A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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18 years and counting — A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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Last week was our 18th wedding anniversary. We met online on an early AOL singles site. This was well before Match.com or JDate. This was 1996 when articles and news programs were warning us to beware of cyber dating. We did not heed their advice, and it worked out for us.

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There’s so much I’ve learned in these years. Lesson one is that dreams do come true. Lesson two, there is no happily ever after. Relationships are messy work. I was not prepared for that. I naively came to marriage thinking that it solved problems. Even though I came late to the game, I felt loved, and isn’t that all I ever really wanted? Don’t get me wrong feeling loved is amazing. And it acts as a foundation when the shit hits the fan. I think at the beginning we thought that each of us would complete the other. Instead we found that interacting with one another brought us closer with unresolved issues that we had to address within ourselves.

For instance, I found that Larry was easy to anger. And, I didn’t want that. So, he worked long and hard on his anger issues and found ways to manage it. Low and behold, it turns out I was angry all along, but as long as I focused on his anger, I didn’t have to own my dark feelings. I didn’t like being angry, but there it was for me to feel all too often. So now I had to start working on my anger issues, the issues I wasn’t conscious I harbored. Yet, it was Larry’s freedom to express his anger that made room for me to get angry. Once we could both be angry, it wasn’t so scary to deal with his ire. And, I am learning to further explore what I always thought was a dangerous emotion.

Tonight Larry is watching The Grateful Dead while I finish this blog post in the other room. When we met we knew we were musically incompatible. I love show music and cabaret, while he loves classic rock, and was a Dead head for all of his adolescents and much of his adulthood. He taught me to enjoy more rock. And, now I appreciate the Grateful Dead for their improvisational work and their interpretive artistry. It won’t be my go-to music, but I smile seeing him happy. Conversely, I have dragged Larry to many a Broadway and off-Broadway musical. I’m let down when he gets antsy, ready to go after the first song. But I soar when I see how much he enjoys certain shows we’ve seen together.

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I’ve learned that marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting through. When I don’t feel heard or understood, I can feel let down. Larry gets upset when he feels I’m too critical and he can’t do anything right. We both can get defensive. And if we both feel defensive at the same time, there’s bound to be a disagreement. It takes a while to untangle our positions of being right towards collaborating and accepting each other and ourselves within this marriage.

Relationships are a study in contradictions. For instance, while we both enjoy dining out, we also enjoy very different foods. I like my salads and fish, he likes his meat and potatoes. I usually like a more active lifestyle. Larry is happy to sit at home and enjoy television together. I want Larry to do more with me, but I get restless when I watch TV with him, looking around seeing small tasks to complete while at home. Conversely, I’ve learned to be more at ease relaxing and Larry has a more participates more in outside activities.

I wish there was a formula to make marriage easier. I continue to work on not taking myself so seriously, laughing more, worrying less. Larry has done a great job at listening more to what I need, engaging in uncomfortable conversations. So, as we move towards our 19th year, I am exhausted at what it takes to keep our marriage afloat, yet hopeful that the qualities that have moved our marriage to 18 years will continue to move it forward.   With growing love and mutual respect we march on.

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Mother’s Day, 2015

“We are all married to the same man.”

Judy Mannarino, Talented Artist, www.judymannarino.net

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Mother’s Day is a day fraught with mixed emotions. We’re parents, but we’re not mothers. We wish to be mothers but we’re not. We’re mothers, but we wished we weren’t. We love our children, but we get frustrated sometimes. Our mothers are no longer here. Our mothers are here, but we’re not sure how we feel about that. We’re indebted, we’re sad, we’re expectant, we’re disappointed. We’re ambivalent.

This morning I woke up, took my shower and came into the living room/dining area when I saw a card and gift. For the first few years of motherhood, Larry, my husband, wasn’t aware that Mother’s Day meant something to me. I could say I taught him, but it would be more accurate to say I shamed him into buying cards and gifts for this very Hallmark holiday.

Today he bought me a perfect gift, a pair of high-end earbuds from Future Sonics. As a walker, good earphones make all the difference. My only issue was that he had already given me the exact same gift this past Hanukkah. I loved them then. I was neither generous of heart nor gracious when I opened the gift. I wish I could say I had a sense of humor about it. I did not. I was petty.

It’s been difficult these past few months, and I wanted an easy day. I felt hurt, and I shared that fact. I know I’m so fortunate to have a husband who wrapped a gift and made an effort, yet I felt deprived, sad, in some unexplained way. I went for a long walk. I bought some earrings as compensation. And, yet, yet, when I came home I wanted attention. Larry was preoccupied, and I again felt as if he hadn’t apologized for the gift, nor gone out of his way to make this day special for me.

He says that whatever he does isn’t good enough. And, I say that he doesn’t really go out of his way to think about what would be meaningful to me. It’s a lose/lose for both of us. One would think we could disengage from this cycle, but we don’t. I measure his love by his gifts, and he measures my love by my approval or disapproval.

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By tonight can I see that I use him as a way not to face my own limitations. I had a beautiful day. I walked the city. And, I love New York.   I came home, and he had helped with an email issue. He did the laundry. I am working on my inclination to lean towards deprivation rather than abundance. While working on this, I will say, today I was abundantly small-minded. Maybe, just maybe, soon I will be able to say I am abundantly grateful. Until then, I will employ patience, first with myself, and then with Larry, and, Emma, our daughter.

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