Thinking Inside The Box

It has been nearly one year since we’ve been living inside the box known as the COVID-19 quarantine. And while the initial restrictions brought about by the pandemic have eased somewhat, we are still very much stuck inside, longing for the days when we can move freely around the cabin of life and get back to “normal.”

We have spent the past year living inside our homes, working from home, teaching our kids from home, learning from home, and fixing or replacing the myriad of things that have broken down or worn out thanks to stay-at-home overuse.

This has kicked nostalgic longings for mask-free dining, hugging friends, and travel into high gear. It has also given those patient enough to notice the silver lining time to look inside our souls, minds, and hearts and ponder life’s big questions.

Questions such as:

What’s so wrong with the box that everyone thinks we should think out of it?

“Normal” as we once knew it is still beyond our reach. Perhaps we will never be normal again. So maybe it’s time to take a look at the tired, old phrase of “thinking outside the box” and look around inside to see the treasures that lie within.

Breaking Down the Walls

To think outside the box means to break the bonds of the status quo, the mental prison that limits our ability to acknowledge our power and live the purpose for which we were created.

“That’s great! Let’s go.” you say as you kick down the walls of stagnation and step out into the fresh air of possibilities.

Hold on a minute.

Thinking outside the box also implies abandoning everything that’s inside. And while leaving behind the pain and frustrations that have kept us trapped inside, we also leave behind the lessons and wonders that have gotten us this far.

We are then in danger of creating a new box with the same limiting beliefs that kept us from going anywhere.

Two years ago, I knocked down the walls of alcohol consumption and entered the box of sober curiosity. It was liberating. And, oh, so sweet!

Literally.

I jumped out of Total Wine & More and into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I no longer drank alcohol, but Willy became my BFF. We packed the pantry with dark chocolate (because, after all, it was heart healthy), and used the mid-afternoon sugar crash as an excuse to devour bon bons by the bagful.

I had given up booze, but had forgotten to take with me the lesson of how to ditch a bad habit. Once I realized this, I ran back to the old box, left Willy there to fend for himself, and grabbed bananas, grapes, and a bunch of berries to sustain me through the rest of my journey.

My mind, my mood—and let’s be honest here—my mid-section are all the better for it.

This is just one small example of how throwing the contents of the old box away can hurt you in the long run.

Thinking outside the box is an adventure. But embarking on an adventure just because crowd mentality tells you to do so, leaves you unprepared for the obstacles you may face along the road.

It might be a little chilly outside the box, so grab a jacket before you venture out.

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Sober Is The New Cool

On Jan. 30, 2019, at 11 p.m., I unceremoniously finished a glass of wine, said goodnight to the friends with whom I had been having dinner, and went home. That’s how my journey into “I’m not drinking today” began. There was no big announcement, no fanfare, no idea that my dry spell would keep going, and going, and going.

On the eve of that date’s 2-year anniversary, the dry spell continues.

Although I don’t have many filters, I have been relatively quiet about my journey into sobriety. I hate that word and all the other words used to label those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to hit the pause button on their alcohol consumption. Whether that choice is for one day, one month, one year, or one lifetime doesn’t matter. The labels and connotations are the same.

But until this new cool becomes “so last year,” the word sobriety will have to do to describe this very private and personal journey. While I have shared a few details now and then through the pages of this blog, it’s not something I have discussed in great detail, mostly for the same reasons others like me don’t like to share their sobriety stories.

“Oh, you don’t drink. You must have a problem!” is the conclusion to which most people fast forward when you tell them you have chosen not to drink. But if someone told you they no longer eat jelly beans, I doubt you would think they have a jelly bean problem.

Then there’s the other side of the coin.

“Wow, you don’t drink! That’s amazing. Good for you!”

I’m no a superhero. I just stopped putting alcohol into my system because I didn’t like the way it made me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s it. End of story. There’s nothing good or bad about it. It just is.

But two years into this AF thing (for the purpose of this article, AF is an acronym for alcohol free, not the other thing), some of those who have heard of my choice to go AF are approaching me with questions about how to do the same. Some of the questions are subtle, some not so much.

At first, I brushed them aside, thinking there were enough experts out there whose stories of sobriety were much more interesting. I am not an authority on drinking. I hate giving advice on the subject because I have no idea how or why other people drink. The reasons are as varied as there are people.

I only know why I choose not to drink, and how I am able to continue on that journey.

I also hate the “I will never drink again” prediction. One of my concerns has been that giving advice and then drinking a tiny sip of anything with as little as 0.5% alcohol will somehow negate what I have accomplished and invalidate all the advice I have given. (News Alert: Orange juice has 0.5% alcohol, so there’s that.)

Most of all, I didn’t want to be THAT person. You know, the one who breaks a habit and then becomes a holier-than-thou, judgmental bitch who turns her nose up at those weaklings who aren’t as evolved.

Slurring isn’t sexy, but neither is self righteousness.

But more and more people have started asking me about my choice to not consume alcohol. And the questions have come from those whom I least expected. I feel I owe them an honest answer.

So, on the eve of my 2-year sobriety date, I share with you how I stay on my current AF journey, and my why for doing so.

My decision to share is also because in the past pandemic-challenged year, the memes and jokes on social media about drinking—especially about women drinking—is cause for concern. The 5 o’clock Mommy Juice hour is starting earlier and earlier, and there’s nothing cute about it.

Among the most dire post-pandemic predictions is the one that says people may survive COVID-19, but will be left with addictions they acquired to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, a friend who was celebrating a milestone birthday posted a photo on Facebook showing a bottle of Grey Goose in the center console cupholder of her car as a sign that she was ready to celebrate.

How is this even remotely funny?

The comments cheering her on underneath her post were even more disturbing.

No Labels, Please

Before I tell you a little bit more about my story, I have just one request. Please drop the label. You know the one — alcoholic, and the stigma attached to it. That blanket term which has been attached to anyone who drinks too much or too often is inaccurate most of the time. At best, it is outdated.

I often wonder how many more people would chose to go alcohol free if the label did not exist … if the judgmental looks they get when they tell the waiter they won’t be partaking from the bottle of wine everyone else at the table will be sharing didn’t scream, “Oh, you poor thing.”

I have a plethora of handy comebacks for those looks, most of which are NSFW. 😉

Most drinkers don’t fit the stereotype of the alcoholic, a disheveled person on the street, begging for money, sleeping on park benches. The fact is that the majority of people who drink too much are professionals with jobs, families, and good salaries. They dress well and have money to buy name-brand wines and spirits and travel all over the world to sample the latest vintage from the winery of their choice.

Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject, but according to what I’ve read, alcoholics are physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol, and they can no longer control their drinking. There are lots of in-betweens, which you can research on your own. It’s not my intent to provide medical advice or rehash what a Google search will reveal if you’re interested in finding out more.

This is my story. Any resemblance to the stories of people living or dead is purely coincidental.

If you are an alcoholic, or if you even suspect that you will suffer physical withdrawals by going cold turkey, this article is NOT for you. Please seek advice from your doctor, your therapist, or someone who can help you detox safely.

But if your drinking has escalated to the point where happy hour is no longer as happy as it used to be, or it has become so automatic you just reach for a cocktail without even thinking whether or not you really want one, then maybe my journey can help answer some of the questions you might be asking yourself.

In other words, if you’re sober curious, read on.

This Is How And Why I Do It

I do it by just doing it. No therapy, no doctor, no detox, no rehab. I just stopped. The support of my life’s traveling companion and my mom were instrumental in keeping me stopped.

I do it because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a dryness in my eyes and mouth that would be the envy of the Sahara Desert.

I do it because waking up with a clear head is more fun than a hangover.

I do it because a 6 a.m. 25-mile bike ride before the world is up on a Saturday morning is much more exhilarating than that first sip of Amarone ever was.

I do it because even though I love rituals, there are other rituals besides opening and aerating a bottle of wine.

I do it because the clarity is amazing. I am much more creative sober than I ever was attempting to imitate Hemingway in his prose and his drinking. Contrary to popular belief, drunken angst kills creativity.

I do it because drowning my emotions — whether happy or sad — in alcohol doesn’t make the bad ones go away, and it prevents me from being fully present to enjoy the good ones.

I do it because my relationships are stronger, and my emotions are under control. Alcohol-fueled disagreements can escalate into relationship-ending arguments very quickly. I no longer choose to engage in arguments that are going nowhere. I pick my battles, which are fewer and fewer these days.

I do it for a host of reasons. But the reasons themselves are not important. Like brushing my teeth, being AF has sewn itself into the fiber of my life, and the why no longer matters.

It Wasn’t Easy Until It Was

Now, at the risk of having you think my first journey into the AF world was all no wine and roses, think again. I tried going alcohol free many times before it finally stuck for this long.

Why did it stick this time?

Because somewhere along the line, there was a shift from “I can’t have a drink and I’m missing out on something” to “I don’t want to have a drink because I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

This lifetime nerd is officially one of the cool kids. Call me cool AF. And this time the acronym does not stand for Alcohol Free. 😉

What about you?

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Mom: “Don’t Lose Your Friends Over Politics”

We had been having a conversation about politics, something my mom and I rarely talk about. Who am I kidding? My mom and I never talk about politics, because … well. we have more important things to talk about.

But on that particular day, I had been sharing the posts on my Facebook wall with her, and it wasn’t long before the funny memes, inspirational sayings, and photos of cute dogs and cats gave way to vile, offensive, and angry political rhetoric. And it wasn’t long before my sharp-as-a-tack, 93-year-old mom pointed out that some of my normally calm and rational friends were posting less than happy responses to some of the posts we were reading.

While I really don’t do politics, during this past election period, I paid attention. I also let my feelings known on social media, although I tried with all my heart to do so respectfully. As a trained journalist — otherwise known as a fake news liar, truth hater, left-wing communist pig who deserves to go back to Cuba where she came from and not insult the real Cubans who came to this country to embrace freedom — I read everything from the New York Times to right-wing extremist blogs. The founder of one particular publication I read believes he will one day guide all deserving earthly beings back to a higher spiritual planet where Democrats (or Demon-rats as non-Republicans are “affectionately” known these days) don’t exist.

(I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. Friends actually sent me articles from that publication to counter the articles I sent them from The Times and other sources they claimed were fake news meant to distribute Chinese and Russian propaganda.)

“When all of this is over, the politicians who are now enemies will be embracing each other,” mom said as she carefully perused the posts from people whose names she recognized … some who know her so well, they refer to her as mom. “Politics is not worth the loss of friendship,” she said.

Case in point: Ted Cruz, one of former President Donald Trump’s fiercest supporters, who as of this writing is facing backlash for his part in the Jan. 6, 2021, defiling of the U.S. Capitol.

In 2016, Cruz had this to say about then candidate Trump, against whom he was running.

“This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying,” Cruz said. “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral. Donald is a bully … bullies don’t come from strength; they come from weakness.”

In 2020, however, a bearded defiant Cruz (who bears a striking resemblance to a young Fidel Castro) was ready to defend Trump to the death.

What About Us, My Friends?

To all of you with whom I have not seen eye-to-eye politically during the past few months, let me reassure you that it has not affected my feelings for you. Because as my mom says — and Ted Cruz’s example reminds us — tomorrow the politicians will be all lovey dovey, and those of us mere mortals who have disagreed with each other, will be left with nothing but the memories of love lost over pettiness.

While my love for you is intact, your opinions shone a light on your passions and your way of thinking. They may have provoked an occasional, “WTF led you to that conclusion, you blind-as-a-bat , naively ignorant turd?” But as for my love for you, it may have been challenged, but it hasn’t gone away.

If you feel differently, then so be it. Rest assured that the very essence of who I am, the me you had come to love, remains the same. I simply spoke up and disagreed with you — perhaps for the first time — but friends are allowed to do that.

My silence in response to your anger and point of view is not apathy. Neither is it an agreement with everything you believe. It is simply an acknowledgement that the most productive way to “argue” is to say something productive. But if while I’m attempting to share with you my side of the story, you raise your voice and insist on defending your argument by belittling mine, it’s clear that you have already made up your mind, and you are not listening.

If your goal is to convince me that you’re right, and indoctrinate me into your way of thinking, the bully method won’t accomplish that. And if you use an agreement meter to measure friendship, let’s see how many of the people you now call friends because they agree with you will be there when you don’t agree with them.

If my mom is right, Cruz and Trump are probably together on the golf course right now, while friends who were torn apart by opposing political views are left with the sadness and emptiness of knowing that perhaps whatever it was that tore them apart won’t matter as much as the memories they had created together.

We all want the same thing. To be loved, to be recognized, to be validated. Our paths may sometimes diverge, but our destination remains the same.

So while we’re all waiting for Hugo Chavez to rise from the dead and lead us onto the food lines controlled by Communist China, while Marxist manifesto-inspired leaflets dripping with socialist ideologies rain down from MiGs flying overhead, ask yourself this:

As you lie on your deathbed, what memory do you want as your guide to eternal peace? The satisfaction of knowing you were “right” even though you lost friends you never really convinced? Or the knowledge that despite conflicting beliefs — or perhaps because of them — you take with you the only thing worth taking … their love?

Mom and I did not vote for the same candidate last November, but Mom is always right, even when we disagree.

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The Diamonds and the Food Line: A Look Back at 2020

Prelude: When they first arrived in the United States from Cuba, my maternal grandfather gave my grandmother a three-diamond necklace. It was passed down to my mom, and although I wore it on special occasions — my high school senior prom, weddings, and other formal celebrations — I always returned it to my mom for safe keeping.

In January 2020, the necklace disappeared.

December 26, 2020: My life’s traveling companion and I were on our way to the Seybold Building in downtown Miami to have the diamond in my commitment ring reset after it had suddenly fallen out of the band a few days earlier.

We had exchanged the custom-made rings in May of 2008. Our trip to downtown Miami’s famous jewelry emporium the week after Christmas 2020 was meant to be a simple in-and-out deal, followed by picking up a curbside lunch and finding a secluded place to remove our masks long enough to eat our meal in peace.

The Universe, who never misses an opportunity to teach us a lesson, had other plans.

“This diamond is cracked,” the jeweler said as he began cleaning it.

I found out the hard way (pardon the pun), that despite their strength, diamonds are vulnerable if they are struck with force at certain angles. (I save the symbolism in this for another post.)

Bottom line: The diamond would have to be replaced, and although Santa had already come to town, she would have to come back in two days to pick up and pay for a new stone. The old diamond would be re-cut, and depending on how much could be salvaged, I could choose between having it placed on a small pendant or a single earring to upgrade the one my traveling companion had given me on our first Valentine’s Day together. (I have an odd number of piercings. It’s as radical as I get.)

On our way to lunch, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that had broken in 2020 and how much money we had spent to have them either fixed or replaced. I was lost in thought when I saw what looked like a huge traffic jam just off to my right. Although traffic was moving, the line of cars was going nowhere. It went on for about six blocks, turned a corner and continued as far as the eye could see.

A quick Google search revealed its purpose. While I was busy feeling sorry for my cracked diamond, hundreds of people were lining up for a box of groceries to feed their families.

My choice of having to choose between a diamond pendant or a diamond earring seemed pathetic at best.

Lesson learned.

A Look Back at an Unprecedented Year

For me, 2020 began with a lot of promise. After three years of semi-retirement, I was offered a full-time job doing what I love to do in an industry that was totally foreign to me. I happily accepted the challenge.

On March 11, 2020, things turned on a dime. For most of the world, March 11 was the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For my traveling companion and me, however, it was the day our dream trip was denied. Moments after we arrived at Miami International Airport, the President of Argentina — the first stop on our trip — announced that anyone entering the country from the U.S. would have to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to continue their journey.

Instead of an international vacation, we went home to tour the rooms of our house and follow stay-at-home orders for the next who knows how long. It really wasn’t a bad deal. Other than the postponed vacation, working and living together 24/7 wasn’t all that bad. We had worked at home together for several years. This was just a continuation of same movie.

And then lightning struck … literally.

“WTF WAS THAT?”

We were working at our workstations on a quiet overcast afternoon when we abandoned our computers and raced to identify the source of a sonic boom that had shaken the house.

Lightning from a storm that was a prelude to 2020’s record-breaking hurricane season had struck one of our neighbor’s palm trees across the street. Other than a few startled palm fronds, everything seemed to be OK.

An hour later, I glanced out the window and noticed that the pool vacuum was not working, and the pool pump was eerily quiet. I’m not an expert on lightning, nor do I play one on TV, but according to our electrician, the electrical charge of the lightning bolt had made its way to the junction box where the pool pump was connected and turned it to toast.

A few phone calls, several days, and quite a few dollars later, everything was fixed.

Life went on, until …

The House’s Water Broke

It began as a trickle coming from underneath the water heater in the garage. It took two plumbers and about six weeks to identify and fix the pinhole leak in the wall that was the source of Niagara Falls’ temporary move to our garage.

To show the garage leak who was boss, the ceiling in the dining room joined in the fun and also sprung a leak.

The morning after the garage stopped bleeding water …

An Appliance War Broke Out in the Kitchen

For no good reason at all — other than it was 2020 — our perfectly good glass stove top cracked in half. A replacement one was ordered, but it would take three months to arrive. As visions of three months of barbecues danced through my head, the igniter on our never-had-a-problem-with-it-before BBQ broke.

Not to be outdone, a huge scratch appeared on the refrigerator door, an injury no doubt prompted by the appliance war. In addition, one of the refrigerator door shelf dividers cracked in half. We think this might have happened as the poor shelf cowered in fear while the war was raging.

As I loaded dishes in the dishwasher one night, I looked around the kitchen and wondered what else could possibly go wrong. The next morning I awoke to a flood on the kitchen floor. The dishwasher had read my thoughts and answered my question.

But, hey, I could deal with all that as long as I had coffee every morning. But coffeemakers can read thoughts too, and mine was no exception. One morning I poured water into its receptacle to brew coffee, and it all leaked onto the floor.

Pass my credit card, please.

Plastic Pellets, the Platform Bed, and Random Inconveniences

Since one of the joys of quarantine is getting to know the other rooms in the house, let’s move to the master bedroom where out of nowhere, the platform bed began raining tiny plastic pellets and scattering them throughout the bedroom and master bathroom.

One tiny pellet, two tiny pellets, 3,000 …

When they made their way into the dining room, it was time to call the manufacturer and find out what was going on.

Would we add a new platform or mattress to our 2020 casualty list? Thankfully, no. The pellets were coming from a ruptured anti-moisture bag that the installers had neglected to remove when they installed the platform … three years ago!

That night, we identified another victim of 2020’s antics. Our not quite 1-year-old television in the bedroom was fried. Binge watching in bed was on hold.

The Rest of the House Joins in the Party

While we were dealing with the “major” casualties, small inconveniences popped up to keep us entertained.

The high hat lights in the kitchen pantry, the hall closet, and the living room went out … on the same day.

The paper shredder that has worked like a charm since the day we got it, was taken out by a single sheet of paper. Always the optimist, I saw this as a Universal symbol that 2020’s shredding of life as we knew it was about to come to an end.

Which begs the question …

Was 2020 really different than any other year? Or did the fact that we had too much time on our hands to focus on these things make them seem bigger than they were? Stuff breaks all the time and we fix it. But in 2020, we had nothing to distract us from these “tragedies” that were really nothing more than the inconveniences of modern living.

But 2020 forced us to wake up from our unconscious life and start giving thanks for what we have.

The world suffered a plethora of tragedies in 2020 … real tragedies. But hidden beneath the sadness and pain, 2020 also brought us a gift.

Focus on what’s important … on the things that once broken can’t be fixed or replaced. Give thanks for what you have because one day those things you most take for granted could suddenly disappear.

Epilogue

On Jan. 1 2021, I got an early-morning call from my mom. We had chosen to spend New Year’s Eve at our respective homes, and treat NYE like any other day on the calendar. I had struggled with this, but had accepted it, knowing the Universe would send a sign that we had made the right decision.

Mom’s call sealed the deal.

“I have great news,” she said. “I was looking through one of the drawers in my nightstand …”

I knew what was coming.

“… and I found a box with your grandmother’s diamond pendant.”

Call it coincidence, call it a miracle … the Universe doesn’t care what you call Her gifts. A simple “Thank you” is Her only expectation.

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Heal Yourselves!

The musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” was playing on Broadway during the time when my spiritual beliefs were maturing. The play was powerful but very controversial.

Its creators, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, seemed to take a bit too much creative license when it came to telling the story of Jesus and the events that led to his crucifixion. To believers, the narrative was more “cruci-fiction” than biblical fact.

I was raised Catholic, and although I had attended Catholic school during my primary and high school years, I was blessed to have had a family and teachers who were very progressive. They believed that the best “religion” is the one that allows us to believe in a personal God … a God whose relationship with us evolves as we evolve as spiritual beings. A religion that’s meant to guide us through life, rather than something to be discarded when we go into the “real world.”

And so, even though “Jesus Christ Superstar” was way off in terms of biblical history, I saw through the controversy and found my own truth. I was also very much into music in those days, and the soundtrack was amazing.

One particular phrase has stuck with me throughout the years.

There is a scene during which a crowd of people surround Jesus, asking Him to do for them what He has been known to do for others.

See my eyes I can hardly see my purse, I’m a poor, poor man. I believe you can make me well.”

Jesus, although He is clearly uncomfortable, says nothing. That is, until the human part of him overtakes the God in Him and he exclaims …

“There’s too many of you; there’s too little of me. Heal yourselves!”

Bible scholars point to the inaccuracies in the script, while those raised in strict Christian traditions are offended that Jesus would even think — let alone speak out loud — those seemingly cruel and selfish words.

“Heal yourselves!” is not something their Jesus would ever say.

But Jesus was also human, and I find comfort in the possibility that a very tired and frustrated Christ could have said those words.

Of all the lines from the songs I remember from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” ‘Heal yourselves!’ comes to mind every time I am frustrated or overwhelmed when too much is expected of me. It’s that point when I want to run away and be by myself to recharge my battery.

How many times have you tried to comfort someone, to give them advice, to teach them by example, to offer words of encouragement … only to be met with cynicism, or worse, to be attacked for the very act of trying to help?

Heal yourselves! So I can heal myself. That’s not selfish. In fact, it’s the very opposite of selfish.

We are told to love others as we love ourselves. But if we don’t love ourselves enough to take care of our own needs and heal our own wounds, we won’t be able to love or help anyone else.

In a secular example, everyone who has ever flown on an airplane knows that you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on others. If your pass out from lack of oxygen, everyone will too.

And every lifeguard knows that the way to save a drowning person is to stand close and let them get so tired of fighting that they surrender to the help you’re trying to offer. Otherwise, you will both drown.

The power to heal ourselves, the road to spiritual fulfillment, the journey to carrying out our purpose, and all the answers we seek live inside each of us. Reminding others of that fact is part of our purpose. But pausing our growth for the sake of others helps no one.

“Heal yourselves!” the Jesus of “Jesus Christ Superstar” said.

It may be the kindest advice you can offer anyone.

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How to Find Peace During the Pandemic

That’s a tall order, but it got your attention, didn’t it?

Full disclosure … this post has nothing to do with the pandemic. As a lifelong journalist, I learned to use headlines as a way to get attention.

Now that I have it, I want to tell you about a few of the things I’ve been pondering during the pandemic. Things like … well, peace.

Peace begins when you stop comparing yourself to others and start comparing yourself … to who you are.

… not to who you were. Because who you were is the foundation that helped shape who you are.

… not to who you can. Because who you can be depends on who you are.

Peace is all about who you are.

Because who you are is perfect. Right here. Right now.

Who you were got you here.

Who you can be sets up expectations that can be less than what you were meant to be. It inhibits your growth.

As to comparing yourself to others, that’s their journey, not yours.

It’s like having a ticket to travel around the world, but trading it in for bus fare to your neighbor’s house because the new car sitting in their driveway looks so amazing.

Go. Travel the road less traveled and enjoy yourself!

But despite all our best efforts, we do tend to compare ourselves to what was and what will be. The silver lining is that comparison eventually leads to acceptance.

Once you stop comparing your past and future self, and start accepting your present self — knowing it’s exactly who and where you’re supposed to be — you begin to focus on the now. And that, my friends, leads to peace, to the delicious reality that now is all there is.

Stay for a while and enjoy.

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How to Survive a Pandemic Part 2: Dream Trip Denied

 

 

“Adventure, yeah. I guess that’s what you call it when everybody comes back alive.”Mercedes Lackey

We were a couple of hours away from boarding American Airlines flight 907 from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

My travel companion and I were on our way to a dream trip prompted by a destination wedding in Colonia, Uruguay — a wedding sandwiched in between a visit to Iguazu Falls in both Argentina and Brazil, and five days touring the vineyards of Uruguay before flying back home from Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo.

I was more than 13 months into self-imposed sobriety, a dry period that had begun as a challenge to myself and which had been surprisingly easy given my penchant for good wine and any cocktail that included vodka. I didn’t miss it at all, and I was looking forward to my first wedding and vineyards, sans le sauce.

My traveling companion and I had arrived at MIA about three hours early for our overnight flight.  As seasoned travelers, we knew the wait to check our luggage and go through security could often take up to two hours. Better safe than sorry had always been our motto.

Less than 20 minutes after we arrived, our luggage was checked in, boarding passes issued, and we had gone through security in record time.

Boarding Pass

We exited security and found our gate immediately in front of us.  In an airport as big as Miami International Airport, that happens like never.

Next to our gate was a restaurant with an empty high-top on the edge of the perimeter — the perfect perch from which to watch our fellow travelers go by as we waited for our flight to board.

It was March 11 — the day the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

That would explain the near-empty airport. Yet despite WHO’s declaration, travel abroad had not yet been suspended, and South America was not even a blip on the coronavirus outbreak radar. We had never considered canceling our trip.

The Beings who protect us from danger, however, had other plans.

My traveling companion and I sat at our little table, ordered dinner and settled in for a couple of hours of people watching.  About a minute after our quesadilla and salads arrived, we made a decision that would set in motion a series of events that, in retrospect, saved our sanity and perhaps our lives.

“Let’s take a selfie and send it to Andres and Valeria to let them know we’re on our way,” my traveling companion said.

We took the selfie, sent it via text to the soon-to-be-married couple, and received an almost too quick response.

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“Barb, can I call you?” Andres responded.

This can’t be good, I thought.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Earlier that day, the president of Argentina had announced that anyone arriving in the country from Europe, China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, and the United States would face a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That meant that if we boarded the plane that was now sitting at the gate, the earliest we could leave Buenos Aires would be three days before our scheduled flight home from Uruguay.

This dream trip was in the throes of “not happening.”

Here’s the CliffNotes version of what happened during the next two hours:

  • My traveling companion and I finished our meal.
  • We went to the American Airlines customer service counter and asked that our luggage be removed from the plane.
  • About an hour later, our bags came off the conveyor belt. They looked sad, confused and lonely.
  • We Ubered back home.
  • We went to bed, wondering WTF had just happened.

The next 72 hours were the “This Could Have Been You, Barb” compilation reel of scenes from the pandemic movie in which I had been denied a starring role.

  • COVID-19 began its relentless journey across the planet.
  • Argentina and Uruguay closed their borders. Only a limited number of flights were allowed in and out of either country.
  • The ferry on which we would have crossed from Argentina to Uruguay suspended operations.
  • A gathering in Montevideo, the city from which we would have departed to return home, was the genesis of the spread of COVID-19 in Uruguay.
  • Non-stop flights from Uruguay back to Miami were either canceled or rerouted through Madrid, Spain, a city that was beginning its own coronavirus crisis.

Two weeks later, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory, its highest level warning.

Hell officially broke loose around the world.

As of this writing, hell’s hotspots are scattered around the globe, and there are signs that the early fires are starting to die down. In fact, just last night, the U.S. government announced its plans to begin opening the country’s economy so we can begin our journey back to normal. (Insert sarcastic comment here.)

But let’s not be fooled by the tiny embers that remain. In the blink of an eye, those embers can reignite into a raging inferno that will bring us back to March 1 and consume the tiny inroads we have made to control COVID-19.

My travel companion and I have spent the last month attempting to get our money back from the airlines and hotels we had booked. Most of them issued refunds immediately. Others, like Airbnb, are still refusing to give us our money back.

But these inconveniences don’t matter. What does matter are the things for which I am grateful, and which have come into clear focus during the past month of this “unprecedented situation” in which we all find ourselves.

For starters, our dream trip was exchanged for a “WHO knows how long quarantine.” But our quarantine quarters are clean, comfortable and safe.

We have our jobs, we work from home and only have to dress from the waist up to look presentable on Zoom videoconference calls. If that’s not the definition of blessed, I don’t know what is.

Groceries are delivered to our doorstep whenever we need them, while every day (even pre-COVID-19), an estimated 25,000 people around the world die of starvation.

We can’t go to restaurants, theaters, sporting events, or any other gathering because well, nobody can. Woe is us.

I can’t go see my mom without wearing a mask and gloves. But I can pick up the phone and talk to her whenever I want. And there’s always Alexa Echo Show. (God help us when I install those in her house tomorrow! LOL)

We desperately need haircuts and mani-pedis. I won’t even touch that one because it’s so laughable.

I could go on about how horrifically inconvenient the new normal has been. But you get the point.

Our petty first-world problems are pathetic compared to what millions of our fellow planet Earth brothers and sisters have called reality long before COVID-19 joined the coronavirus family.

We will survive this crisis. Millions of others won’t.

What about you? What’s your silver lining in this situation in which we find ourselves? What’s your lesson? Once we return to “normal,” will you remember what you learned? Or will “business as usual” induce amnesia?

Life can turn on a dime. Stop bitching and start giving thanks.

God’s denials are often just postponements. My dream trip and others like it will hopefully happen one day.

For now, I’m grateful for the denial.

 

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How to survive a pandemic

Surviving a pandemic

Where’s the toilet paper? Publix at Shops at Sunset Lakes, Miramar, FL – March 2020

Warning: Parts of this article are written tongue-in-cheek.                                                        If you don’t like humor, or you think it’s too soon, click away.

I have survived Fidel Castro’s communist Cuba, Hurricane Andrew, Y2K and Sept. 11, 2001.

While those events seem to pale in comparison to COVID-19, I’ve compiled a list of things to help you survive this latest “Armageddon” life has thrown at us. I’m not making light of what’s happening in the world these days, but laughter is still the best medicine.

And so, in no particular order, I give you Trading Barbs with Barbs’ Top 10 Ways to Survive a Pandemic, or at the very least, sidestep the pandemonium.

#1: Watch Netflix. Or Hulu, or movies on demand, or anything except the news. Give yourself a break from the 24-hour news stations. Trust me when I tell you they don’t have enough new things to say about COVID-19. So if it’s starting to sound repetitive, that’s because it is. Wash your hands, stay home. Back to you.

#2: It’s not a toilet paper pandemic. Full disclosure: During Hurricane Andrew, I spent most of my time in the bathroom pooping my brains out. Maybe COVID-19 is having the same effect on people. But even if we don’t find the exact source of the current TP hoarding craze, one economist offers a theory and a bit of comfort as well. Bottom line: There’s plenty of toilet paper to go around.

#3: Unfriend the energy vampires. We love social media, but please don’t add to the panic by feeding the rumor mill. The National Guard is not coming to take you away. They’ve got better things to do at the moment.

#4: Don’t drink the chlorine. Seriously? Yes. There’s a rumor going around that drinking chlorine will kill coronavirus. It will. But it will kill you too. This isn’t even remotely funny. It’s the sad reality of what happens when people don’t heed #3 above. You want the facts on how to stay healthy? Get them here.

#5: Don’t argue with your 92-year-old mother. She has survived a hell of a lot more than you have. The proof?  She’s 92; you’re not. You’re a fool to argue with her.

#6: Don’t argue with your spouse. And don’t take your stress and frustrations out on those you love. Working and living with someone in close quarters 24-hours a day makes for some interesting relationship dynamics. Just walk away.

#7: Elderly does not begin at 60. If you call people in their 60s elderly, you could be in more danger than if you tested positive for COVID-19. Govern yourselves accordingly.

#8: Don’t do politics. If you hear rumors about our government building a wall around China, remember, that’s already been done.

#9: Go get free stuff! There’s a lot of cool, free virtual stuff being offered online. From free meditations to ease your anxiety to virtual tours of museums worldwide, it’s there for the taking. Even some newspapers have lifted their online subscription rates, so take advantage of what’s out there for the taking. Google “Free stuff during COVID-19,” and go get it!

#10: Snopes.com is your friend. Fake news existed long before it became a Twitter trend. Before you post or share stories that began circulating when the internet was born, visit Snopes.com to check their validity. At the very least, check the dateline and the original publish date on a story before sharing it. (Also see #3 above.)

Most of all, take care of yourself, write letters, call people, and listen to the voice of reason and sanity.

Give thanks. Humanity has survived a lot worse than COVID-19.

We got this.

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Don’t hit the snooze button on your wakeup call …

photo of person holding alarm clock

Vulnerability is not a weakness.  It is a force so powerful, that only those brave enough to descend into life and cleanse themselves in its fires will ever tap the source of their being and uncover their raison d’être.

Hell is what you go through to get to heaven.

Those who tell you vulnerability is a weakness are stifling their humanity in a poor attempt to stifle its pain.

But stifling the pain of being human also stifles beauty, purpose, joy, passion … leaving behind quiet lives of desperation, always seeking the next best thing to fulfill them, without recognizing that fulfillment requires falling into the depths of despair and knowing that what you seek will be there to catch you.

I had the privilege of working in television news for more than 30 years.  I learned early on in my career that wearing my heart on my sleeve at work interfered with my ability to be an objective journalist.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that for me. But it took two weeks to sink in … two weeks to remove myself from the details of the story we were telling on television —  a news story about planes, buildings, terrorists and all that — and let my heart accept the real story — a story about shattered dreams and innocence lost.

One night I found myself weeping uncontrollably, finally recognizing that objectivity has its place in all things cerebral, but when it comes to the heart — to the soul of our existence — objectivity is an excuse to keep us from exposing the vulnerability that might scare us to death but is the only road to finding what we are seeking.

Sept. 11 was a wakeup call we thought we could never silence.

But we did. Because life goes on. We get busy. We forget. We move on. We hit the snooze button. Until the next time the clock sounds the alarm.

Life tries to wake us up every day.

It can turn on a dime, and it does. And when it does, the only way to be prepared is to go through it. But there’s one more crucial step … a step most people forget to take.

Instead of building a wall around your heart, pretend nothing happened and go back to snoozing through your unconscious life, choose that moment to arise from your slumber, to pay attention, to move forward.

Don’t hit the snooze button on a wakeup call. Because eventually, you’re going to have to get up.

 

 

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See Something, Say Nothing …

 

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Now that I have your attention …

We went out for a quick errand around 8 p.m. one evening a few weeks ago and came home less than an hour later to find a man with a long gun standing in the grass inches from our driveway. He was picking up a plastic bag filled with something.

At first, we didn’t see the gun. At first, we wrote it off a neighbor walking his dog. At first, we thought the bag was filled with pooch poop, and we praised the man for doing the right thing and not leaving his dog’s shit behind to fertilize our sidewalk.

Praise turned to panic, however, when we realized there was no dog. No dog meant, no dog shit. No dog shit meant … we had no idea what it meant because by then, we had caught a glimpse of the gun’s stock nestled comfortably under the man’s arm.

We drove into the garage so fast, I thought our car would end up in the kitchen. By the time we raced inside the house and looked out the front windows, he was gone.

I called 911 to report the incident … “see something, say something” solidly engraved in my mind, ready to report the bad guys among us disguised as friends and neighbors.

The 911 operator took down all my information, assured me that officers would be dispatched to check out the situation and asked if I would like those officers to knock on my door when they arrived.

“Of course,” I replied.

“OK, we’re sending someone now,” she said.

Two hours later, I went to bed, not knowing if officers had come out to investigate. I was also a bit concerned that no one had stopped by to at least put our minds at ease and tell us they would keep an eye on things.

A couple of days later, I followed up with a call to the Community Officer assigned to my neighborhood. I found his name and number in the neighborhood newsletter we receive every month, a newsletter that encourages us to call that officer whose job it is to help the citizens of my west Miramar, Florida, neighborhood. I left a message on his voicemail, and he called back about 30 minutes later. I was impressed with the quick response.

He told me he had looked up and reviewed the record of my call, assured me that an officer had driven by and had concluded that my call was “unfounded.”

He said the guy with the gun was probably out hunting iguanas because “that’s legal now, you know.” He said the gun was probably “just a BB gun.” And even though Florida is not an open carry state, it is legal to open carry a BB gun, even one that looks like a real gun that can hurt a lot more than just iguanas.

Really? Hunting iguanas at 9 p.m. in my front yard in the middle of a residential neighborhood is OK? Carrying what looks like a rifle in front of my house is legal?

“But, hey, if you see him again, call us,” the officer said. He seemed bored with all this “unfounded gun talk,” and so I thanked him and hung up.

But something didn’t feel quite right to me. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a guy with a gun — OK, maybe just a BB gun — was out patrolling my block at night “hunting iguanas.”

I sent a note to my city’s mayor, who just happens to live in my development. Surely he would care enough to look further into what had happened, I thought. The mayor responded to my note right away, saying he’d ask the police chief to look into it.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t heard back, I sent another note to the mayor. I’m still waiting for his response.

I then voiced my concern about our neighborhood “hunter” to one of my neighbors. He smiled and said the guy I had seen lives a few doors down from us. He goes out every night to shoot bufo toads, brings their carcasses back home, photographs them and posts them on social media.

This is normal?  Is this his idea of community service?  Walk around the block shooting poisonous frogs for shits and giggles? I find that rock salt is just as effective. Sprinkling salt around the perimeter of your property equals no more frogs. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)

It seemed strange that the guy with the gun on my property was being given the benefit of the doubt, and I was being written off as a nutty neighbor jumping to conclusions.

Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception.

Hindsight in many mass shooting cases shows a frighteningly similar scenario. The names of mass shooters are often found on FBI watchlists. After the shootings, we learn that “Yep, we had him on the list. We knew he might do something.”

What good is a watchlist if all they do is watch it?

“See something, say something” was initially used to protect us against foreign terrorists. It has since been expanded to include anything we think is suspicious, out of the ordinary, like a guy with a long gun in your driveway.

But aren’t the people to whom we say something supposed to do something?

The El Paso, Texas, Walmart shooting suspect’s mother reportedly called police a few weeks before the mass shooting in which 22 people died and told them she was concerned because her 21-year-old son owned an “AK-type” firearm. Police responded that he was legally allowed to purchase and own such a weapon. Nothing to see here; move along. Case closed.

Note to law enforcement: If someone’s mom calls you to tell you she’s “concerned” that her kid has an assault weapon, perhaps you should pay attention.

As of September 1, 2019, there have been 283 mass shootings in the U.S. As of Sept. 19, 2019, I have yet to hear back from anyone in authority to explain why the events of that night in front of my house were brushed off as “unfounded.”

Isn’t it about time we stop using “see something, say something” as rhetoric and start putting it into practice?

One final note … If I had a weapon on “the night of the iguana” (sorry, Tennessee Williams, I couldn’t resist) and I had used that weapon to defend myself against the guy shooting iguanas and bufo toads, things could have ended much differently.

Florida’s stand your ground law, which basically says you can use deadly force if you fear for your life, especially if you are protecting your homestead, could have been put to the test that night.

Cue alternate ending.

I come home to find a man with a gun on my property. I’m afraid the man is going to shoot me. I pull out my gun and shoot him instead. End of story?

Not so fast. I would then have had to answer to a system that continually reminds us of our responsibility to protect one another, but then puts the burden of proof on the victim.

Bad guys … even potential bad guys … win again.

This isn’t a judgment on weapons. It’s certainly not a judgment on law enforcement.

It’s an observation, a call to action to hold those whose job it is to protect us to follow through with their responsibility, no matter how insignificant what we report to them may seem.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

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