Tips to Avoid a Mediocre Life

Most humans, in varying degrees, are already dead. In one way or another they have lost their dreams, their ambitions, their desire for a better life. They have surrendered their fight for self-esteem and they have compromised their great potential. They have settled for a life of mediocrity, days of despair and nights of tears. They are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice. Yet they need not remain in that state. They can be resurrected from their sorry condition. They can each perform the greatest miracle in the world. They can each come back from the dead…”

Og Mandino, The Greatest Miracle in World

The quote sums up my life during our crisis of 2018. It took me a year to regain my identity and zest for life and to avoid mediocrity, an unfulfilled life without the highs and lows. Last week, our son experienced the roller coaster of highs and lows in his life. Like us, he takes calculated risks, always seeking to fulfill dreams.

Yet, along with the journey through a fulfilled life, one will experience intense lows with the exhilarating highs. Ron told our son, “You can live a life of mediocrity,  but you will never experience the highs and lows. This is such an exciting time in your life, and we are so proud that you are living without mediocrity. This low will pass.”

And of course, it did. So, as you tour my photos of cemeteries in Baja, Mexico, here are some tips to avoid a mediocre life.

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Compatible Travelers

“What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with incompatibility.”
Leo Tolstoy

I stood in the road to take a photo of the unusual vine-woven sculpted horse in front of Hotel Veneka in La Paz, Mexico. When I turned around to find Ron, he had already crossed the road and made a dash for the lobby of the hotel.

“Debbie, you have to see this place!” he shouted. “It’s wild.”

When you come to a fork in the road…Take It – Yogi Berra

You see…that is the difference between Ron and me. He travels without reservations. I travel planned and controlled. I take photos; he gets frustrated waiting for me to line up the perfect shot.

How do we deal with our incompatibility travel issues?

“Oh no!” I thought. “He is going to be kicked out and I will have to bail him out of jail or something.”

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Gino’s Ashes

All that is left of me are ashes.
A breeze could scatter me across the world;
while a piece of me would be everywhere,
no one would notice me.”
Náomi Poppe, Tears Worn Like Jewelry

As young travelers many years ago, our friends and family would ask us to bring them cheese, wine, or traditional gifts from the countries we traveled through. I used to shop for Christmas and make gift baskets with the items I bought from abroad for my friends and family.

Last year, when we were planning our trip to the Balkan countries, a friend asked me if we were going to Rijeka, Croatia. Her father was born in Rijeka. When I responded, “yes”, I could tell that she wanted to ask me something, but she was hesitant.

“This sounds crazy and I have never asked anyone to do this. Would you mind taking my father to Rijeka and scattering him in the Fiume River? “ Now, that was a first for me! I have always returned with travel gifts, never delivered them.

So, Gino traveled with me in my jewelry bag through the Balkan countries. His daughter laughed and said he always liked to travel first class. We arrived in his hometown of Rijeka, Croatia late at night. Our Airbnb was within walking distance of the bus station, and once we lugged our suitcases up a steep flight of stairs squeezed between the cathedral and the chapel, our host was waiting patiently for us at the front door.


When Gino was born, the town was called Fiume, which means river in Italian. It has had a tumultuous past with a tug of war among neighboring countries. Until after World War I, it was alternately under Austrian, Hungarian, and Croatian rule, during which period the buildup of the port and rail connections took place. After 1918 Fiume-Rijeka became a major issue of the postwar peace settlements. At first it was yielded to the new Yugoslav state, but it was returned to Italy in 1924 after Benito Mussolini assumed power and reneged on an agreement for a free state.

Gino and his mother, father, two younger brothers, and one sister lived close to the city of Fiume in the county of Drenova. They shopped at the lively markets daily and bought fish from the busy market in Fiume.

The port of Rijeka has been an important trading and commerce port since the early 1200s. Today it is the largest port in Croatia with cargos of mainly oil, but a variety of other general cargo, and a thriving fish market.

Rijeka is a vibrant blend of old and new. It has a diverse population with the majority of people speaking Italian because it was once part of Italy.

We walked around the city with Gino in my pocket. I hoped he would guide me to the perfect spot for his resting place. I wondered if I walked the same cobblestone streets that Gino had walked many years ago.

Gino, his parents, two brothers, and one sister fled to Rome during the turbulent 1940s and lived in a refugee camp. It was during this time that Gino worked as an extra in the movie, War and Peace, and was able to steal a kiss from Kathryn Hepburn.

These were mostly political refugees, including orphans whose parents had been killed during the war, individuals and families fleeing Yugoslavia’s communist authorities.

But, in 1956, Gino and his family made the brave decision to leave everything familiar behind with the hard times, and travel to the United States. The term Istrian-Dalmatian exodus refers to the post-World War II  expulsion and departure of ethnic Italians from the Yugoslav territory of Istria, as well as the cities of Zadar and Rijeka.

According to various sources, the exodus is estimated to have amounted to between some 230,000 and 350,000 people (including several thousand anti-communist Croats and Slovenes) leaving the areas in the aftermath of the conflict.The exodus started in 1943 and ended completely only in 1960. 

Gino’s family settled in Connecticut. He soon married his sweetheart, and they raised two children, one girl whom is my friend. She told me that her father always wanted to return to Rijeka, and she was never able to go with him. So, this was an opportunity of kindness for me to help get Gino back home.

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2020 Vision

“By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.”~Maggie Kuhn

We are the baby boomer generation. As I age, I want to learn to make my vision crystal clear so that my fears become irrelevant and not me. Easier said, than done. I know because I have been confined by my fears at different times of my life and have learned to push through my fears as well as make friends with them. My goals for 2020, the year of perfect vision, are told through some of my favorite photos of 2019.

“Sight is what you see with your eyes, vision is what you see with your mind.”

I have recently had two eye operations to improve my sight. My vision was cloudy…maybe a metaphor for my past life. Now, that I can see clearly, I want to envision my life filled with beauty. I am tired of seeing the ugly first. There is beauty in everything. 

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How to Make Friendly Connections When Traveling

The conversations, like many others I had with people on trains, derived an easy candor from the shared journey, the comfort of the dining car, and the certain knowledge that neither of us would see each other again.” – Paul Theroux

Living in Nicaragua on Ometepe Island for over a decade, we effortlessly made friends with locals, tourists, and other expats. I was thrilled that the world came to our doorstep where we could share our experiences with travelers new to Nicaragua, as well as move beyond what I call “surface conversations” with longterm expats.

Now that we are somewhat nomadic travelers for months at a time, I worried about making friends throughout our journeys. Was it possible to leave cherished connections behind and stoke new connections on the road? Would we be lonely? How do we meet locals and likeminded travelers and will those connections be fleeting or long lasting?

As we age, it is more difficult to establish connections with other adults for a number of reasons: work commitments, family obligations, and demands of everyday life. As a retired expat, it was easy to establish likeminded connections because we all left family behind, so we became family sharing our traditions, holidays, language, and lives abroad.

It was depressing returning to our home in the states. Most of our friends and family lived far away. We are retired, so the work connections we once had faded to Christmas cards and Facebook likes. Plus, we didn’t fit in anymore. We had seen too much, traveled too far, explored other cultures from different perspectives, and we live in a really RED southern state, so that gives you an idea of how we are or aren’t accepted.

Therefore, we travel. Travel experiences create opportunities that force you to interact with — and cooperate with — strangers. Although, most people don’t travel to meet people, we thrive on making connections with people from all walks of life and all countries. One of our favorite places to make connections, however fleeting, is on public transportation.

Our train was late. We had tickets from Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary. The Asian people with the giant pink suitcases were getting on the same train, so we watched them to see what train they boarded. We had reserved seats, but we had no idea what car we were in and we couldn’t find any car number on our tickets.

Trains appeared and disappeared and our new Asian friends remained sitting on the bench beside us. When, finally the giant pink suitcases in my peripheral vision moved toward the train doors, we ran to the closest car and hopped in. Just in time too because the train pulled out of the station as I took my last big step up into a crowded car.

We were jostled and bucked into school backpacks littering the tiny aisles. Excuse me. Oh, I am so sorry. Did I run over your foot with my suitcase?
Three cars were packed with school children looking forward to a week’s adventure in an old Russian army camp.

Upon entering the third train car crammed with school children, I was almost in tears. I can’t do this anymore. I need a seat, here…now! Just then the train rounded a curve and we were thrown into a compartment with three teenage boys and two empty seats.

I plopped into the seat, wiped my sweaty brow, and settled in for our trip to Budapest. One of the boys tapped my shoulder and spoke in broken English, “ Our school director rented these three cars for our school trip. She wants you to leave, but I told her we want to practice our English, so she said you can stay. “

And that was the beginning of a fleeting friendship with three teenage boys from a private school in Prague, Czech Republic who wanted to know all about our lives in the USA. We laughed, we sang songs, we discussed politics, we compared families and schools, we shared stories and we hugged goodbye when they left for their march with their suitcases and backpacks to the old Russian army camp.

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Identity Recalibration

“I don’t know who I am right now. But I know who I’m not. And I like that.”
— Amber Smith (The Way I Used to Be)

When I had my lower teeth pulled, I spent a lot of time gazing into the mirror to see who was there. Sometimes the reflection resembled me. At other times, I stared at a face that seemed similar, but was hardened by creases and dotted with age spots. But, the laugh wrinkles fanning my eyes were always there. That was comforting and pulled me back to reality.

A metamorphosis of my face took place when we left Nicaragua. The mutation was slow, but noticeable. I became a younger old adult. no longer could I fool myself into thinking I was young and vibrant, although inwardly I felt that way. The stress lines were deeper, my skin was saggier, and I could no longer identify as an expat.

Who was I and how could I redefine myself?

It took a year of grieving for a life I no longer owned to shake myself into a different…and better…reality. I am almost there. And it dawned on me that my passions were responsible for my mindset. Once I reminded myself that I create my life, the world opened up! I was becoming and transforming into me again…along with all the warts, imperfections, and sagging body parts.
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My Teeth Fell Off the Charles Bridge

“There comes a moment in your life when you realize that no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be fluent in Spanish. Or go on that African safari you’ve read about since you were a kid. Or be as excited as you used to be about catching fireflies. I keep trying to find my answer to life – and it gets more elusive the older I get.”
Kim Gruenenfelder, A Total Waste of Makeup

I awoke in the middle of the night in a palace in Prague, Czech Republic. I was drenched in sweat and whimpering softly. We had arrived in Prague the day before and we wanted to overcome jet lag, so we spent the late afternoon sightseeing.

Our Airbnb was close to the Charles Bridge, an historic arched bridge that crosses the Vltava River. There are 30 statues that line the balustrade of the old stone bridge. The oldest statue is that of St. John of Nepomuk. In 1393 St. John of Nepomuk was thrown from the bridge into the river where he drowned. In modern times it has become traditional to touch the toe of St. John here; this is held to bring good fortune and to ensure that the visitor will return to the city of Prague.

Now, neither of us are religious, and old statues of saints and religious figures don’t interest us, but I felt an urge to touch his worn toe for luck…it couldn’t possibly hurt. I wove through the crowds and to the foot of Saint John, where I touched his foot and silently asked Saint John to help us throughout our travels. I guess I wanted to be reassured that we would return to Prague safely in two months’ time for our flight back to the states.

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