The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Right Where I am Supposed to Be

Accept, Adjust and Adapt

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There have been many life lessons learned over the past couple of months. I can’t speak for those of us who were/are in quarantine with others and in fact, I cannot speak for those spending this time alone; I can only speak for myself. Clearly, this is and has been a unique experience for all of us. I have been alone in a foreign country since the lockdown began and it is surreal at the very least.

It’s difficult not to be confused about exactly what is happening with COVID-19. It depends on who you’re watching or reading and what you choose to believe. There is a reason most people no longer have faith in the media or their government. I only allow myself a few minutes of news a day. It doesn’t matter when you turn on the television, it’s one big loop of sensationalism and half-truths. For the most part I choose to read a couple of sources and form my own opinion. I do what I have to do to stay within the law as we battle the unknown. Since fear is a major motivator for government and the media, I refuse to get sucked into this toxic vortex. I rely on facts as much as possible and I leave speculation to others.

 

Once You Discover Who You Are . . .

When you’re alone with your thoughts, you come to realizations and you make choices. Do you dwell on the negative? Do you get angry? Do you find yourself escaping? What mechanism do you use to cope? You probably have an arsenal of weapons on hand to deal with reality. Choosing healthy tools is the best way to go, however, that’s not always possible. So how do decide the route to take? First, do you know who you are?

There are things I have discovered about myself that help me develop the tools I need and make the right choices:

  1. I do not like for anything to interfere with a good night’s sleep (about 7.5 hours).
  2. I do not like paying for my bad choices the next day.
  3. I do not like how it feels when I beat myself up.
  4. I love how it feels to be well rested.
  5. I do not like how my stomach feels when I have overindulged.
  6. When I have the discipline of going to the gym five or six times a week, I never contemplate not exercising. When that option is not available, one out of two times, I will not exercise. Even writing this down helps to motivate me.
  7. There are times when I’m stressed and concerned and in complete denial about my state of mind.
  8. As I get older, I have less tolerance for many things.
  9. Food has become my primary motivator.
  10. Having a pet helps with self-discipline.

It all seems pretty straightforward and normal. So why am I still uncertain?

 

Tools & Rewards

One of the tools I frequently use is the weighing of pros and cons. Yes, that second Marguerita would taste really good with my Mexican food, but what price would I pay? When I do this simple assessment, nine out of 10 times, I will decide to pass on the second cocktail.

I live for rewards. I find them to be a positive way to live a healthier life. If I do blank I get blank as a reward. This has been my MO for a long time. During this time — the lockdown, I have noticed this happening more often. If I complete my language lesson, I can read my novel for an hour. If I climb the stairs in my building for 30 minutes, I can have some chocolate and on and on. It seems to be the only thing that motivates me, but it works.

 

What Matters Most

What matters most in my life has been the greatest lesson learned during this time. I thought about this prior to the virus, but sorting it out has become a much greater priority. My family has always been important to me and that will continue until I die. A trip to the States this week was unfortunately cancelled. Now that I am a resident of Portugal, I cannot fly to the States at this time; my legal address is here. I need to be certain that I am okay with this situation for at least the next five years. Selling an apartment in Faro is not going to be like it was in the States — I sold my last three apartments in less than a week. In Portugal, your place can easily sit on the market for up to two years. That’s fine, it just means planning a bit further into the future.

The good news is that I have come out of this knowing that living overseas is definitely what I want and remaining overseas is a certainty. I have come to realize that there is another move left in me and it will more than likely be Italy. I ultimately want to be where my father was born. I am Italian after all. Now that I have my father’s birth certificate, I can begin to look into dual citizenship. The coast of Croatia is also a possibility — all options are currently open. It’s a big world out there isn’t it?

 

Noticing Changes 

It seems that people are more grateful now than they have been for a long time. Grateful to others, grateful for their own good health, and grateful to be alive. I remember how people in New York City were after 911. I rode the subway watching strangers who would have never considered giving up their seats, stand for older people or the disabled. I saw people smile at one another for no other reason than to show gratitude and solidarity. This was a New York City I could love. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. We slowly slipped back into our everyday, former routines.

I suspect the same thing will happen with this pandemic. People will be more grateful for a short while and then we will all go back to “normal.” Even if we have to socially distance ourselves from one another for a long while or wear masks when we get a haircut; we humans adapt pretty quickly. If we’re conscious of our nature, is it possible to change? I think it is very possible. Your new normal can be based on what you learned from past experience. If you took up running while in quarantine, then continue to run. If you started eating healthier foods, keep it up, if you called people you care about more often, and so on.

The hardest thing for me has been isolation. I enjoy being out and about. I’m not sure it’s in my nature to spend a lot of time at home. I currently do not have a lot of choice and I’m hoping that will change sooner than later.

Life Goes On! | Change my life quotes, Go for it quotes, My life ...

 

Dialogue With Yourself

 

Here’s how the conversation might go on any given day:

5:15 a.m.:  Good morning! Where’s Paco (dog)? Paco! Paco! Come and say good morning because I have to get up to pee. Did I set up the coffee last night? You need to brush your teeth. Hey Paco, good morning, what a good boy, yes, yes, yes, yes. No tongue, I told you no tongue. Okay let’s get up. What are you going to do today? I need to blog. It’s Monday, I need to start my blog, but what the fuck do I write about (I have a potty mouth when I talk to myself)? Call Angie to wish her a happy birthday. Oh shit, my back hurts. Stretch stupid! Paco are you hungry? Shit, I didn’t set up the coffee.

Later the same morning:  It’s 11:00 a.m. and I have accomplished absolutely nothing. What is wrong with you, go for a walk.

6:00 p.m.:  You didn’t get everything you wanted to get done, done, but it’s 6:00 p.m. and time for a cocktail. Good stuff? Cheap stuff? Oh what the hell, go for the good stuff.

9:30 p.m.:  Did you floss? I don’t remember flossing? I should floss. I should go to bed. Goodnight Paco.

2:00 a.m.:  get up to pee but don’t wake up. Crap you’re up. Why aren’t those pumpkin seeds helping my prostate? I’m sweaty? Why is it hot?

[Talking to your pet is more like talking to yourself and that’s a good thing.]

“We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd “where are my keys?” comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.” (The Conversation, May 3, 2017)

It’s not like people have not written about this topic before, it’s just that it’s very personal and I want to add my two cents. We all process these kinds of things differently. Some people have always talked to themselves and could not imagine any other way of life. The other end of the spectrum is those who believe you have to be clinically insane to carry on a conversation with yourself. Like most things, most of us are somewhere in between. In order to prepare yourself for this behavior, you have to be:

  1. Willing to accept that it’s okay; normal even.
  2. Open to whatever comes out of your mouth.
  3. Prepared to answer back.

Give it a try, after all, what have you got to lose. Don’t worry, we’re all crazy and the sooner we accept that . . .

 

Out Loud Conversations

There was a time when I would not have considered having an out loud conversation with myself. I would have been way too self-conscious and afraid that I might do it in public. Now, I couldn’t care less. I’m fairly certain that at this stage in my life I’m not going to humiliate myself. But if I’m in a car and I’m by myself, I’ll probably have a little talk. Things like, be careful, don’t go too fast, what are you forgetting — you see where this is going.

When you live with other people and you’re unsure about something, you can just casually mention stuff in passing. When you live alone there is no one around to run things by. So why not ask yourself? The answer is more than likely inside that brain somewhere. When you’re bold enough to practice this behavior, you’ll notice a higher level of self-esteem and a certain pride in your own independence.

Trust in yourself is important for this practice. Do you believe in your own words? Do you practice what you preach? Do you follow your own advice?

Singing to yourself can be very calming. I had a boss who sang gospel songs to herself all day long and she was very centered. So much so that I resented it. I honestly didn’t realize she was doing something healthy for herself. Don’t be your own worst critic — this isn’t a live concert with a sophisticated sound system, belt it out.

Have you noticed that people on the street and in their cars all seem to be talking to themselves these days? Most of them are on their cell phones. Bluetooth devices have made it easy to speak hands free. Now it looks like we’re all talking to ourselves, making it easy to do so with judgment from most.

 

What People Might Think

We humans care way too much about what people think of us. It’s not an easy thing to dismiss or ignore. Have you noticed how many older folks just don’t care. It seems to be something we learn to do over time. When you’re working on providing for your family or building a career, it has to matter. Still, there are things you can do that make little difference to anyone else; talking to yourself might be one of those things. When you come to the realization that what others think no longer matters, it is extremely liberating.

 

The Benefits

A good exercise might be to give it a try. Talk to yourself out loud for a solid week and see how it feels. Are you able to respond? Have you worked out any unresolved issues? Do you feel better? I’ve never been one to feel lonely, but my guess is that if you acknowledge what great company you’re in when you’re in your own company, you’ll feel better and make better decisions. Gaining more self-esteem and holding your head high only makes you more attractive to the world. Tell yourself, “Shoulders back, chest out, stand tall and be proud. Show the world who you are.”

 

When Something Good Becomes a Habit

Humans have a lot of bad habits; I won’t name mine here, but if you’re curious, every blog post reveals a few. The thing is, we can have good habits too. Do it once and it’s just a one-off, do it twice and it’s a repeat, do it many times and it becomes a habit. Make talking to yourself a positive habit (like going to the gym, dressing up and eating superfoods).

 

Is talking to yourself ever harmful?

Talking to yourself is often associated with mental illness, but that is rarely the reason for or cause of self-talk. However, there are some situations where self-talk may be an indication of a psychological problem.

When self-talk is accompanied by self-harm — for example, striking yourself or cutting — then it’s a sign of an emotional problem, Dabney said. As well, if you are engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive phrases, mantras or numbers, and this type of self-talk is disruptive to you or difficult to stop, that can also be an indicator of an emotional problem. In either case, speak to a qualified medical professional for a proper assessment. (Huffington Post, Is it Normal to Talk to Yourself, August 23, 2019)

 

collage photo of woman
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

Next Week:  Growing Up With Broadway

Caring Too Much or Too Little

Developing a balance between empathy and good health is a formidable goal and this is a good time to work on it.

 

65 Compassionate Empathy Quotes (2019)

 

I have always been a bit too sensitive. I was bullied as a child because I cried easily (and I liked playing with girls . . . and I hated sports). I get the crying part honestly, my dad wept without shame. The problem with feeling intense empathy is that you often feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing these feelings and mitigating your health and well-being are essential.

 

What it Feels Like

I have been reluctant to look at the number of deaths around the world due to the Coronavirus. Denying a problem exists or refusing to acknowledge it, has long been a defense mechanism. However, in this case I believe empathy matters. I need to be able to experience what is happening all over the world so that I can do my part to help. I’m forcing myself to look at the numbers and think about what people are going through. It’s surreal, it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s morbid, but it’s necessary. We’ve been told what we can do and we need to listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable. Doing your part helps you to be empathetic without drowning in sorrow.

A brief story of too much empathy — very recent and still fresh:  When I adopted Paco in January, he had only been found on a country road two weeks prior. He weighed just over five pounds and his bones were protruding everywhere, his fur was extremely matted, and he was deathly ill from a virus. When I saw him for the first time, I wept. Each time I thought about him fighting for his life, alone and abandoned in the woods, I wept. Admittedly, this extreme sensitivity went on for weeks. This is the reason I had to leave my volunteer position at a pet shelter; I had too much empathy. Learning how to compartmentalize my feelings and thoughts was and is, necessary. By the way — Paco has fully recovered and he’s out of danger. I still worry, but it’s under control. The crying has stopped.

 

 Family

The reality of family members who are not as strong as I am or who might be struggling with emotional and/or financial issues is ever-present. How much of their worries are my worries? How much of their suffering can I or should I take on? What can I do to ease the anxiety I impose upon myself? There are a number of considerations when discussing problems with family members. First and most importantly, in some cases, they have families of their own. Therefore, when you get involved, there may be others in your family that are also affected and that complicates matters further. There is a risk of alienating family members who may be embarrassed or who may see things differently.

Most people prefer privacy, even if it means not sharing with their own family. This could be the topic of a whole other blog. I’ll leave it at this:  there are times when it is best to keep family problems at arm’s length. You may have to be clear about that when approached. “Sue, I think it would be better to discuss that with Greg; your husband is my brother-in-law and one of my favorite people in the world, I don’t want him to be angry with me for taking sides.” Sue doesn’t exist. Just an example of the language you may have to call upon when communicating. Remember, most people prefer candor and authenticity. Those who don’t may not deserve your time or energy.

There is always the advice that is unwelcomed. Family members who are not ready or willing to face their problems will sometimes push you away and resent you for getting involved. In these situations, you have to be either willing to handle the confrontation or in some cases ignore the radio silence.

 

Friends

Our friends are our chosen family. We love them dearly and sometimes that love might cause us great pain. When you see a friend in trouble and you cannot help them, it can tear you apart. Two of my friends are alcoholics. One of these individuals will no longer speak to me because I tried to help and he does not want to acknowledge his problem. The other is in treatment and doing well so far. The only way I can live with myself in situations like this (be it a friend or a family member) is to try to help in some way:  support, resource, friend, caregiver, etc. Doing nothing makes me feel useless and more like a failure. On the other hand, if I reach out numerous times and the friend refuses my help, I have to be able to accept that I’ve done all I could do and walk away. Speaking from experience, I’m not insinuating this part is easy; in fact, it may be one of the more difficult things in life you will have to do. Friendship is like any other relationship, empathy is imperative and it must be conveyed delicately. People who are suffering emotionally cannot always handle empathy when you’re feeling it, they may need time to process and prepare. As a friend, you need to understand boundaries and know when it’s the right time to help.

 

Our World

We live in complicated circumstances with over seven billion people inhabiting the planet.  Unfortunately, 734 million of the world’s dwellers are considered to be living in absolute poverty (wikipedia); that’s a lot of people. Horrible reality like this can keep you up at night. The number of people with cancer and no access to care, the number of people in abusive relationships, the number of children without food, the number of refugees without a home, self-serving politicians, and on and on. It is important to consider the difficulties all around you and do what you can to help; however, it is equally important to consider all that you have to be grateful for.

 

How to Manage it So that it Doesn’t Take Over

Meditation is a self-help practice I mention regularly. People often think of it as a waste of time or new agie. For me, it is a way of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I make life too much about me and I have to remind myself that it is not at all about me. At other times, the weight of everything around me is so difficult to manage, I have to shed some of it by logically thinking it through.

Exercise is one of my top three ways of sorting through life’s difficulties. When you’re overly concerned about everything, you have to have a way to balance the gravity of all of these concerns or it will consume you. Exercise is like a release valve. There is no doubt in my mind that I have developed an addiction to working out. Exercise and chocolate are the only two addictions I can honestly say I embrace without guilt or self-punishment. I do not often give myself a free pass to indulge; therefore, I am grateful for the freedom to just enjoy these two gifts.

Volunteering your time is not a panacea for solving the world’s problems. However, it is a way for you to feel empowered. Everything you do to help will yield rewards.

“Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

— Sherry Anderson

 

You know as well as I, that no matter how thoughtful you are or healthy you may try to be, your emotional state of mind (mood), often determines how you feel. You might have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling so much better than the night before. On the other hand, you might do everything right and have a restless night’s sleep and wake up angry at the world. I have learned to just go with it. If you try to push it away or sweep it under the rug, you are likely to either experience it with greater angst or have it rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. If you breathe and treat yourself kindly during these difficult periods, you will come through the difficulty with less collateral damage.

 

Talk Through it With Someone You Love and Trust

For some, talking through your worries is a learned behavior. Some of us are hesitant to burden others with our problems or confused thoughts. We’re quick to want to help others, but when it comes to our own issues, we retreat and suffer in silence. I’m a big fan or running things by people who are not directly involved and I believe, can be objective. Be sure to ask if it is okay to share. Do not judge or dismiss an individual’s thoughts. You can be certain that if you disrespect a generous listener, you will never be able to solicit advice again.

 

 

“Empathy is the medicine the world needs.”

— Judith Orloff. M.D.

 

Resources:

How to Be More Empathetic (NY Times)

Importance and Benefits of Empathy (Very Well Mind)

 

I hit a milestone with 100 blog posts last week. I wish I had been aware of it, I would have celebrated sooner.

Coloring Up My World

Give it a try, it might help you feel better.

 

 

The single most inspiring thing I have done over the past few years (not counting moving overseas which was a different kind of life change), is to add color to my life. Blues, reds, yellows, and lots of contrasts. For the longest time I was afraid of color. That fear still exists deep inside of me.

“Color plays a vitally important role in the world in which we live. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite. When used in the right ways, color can even save on energy consumption.”

 

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It took me months to decide on the color of this piece. Once I made the decision, it tooks months to make. The price you pay to have the color you can live with. It’s a greenish yellow (hard to tell) and it brings out the mustard in the rug and a yellow in the painting that hangs above it. I think it also compliments the burnt orange rug.

Color Matters — an article to review

Now why would a grown man like me be afraid of color?

Imagine living a lie for over 20 years; my sexuality being the lie. When you’re in a situation such as this, where you are hiding your true identity, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. I shouldn’t really generalize this way; in fact, some closeted gay people do a great deal to draw attention to themselves. Best that I switch to first person:  the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself — I lived life through muted colors for a long time. On certain days and sometimes for extended periods, I revert back to this practice.

Here I am, 61 years old and I’m finally comfortable enough in my own skin to add color to my life and not feel embarrassment. True enough that my last apartment, in Maine, was decorated with burgundy and lime green, but they too were muted. I would often walk into my kitchen and think, what did I do? Is this too much? Is it feminine? What will people think?

Then I made a bold move and bought a contemporary condo in Portugal.  I am finally at a place in my life where what others think hardly matters. I can’t say it doesn’t matter at all, because that would be a lie. It just doesn’t matter as much. What does matter is what makes me comfortable; right now, color feels good.

I do admit that I’ve had to reign it in. I saw the latest Almodovar film and came close to painting my kitchen cabinets red — that would not have been good. Almodovar uses color effectively in all of his films; it’s one of his distinct trademarks and I have always envied him for it.

I want to have a big, bold, splash of red somewhere in my home. I decided on the terrace wall and then I pulled back on that idea; now I’m reconsidering it. I figure if I sit with it for a bit, a more concrete decision will come. Some would say, don’t worry, if you don’t like it you can paint over it. That seems like a big hassle to me, I’d rather get it right the first time. And now I have meshing up so that Paco doesn’t go through the slats; therefore, that would have to come down first. This is what is called procrastination; a Coronavirus byproduct. Stay tuned for a firmer decision sometime soon.

 

 

The Current Situation

Like so many others I constantly shake my head wondering if this is really happening. When you have never lived through a war (Vietnam but I was a child), it’s difficult to wrap your head around so much death and despair. I’m coping the best way I know how; grateful that I have a pet to keep me company, happy to be in a beautiful place, and hopeful that my friends and family remain healthy.

Feelings Reiterated

Reblog — difficult time to write and some things require reiteration

 

 

Your State of Mind

One of the many things that happen when you grow older is coming to terms with your feelings (if you’re lucky). Coping with your feelings, identifying your feelings, sorting out your feelings, embracing your feelings, allowing yourself to feel, projecting feelings; you can see where I’m going with this.

Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings (click for more)

Feelings are complicated and so is being human; it comes with the territory. Some people are so wrapped up in themselves, they neglect to consider the feelings of others. Is it social media, the pressures of life, family, coping skills, socialization? What is it about the world around us that has made us less empathetic? Some would argue that humans have always been this way. I’m not sure about that. I recall a time when people had more time for one another and seemed to care more; I could be wrong.

I’m sure the news media has something to do with it. Around the clock news covering the world. It’s easy to become numb. The “this doesn’t affect me” attitude is also pervasive. I certainly do not have the answers; I only know how I feel.

Anger
I hate it when I get angry. Mostly because I feel that it could have been avoided. Harnessing my anger has been a long-term goal. When I’m well rested and relatively happy, any anger I feel is short-lived and can be sorted out. On the other hand, when I’m tired and things are falling apart around me, anger becomes a ball and chain around my ankle; impossible to get rid of. I can usually take a step back to process my anger and that seems to help; however, let’s be honest, sometimes the stepping back part just doesn’t happen. When I react based on emotion, it’s usually an outcome I regret.
Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend and she started spewing what I thought was bigoted hate speech. You’d recognize it in a minute; when the words come from privilege and a lack of empathy. No matter how hard I sit on my hands and push the anger down, I find myself gritting my teeth and becoming righteous. I don’t like it one bit. The person sitting across from you does not hear the words you are speaking, they only experience the anger. What it does do is justify their feelings. What they hear in their head is:  it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, he always has to start an argument or why does he think he’s smarter or better than I am? None of this is productive; in fact, it is counter-productive. Now we’re both angry and not speaking to one another and we both feel justified in our feelings. I shouldn’t speak for this person, let me say, I feel justified.
We seek out like-minded individuals in order to avoid this kind of anger, but you have to ask yourself if avoidance is the right way to go. I’m not providing answers, I’m merely asking questions; processing for myself and hoping it helps others.
Tears
I am often moved to tears. I cry while watching movies, I weep while reading novels, I’ve been known to shed tears in the middle of a conversation with a friend, I cry in my dreams and at poetry readings, and I have cried myself to sleep a time or two. My father was a big man and he cried; he taught me that crying was okay and I am forever grateful to him for this. I feel sorry for people who cannot cry. I highly recommend it.
Loss of Control 
I have come to terms with being a control freak. I like to be in control. If something bad happens and it is beyond my control, I get angry. I have a difficult time processing:  how did this happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? I guess I believe that if I were in control, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is of course, untrue. Many bd things have happened while I was in control. The helpless feeling that I have when something is out of my control is unpleasant and frustrating. I am learning how to “let go” of situations, events, and reactions that are out of my control.
Pain
The hardest thing about pain, emotional, physical or psychological, is coping — not denying it, but feeling it. Let’s face it, pain in any manifestation sucks, but it’s unavoidable and must be felt. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and wait for it to pass. Unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, it will pass, and you will more than likely be stronger for having dealt with it.
Happiness
I hear about and read about happiness a lot lately. I was watching an old episode of the Good Wife last night and Stockard Channing (love her — did yoga with her in NYC once) was the guest star. Her character said this, “When you get older, the only thing that matters is your happiness.” I guess it struck me because I was in the middle of writing this blog. I don’t think it’s true. Life is so much more than my personal happiness. Yes, lots of things make me happy and I do often pursue my own happiness, but I also spend time thinking about the world, friends, family, cleaning my apartment, paying bills and none of that is necessarily about happiness. A good deal of the day is spent just doing what needs to get done. What makes me happy is just that, getting stuff done — it’s that sense of purpose I’ve discussed in earlier blogs.
Joy
I have to give myself permission to feel joy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. After a while, if you’re watching, you get to know yourself and your limitations; your proclivities. I can hear this little voice in my head reminding me to smile and enjoy the moment. I have stopped questioning why this is so. As with any habit, good or bad, you do something often enough and it becomes part of your everyday life. It’s a good habit I am striving to teach myself . . . live a life filled with joy.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin
Gratitude
Feeling grateful is powerful. Replacing feelings of pity, blame, resentment, anger, heartbreak, and regret, with gratitude can be more powerful than just about anything else. Sweeping feelings under the rug doesn’t work. Taking pills or drinking alcohol is temporary relief at best. Sitting quietly and thinking about or even writing about, what you are grateful for, helps you to feel more joyful.
Tools
Tools are helpful when feelings become difficult or painful. Some tools/coping skills have been discussed in this blog or past blogs. What I have learned is that tools are at our disposal and can and should be used as often as possible — not as a way of hiding or denying, but as a way to guide us, comfort us, and teach us.
What’s Next for me?
This is the six million dollar question I often ask myself. The answer is:  I have no idea. For the first time in my life, I am not thinking past the next few months and I have to say, I like it.
abstract aluminum architectural architecture
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Living in a Material World

 

Self-Discovery

I’m not sure when it happened or why it happened, but at some point I decided to give up just about all of my earthly possessions. Have you ever wondered what you could live without? Two years ago I had the opportunity to answer that question. I either sold or gave away almost everything and now I know the answer. As evolved as I thought I had become, I still like things.  This is a list of what I cannot live without (not in order of importance):

  • a comfy mattress
  • good bedding (Portuguese cotton sheets, a down comforter, and 3 down pillows)
  • good pots & pans
  • well made kitchen tools
  • a high definition, smart TV
  • 100% cotton underwear
  • an iphone with a screen that isn’t cracked (it’s not about the label, it’s about quality and efficiency)
  • sunglasses that protect you from UV rays
  • a four wheel suitcase
  • a comfortable sofa
  • good martini glasses
  • silicone ice cube tray
  • a MacBook
  • an iphone (I have the 7S and it’s fine)
  • novels, lots of novels
  • a watch (I’m obsessed with time)
  • Alexa — I love answers to questions without any effort
  • a bicycle
  • a practical wardrobe (includes good shoes)

When I look at this list I feel pretty good. There are a few luxury items (i.e., Murano martini glasses, Apple products); however, I’m certain it could be a lot worse. No judgment if your list is longer; to each his own.

The flip side of this revelation is what I can live without and that list is unfortunately, much shorter:

  • cargo shorts
  • Nike sneakers
  • Cashmere
  • expensive artwork
  • expensive watches (I once owned over 50 watches)
  • fine silverware and wine glasses
  • a car
  • a KitchenAid mixer

Am I a better person for having learned these things about myself? No. What I am is more realistic and less bogged down. I now know that I can easily get rid of almost everything and start fresh. I can walk away from that ceramic bowl I thought I was in love with and never look back. I can give away that Burberry jacket and not shed a single tear. I can survive without a Bertazzoni stove (I do miss my stove).

When I look at the list of things I cannot live without, it seems longer than I thought it would be, but in reality, it’s not that long. There are a few items on the list that I certainly could live without, however, I choose not to. I have come to learn that I love and want certain creature comforts. What I found interesting was the process of acquiring new things. When I arrived to Portugal, my mindset was somewhat unrealistic. I thought that I could wear what I brought with me and only buy new clothing when it was absolutely necessary — holes in my socks sort of thing. I had always cared a great deal about quality clothing; this new business of a minimal lifestyle was foreign to me. I learned over time that it was unrealistic to stay away from shops. I need to feel good about myself and part of that is to wear nice clothes and present myself in a positive way. I’m sixty years old now (61 in a few weeks) and I don’t have the physique I once had; therefore, what I desire these days is a comfortable, practical, classic wardrobe. I occasionally purchase a colorful hat or watch, just to brighten things up. It’s more for my own psyche than to impress someone else.

In a very healthy way, I have come to accept what I look like. I am hoping I care about my appearance until I die. I think it’s important to love and accept yourself physically, spiritually and mentally. When you stop caring, you begin to decline in every way. I have observed that older women in Europe (mostly the cities) seem to embrace this philosophy. I see so many women in their 70s and 80s wearing beautiful clothing and owning their look — unfortunately, men that age do not seem to care. I’m afraid tobacco and alcohol have done some major irreparable damage. There are exceptions of course.

Apropos of nothing, I was talking to my niece Nicole this week and she brought up the scaling down process in her own life. She’s raising twins on her own and she’s figuring out a way to financially make it work.

I told her that I was writing this piece and she said, “You only need one coat, so long as it’s a good coat.”

I laughed because she and I are spiritually connected and that philosophy is exactly where my head has been lately. I have only one coat in Portugal, but it’s a good coat.

 

My Home

My nest is probably in the top three most important parts of my life. It has to be clean, contemporary, and warm. It does not have to be super expensive and posh. Before I moved to Portugal and decided to purchase in Faro, I looked for an apartment with clean lines. I wanted a place I could keep clean with minimal effort. Faro doesn’t have dust build-up the likes of which I experienced in New York and Maine. I assume it’s because there are fewer automobiles and a constant breeze off of the Ria Formosa. It’s nice not to have to dust daily. I mention this because keeping the things I enjoy out in the open gives me pleasure. So even though I have fewer “things” sitting around on shelves, I don’t have to work very hard to keep them looking nice. Sticking to my decision to remain minimal has been easier than I thought. I guess once you go through the process of shedding everything, you never want to accumulate that much stuff again. If I decide to move, I won’t have quite as much stuff to cart around.

 

What is all Means

I can never help stepping back and analyzing what it all means for me and my life. I think that is what I love most about writing; put it down on paper or type it into your computer and it becomes reality. Sometimes you like what you read and other times you are appalled. You can make a conscious decision to change what you don’t like. I have found that if I start with awareness and then gradually make small changes, after awhile, I come to realize that whatever it was, is no longer present.

The car is a good example. I sold my car in Maine a couple of months before I moved to Portugal. I wanted to test life without a vehicle. I’ve had a car my entire adult life, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I even owned a car when I lived in Manhattan. I recall getting up to move it every morning. I found it damaged numerous times; often, I had to park it a mile or more away from my apartment, but that didn’t deter me because I couldn’t imagine life without wheels. This test would not be easy, but it’s the challenges we face that make us stronger and more determined. Cycling and walking have always been favorite pastimes for me, even more so now.

By the way, when people ask about my desire to reduce my carbon footprint, some of them raise the issue of the number of flights I take (and then they laugh). To this I say:  I take a train or a bus whenever I possible and I only fly when I absolutely have to. Sometimes I think doing the best you can do, has to be good enough. On a recent trip I took Amtrak from North Carolina to Boston stopping at various locations along the way. It was a great way to get from point A to point B.

 

A Recent Comment

I love honest conversations and I had one at the gym today. Someone I have known for a few months told me that my blog reads like a diary. He was not being critical, he was sharing his perception. I could hardly argue with his assessment. I do share a great deal of what I’m feeling at any given moment, with my readers.  I actually do keep a journal; I have for almost forty years. What I write in my journal is just as honest and straightforward, but much of what I write privately, is never meant to be shared. I write about perceptions of individuals, fears, hopes; all very personal. I imagine you might be questioning what could possibly be more personal than what I include in my blog . . . I guess you’ll just have to trust me; we all have demons and dark thoughts.

 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

It was very difficult to concentrate on anything other than COVID-19 this week. So many things are up in the air and the news changes by the minute. The entire country of Italy on lockdown and Spain is not far behind (they’re only 40 minutes away); it’s difficult to imagine. And then there is the choosing who to save thing.

I woke up in the middle of the night concerned about Paco getting the virus. His immune system is currently compromised and I was acutely concerned. I got out of bed and grabbed my laptop and learned that dogs cannot contract this particular strain.  One less thing to worry about.

Expat Life in Portugal Two Years In

“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”

— Mark Twain

 

 

 

It’s been close to two years since I acquired my residential visa and boarded a plane to Faro, Portugal. Three bags containing all that I chose to keep and my furball companion, Giorgio. I had no idea what awaited me, but what I did know is this:  I knew that life in Portugal would be extremely different in just about every way, I knew there would be challenges to overcome, I knew that it might at times be lonely, I knew that because I was too young to “officially” retire,  I would be living on savings for quite a while, I knew that good friends would come to visit, and I hoped that I would never experience another snowstorm or see my nextdoor neighbors in Portland — the ones I shared a condo wall with. There is nothing worse than bitter, unpleasant, holier than thou, neighbors.

What I didn’t know:

  • that the weather in the Algarve is near perfect.
  • that fish straight from the ocean could be that good and so affordable.
  • that Portuguese wine is delicious and a true value
  • I didn’t know what social democracy looked like.
  • that if you look hard enough you can find just about anything you “really” need.
  • that your neighbors could be so kind and caring.
  • that out of despair can come truth.
  • that people in your life who truly love you will be there for you no matter how far away you are.
  • that you can live on a whole lot less than you ever thought possible.
  • that there are toxic people who will make their way into your life no matter where you live or how hard you try to keep them away.
  • that you can do just about anything you put your mind to.
  • that forgiveness is the best medicine.
  • that it is okay to miss what you once had so long as you embrace what you currently have.

 

The Best Parts of Living in Portugal

One of the things I didn’t realize before I moved to Faro was how perfect the location is for travel. Portugal is your first stop in Europe and from here, you can travel to many different places. There are several budget airlines flying in and out of Faro to different parts of Europe. I hate connecting flights, so I try my best to visit places where I can take a direct flight. I’ve been to some beautiful cities in France, Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. It’s quick and easy and my cell phone still works in all of these places. Apparently, there are some pluses to being a part of the European Union. I’ll be traveling to Manchester soon and I’m not quite sure if Brexit has spoiled my cell service there. I’m sad about Brexit for reasons I won’t go into here. I’ve enjoyed conversations about British and EU politics with my British expat friends in Faro. The United States is not the only place on earth — I wish I had been more aware of global politics in the past. Our influence is vast and more significant than I had ever realized.

I knew that the cost of living would less in Faro than it was in Maine; however, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that certain taxes were very reasonable. For example:  my property taxes on my 1100 square foot, two bedroom, three bathroom condo, are 350 Euros a year. I paid more than that per month in Maine and my apartment was smaller. I cannot help but wonder why that is. What does your money pay for in the U.S.? Taxes are automatically added in at the grocery store, restaurants, department stores, etc.; therefore, you don’t really feel it as much. Groceries are usually about a third lower than what I paid in the U.S. even with the added taxes and in some cases, food cost even less. Fresh fish is inexpensive; therefore, my diet is much healthier and tastier. Fresh vegetables are, for the most part, local and free of toxins. It’s great not having to break the bank on organic food. Laws prohibit antibiotics in animals raised for food and green growing methods produce grapes used for winemaking that is far better for you.

The weather in the Algarve is absolutely phenomenal; 300 days a year of sunshine phenomenal. Even when the weather is bad, it’s good. Summers are warm, but there is a wonderful breeze off of the Ria Formosa (the body of water near my home), with fall comes relief from the warm temperatures; a bit of rain; when it comes you want more, winter is cooler, but a sweater is more than enough to warm you, and spring (now) is glorious:  birds chirping, warm sunshine and a sense of renewal. When we do have humidity, it’s during the cooler months so you welcome and embrace it. I cannot overstress the power of all of this vitamin D and the joy of not having to shovel snow. No wonder Portugal has been the #1 place to retire for a few years running.

The warmth and sincerity of the people is not to be taken for granted. There is a reason there is so little crime and and virtually no homeless people in the Algarve:  people here take care of one another. I think that this pretty much sums-up social democracy:  people take care of people; they don’t gripe about it or show any signs of regret, they genuinely care about humanity. Sure doctors make less money and people in general pay more taxes, but the quality of life is so much better for a greater number of people. That is not to say that they don’t care about humanity elsewhere; I can only speak to what I have experienced here in Portugal.

Portugal is not a wealthy country. There are pockets of wealth, but I chose to live in Faro, a working class, mostly Portuguese city. I have never for a second regretted this decision. When I want a bit of luxury:  Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura, Porto, I go to those towns. For the most part, it’s the gastronomy that might draw me to these places. This is not to say that Faro isn’t a beautiful city with great food; plainly speaking, it is special in its authenticity — there is no pretense or putting on of airs. There is history and culture in Faro and it is preserved, however, not widely promoted. The food is fresh and fairly priced, and as I mentioned earlier, the location is ideal for travel. In so many ways, that is just about all I need.

The morning has been glorious for me in Faro. Early morning has always been my favorite part of the day. I find it to be peaceful and hopeful. Every day is a new day after all. Aside from the ability to sit out on my terrace with a cup of Joe in the morning almost year-round, there is the fact that the United States is five hours behind and I rarely, if ever, hear from anyone from back home until noon at the earliest (except for my brother Leo who calls at any hour). It’s almost like being in a state of meditation; I can breathe, think, and enjoy the quiet with little interruption. I feel so much healthier not having frantic morning telephone calls due to work or family issues. Then there is the morning walk with Paco in the park across the street from my apartment; I rarely see another soul as the sky goes from fiery red to bright blue — it’s poetic and sublimely peaceful.

 

The Challenges

Language remains a bit of a challenge for me. I have learned a great deal from Memrise (a language app), a tutor at my home, and Portuguese subtitles, but I still have so much to learn. Although many people speak English well, I believe strongly, that if I am going to reside here, that I should speak the language as much as and as often as possible. I’m at a place where I get by with my limited Portuguese. I’d like to be able to watch the news in Portuguese and have a clearer picture of what is happening in Portugal. I’ll get there; however, getting over my shyness about pronunciation is essential. I need to realize that when I say something and someone laughs, they are not laughing at me; they are more than likely laughing at the meaning of the word I just uttered by mistake and there is a big difference. And if they are laughing at me, so what. My neighbors and friends are delighted that I have committed to learning Portuguese and most people are helpful.

I have to be careful about how I talk about middle aged men in the Algarve. Careful, because the last thing I want to do is offend the people I am living among. Generalizations can be unkind and unfair; therefore, I want to express my thoughts without prejudice. What I have noticed are merely my own observations — they should not be regarded as fact. Some men have a difficult time with me; questioning who I am and why I am here. I am careful in how I approach men I do not know. The gym has become the easiest place for me to learn more about the culture and why I am sometimes misunderstood.

Women here are very open, friendly and genuine. They have been gracious toward me and helpful in so many ways. Of course there have been exceptions. As a sociologist, what I have observed is mainly cultural. Men here seem to be very masculine and reserved; women seem to be more progressive and open to societal changes. I believe that behind the scenes they are quietly persuading men to be more tolerant and modern. By seeing it through this lens, it helps me to understand that when I sense a barrier or resistance, it is probably not due to anything I have said or done.

Older and younger men are similar in their dealings with me; however, I have less interaction with these two groups. I have often complained (when blogging) that young men smoke too much and overuse cologne and I stand by these thoughts. I live next to a high school where my sample group gathers daily.

[This is one of those times when I have to tell myself not to be judgmental.]

You know how much I love to complain about food; please, please, please bring more ethnic (world) cuisine to Faro. I just keep telling myself it will come. Too few countries are represented here. However, I have noticed things are changing in a more positive direction.

Pastry is sublime. It’s not quite as decadent as it is in France, but I love it just the same. What I like most is that a good deal of the baked goods here are not terribly sweet. It’s dangerous to be around so many bakeries. I have blogged about the bread so I won’t belabour the point. What I will mention is that I love French bread and it’s not that easy to come by in the Algarve. I have to go out-of-my-way to snag it and I do — in fact I’m going to Loulé today and I intend to pick up a baguette. This bread freezes well, which makes having it when I want it fairly easy. I’ll be in Toulouse in two weeks and I’ll load up on some good bread before I leave France. Portuguese people love their bread; I respect their opinion and I have found some Portuguese breads that I do like. This one will definitely get me in trouble.

Portuguese people are proud and stubborn and often refuse to admit that they might be wrong. I was at a self-checkout counter at the grocery store recently and the machine flashed a “printer not-working message.” I left the machine and walked to another. A staff member came over to me and said, “Please use the machine where you started.” I told her that the printer was not working and she said it was. Sure enough when it was time to get the receipt, which you have to show before you leave, the printer was not working. When I went over to her to inform her, she shrugged and went to the machine to fix the roll of paper for the printer; offering no apologies. I know this kind of thing happens everywhere, but I noticed it happens a lot in the Algarve. There is some expat resentment.

 

The Surprises

I had no idea that Portuguese cotton was so cool and soft. One of my three suitcases when I arrived had two sets of cotton sheets; one set for my bed and one set for my guest bed. I have been searching for the perfect set of sheets my entire adult life. Egyptian cotton is usually a good bet; however, this bedding can be very experience and sometimes a higher thread count doesn’t necessarily translate to comfort.

Giving up having a car in Portugal was a big, scary decision. It was the one thing I was truly concerned about. Using public transportation has been easier than expected. It’s certainly not perfect, but neither is being in a car. Reducing my contribution to the carbon crisis is rewarding and fiscally smarter; although Uber has benefited greatly. The walking and cycling are also beneficial to my overall wellbeing. There is a fairly long and steep incline when returning to my building from shopping or walking. I consider the health benefits as I climb; the sweets in my bag seem less threatening. Still, there will always be guilt.

I will not lie and say that I do not miss the city. Cluttered sidewalks, honking horns, packed public transportation, and the odors of an ethnically rich urban city, remains one of the great loves of my life. When I’m feeling the loss of grit and sirens, I board a train for Lisbon and I am at once returned to my city roots. I have learned how to mitigate any yearning that rears its head — feed the beast and it will simmer down.

Gay life has been a bit challenging, it gives me a reason to travel and I know that it will improve in time — Portuguese men in my part of Portugal are more closeted than what I’m used to.

There’s more . . . but there are some things that I prefer to keep to myself.

 

To Sum Up

I am hoping that I have conveyed that the pluses far outweigh the minuses. Living in Europe was a dream I never imagined possible. My friends and family often remind me that I took a risk and they are proud of me for it. When my visitors walk out onto my terrace and light up, I know that I made the right decision to be in Faro. I also know that I can leave whenever I choose to do so. On my walk with Paco this morning, I noticed how fresh and fragrant the air was. I took in the light, the sounds, and the scents and I embraced my good fortune. I’m not sure how long I will remain in Faro, but I know that for the first time in my life, I am at peace.

 

What Happens When Your World Expands

Travel to faraway places expands your mind; how could it not. You see and experience things that you might never have imagined possible. The impact this has on your thoughts and beliefs should not be underestimated. We are the sum total of our experiences. You can read it and hear about it your entire life, but until you see it up close and touch it, you cannot appreciate its effects.

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead

I need a hobby. It used to be poker and now it’s not — and not because I don’t want to play either. I refuse to play online, I need to look into the eyes of my fellow players. Paco is helping to fill my day in wonderful ways:  walks, playtime, training. I’ve always been a voracious reader and the ability to sit with a good book for hours at a time has been a true gift. Then there’s the improving of my cooking skills:  24 Kitchen is a 24 hour cooking channel here in Portugal and I love it for so many reasons. I especially like the Portuguese shows, they don’t have all that yelling and screaming I used to experience. They’re quiet, instructional programs. It’s a great way to learn Portuguese because the chefs and home cooks speak slowly and it’s fairly easy to follow. When the say “faca,” they pick up a knife, so you learn that faca means knife.

A part of me believes I still have another big move left in me. I have dreamed of waking up to the sound of ocean waves and I believe I can make that dream come true. I guess I need to see how life plays out; so much can happen between now and whatever lies ahead.

A crazy world full of languages — “panda’s holiday” is a series of posts for when...

 

Paco Update

Paco has now had three visits to the Vet in less than two months. He is up to six pounds, but still way too thin. His immune system is so badly compromised, there is not much he tolerates.

The vet recently informed me that the Portuguese government has to be sure no one is looking for him before I can officially register him as mine. This angers me because he was clearly abused as a puppy. No dog who had love, kindness, food, disease prevention, etc. would have been found in his condition. I was told that if someone did come forward, I’d have to battle it out in court and I would.

Paco is one of the sweetest, most appreciative pets I’ve ever encountered. He wants to shower me with love and kisses whenever I allow it — his wet nose is very cold. He’s super smart:  he’ll learn a trick on the second try and repeat it the next day without review. He’s never once made a mistake in the house and he doesn’t mess with my things. He knows his toys and loves sunning on the terrace. I sense his loving gratitude. I know that he wants to stick around for awhile and he’s trying his best to recover . . . I’m convinced he will.

A good article on why yelling at your dog is a bad thing:

http://www.you.co.uk/never-shout-at-your-dog/

We’re in the training phase of our relationship. Paco was clearly traumatized early on in his young life. The best thing I can do is show him lots of love and patience. Gaining his trust is essential for good behavior. Learning tricks is good for dogs; they want. to please you and they love treats. He’s testing me right now — he’s exploring how far he can push me and how much he can manipulate me. When I show him that I make the rules, he becomes passive and loses his alpha male persona. In my world, there is no other way. Fortunately for Paco, he’s 100% on board.

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May 21:  Paco is fully recovered, weighs almost nine pounds, has been neutered, and he couldn’t be happier and of course, that makes me happy.

Why I Chose to Move to Portugal (reblog)

I will be rewriting an update for my almost two years living in Portugal for next week’s blog.

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

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

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

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

Some “Why” Questions:

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

 

Why Overseas?

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

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

 

Why Portugal?

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

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

 

Why Faro?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can I ask of a city?

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of Education and What I Have Learned

Has My Ph.D. Paid Off?

I was going to subtitle this piece:  Is a Ph.D. Worth the Time & Money? Then I realized how personal and subjective this question is for each individual who has one; therefore, this piece is about my degree.

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Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi

 

When people learn that I have a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration, they are often surprised; that should bother me a bit, but it doesn’t. When my self-esteem was at an all time low a few years ago, the one thing I did not doubt was the significance education has had in my life. I am not a scholar, I will never be a scholar, and I never wanted to be a scholar. What I am is curious and ambitious. If I must put myself in a box, these are two boxes I don’t mind being in.

My ambition, from as far back as I can remember, was to make a difference in the world and be better than what my birthright dictated. My mother was a barmaid and my father was an immigrant who worked in a restaurant. As a result of our socio-economic situation, the messages that were relayed to me as a child, were clear:  you will never amount to anything. I should be clear that those messages did not come from my parents. I was fat, closeted and of average intelligence; therefore, my existence was discounted. I did not come from parents who valued education; not because they looked down on it, but as a result of their own upbringings. They didn’t understand it, but I like to think that by the time they passed, they got it.

One of my favorite stories about my dad says it all. My father retired to Florida and lived in a very modest condominium complex with mostly former blue collar North Easterners. They were good, hard working people, proud of their heritage and happy with what they were able to carve out for the later part of their lives. I would visit my father as often as possible. I enjoyed the weather, the environment, and I loved seeing my father relaxed and happy. One morning I was doing laps in the condo swimming pool and my father was sitting near the edge of the pool with his friend Charlie. This was a community of like-minded people who enjoyed meeting the friends and family of their neighbors.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the two men as I concentrated on my laps. Over the sound of my arms slamming the water, I hear my name called out; first softly and then louder and more startling. I raise my head out of the water and see my father motioning me to swim to the far edge of the pool where he and Charlie were sitting. I swim over somewhat frustrated, however, always obedient.

My dad bellows, “I was telling Charlie here about your P.h.C.”

“I don’t have a Ph.C. dad, I have a Ph.D.”

“Oh,” he says, “Is that better than a Ph.D?”

I’m not sure my father ever realized how much his boasting meant to me. The fact that my father didn’t truly understand what my degree meant, did not matter in the least. You might wonder if perhaps he was joking. Although not formally educated, he was not a stupid man. The reason I am fairly certain that he did not really understand my degree, is that he gave me a pretty hard time about continuing to go to college after I completed my bachelor’s. Even though I worked throughout my education, my father thought that I was missing opportunities to make “real money.”  My explanations about wanting to specialize in a specific discipline were, for him, an excuse for staying in school. I believe at one point, he thought that I was avoiding “real work.”

When I finished my Ph.D., he watched me graduate on stage at Carnegie Hall with all of my doctoral regalia; I am fairly certain, it was one of the proudest moments of his life. He might not have understood the educational system and how it worked, but he did know, that his son achieved something worthy of pomp and circumstance.  Having both my parents cheering for me that day, made it all worthwhile; I had always sought their approval and in many ways, I still do.

My mother often embarrassed me by telling my story to anyone who’d listen. I resented her boasting because each time she told the story, I had either acquired awards I had never been awarded or job titles I had never achieved — she embellished without apology. I realize now that for my mother, it was all about living through me. Any success I ever achieved should have been her own success; the only reason it turned out to be me, is that she had many children and that had gotten in her way. My mother thought she was smarter than anyone else and that anything I achieved came from her gene pool. We argued about this a lot. I wonder if she might have ever imagined that it was my own intelligence and ambition that might have gotten me there.

 

How My Degree Changed Me

Well into my five or sixth year of working on my terminal degree, I went into a deep funk. My dissertation advisor was concerned about me and asked me what was troubling me. I told Dr. Smith that I felt as if I was doing hours and hours of research for nought. His response has remained with me throughout my entire adult life.  He told me that in truth, he would probably be the only person who would read every word of my four hundred page dissertation. Actually, he also said that my mother would read it, but he was very wrong about that. He said, “You’re not writing so that you’ll be published or so that you prove your hypothesis, you are writing to document what you have learned and that acquired knowledge will always remain with you. The purpose of this requirement, is to teach you how to think critically. You need to question everything you believe and prove yourself right or wrong.” His words apply to so many things in my life:  my politics, religious beliefs, relationships, values, to name a few.

My family would argue that my education made me part of the liberal elite. Of course I can’t be certain about what they think since they don’t really share their thoughts with me. I get an occasional compliment; usually passive aggressive and back handed. You know the saying, “That which doesn’t kill you . . .”

The biggest part of doctoral work is research:  considering a hypothesis, completing required studies, investigating and reviewing the academic and scholarly perspective, reading and embracing the literary canon. You learn patience and perseverance, you learn laser focus, you learn to trust yourself, you learn how to listen, you learn that small rewards keep you motivated; I had a carrot that dangled in front of me throughout my studies. I wanted to be Dean of Students at a major university and I know that without that degree, it would never happen. After awhile, it wasn’t just a goal, it became an obsession. I imagine in many ways, it was an obsession that might have been applied to something a lot less positive and for that I am grateful.

It didn’t hurt that I was studying at a prestigious university in the middle of New York City. At the time, New York University was highly regarded in the field of higher education administration and I have always felt fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Had I not been employed at Hofstra University, just outside the city, I may never have learned about a position at NYU which eventually led to my acceptance in the doctoral program.

 

Time

Time is life’s most precious commodity and I’ve often wondered if the time I spent working on my doctorate was time well spent. I have to remind myself that during that time in my life I had a devastating breakup; it was my studies that saved me from going down a deep, dark hole. By keeping my eyes on the prize, I was able to endure a great deal of emotional pain — running helped too. The answer is:  yes, I believe it was worth my time.

 

Opportunities

I am certain that had I not acquired a doctorate, I would have never been hired by the French Culinary Institute; a position that married food and education and turned out to be an opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to practice my craft, work with tremendously talented people, travel extensively, and live in New York City. Opportunities come your way when you make the effort and prove your worth. In our society, a terminal degree opens doors.

 

Money

This is a difficult one to quantify. Clearly, I made more money in my life as a direct result of my doctorate. Would I have been as successful is something I will never know. While I pursued my Ph.D., I had about nine years where I did not earn to my fullest potential –because I was at University. You cannot put a monetary value on education. The time I spend studying may not have been profitable in terms of financial gain; however, all of the less tangible gains add up to something far more valuable than money.

My tuition at NYU was waived because I was employed by the University. If I would have had to pay for my doctorate, the total would have been close to $160,000. If you look at it that way (and I do), I came out on top.

 

Would I Change Anything?

I would have studied less and partied more. I don’t think it would have hurt to get a few more Bs and a few less As. I put way too much pressure on myself and I continue to do so.

“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

 

“It is not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.”

Adlai Stevenson

 

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Why I am Telling My Story

I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately:  why it is so undervalued, who controls who gets to be educated, what one does with knowledge, why we repeat history, etc. I am concerned about the powerful elite who are doing everything possible to prevent a certain sector of society from being educated. Without going into theories which can be debated and debunked, I believe that education is being used as a tool to keep the white elite in power. Power means control and wealth and those who have both, will never freely give it up.

I was born during a time when education was valued by change makers. I was provided with opportunities which no longer exist due to economics and the people in power (i.e., full tuition remission, federal grants, low interest loans). However, knowing what education can do to open your mind and broaden your perspective, makes me sad for those who are no longer provided with these opportunities.

Education should be right up there with healthcare and climate change, as a top priority. Denying basic rights to humankind will be our undoing. If we keep this up, in the end, nobody will win.

 

Two Endnotes:

I am getting a bit of grief for speaking out about what I believe are political crimes. Admittedly, I don’t like that kind of attention; however, I am exercising my free speech rights and hoping to provide some of the facts for those who are willing to listen.

A shout out to Mitt Romney for being true to his faith and to the American people. I disagree with him about most political issues, but in the end what matters is truth. Thank you Mitt; you’ll be remembered for this.