knee; stupid man
  • I lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maine (although I do miss the lobster)

The list goes on . . .

What’s Next in Travel

I was scheduled to travel to Stockholm in a couple of weeks, but due to COVID-19 the airlines and hotels have cancelled my plans. If Berlin opens back up to travellers in December, I will go there for a few days. As always, I will be cautious and careful. I was scheduled to be on a Crystal cruise to four Asian countries on January 6, 2021; that cruise has been cancelled. I have booked myself on an Asian cruise in January of 2022 — this one will be longer and it starts in Hong Kong. COVID-19 has taught me patience . . . oh *shush.

*shush: verb 1.tell or signal (someone) to be silent.”she shushed him with a wave”

A Sea Change Is Here

Breathe . . .

A State of Mind

Feeling hope in lieu of despair
Watching as we repair 
Trust in truth again
Allowing a smile and a tear

Who are we . . . a quandary
Who do we want to be
What have we learned
Will we remember and mend

The heart feels
The mind knows
But doubt is persuasive
Listen carefully and learn

Then the waiting for change
The self-reflection
Outside Influences sting
Impaired vision blurs

Strength in fits and starts  
Conviction with patience
Honor without bravado
Justice and grace




Thank you so much to my brothers and sisters in the United States.

A 2020 Update On Life In Portugal

I wrote a blog about moving to Portugal three weeks into my relocation (May 2018) and thought it would be fun to make some revisions and add new observations (as updates):

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The view from the Hotel Faro, my favorite watering hole (was, see update)

Update: It is no longer true that Hotel Faro is my favorite spot in town for a cocktail. I’ve discovered Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar, not far from Hotel Faro, you still get the view of the marina, but unfortunately you’re on the ground level. Cocktails are creative, delicious, and reasonable. Great indoor and outdoor seating. If you’re coming from a big city in the U.S., the UK, Italy, Australia, etc., you’ll be getting a bargain at 8 Euros a pop.

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” did not live in Portugal. I knew some things would be different and in fact, I looked forward to change. In truth, I haven’t even been here three weeks and I hesitate to start complaining, but heck, it’s my nature to piss and moan so why wait.

I purposely decided not to purchase a vehicle for several reasons:  1) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, 2) I was hoping I’d get more exercise by walking, and finally, 3) I figured I could save a little money (more in the bank for food). I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Faro bus schedule. It’s complicated, convoluted and I have no idea where buses end up in the city. There are at least 10 different bus lines very close to my building, but I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. So I decided to go to the mall Saturday. The schedule clearly said that the number 5 goes to Forum every 30 minutes on Saturday. I took my time and meandered over to the bus stop; there I sat for over an hour. You guessed it, no bus. The good news is that Uber is cheap and a car arrived in minutes to whisk me off to the mall.

Update: I continue to be frustrated by a limited bus and train schedule; however, I’m still committed to reducing my carbon footprint; now more than ever in fact. I have finally figured out the schedules, and I’m using Bolt and Uber more often. I figure it’s a compromise and it gets me there most of the time. I am renting a car for the month of November in order to do some things that I have not been able to do without a car. For example, I rented a little place on the beach and I’ll need a car to make it work. I’m more excited about having wheels than I should be.

Intervalo is intermission in Portuguese and if you love film, be prepared. I recall now that this same thing did happen to me in Spain a number of years ago, but frankly, I wasn’t expecting it and I was startled. I was watching a dumb American film at the mall last week and the film stopped mid-scene for an “intervalo.” Although it is clearly a minor issue, I have several problems with it:

  1. If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
  2. Part of the excitement of a film is anticipating what is coming next and I’d rather not have interruptions. Holding it in because the film is that good, is a good thing. It’s two hours and easy to prepare for, no?
  3. Because I had time to kill, I felt compelled to purchase a snack and although candy at the movies is a lot less expensive in Portugal (1.25 Euros or $1.55 for a pack of M & Ms), I don’t need the calories.
  4. I’d rather not be thinking, “I like the way we do it in the States better.”

I guess I needed the comfort of an American film as part of my adjustment to a new home abroad. It worked, I felt better, and I don’t see it happening again anytime soon. Update: COVID-19 has changed the way we live and the intervalo has gone away. I guess they’d prefer you stayed seated and not have everyone getting up at the same time. I kind of got used to it, but I’m hoping it’s gone for good. The mid-scene break was annoying.

The good people of Portugal do not pick up their dog’s poop! I’m serious, I have to look down everywhere I go. After living in Maine where you rarely see poop on the ground, this has been difficult to deal with. Poop bags are on every other lamp-post and they still don’t pick it up. What makes this insane is that the Portuguese recycle everything. There is a bin for just about every kind of trash and people are psychotic about sorting it, but they leave the dog shit right there on the sidewalk. If it kills me I’m going to be THAT guy that calls out every pet owner in Faro who doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. Update: Nothing has changed and I’m even more frustrated by it. I step in poop at least once a month. I think this is my 10th blog on this shitty subject.

Gyms don’t open until 9:00 a.m. and they’re closed on weekends; now how silly is that? People here do not workout before work. Back home, gyms were full by 6:00 a.m., and how can they be closed on weekends? Isn’t that when you catch up on workouts you may have missed during the week? Perhaps it’s when you extend your workout a bit? I’m a big believer is providing employees a good quality of life, but as far as I’m concerned, if choose to be employed in a gym, you should expect to work weekends; sort of like restaurants and grocery stores. Update: Well over a year ago I was touring a new gym close to my home. I was unhappy with the set-up; there was very little cardio equipment and not a lot of free weights. It was the kind of gym where you mainly work with a trainer — expensive and not for me. I left the gym and a young Portuguese man who had also done a tour, spoke to me in English. He told me that he could tell that I was unhappy with the gym’s set-up. He shared his thoughts on Centro de Ferro, a gym I had not heard of (gyms do not advertise here). I went to check it out that very day and I’ve been a member ever since; just renewed recently for 80 Euros less than last year and it was already reasonable. They open at 6:30 a.m. and they are open everyday except Sunday. It’s large and clean and for the most part, I like the clientele. All of this makes a huge difference in my life. This gym has been open since the end of the lockdown, however, my old gym never reopened. Had that Portuguese fella not told me about Centro de Ferro, I’m not sure I would have ever found it. This is why “they” say there are no coincidences — Nuno (his name) does not represent or work at Centro, he was just being helpful. I’ve thanked him many times.

Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and frustrated, that I have not received a single piece of Portuguese mail in my mailbox. I’m getting packages from Amazon and even a couple of forwarded pieces of mail from the U.S.; however, no Portuguese mail. Perhaps the post office knows I can’t read the mail anyway. My bank here will not allow me to change my U.S. address until I show them an official piece of mail with my new Portugal address. Considering I have owned my condo for over four months, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my AARP junk mail. And by the way, I don’t have a U.S. address Mr. Banker. Update: Since writing this, I do receive Portuguese mail, however, not much of it. There are occasional flyers for stores, but for the most part, the Portuguese do not do junk mail; perhaps businesses are not permitted or maybe, it’s just too expensive. Either way, I like it this way.

So what I am about to share is very embarrassing:  my attorney contacted me and said, “Have you checked your mailbox?”

I was extremely insulted and fired back, “Yes, of course I checked my mailbox.”

I was shown my mailbox on move-in day and used my key and the mailbox opened. I thought, “Good the key works,” and I have been checking the mailbox everyday since; as I shared earlier, no mail. Last night I met the head of the condo association in the lobby.

She said, “I will put all this in your mailbox,” and looked to her right.

I thought that was odd because my mailbox was on the left. Well, today I went to the mailbox she sort of turned to and alas, it was my mailbox. I have been checking the wrong mailbox for three weeks. How my key worked on another person’s mailbox, I haven’t a clue. Further, how is it that my neighbor has not gotten any mail? So now you know what it might be like living overseas. Update: I’m still embarrassed that this happened.

My quest to find San Marzano tomatoes has begun. I started cooking with these delicious Italian canned tomatoes over 25 years ago after taking a cooking class with Grace Balducci in New York City. They’ve been readily available to me throughout the years — that is until I moved to Portugal. It doesn’t make sense being that I am so much closer to Italy than I have ever been. I’m sure it has something to do with Italian migration to the United States and other countries. I know that I am fussy about ingredients, but if I have to take a train to Italy to find my tomatoes, then that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this and you know a place in or around Faro (75 kilometer radius) that sells these tomatoes, I’d be happy to end my search. Better yet, it’s a good excuse to travel to Italy soon. Update: A French grocery chain took over two of the main grocery stores in Faro. The canned tomatoes they sell are not San Marzano (the absolute best); however, they are a close second. The only time I can truly tell the difference is when I make pizza. I also use the beautiful fresh tomatoes grown in Portugal whenever possible (still not as good as San Marzano). A fact is fact.

There are no Walmart stores in Portugal, however, we do have Chinese discount stores. You can expect to find just about anything other than food (save for American candy) at these stores and they are everywhere — like Rite Aid in the U.S.. You have to be a discerning shopper, because no doubt, some products will fall apart before you take them out of your shopping bag. If I’m going to be honest, most products I have purchased at these stores are a great value. For example aluminum foil:  most of it is crap no matter where you buy it — the brand I always purchased in the States is not available here — our local grocery store has a decent size roll for a little over four euros. Four euros is a lot of cash for foil and that’s why a one euro roll of foil at the Chinese dime store works for me. I double it up and still save money. And this is how I spend my time. Update: I have since found decent foil at a decent price at the French supermarket. I love Auchan (the supermarket) and I’ve become hooked on many of the products. If you don’t shower or bathe with French soap you’re missing out — less than a Euro a bar, oh, la, la.

Martinis are hands down my favorite cocktail. It’s the combination of the amount of alcohol, the three olive garnish (considered a snack), and the classic martini glass it’s served in. I’ve been ordering martinis since it was legal for me to imbibe. Well, it’s a bit of a problem in my new home country. The Portuguese drink an aperitif bottled by Martini, Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth, named after the Martini & Rossi Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino, in Turin.  I ordered a Martini straight up on two occasions and I was served this vermouth chilled — not what I wanted. I have found a couple of places that serve it just the way I like it; however, I’m still looking for a bar with the glassware I prefer. These are the things in life that truly matter and I am not above bringing my own glass to a bar.

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Pictured: the perfect martini!

Update: Hotel Faro makes a great martini, in the correct glass, and you get a great view of the marina as well. I believe I pay eight Euros. It will do just fine.

Finally, life in Portugal has far exceeded all of my expectations. I will probably mention this often, but the people are welcoming and wonderful, the weather would be hard to beat and the food is in some ways, almost too good. I love knowing the differences one experiences when living somewhere abroad; hence my reason for sharing.

Update: I have been exploring Portugal as a resident for three years now. There are so few negatives to being here that I think it’s more important to focus on the positive (not necessarily most positive to least positive):

  1. Travel — Being in Europe positions me closer to many countries making travel easier and more affordable. Budget airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet are normally (sans COVID-19) easy to book and if you can travel light, very inexpensive. TAP (Portuguese airline) is an excellent way to travel to and from the U.S. and all over Europe.
  2. Value — It seems more like products are priced according to their true value. I’m fairly certain less money is spent on marketing and distribution. I hesitate to state this, however, sometimes I feel like the quality is superior (e.g., Portuguese cotton, ceramic tiles). Conversely, there are non-American made products here that are poorly manufactured. If you’re a good shopper, you can get the best of just about anything.
  3. People — I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Portuguese people are lovely in just about every way — sorry I will be generalizing. I love how they treat people; I love how they care for their elderly; I think the decriminalization of drug use is humane and compassionate; social democracy works and is embraced; people like their privacy and do not get in your business; they are usually calm; riots are few and far between; crime rates are extremely low; “live and let live” is the cultural norm. Since I’m keeping my notes to the positive, I won’t talk about gay men here.
  4. Food — fresh, beautiful, affordable food at the markets (all markets). Portuguese restaurant menus can be tired and ordinary. The traditional dishes are good, however, most of them are not very complex and way too easy to make. There are a few excellent Portuguese restaurants, but you have to look for them and sometimes travel quite far to experience them. I’ve been here almost three years and I would say that I now know of a dozen exceptional Portuguese restaurants in Portugal. Unfortunately, Portuguese people enjoy their own food; therefore, finding variety outside of Lisbon or Porto, can be difficult. There are very beautiful seaport towns here that can use some ethnic variety in their offerings. Faro now has a good ramen restaurant and an excellent burger spot. I’m waiting for Korean, Thai, Moroccan (it’s so close), African variety (also so close), Malaysian, etc. If you live practically anywhere in the U.S. these days, you are accustomed to variety and excellence.
  5. Safety — I have never felt safer in my life and I mean that in every way. I have been very impressed with the handling of COVID-19 and although you do not see police officers everywhere, you know they are close by and keeping you safe.
  6. Weather — the Algarve weather is near perfect, nearly all year round. Winters are mild, spring is pleasant and the air is fragrant, summer is warm but dry, and autumn is cooler and breezier. With 300 or more days of sunshine a year and no tornadoes or hurricanes, it would be ridiculous to complain.
  7. My apartment — It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg and I have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa: Classified as a Natural Park in 1987, Ria Formosa encompasses an area of about 18 000 hectares, and is protected from the sea by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas: the Peninsula of Ancão that the locals call Ilha de Faro, the Barreta Island also known as Ilha Deserta, the Culatra Island (where the lighthouse of Santa Maria is located), the Island of Armona, the Island of TaviraCabanas Island and, finally, the Peninsula of Cacela. This awesome area extends along the leeward coast of the Algarve through the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António. The Atlantic ocean can be seen just beyond the Ria. The view out of the back of my apartment are beautiful homes, gardens, and mountains. I live on a wide, tree-lined cobblestone avenue; filled with gorgeous architecture. I have a public park across the street from my building (for Paco), numerous cafés and restaurants, schools, a dog run, churches, and a magnificent convent with breathtaking grounds. Why would I ever leave?
  8. No vehicle — Reducing my carbon footprint has been my personal crusade. I know I can only do so much to save the planet, but I have to do something. I walk more more because I don’t have a car and I am burning calories and saving money. Admittedly, it’s not always convenient; however, convenience is overrated and the lazier option. I miss having a car, but I do not miss looking for parking or paying for gas. I’m a stubborn fella; sleeping with less guilt is essential for my peace of mind.

Admittedly, I am tempted to provide a list of my favorite places in Portugal to visit. I have blogged about many of these cities and towns and you can access these blogs (see table of contents). There are “top of my list” spots that a traveler should not miss: Lisbon, Madeira, Porto and the Algarve. There you will find natural beauty, history, excellent cuisine, vineyards, great architecture, value, and something for everyone. As with everything in Portugal, people are extremely humble and the country is only minimally promoted to the rest of the world; perhaps it’s intentional.

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG
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Photos, starting at the top of the blog and up to here:

  1. Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
  2.  The view from the bus stop outside my apartment — Avenida 5 de Outubro. Strangely there is a good deal of exotic vegetation on this avenue, but you don’t see any of it in this photo. Palm trees, succulents, etc. This is a roundabout which saves me from hearing honking horns and keeps the traffic moving. A large public park is on the other side of the avenue.
  3. The back of a ceramic tile shop in Olhao. I met the ceramic artist after purchasing a tile wall piece I’m excited to have plastered to one of my walls. I’ll post a photo when it’s done.
  4. Shrimp and octopus right out of the Algarve Atlantic (click for Chefe Branco). Dinner with Brenda Athanus; I need to go back soon
  5. Caprese salad at L’Osteria, an Italian restaurant way too close to home.
  6. The foliage outside my building which I referred to in #2. The tops of the trees come right up to my floor (5th floor). Well in Europe it’s the 4th floor because the first floor is zero — go figure.
  7. My condominium — built in the 60s and built to last.

See Instagram, cpapagni (linked) for additional photos.

Some random recent shots:

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.

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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

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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.

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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.