From Troubled Boy to Troubled Man

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Me when I was two years old (I know, I was adorable). That’s my baby sister Debbie on the right.

I am not writing this blog so that you will feel sorry for me. In fact, I am only able to write about this chapter of my life as a result of having learned lessons and having done the hard work of self-reflection; by all accounts an on-going process. One big lesson:  do not dwell on who is to blame for your misfortunes. It’s all about looking toward the future. I am happy, looking forward to new adventures, and a hot mess — yes, it’s possible to be all these things at the same time. My hope is that I might help those who feel psychotic, lonely and lost. There is of course the added bonus of empathy from those who know me well or are just getting to know me.

 

Looking Back

Do people tell you not to worry? “Oh you’re fine; you’ll be alright” I think I may hate that more than people telling me I’m too sensitive. We all know people say stupid things all the time and I’ve learned that, for the most part, they mean well. Self-reflection may be more productive then listening to the advice of people who do not know you. Reflecting on what I was like as a child has always helped me to appreciate where I am today.

As I boy witnessing chaos all around me, I was always certain that it was all happening because of something I had done. I’d like to say that I grew out of that way of thinking. I would like to tell you that my mother sat me down and told me that none of it was my fault or that an elementary school teacher gained some insight into my family life and whispered that I was not to blame. I’m afraid that didn’t happen. Deep down I knew that I was a horrible little boy whose sins were the cause of all the terrible things happening around me. Some kids believe this and they cut themselves; some kids start taking drugs when they are nine years old or drink booze till they’re inebriated at eleven. Some kids take their own lives. I retreated to dark places and hid my shame. I bargained with God so that it would stop.

God, if you make my mom love me, I’ll be good for the rest of my life.  If you’ll just make the noise stop, I’ll clean the whole house tomorrow. God, if you make me stop thinking about men, I’ll go to church. Growing up Catholic was confusing; I found myself wanting to repent.

The chaos continued and I continued to find reasons to blame myself and hate myself even more than I already did. This self-loathing went on throughout my childhood. I’ve shared an incident in a previous blog that I frequently recall just to remind myself how much better life is today. On my 10th birthday, before blowing out my candles, my wish was to die before my next birthday. I was too afraid to kill myself, but if I wished hard enough, I was certain I would die. I thought about death a lot when I was a child. In my mind, it was the only way out. I firmly believe that children should not be dwelling on death.

For the longest time I thought it had something to do with my sexuality; or at least that’s what I told my therapist. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a need that was not being met. As a child, I needed to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved. I’m certain most children feel this way. What was different for me, and I’m sure others, was that since not all of my basic needs were being met, I carried that longing into adulthood and continued to search for belonging, acceptance and love. Often, I looked in the wrong places. There were times when I was so desperate for it, I put myself in a compromising position to have it. What followed was self-loathing and a lot of pain.

Escape came easy during the day; it was at night that the demons were harder to run away from. Looking back, I guess I had pretty good coping skills. I would always tell myself that if I did well in school, my life would improve and it did, by leaps and bounds. I also took myself out of that very negative environment as early on as I could. Being on my own at 16 years old wasn’t easy, but I was free and able to make my own decisions; good, bad or otherwise.

 

The Journey

Getting from point disaster to a better place isn’t easy and there is no formula for making it happen. It’s a combination of exercise (physical and mental), goals (long term and short term), meditation, therapy, gratitude, keeping your eyes on the prize, moderation in all things, forgiveness, listening, letting go, being true to yourself, loving yourself, and looking forward — not an exhaustive list. I’d throw a bit of luck in there too.

You put all that down on a list and it’s daunting to say the least. I also try to congratulate myself when I complete a goal and I start projects by taking baby step. If you try to do anything too quickly, you will either do a half-assed job or you will fail. Take it slowly, do the best you can and pay no attention to those who tell you it’s not possible.

 

Looking Forward

You can’t hear me, but I am sighing. I am constantly sighing. The various meanings are below, however, for me, it has been about relief. I am relieved that I no longer (for the most part) feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I intend to be easier on myself, to accept who I am, to be more forgiving of others, to be more grateful, to spend more time resting, to see more of the world and do it with intention, to care less about the things that do not concern me, and to smile/laugh more.

 

sigh

/sʌɪ/

verb
gerund or present participle: sighing
  1. emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar.
    “Harry sank into a chair and sighed with relief”
    synonyms: breathe out, exhaleMore

 

Troubled Boy to Troubled Man to Loving Myself

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Stepping out on a Friday night. I have to remind myself to look in the mirror and smile; keeping in mind that if you are the best version of yourself you can possibly be, well then, you’re okay. Not quite as adorable as the first photo when I was two years old, but none the worse for the wear.

Publishing when I finish a thought rather than waiting until Sunday. I hope that’s okay with my readers. Happy Gay Pride everyone; we’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

Wide Awake in the Early Morning

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One of my recent early mornings — coffee time on the terrace

 

Early morning defined:  the hours between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

I have been a morning person my entire life. My mom always reminded me that I would wake the entire household when I got out of bed. I don’t get out of bed at 5:15 a.m. because I have to; I wake-up early because I choose to. I haven’t used an alarm clock for 40 years (unless I have a 6:00 a.m. flight). Here are just ten reasons I love the early morning:

  1. It may just be the quietest time of the day. Night owls have finally gone to bed.
  2. You can watch the sun come up. For me this represents hope, change and a boat load of energy.
  3. That first cup of coffee. I drank decaf for years; it’s never been about the caffeine.
  4. It’s when my energy level is at its highest and I’ve tested this.
  5. I feel like I own the world (sort of grandiose I know).
  6. I feel like I can do just about anything.
  7. I’m usually the first to get to where ever I’m going.
  8. By the time I get to the gym — usually empty in the morning, I am fully awake.
  9. No one calls me before Noon because of the time difference between Europe and the U.S.
  10. “The early bird catches the worm!”

 

Knowing When You Are Most Productive

For the most part (there are exceptions), I wake up fully energized in the morning. I have a mental ‘to do’ list and I’m eager to start checking off the boxes. I know that by a certain point during the day, my energy level will begin to wane. I discovered my peak period during my freshman year in college. I was forced to register for a couple of 8:00 a.m. classes because they were the only classes with spots left by the time the juniors and seniors registered. Not sure how it’s done these days; back then Freshman got whatever scraps were left. Did not matter much to me, the courses I liked were not the popular choices (e.g., wellness, sociology, black studies).

I often found myself sitting in a nearly empty classroom. Most of the students who had enrolled, could not get their asses out of bed. I would arrive early, eager to learn — haters, stop hating. My instructors were often impressed with my attentive behavior and I was usually rewarded for it. My Pavlovian inclinations and ‘aim to please’ character traits were a recipe for success. You have to become aware of your assets; mine were always charm and being upbeat. I’m not ashamed to admit any of this. It was never about superior intelligence; lucky for me common sense and ambition were appreciated.

Throughout my college career, I continued to take morning classes, followed by library time and mental exercise (leisure reading, etc.). Whenever I started to get sluggish, usually after lunch, I would go to the gym to re-energize my battery. Fortunately, I had a part-time job that required me to work early evenings. I was reliable and dependable and I sucked up to authority. Say what you will, but my debt was minimal and for the most part, I was allowed to study at work.

 

The Advantages of Getting There Before Anyone Else

Markets:  Food markets usually get started early; often by 8:00 a.m. When you arrive early you get first pick of all the fresh food. Depending on how you get there, the earlier you arrive, the more parking there will be.

Government Offices:  Being one of the first to arrive at a government office has several advantages. I usually take a good book and try to get there an hour before they open. Government staff are dealing with some crazy stuff and the later you get there, the more agitated they are — not always the case, however, in my experience . . .

Doctor’s Offices:  Doctors get backed up. Sometimes appointments are scheduled every 15 minutes. If the first person takes 30 minutes, everything gets thrown-off and it only gets worse as the day goes by. I always ask for the first appointment if I can get it. Even if it means I have to delay seeing the doctor for a few days, it’s usually worth it.

Early Flights and Tourist Destinations:  Earlier flights have a better on-time record. As the day goes on delays can pile up and cause travel nightmares. If you’re going to a tourist destination, people with small children usually arrive a lot later because kids take some time to get ready in the morning. Get there early and you’ll surely have a more peaceful experience. I love kids. Did I tell you that I love kids?

The Road: Getting on the road early will save you lots of time and aggravation. I think traffic is on my top three list of things I hate most. I have always done everything I could possibly do to avoid traffic.

Bakery:  Baked goods right out of the oven are worth getting up early for . . . enough said.

Early Morning Sex:  You have more energy and you can see your partner in natural light. Don’t laugh; it’s true.

Write me if you think of others.

A good piece on early morning productivity (click).

 

You May Have to Put Your Phone On ‘Do Not Disturb’

Most of my friends and family know that I’m in bed by 10:00 p.m. — at times, much to their dismay. But because they’re human, they forget, and I occasionally get a text or telephone call that gets me out of bed. On nights when I need a solid seven hours, I put my phone on ‘do not disturb.’ There is a small part of me that feels guilty about this, however, there isn’t enough guilt to stop me from doing it.

 

Disadvantages

When there is an upside, you can be certain that there will be a downside. The following are several issues related to being an early riser:

  1. Most of the people in my life (nearly all in fact) are not morning people. You know who you are. You like to stay up late watching television/Netflix or reading or being out on the town or passing the hours waiting to be sleepy enough to hit the sack. There was a time in my life when saying goodnight to these folks was embarrassing for me. I would sheepishly walk toward the bedroom and feel guilty for calling it a night. That’s a thing of the past; however, I do sometimes go to bed and miss a really good conversation and/or a bit of juicy gossip. The wine flows and the guard comes down and I’m already two hours into la la land.
  2. There are genuinely times when I would like to go out dancing. Most dance clubs don’t get going until way past midnight. Staying up that late is very difficult for me. I force myself to do it occasionally because I believe being a social animal is important for my relationships and potential dating life. It’s way too easy to crawl under a comfy blanket. Especially after discovering Portuguese cotton; life changing, trust me. A disco nap (you may not know the term if you’re less than 40.
  3. People do get annoyed with you when you say you’d like to have dinner by 7:00 p.m. The problem with retiring early, is that if you eat too late, the food just sits in your stomach and can be disruptive to sleep. Again, most of my friends put up with me. I like giving dinner parties; this way I get to decide when dinner is served.
  4. Speaking of dinner parties . . . I am so glad that I do not live in Japan. In Japan, if you host dinner guests, you cannot call it a night while said guests are enjoying your hospitality. When your guests decide to go home, then and only then, can you say goodnight. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked my guests to leave my apartment. In fact, when I host guests overnight, I almost always go to bed long before they do.
  5. When I am an overnight guest in someone’s home, I do not hesitate to ask them to grind their coffee beans and set up their coffee maker before they go to bed. Conversely, when I have guests, I grind my beans the night before so that I do not wake them at 5:00 a.m. — it’s the little things that differentiate one from other hosts; good hospitality means letting your guests sleep-in.
  6. No matter what time I go to bed, I usually wake up at the same time every morning. It’s not a good thing, but I’ve learned that there isn’t much I can do about it.
  7. It’s not good for dating.
  8. If you like award shows, you’re screwed.

 

You’re not a morning person but you’d like to be? I know people who have successfully made the change. For the rest of you, stay who are and keep the morning quiet for me.

 

Next Week’s Blog:  I’ll be traveling to Vienna today (Thursday) and I look forward to telling you all about it.

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Blue moon Sunday night

 

Being Introverted

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Photo by anna-m. w. on Pexels.com

 

How do I know that I’m introverted? A few tell-tale signs:

  1. I took the Myers-Briggs test numerous times and I always come up introverted. (see below for explanation.
  2. I prefer being myself to being with people. That is not to say I don’t like people; I do like people very much.
  3. When I’m attending a social gathering, I have to go out of my way to be social
  4. I have many, many brothers and sisters. Doesn’t that explain why I’m introverted?

The trait of extraversion–introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories. The terms introversion and extraversion were popularized by Carl Jung,[1] although both the popular understanding and psychological usage differ from his original intent. Extraversion tends to be manifested in outgoing, talkative, energetic behavior, whereas introversion is manifested in more reserved and solitary behavior.

Extraversion and introversion are typically viewed as a single continuum, so to be high in one necessitates being low in the other. Carl Jung and the developers of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator provide a different perspective and suggest that everyone has both an extraverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other. Rather than focusing on interpersonal behavior, however, Jung defined introversion as an “attitude-type characterized by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents” (focus on one’s inner psychic activity) and extraversion as “an attitude type characterized by concentration of interest on the external object” (focus on the outside world).[3

There are times when I tell friends that I am an introvert and they challenge me. I’m often told that I am far too social to possibly be an introvert. Those who know me well, know that there are days when I just need to be by myself. One of the many reasons I moved overseas, was to spend more time alone. The older I get the more introverted I become. There is absolutely no danger in becoming a hermit, I like love my friends and family too much.

Just back of five weeks of visiting the U.S. to see friends and family, may of whom I have not seen in years. I truly enjoyed seeing and spending time with all of these folks, but honestly, being “on” for such a long period of time left me completely depleted of all of my energy. I got home to Portugal, closed my door and sat in the splendor of isolation . . . I sat for a long time.

I know people who can never be alone. My mother was such a person. She would call anyone or go anywhere so that she could have company. I guess that would be a case of extreme extroversion or perhaps it was fear; fear of having to be with oneself.  When I was kid, my mother would climb the attic stairs; my bedroom was in the attic, just to chide me about being in my room alone. She would practically force me to go outside to play. If you have children that tell you that they’d rather read or write or play games, for goodness sake, let them be.

 

A Quieter World

Noise as loud as jack hammers

I cover my ears

Piercing sirens and car horns

Muffle it or make it stop

 

Rock turned up six decibels

Slammed shut to block it out

Doors closed, pills popped, eyes squeezed closed

Two a.m. and I still hear it

 

Chatter, chatter, chatter

Barking, bells and horns in surround sound

Planes take off and circle overhead

Breaking in speeding traffic

 

I tell my brain to turn it down

Use reason to soothe the sound

White noise in the dark

Deafening silence as I sleep

 

[I haven’t written a poem in years; it’s a good sign.]

 

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A quiet place at the top of the world

 

 

The thing is, when you know who you are and what you like, you can just enjoy being.

 

Over ten million people have watched Brené Brown speak, but I had never heard her name until browsing through Netflix offerings last night. Not only does she know what she’s talking about, in fact, she is a pleasure to listen to. Take a listen:

Observations Concerning the U.S. and What is Happening Now

Some thoughts before this American expat flies home later today:

 

I wasn’t going to write this blog until after I returned home to Portugal and had some time to reflect on my five weeks in the U.S. After a year away from my country, my family, my friends and the politics of my former home, there are many observations I feel compelled to share. I will not name names. Not only would it be unfair and inappropriate to do so, but in truth what I saw and experienced could have come from anyone, anywhere in this country. Some might argue this point, however, the culture of the U.S. is reflected in every city and town throughout the country.

If you consider the history of the U.S., a year is hardly more than a moment in time. To be clear, my comments will not be generalizations that can and should be applied to all Americans. What I will share are subjective observations about the people and places I visited.

Politics

One of the things I said when I moved abroad is that I would try not to pay too much attention to the politics in the States. That didn’t happen. I watched the news everyday and I found myself feeling just as angry and bewildered. I left Portugal in April willing to listen to what everyone I spoke to about politics had to say.

I have several Trump supporters in my life. This became a big problem for me when he was elected because Mr. Trump and the people he surrounds himself with, represent just about everything I am opposed to. At first I did not want to speak to or interact with these people. Over time, I found myself missing them and feeling badly about my attitude. I made the decision to put politics aside and to try to understand where these friends and family members were coming from.

I had several very difficult conversations with family members I care deeply about. I remained calm and listened carefully. What I learned was revealing and comforting (in a way):

For the most part, the people I know who support Trump are kind, smart, caring individuals. They are fully aware of most of his shortcomings and they watch and pay attention to a variety of media. They seem to know that, for the most part, they are not the majority of this country. They say that there are lies and distortions on both sides of the aisle and I would have to agree with this assessment. They know how I feel and they respect my thoughts. I could go on; however, the bottom line is that they have thought about the pros and cons and the facts. They are not 100% conservative or 100% liberal. They believe in much of the same things I believe in and they are not all the same; not in any way.

I came out of this experience feeling a bit better about the people in my world. I’m admittedly still not happy about the choice they have made, but I can no longer dismiss them or their beliefs. The best I can do is continue to share when I witness distorted facts or atrocities. I also need to remind myself that my truth may not be my “brother’s” truth.

The Economy

I was shocked at how much more expensive everything was. Hotels, restaurants, the subway; everything has gone up and not just a little. There was a time when I could buy a cup of mediocre coffee at a street vendor for a buck — that same cup of mud is now two dollars. I guess what I don’t understand is why people keep going back for more. You cannot have a casual sit down lunch at a restaurant without spending twenty dollars or more (including diners).

When I was a teenager I would see Broadway shows for $8 and that was considered a lot of money because movies were a dollar. Now, cheap Broadway tickets are over $100 and movies are $15 (or more). My friends told me stories about rising rents. Between Airbnb and greedy landlords, there appears to be big problems for renters everywhere. You either have to live far from where you work or share a small space. Greed seems to have gotten worse.

I realize these kinds of issues arise with every generation; however, the difference today is how pervasive price gouging is and big business and its impact on the economy. If more and more people are using their homes as Airbnb rather than renting on a long-term basis, what inventory will be left for those who cannot afford to buy or pay high rents?

Some of the Comments Made to Me or Overheard

  • Americans should take an intelligence test before they’re allowed to vote — overheard at a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.
  • I like Trump. I mean he’s just a man and men love women. I don’t care what he does in the bedroom and I don’t care if he sends out mean tweets; what I care about is how safe we are and our the security of our economy — someone I know very well.
  • This country will soon be run by minorities; we have to try to slow them down before they ruin it for the rest of us — also someone I know well.
  • What we’re doing to our planet is scary and I’m wondering if I did the right thing by having children — a family member.
  • What we are experiencing is surreal and difficult to comprehend. I know this country has been through tougher times, but this feels like the beginning of the end. I waiting for a huge implosion — a family member.
  • New York City has become a place where there is no longer a middle class. You’re either very rich and live well or you’re poor and living day-to-day — a good friend.
  • There are no more mom and pop restaurants. All of the new places are owned by corporations or rich investors — a friend in the food business.
  • Keeping cars out of NYC only makes it easier for the rich to get around. If delivery trucks cannot or will not pay to enter the city, how will people get milk or afford milk — a friend in NYC.
  • We better be prepared for a second term of Trump because it’s going to happen — several people.
  • Not all Floridians are pond scum — a stranger at the bar at Miami airport.
  • Guns that kill will always be easy to get in America; it’s the people who use them that are the problem — a good friend.
  • Late term abortions are wrong and causing problems for other more legitimate abortions — a liberal friend.
  • Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old to run for president. I know it’s agist to say this, but I know how being old feels and the elderly have no place running the country — an older friend.
  • Doctors will never work for less — a friend in healthcare.

There was so much more said in my presence. What I learned is that opinions and thoughts are strong and real. In the end we have to do our own research and search our own souls for answers.

The Future

What I see and hear concerns me deeply. Many people I know and love have the means to survive for years to come, but there are also many people in my life that are living a life that borders on poverty. I cannot imagine surviving on minimum wage today or being out of work for any length of time. People seem more concerned with their own future and less concerned with their neighbors and humankind in general. I don’t necessarily have answers, but I do have questions:

If the United States becomes a country divided by haves and have nots, how long can it survive? Will there come a time when the marginalized and forgotten rebel? If that time comes, who will survive? Would it not be better for those who have an abundance to share a percentage with those who do not? “Charity begins at home,” has true meaning in today’s world.

What is happening in Venezuela and other parts of the world should teach us many lessons, but are we willing to learn?

Note:  Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors, it’s time to pack.

Managing Your Money

I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too. –Steve Martin

 

 

 

Tackling this topic is not very smart. I’m certain some of my readers will disagree with some of the points I will make. Again, my thoughts are all subjective. I share them only to give you a starting-off point or an example of one way to go. People worry about money for all different reasons and most of the time, those worries are valid. I’m often asked how I was able to retire when I was 58 years old.

The average retirement age in the United States among currently living retirees was 59.88 years old. The median living retiree left work at 62 years old, and the most common age to retire was 62 years old. 18.7% of retirees retired at age 62, and a whopping 63.1% retired between the ages of 57 and 66Feb 27, 2019
Average Retirement Age in the United States – DQYDJ – DQYDJ.com

With the average age at 59.88 years old, there are people retiring a lot older and a lot younger than I was. I was fortunate to retire earlier than the median age of 62. This is how I did it:

Your Retirement Fund — When you’re in your 20s the last thing you’re thinking about is retirement. You’re wondering how you’re going to pay off your college loans, whether or not you’ll have rent money, where you’ll get the money to fix the car — you get my point. But honestly, if you want to retire at an earlier age, you have to put some money into a retirement account as soon as possible. It almost has to be like a car payment or rent. It takes discipline. I understand that for some people, this isn’t even a remote possibility. Whenever I received a pay increase, I raised the amount my employer took out of my salary for my 401K (I was fortunate to have employer contribution matching for 20 years of my career, I understand that it’s rare for employers to match these days). Because they deduct the money pre-tax, you pay less taxes on your income. You are not taxed on the money until you retire, at which point you will theoretically be drawing less annually and therefore, you will be in a lower tax bracket. Let’s just say that if you are single and you are not responsible for others, you might be able to do this.

Side note:  financial advisors told me that upon retirement I needed to be able to draw two-thirds of my annual salary in order to maintain my lifestyle. I always thought that was a crock and that they told you that so that they (and their companies) would earn more money. Most financial firms charge you an annual percentage of your savings; the more you have put away, the better they do. I guess you can’t blame them for that. I have found that my needs and desires have changed as I’ve gotten older. It doesn’t hurt that I now live in a country that is far less expensive than just about anywhere in the States. Also, I caution you to do extensive research on financial institutions. There are a lot of bad players out there and the last thing you want is to see the money you worked so hard to save, disappear.

Borrowing — When big life decisions come up, like buying a car or a house, you cannot take the money out of your retirement account. I learned this lesson the hard way. The government will penalize you in two ways:  first, you’ll have to pay a ten percent penalty for early withdrawal, and then you’ll have to pay tax on the money as if you’ve earned it — it can turn out to be thousands of dollars that you do not have. When you’re young, it’s easy to tell yourself that you can use your retirement savings and worry about it later — it’s a bad call. An alternative is a retirement fund that allow you to borrow from them (research your fund). In essence, it’s like you are the bank and you are loaning yourself money. When you pay back the loan, you are paying interest to yourself. So you are paying for the loan, but at least the payback money is going in your pocket. Keep in mind that the amount you’re borrowing has no earning power while you are paying the money back. Some whole life insurance policies offer you the same benefit. It’s better to avoid this option altogether if you can. And by the way, do not get suckered into a whole life policy as a way to save for the future. Term life is a cheaper and better security blanket for your family. And if your employer offers life insurance as a benefit, don’t count on that policy to take care of your family. If you lose your job, you lose that insurance. Therefore, you should either have money in savings to protect your family or term life insurance (if you’re young and healthy, it’s fairly inexpensive).

Saving — Save for the things you want to buy. Buying on credit is expensive and debt piles up quickly. There are guidelines about percentages of your salary that might be helpful, but we all know that you can only save money if you have money to save.

Saving Tips

54 Ways to Save

Budgeting — Budgeting is a big deal. It allows you monitor the funds coming in and going out. You’ll know what to put aside for the essentials and you’ll hopefully know what will be left at the end of your pay period. I always overestimated my utilities. I knew that my electricity bill would be high during the summer months because I hate heat. I knew my AC would be cranked and frankly, I’d pay for AC before I would buy new clothes or take a trip. Your budget should be adjusted whenever you have a major financial change (pay increase, rent increase, mortgage, etc.). Spending within your means is essential. People end up under water because they spend more than they earn.

Frivolous Spending — Small extravagances are dangerous. I remember working with people who stopped at Starbucks on the way to work everyday. They spent $10 a day at a coffee shop everyday and that was breakfast 10 years ago. That adds up to $200 dollars a month for coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I always made coffee and had oatmeal or cereal at home; saved me thousands over the years. That’s just one expense — think about all of the others you can avoid or live without.

I have used frivolous spending as a reward I dangled in front of myself if and when I achieved long and short-term goals. If I had a great meeting at work, I’d treat myself to a morning cappuccino. It makes for a sweet reward and a little private celebration. If I achieved a big goal (like my Ph.D.or a big promotion at The French Culinary Institute), I’d treat myself to a nice vacation or I would upgrade my car. I’ve never really cared for fancy resorts. I was once treated to a few days at a Ritz Carlton Resort in Arizona. I ordered a cocktail poolside and it was $25; I thought to myself, I could have bought myself a new shirt for that much money.

Credit Cards — Credit card debt is the worst debt you can have. Well not true, if you borrowed money from my mother’s friend Vinnie in Brooklyn and had to pay him back twice what you borrowed, that was pretty bad. The problem with credit cards is that they allow you to pay back a minimum amount each month and before you know it, your debt is greater than your monthly income. I once gave all of my credit cards to a friend and I told him to never give them up, even if I begged. Spending can become an unwanted addiction. Keep one or two low interest cards to have for travel and emergencies. There are also cards that draw from your checking or savings; even better.

Mileage programs — Credit card companies and airlines have become very greedy (I know, they always were). There was a time when your miles meant something. Now there are enormous fees that come along with “free” tickets or hotel rooms. I personally like hotels.com; you get a free room after you’ve booked ten nights using their service. The fees and taxes you pay for your free room are nominal — I’m wondering how long this program will last.

Going Out — Going to bars will set you back. A night at the bar could be outrageously expensive. If the point is to hang out with your friends, you should consider taking turns hosting. Beer in the supermarket is a lot cheaper and a bottle of vodka can go a long way. Don’t do take out — way too expensive. Some sandwiches or snack foods will save you lots of money. It’s not being cheap, it’s being smart (just to make you jealous:  a beer at a bar or cafe in Faro is one euro or 1.50 euro; a mixed drink is usually 3 euros and sometimes even less. Crazy huh?

I was at a bar with friends in New York City last year and I decided that since they all came to see me, I should buy a round. I looked at the check to see what I should tip and the check was over $100 — sticker shock!

Eating in Restaurants — I love eating out; as does most of the world. Letting someone else cook and do the dishes is quite a treat. I know people who never cook or eat in and I have to say I’m a little jealous. Similar to drinking in bars, eating out can cut into your savings or add to your monthly budget. If you’re trying to save for a house or a college education, you might consider either cooking more or eating at less expensive restaurants. I love my own cooking so this isn’t too much of an issue for me. When I lived in New York and Maine it was difficult to avoid eating out a lot. When I was at the French Culinary Institute I had to eat out to keep up with our alumni and current food trends. Then of course, most of my friends are big time foodies and most of our social activities centered around food and eating out. Every once in a while I would suggest taking a long walk or eating in just to mixed things up a bit and save some cash. Keep track of what you’re spending at restaurants. When you look at the amount, it may help you cut back.

 

Vacations — I love Airbnbs because I can cook some of my own meals. So many benefits if you like to cook:  you know the ingredients are fresh and you can save lots of money. I also do a lot of research on off-season bargains, etc. It’s so important to get away; it’s a great way to gain perspective and escape from your worries for a bit. For me it’s always been a good excuse for allowing myself to shut down. It’s also a great opportunity to spend leisure time with friends. I also get extra satisfaction from having snagged a bargain.

Generosity — If you’re from a big family, there are lots of weddings, showers, birthdays, anniversaries and different ways to celebrate. And then there’s Christmas, Hanukkah, bar mitzvahs, oy vey. Being generous and buying expensive gifts is great if you have a load of cash, but let’s face it, few of us do. Gift giving should be more about showing someone you care with a token gesture, but it’s become competitive and sometimes the expectations are unfair and unrealistic. For example, if you don’t spend a lot of money on a unique Valentines gift, it means you don’t love your partner. Sometimes a discussion about limits and expectations is warranted in order to keep things reasonable. More communication is always better. I think it’s great to be generous, but also prudent to live within your means.

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize — If early retirement or retirement in a beautiful place is your goal, keep it dangling in front of you at all times. What will it take to get there? How much do you need to put away annually? Where can you cut back in order to get there faster? Entice yourself with photographs and journal entries describing what it will be like.

What I Might Have Done Differently

Regrets are a waste of time and it turned out pretty well for me despite the mistakes I made, but for your benefit, the following are some things I might have done differently:

  • I should have started savings earlier.
  • I spent a lot of money on a Whole Life insurance policy thinking it would grow over time and benefit me in retirement. It was a waste of money and I eventually cashed it in.
  • I spent a lot of money on silly gadgets (i.e. kitchen tools, TVs, electronic equipment) throughout my life. I wish I had been a bit more prudent.
  • I spent way too much money on “the other guy” in relationships; oh well.
  • I had a little country house in Pennsylvania for ten years. If I could do it over, I’d rent. Buying a second home is great for entertaining and bragging rights, but it is very expensive and a lot of work. I spent most weekends doing repairs and taking care of the yard; hardly a place to relax and unwind (although I did enjoy some good times there).
  • Sometimes I forget to check to see what I have in the refrigerator or pantry. I end up buying too much of something and end up having to throw away food that is no longer fresh.
  • I’ve always enjoyed casinos and I’ll leave it at that.

Note:  My brother and his wife are visiting from the States. I told my brother I was writing this blog and this was his reaction:

“Chris, you don’t understand, the only person you have to take care of is yourself. I have a wife, children and grandchildren to care for. It’s a lot harder for me bro.”

This is the reaction I feared. I’m hoping my readers can find something helpful here. If I missed anything, please chime in.

 

I see the moon over Faro (left) in the morning (back view) and the sunset over the Ria Formosa in the evening (right, terrace view) and it makes all the sacrifices I had to make to get here worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

Accepting What You See in the Mirror

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor seemed to have it together. My goal is to think the way Eleanor thought. Well, we know that’s not happening. I took these selfies recently and let me tell you, I’m not a selfie taker (I read that all selfie takers say that). I’m not sure why I took them or where I took them, but they do pretty much sum up how I feel about getting older.

 

 

Getting older is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think:  it’s not fair that my father was handsome his entire life (he was 87 when he died) or see that wattle under your chin, you deserve it for teasing your mom about hers. I want to love every line on my face and embrace my sagging eyelids and I want to believe that there is a reason there is more hair in my ears than on the top of my head; although I might have to let that one go.

I was coerced and cajoled into going to a Carnival party last night. You know the feeling:  I’m too old, I’ll be invisible. I don’t want to dance, the food will suck, and so on. I pushed myself so that I could prove to myself and my new Portuguese friends, that I could party with the best of them. I decided to wear whiteout make-up in hopes that it would cover my lines, I sported a new t-shirt, newly refurbished black boots and some borrowed red lipstick. I made an effort and it worked. I had a great time and although I wished the party had started a bit earlier, I stuck it out for a few hours and I went to sleep smiling; facial lines intact.

 

 

I know all of this is normal growing older stuff and I know that at some point I will probably embrace it, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to be better at it now. In the meantime, I need to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

 

Some Things One Can Do to Embrace the Aging Process:

  1. Take care of your skin — Twenty years ago, I paid quite a lot of money for a facial in New York City just to learn how to take better care of my skin. The biggest lesson I learned was about toner. It’s really important to close your pores after you’ve washed your face or shaved. If you do not close your pores or use toner to close your pores, anything you put on your skin will go right into your pores and clog them up. That’s when you end up with blackheads and pimples; yes I still get pimples — moisturizer is also important for preventing wrinkles; dry skin is more likely to wrinkle. Some men are way too macho to care about this stuff, but for those who do, it is possible to have good skin your entire life.
  2. Take care of your body — We all know that unless you eat right and exercise, your body will give you all sorts of problems. Thirty minutes of exercise a few days a week will go a long way for good health. Eating fresh food and taking vitamin supplements are also essential. I do it all in moderation (or I won’t do it). Genetics plays into aging; however, how well you take care of your body is a huge factor in how well you age.
  3. Stay sharp — Mind, body and spirit are usually the three aspects of your life that experts point to when discussing good health. Keeping your mind sharp means that you have to exercise your brain. Sitting in front of your television can be relaxing and benefit your mental wellbeing, but doing things that stimulate your mind are key to staying mentally sharp. Reading, puzzles, attending lectures, and participating in stimulating conversation, are examples of things you can do to stay sharp. Don’t let your brain atrophy.
  4. Dress Up — This is a difficult one for me. Give me a nice cotton tee-shirt and some soft cotton sweatpants and I’m good to go. That’s okay for grocery shopping or taking a brisk walk, but when you’re going out for dinner or to a concert, make the extra effort and dress up a bit. People around you will show you how much they appreciate the effort. When we get lazy and let ourselves go, it affects the way we feel about ourselves and has a negative impact on the way we interact with others. It can be so subtle we don’t see it, but trust me, it’s there. Experiment with this and wear a sports jacket and tie to dinner; you’ll see a big difference in the way people treat you — you too ladies (without the tie though).
  5. Pamper yourself — vacation, massage, long walk on the beach and so many other things you can do to say “I love you” to yourself.
  6. Be graceful and gracious — Always put your best self forward. Good manners and a positive attitude go a long way in navigating the world around you. We all need one another at one point or another. Show the people around you that you appreciate them; when you need something, people will remember how you treated them or whether or not you thanked them. We all need to be appreciated. I have had to remind several people in my life that I should not and will not be taken for granted. It’s all part of being a good friend or family member — we can all learn from one another. People always say that the world was once a kinder, gentler place. It’s difficult to know how true that statement is; however, it doesn’t hurt to strive to improve; we all benefit from a kinder world.
  7. Volunteer — An opportunity to give back, do something fulfilling and meet new people.
  8. Remember the alternative is not-so-good

 

What to Say to People When They Ask You How Old You Are?

  • I used to add ten years onto my age to see what kind of reaction I’d get. One time I did that and the person said, “That’s what I would have guessed.”  Needless to say, I stopped doing that.
  • You can stand tall and proudly declare your exact age.
  • You can lie if it makes you feel better.
  • You can say, “I’m in my 50s but I feel like I’m 30.”
  • You can tell people what was happening in the world when you were born. There was a major solar eclipse on the day I was born. I like sharing that for some reason. I believe the strength of the sun on the day I was born had a lot to do with my birth. You don’t have to agree with me, that’s okay.
  • I wouldn’t say, “How old do you think I am?” unless you are prepared for the answer.
  • You can say, “Old enough.”
  • Fill in the blank __________________________.

 

How Others Age

Try not to compare yourself to others. Like I said earlier, genetics play a major role in aging. Some people seem to have better skin. Some people have arthritis and some don’t. Some people can build muscle more easily. You get my point; be easier on yourself.

One of the things I love about growing older is that you seem to care less about what others think — it’s freeing to say the least. I’m looking forward to caring even a little less. I’m talking about the divisive stuff, not the loving and caring stuff.

 

A couple of good articles:

Aging in Beauty

Learning to Love Growing Old

Coping with Aging

 

Daylight Savings Time

I received calendar messages reminding me about daylight savings time yesterday. I thought that I was losing an hour, so I went to bed earlier and woke up later (I had changed all of my clocks before I went to bed). When I woke up the time on my phone hadn’t changed, so I did a bit of research. I learned that daylight savings time will not happen in Portugal until March 31. I’m not happy about this. Why do we continue this antiquated practice and why can’t all the countries who still do it, do it at the same time? Just sounding off a bit.

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I’m adding a section to my blog called “Blog Truth.” I will tack this section onto the end of my blog when something is weighing on my mind and I believe it needs to be said. You might ask, “Isn’t that what your blogs are all about?” The answer is yes, except that there are times when I don’t want to write an entire blog about a singular thought. For example:

Blog Truth

I’m fairly certain that I alienated some of my readers by revealing early drug use. I believe this is true because of non-reaction from readers who usually weigh-in. Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps these folks had nothing to say — that is what I hope to be true. Most of the reactions I receive are sent privately. For this particular blog, I surprisingly had very little feedback. Feel free to let me know what you think; publicly or privately.

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Perspective

 

I like to think that I’m a big picture kinda guy, except that I’m not. I get pretty bogged down in minutia. Big picture would mean that I’d be considering how I fit into the scheme of things and how small I am compared to the universe. It’s time for me to start differently. Getting older and living overseas helps; however, I still think about what’s to come more than I should. I am constantly about living in the present, but the present just passed me by, in a big way. How about I try just living?

 

Who Am I?

You need to figure out who you are before you can consider how you fit in with the rest of the world.

It’s a big question, no? It would obviously take up a great deal of blog space to provide an answer and I’d end up boring you to death. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to answer this question in just a few short sentences. Hopefully some of what I have to say will resonate for you.

I am first a foremost a human being. The reason it is important to acknowledge this is simple:  human beings are flawed; accepting this is the key to accepting yourself. Next, my identity:   I am Christopher, a name given to me, that I have always liked. I am nearly 60 years old, caucasian, gay, and divorced (the order doesn’t matter). I am insecure, fairly healthy, happy, sad, and about 20 pounds overweight. I am sort of retired; however, I’m not sure I actually believe that. I am average looking (meaning I don’t believe that I am ugly), a bit taller than the average man, I still get pimples, I am bald, I am arthritic, I am quick to judge, I feel deeply and cry easily, I work hard on my friendships, I love most of my family, I have achieved some financial success, I am proud of my career, I am educated, I drink too much, and I can be lazy. Most of this stuff is easy for others to see and some of it may be a surprise — I like that the people around me don’t know everything about me. Yes, there is more to learn (for another time).

Let me stop now and conclude that in truth, I not fully aware of who I am. Lately, I have scratched the surface and thus far, I like most of what I see. Discovering who you are is a big part of life’s journey. That journey is far from over.

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I give myself a facial once every few weeks. I’m not sure it doesn’t anything for my skin, but it makes me feel better about myself; certainly I feel cleaner.

 

How Does Who I Am Fit Into the Rest of the World

It doesn’t hurt to be answering this question in my beautiful hotel room, with a magnificent view of Seville, Spain. Sometimes, in order to gain perspective, it helps to be out of your element.

As I begin to see myself as a very small part of the universe, it helps me to understand where and how I fit in. A tiny part of me is fully aware of the difference I make in other people’s lives. Would they survive without me? Absolutely. Would the world keep turning? Of course. I know in my heart that each of us, in a small way, can change the world. I also acknowledge that some of us have the ability to change it in a big way; I’m thinking:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and people like that; people we should be grateful for and grateful to.

In short, I fit like a pair of mismatched shoes; the feet go in, but something doesn’t look quite right. You know what? That’s okay.

 

Who Do I Want to Be?

Most of us start thinking about this question early in our lives; I know I did. Funny thing is we don’t always come to a conclusion. I find myself reflecting on this question quite often. There are times when I’m sailing along and I’m thinking, I am an educator and I’ll just keep educating. And then there are times when I think, I haven’t amounted to much. The latter is of course, irrational thinking. It’s a trap we all fall into — the ol’ I’m not good enough trap. On good days I know that this is ridiculous. Still, coming to terms with the presence of demons is important for growth. These days, I acknowledge the demons and then I decide to deal with them. It’s okay not to know the complete answer to this difficult question. It’s okay to search. The implicit meaning of searching is to seek an answer; an action and therefore, not stagnation.

Dictionary result for search

verb
  1. 1.
    try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
    synonyms: huntlookexploreforage, fish about/around, look high and low, cast about/around/round, ferret (about/around), root about/around, rummage about/around; More

noun
  1. 1.
    an act of searching for someone or something.
    “the police carried out a thorough search of the premises”

 

Reality Check

It is important for me to acknowledge that at 60 years old, I will probably not achieve a few of my goals. I can sit around and pout and beat myself for this or I can set realistic goals. That is not to say that I should abandon everything I’ve wished for. When I take inventory of what I have achieved, it makes me feel better about what I have not. I don’t reduce my list of goals, I adjust it. Knowing your limits is essential. Reaching beyond your limits is healthy and may surprise you. It’s all about balance and your personal threshold.

I’ve heard it said that when people are dying and they are asked if they have any regrets, there are a few common answers:

  1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
  2. I wish I had worked less.
  3. I wish I had worried less.

There are more, but these are the ones I am paying the most attention to. It’s important for me to learn from the mistakes others have made and learn from the lessons others have taught me.

architecture black and white challenge chance
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

An Organic Lifestyle

These days the word organic is overused and abused. I thought twice about using it today because it has been watered down of late. I am going to simply state that it is my goal to gain some perspective on my life by allowing it to unfold before me more organically/naturally. I’ve talked about this before, however, I think it’s worth repeating. When I have been able to move more fluidly through life without little planning, I have been pleasantly surprised. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to possibilities. It seems so simple when I type the words. The truth is that for some, it is extremely difficult. I have been known to actually plan what time of the day I will plan — that’s right, I will make an entry on my calendar at the 9:15 a.m. slot, that states, “make a to do list for the next week.” It’s going a bit too far I’d say.

Perspective can be gained by allowing oneself to think freely and move through the day without directing every action. In other other words, allowing yourself to just be.

 

A Strange, but honest side note:  I just returned from Seville, Spain. Seville is a little over two hours from my home in Faro. When I decided to move to Portugal, I had no idea I was so close to Seville. I had been there about 15 years ago and I had a not-so-great experience; I won’t go into the details here. I had the occasion to return to Seville a few months ago and I fell in love with the city. It is rich in culture, authentic, rich in history, there are many modern restaurants worthy of trying, it is clean, friendly, fairly easy to navigate, and not at all pricey. Spain is a progressive country that embraces all people. Being gay in Spain is not at all an issue and that is not true of every city.

The reason I started this note by writing that this entry would be strange, is this:  I don’t want to blog about where I eat when I’m there (although I have made mention of a place in a previous blog), where I stay, the places I visit, etc. I do post on Instagram if you’re interested. I want Seville to be a quick getaway for me. It’s sort of my second home. I want to just enjoy all that it has to offer and I have decided to be selfish and keep most of it to myself. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in going. I would be happy to share privately with those who are truly interested. I make no apologies for this.

 

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I met this wide-eyed little boy on a bus to Loulé last Friday. It occurred to me that all he wanted was to make a connection. Had I not been open to interaction with another human being, I would have missed out on the innocence of this beautiful child.