Who are you?

More importantly, who aren’t you? I am not a Mathew McConaughey follower by any stretch. Sure, he’s entertaining and not hard on the eyes (all right, all right, all right…. ) but he isn’t someone I’ve ever viewed as a guru. Until today. I came across this video on Facebook and to say it struck a cord doesn’t begin to describe the way it spoke to my soul.

Since I was raised without any sound guidance or a positive parent role model, I used what my mother would do as an example of what NOT to do myself as a parent. Mr. McConaughey’s video emphasises just that. To find yourself and define who you are, you must first define who you aren’t and who you don’t want to be. The emphasis is on controlling your environment. Don’t be around anyone or anything who antagonizes your goal and life’s purpose. My mother has served me well and when I’ve deviated from my, if my mom would do xyz then do the opposite, mentality, we have all paid the price. Since I am in the home stretch of having minor children (1 year 8 months but who’s counting?) and I am focusing on the future, this could not be more timely. I feel, and I mean really feel, very mindful of the message in the video. From time to time I question the decision I’ve made about my future plans so this is an excellent affirmation. I do not want to live in the US anymore. I am done with the rat race.I don’t want my children to be afraid of the unknown, or of taking calculated risks. I do not want my life now to be the end of my story. I want more than anything to help children in a developing country and to be able to work on my book and truly live my life. I know who I am and who I am not and I know what is important to me.

I have another life ahead of me. I know it lies in another country and I know being idle won’t get me there. I am looking forward to getting to know the future me as I continue to grow and embrace what I desire from the one life I’ve been given. Sometimes I need the reminder to be brave, I will only die once!

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Hosting a Colombian host

I wasn’t able to post at all during the month of July because we were lucky enough to have visitors almost the entire month. Early in the month, my surrogate family came as well as my best friend and her husband to celebrate my birthday! After they left, we spent 8 days hosting a gentleman from the Colombia government who had chaperoned children over to stay with their potential adoptive families. What an absolute treat that was!

It all started with a random question from my colleague and friend over lunch a few months ago who worked with an international adoption agency. “Hey, do any of you know someone who would be willing to host a Colombian host for awhile this summer?” Of course I wanted to jump at this opportunity! First I had to make sure my wife was on board as she is much more of an introvert than I am and was probably going to think this was a crazy idea. I on the other hand, thought it was going to be an experience of a lifetime! When would we ever get this chance again? We have been researching for months and now we have the opportunity to hear first-hand experience from somebody who not only lives in Colombia but also works for the Colombian government in the foster care system! The universe could not have been more perfectly aligned.

We were given a short bio on our guest, he worked as a psychologist for the central authority working with children in the foster care system. His interest included Mozart, theater, and heavy metal. From the moment we met him I felt that there is this instant connection, likely because our worlds already overlapped in so many areas. Miguel was kind, helpful and anything–but obtrusive. Socially we shared the same values and beliefs.

Miguel is at the end of the table standing next to me

Because our line of work and interests overlapped, I brought him with me to work and he was able to meet several of the judges and players in the county that I work in and observe our court system. Listening to his observation of our court system and how civil he believed we were to each other in court was really an eye-opener for me. Sometimes I become extremely frustrated in the line of work that I do, though I love my colleagues, and listening to Miguel’s experience opened my eyes to how good we do have it here.

Miguel told stories of corruption in the central authority in Colombia and how there is a real lack of care for the children at all and that they might as well be treated as random numbers. I heard of stories where social workers would just swap the names children on reports and submit them. Some social workers wouldnever even see the children they were making recommendations for. It was not uncommon for the only reason the were social workers had the job was because they had a friend that got them the job and they were paid decently but they really had no desire to do that line of work.

We learned so much from Miguel during his stay. We learned that Colombia it’s experiencing a regression under the new president and there is an increase in Narco activity along the Pacific side of the country. He spoke of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction being issues but it seemed like the biggest issue was poverty. He did say the US was the biggest “client” the Narcos had. He said the tourist areas and more affluent parts of the country are not necessarily impacted and he believes it would be completely safe for us to rent a car and travel the route that we have mapped out.

When it was time for Miguel to leave us, Lisa and I felt genuine sadness. He quickly became part of our family and will always have a place in our hearts and our home. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to host him again next year and we will definitely look for a reason to visit him and meet his family in Pasto.

Hasta luego, Miguel!

Self Actualization

Maslow’s hierarchy of need is a stripped down analogy of what we, as human beings, need in life. There are 5 progressive levels of this pyramid and it starts with the most basic needs; food, air, water, sleep. Second up is safety and security, this is followed by social; love and belonging. The fourth tier is esteem; you are respected and you have respect for others. The last tier is self actualization; the need for development.

Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because a person does not feel anything if they are met, but becomes anxious if they are not. It is not until all 4 deficiency levels are met that a human can focus on the last level and even then, self-actualization (per Maslow) requires uncommon qualities such as honesty, independence, awareness,objectivity, creativity, and originality. I, like many others, learned of Maslow’s hierarchy in an intro psych class decades ago. I believe it makes great sense though I don’t know that I buy into the idea that only a few privileged people will achieve this enlightened state.

My entire life has been chaotic from as long as I can remember. My twin brother and I rounded out the last six children in my family and we’re primarily raised by a sister that was 10 years older than we were. (can you imagine raising two year old twins when you were 12?) It has been my experience that having such a rough upbringing has resulted in several long term issues as an adult. Through my work, I have become very familiar with the ACE’s studies and I believe I don’t need to say much more than, my ACE score is an 8.

One area that has daunted me the most is purpose. I have struggled almost all of my adult life to fill a a vast void with distraction, service to others, material things, etc. Though this void wasn’t present when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get formula for my oldest son 25 years ago. This makes sense when you look at the pyramid. As things settled for me over the years, I have been most fulfilled when in my role as a mother, working with abused and neglected children, being a foster parent, a gestational surrogate, etc. My level of contentment revolved around service to others. My ex husband (Wusband) was an excellent support person and would remind me that I could not distract my way to happiness or fill it with material things. I wasn’t sure what was missing in my life but a large something was and the more things settled, the bigger the void became.

If you look back at the pyramid, you can see that one of the most core needs is belonging. Love/loving/loved and inclusion are paramount. I certainly have been loved by many others in my life but I struggled for decades with self love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I came out three years ago (at 40) that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin but then the focus was on family, minimizing harm to my children, half who were still under 18, and adapting to a new role. My soon to be ex husband and I concocted a plan on how and when to tell the kids and what life was going to look like as co parents after 18 years of marriage. It was not an easy road to go down and while my Ex knew I had some “tendencies” my children had no idea and were practically blindsided. I spent the first 18 months out of that relationship distracting myself with another and as you can imagine, that blew up with fantastic success! I did feel more comfortable as a lesbian, in public, at home, work,you name it, than I ever have as a straight woman but there was still something missing.

After the complete annihilation of what my life used to look like along with some extremely stressful life events, things began to settle down during the last 18 months. While I was busy working on a new non-profit (distract,distract,distract!), being a mother, an employer, an advocate, a friend, and a partner, my life shifted gears yet again. It feels as if it almost happened without my participation or knowing. All the desires to fill the void had been gone and for who knows how long? I wasn’t paying attention. What finally clued me off was a bout of insomnia a few days ago when I realized I no longer had that feeling that something was missing. I can be pretty oblivious.

So this is what it looked like… Laying in bed, trying to fall asleep and thinking about how I would like to add alternative titles to this book I am working on and give a little explanation as to why, “My sisters/cousins” would have been appropriate or “Leave my liver out of this!” and finally settled on the one I chose (no telling) and why. When reflecting on the alternative titles,I felt nothing. And I mean, nothing except contentment. This is a brand new experience for me. When I realized this void I had been dragging around forever had somehow disappeared and I didn’t even recognize when or how it happened, I felt blindsided myself. How did this happen? What have I done so differently? I had embraced myself. I was able to do so because I am in a healthy and happy relationship. Not just with myself but just about everyone else in my life. My wife is incredibly supportive and loving and creates a safe space for me to be me. There is no drama, there is no toxicity, there is no pretending to be someone I’m not. There is no judgement. There is no need to search for something as I completely unknowingly had satisfied all 4 need levels of Maslow’s pyramid. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an easy task and it came from identifying and pursuing my needs as well as recognizing and adjusting toxic relationships (family and friends) and loads of therapy. I am sure there is a lot more to it but that’s my limited insight.

The last three years have been quite an experience and I do believe I had to go through all of the bad to get to the good. I am extremely optimistic about the future and pushing the limits of what I am capable of now that I have this new found freedom. I feel more certain now than ever that early retirement=finish book. I am not saying I have achieved “Self Actualization” but I do know I have never been closer.

But what about family?

Today is the last day of school for my 16 year old son, next year he will be a Junior. He is the last of 4 boys who range in age from 16-25. My family is, and has always been, the focus of my life. Slowly becoming an empty nester has made this inevitable transition easier. I have gone from buying 2 gallons of milk at a time to 1, then to a half. I remind myself that one of the two things guaranteed in life is change, the other is death.

Moving to another country, away from my children, will not be without struggle. Even though the majority of them have moved out and are adults, we still have regular family dinners, celebrate holidays and birthdays together and have the random lunch dates just to catch up. As exciting as it is to plan for the future, I continue to have a little momma bear sitting on my shoulder, whispering to me horror stories that might succumb the children if I am not physically present. I flick her off and remind her I have tried to teach my children to be brave, fearless, and to pursue their dreams. Who would I be if I let her keep me from mine?

In researching Colombia, it appears that when we apply for a (M) Migrant or (R) Resident Visa, that children under the age of 25 can obtain a beneficiary Visa. That takes care of my youngest 2 of 4 should they want to spend some time in Colombia. My oldest is a frequent traveler to Costa Rica-he is a bit of a gypsy so I imagine he will make his way to visit plenty of times. My second oldest son talks about traveling with his long term girlfriend during a gap year to Central and South America. My hope? They love it and want to stay but even if they don’t, who is going to pass up a couple of weeks a year with mom on the Caribbean coast? We are keeping some property in the US, whether it is our family home that we rent out or a small apartment is yet to be decided but there will be plenty of coming and going We are trying to be as realistic as possible so we are concurrently planning on returning to the States after a decade or so, should we chose.

As much as I remain family focused, I also remain committed to living my life to the fullest and being the brave, daring, bold, mother that has tried to teach them that they can do, be, accomplish whatever it is that sets their soul on fire. I just might do so while wiping away tears in the grocery store while buying a quart of milk.

Work…a four letter word

There is a bit of a phenomenon that happens when people decide to retire and I bet you can guess what it is…. Short timers syndrome! Ok, I am not really there but let me tell you that after spending the month of May attending a few different conferences and meetings only to have your worst suspicions confirmed, it is disheartening and makes me wish I could speed up the clock! Actually, it makes me wish I could wave a magic wand or say a spell and *POOF* every family would be healthy, loving, and functional. I work in child welfare and the last few years have been exceptionally hard. My role is to recruit,train, and supervise child advocates to represent children in court who are in the foster care system. Not exactly work for the faint of heart to start with.

I absolutely love my job. I love the kids I work with. I love most of my colleagues. I hate stifling and ill fitting policy and bureaucracy. I hate that our social workers are not paid or supported enough and this leads to significant turnover which leads to delayed permanency for our kids in care. I hate that parents are generally only given two, two hour visits per week if they need to be supervised because the Department lacks the resources to provide more and frequently, even those minimal visits aren’t happening.

Earlier this month I was interviewed on a local radio station about what it is we as CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates) do and how we can make an impact on the life of a child in system. (You can listen to it here if you are interested) I stressed the importance of CASAs and GALs (Guardian ad Litems) in the current turmoil that our county is experiencing. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA, visit www.wacasa.org for Washington State or www.casaforchildren.org in other states.

While I can neither speed up the clock nor wave a magic wand, I can focus on what I can do over the next 2 years, 10 months and 17 days to improve anything and everything in my control to help the system run better. Our kids deserve to have visits with their parents, they deserve to go home if it is safe enough, they deserve to be adopted when reunification isn’t an option, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to wonder what they will be when they grow up and they deserve to sit on this side of the keyboard, planning for their retirement.

Santa Marta, here we come!

It’s been awhile since I have been able to write. Unfortunately, my life doesn’t slow down despite my desire to spend more of my time daydreaming about where we might land in a few years.

It’s been a hectic few weeks; I am training a new class of CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children removed by the state) and that will roughly take up the month of April in conjunction with everyday work and life. We spent last weekend in Vancouver BC where we experienced the most amazing P!NK show and we are trying to unpack our things since we decided to pull our home off the market and pursue early retirement abroad instead.

With all of this going on, I managed to map out our upcoming trip and purchase our airline tickets and it goes a little something like this… SEA to JFK to enjoy New York City and have some really good food and unparalleled entertainment for our anniversary, JFK to CTG where we will spend 1 night in Cartagena, rent a car the next morning and make the drive to Santa Marta where we will spend 5 nights, SMR to BOG where we will spend 2 nights in Bogotoa, just checking things out, BOG to CUN to spend 7 more nights in Rivera Maya and finally CUN to SEA to be back in time for Thanksgiving. Fun side note, you can fly intercountry in Colombia for about $25 USD so while it is a 4-5 hour drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, we are choosing to do that to see the the coast. Who knows, there may be some amazing beach town we drive past that we would never have known about otherwise! We are then flying from Santa Marta to Bogota for $25 where we will spend a few nights and then take a direct flight from Bogotoa to Cancun. We are not checking any bags so we can travel pretty freely and not have to worry about delays through customs, lost luggage, etc. I picked up a pretty awesome Travelpro carry on size suitcase on clearance at Macy’s that will easily hold everything I need to bring with me as well as my own snorkel gear. I was able to book the above itinerary for less than $1,500 per person using mileage points, perks, hotel reward points, etc.

I have never planned out a trip this extensive and I am sure some thing will not go as planned but that is all part of the experience. You may wonder why we are spending more time in Mexico since we just returned but if you’ve read my previous blog posts, we have decided to keep the Riviera Maya area open as a possible retirement location. Akumal, Tulum, Playa del Carmen-they all give off a mystical feeling. The Mayan culture, the beach, the people, the food, the cenotes… they call my name. The downsides to Mexico vs. Colombia on paper is rather extensive though. The medical care is not as good as the States and Colombia is significantly better than both. Cost of living is on par with Santa Marta though that is only if you are willing to swap an ocean front condo in Santa Marta for one that isn’t in Mexico. Residency is easily established in both. Mexico has really developed a reputation for being quite unsafe these days and that’s true even in Rivera Maya but of course, Colombia has its own sordid history but history is the key word. There are still plenty of travel advisories for both countries, check before you book! Common sense is your friend. There are plenty of places in the states, especially Seattle that I would not walk around at night and alone. Upsides for Mexico, English is much more widely spoken than in Colombia and its a 6 hour flight home instead of a 12 from Colombia. With that said, I have always felt like a flight is a flight so whether you are a 2, 6, 12 or 18 hour flight away, it is still just a flight. 🙂 Since we aren’t exactly looking for another America just in a cheaper location, I am not sure that part of Mexico would even give me the foreign experience that I want.

We are very excited for our trip to Colombia and the reason we aren’t staying longer is the fear that the humidity will be so oppressive that we will want to take Santa Marta off our list. If we do, that doesn’t mean Colombia is out. We want to spend two nights in Bogota on this trip just to see and feel the capital, we would not consider residency there but we want to return for at least a week long trip to Medellin and it’s surrounding areas for that purpose. Our stays in both countries will be research so that means that while we will likely dive and enjoy the beach, the whole idea is to rent a car, drive around, look at properties and neighborhoods at night as well as during the day. This isn’t a, sit on my rear and have a server bring me food and drinks all day while enjoying the Caribbean sun poolside, trip. The idea of being in Colombia thrills me. The people have a reputation for being extremely kind and open to foreigners and there is something uniquely empowering about forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone and submerging yourself in another culture especially when you don’t share a common language.

Ghosting

This blog is not just about upcoming travel and early retirement plans, this blog is meant to inspire people to be a little bit braver than they already are in order to get the most out of life. As humans, we grow and change over our lifespan, at least we are supposed to.

Ghosting and being brave is an oxymoron. Ghosting is a fairly new term but the practice is not. It is described in the dictionary as, ” The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. ” This is a blanket explanation that applies to all personal relationships; family members, friends, romantic interests, can all be potential victims or perpetrators.

I wanted to write about this because yesterday, I stumbled across an article in the NY times about why people ghost. Being ghosted in a romantic relationship can be difficult but what about when a family member or supposed good friend does it? The article was well written and it focused on the many different ways one can be ghosted and reminded the reader that it isn’t on you, it is on them. So this is my message to those of you who do it. It might be time to look at your communication style and why you can’t express your thoughts and feelings. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in being a little bit braver, a little bolder,and overall more comfortable in your own skin, right? To get there, you have to do things that make you uncomfortable. Anything inside your comfort zone does not qualify as personal growth.

I have been ghosted over the years by friends and family. I understand that while it may be their preferred way of (not) handling conflict it is very damaging to both parties. The choice is personal but it certainly isn’t any way you should treat someone you claim to love. (Note, none of this applies to anyone in a toxic relationship. ) When I came “out” this happened. When I got divorced, this happened, when I started a new job..etc. etc. Admittedly, I am not one who has a problem expressing my feelings.


Maybe you think ghosting is a way to avoid conflict, thus, sparing the persons feelings but studies have shown that social rejection of any kind activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain, meaning there’s a biological link between rejection and pain. That goes for friends, partners, and family members.

What about the person who caused this pain by trying to avoid conflict? If you are honest about your feelings, you will have better self esteem, improved mental and physical health and you don’t have to worry about awkwardly running into them at a store, family function, or a funeral. You will feel much better about yourself and reap the benefits of being less stressed if you can communicate (write,text, send a pigeon) . There is nothing wrong with saying, I think we have grown apart. Own your feelings and remember that relationships have to work for both parties. If it isn’t working for you, you are being a little self absorbed to think the other person would want to continue a friendship. Most people would never be upset by someone sharing how they feel. Most people are upset by the way the message is (not) delivered.

In the famous words of Maya Angelou-Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Be Brave! Embrace Change. Express yourself. You only die once.