Mode Push: The 2023 Monaco Grand Prix

Wine in an airport bar
A race-day French macaron

We got into F1 racing the way the most Americans have and in the most American way possible. We watched the Netflix series, F1: Drive to Survive. We began watching in January of 2022. I became way more entrenched in the sport than I ever imagined. I chose a favorite team. It’s Scuderia Ferrari. (I am a fan of the Buffalo Bills, so I am accustomed to cheering for an underdog.) I zeroed in on a couple favorite drivers, Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz. I didn’t choose them because they were the current leaders. I chose them because they seemed like good, solid guys, not unlike Josh Allen and Jim Kelly. We got an F1 TV membership and began watching the races on race day. I have followed along with live updates of qualifying sessions and have watched races on my phone when I wasn’t near a television. I have woken up multiple times at 5 a.m. to watch a race happening across the globe in real time. I may have issues. There is so much more I have yet to learn about the sport, but I’m hooked.

Qualifying Day

Years ago, my youngest sister told us for her 50th she wanted to experience the Monaco Grand Prix, and it was her wish we would join her in this adventure. We started researching and saving. Last fall, I got online an snatched up grandstand seats for us. Then I secured lodging in Nice because, well, we aren’t A-list celebrities with A-list bank accounts who can stay in Monaco. I bought some Ferrari merch. We were really going to do this. On May 25th, two days before my 55th birthday, we landed in France, F1 tickets in hand.

It’s not easy to encapsulate what happens in Monaco on Grand Prix weekend. The city state of Monaco, encompassing an area of land roughly 60% the size of New York’s Central Park, swells from 37k residents to roughly 200k people. DJs pump club tunes through speakers. It’s not a place for agoraphobics or claustrophobics. Myriad fans in all their team paraphernalia follow signs through winding, fenced passageway and, in some cases, over recently constructed bridges over the race track, to reach the grandstands. Each grandstand offers a unique vantage point of the race. Ear plugs are a wise choice. I got the chills the first time I heard the cars in the midst of their first practice. I could not believe I was actually there. None of us could. The race is iconic. The location is beautiful. The yachts are plentiful. The mix of languages being spoken is mind boggling. The excitement is palpable everywhere you walk.

My husband and I attended two practices and qualification to prepare ourselves for race day.

Video from Free Practice 2 on May 26th (Grandstand L)

Between the driver’s parade and the race, Steve and I decided the Monaco Grand Prix experience would not be complete without some libations. We noticed you could purchase an entire bottle of champagne. Done, thank you very much. With paper cups and straws in hand, we texted our group our shaded location and told them to hurry. We started pouring and when everyone had a cup we tried to made a toast to commemorate our day. A woman who was standing nearby offered to take our group photo. Okay. That happens all the time, right? Well, this particular woman wasn’t just a kind onlooker. She was a gem, the kind of person my sisters and I would love to be friends with in real life back home, bold, hysterical, and smart as a whip. We stood conversing with her for a while after she took the photo, learning she was at the race with her daughter and husband. She’s from Virginia. We gabbed and giggled with her like we were long-lost friends. We gave her a cup and asked her name. She told us we would never forget it. She was right. Blythe was fabulous. Before she went back to her husband and daughter, I asked if she’d be willing to be in a photo with us. Of course she would. Sometimes I really do love Americans. We promised we would toast to her for the remainder of our trip and we did. Each night we raised our glasses and toasted Blythe, the kind stranger who became an instant friend.

As for the race itself, F1 fans will tell you Monaco is not the most exciting race on the calendar. It is a narrow road circuit and passing is risky in the few places where it is possible. Two-time World Champion and current 2023 championship leader, Max Verstappen, started on pole position and with the fastest car on the grid was basically assured a victory. I watched Carlos and Charles, hoping one of them would make it onto the podium at the end of the race. A little more than halfway through the race, Max was well ahead of his closest competition. We’re talking like 17 seconds ahead. Max would whiz by and what felt like an eternity would pass until the next driver appeared. Max was stomping the competition like they were buildings in Tokyo and he was was Godzilla. We began to pray for rain to make things more interesting. About ten laps later, the sky opened up. Boy-Scout-level-prepared, I had ponchos for all six of us. We donned them, sat in the stands while the rain fell steadily, and watched driver’s slip around the Tabac Corner. Despite a few incidents among other drivers, Max won again to the delight of many fans in the crowd.

When the race was over and the cars were taking their final lap, the yachts in the harbor began sounding their horns. It was something else. While the race had not gone the way I hoped, the experience of the Monaco Grand Prix was everything I’d hoped for.

Celebration at the end of the race

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences filling my memories. Swimming through the Green Grotto at Capri, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, being close enough to an elephant in Tanzania to see her eyelashes, watching a blue-footed booby interact with my sons in the Galapagos Islands, witnessing a sunrise on Haleakala. The older I get, the more I am able to be present in these experiences and the more I understand how precious they are. I see so many people today in amazing locations and at impressive events, not noticing and experiencing, but preening and posing for photos they will share to prove they were there. I saw tons of them in Monaco, with an entourage filming an experience they were not really having, only documenting. We’ve become so obsessed with creating FOMO with our myriad selfies and our constant filming and posting that we don’t often recognize we may be the ones missing out.

Side Roads

A couple months ago, I started posting to my Instagram story every day. My Gen Z sons told me years ago that “posting to Insta more than once a day makes you look desperate.” I assume they meant for attention, and I get that. Later, they told me about comedian Bo Burnham’s stand up, and I discovered White Woman’s Instagram and I felt a little seen. I even wrote a blog post about it. Since then, I’ve been careful about how often and what I post, lest I seem like more of a cliché of an upper middle class white woman. I mean, I drive a Tesla, have an espresso machine I use daily, and have posted photos of a charcuterie board and a Nicoise salad. What can I say? I am a white woman with an Instagram account.

As a way to still engage on Instagram without posting photos of latte art and golden retrievers wearing flower crowns, I started posting memes to my story every day. I’ve been doing this for a couple months now. I’ve been collecting memes on my iPhone for years. Some are funny. Some are inspiring. Some are political. Some are observations about our culture. Many are laced with swear words. They all reflect me in some way, either because I agree with what is said, I reflect what is said, I have said what is said, or I just have that twisted of a sense of humor. This was today’s post:

Meme credit to Candice Ensign, 2021

I’ve had a couple friends today tell me that they don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment. If you take it literally, I suppose this could be not a great statement. I mean, if you’re being mugged, perhaps you are in the wrong place and there is no right way to look at it. But I didn’t take it down that road. I get something different from this saying.

Too often in life we wind up in a situation not of our choosing. Something we worked for or wanted is no longer available. When we’re in that place, it’s easy to be negative about it, to feel sorry for ourselves. We might become angry and frustrated. We might give up. These are all choices. We could just as easily decide, “Well, this is something. Wonder where this will take me?” And then be patient with life and see what new things arise from the ashes of what we feel we’ve lost. Or we could say to ourselves, “Nope. This is unacceptable.” Then we can work to transition ourselves back onto, or at least closer to, the path we wanted to take.

I’ve been guilty many times of giving into the negativity. I’ve blamed others for my situation. I’ve blamed myself, telling myself I was not worthy of what I missed out on. This is ridiculous. All I needed at the time was a change in attitude. Looking back, there were many times when I did not get what I wanted or thought I wanted. In all of those instances, as I reflect back, I can see now the beauty in being denied what I was so eager to have. A lot of the things I missed out on led me to a situation more appropriate for me in some way, more in line with who I am and not who I thought I wanted to be. My life story is a tale of many disappointments I am grateful for. I just didn’t look for and couldn’t see the beauty of the plot twists at the time.

I’m still working to cultivate a patient approach to life, one that allows me the time and space to be curious rather than judgmental. I’m not sure I will ever be thrilled when the record starts skipping and I have to pick up the needle and move it to the next groove, but if you’d asked me at 24 if at 54 I would have the life I have now, I can tell you I couldn’t have imagined it. Like Maya Angelou, though, I “wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” It may have taken me a little longer to gain consciousness from the stupor of my past than I would have liked, but I am here now. Who knows if I would have made it to this place without all the side roads I had to travel to arrive here?

Not Too Big or Too Small Or Too Hard Or Too Soft: A Tale Of Accepting I’m Just Right

Practicing Self Love

“Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do — some…don’t ever want to.” ~Cheshire Cat

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, reminds me of my experience in life. No. I’ve never met a grinning Cheshire Cat, although I would like to. I do, however, know how it feels to be disoriented, awkward, and entirely uncomfortable in my skin like Alice was. It’s how I’ve lived most of my life. Alice, as you may recall, drank some potion and shrunk her way into Wonderland and then ate some cake and grew so big she didn’t fit there anymore. In my case, someone I cared about would criticize my physical appearance, personal tastes or beliefs, or general demeanor, and I drank it in and got small. I began tiptoeing through my life, lest I be stepped on by larger creatures who appeared to have their lives together. What if I said or did something that proved how intolerable and unlovable I was? Other times, someone would acknowledge the good in me and I would greedily ingest it. Feeling bigger than usual, I would dare to be my true self with others, only to leave the interaction feeling I had occupied too much space. What if I’d bored them by talking too much while saying nothing interesting? Defeated, I would shrink again, caught in the same relentless pattern. One step forward, two steps back, slogging my way through my life, feeling forever out of place like Alice.

Somewhere deep inside, though, I knew the premise that I was the only scratch-and-dent model around was ridiculous. Maybe others were just better at displaying themselves in a way that minimized their flaws? Maybe they’d already worked on their parts so they were left with just a few scratches? I wanted to believe I was and I am fine as is. No adjustments necessary. Sure. Some people might wish I would speak out and stand up for myself more or just stop whining about feeling invisible. Other people might wish I would sit down and shut up so someone else could get a word in. But none of that was ever a me problem. Other’s opinions of me are none of my business, and shrinking myself to avoid judgment is not what I am here to do. I’m here to live my life and to be true to myself, no matter how many dings I’ve got. To achieve this, I going to have to leave my Alice analogy and walk myself into a different story, one I haven’t even considered occupying before.

After all, I’ve been Alice. I ate the cake and drank the potion. I became bigger and smaller to fit other’s narratives. What if, instead of being Alice, I take a shot at being Goldilocks? I can decide what to eat and in what type of chair to eat it. Maybe I will conclude I like my porridge cold because it’s basically overnight oats? Being Goldilocks and boldly choosing what I want in my life might move me quite a few steps toward Zero Fucks Given Road. It’s exhausting not being authentic, though, and I am tired of making slow progress toward self-acceptance. It’s time to practice wild and radical self-love. I can’t be Alice or Goldilocks. I can only be me. Yes. I am talkative. I can be defensive. I overthink everything. (Ask me how many times I pack and unpack and repack a suitcase before a trip only to end up with more than I need but nothing I want.) But, I am also curious, adventurous, determined, clever, and a little feisty, in the fun way. It’s what I am, the good and the bad, different and yet the same as every other human on the planet. So I will stop spending time with those who treat me as a tedious chore to be endured or a spouting fire hydrant to be capped. I will quit editing myself to fit into other people’s narratives. If I’m not Alice and I’m not Goldilocks, it’s about time I become my own protagonist.

“Damn. Somebody ate my porridge all up.” ~Baby Bear (probably)

The Game Changer

Last Tuesday, I wrote about a shopping trip with my sister that brought up some big feelings for me. The trip highlighted the ways in which opportunities that are mundane for many are triggering and difficult for me. (I had to have two vodka shots before going to try Thai food for the first time.) Almost nine years ago, I had an eye-opening fight with my mother. It wasn’t a fight I initiated or that I saw coming, but it changed my life by creating an opening through which I could see that what I believed had existed had not. Since then, I’ve been in and out of therapy, working to heal and begin again without the baggage.

I’ve acknowledged and grieved the loss of the reality in which I had lived for 46 years. I’ve scrutinized what that time in the dark meant my life had actually been. I spent years laboring earnestly, like an archaeologist with dental tools and brushes, to unearth the way events of my past had created who I was now and shaped the life I had created for myself as an adult. I wasn’t guarded, cynical, and defensive solely because I was born that way or because it was what had been modeled for me as a child. It was also attributable to decisions I made as an adult because of the messages I ingested through my youth. That was a heartbreaking revelation. I spent years learning to forgive myself for not having figured this out sooner and, instead, flying blindly through life until midway through my 40s. That was precious time lost. But I survived it all and am feeling much healthier and happier. I’m not disappointed in or angry about my past because it made me resilient and capable. I am not only to see but also appreciate the me that I am.

After Monday’s EMDR session in therapy, I awoke on Tuesday feeling lighter. EMDR psychotherapy can radically alter a person’s perception of their memories, and the messages they carry as a result of those memories, in just a few hours. By Wednesday, Monday’s work had been processed enough that I felt different in my body. I felt taller and more willing to take up space in the world. I felt less willing to settle for the crumbs I used to think were all I deserved. Every day since then I have continued to practice living in that place. I’ve noticed that comments from others that might have sent me into an overthinking tailspin and elicited an immediate, defensive overreaction have shifted to more innocuous thoughts like, “Well, that’s one way to think about it.” I believe I am not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to bend myself into a pretzel attempting to fix things that make others uncomfortable, nor do I have to make myself smaller so they can feel better. Although I’ve known that on an intellectual level for a while, I hadn’t been able to actualize it. More incredibly, my thoughts about myself have shifted. I’m not seeing myself as broken or in need of fixing. I recognize the parts of me that maybe aren’t my favorites, but I also see the ways I am actually pretty awesome. I’m learning not to take everything so seriously and to know the people who love me wish me no harm, and the people who are unkind or unengaged don’t matter.

I’ve worked long and hard to get here. And while I’m not finished doing the work, I am pausing today to take a victory lap for this phase of my journey. Halle-frickin-lujah!

I know this post is totally random, but this is where I am today and it felt important to mark the occasion. Ten years later, this blog is still for me what it has always been, an online journal, a place to store my experiences and memories and enshrine my struggles and growth. So that is what I came here to do today. I also want to thank my readers for traveling some rough seas with me, and for tossing me an orange, float ring and hauling me back into the boat when I’ve fallen out. Your patience and kind words have been a lifeline on more occasions than you might believe, and I am grateful for you.

Here’s to love and light going forward, with only the occasional storm to weather.

Ronda, Zahara, and Setenil In A Day

If my son’s number one thing to see in Spain was the Alhambra in Granada, mine was the bridge in Ronda and the white towns of Andalucía. I knew our best opportunity to get there would be from our stay in Seville, so I did some research. The more I read, the more I became overwhelmed with the logistics of it. We could get to Ronda and a couple white towns on a group tour, but we would miss the town we most wanted to see. We could rent a car, but I realized that would be zero fun for the driver, aka me, and we would miss the cultural aspect provided by having a local show us around. So, I splurged and booked a guide/driver for a private tour.

A good tour guide can make all the difference between a positive, enriching experience and a miserable one. We lucked out. Enrique picked us up on time at 9:30, took the locations we wanted to see into account, and planned the day for us. It turned out that he and I had many things in common, and the conversation between the three of us was continual and easy. During our time in the car together, driving to the first town, then to Ronda, then to the second town, and then back to Seville, we discussed professions, politics, religion, climate change, travel, and more. I was so glad I spent the extra money to hire a private guide. One of the most important aspects of travel is the opportunity to learn about life in this different place from someone who lives it. Enrique got us to everything we wanted to see, avoided the traffic that would have ruined a day in a rental car or large bus on a busy tourist Saturday, taught us many things about his life in Spain, and made us interlopers feel welcome. Priceless.

While we had picked two things we wanted to see, we let the expert choose the last destination for us. He chose Zahara de la Sierra, a picture-perfect white town in the hills. In my research, I had seen photos of this town, and it did not disappoint. Perched on a hill with the remains of a fortress above it and a reservoir below it, Zahara is somehow quaint yet impressive. The fortress atop the hill was built in the 13th century by the Moors who held that territory at that time. We discussed hiking up and around it the fort, but decided we wanted to spend more time in our other destinations, so we simply walked the small town, taking photos, and enjoying the beautiful day.

Our next stop was Ronda, which Enrique told us would be busy. He was not wrong. This town (technically a city of 34k people) has surged in popularity since photos of its 18th century bridge, which spans a deep gorge separating the old town from the new town, became widely circulated on the Internet. I often see the bridge pop up in the rotating photos on my Echo Show. There are actually three bridges that span the El Tajo gorge and connect the two sections of the clifftop town. We walked to and over each of the bridges in turn, taking in the scenery before heading into the town. The famous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is the most impressive.

Labeled the Most Romantic Town in Spain, there are cute shops, pedestrian streets, and plenty of restaurants. I can’t attest to how romantic is it, but it is definitely popular and busy. Perhaps the most famous attraction in the town, aside from the bridge, is the bullring. Built between 1779-1785, it is the only bullring in Spain constructed entirely of stone (rather than stone and brick) and it offers covered seating. Enrique told us that bullfighting in Spain is highly controversial. Some consider it cruel and would like it discontinued, while others contend that it is part of Spain’s unique cultural heritage and should be continued as a tradition. I understand the arguments on both sides and, because I am not Spanish, I will refrain from offering my opinion in that debate. I will, however, be interested to see what happens with it.

It was lunchtime, so Enrique guided us to a local restaurant that offered many traditional dishes. Joe had a beer and we shared several tapas, the mushroom croquetas being our favorite. Joe and I also tried the fried anchovies stuffed with ham and piquillo peppers. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I generally only like anchovies in small amounts, but these were pretty interesting.

Afterward, we traveled to the spot where the most iconic photos of the Puente Nuevo are taken so we could add ourselves to the long list of people who have been there. We took the requisite selfies because you gotta. It felt incredible to be standing there finally, years after I discovered its existence and decided I had to see it in person. We didn’t linger long because we were excited to get to our next destination and optimize our time there, but now when that famous bridge pops up on my Echo Show I think, Hey…I’ve been there!

Our final destination was Setenil de las Bodegas. Joe’s girlfriend had sent him photos after she visited there earlier this year and he immediately sent them to me, asking if there was any way we could get there. After seeing the photos, I knew I had to make it happen.

Setenil consists of buildings and cave homes built under and among rocks in a narrow, protected river gorge. The hilltop fortress above the town was built by the Moors. During the Reconquista, the Christians came to take the fortress, which proved to be more difficult than they expected. Due to the settlement’s hidden placement under rocks beneath it, the Moors were able to surprise their attackers from different angles and directions as they approached the fortress. The story goes that the Christians battled for fifteen days to take the town, trying seven times and failing before finally figuring out how they were being defeated and eventually triumphing. The name of the town is believed to be derived from the Latin “Septem Nihil,” which refers to the seven lost battles, “seven times no.” If you find yourself in Andalucía, do not miss this town. It’s something else.

Enrique led us up back roads and seemingly endless stairways to a lookout point from which we could see the fortress, now surrounded by olive trees. It was easy to see how if you approached from one direction you would have no idea what lurked beneath. Joe and I snapped endless photos and, as we walked, I could not stop muttering to no one in particular random phrases like, “Wow. This is crazy. What? Whoa.” We stopped at a small coffee/dessert shop located in a cave under a large section of rock for an afternoon espresso and torrejas (kind of like a Spanish French toast). Our torrejas came served in a white chocolate sauce. Are you kidding me? It was an apt end to our time precious time in Setenil, sitting at a cafe table outdoors, rock overhead, watching people walk by and cars (yes, cars) pass. When we were preparing to head back to Seville, Joe and I snapped a selfie. Joe did what he often does, posing for the photo with a random expression. I adore viewing my photos at the end of a travel day and finding at least one where Joe’s expression makes me laugh. Love that kid.

We arrived back in Seville around 7:30, ten hours after we had begun our journey. We heartily thanked Enrique for the memorable day and headed off to dinner, tired but not yet ready to throw in the towel. We had a couple last things we wanted to do in Seville, so after dinner we walked 20 minutes to find this structure.

Officially named the Metropol Parasol, it is known more casually as Las Setas (the mushrooms). It is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and at night multicolor lights undulate through the grids. It’s such a juxtaposition to the buildings surrounding it, yet somehow it seems to fit in just fine. I’m glad we went to see it lit up at night. I now wish we had gone up to take in the night view from the top (we didn’t realize you could do that), but at least now I have another reason to return.

Exhausted, we walked back to the hotel and collapsed. Fitbit recorded 23,516 steps and 86 floors for me that day. I would do it again tomorrow.

Making Some Returns

“Everything is made up. It’s all just whatever, and we’re allowed to make up new better stuff. You can be whoever you want to be and you can change your mind every single day. There’s no rules against it. Don’t forget your brain doesn’t even have arms so stop letting it push you into stuff or hold you back.” ~Anna Przy

Last weekend I went shopping with my sister. I loathe shopping in person because it involves dealing with too many people, but I asked her to go to the mall with me so she could select her birthday present.

Maybe if I close my eyes I will wake up back home?

After browsing in Athleta for her gift, we moved next door to Nordstrom to look. I also needed some clothing for an upcoming trip. Shopping is a challenge for me because, being a rule follower, I am well aware there are established fashion guidelines for people of a certain age and, being raised a people pleaser, I must uphold them. And yet it’s impossible for me to follow all the rules. Where do I find flattering, age-appropriate clothing? I need something not too short, too matronly, too pricey, too tight, too baggy, too sparkly, too young, or too revealing, that will also disguise my belly and still make me appear svelte when I inadvertently ingest something my body chooses to reject, rendering me as plump as blueberry Violet Beauregard. I have no Oompa Loompas to fix that.

Knowing that I am an abysmal shopper who avoids malls, browses catalogs, then guesses at sizing and purchases only off the internet so I can avoid asking for help, I told Kathy I needed a personal shopper. She said she could be that for me and set about finding items she thought might be fun and cute.

Bonus:This one has pockets!

We brought everything into a huge dressing room, and she served as wardrobe assistant, shuffling clothes from hangers, handing them to me, and then assessing them for their relative cuteness. I tried on a couple things that were not quite right. Then I tried on a loose-fitting white dress I would never have picked for myself because I imagined I would get lost in it. We took photos of the outfits, and Kathy insisted I try to look like I was having fun and owning it. She had also selected one complete renegade I would have strolled right past as quickly as possible, a Barbie-pink, mini-skirt short, off-the-shoulder romper. My parameter-violation meter exploded. Still, I was honor bound to try on whatever she picked out. I put it on, looked in the mirror, and cringed. She thought it was adorable. Unconvinced, I sought backup opinions, but those reviewers came back positive as well.

Choosing not to listen to all my inner critics, I purchased the pink romper, solely because I’m working toward being okay with being seen. Scientists on the Space Station could see me in that romper. Still, the tags have not been removed. The receipt is in a safe place, in case I chicken out.

The socks really add something special and the face says it all

Yesterday, I told my therapist about my shopping experience. We started discussing when I came to understand I was only acceptable under specific conditions. Truth is I don’t remember a time when I didn’t live under the weight of other’s expectations of me. There has been a narrow limit of what is appropriate for me to do and be and say versus a broad spectrum of what is perfectly acceptable for other people. We spent most of the session deconstructing this mindset.

In the end, I understood I didn’t ask for the baggage I’ve carried all these years, nor did I choose it. It was handed to me when I was too young to understand what I was picking up. I carried it around out of habit and grew to believe it was mine. It was not. But I didn’t know how to set it down without becoming unacceptable and unlovable. I do now. I visualized dropping those bags right where I was standing and telling the universe I’m finished carrying other people’s shit. I’m not a dung beetle. I then imagined picking up a new bag, an empty one with plenty of room for what I want to carry. I can put anything in it I want. Anything that makes sense to me and feels authentic. Anything that brings me joy. Anything that will become part of the individual I want to foster, accept, and love. And if someone attempts to empty their bag by tossing some of their items into mine, I will recognize it and remove them. The space in that bag is mine alone, and I have a choices, not rules or parameters assigned by anyone else. So I’ll be returning the expectations, negative opinions, judgments, and stress I didn’t request and don’t need. You can keep your junk, thank you very much.

Now I need to find cute shoes to wear with that romper when we are in Europe. I wonder if my sister wants to go back to Nordstrom this weekend for Round Two?

A Day In Seville

Narrow pedestrian street in Seville

The next stop on our whirlwind Spain trip was Seville. We had limited time there, so I had it planned with little room for error. We hopped on a 6:30 a.m. train from Granada and arrived around 9 a.m. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we hit the Starbucks that was on the way to our tour of the cathedral and the Alcázar.

Although I normally eschew American food chains in other countries, one great thing about them is you usually find foods and beverages you can’t get in the US. And we did. In addition to my compulsory oat milk latte, we ordered bocadillos so we didn’t start our day hungry. Bocadillos had quickly become Joe’s favorite new thing. I mean, how do you go wrong with crusty bread, Jamón Iberico, and manchego cheese? You don’t.

We headed to the meeting spot for our tour and prayed we would find our guide among the throng of tourists. We must have looked lost because someone with a tour group list approached us and got us sorted. The Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Our guide said it is also the third largest cathedral in the world. I thought the Granada Cathedral was impressive, but this was something else. So large and grand, it was impossible to capture it all (or even most of it) in one photo or in one visit. To demonstrate the scale, I had Joe stand next to a pillar.

Feeling small in the big, wide world

Our guide first showed us an impressively large painting called The Vision of St. Anthony, painted in 1656 by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. In 1874, some knuckle-headed thieves cut St. Anthony out of the painting and made off with him. They then attempted to sell the canvas to an art gallery in New York. Fortunately, the owner of the gallery recognized it as the missing piece, bought it for $250, and returned it to the Spanish Consulate. If you look at the section of the painting above St. Anthony’s head you can see a line that shows where the cut was made. Funny to think St. Anthony, patron saint of missing items and lost causes, managed to get himself returned. He does good work. Another item of note in the cathedral are the remains of Christopher Columbus. Yes. THE Christopher Columbus. Or, as our guide explained, about 300 grams of him. No one is entirely certain where the rest of the remains are. But at this time, in the Seville Cathedral there are verified remains of Christopher Columbus, a man who traveled more after his death than during his life. There is also an impressive altar, Altar Mayor. The altar features wood-carved depictions of the lives of Jesus and Mary and took 80 years to complete. Hard to tell from the photograph because of the gates protecting the private chapel, but the altar is 66 feet high and 60 feet wide.

After the cathedral tour, we had the opportunity to climb the Giralda Tower. Thirty-five ramps and 16 stairs transport you the top where Seville spills out in front of you. It was definitely worth the trek up. The tower itself was initially built by the Moors as a minaret, but after the Catholics took over they added a Renaissance-style belfry to complete the tower we see today.

Next stop was the Alcázar of Seville, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. Its name means “fortification” and, indeed, you pass through a fortified stone wall to enter the courtyard where the palace sits. The Alcázar appears Moorish, however it was designed and built by Muslim workers but commissioned by a Christian king more than 100 years post Reconquista. In addition to the ornate palace, there are nearly 25,000 acres of gardens to visit. I wish I could say we had time for all that but, alas, we did not. Still, here are some photos.

Trying to fit in as much of Spanish culture and time with actual citizens as possible on this trip, I had booked a guide for a food tour and a flamenco show. Elena is a Seville native with a foodie instinct. A teacher by day, she does these tours in the evening to fund her love of travel. First, she took us to try an aperitif of Spanish vermouth, white wine fortified with spices, herbs, and botanicals and then aged in barrels. So delicious. Joe and I were surprised how much we liked it. After all, it is called vermouth.

After our aperitif, we went straight into the pork. The Spanish love pork. The black-hoofed hogs that graze on acorns in the Spanish countryside are the reason. The acorns are filled with lovely fats that make their meat like nothing else, melt in your mouth gold, similar to Italian prosciutto but with a more intense flavor. Elena made a point of telling us that these pigs are free range and live great lives, until they become dinner, of course. After eating Jamón Iberico, I began to understand how one would arrive at that justification to ease your ham-eating guilt.

So many different ways to have it prepared, using as much of the animal as possible. All of them are amazing. After our snacks, we headed to a restaurant that prepares serves up Spanish dishes with little modern touches. The food was wonderful and the prices were quite reasonable, so we returned the next night for ensaladilla de Rusa (potato salad with tuna), patatas bravas (potatoes with a red sauce the Spanish call “spicy”), and squid ink spaghetti with scalllops, prawns, and seafood. While we were eating, Elena talked to us about the history of flamenco, the costumes, and the how the performances work. Her father was a student of the different flamenco styles, and he passed his love of the art onto a younger Elena who learned to dance “for the dresses.”

After we were stuffed, we walked to the show. What made it so much more impressive than I expected is that Elena explained that the shows are not choreographed. The music, the vocals, and the dance are all improvised. Clapping by the performers creates a percussive beat. We observed each performer watching the other performers for cues and changes so they could work together to create a cohesive performance. The singers, dancers, and guitarists combine their unique styles of flamenco and somehow manage to finish the performance in sync, despite not being choreographed. At the venue we were at, the performers are changed daily. So it is likely that the five persons on stage have not all performed with each other in that exact combination before, which demonstrates just how improvisational flamenco is. Photos and videos were forbidden during the show, but they did one last short song so we could get the obligatory photo.

The show finished around 9:30 p.m. and, although we had already garnered over 20k steps, we decided to go to the Plaza de España in case we ran out of time for it the following day. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 in Maria Luisa Park, the buildings in the plaza form a huge semi-circle and the buildings are accessed by crossing bridges over a moat. It is now is used as a government office building, but you have to see the architecture because it is iconic. We were walking around the plaza and being silly, pretending to fall into the moat and fountains, when we were spied by security personnel. Apparently, we were there past hours. In our defense, the gates were open and nothing suggested we shouldn’t be there until a guard showed up in an electric vehicle and started yelling “Cerrado” at us. Oops. So, I guess the area closes at 10 p.m.

We beat a hasty retreat and returned to explore the hotel. The hotel is music themed with rooms named after famous composers, and it has small salons where musicians can practice. We stopped in at the rooftop patio, which featured a hot tub, a small pool, and a bar. From the roof, we took a pause and our final photos of the day.

The Seville Cathedral lit for the night

Next up, Ronda and the white towns of AndalucÍa.

You Oughta Go To Granada

In mid-January, I seized upon an opportunity to plan a quick spring break trip to Spain with my son. With two months to prepare, I cashed in my United reward miles and booked hotels, train trips, and tours. Then I began the arduous task of determining how to fit 9-days worth of clothing into a backpack, and I learned packing for a trip is the quickest way to figure out you hate all your clothes. Still, I made it work. The bag was not light and I am not the fittest, but I was going to Spain and I could suffer for 9 days. As it turns out, I didn’t suffer much.


Our first stop was Granada, a city of about 115k people in the Andalucía region of Spain, where Joe planned to spend as much time as possible with his girlfriend who is studying there this semester. I planned to take some tours and relax. The one thing Joe and I had scheduled to do together in Granada was tour the Alhambra, the most visited site in Spain and a masterpiece of Muslim art in Europe. This is where things went awry on our very first day. Not a good sign. I had a tour booked for us, but when we got to the meeting place there were so many other groups of tourists we could not find our specific group. There were no signs to aid us in our search, so Joe wandered from group to group asking if we belonged there. But the guides kept pointing us in different directions toward other groups. In the end, by the time the tours had begun, no one had claimed us. That was strike one. Undeterred, I went to the ticket window figuring at least we could do our own viewing, and I purchased two tickets. Sadly, they were not the right tickets, as tickets to the palaces we most wanted to see were sold out. I didn’t catch that with my measly Spanish. That was strike two. Joe was devastated. He tried not to be too upset and to play positive because he knew how miserable I felt for twice messing up the the ONE thing he wanted to do. Still, he was visibly disappointed, and I was disconsolate for failing my son. We did the sightseeing we could at the Generalife (the gardens and vacation home for the inhabitants of the palace) and the Alcazaba (the fortress that is the symbol of the Alhambra complex) and went our separate ways for the evening.

I lost it as soon as I got to the rental flat and cried for a while. Then I did what I always do. I got determined to find a way to make it happen. Searching online for at least an hour, I discovered there were zero tickets available for the Nasrid palaces for the next few days, either from the site itself or as part of any regular tour with any tour company I could find. Then, finally, some light crept in. Around 9 pm, I discovered there might be a possible opportunity via a private tour. It was not inexpensive, and after my two previous ticket foibles I had already exhausted too much money in this quest. But it made zero sense to have traveled all the way to Spain not to see the one site Joe, a religion and middle east studies major, most wanted to see. So, I booked it.

Turns out it was the best money I have spent in a long time. Our tour guide, Isa, was a delight. She’s an architect who literally grew up at the Alhambra because her mother, also an architect, had worked on restoring the site when Isa was a young girl. We couldn’t have lucked into a better situation. While we toured, Isa told us the history of the location, pointed out small details she knew about that others might not, and spoke Spanish with Joe’s girlfriend who wanted the practice. We spent three hours touring with Isa, talking with her about the site and about Granada, and we learned so much more than we ever would have learned in a 25-person tour. But my biggest takeaway from the series of events in those 24 hours is that sometimes when the lights fade on your vision in one way, they illuminate elsewhere and lead you to much better opportunities you might never have encountered otherwise. And yes, the third time’s a charm.

The Nasrid Palaces, built between 1238 and 1492, are awe inspiring. Although my photos miss much of what you see in person, let me use them demonstrate the beauty of the architecture and design.

Most of the color on the walls has faded with time, but if you look carefully you can see remnants of what once was there. Can you imagine how beautiful the interiors here were seven hundred years ago? You were meant to feel small here, humbled by the wealth and power of the Nasrid dynasty. I wish I could have spent days wandering and taking it all in but, alas, all good tours must come to an end. And so we said goodbye to Isa, and I went back to the flat feeling so much better than I had the night before.

Once solo, I toured the Granada Cathedral. I love visiting cathedrals. Some are so ornate and overwhelming they border on gaudy, but the Granada Cathedral is gorgeous. The first part of the church, built by Queen Isabella after the Reconquista in 1492, was completed in Gothic style and is now the Royal Chapel. This is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are interred. We viewed their simple caskets on display underneath the chapel floor. The cathedral was built later in Spanish Renaissance style. If you want to feel small and insignificant, step inside a building meant to portray the greatness of God.

I also toured the Albaicín and Sacromonte areas of the city. These sections are located across the Darro River on the hillside opposite of the Alhambra. The Albaicín settlement is where the original palace workers lived back in the day after they were forced into conversion by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the Sacromonte neighborhood, Roma people (called gypsies) settled into cave houses built into the hills. You could spend days wandering the narrow, often car free, streets here. Joe and I visited the courtyard of the St. Nicolas church, located on a hill directly opposite the Alhambra, multiple times at differing hours of the day to take photos. One morning, Joe pulled out a flag he had brought from home, the Andalucían one his brother bought for him in Granada four years ago, and asked to be photographed with it. He usually only buys flags from places he has been, and prior to our trip he said he felt like a fraud for having this flag. At last, he could legitimately claim ownership for it.

Segways lined up for our group

I like to try new things. On this trip, I determined that would be taking a Segway for a spin. There was a tour of the Albaicín and Sacromonte offered via Segway. Joe did not want to participate, so I went with seven people I just met at the tour office. Operating a Segway is fairly straight forward with some practice. I had about 1 minute to practice before we took off. I didn’t feel fully confident, but everyone else in the tour had already ridden one and I was holding up the group.

Acting confident

As I previously mentioned several times, this area of Granada is hilly. Some of these hills are rather steep. With my uninformed mind, I imagined this would make the Segway an ideal mode to get around. At least I would not struggle. That was a miscalculation for a first-time rider. When I booked the trip, I didn’t understand just how narrow, windy, and treacherous these hills were in places. At our first steep incline, the tour leader dismounted and said he personally would coach each one of us up and over the first curve in the hill. Yikes. I could go into gory details about how the rest of this tour went for me but, suffice it to say, the next time I book Segway tour, I will make sure it is in a flat area so I don’t endanger anyone else. I enjoyed the experience, but I’m not so sure the tour leaders and the woman from England who fell off her ride when she ran into cautious me on my slow-going machine felt the same about their trip .

Of the places we toured on our brief sojourn in Spain, Granada was at the top of our list. It’s small, easily walkable, and beautiful with its position at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. I will definitely return. Next time, I will bring my husband. And I will know the correct way to visit the Alhambra so we only have to pay for our visit one time.

Disappointment Is A Growth Opportunity

I’ve reached an important but difficult stage in my journey to reclaim my life story, the one where you start living your truth. When you’re used to a life where you make decisions based on what others want or what will keep you out of “trouble” with them, it’s a scary step. And when you decide you no longer want to be a people pleaser, the people who have benefitted by your remaining in your role and doing what they would prefer aren’t fans. While I am not 100% clear what I want from my life, I am resolute regarding things I do not want. I’m finished living someone else’s playbook.

My middle sister called yesterday to invite me to her birthday party. I love my sister. We have our differences and we’ve had our struggles due to the dynamic that was set up for us in our childhood. That said, she is a kind, loving, thoughtful person with many friends and a deep love of her family. When she told me that my parents would be at the party, I winced. I knew that was coming. I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with this moment now, but it was here. I took a deep breath and told her plainly, while I would love to celebrate with her on her birthday, if our mother and father would be present then I would not be. It was the first time I’ve faced one of these moments with my family of origin. While I haven’t had any direct contact with my parents in well over a year, I’ve accomplished that by having excuses not to see them rather than by directly expressing it was my conscious choice not to see them. I knew she was disappointed, but she respected my boundary, which I appreciated.

When I got off the phone, I realized my pulse was rapid. I was anxious. I felt guilty for letting my sister down. She is collateral damage in this situation. She and I were parented differently. We have different relationships with our parents and different demons as a result. I had to remind myself that, although my sister is likely frustrated about the situation between my parents and I and what that means for the family at large, she is an adult and she will be fine. I had to remind myself that even if people become upset with me for my choices, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to make those choices. And I had to tell myself this will take practice. With time, expecting other people to deal with their disappointment rather than disappointing myself to preserve their happiness will become a habit for me and bring me greater peace. I can only imagine how freeing it would be to say to someone, “I won’t be attending,” full stop, rather than concocting some excuse to avoid their judgment.

Many people cannot accept that someone might be so traumatized by their childhood experiences that they need to abandon their parents to heal. When I tell people I don’t communicate with my parents because of childhood wounds, they tell me all parents of that generation were not the best or I will be sorry when they are gone that I didn’t try harder with them. They tell me I should forgive and forget and move on. These comments, well meaning or not, invalidate my experience. But I no longer am triggered when people don’t understand my choice regarding my parents. I’m at the place now where I can hear these comments and let them roll off me. Those people don’t have the full story and, even if they did, they don’t get to tell me what I should do because it is what they would do or what they feel is right.

It’s my life. You don’t have to understand it. You don’t have to approve of it. You don’t have to comment on it without my request. You don’t have to tell me how I can make it better. You don’t have to do or say anything about my life because it’s not your concern. Despite what I was told in my youth, taking care of yourself and your mental health needs is not selfish. It’s imperative to living authentically. While disappointment is part of life’s experience, I’ve mercilessly disappointed myself for too long. Allowing others to manage their disappointment offers them a growth opportunity. And so I begin letting others grow too.

Live Forever

I couldn’t sleep again last night, likely because I drank a couple glasses of wine. What can I say? Sometimes you just want pizza and wine with friends without acting like an old person and worrying about the consequences. Still, when I wake up at 1 am ready to take on the world, it’s not the best. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now, but here we are.

I read if you can’t sleep, it’s a good idea to journal to unload your mind of whatever thoughts might be hindering your return to sleep. So, after an hour of hoping but failing to drift back off, I got up, herded our senior furry friend (the one who had woken me up in the first place) to the bedroom door, and headed to the sofa with a journal and pen in hand. Ruby is 14.5 now, which is towards the older end of a border collies’ general life expectancy. She seems to have her days and nights confused, sleeping all day and wandering aimlessly all night. I never know where she will be at 2 a.m. A couple days ago I found her in the master bathroom staring at the closet door, presumably thinking it was our bedroom door, the place where she stands when she wants to go out. And as I sat writing, she continued her travels around our main floor. Her nightly 5k is recorded through nail clicking, then silence when she hits an area rug, then resumed clicking. She seems unsure of where she was headed or what she was looking for. All I can think is, “Same, girl. Same.”

I find myself in tears when I look at her now for more than a few seconds because I know is waiting down the road, whether I am ready to get there or not. She has cataracts and doesn’t see well; she doesn’t hear well either. Tonight I noticed a small, tumor-like growth on the back of her right leg. Just another sign of where she is in her life’s journey. The medication and CBD treats we give her to ease her discomfort seem to be less help these days. Right now it feels like we’re in a holding pattern, circling the inevitable, but not yet cleared by the tower to land.

As I watched her amble around, I thought of our sons. They were 5 and 7 when she came to us. Joe is her favorite person. The boys have made it clear they aren’t ready to say goodbye to her and they hope they aren’t here to see her last moments because they think it will break them. I feel that in my soul. When Ruby is finally ready to cross the rainbow bridge, her passing won’t simply mean the loss of my constant companion of 14 years. Losing Ruby means I will have to let go of the period of my life I have loved the most thus far, the part where our boys were my day job and my night job, and Ruby was assistant to the assistant manager. It’s a double loss, which probably explains why it’s so heart-wrenching for me to sit with her on those long, silent nights. I’m double grieving. It needs to be done, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.

I see her discomfort with her achy joints, her struggle to get to her feet and balance herself before taking a step, and her confusion, but I also see moments of spunk when she goes toe-to-toe with our young corgis and very nearly resembles her 3 year old self. I am one with her in all these moments, facing my own mortality as well, whenever the universe wants its atoms back. Damn, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. “I know what’s ahead for me too, girl,” I tell her each quiet night we alone share. “I know it’s hard to let go of the people you love and the duty to watch over them.” I run my hand down the length of her frail body, weeping and reassuring her. “It’s okay. You’ve done a beautiful job taking care of us, making us laugh, and teaching us how to be present, but you can let go and rest when you’re ready. You’ve earned it. You’ve trained Loki and Goose well. They can take the torch from you and manage us with the same herding-dog spirit you did the whole of your wonderful life.” Last night she looked at me through those cloudy eyes, and I saw again what drew me to her. She is like me. She isn’t good at relaxing or doesn’t want to relinquish her favorite responsibility, either. We are sisters this way. And today she continues to fight for every moment of this precarious life as if she means to live forever, and all I can think is, “Same girl. Same.”

“Maybe I just wanna fly, wanna live, I don’t wanna die, maybe I just wanna breathe, maybe I just don’t believe, maybe you’re the same as me, we see things they’ll never see, you and I are gonna live forever” ~Oasis