Why I don’t say “I am proud of you.”

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I cringe when someone says, “I am proud of you”, to me or anyone else. I have had this reaction for years, not just recently. I hesitated saying it to my children while they were growing up. It just sounds so condescending to me. Like I am saying, I know better/do/think than you and am qualified to point out to you that you are on the right track. I looked up the meaning of the phrase and according to the mass online presence, it means that the person saying it has been through or knows what you have been through to accomplish what you have accomplished. This would involve a very personal relationship to have been developed between the person saying it and the receiver and a very long relationship. In my opinion, teachers, mentors and parents could be included without question. Why did I use it sparingly on my kids, if at all? Saying it made me feel oddly superior and while I know we are superior in many ways to our kids. This phrase made me feel like I was egotistically reminding them of my superiority, like a reminder of your place in the hierarchy of relationships, a putting you in your place with a smile on my face kind of exchange. It took the focus away from the celebrated victory and placed it on my feelings about it. It felt deceptive, a little bit cruel and not at all conveyed the message I wanted to tell them, which was:

You accomplished such a monumentally important thing and I hope you bask in the glow of this feeling as much as I am right along with you.

I seriously rejoice in my kids accomplishments and personally think they are the best human beings on the planet. I also have a decent amount of personal pride in my accomplishment of raising two amazing human beings. I say, “I am proud of you” in the mirror to myself everyday, because, well, I feel superior to myself and need the reminder of where I fit in the relationship hierarchy.

 

Your mileage may vary

This is a great message for all…young, old or in-between! Go for the dream! Always go for the dream, everything else will work itself out.

Piaggia Del Giuggiolo

Libba Bray

Recently, I received a post that really got under my skin. It’s from Fiona (Hi, Fiona). I started to dash off a reply and then I thought that it required a much longer, more considered answer. With her permission, I’m reprinting her original comment below followed by my response. My response is lengthy; I apologize. But it is from the heart.

“I’m in a bit of a dilemma and I made a deal with my father that I would get advice from three people: my high school counselor, my voice coach, and an author. I want to go into the fine arts: writing, singing, composing. My father wants me to go to Columbia, Yale, or Harvard. I’d be fine with these but I want to go to a smaller school and then study abroad for at least two years. “It’s my life and this is a decision that will alter…

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No Memorial Service For Me

I recently lost my gram. This beautiful woman was such a vital part of me and was inextricable from my life. I feel as if a part of me has died with her. I was blessed to have been by her bed days before she left us to hold her hand and tell her that everything would be okay and that I loved her. To which she replied very lucid, “I love you too, I really do.”

I attended her memorial service to be there for my mom. She was the sole caretaker for the last years of gram’s life, while the rest of the family were off living their lives or too busy to care for the dying. At the end mom couldn’t even leave the house to go to the store or get the mail and yet the family still did not call or come to help. It was a great burden and took a toll on my moms health.

Mom and I did not want a memorial service for gram. Gram would have hated it. Another family member who is very much about the “show” insisted. That is what a memorial service is, a “show” for those who need to pat each other on the back and reassure each other that they were important to the deceased. Those who stand up and read a poem to the deceased while choking back tears, but hadn’t seen the deceased in years. Or the person who recounts a childhood memory and claims to be the deceased’s favorite but hadn’t seen or talked to the deceased in a decade. Who are these people to stand and speak out about a person that they had not loved or respected enough to come or call in years? Yet they have the gall to stand and speak as if they were a part of this persons life.

The whole service turned my stomach. I left before it was over. At the graveside I had had enough of the posers. They could continue their small patting of the backs and crooning over their very distant memories as they attempted to convince themselves that they showed the deceased love, comfort, concern and basic respect.

Memorial services are for this very type of activity. A funeral service ritual came about out of the necessity to transport bodies long distances after WWII, when the body needed to be preserved at a funeral home and a service held later at the deceased’s hometown. The booming and lucrative funeral service industry was born. Now it is big business to capitalize on people’s guilt. People that were not there for the deceased can assuage their guilt with the best and most luxurious coffin, service and buffet meal after while they read poems, recite memories from decades ago and make themselves feel better about neglecting to cherish a relationship with an aging person that was inconvenient for their life.

I do not want a memorial service. If you want to express your love for me, do it while I am alive. When I leave, those that were there in the end will have a party and drink my favorite wine, telling stories of our mutual adventures together. When I leave my body, cremate me and spread my ashes in my chosen places. No headstone, no grave. I will live on in the hearts and memories of those that loved me and showed up until the end. No posers allowed.

To my gram:

We said our words in person and there was no need for me to pretend that we were important to each other. We were together till your end and I will carry you in my heart till my end.

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“Pretty Good but not Great”

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That is my favorite line from the movie Julie and Julia. Julia is standing before a full length mirror with her sister checking their appearance before joining a party in her living room and she says this line. I just thought it perfect and endearing. They were both satisfied and happy with pretty good. That seems to be an elusive place we all strive to find. Content, full enough, satisfied, happy with where we are, happy with who we are…all immeasurable except by our own yardsticks.

It is a concept I grapple with often. Especially coming up on my 50th birthday in a few months. I always thought by 50 I would be settled in that place but instead I see my life more in flux and transient than ever. I do feel more satisfied with who I am and there is contentment in that. I suppose contributing to the unease of turning half a century is the fact that I feel I haven’t made any significant contribution to the world, aside from my beautiful offspring. They will always be my greatest gift to you all. Or I suppose specifically it is that I haven’t found my niche. Rather I have found several and they shift and change often. I always equated success to finding a niche and staying put for many, many years. Well, I haven’t done that. But I have enjoyed what I have done and where I may go in the future. I feel a bit torn between settling down in one place and not ever settling down but instead  taking off. When I told my son I would like to start building my own cob house and grounds, he said, “Really, you’re done, going to settle down now?” I just kind of blinked at him speechless. I hadn’t until that moment known he thought me unsettled. I digress.

I began this entry about being satisfied with yourself. What you look like, who you are, where you are in life. I am pretty happy with all of those. Sure there are things I want to improve upon  but that will never completely go away.  I changed up my diet lately and am eating healthier which has made a huge improvement in my allergies, asthma and overall energy level. I eliminated gluten and sugar, cut way back on dairy and grains. I have been researching recipes and cooking a lot. Every meal takes longer to prepare and cook. I cook staples like vegetable soup and black bean loaf ahead of time to have on hand for fast food. I just baked up a batch of brown rice muffins with apple butter in them. They are yummy. You can find the recipe here.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but I continually am, it wasn’t until I went to the source, our water and eliminated toxins that are added in to our water supply that I began to see so much improvement in my health. My skin cleared up, my asthma wasn’t triggered during each shower, my hair stopped falling out. All due to the massive amounts of chlorine added to our water that I eliminated with good filters.

These two areas are the most significant: water and diet. It really changes the way you think about your health. Turning 50 and still being able to climb hills in Greece, steps in Italy, castles in Germany and next up, streets in the U.K., is really important to me and I plan to continue doing it for another 50 years.

Roma

“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation of humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forest House

Mykonos!

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Skipping over Thessaloniki and Athens for now as I just processed the Mykonos photos. I felt the need to revisit. Ahhhh Mykonos, such a magickal, mystical island. When my son, Chad and I landed on the shore by ferry boat from Athens it was windy and a bit cold. It was mid-March and way before the tourist season was to begin. Everything was closed for the season and many were out painting and doing construction to get ready for opening day. We literally had to eat in one small section of the island as the only cafes serving were down on the bay front. I missed the wonderful veggie crepes that my daughter Stacy and I bought and ate back in 2005. The crepe stands are everywhere and are delicious! All of the bars were closed much to my sons disappointment. But we did linger in the waterfront cafes over very good pasta, pizza and risotto while drinking Greek wine and gazing out across the blue waters. Enjoy the gallery of images here.

Five Generations of Women in my Family

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I organized a photo shoot over a year ago with five generations of women in my family. We all went to my gram’s house and stayed overnight in order to capture a full day of photos. I assembled a back drop against the living room wall and brought a suitcase full of props and ideas. I was one of the five generations so I used a remote when I was in the photos. My granddaughter was only a little over a year old and it was a long day for her…well for all of us. You see when you get five generations of women in one room for an entire day, well more unspoken communication happens than spoken and the dynamics that play out between all is a constantly changing wave of emotionally charged energy. The shoot didn’t turn out at all like I wanted it too. My mom couldn’t stop moving and most of the shots of her are blurred and she wouldn’t look at the camera unless I told her to. My daughter was trying her best to corral a toddler. The toddler got bored, restless, tired and wanted “booby”.  My gram was in the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s and needed a lot of direction. I wore shorts and you can see me holding the remote in many shots. It was a rough day and we got tired and cranky but we got through it. I thought about doing another shoot in hopes of coming closer to my ideal goals for the shoot but I never want to do that shoot again…ever.

I finally after months of staring at these photos, trying to edit out the parts I don’t like, thinking I would re-shoot myself now out of context of the previous shoot and various other avoidance behaviors, have decided that this photo shoot shows these women and me exactly the way we are…a chaotic mess of interwoven complex energies that are reflected in the photos. I threw up my hands and picked out the images that show the story of that shoot. You can view them here.

Sofia to Thessaloniki

My son joined me in Sofia, Bulgaria in early March and we were at the apartment for about a week before we left the snow behind us and went on to sunny Greece. Here are a few pics taken in Sofia.

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A building on our street next to our apartment building
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.

I was so very happy to finally be on the train and headed to Thessaloniki, Greece. We had a train compartment all to ourselves and we were very comfortable for our trip through what looked to be Siberia out our windows. Arrived after dark in Thessaloniki to an empty taxi stand and deserted street but eventually a taxi pulled up to drop people off and we flagged him down. Our hotel was in a great area with plenty of places to walk to and no taxi needed to just wander around and reach the cafes and waterfront.

Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece
Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece

We immediately set out for a restaurant since we hadn’t eaten in awhile. We were directed by the desk clerk to a local buffet style cafe that looked to be just closing and had no customers but the man greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us to come in which we have come to learn is the Greek way. Instead of menu he told us our options and we both chose the soup. Nothing like a great big hot bowl of soup after a long trip. The waiter brought out a plate of big thick slices of homemade bread to soak up the soup. Of course we had wine with dinner and at this point we hadn’t yet learned that it is pretty much served automatically like water in Greece. We were pretty happy. And it is in those few moments that come here and there and often without warning that you learn to cherish the adventures of traveling. Alas I have no photos from the place as we were too busy enjoying the experience. In the above photo you can see the outside seating for the restaurant where we had a great first meal and incredible hospitality.

Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.                               

After a good nights sleep we ventured out to an outdoor cafe stand a couple blocks from our hotel. My daughter and I ate at these throughout our backpacking trip in 2005. They are a chain in Greece and sell pizza, sandwiches, drinks and cappucinos. We had a cappucino and pizza for breakfast, which is perfect if you ask me. The sun was already shining and it was glorious to be in the Mediterranean. We set out for the waterfront and along the way passed many churches and ruins of some awe inspiring gazing.

Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .

My son was a little uncomfortable at the open stares his way but I tried to explain that he looked pretty different and was wearing many labels on his clothing. Meaning that the looks were probably just looks of interest and wonder. I personally think his style is eclectic and stands out even in the U.S.! Open staring in many other countries like Greece and Italy, the two that I know of, where staring does not carry the same meaning and is not rude or mean hostility, like it often does in the U.S. We generally experienced a great deal of interest and hospitality while in Thessaloniki. This is just one of the many reasons I love traveling in Greece.

Here are some more photos of Thessaloniki, they have quite the cafe culture there and we enjoyed hopping from one cafe to another for a bit while there.

A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
Interesting things to read everywhere.
Interesting things to read everywhere.

We took a taxi out to an indoor skate park on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for my son to meet the owners and skate the park for a bit. My son is a pro-am skate boarder and so is always promoting his team, Lib Tech while he is out traveling. He was over run by roller bladers at this particular park though and we didn’t stay long.

As soon as I get my photos organized I will upload more. After returning a little over three months ago I am just now beginning to feel like I am rested. This trip took a lot out of me in so many ways. It was so worth it though! I fell in love with Greece all over again. I will return to my beloved Greece.

Love American Style

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I spent my first Valentine’s Day out of the United States and I survived to tell about it…or actually revel in it. This post is in no way slamming American holidays or the need for them to break up the monotony of life, serve as reminders-of or give us pause to celebrate life. I rather have a new perspective this Valentine’s Day. I have spent over 15 Valentine’s Days alone or perhaps without a romantic partner is a better way to say it, as I have never been alone. This year was the first time I was truly alone on Valentine’s Day, without my friends or family around me. I had this light-bulb moment. What if love is not contingent on someone being there to fill the space beside you? What if love is just a feeling all on your own and always present…that you share with other people? What if love is not doing anything…what if it isn’t a verb but a noun? What if we are just big blobs of love walking around sharing it with whoever wants some?

I do think that being away from the media crazed madness that is consumer heaven wrapped in red cellophane heart shaped boxes has contributed to this epiphany. Instead of pushing against the imposing mountain of commercialism this year, I had infinite space to contemplate the deeper meaning of love, being in love, being love, giving love, and loving. The focus shifted.

In Bulgaria the day is a holiday as well and is called Zadushnitza (All Soul’s Day). It is a day that Bulgarians go to church, light candles and prepare their deceased loved ones meals that were favorites. The apartment manager where I am renting brought me a plate of bread, cheeses, olives and dips and told me about this day. What a contrast that our day of love is their day to honor the dead. Which had me thinking about loss, which brought me full circle to love and those I love, knowing I love them. Me, knowing I love me, so I can just be… love.  I spent the day loving myself more than I could ever imagine, sending love to my friends and family and holding them in loving thoughts. I consciously chose to love. I loved everything that I saw, felt, imagined, touched, looked at…just was love..all day. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of disco music from the disco near here, shouts of partying and fireworks going off.

The first sip of coffee this morning…was love all over again. Who knew it could be so easy but yet so hard…to find love.

Journeying Through the Underworld

I have been in bed sick for the last week. Welcome to Sofia! It was bound to happen at some point and glad it is now out of the way. When I am sick, I am out and down for the count. No walking around, or passing myself off as well. I envy those that can…and think they have super powers. Sickness overcomes my body, mind and spirit. I travel in and out of consciousness and feel on the verge between the two worlds. Often I succumb and dive down deep to the underworld where things are dark, shadows take shape and speak secrets. I have done this as far back as I have memory. As a child, I remember one Easter being so sick that I hallucinated several Peter Rabbit’s jumping out of my closet and hopping around my room. This time around in Sofia, as I lay on my couch/bed staring at my map wall..I noticed that the land mass of Europe, from where France meets Spain and all the way East past Romania, it looks like the shape of a wolf. Take a look.

wolfSee the nose pressed up against Spain, the ears standing up, Italy is the front leg and Greece is another leg. Okay, my map is clearer or maybe it is like seeing shapes in clouds and just helps us organize and order our world. Which is what I am in the midst of doing here in Sofia. I am trying to order my new world. For instance I studied a few words in Bulgarian; Da-yes, Ne-no, Blagodaria-thank you, Molya-please. The important ones, or so I thought! I should have studied how to call a taxi and give addresses in Bulgarian. In response to my Blagodaria…Merci! I was told it is easier to say and so it has been adopted. I finally stopped pointing at streets for the taxi’s and use my full hand to indicate direction. Pointing with one finger is rude here. I still have not mastered the head shaking side to side to indicate yes or Da. It is opposite what it is in the States. I say Da and shake my head up and down to which the taxi driver looks at me perplexed. And when I give a driver the address and he nods side to side, I repeat the address until I finally realize that he is saying yes or Da. Strange how one simple gesture carries so much weight in meaning and I didn’t even realize it. Well, this is what traveling to foreign cultures is all about. I try to remember that as I wait outside the grocery store for a taxi that isn’t coming because I gave the wrong address. I compare my journey to the recent stay in Italy and know that it gets better and easier to communicate and get around …just about the time it is time to leave. I find myself trying to rush the process, so I can be comfortable and not feel I am missing anything. The truth is, I am not missing anything, I am experiencing it all, each moment I am here. I just experienced being sick in Sofia, the sunrise this morning, the making of the coffee, the sounds of the twin 4 yr olds next door going off to school. I don’t look back on Italy and feel I missed anything, even though at the end I didn’t want to leave. I know it will be the same here. Until that time, Sofia will be my belly of the wolf.