Life At Sea

Endless sea and sunset

Before I jump into the activities and adventures we did and had in our ports of call, I thought I would clear up the notion of a Sea Day. Until I took my first cruise, the idea of days at sea with nothing to do troubled me. I thought I would be bored. I assumed days floating at sea would be a waste of time and money. Many of my friends who have said they would never take a cruise vacation claim the “wasted days at sea” as their reason. I get it. I felt the same way until I had a day when I had nothing to do, no one to answer to, nowhere to rush off to, and the freedom to do exactly and only what I felt like doing. How many days do adults get like that in their busy lives? Not many.

A day at sea allows you to truly relax. It does not mean you will lack for things to do. Many cruise ships are like floating theme parks with water slides and zip lines and climbing walls. Cruises on Celebrity are aimed more at an adult crowd, though, so their sea day amenities are more about pools, spa treatments, casino time, and fine dining, but the lack of children tearing through the passageways and screaming and splashing at the pool more than make up for that. Cruise directors load the day with potential activities for those who want more and are looking for distraction. There are lectures and art classes, wine tastings and friendly on-board competitions (passenger versus crew pool volleyball and putting tournaments, for example). There are movies and games and ship tours too. At night there are karaoke sing-offs, live music performances, theater shows, comedians, and plenty of opportunities for dancing. If none of that appeals, you can read a book or nap in a deck chair facing the sea or play cards or watch for sea life. We enjoyed searching for dolphin pods and seeing them race and jump and flip alongside the ship. If you get bored at sea, you have no one to blame but yourself.

One activity that costs extra but is well worth the investment is a behind-the-scenes ship tour.Our tour took us through the galleys and into the belly of the ship where food is stored. We learned about how the ship processes recyclables and waste, does epic amounts of laundry, plans their shopping, and stores the food for the journey. On our ship, there were 1500 people employed for food preparation and service alone. We learned about what cruise life is like for those who live on the ship and work in its service. We visited the engine room and learned about what powers the ship and keeps it running smoothly and on time. The final stop on the tour was to the bridge where we learned about what training the captain and officers undertake for their careers, as well as how they bring these huge ships into port. It was fascinating.

When we finished our ship tour, we grabbed some lunch, gawked at the desserts, and then went to a wine tasting with premium wines and cheeses. After that, we sat on deck and enjoyed the view and the peace and each other’s company until it was time to dress for dinner and head to the Raw on 5 restaurant for Joe’s birthday dinner choice….sushi. We topped off our day with some silent disco because why not?

If the notion of a sea day or two on a cruise, where your every need is catered to, vexes you, perhaps it’s time to reassess your priorities. Do you not deserve a day where you don’t have to cook, clean, or care for anything or anyone other than yourself? Have you not earned a day or two with no obligations and thoughtfully prepared, delicious meals served with whatever cocktail calls to you? Come on. Live a little. Become reacquainted with yourself. When the sea day is over and you wake the next morning to find yourself in another exotic port of call, rested and ready to explore, you realize this is why you took this vacation. You’ve let yourself go in the best way possible.

The silent disco is a vibe

Not Quite A Mermaid Yet

My brother-in-law and husband working towards their diving certification

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller

This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.

First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.

On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”

Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

In Vino Veritas

Wine tasting. It’s something many older (and younger), primarily white, people do for fun. It’s still a new thing for me, and I have not yet perfected the art of it. There clearly is a method to do it correctly. I have a friend who is 20+ years into this game, and he says it’s all about the pacing. Go to a couple tastings, get a substantial, late lunch, do a couple more tastings, then have a good dinner. We did one tasting this morning, then went straight to another tasting where we had tapas, which was a light lunch. By the time we got to the third tasting at 2:30, I had to stop because I was the designated driver for the afternoon. This was just as well as I am not a regular drinker and, as a smaller person, I am a cheap date. If I hadn’t sat out the third tasting, I might have needed help getting back to our car. After a couple hours sobering up while the wine and conversation flowed, I was good to drive the fifteen minutes back to Walla Walla.

I am going to need more practice at this. It’s a good thing I will have at least four more years of wine tasting in the Walla Walla valley now that our youngest has decided to attend Whitman College also. Maybe by the time he graduates, I will have honed my wine tasting skills. Hubby and I will be heading home with a case of wine, so I can start sharpening my skills straight away.

Here are some photos from our uncharacteristically snowy tasting day. Here’s hoping the vines and the fruit trees in the area survive this unexpected snow. I will need to taste and buy more wine from the area later in the year.

My final takeaways on wine tasting are 1) it’s a fun way to spend a weekend if you can afford it and have wonderful friends with whom to enjoy it and 2) it takes some practice. I’m still learning the lingo. I am learning what to look for as I sample the wine. I love the word terroir and, although I don’t have a textbook definition of it memorized quite yet, I can pronounce it correctly. It’s a whole new world for me, but it has been around for a long time. With some attention and practice, someday I might honestly understand a wine list.

Thank god I found this school for my sons in wine country. It’s going to be a win all the way around. I likely would not have been admitted to Whitman College, but I was smart enough to get my kids here and that has to count for something.

The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

I Am Not On Clearance

Indeed

I first saw the quote above maybe seven or eight years ago. It hit me hard then because I knew that was how I operated. Raised to believe I was something to tolerate, when others didn’t meet me halfway or make much of an effort at all, I went out of my way to keep them around anyway. I didn’t question their lack of effort or their lack of respect for my boundaries because I knew I was a lot to tolerate, and this meant I had to work so they would continue putting up with me.

In the years since I first read the quote, though, I have worked to increase my self-esteem. I have at last come to the place where I am able to see my negative qualities without allowing them to convince me I am worthless or worth less. I don’t want to offer a discount on my company anymore. I have a lot to offer my companions. I’m not especially bad, as I previously thought. I’m especially human. And that is awesome because it means I am like everyone else after all. I don’t have to accept less from others in our relationships. I have agency. I can decide what works for me, and I can let other people walk if they aren’t comfortable with what I need to stay in relationship with them.

So now I am at last in the place in the quote. I am finished allowing people to treat me a level below my worth. I am not on clearance. I’m not handing out coupons. This isn’t Goodwill. If what I want is too much, if you don’t want to make the effort, move along. I’ll be better for it.

Dream Big — If You Can’t Dream It, You Can’t Do It

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I bought a journal and new pens. I bought one for my youngest sister too. Then I told her we would use our journals to get our poop in a group. Because she and I are on similar journeys of self-discovery, I told her we would come up with writing assignments for our journals and share what we were writing so we could lift each other up and support each other to reach our goals. To that end, a week ago I created our first assignment. I called it our Dream Big Assessment. We were to come up with a list of things we would like to see, experience, do, or have in our lives in the next twenty years. The caveat is that we have to dream big. No worrying about money or practicality or health or reality. It didn’t matter if what we listed was pie-in-the-sky. It was meant to be. You can’t manifest something if you can’t first envision it. And if you’re going to envision a future you would love to live, why would you let reality tether you? I started my list with this statement to make sure I kept my intentions clear.

“If I could dream anything for the next twenty years of my life, these things would happen. I would…”

It was a good idea to start with active statements, but my statements started out rather prosaic. I suppose this is because I am a practical person, but I suspect it is also because I’m accustomed to living smaller than I am. When you have spent your life in a box someone else designed for you, it’s a challenge to stretch and imagine yourself or your life as something so much bigger than you ever dared to dream before. So my list began mostly realistic and, therefore, understated. I would….

  • Publish something I have written
  • Speak about said published work to interested readers in a public forum, like a book club
  • See my sons in happy, healthy relationships where they feel loved and supported
  • Hold and love on a grandchild or two or three
  • Own more dogs

Most of these items are intentionally vague. I mean, “publish something” could mean an article in an online newsletter with a readership of 25 people. By not elucidating an action more clearly, I am giving myself a safe space to continue being small. After realizing I was being too calculated and cautious with my dreams, choosing things that had a decent probability of happening, I started to get a bit more specific with my choices:

  • Cycle through Provence when the lavender is in bloom
  • Spend a year traveling the US and living in an Airstream trailer
  • Learn how to scuba dive, knit, and tap dance

Again, all these items are fairly attainable and not huge stretches of the imagination, but at least they were more specific. I was making some progress with my wording and specificity, but I felt the list was sounding rather shallow. All the endeavors I listed were about doing, not about being. So I commenced traipsing down more of a life-philosophy path:

  • Feel more comfortable being myself regardless of the situation
  • Be less defensive and more contemplative, curious, and forgiving
  • Be mindful and grateful as often as possible
  • Lead with compassion and empathy

While all these items are good goals and, when compared to my normal modus operandi, are definitely dream big enterprises in terms of personal growth, they don’t really fit the assignment either. Try again, sister. So I let my mind get a little crazier and stretch a bit farther and dig into dreams I had when I was much younger and had more life ahead of me than in the rearview:

  • Own a Jaguar E-Type convertible in British racing green with camel interior
  • Travel the Greek islands in a private, chartered yacht
  • See the Northern Lights in Lapland
  • Visit the Maldives or the Seychelles or both
  • Live in either Italy or France as an expat
  • Try a psychedelic drug*
  • Swim with the jellyfish in Palau

I feel I am beginning to get to what I originally intended with the creation of this list. I plan to keep working on it. Items that resonate with me more than others will be added to the vision board I started creating a few weekends ago. If I can dream it, I need to see it to manifest it in my brain as part of a future to strive for.

What would make it onto your Dream Big list? Maybe something I wrote here will inspire you? Maybe something on your list would spark an idea for me?

*This idea came from a book I read by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

The Moth

There are a lot of stages to growth. It doesn’t happen easily or quickly. Sometimes it occurs in fits and starts. You make some progress, level off, and stay at that stage for a while until you feel the next wave of growth building to propel you forward again. Although, like most people, I have wanted growth to come more quickly, I now appreciate the process more. I used to be anxious or frustrated with the leveling off until I realized those periods of my life allowed me to recuperate and prepare for the next stretch. I think we’d all like to be like a super hero, maybe Superman. We just want to close ourselves off for a brief moment and then emerge fully transformed into our stronger, braver selves. It just doesn’t work that way. It takes 18 years for a child to physically mature into an adult. So why should we think our emotional growth should be an overnight transformation? Growth requires time, patience, and energy.

While thinking about this today, I was reminded of an episode from LOST. Charlie, a recovering drug addict, asks John Locke to hold his heroin stash. John agrees and tells him he will hold it until Charlie requests it three times. On the third time, Locke will relinquish the drugs. When Charlie asks Locke the second time, Locke points to a moth in a nearby cocoon. He shows Charlie a small hole at the top of the cocoon that the moth has worked to create. He could, Locke tells Charlie, make the hole bigger to help the moth out, but the struggle to escape is what strengthens the moth for its life journey. If Locke assists the moth, the moth might not be strong enough to survive on its own.

This is why the struggle is real and vitally important. Struggle increases our strength. It’s in the struggle that we gain the fortitude to grow on, to move to the next stage of development. The tears, the anxiety, the discomfort, the conflicts, the frustration are all part of process. I think about when my youngest was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. I would sit and listen to him as he worked with his tutor, and I would cringe. It was painful. It broke my heart to listen to him battle his way through readings. I wished I could snap my fingers and make it all go away for him. I couldn’t. In the end, the years Luke spent leaning into the discomfort led him to become the person he is now, ambitious, dedicated, and a diligent reader. If I had snapped my fingers and changed his situation for him, he would have only overcome the dyslexia, but perhaps not grown stronger and discovered how capable he truly is.

So, am I happy that my personal growth story is taking so damn long? No. No I am not. But am I grateful to still be plugging along? Absolutely. I can look back and see where I was. I know I’ve made progress. So, I will keep working at it, stopping to take a break as necessary, knowing that every bit of the process is important and will, in the end, lead me exactly where I am meant to be.