Month: July 2014

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Hello from Barcelona!

I turn 50 this week. I remember being in my 30’s thinking, wow, my 40’s are going to be amazing. I find myself saying the exact same thing but with a different number just up ahead of me. There was talk of a party. Yes, I will admit there was even a thought of crawling under a rock and dwelling on the idea of being “middle aged” a few months back. Thank God that thought came and left in about 60 seconds flat. The only thing that seemed to make sense for me was an adventure.

Since my daughter’s diagnosis and severe onset of Multiple Sclerosis nearly four years ago my life has been all about being her caregiver. My usual adventurous self gladly took a back seat to be totally and utterly present for who I needed to be for her, her recovery, and really overwhelming life transition. I became a caregiver for others organically from my experience helping to rehabilitate her and referrals from her neurologist started pouring in. But my career before all of this is still my passion so I decided it was time to go back to school to complete degree courses that I started years ago. With work, school, and helping my daughter, life became “nose to the grindstone” day in and day out.

As she began to walk again I felt the heaviness of the intense responsibility my life had become. My gypsy spirit was craving an adventure and when my tax return was received in late March of this year I made a decision. For my 50th birthday I was going to travel abroad. But how? Since my daughters MS and having to walk away from my old life to care for her and begin anew, finances were lean to put it mildly. But I knew there was a way if I was smart, planned way ahead, and stayed open to new ways of traveling.

First, I started looking for airfare months in advance. Everyday I would get alerts to different places I wanted to go and would hop on Google Flights for unbeatable rates. I landed round trip tickets from LAX to Barcelona for $575 and that was with all taxes included. I knew I wanted to travel from place to place in Europe and began the next phase of my 50th birthday adventure: quick and cheap flights around Europe. I found plenty from city to city one way for under $50 each and booked them far in advance as well. Next was the sleeping arrangements.

Hotels can be crazy on the wallet. There was no way we could afford it. I began to seek an alternative and found VRBO and AirBNB. Comparing the two I discovered that we could stay in AirBNB locations with locals in each city, in their homes with them and sometimes even an entire apartment by ourselves, for under $60 a night. Most of the time it was less than $50 and their identification is verified, plus you can read all of the reviews from others who have stayed with them. I found AirBNB much less expensive than VRBO and staying with someone from the part of the world we were strangers in was so appealing to me. I woke up this morning to the most lovely note from our AirBNB host here in Barcelona with a map of the city and suggested activities. Her mom also greeted us and is the sweetest lady making sure our every need is met.

I booked nearly everything way in advance and mapped out our trip from Spain to France; France to Ireland; Ireland to Poland; Poland to Prague; Prague to London where our flight back to the US is direct to LAX. Add in the cost of food ($10 or less per meal which is totally doable with my daughter and I sharing all meals), drinks, cab fares and transfers, tolls and absolutely no shopping (who wants to shop on an adventure anyway). Our trip total for two people, 15 days, 5 countries…wait for it… $2500 (give or take a cocktail or two).

My brothers girlfriend told me tonight over Facetime that I should definitely write a blog to show others just how easy it really is to travel the way I truly love to travel. We did this exact same thing for my daughters 16th birthday and headed to Australia. We packed up a backpack and went down under for an adventure we will never forget. Her MS has kept us from traveling abroad since her onset at 18. She is now 22, walking again with a leg/ankle brace and we know exactly how to manage MS symptoms and fatigue on the go. Frequent breaks, staying hydrated, less walking and more cabs or renting cars, and a good nights sleep are staples of this trip. The other is traveling light.

Packing only what you really need is essential. You can find blow up neck pillows for the flight that deflate and take up far less room in your luggage. Choose outfits that you can mix and match. Roll them instead of folding them and remember, with AirBNB locations you have access to a washer and dryer most of the time. Europe is full of challenging cobblestone streets and stairs to climb. Sure a rolling suitcase is great fro airports but once you land rolling that thing around is a hassle. I learned this the hard way traveling to Italy several years back before I discovered a much better way and much less expensive way to travel through Europe. Strapping a backpack on to get from gate to gate, place to place, in and out of cabs and cars is incredibly easy, fast and efficient, not to mention no extra fees for checked bags for international travel. Another great tip is to convert dollars to Euro anywhere but the airport. We managed to save $80 by going to an exchange in town instead of at the airport, but I did discover that it is better to order foreign money from my bank before I left. This is a “next time” item for sure!

We leave tomorrow to drive up the coast from Barcelona to Monaco. It’s a manual shift car so the comedy and tears from laughter are sure to be many, but the price for a manual car is far less than an automatic and I learned to drive when stick shifts were everywhere. You know…like 35 years ago!

Turning 50 is an adventure in more ways than one. Actually, I feel that way about life in general. If you are about to hit any milestone, do yourself a favor and make it one you will never forget. Plan ahead. Don’t spend a fortune when you don’t have to and get ready to laugh and smile so much you just might get one more wrinkle that is totally worth it. If you really want something enough don’t sit back and simply dream about it. Dreams only come true if you take action to make it happen. So do it. Make it happen.

Cheers to 50. Cheers adventure and curiosity no matter what your budget is, or your age. Cheers to making it happen!

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I could hear her crying from her bedroom. By the time I entered her room, she was saying, “No, this isn’t happening. This can’t be real.” Her face was soaked in tears. Her boyfriend of nearly four years, her high school sweetheart who had just left for his senior year of college a week earlier, called and broke up with her over the phone. Her agony was palpable. He had just shattered her heart. Her world was in a million pieces on her bedroom floor and I had no idea how to help her make sense of it all. I held her, cried with her and began to think about how to best help her pick up the pieces.

Days passed without her eating. She wasn’t talking, laughing or wanting to do much of anything. She had just lost her best friend and I knew she was in the grips of grieving that loss. I have been there too. Her dad walked away from us and chose a different path that eventually ended his life. The pain of that loss, the what could haves and should haves, still creep in from time to time. But although I have personally experienced heartbreak, even on more than one occasion, I was navigating it for the first time on this level as a mom watching my child curl up in a ball for days desperately searching for answers and understanding. The one thing she wanted was for him to change his mind and that was the one thing I could not give her, or make him do, or fix for her.

How do I help her through this? What can I do to make it even slightly better? What are the right things to say and what should I not say? What are her triggers going to be and how do I process my own feelings about this person no longer being a part of our family?

These and so many other questions bombarded my mind. I began to seek clarity of my own and ask for some divine guidance in order to be there for her in the most positive way I could. By day four I had a plan and knew exactly what I needed to do in order to guide her through this very difficult and emotional time in her life. I put my five-step recovery plan into action!

<strong>1. Be An Amazing Listener</strong>
I knew that when she finally felt like talking about it and about him, I would be there to listen with an open mind and without judgement or heaping phrases on her like <em> I would have</em> or <em>you should have</em>. Pushing my idea of what she should have or could have or what I would have done on her would only do one thing: push her away and make her feel even more alone. I knew I needed to keep that language out of all conversations and instead share my heartbreak stories with her in a way that was not a comparison, yet opened up a dialogue about feelings and emotions that we have in common when it comes matters of the heart.

<strong>2. Read Her Body Language</strong>
Reading her body language was almost a full-time job the first few days. I would say subtle things like “<em>Big Brother</em> is on tonight” and wait for a reaction to gauge where she was at in terms of even being able to watch one of her favorite shows. <em>Start with the small stuff and see how she responds</em> was my strategy. By day three, I said I was going to the store and she finally asked if she could go with me. When she looked at me with those green eyes and sad face asking me if she had to change her clothes, I said ‘no way.’ Her getting out of the house was good enough for me. I looked over at my girl in her sweats, hair in a bun on top of her head with puffy little eyes and to me, she looked like an angel in the passenger seat on her way to first love heartbreak recovery.

<strong>3. No Ex-boyfriend Bashing</strong>
Her ex-boyfriend was a part of our family for almost four years, and we love his family. Just because he chose to move forward in his life in a way that did not include them as a couple does not erase any of the past four years. That is exactly what I wanted her to know. Did he handle it the best possible way? No, not really. But she was his first girlfriend, he is 22 and a senior in college in New York, and definitely enjoys a good party. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he has very little experience at this sort of thing. Plus, I love this kid too. He is a great guy and someone I will always be grateful for my daughter sharing that time in her life with. They had an incredible first love experience together and even if they didn’t, bashing the ex-boyfriend isn’t an example of class or grace or love. Saying things like <em>his loss</em> would show a lack of emotional intelligence and isn’t going to help anyone and besides, it is a loss for everyone involved. I wish him the best and hurt feelings on my part about him ditching my daughter doesn’t change that. He did what he felt was best for him. Even though that does not make it easier or less painful for my daughter, it was important that I let her know that his decision was all about him, not her, and she needs to cherish the love and friendship they shared as she heals and moves into her own future in a self-loving and love preserving way.

<strong>4. Make Her Something Special</strong>
I knew her appetite was shot with her stomach in a knot and a huge lump of emotions in her throat that would not allow food to pass. But I also know how much she loves chocolate. I went to the store just to search for something special she might be able to tolerate. I settled on an old-fashioned favorite: homemade chocolate pudding. Roaming around the store I had to keep in mind that it had to be something easy to eat and not too heavy or require much effort. Remember, when you have a broken heart that bad, even chewing can be a chore! I saw a glimmer of joy on her face when I got home and showed her what I was going to make for her. An hour later she was checking the fridge to see if it was ready to eat. (My plan was working!)

<strong>5. Heartbreak Road Trip Time</strong>
We have always loved taking road trips together. Even when she was in elementary, middle and high school, we would drive the coast with a smoothie after school to talk about our day. When she was diagnosed with MS, we took her from the hospital on New Years Day to go see the ocean and even though that was not a road trip (unless pushing her wheelchair down the street counts), I knew getting her out to see that there was still beauty in the world, a whole life out there beyond her hospital bed, was going to be a big step in helping her recover in a positive way. This was the same sort of scenario. She was going to head up to Cal Poly in a few weeks to tour the campus for possible transfer next year, so my thought was why not go a few weeks early and take a last minute road trip? Getting her out and showing her that life still can be beautiful, fun and an adventure was the goal. Plus, I selfishly wanted to see her smile again, hear her laugh, and us on the road together usually did the trick. We started out camping in Pismo beach… in a tent… and I forgot the blow up mattress. The comedy of that entire night was priceless. She laughed so hard that I almost cried hearing it. The spark was slowly coming back and by the time we drove the coast up to Pebble Beach, visited Cal Poly, wine tasted in Paso Robles, listened to live music in an old saloon in Cambria, met a sweet old couple that gave her some great advice and ended up back home five days later (no more camping after night one), I could tell she was definitely on the mend.

Love songs come on in the car and I look over and see if she is OK. Sometimes she is just singing along and other times she looks at me like <em>really</em> and changes the station. She is back in the kitchen helping me cook and getting some of her appetite back. She is starting to be stronger about how to deal with communication between them and sees that maybe making her life so much about another person isn’t the best move. She took all online classes to be able to travel to visit him on <em>his</em> schedule. Now she doesn’t have classes to attend to help her engage with others on a collegiate level. She has so much time on her hands without talking to him, texting, Skyping and planning her life around him. So now what?

It is a time of growth and evolution that I remember well. The lessons she is learning and the wisdom and knowledge she is gaining are priceless, even if she doesn’t understand that right now. She has to learn to navigate through her life in a new way, single and confident. It may be difficult right now, but it may also be the best thing to ever happen to her. We can never know what the future holds. They may still end up together, she may find someone that is a much better fit for her personality, she might meet him as she travels to Europe as a single, dynamic young woman in her early 20’s. Who knows. Time, I always tell her, is the great revealer. It will reveal to you all that you need to know.

My final words for her after her first love heartbreak: Love yourself and be patient. It is time for you to live your life for <em>you</em> now. I am right here when you need me as I stand by you and watch you blossom as a single, amazing, loving, fun, smart, compassionate and incredibly lovable young woman.

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Emotional immaturity stemming from past hurt, unresolved anger, or childhood wounds can come on so fast its like a flash flood leaving the adult version of you going under and swept away. By the time you come up for air, finding some sort of branch of reality to cling to, you realize the damage that has already been done.

I am so guilty of relapsing back into old patterns of self destructiveness, pushing people away, or verbally lashing out unconsciously when it feels like my world is crumbling. My flash flood hit this week, and as I sit here going over it all I realize that I am taking on too much, adding too much to my plate trying to please everyone and make as much money as I can so my daughter can get through college. But in the process of doing all that I am neglecting myself in so many ways and blaming others because I am not getting what I need to stay emotionally healthy, present, clam, loved, and centered.

I trust the universe to provide us with all we need to live the life we are meant to live. But sometimes I forget that trust means letting go of control. The more I try to control it by working as much as possible I am depleting my own tank, burying any trust I have with stress and worry, and pretty soon old wounds show up that have nothing to do with the situation or people in it at all. I remember being a young girl working so hard, doing all I could to get good grades, clean the house, help in the kitchen, be a good softball player… it never seemed to be “enough” to get them to be proud of me or even like me that much. As I take on more than I should to help as much as I can to pay for Breea’s college dreams to come true, the bills keep adding up, the fees, the tuition, the sorority dues all keep rolling in and I feel like no matter what I am doing, how much or how hard I work, it is simply not enough. The past comes back and BAM — flash flood.

In order to live a resilient life we have to learn to recognize the warning signs and heed the emotional weather alerts going off inside of us. I felt it coming on a week ago. I ignored the inner voice whispering to me, “Michelle, you are stretching yourself too thin already. Pass on this one and trust that everything will work out in your favor.” I took on that last-minute job that left my sensible, emotionally mature adult self clinging to a branch wondering how I got there.

I have learned just how critical it is to check in with myself daily and ask myself if all I am doing is in balance with you getting all I need to stay emotionally healthy. The formula: Ask and listen and follow inner guidance that will lead you back to TRUST.

Are you giving too much of your time to everything and everyone else and forgetting about your own needs? If so be careful. You may be approaching an emotional flash flood zone.

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