Italy Photo Gallery

Italy Photo Gallery

Italy 2023

 

Day 1 – Venice

Day 2 – Venice

Day 3 – Venice

Orvieto

Day 1 Orvieto

Day 2 Orvieto

Rome

Day 1 Rome

Day 2 Rome

Otronto

Unseen Roots

Unseen Roots

A few months back, I went hiking on trails around Clingman’s Dome in Tennessee. It’s the 3rd highest area on the east coast. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, I’m telling you right now; you should go!

It’s not about the food or the shopping. It’s not even about the multitude of moonshine tasting.

It’s about the stillness that is to be found there in the crisp, clean mountain air. Air so fresh and gorgeous that no pricey aromatherapy oils could even come close to imitating.

In the middle of all that beautiful balsam is priceless silence.

There are no sounds of cars. No chatter of people. Nothing but silence.

 

It’s in that silence and pure air that I took greater notice of the trees around me.

Those intense, tall trees reach up to the sky with roots that grow deep in the rich unpolluted soil.

My feet were implanted on the ground beside these fantastic trees. In our stillness, each of us stood in silent watch of the madness reigning on everyday life below.

Somehow, my seemingly ever-present fear of being in a place unknown to me, along with my fear of heights, had dissolved into the crisp air. I felt a sense of peace and connection to the world around me.

I’ve read that trees communicate underground through their roots.

Some trees are part of an immense system connected by their underground roots.

When a tree falls ill, it signals to the other trees for help, which arrives.

We don’t see that connection, but it’s there.

People are very similar, maintaining a connection that all too often goes unnoticed. When one of us falls ill, few physically run to the aid of that person, but most will, in whatever language they use, pray for that person.

Did you ever wonder why?

Why would someone in California pray for the safety of someone in New York?

Because like trees, we are all connected with unseen roots that run more deeply than we can ever fathom.

When one of us rages, we all feel that rage. We all are affected.

This connection creates a need to journey towards mental, physical, and spiritual health, so collectively, we can get better – feel better – be better.

Without fear, I sat on the ledge securely fastened to the earth by the trees around me and looked out over the mountains covered in trees. Beautiful, fabulous, trees.

Eventually, I had to leave the pure-aired silence, but I haven’t left the awareness of the deep-rooted connection I have to that spot on the rock on a trail off of Clingman’s Dome, and the connection I have to the world around me. The connection we all have.

What Matters in the End

What Matters in the End

There is so much anger, fear, and confusion wreaking havoc on even the most sensible. The world is suffering from a pandemic in which no one seems to have a clear direction, and the masses are panicking, or are so disillusioned by the authority they refuse to listen and might be putting large populations at risk of infection.

Or might not.

We don’t know.

In the middle of everyone doing their best to remain healthy and keep breathing a horrific act of violence is shown to the world as a man is killed as a police officer kneels on his neck. The victim cries out for mercy, saying he can’t breathe and dies in front of our eyes.

The anger, fear, and confusion become tangible in that moment, and we can all see, hear, and emotionally touch the agony.

Violence erupts.

More lives shatter as businesses feverishly burn to the ground without discrimination.

The ugly face of racism rises like a pimple on faces for all to see.

The virus that began in an open-air market in China 8 months ago has mutated into a limitless rage of the human spirit.

Politics, race, sexual identity are weaponized as more of the masses fall ill.

The anger, fear, and confusion grow as people take sides (having lost) while losing their focus and becoming reactive to this infection of the human condition.

We’ve lost our ability to think in a time when we need to collectively critically think.

The virus rages on, and I am reminded of an important lesson I learned while watching the passing of people I love.

That lesson is that we die as we live.

During my grandfather’s last moments, he laughed. He always sought out joy.

In my grandmother’s last moments, she said, “I love you” over and over again until she could speak no more. She was all about love.

My father wanted to be remembered in his last moments. He was a fiery spirit who never met a stranger.

As the funnel cloud of our pandemic picks up more speed and debris, think about how you want your last moments on this earth to be and make your life all about that direction now. I am not implying any of you may die anytime soon, but why not set your intentions NOW for how you want your life to be in the end.

Me?

I’m going to focus on love, peace, and laughter. Lots of laughter.

My Dad’s House

My Dad’s House

As my Dad lay dying a few weeks ago, I began to see his body as a house.

His transition from this life to the next was not the first time I witnessed the passing of a loved one. I’ve seen it with my grandparents, my husband’s grandparents, my husband’s parents, and a brother-in-law.

Unless something catastrophic happens, our bodies take time to die. The process can leave the people sitting by the bedside watching in agony as a loved one’s body shuts down.

As I sat holding my Dad’s hand, I thought about how important it was for him to have these last moments of life on his own terms to do whatever it was he needed to do.

He needed to go through his earthly house – the place that housed his spirit – and prepare for his leaving.

Closing Down the House

I imagined him beginning at his front door, and locking it, then turning off the front porch lights.

With his family surrounding his bedside, slowly and methodically, Dad went room by room, making sure the windows were secured, the rooms were tidy, and then turning off the light of each room of his earthly house.

Hospice

The hospice nurses told us to try and keep the environment calm and peaceful. We were told that if someone were to yell for him to come back, he would try and wake back up from his slumber. Because he was in the process of dying, that could cause him great agitation and possibly pain.

I would look at his peaceful face and imagine that when people by his bedside began to speak enthusiastically to him, he would leave the room he was closing up. He would turn the hall lights back on, walk to the front door, turn the front porch lights on again, and unlock the front door.  Then, his eyes would pop open, and my Dad would struggle to speak to the person by his side.

After a short while, his eyes would close once more, and he would go back to work, closing down his house, light by light, room by room.

Time

Dad held on for several days beyond what was expected. The hospice nurse would say, “Did everyone say goodbye? Did he get to talk to everyone?”

To which my sister and I would say, “Yes.”

As I sat by his side, I mentioned my shutting down the house metaphor to the family members gathered around his bedside. Dad responded with a subtle nod of his head and a gentle smile.

It was important to give him time to go room by room, mentally and spiritually closing each room of his earthly house.

Room by Room.

Windows checked.

Lights turned off.

Doors closed.

Room by room.

I was the last of my family members to leave my Dad’s home, flying back after extending my flight to be by his side a little while longer. My Mom and sister live in the same home as my Dad, so he was not alone, but I was out of place.

When my plane touched down, my Dad took his last breath. It was as if he had taken his time in my room and would not turn the light off and close the door until I was home safely.

With his house in order, my Dad left this world. The last light in his earthly body darkened as the light of his spirit traveled to a new home.

I will miss him greatly.

How to Calm the Hell Down Without Spending a Fortune.

How to Calm the Hell Down Without Spending a Fortune.

 

Who has the money to calm down these days? 

Well, no one really thinks they do. 

Most people are paying off some sort of loan or loans or working just to pay their bills. Many do not have extra cash to do something as luxurious as to be calm, or so they think.

Here’s the thing, though.

You don’t need money to be calm.

You really don’t.

brainspace

Brain Space

What you need is brain space.

So, what is brain space?

Brain space is space in your brain that allows you to feel a sense of calm.

We spend our lives walking around with all these thoughts in our heads: 

gotta pay off this bill
have to make dinner
must finish this project
need new tires for the car
must buy dog food

…and on and on these thoughts keep going rattling around inside our brains.

You can’t be calm unless your mind is calm.

calm2

You could go to the most beautiful beach in the world, sit in the sand, and stare at the ocean, but if you haven’t learned how to calm your mind, you might as well be sitting in your living room staring at the TV because you are going to still feel all the stress you brought with you to the beach.

You can run 10 miles a day, and while you are running, maybe your brain settles down as you fight to breathe and keep your heart going, which, of course, takes precedence over any stressful thoughts. Once you stop running, though, that stress seeps right back.

Are you super forgetful?

Chances are your brain is too cluttered, leaving little room for you to remember.

clutter2

Cluttered Room

Think of your brain as if it were a favorite room in your house. When you aren’t calm, there are clothes, and newspapers, and old bags of empty (except for a few shriveled up french fries) fast food wrappers. 

How can you find anything in such a mess? 

You know you left your car keys somewhere in that room, but darned if you can find them with all those piles of junk. Maybe the keys are under the empty Krispy Kreme box that rattles with pieces of dried sugar? Maybe they are beneath the wet smelly towel that has been there since your lake trip three months ago? 

There’s so much garbage lying around that you just can’t find what you need.

You have to clear out your thoughts just as you have to clean-up that favorite room of yours.

But how?

It’s simple, really.

calm3

Be Still

All you have to do is take 20 minutes, sit down, or lie down, and just be.

Just sit and be still for 20 minutes.

Don’t solve any big problems or think about your favorite song lyrics. Just sit still and breathe.

That’s all you’ve got to do.

calm4

Nothing

Sit, breathe, and do nothing. Think of nothing.

As you sit there, breathing and doing nothing, make sure you acknowledge right now, right in these 20 minutes, you need nothing. 

You’re fine. 

You don’t need anything for the next 20 minutes. 

Keep breathing and acknowledge that you have nothing. Go ahead, say it to yourself. I have nothing.

You know what, when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose!

Now let’s take this one step farther. As you sit and breathe, say to yourself, I am nothing.

Now you might be thinking, Hold on there Laurie, I am a big muckety-muck in my community. I have all these people that rely on me.

Hmmmmm…could it be that having all those responsibilities are cluttering your mind?

So, let it go for 20 minutes.

For 20 minutes, all that doesn’t matter. 

Just let it go and be with nothingness.

Now, you might be thinking, That’s Impossible! I don’t have the time for anything as ridiculous as all this. Or, you might be thinking, I’m far too busy, or I’m far too important to do that.

Oh please.

You’re not.

Sitting still for 20 minutes will not bring ruin to your life.

What it will do is make room in your brain.

declutter

Declutter

As you sit still and breathe, your brain begins to pick up the trash that’s lying around.

It tidies up. 

It quiets down all those nagging noises that prevent you from finding calm.

As your mind begins to work through all those thoughts and memories that are chaotically lying about, you begin to feel more like yourself.

You become that person you were before you knew there was such a thing as money. You embrace that person you were before you knew there was such a thing as pain or anxiety or loss. You realize that person you are seeing within yourself has been with you all along, but the clutter of your mind has kept her hidden.

When you sit for 20 minutes a day and breathe, you begin to see who you were born to be.

You begin to experience calm.

calm1

Calm

Who wants to be calm?

Well, I’ll tell you who. You want to be calm because when you are calm you are able to do so much more. 

With a calm mind, you begin to see how you can easily finish those projects you started. With a calm mind, you begin to see how you can make your finances work for you and not against you. 

With a calm mind, you begin to see how you have control over who or what influences you.

With a calm mind, you have the ability to create a better life for the time that you have here on this earth.

You don’t need money to calm down.

All you need to do is sit quietly and breathe.

Childhood Dreams of A Life with Flipper

Childhood Dreams of A Life with Flipper

When I was a young kid, I didn’t want to grow up to be Miss America. I wanted to work in a boat with Sandy and Bud alongside a dolphin named Flipper. That seemed like the perfect life to me!

I can’t remember the first time I saw a dolphin in real life. Of course, I watched the TV series Flipper before I was even old enough for kindergarten. Back then, I was pretty confident that my life would be filled with days of swimming with my best friend, who would be a dolphin. We would solve many crisis situations together. I’d have a great tan and eat ice cream all the time.

Life

Much like a riptide, life took me far from that childhood dream.

I grew up into my 50’s relegated to standing on the beach staring off into the vast ocean at a small fin or two that would eventually break the water, then disappear.

There was that one time in Australia when my husband paid a ton of money so I could swim with a dolphin in Sea World. The dolphin’s name was Rebel and the experience, which lasted all of 15 minutes, was spectacular.

Then, there was the time a few years back when I was paddle boarding in the Gulf of Mexico, and about five dolphins playfully swam by my side for a few yards before disappearing beyond my reach. That was also spectacular.

Spectacular

Other than those two moments, my life has been far from my young life goals until I went to the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida a few weeks ago.

My husband, daughter, and I went while we were on her spring break vacation. We drove up to the center, and we assumed our experience for the day would consist of us sitting on an uncomfortable bleacher while watching a dolphin do tricks in the far distance.

We were wrong about that.

Intimate

We weren’t far removed from the dolphins, we were right beside them!

The center contains many netted lagoon-like areas with boardwalks and benches.

Dolphin15

One of the lagoons at the Dolphin Research Center

We were awestruck by how close the dolphins would swim up to the boardwalks giving us an unexpected intimacy with them.

I found myself taking more pictures of the dolphins then I did for my daughter’s senior prom.

Dolphins!

We would be watching a trainer working with some dolphins when a dolphin from a neighboring lagoon would call out to us, pulling our attention away from the action and towards him. We would walk over to the dolphin, and he would talk to us. Actually, talk to us, and then joyfully swim away.

Dolphin1

Can a dolphin swim joyfully?

Yes, yes he can.

The dolphins would interact with us playfully. It even seemed to me like they were staring into the camera and smiling when I took their pictures.

Dolphin2

At one point, a lady with a dog walked up to talk to one of the trainers. I watched in fascination as a dolphin swam up to greet the dog.

Dolphin8

A group of dolphins ate ice cubes from a trainer’s cooler like it was their favorite flavor of ice cream, which for them, it probably was.

Dolphin10

Dolphin11

They playfully stood straight up in the water. It seemed like one of the dolphins was looking right at me making sure I was watching!

Dolphin16

Flipper

Did I mention, some of the dolphins were descendants of the dolphin in the movie Flipper?

Dolphin6

 

Did I get teary-eyed when I learned this? Maybe.

We were all shocked to see that dolphins can playfully lay on a raft. I had no idea!

Dolphin12

At one point, one of the dolphins did a complete circle, rising up higher and higher in the air with the rotation of his body. He was flawless! An Olympic diver’s dream!

The Dolphin Research Center

DRC is a non-profit organization. The organization’s focus is on providing a healthy and good life to dolphins who are not able to live out in the ocean on their own. Sometimes they are not able to live outside of the center because of injuries or the inability to feed themselves in the wild. The Dolphin Research Center focuses its research on dolphin cognition, behavior, and husbandry. While spending hours at the center, it’s clear that the DRC is living up to its mission statement, which reads,  

“Through education, research and rescue, Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share with the well being of DRC’s animals taking precedence.”

 

If you are able, please donate to the Dolphin Research Center. Donations can be made here.

Here is a clip of the beginning of the TV series Flipper from Youtube to give you an idea about what life on a boat with Sandy and Bud may have been like for Flipper and me.

My husband, daughter, and I ended up spending 5 hours at the Dolphin Research Center, and we would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for the heat of the day getting to us.

Dolphin7

I have to admit, I spent the majority of the time we were at the center staring at the dolphins and remembering that childhood dream of collecting old unused shells from the ocean bottom with Sandy and Bud while Flipper swam with us.

We’d share a boat.

I’d be tan and eat ice cream every day.

Dolphin19

Love the One You’re With

Love the One You’re With

There is so much anger, fear, and confusion wreaking havoc on even the most sensible. The world is suffering from a pandemic in which no one seems to have a clear direction, and the masses are panicking, or are so disillusioned by the authority they refuse to listen and might be putting large populations at risk of infection.

Or might not.

We don’t know.

In the middle of everyone doing their best to remain healthy and keep breathing a horrific act of violence is shown to the world as a man is killed as a police officer kneels on his neck. The victim cries out for mercy, saying he can’t breathe and dies in front of our eyes.

The anger, fear, and confusion become tangible in that moment, and we can all see, hear, and emotionally touch the agony.

Violence erupts.

More lives shatter as businesses feverishly burn to the ground without discrimination.

The ugly face of racism rises like a pimple on faces for all to see.

The virus that began in an open-air market in China 8 months ago has mutated into a limitless rage of the human spirit.

Politics, race, sexual identity are weaponized as more of the masses fall ill.

The anger, fear, and confusion grow as people take sides (having lost) while losing their focus and becoming reactive to this infection of the human condition.

We’ve lost our ability to think in a time when we need to collectively critically think.

The virus rages on, and I am reminded of an important lesson I learned while watching the passing of people I love.

That lesson is that we die as we live.

During my grandfather’s last moments, he laughed. He always sought out joy.

In my grandmother’s last moments, she said, “I love you” over and over again until she could speak no more. She was all about love.

My father wanted to be remembered in his last moments. He was a fiery spirit who never met a stranger.

As the funnel cloud of our pandemic picks up more speed and debris, think about how you want your last moments on this earth to be and make your life all about that direction now. I am not implying any of you may die anytime soon, but why not set your intentions NOW for how you want your life to be in the end.

Me?

I’m going to focus on love, peace, and laughter. Lots of laughter.

Don’t Give Crap to the Needy.

Don’t Give Crap to the Needy.

There is so much anger, fear, and confusion wreaking havoc on even the most sensible. The world is suffering from a pandemic in which no one seems to have a clear direction, and the masses are panicking, or are so disillusioned by the authority they refuse to listen and might be putting large populations at risk of infection.

Or might not.

We don’t know.

In the middle of everyone doing their best to remain healthy and keep breathing a horrific act of violence is shown to the world as a man is killed as a police officer kneels on his neck. The victim cries out for mercy, saying he can’t breathe and dies in front of our eyes.

The anger, fear, and confusion become tangible in that moment, and we can all see, hear, and emotionally touch the agony.

Violence erupts.

More lives shatter as businesses feverishly burn to the ground without discrimination.

The ugly face of racism rises like a pimple on faces for all to see.

The virus that began in an open-air market in China 8 months ago has mutated into a limitless rage of the human spirit.

Politics, race, sexual identity are weaponized as more of the masses fall ill.

The anger, fear, and confusion grow as people take sides (having lost) while losing their focus and becoming reactive to this infection of the human condition.

We’ve lost our ability to think in a time when we need to collectively critically think.

The virus rages on, and I am reminded of an important lesson I learned while watching the passing of people I love.

That lesson is that we die as we live.

During my grandfather’s last moments, he laughed. He always sought out joy.

In my grandmother’s last moments, she said, “I love you” over and over again until she could speak no more. She was all about love.

My father wanted to be remembered in his last moments. He was a fiery spirit who never met a stranger.

As the funnel cloud of our pandemic picks up more speed and debris, think about how you want your last moments on this earth to be and make your life all about that direction now. I am not implying any of you may die anytime soon, but why not set your intentions NOW for how you want your life to be in the end.

Me?

I’m going to focus on love, peace, and laughter. Lots of laughter.

7 Ways to Heal After Trauma

7 Ways to Heal After Trauma

You don’t have to look far to see someone suffering from a horrific event.

Mass shootings, marriage break-ups, malignant cancer battles. It all swirls above us like the funnel cloud of a tornado leaving us wondering which way to seek shelter.

Maybe you have recently witnessed the death of a loved one. Perhaps you are watching a loved one battle for survival, or it’s you who has battled just to live.

I have lived through some events including witnessing tragic death while living in Asia, and sitting by my daughter’s ICU bedside for 6 months as she struggled to breathe from rare birth anomalies (Please give my book a read. You can purchase it here How to Survive the ICU Experience I’d really love it if you did!). Then there was the time I had to learn to walk again after I blew my Achilles Tendon out while training for a marathon, and there was the car accident that left me with a mild traumatic brain injury. I’m no poster child for trauma, and many of you have suffered far worse!

Trauma is trauma.

Let’s be clear. It’s not a “those people” event. The events that bring trauma happen to “us.” All of us.  Although the events may differ, we need to learn as a community how to heal.

Here are 7 ways to begin the process of healing from trauma.

name it

 1.  Acknowledge the Trauma

I have had the honor to take several courses from world humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who often informs people,

“What you resist, persists.”

 

To work through the traumatic event, you first have to name it.

Own it.

Yes, this incident happened to you, but you are not the event.

Name it so you can move on.

rest

2.  Rest

Trauma can wreak havoc on your body affecting your nervous system and weakening your immune system.

Think about how your shoulders are up near your ears when you are dealing with trauma. Your neck, shoulder, and back muscles also respond to the storm trauma brings.

It’s OK to rest.

Put your feet up.

Relax.

Allow your nervous system to heal.

While I healed from a brain injury as the result of a car accident, my neurologist’s main advice to me was,

“Rest.”

 

It was one of the most important things I did while healing – rest.

We have to rest after a traumatic event.

Rest and repair.

reset

3.  Reset

Our minds can get caught up in the event that caused the trauma, and we can replay what happened over and over again. Even after some time, someone might say something or do something that may trigger your mind to loop back into the cycle of remembering the traumatic event.

As a teacher at a community college, I had fabulous students. Some of those remarkable students were soldiers newly returning from war.

One student of mine would bolt up in the middle of class when something triggered him. He would work through his mental mantras to reset his mind and then gently sit down.

To reset, repetition often helps, like repeating a mantra, or running, or playing the piano, or practicing breathing exercises.

Peaceful repetition can help refocus your mind and reset your nervous system.

 

One student of mine would go outside and shoot a basketball into his hoop when he felt the mental loop of trauma fired.

Find what it is that helps you reset, and practice it when you need to stop remembering the traumatic event.

 

eat

4.  Eat Well

Trauma can make us carb-hungry.

I find, too often, I reach for a chocolate donut in hard times.

Don’t do this!

You’ve been through a difficult time, and you need to repair. Just like a well-running car, you have to use the right oil and gas. Fuel your body well so it can rebuild.

Although I’d love to believe my body was created to eat large chocolate donuts, I know better. I react to life, and live life better when I fuel my body correctly.

While you heal, make sure you eat well as you rebuild.

 

For me, that means an increase in fruits, vegetables, and grains while eating healthy proteins.

exercise

5.  Exercise

When we exercise, those lovely endorphins pump through our system helping us feel better.

Your significant other ended things with you! You could sit on the couch and mope, or you could put on your sneakers and jog around the block a few times. When you sweat it out, you feel great.

My youngest daughter was critically ill for a very long time due to rare birth anomalies. I found that instead of sitting around crying about it, I could run and sweat those tears out of my system. The repetitive action of running not only helped me to reset my mind but also the act of physically moving forward enabled me to move forward.

Maybe you’re not a runner, but a walker, or an ice skater?

Find the exercise that is healthy for you, and get out there and do it!

positive

6.  Focus on the Positive

Once we experience trauma, we want to talk about it all the time. We end up wallowing in our sorrow, and it seems hard to see anything else.

Focusing on the negative won’t help you in your recovery. Yes, you have to name the trauma, but you name it and move on.

When I first learned to drive a few years back (OK, so it was many decades ago), the driving instructor told me something that stuck with me. He said that if you are driving and lose control of the car, don’t look at the tree in front of you. If you look at the tree, you will steer towards the tree and hit it. Instead, look at the open space, and that’s where you will go.

Look towards the positive, and that’s where your life will head.

 

That can be difficult when you are on the exit ramp from trauma.

Life is beautiful and well worth living. There is something wonderful going on in your life right now.

It might seem minor, but focusing on the positive will help you stay on track.

kind

7.  Be Kind to Yourself

Whatever the traumatic event is that you are working through, let’s be real here. You just went through trauma, and that sucks.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over the event. Remember you are not what happened to you.

 

Give yourself time to heal, and be patient with yourself.

In your journey towards healing, you may backslide. Lord knows I’ve reached for a donut or two in the not so recent past.

We are all human, and healing is a process.

Take time to read that book, take that hot bath, purchase that 70% off blouse from RueLaLa online. Wait, is that last one just me?

Know that whatever it is you are healing from, you can work through this and be better for the journey.

(If you are feeling uncontrollably lost, please reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)