Day 3: Bus to Porto via Coimbra

On the third day of my Viking River Cruise, we were up early and had breakfast while our bags were collected and loaded onto our bus. It was a bit of a haul to get to Porto, so we were happy to have a few stops along the way. The first stop was in Lisbon for a short shopping excursion.

Then we hopped back on the bus for the long ride to Porto. Some of the views from the bus:

Our second stop was at University of Coimbra, where we learned so many things, some quite unexpected! One of the unexpected things we learned was that J. K. Rowling was teaching English in Porto, Portugal during the time she was writing the first Harry Potter book, and the uniforms worn at Hogwartz were influenced by the uniforms worn in universities in Portugal! Who knew!

Salazar Slytherin’s name was influenced by Antonio Salazar, a Portuguese dictator. There are, in fact, many Portuguese influences in Harry Potter, as explained in this very informative article by Chelsea Szmania. There is also a lot of ceremony around the robes. Here are a few:

  1. First years don’t wear them. You have to be a second year.
  2. You don’t have to wear it every day, but when you do wear it, your cape can never be more than six feet away from you. You can take it off, but if you, say, took it off in class and then left the room to use the bathroom and were spotted in the hallway without it…there were consequences (I don’t remember what the consequences were).
  3. Relationships are represented by tears in the robe. A family relationship is represented by a tear in the front, right – over the heart. Strong friendships are tears on the front right. Romantic relationships are represented by tears in the back of the robe. If a relationship ends, the student must hand-sew the tear using the color that represents their program (law is red, pharmacy is purple, medicine is yellow, etc.). So someone who dates around could have several sewn tears on the back of their robe!

In the photos below are the grounds of the University, which show ongoing restoration. There is a statue there of King Denis, known as the Farmer King for planting a forest to provide raw materials for royal ships and also known as the Poet King because he wrote poetry and was influential in establishing Portuguese as a literary language. There are pictures inside Prisão Académica, which dated back to when the University would hold its own court and imprison students who had broken rules. We were also able to see inside a small library, but the much larger Joanine Library has a no photos rule, so nothing to show there, but the page at this link will has a couple of pictures.

Here are some pics of St. Michael’s chapel inside the University building.

After University of Coimbra, we stopped for lunch at Republica da Saudade, where we experienced one of the robe rituals first hand! The restaurant was staffed by university students, and as we entered the restaurant, there were two students, one on each side just inside the door, holding their robes so that they fell on the floor in front of them and you had no choice but to walk on them to get into the restaurant. Having your robe walked on is an honor.

For me, lunch was a wonderful Cod casserole, ice cream and sparkling wine, while listening to Fado Music performed by the restaurant owner and friends. It was beautiful! I don’t have a recording of what we heard, but this recording is by the same group.

I had a photo bomber who stayed with me through several takes of this shot – her mother is standing behind me, just outside!
One of the songs was so full of emotion it brought tears to my eyes!

After lunch we continued to Porto where we boarded our ship and began unpacking before heading to the lounge for a welcome reception with wine and cheese and some lovely piano playing by our onboard entertainer.

From the lounge we headed to the ship’s restaurant for dinner. It was a long, eventful day, but we had to stop on the upper deck to view the city at night before retiring to our cabins.

Day 2: Sightseeing in Lisbon

On day 2 of our Viking River Cruise, we remained in Lisbon (not yet on the ship) and did some sightseeing.

We started our day with a bus ride through the city and then arrived at the Belem Tower, which is a fortification from the 16th century and was a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portugal. More info can be found here.

The Belem Tower of Lisbon / Tower of St. Vincent

From there, we moved on to Jeronimos Monastery, the former monastery for the Order of St. Jerome. In 1833 it was secularized and ownership was transferred to a charitable institution. In 1983 it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least!

A couple photos from on route to our next stop:

Lisbon Sculpture – Raccoon, I think
I don’t know what these flowers are, but they are beautiful!

We next visited a huge modern art installation by sculptor Joao Cutileiro, a well-known sculptor who contributed several pieces of modern public sculpture, including several female nudes, which were quite controversial at the time. His work marks the beginning of a new contemporary era in Portuguese public sculpture.

After our excursion we were on our own. While my travel buddies decided to visit St. George’s Castle, I chose to visit the National Tile Museum. We couldn’t get an Uber because our phone service was non-existent, so we tried our luck on local tourist transportation, which was a golf cart decorated with artificial flowers. Aloha.

After negotiating our smooth-operating driver from 50 down to 30 Euros for both stops, we all headed for St. George’s Castle, which meant driving along narrow streets that wound their way up, up, up the cobbled streets of Lisbon. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Once there, my travel buddies got off, which left me on my own for the remainder of the ride to the National Tile Museum. It. Was. Terrifying.

Going down the hill was much more death-defying than going up. We bumped along the cobbled streets, weaving left and right, winding down at what felt like break-neck speeds in that little cart! At one point I glanced at the speedometer and we were close to 40 mph! I really should have made him stop and let me off, but I was too terrified to even speak! I did manage to catch a couple of photos on the way though.

The National Museum of the Azulejo, or National Tile Museum, is dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal. I’m including a LOT of photos here, but there is so much more! I’m so glad I made this stop!

After the museum and castle, we all met back at the Hotel Tivoli, where we attempted to get a table at the rooftop restaurant, Seen, but we were too late. We took a quick walk through the outdoor bar, which was also full, but I got a few pics of the sky view – breathtaking!

In the end we decided to have a light dinner in the lobby restaurant, where I had a yummy chocolate martini and a bowl of seafood soup. It was the perfect ending to a busy day!

Day 1: Travel to Lisbon and Some Exploring

I recently had the opportunity to explore Portugal on a Viking River Cruise. Here is day one of the adventure!

Flying to Lisbon from the East Coast is an adventure in itself. I left Nashville at 2:35 pm and had a layover in Newark, where I met up with my friend Lee. We boarded our plane to Lisbon at about 7:00 pm and then after a short delay for a flight attendant medical emergency, we were on our way. Then, about half way through the flight (I’m guessing about timing because I was mostly asleep at this point) there was some shouting and people running to the front of the plane. What?

It was a passenger medical emergency, and we were somewhere over the Atlantic, so the only option was to ask if there was a doctor on board. Fortunately the passenger appeared to be okay, at least far as we could tell. As we disembarked the plane, she was seated in her wheelchair and there were paramedics checking her vitals. Hopefully she was okay and able to enjoy her time in Portugal.

The challenge with a trip like this is, of course, jet lag. When we arrived in Lisbon it was about 10:00 am the next morning, which meant our day was just starting after a long day and night of travel. And we couldn’t get into our rooms until 3:00 pm. We left our luggage at Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, where we would be staying for the first two nights, and then dragged our tired, selves out the door for a (very long) trek to TimeOut Market.

TimeOut Market is a huge food court that had soooo many options for our first meal in Portugal! There is an upper entertainment level, but we didn’t make it up there. I had a hard time deciding what to order because I was too tired and dehydrated to be hungry. But I ordered some shrimp with garlic, which was one of the recommendations Lee had read about and I figured it was safe for me. It was a dish of shrimp that was swimming in a delicious butter and garlic base and served with bread – to sop up the sauce. I didn’t get a pic of it, but there’s pic on the TimeOut Market website here. I would have loved it any other time, but I’m afraid it was lost on me this day. I also bought two bottles of water, which was really what I needed.

Some of the sites from our first day:

Over the Atlantic
There’s Portugal!
Typical suburban view – lots of muted colors and terracotta colored roofs
Monumento aos Mortos da Grande Guerra – Monument honoring those who gave their lives in World War I
Monument to the Restorers – erected in 1886 to honor the fighters for freedom and independence from Spain
Tiled walkway in Lisbon
Tribute to workers who added character to the public walkways in Portugal
Tiled building in Lisbon
Three Amigos – on the way to TimeOut Market
I couldn’t locate any information on this one, but it’s a closer look at the statue next to Three Amigos
Tiled entry at Time Out Market
Lee’s lunch – she was more brave than I. In her words “A francesinha – Bread, meats, cheese, egg, and a wonderful sauce.”

On Dating – Part 1

Photo by YADU KRISHNAN K S on Unsplash

Part of me wants to have someone in my life; part of me wants to remain single. Here’s the thing: I’ve been in several bad relationships in my lifetime – mostly when I was much younger, but – there were a lot. So I know pretty well now what I don’t want. And I’ve got a pretty good thing going right now. I’ve got a home that I love, two dogs that make me smile every day, and friends to spend time with – responsibly, of course. 

In this time of social distancing, I feel pretty good. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, which is what I prefer to do anyway. Another benefit to COVID: Now I don’t need to feel guilty for choosing a night at home over a friend’s invitation. Please don’t get me wrong. I know COVID is a terrible thing and my soul hurts for those who have been negatively affected by it. But…I see a silver lining.

The problem, of course, is that this is not a good environment for meeting eligible single men. There are multitudinous dating apps out there, and I’ve been on many of them, with little success. 

I found my last relationship online in 2007. Three years later it ended because he had an addiction that I couldn’t live with. Turns out, he couldn’t live with it either. He passed away two years ago. There’s a lot more to that story, but not here. I’ll just say that that experience soured me a bit, and I’m now very cautious about who I spend my time with and I’m protective of my personal space. One or twice a year, though, I sign up on a dating site, pay the money (because that’s the only way you can actually communicate with a person), and then immediately feel buyers remorse. If only the IRS allowed deductions for donations to dating sites. Unfortunately, the same story repeats. 

The typical scenario is either:

  1. I message someone I’ve been matched with and never hear back. They disappear from my list of matches (meaning they have quietly removed themselves…shh…step…away).
  2. I receive a message from someone I have no interest in and try to find the kindest way to say, no thank you.

So essentially, I’m not really matching with anyone. I have occasionally had success getting over the first threshold and on to messaging within the app, but it generally doesn’t take long to figure out the guy is either:

  1. a scammer 
  2. a perv

On rare occasions, I get to the phone call stage, where I’m likely to find out they’re either:

  1. a bad fit (uneducated, strong opinions that do not fit my view of life) 
  2. a perv

On even more rare occasions, I get to meet the person. Here are the typical outcomes:

  1. Misrepresentation (nothing like their photos, not in the job/profession they stated)
  2. Bad fit (self-absorbed, rude, no chemistry) 
  3. Perv

As you can see, as the prospects progress through the funnel, the outcomes do not tend to improve.

What I’ve found over the years is, like me, many people are on several different apps and return to them as they move out of relationships. Each time I renew on an app I see profiles of people I’ve seen before. Some are even using the same photos they used ten years ago! That in itself is a “big red flag”, to quote my second husband, who himself was the embodiment of a big red flag, or, to say it differently, there were so many big red flags I should have seen early on in that relationship that I was clearly in a bad place when I married him. Another story for another time. 

I’m not asking for much, really. I just want someone who is interested in getting to know me a little before jumping into bed. I want to have conversations, not listen to someone tell stories about themselves. I want to see evidence of character: kindness, strength, humility. I want to see how they dance in the cacophony of this crazy world. 

So many times, I’ve read in a profile or been told by a prospect that they want to get to know someone first, then “see what happens”. What that means is, on the first date he’ll try to get a kiss from you – just to check things out. On the second date he’ll try to feel you up. 

I long for an age of patience, anticipation, and respectfulness, where we get to know someone before getting into the groping and sweating. Maybe a chance encounter that turns into a friendship…and then, one day, a spontaneous, mutual agreement to grope and sweat. I know what you’re thinking, but, no, I’m not into romantic chick flicks. They’re the same story told over and over, and we all know those things don’t really happen. But now that I’ve written this, it does sound like that’s what I’m asking for. 

So what other options are available now outside of online dating sites? Volunteering used to be an option, but that’s not safe at the moment. And I’ve volunteered many times and never even made a female friend, let alone a potential male companion. 

Maybe there’s still hope. Or maybe I’ve had my share of companions. Maybe I used up my quota when I was younger. In the end, I know I’m okay. I’m happy with who I am and where I am. But once in a while, as I sit on my deck gazing into the starry night, I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to find my person so we could enjoy this together?

Delayed Grief

Photo: K. Mitch Hodge

I was clearing out old voicemails recently because someone told me my mailbox was full. There, at the bottom, was the Blocked Messages folder. I opened it to find the same three messages, the last one dated 12/16/2017. That left me curious. I did a quick search of my inbox and found the last email from him was on 12/26/2017. I was curious what made him finally stop.

Something tugged at me. I wonder what he’s up to these days. Could he have finally gotten himself together and moved on?

I did a quick Google search on his first and last name and came up with several hits, but not him. I thought that seemed odd. He didn’t like social media, but he should at least have a LinkedIn profile because of the type of work he does.

I did another Google search using his full name. There was one hit. An obituary. 

I stared at the screen, stunned. I read and re-read the content. This couldn’t be real. “…died in his home.”

It was a Tuesday when I stumbled onto the news, and I had a very busy work schedule that week so there wasn’t time to process my feelings immediately. I had planned to take Thursday off, but had a full day of activities that day and didn’t want to be a wreck on Friday. So I filed it away as best I could. That’s right, I was scheduling time to grieve. We do what we must.

For the next few days this new bit of reality continued to swirl around in my head. I allowed myself to feel very little emotion about it, but every time I would pause – or when I would wake up in the middle of the night to roll over (yes, I wake up for this) – I would feel the gut-punch echo of the words “…died in his home.”

A day or two into this, facebook presented me with a memory. It was not something directly about him, but it was an event that I remembered as happening shortly after I moved out. It had been nine years. So why was I feeling this strongly?

Friday evening finally arrived. It was grieving time. I sat on my yoga mat and talked to him. I said I was sorry. I said I had hoped he would find strength to work through things. I said I was sorry I hadn’t been able to help him. I told him I missed what we had had in the beginning of our relationship. I cried. I punched my fists into a cushion and shouted. After exhausting myself, I laid on my mat and stared. 

In the three weeks following my discovery of his death I found myself in a funk off and on…mostly on. I didn’t want to talk on the phone with my friend, who by the way both lost her father and broke up with her boyfriend in the two months prior. I felt some guilt about not being there for her, but I needed to be alone. 

Nine years. That is the marker for when I moved out of our three year live-in arrangement. I had loved him dearly, but his alcoholism proved to be too much for us to overcome. I tried so many approaches to encourage him to help himself, but he was not interested. He didn’t have a problem, I just needed to lighten up. I didn’t recognize my behavior as codependency. He was an alcoholic and I was a victim.

Toward the end of our live-in relationship he would pass out in his chair once or twice a week – sometimes more often. He’d wake up after a bit and resume whatever conversation we had been having before he had passed out. In his opinion we were having playful banter; I felt it was obnoxious and harrassing, though I never used those words with him because my life path had taught me there were boundaries I should not cross if I wanted to be safe. 

We had come together fast and intensely. We had an extreme physical chemistry from the start, and we connected on so many other levels. I heard him and I knew he heard me. I felt loved unconditionally for the first time in my life. 

I knew from the beginning that he liked to have a drink now and then, but I didn’t see it as excessive. He always seemed to be in control. It wasn’t long after I moved in that it became clear he had a problem. Once his secret was out, all bets were off.

The first time I was locked out of the house while he was passed out drunk, I told him I was leaving. But he had been so repentant the next day and actually promised, for the first time, to quit drinking. So I stayed. He lasted maybe three weeks. The second time I was locked out I didn’t tell him I was leaving, I just started making plans.

There had been so many good things about our relationship…when he was sober. He was the person I could fall into…when he was sober. He was the kindest, most reasonable man I’d ever been in a relationship with…when he was sober. He often said he’d lie down on railroad tracks for me. For all these reasons, even after I moved out, we continued to stay in touch. 

My codependency – my need to be loved wholeheartedly – allowed us to come back together a few times over the next four years. He only did his heavy drinking at home, so it would appear to me that he was doing better. Each time we’d come together we went through the same cycle: 

  • We would start with an agreement that we’d just be friends. 
  • I would give in to his promises that he had everything under control and lean into him once again. 
  • He would resume drinking heavily.
  • Somewhere in the timeline there would be a beach trip, where I would get to relive the experience of living with an alcoholic.
  • I would push back and say we had to keep it just friends or I was out.
  • He’d agree to that, but then would become more and more demanding of my time.
  • I would push back again.
  • He would drunk email or voicemail me to tell me how heartless I was.
  • I would break off contact completely. 
  • A month or two later he’d reach out again, promising once more that we could be just friends. He just really wanted me in his life.

By the time I shut the door for good his mental faculties had degraded significantly. I could see the  changes in his personality and in his ability to think rationally. He was moving further and further into a darkness that I couldn’t understand. And I felt less and less safe.

In June 2015 I blocked his number. He would still leave me voicemails, but I wouldn’t know about it until I emptied my mailbox. He would still email, but I wouldn’t respond. In December 2017, he emailed to tell me he’d straightened himself out and maybe we could make a go of it. I finally knew better. I didn’t respond. 

He passed in May 2018. “…died in his home.” I’m pretty sure I know what happened.

So why had I felt so bad about the news after all this time? I was sad that he wasn’t able to move on with his life and find happiness in some way; that he wasn’t able to see rock bottom and recognize it was time for long lasting change. And I’ve pondered my role in all of this. It was his disease, but I played a part in his emotional health because I allowed us to come back together over and over again until he could no longer see past a life with me. I know I didn’t directly cause his death, but I have wondered if he might have seen his way through this if I had just walked out the door and not looked back. Eventually I made my peace with the understanding that, even if he had moved on from me, he would still have kept drinking. It’s what he was wired to do.

While we’re on the topic of grieving, I’ll mention that I lost a dear friend in January of this year. It was a relapse, and the cancer took her quickly. Nobody expected she wouldn’t get through it, most of all her. I’ve no doubt the loss of my friend added to the weight of this more recent loss.

It is said there are several phases to the grieving process. According to the Healthline website, the five stages of grief are:

They also say, “Not everyone will experience all five stages, and you may not go through them in this order.” I would add that you may experience grief differently each time. 

When I lost my friend, I found myself wandering the house in a daze for the first week or so. I would walk into a room and just stand there, staring and swaying. It was like I was lost. I had just had dinner with her a week before she went into the hospital for the last time. Her spirits had seemed high and she had planned to go back to work part-time the following week.

My current grief is different. It is a haunting of my soul. He was supposed to be the person I lived out the rest of my life with. We had each been married twice before and the idea of another marriage never came into play for either of us. I just wanted him and he wanted me. It was simple. It should have worked. But it didn’t.

I think I’ve been hanging out in denial over my friend’s death ever since it happened in January. I only saw her every couple months or so and we didn’t chat on the phone or text much. But each time I saw her was memorable. A part of me still expects her to call me one day and say, “Hey Mel! I’m going to a freak show this weekend. Come with me – it’ll be a blast!”

As for Eric, my emotions pinballed between denial, depression, and anger. Some days felt like a heavy grey blanket of sad. He may have passed two years ago, but to me it’s new. And it still hurts.

One Day at a Time

I’m so tired of seeing “COVID” this and “COVID” that in my social feeds. I get it. Stay inside. Wear a mask when you absolutely have to go out. It’s depressing. And there are so many people out there trying to “help” (AKA get their 15 minutes in the spotlight). I’m really over it all. Don’t get me wrong. I feel horrible about what’s going on and I am so grateful for the people who are risking their lives every day to keep people (like me) safe. 

There actually is some good content coming out by some people who are finding creativity in their confinement. Some of it is sad; some heartwarming. I love that entertainers/musicians and those sorts are streaming free concerts/plays/other content to cheer us up in this stressful new life we’re in. But the volume of it is overwhelming.

It is a surreal time in this world we’re sharing. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!) These kinds of situations are supposed to happen in movie plots, not real life. What’s next, Universe? Zombies? Oi.

But this is real life. This is our real life now. And I’m trying to do my part by…not doing. I’m here, in my house, with my dogs. Thank goodness for streaming apps. But it’s still hard. After three solid weeks at home, I’ve found myself skipping over most of the COVID-themed content in my social feeds. Is it wrong that I am desensitized? I prefer to think of it as emotional self-preservation. The worst of it is reading about people who aren’t taking this seriously and are putting more lives in danger. Get real, people.

I’m not going to talk about politics: who did what / who should have done what. I’m focusing my energy on the here and now. This is where we are. Now what? It’s heartwarming to see how so many businesses and individuals are stepping up to help wherever they can. Sewing masks and retooling equipment to manufacture much-needed PPE for our medical professionals. I have faith that we will come out of this a stronger nation because of these pockets of love and generosity.

I understand this experience is different for each of us. We each must navigate through our own lense of truth and sensibility. We all have our tolerance levels and personal methods for coping with stress. Some of us need to shout about how we got here. Some of us need to desensitize with meditation, exercise, streaming, wine…whatever works.

I am an IT consultant, and my current situation is that I’m sitting at my computer all day every day while I wait “on the bench” for a new project. The client I was working for had to redirect their budget to support…you got it, COVID 19. So here I am.

Currently I’m working on some small internal projects and self-training through whatever means possible so that I may be more of a value-add on my next project assignment. In the meantime, though, it’s a bit stressful, and I’m having a hard time staying focused. Will I really get a new project or will I soon be added to the count of n million Americans filing for unemployment benefits?

I know how fortunate I am. I am still being paid my full salary. I am not having to put my life at risk delivering food to people (like me) just to keep a roof over my family’s head. I’m not on the front lines caring for infected patients who are not able to see their families in person…and I don’t have to worry that I may become infected and bring it home to my family. 

I’m actually in good shape, considering. That fact is at once comforting and disheartening. For me, there is guilt that comes with safety. But also gratefulness. Some days I’m up, others I’m down, and still others I swing wildly between the two states. 

I am also an artist, so I have that to keep me distracted. Except I’m not making art. And I’ve got a great space set up in my home for yoga and meditation. But I’m not doing that. For now I’m stuck in a funk. But I know I’ll come out okay in the end. Sometimes I need to sit in a funk for a bit. For whatever reason, that’s my process. But I’m getting up every day and showing up…for whatever happens. I try to get some fresh air every day, but even if the only thing I can do is put one foot in front of the other, I am moving forward…one day at a time.

Resources:

Online course at Coursera from Yale on the Science of Well-Being (10 week free course).

BetterHelp is the largest online counseling platform worldwide. 

Questions to my readers:

How are you coping in this crisis? What works best for you? Do you find that one thing works for you consistently or do you use multiple tools or activities to stay calm and productive?

Self-Judgement and Shame

If you’re a perfectionist OCD control-freak people-pleaser…can I get a “Hell yes!”

I work on myself. I try to make myself a better person. And I beat myself up in the process.

Here’s my latest story:

It happened yesterday. I had volunteered for a “feed the people” event. It was for a local organization supporting patients and family members of patients who are visiting Nashville for medical services. The task was to prepare lunch for guests at the facility.

We were to prepare a taco bar. There were lots of moving parts…cooking the meat, chopping onions, slicing tomatoes…you know how it goes. There were three volunteers at the start with more arriving soon.

My friend (I’ll call her Sue) was coordinating the event on behalf of her volunteer organization. When we arrived, Sue was busy collecting lost volunteers so I jumped in and started making things happen…as I do. I set up a few work areas for cooking and chopping. Several more volunteers had arrived and we all sort of fell into a rhythm and things moved along nicely. It felt good. Food was served, the kitchen was cleaned, and we all went home. I spent the rest of my day running errands and feeling fulfilled for having supported people in need.

And then it happened. As I navigated my evening, little bits of shame began seeping in. There were scenes replaying in my mind over and over again where I wondered at first – then decided – that I had been more pushy than helpful in a few situations throughout the day.

I mean, there’s more than one way to slice an avocado, right? I thought I was helping because the volunteer seemed to be struggling. Sue was there as well and was moving in the direction of helping her but I jumped in and showed the volunteer my way – because it’s best way. How self-important am I?

Shortly after the avocado incident I noticed the volunteer had disappeared. I never saw her again. Was it me? Had I caused that? In retrospect I felt I should have hung back and let Sue handle it, but in the moment I was just digging in and doing. I hadn’t noticed Sue was moving in to help the volunteer until I was already in motion, and once I’m in motion…

Then there was the ladle incident. It could have been harmless or it could have been another time I stepped on Sue’s toes.

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since my return home last night, even seeping in during one of my bathroom visits in the middle of the night. What’s up with that?

I’ve always considered my take-charge personality a positive trait. It’s served me well in my career. I get things done. The problem is, I don’t know how or when to turn it off. When I’m in the moment, I’m just pushing forward. I’m not always aware of everything going on around me. I’m just doing.

I’m also not good at turning off my self-judgement and the shame that comes with it when my brain replays the event. I may not have been aware of things happening in the moment, but once it was all over my brain got right to work showing me all the ways I had been unaware and potentially inconsiderate. What people must be thinking of me!

At some point in the shaming process I had to stop myself. Had I really done anything wrong? Am I really so narcissistic as to believe a volunteer might have left the event because of me? Or had she not been feeling it from the start? She had come in late and was just sitting, waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Someone gave her avocados. And when she appeared awkward with them I decided to help rather than let her suffer. But – honestly – she would have gotten through it on her own – or someone else could have helped her. But I felt the need to insert myself into the situation.

I know that I tend to take over in situations where somebody needs help or no one seems to be in charge. I feel impatience when there are things to be done and they’re not being done as quickly or proficiently as I feel they should be. I know the best ways to do everything!

I believe my perfectionism and desire to lead springs from a childhood where I felt unheard and discounted. As an adult I overcompensate, hungry for the attention I often receive for going above and beyond. But that’s not always necessary.

After waking this morning with these thoughts tumbling around in my head I decided to meditate. The question I asked myself was, what do I need right now? I’d hoped to find an end to the shame that had now settled into my stomach. Each time I asked, what do I need right now, the answer was, write.

So I decided I’d start with this story. Maybe by writing it I’ll be able to let it go.

In the end I know what I’ll do. What would you do in this situation?

Another Writing Nudge…I think

DREAM:

I’ve recently moved into a new house (that I LOVE) and I’m settling in when I remember an apartment that I have that I need to get the last of my furniture and belongings out of by Saturday (today) because the lease will be up. It’s an apartment I haven’t used in a long time and had forgotten about until today. I can’t imagine how I could have forgotten about it, but I’m glad I remembered, even though it now brings on great stress because I know I’ll need help (strong bodies to move things and a truck) and there’s not a lot of lead time to make that happen. I go to the apartment to look around and decide what to do.

I’m in the apartment, which feels like an old high rise building that hasn’t been updated in a very long time. I pull the sheer curtains aside on the window to my left and I can see another apartment complex that feels a lot like one that is very near me in real life and where I once lived (in real life) except that it has a clubhouse with a nice rooftop space. There appears to be a party going on on the rooftop. The women are dressed in fancy cocktail dresses with flouncy skirts, and I think to myself that it looks like a fun party.

I move away from the window and look around the room. There is sparse furniture that looks sort of art deco from the 70’s. It’s not placed well, mostly scattered around the room. I walk into another room and there are white cabinets from floor to ceiling. I pull open two doors that swing out like french doors and I see drawers, also white, that are the full width of the two cabinet doors I’ve opened. I pull one drawer open and it’s full of boxes of stationary, but it looks as though someone has run a roller of white paint over the top of the boxes. It’s like the cabinets and drawers were all painted, then the drawers were opened and the roller was run across so all the boxes have white paint on them, but I can still see that the boxes are navy blue and they have lettering on them, some with peoples’ names. One is the name of an old female acquaintance of mine (in real life). I open more drawers and find the same things. The boxes are varying sizes and with different names and “feelings” about them, but they’re all kind of covered in paint.

I pick out one box and open it. It conjures a memory – a story about someone. I think to myself that I need to get these boxes out of here before I run out of time. I don’t want to leave them behind.

Suddenly I’m outside at what may be a park, but there are groups of people here and there. There is a circle of chairs where several people are chatting. I’m walking toward something (not sure what, but I have a destination in mind) and as I pass the group in chairs, a woman looks my way. Our eyes meet and she waves at me as if to say Hello. I wave back. I know that I know her but can’t remember from where. I think about going back to ask her, but decide against it. I need to get where I’m going.

Now I’m back in the apartment. I’m in the first room with the scattered furniture. I look around and think, This is not my stuff. But I still know I need to get the boxes out of the drawers.

[End of Dream]

I woke up after this dream with my mouth wide open and breathing heavily…not panting or panicked, but like my body was trying to pull as much oxygen into my lungs as possible…like I hadn’t been getting enough. (Very sexy image, I know.) I was also very groggy. I drifted in and out of sleep and grog; each time I returned to grog I would think to myself, If I just close my mouth and breathe in through my nose I’ll get more oxygen to my brain and I’ll wake up.

I eventually forced myself awake. This is what happens when I take off my CPAP and then fall back to sleep. I obviously am not breathing properly, but I also have some very vivid dreams during this time.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. I’ve been trying (consciously) to get myself back to a regular writing practice. I’ve been telling myself I need to finish my memoir and maybe I might find an agent and publisher in the process.
  2. I recently bought a new house and quickly settled in. Within two weeks I had all boxes emptied and everything pretty well organized. It’s almost like I was getting ready for something.
  3. I had a house party just two days ago – not a cocktail dress party, but…could have contributed to this.
  4. I get a feeling that the woman who was sitting in the circle waving at me represented someone from my life. She had my mother’s coloring and build. And by the way, a lot of my story is about my relationship with my mother, so there’s that.
  5. I feel like the boxes in the drawers were stories I need to tell. I think it’s interesting that the cabinets and drawers are white and that the boxes are partially covered in white paint. Does that mean purity? Honesty? Truth? My truth?
  6. Shortly before I resumed using my CPAP machine, I had one of those dreams – I had been having a lot of vivid dreams toward the end of no-CPAP, which is probably because I wasn’t breathing well – but in this particular dream, when I awoke, the only thing I remembered were the words: My life depends on it. I immediately thought of my CPAP and decided that must be a sign, so I resumed using it that night.
  7. So what’s the part in this dream about running out of time or it being too late? Am I truly on a time limit? (Scary thought.) Or is it a message that I’ve put off telling my story long enough and it’s time to get moving because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing? (I prefer the latter explanation.) I guess I’ll find out eventually!

I’m a Victim of Amazon Scammers

Over the past several weeks I’ve been receiving packages from Amazon for things I haven’t ordered. First a bunch of rolls of tape in bright colors, next a bunch of rolls of twine in bright colors, then a set of five clear plastic sleeves that you might slide a piece of paper into, each one bound on the edges in a different…bright color.

I looked inside each package for paperwork — nothing. I looked for sender information on the label on the outside of the package — nothing. There are no clues as to who might have sent any of these items.

Seeing as Christmas was barreling down the tracks, I asked family members if they had sent the items. They had not.

Then I remembered a podcast I’d heard not too long ago (can’t remember the name of it) that talked about this phenomenon and why someone would bother to do this.

This activity is called “brushing” and here’s how it works:

  1. An Amazon seller purchases their own product.
  2. Amazon seller ships said product to an unsuspecting individual.
  3. Amazon seller writes themselves a raving review on Amazon.

It boils down to this: They’re gaming the Amazon system to move their items further up the list in search results. Meanwhile, we’re all standing around scratching our heads and wondering where these packages are coming from and how to make it stop.

These businesses are using the demographics of online shoppers for illicit purposes. The fact that they can get a name and address is disconcerting enough. What else can they get to? Where/how do they get this information?

I’ve read and heard from various sources that this sort of thing typically begins after someone purchases something from China. Guilty as charged. Fortunately/unfortunately [perspective], almost everything I’ve ordered from China (and it’s only been a couple things) I have sent back — or initiated a return and been told to go ahead and keep the items — so I’ve kind of stopped trying to buy from China. But…they’ve got my info now. And the packages keep coming.

CBS News ran a story in February of 2018 explaining how it works. This story states that Amazon researches every reported instance, and that they shut down vendors once they’re caught in this practice. I, personally, have found it very difficult to get the Amazon employee on the other end of the chat or phone line to do anything more than thank me for being a loyal customer. I’m not proud to say, I recently found myself screaming at an Amazon representative on the phone. I know it’s not that individual’s fault, but Amazon’s system for managing these complaints really sucks. And it’s frustrating.

Below are photos of some of the items I’ve received.

Has this happened to you? Were you able to make it stop?

Why I Love My Dog(s)

This story is partly about handling severe anxiety and partly about the unconditional love we humans receive from dogs. Sometimes I think we really don’t deserve them. I’m so glad they don’t agree.


So the other night I was on day two of what turned out to be a three day migraine, and as I laid my head down on my pillow in hopes of plunging quickly into a deep and healing slumber, I plunged instead into a full blown panic attack. Yes, I know how these things work. But I was still sure I was going to die.

Fortunately, I’ve learned in the last couple years that EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), or tapping is something that works well for me, so when I realized my anxiety wasn’t going away on its own, I opened the YouTube app on my iPad and did a quick search. Normally I go straight to Brad Yates’ channel because I’ve used his guided tapping videos for anxiety and panic a few times and they’ve done the trick. But for some reason, this time I decided to browse a little, and I ran across a great video by Megan Buer.

Buer’s video begins with an explanation of what is actually happening in your body when you have a panic attack (very helpful), next goes through a tapping exercise, and then wraps up with the advise to the viewer to get up and walk around, stomp your feet, etc., to help release some of the adrenaline your body has been saving up.

Something in this message clicked and I remembered one of my last sessions with my therapist, where she had wanted me to whack a large floor-cushion with a hollow plastic bat. While I was beating the crap out of the cushion, I was to scream and shout at the cushion as if it were my offender and say all the things that were bottled up inside me: all the reasons I was angry, all the ways I had been hurt. Just let it all out.

While I agreed this would probably be an effective way for releasing anger, I was not willing in that moment to do that exercise in front of my therapist. I don’t lose my shit in front of anyone. Not even my therapist. I may bawl like a baby, but I don’t show anger. I don’t scream and shout. (OK, full disclosure…my kids experienced me losing my shit a few times when we were growing up together. But…)

So I went home and did the therapy on my own. It was the middle of the day and I was sitting in my sacred space whacking a cushion with a plastic stick. And it really did help. So I’ve kept that one in my back pocket for when nothing else is working.

So on this night — as I was mid-panic attack — and after completing the Megan Buer EFT video, I decided it was a good time to beat up a cushion.

I stepped into my meditation room, got myself seated comfortably on the floor, and proceeded to whack the hell out of that cushion! And it was helping.

But then something happened. As the static began to clear from my head, I noticed the familiar sound of the doggy door clicking as one of my babies headed outside. I continued whacking. But then I heard something else.

My babies are both beagles; a male and a female. My female is a barker. Several times throughout each day and evening she will launch herself off our living room couch and dash through the doggy door to shout her warnings to…the person walking down the street…or the dog in the yard next door…squirrel in a tree…whatever. This happens a lot. I’m used to it.

My male, on the other hand, is generally quiet, and only joins in the neighborhood announcements in special circumstances (not sure what defines special, but he is selective about which events get him off the couch). My male — Mr. Boo — was my first adoption and has always been mamma’s sweet, sweet boy. My female, aka Miss Missy Miss, is a bit more independent.

And as I was thwacking that stick against that cushion on that night, I began to realize that the alarm sounding in the back yard was different. It wasn’t my outspoken girl. It was my sweet Boo. And he was not just barking. He was howling.

I stopped to listen more closely. There was not a peep from Miss Missy Miss. I popped my head into the hallway and looked down the stairs. Missy was curled up on the couch, looking up at me, confused.

Suddenly, my problem wasn’t such a big problem anymore. Mr. Boo was worried about his mommy and wanted everyone to know things weren’t OK! My heart sank. I ran down the stairs, and as I hit the bottom step, my sweet boy came around the corner, very tentatively, squinting up at me. He had noticed I was no longer shouting and was coming in to see if I was OK now.

In that moment, I was overcome with something different than anxiety. I bent down to pet my timid little boy and reassure him everything was going to be OK. Mommy had just had a little anger to get out, but she was OK now. I sat down then on the couch and hugged and cuddled each of them. They are not official therapy dogs, but they are my therapy.

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Miss Missy Miss (L), Mr. Boo (R) Not the clearest picture, but it’s the only one I have of them together where they aren’t napping.