Inspired by a movie she had seen, for her thirteenth birthday, Shania asked to go to Hawaii; we have been to there a couple of times ~ ten years ago but she was only a couple of years old, with no discernible memory. With frequent flier miles, I booked a late August trip to Maui. This would be our end of the summer 2018 father-daughter trip – as much of a gift for me – as to her!
I lost my father when I was eighteen; I have memories with him on our birthdays, and day-to-day life, him telling me about what I should my college major should be – more of the transactional stuff. One of my regrets is not having enough “happy memories” with him or, “care-free” time, where we experienced joy, together.
I decided, early on, I wouldn’t wait for these “happiness moments” to just show up! Instead, co-create, with my own children, amazing memories of joy. One day, they can look back to their childhood and adult times, and be able to say, we had some amazing times together!
We are fortunate to be born (or have migrated) to the only country in the world, where the Pursuit of Happiness is a constitutional right. Just like anything else, In addition to providing a loving and caring home, we have the responsibility to show our children that happiness is attainable by design. It may require hard work (funding), and some planning – but happiness doesn’t (have to) accidentally show up at our doorstep – we can go searching for it and attain it. By doing so, we leave our children experiences of joy – this way, later in life, they can go searching for, or designing their own happiness.
To do this, first, you need to know what makes you happy in the first place; a day kayaking on calm waters? Cooking an amazing meal together, a library full of books, hunting for food-trucks, or some dare-devil adventure somewhere! Each of us have different expectation and certain things fill us with joy (and others with anxiety)!
Once we understand and accept your own source of happines, you can be a lot more deliberate about creating opportunities to do more of that and and deliberately plan “memory making” in your life.
If we don’t plan for happiness, life, and especially work, consumes most of our time!
Hawaii, is an ideal place to go searching for and creating amazing memories! We planned eight days in the island of Maui; amazing tropical setting, sunsets, blue skies, sparkling clear seas, marine and botanical examples, amongst a super-kind, warm, easy-going and hospitable people.
Having traveled ~ 14 hours, we arrived at the hotel with fresh juice and a traditional welcome garland; within minutes, we were enjoying the infinity pool overlooking the blue ocean and ordering lunch/cocktails. Late afternoon, we took a nap and set out to enjoy Kihei and watching one of those magical Hawaiian sunsets.
Over the next 7 days, we went biking down from Haleakala volcano, experienced seven micro-climates in a matter of 3 hours, parasailed off Kahaina, snorkeled off the natural island of Mahana. On the way back from our snorkeling trip, we met a family of dophins and large sea turtles. We collected matching souvenir t-shirts, went searching for fresh coconut water, looking for island sushi, sashimi and poke bowls.
Shania marveled at Jeeps on the resout; so I surprised her with a jeep rental for a day, which she kept hugging; later, we took the treacherously winding northern track of the island which becomes a one-way road for about 20 miles – which means at times you have to back up for the incoming traffic to pass – while looking down at scary elevations at the same time! Shania said this was one of the scariest “roller coaster” rides she had ever taken. On this journey, we stopped and checked out waterfalls, bamboo forests, local artists galleries and amazingly spectacular vista, complete with ocean blow-outs, rocks, flowers the crashing waves.
Towards the end of this day, Shania told me that Maui would definitely be a choice for her honeymoon one day!
On the sixth day of our trip, as were ordering breakfast at the Kihei Café and someone mentioned a Category 5 hurricane with over 150 miles/hour wind barreling towards us and would arrive in two days. Anxiously, I called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get out of the island so that we don’t get stranded. Everything was booked solid and we had no practical way out.
Over the next two days the forecast for the storm fluctuated from “nothing” to “devastating.” Shania looked at me to see if I was worried or anxious. We discussed what are possible outcomes of the storm. What’s the worst that could happen – that we get stuck here for a couple of extra days – is it all the bad? We were in a safe hotel, with built-in power generators, ocean front views from our balcony, of a once in a 20 year event, on Paradise.
I guess it’s worth learning that happiness may have a darker side!
Over the next 48 hours, the storm did brace the neighboring Big Island with ferocious winds – however, left Maui – specially Wailea – untouched. We got some rain – but not even the monsoons of Florida – just a continuous drizzle for about an hour at time. We took long walks by the ocean every day, dined at the neighboring restaurants, spent quite a bit of time at the pool, watched Netflix and took long naps! Our original flight back home was canceled, and we spent an extra night at the resort and traveled back a different route. All along the way, the resort and the airline staff were impeccable and helpful in providing us information and helping calm our fears.
Today, as I look back at the pictures of those 9 amazing days, I believe, we have successfully created what we set out for, complete with a (unplanned) storm surge and canceled flights. We have experienced joy, anxiety, adventure, confusion, and a little bit of discomfort – the microcosmic cycle of life – all in one big gulp.
Upon seeing our social media posts, a friend sent a note saying that I am spoiling the girls and that no man will meet up to the standards that I am setting for them! My response: by setting out on vacations, I am just teaching them that happiness doesn’t come from anyone but from within yourself! We are creating memories of happiness that can be easily co-created, if you set a goal and put your energy behind it!
Since I have no confidence in after-life, the concept of Paradise is at best nebulous, in my psyche. Hence, an extra day of Paradise, complete with confusing weather patterns, strong coffee, a warm pool, Netflix, and gourmet Asian style is something I am accepting as a gift!
We are on a beach vacation in an exotic island; wake up late, mosey along a beautiful path adorned with pink water-lily pads on both sides, enter a beautiful open room with fresh papaya and guava juice to welcome the warm day; after a morning filled with adventures in Kayaking, retreat to our beautiful room overlooking a ravine, into afternoon siesta. Few hours later, after a wonderful head and neck massage on the beach, we jump into the pool, as the sun sets in the horizon.
There are moments in your life when you know, that you are having a truly amazing time. Enjoying life and sipping away!
These are moments, you don’t want to end.
Why do beautiful vacations end; or why does that fun party, when everyone is laughing and having a jovial time, have to come to an end.
Why does Cinderella always have to run off before the clock strikes midnight?
I have discovered that, integral to every episode of happiness is, that it’s fleeting .
On reflection, having been through some difficult times in my life, sadness is also episodic.
Neither high notes of your life, lasts forever. It cannot be permanent state of mind. Otherwise, it won’t be as euphoric or meaningful.
The key to extending happiness is realizing the temporary nature of it and letting go of our fears, when happiness shows up at our door, planned or unplanned.
For me, there is happiness in certain things: like a swim in a pool on a hot day, or a group adda with some childhood friends, accompanied with hot-milky tea; there is guaranteed happiness in a hand-crafted meal of my choice – a game of frisbee, volleyball, or racquetball. Or simply a walk by the creeks around Katy Trail. It’s those moments of happiness, when unadulterated joy takes over. And I keep wishing that these good times never end!
Every day, do more of what makes you happy; hang around people who add to your happiness. Conversely, abandon things that you don’t care for and filter out those people who add negativity in your life. This is a choice only you can make. And yes, you can detox your life from toxicity that comes from some of what surround us.
Take a piece of paper and write a list of 10 things that made you happy in the last 30 days. Next Sunday, take one-two-three (or as many as you can) from that list, and repeat. It’s really not that difficult.
This Sunday, I choose to do three things that I truly enjoy. Ok, maybe four things.
With Shania, I make Porotha (crepe like flatbread) with eggs and cranberry marmalade, and enjoy! Together, we watch the Sunday morning news shows and criticize the commentator on their botched journalism. In the afternoon we run off to a theatre to watch a great movie that has been on the wish list for a while. Later in the day, the pool beckons with cocktails. In between, somehow, I manage to squeeze in an hours afternoon nap.
And I am happy, for just a bit longer.
Fort Lauderdale is a quintessential beach resort down; as if you’re on one long vacation, 24/7/365; there’s not a lot of history, arts or super-character core community here. The core here is formed of water – it’s either the azure blue Atlantic – with amazing sunrises – or the magnificent, man-made, inter-coastal waterways that weaves around town.
Often my friends from elsewhere would say, you live in Miami; they could not be farther from the truth! In seven years, I haven’t ventured to Miami twenty times for pleasure! When you have a wonderful inter-coastal waterways, and a great beach – that you can actually access, without putting up with traffic, construction, need to learn Spanish, or less attitude– you rarely need to go to else where!
In fact, I rarely ventured west of I-95, hence, my bias is restricted to a small geography. To complete it’s touristy nature, you are not surprised by, the number of wonderful places you can go to eat, or just hang out!
As a tribute to my seven years here, I wanted to point out seven jewels that have the best foods and memories held for me, in this magical city of Fort Lauderdale.
While there are 25 other great places that may have great food, what authenticates these, are their service and warm hospitality.
Jukebox Diner: By far the best breakfast place in town; if you haven’t tried their Banana’s Foster French Toast – you have truly missed out. Bring friends and family and hang out at this bright and cheerful location in Pompano Beach, right across from the iconic Houston’s on the inter-coastal. Great value, great food and simply the best service from the two co-owners who will personally greet and serve you.
Chill Wine Lounge: hang out with friends, or your loved-one, order a bottle of wine with some olives or cheese, listen to music on Saturday evening, and just let the evening melt away. Very knowledgeable servers will recommend good wines, if you ask; the music scene, is mostly local and always lively. This is not a bar set for really young people – the crowd I experienced around 10 or 11 pm was usually in their 30s/40s and had a relaxed vibe to it.
J Marks: J Marks is a local restaurant with two locations; whether you want brunch on a Sunday morning, or just want to hang with a cucumber martini (appropriately named, A Day at the Spa), this is the place to go; great food, great service – just wonderful ambiance and warm, friendly service. We invariably went to brunch their after our Sunday morning spiritual services – with a few friends and family. Two of my favorite salads in town – their chopped salad with tangy lemon juice – or their Kale Salad – with Chicken!
Hot and Soul Café: relatively new to this area, I have found the food here to be eclectic and soulful; they call themselves, “world cuisine” – I found the flavor distinctive and cocktails and the different brews – a great combination. This is not a place you go for fancy dining – but if you want a great atmosphere, coupled with some unusual and fun food – I would definitely try this. By the way, do take a look at their amazing dessert menu.
Red Cow: If you like funky, open, industrial looking environments with a large screens playing cartoons from by-gone days – yes, Red- Cow is your place to go! Amazingly flavorful bar-b-q, tasty sides, a great selection of wines and beers and excellent service makes this a local favorite. Really, really good beef brisket – if you are into that! I always order the sweet-corn bread for a starter and then usually their toasted greens as one of my favorite sides. The owners of Red Cow also own two other great places, Coconuts and Foxy Brown – but I find this the easiest of all to hang out at!
TAP 42: This is by far my favorite place to enjoy a crazy-goat burger with one of their delectable brews on tap; food is always hearty, the sweet-potato fries are served on a wooden cutting board. Again service is excellent. The place does get crowded – even on week days; I have found a place to eat here on weekday afternoon. If you have a short stopover at the Fort Lauderdale airport – this is less than 2 miles away.
Sequellea Café: This is one of the first places I discovered, during the relocation from Denver. There aren’t a lot of places in Boca that I have experienced that has great service; Sequellea is different because it has great food and good service, consistently. Love the brioche egg sandwiches, Italian style coffees and the freshly squeezed orange juice any day. They also have great Gelatos. People can eat outside with their dogs or inside in the air-conditioned setting. Even though it’s set out in a plaza setting, you get the typical Florida feel, with palm-trees swaying in the gentle breeze
When someone has the opportunity to live in two of the most beautiful places on earth: Denver, Colorado and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it’s tough to go anywhere and say, this is more beautiful than where I live, or have lived.
After seven years of Fort Lauderdale, where life-long relationships have been built, and defining moments of truth accepted, Shania and I are headed to start a new life, in the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas.
There are cravings, to come back to this town – one day – re-anchor my heart in these azure blue waters. Until then, we will enjoy the sounds and flavors of the prairies of Texas!
I just booked a one-week trip to Napa Valley.
Just the thought of getting away, on my own, to a place that’s beautiful and filled with possibilities – makes me happy!
I have written about my Me-cations before; I try to go away, for a few days, to explore, connect with myself, and more importantly to really NOT do anything significant. It’s almost a meditative time off. There is something about being alone for a few days – thinking, reflecting, contemplating and adjusting to our journeys.
Most of the vacations I have taken in my life, with parents, friends or immediate family – were a set of compromises. They were also happy – to observe the happiness in someone else’s eyes! I remember driving my mother to visit her Alma Mater in Stillwater, OK ! I remember every hot and sweaty vacation in Orlando to see Mickey or Minny with my two princesses. Memorable family trips – but to please someone else!
The key characteristic of a ME-cation, is that you get to plan (or not plan) the whole thing. You don’t have to carry anyone’s luggage or eat at restaurants you don’t like, or go to see museums or art galleries if you choose to do so. For those few days and hours, you get to do things that make YOU happy – just YOU!
My first such Me-cation was at Provincetown in Cape Cod. I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, a bit away from the busy town; every morning, I woke early for a run in the misty roads of this charming New England resort town, with white picket fences and a beautiful shoreline. After a hot shower, I enjoyed a hot, home-made, breakfast– a hot cup of English Breakfast – and read the New York Times, cover-to-cover. I only talked to people, when I felt liked it.
Later in the morning, I rented a bike and explored the streets and surrounds of this charming town; I stopped and took pictures of interesting points; I rode up to see one of Provincetown’s seven beautiful lighthouses – sat there and just listened to the waves – in abandon.
Later in the afternoon, after a light, goat cheese salad and a glass of white wine, I read one of my favorite hardcover books…. and fall asleep to take a two-hour uninterrupted nap.
The most important thing about this journey is that, most of the time, I am alone; but none of the time am I lonely.
I was alone in Provincetown – but never lonely; I was with myself. And around me were lots of people who I have never met (and unlikely to meet again). What gave me peace, was to know that no one here had an agenda – or expected anything, in particular, from me.
There is something very cathartic of freeing oneself from all the expectations that we often have created for ourselves. As we grow in life, our families, children, and even (some of ) our friends, start expecting us to do certain things – or behave in certain ways.
When you go away on a ME-cation, you leave those expectations behind and decide to really explore within yourself – to test and see, if you really like who you have become.
Over the last three years, I have zip-lined in the rainforests of Costa Rica, experienced the markets of Cartagena and walked the white sandy beaches of different shores, searching for lighthouses. Sometimes, with a non-demanding friend – and sometimes, just by myself.
I recommend this concept of Me-cation to all of my busy friends and family, whom I observe getting close to exhaustion. But, I don’t think we need to get to that point, of a burn-out, to go on one of these. Instead, I recommend, once a year, to put aside a few days – just for yourself – to get away from all your chores and expectations; and do something that you really want to do.
You deserve it.
Some of us get into this mode of feeling guilty for taking this time off – for ourselves; sometimes it’s the environment that we live in that creates that un-natural pressure or guilt.
People who truly love you, will understand and encourage, your need to re-connect with yourself. In fact, every time I went on a me-cation, my focus and care for my two beautiful princesses only grew deeper. Nowadays, my eighteen-year old asks me when I am going away for a few days again!
I feel privileged to be able, to make this time for myself and the ability to get away… for a few days….to almost become a child….but without the worries of the everyday world. All that’s needed to make this happen, is planning.
I look forward to my Napa vacation with a few friends next; I want to go see the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque and maybe make it to Santa Fe again, this fall. So many places to see, so many opportunities to re-connect and re-charge.
Almost as soon as I come back from one me-cation, I start thinking about the next one; living life, one vacation to the next. That’s what life’s all about….. 🙂
Going to a concert at Red Rocks is awesome; going to a Jason Mraz concert at Red Rocks is super – awesome! Going to a Jason Mraz Concert at Red Rocks with your seventeen year-old, who introduced you to Mraz’s music, is one of those super –awesome, bucket list moments!
It is a mild Monday evening, when Daiyaan and I walk towards the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater. This is our fourth concert together; but the first one away from home.
Six weeks ago, when Daiyaan told me Jason Mraz was playing at Red Rocks, I wanted to experience this amazing venue and event with her. Three years ago, my then fourteen-year old and I started sharing each other’s music as a way of connecting. One of the first songs I was introduced to was Lucky ; that Spring, I wrote my first blog 15 minutes of Freedom mentioning how I decided to buy my first convertible driving in the open, with Lucky was playing on the radio.
When I hear Jason sing Lucky at the concert, I have tears in my eyes – thinking about all that has happened in my life over these four years. As if, through music, Daiyaan and I have traveled in some parallel universe that is somehow protected from everything else that happened in our real world.
The air gets chilly as the sun sets and the surrounding red rocks glow in the dark; a half-moon appears far away. We put our jackets on. Talking to your “almost-adult” child about the conspicuous smell of pot in the air, is always intriguing. There is a certain air of festivity around us. The attractive blonde next to me offers me her drink!
Christina Perri opens the evening with her amazing voice; when she sings, Jar of Hearts, I am overwhelmed; the lyrics resonate with the circumstances of a particularly difficult time. She also sings A Thousand Years and one of my favorites Arms; It is the perfect beginning to a beautiful evening.
When Mraz walks in, to perform his hip-pop-nuevo jazzy-folksy songs, all 9000+ people stand up and enjoy the bright music and dance along. With every song, I feel, there is a story, a connection to some part of my life. There are more than 25 songs and each one gets better, acoustically, and through vibrant melody.
When I hear the lyrics of “93 Million Miles”, it reminds me of my journey away from home:
“Oh my beautiful mother
She told me, son, in life you’re gonna go far
If you do it right, you’ll love where you are
Just know, wherever you go
You can always come home”
I dance when Mraz sings Bob Marley’s, “Don’t Worry, About a Thing “. He tells us to look at the person we came to the concert and tell them that “You are Loved” – sharing that moment with Daiyaan is priceless. When Daiyaan leans and puts her head on my shoulder, I know the joys of fatherhood.
At this moment – with rocks from maybe a million year ago surrounding me – I think, what an amazing stage God built, for music lovers. I feel fortunate, to be here, to enjoy this, with one my favorite people in the world!
This morning, walking through the Denver Airport, Daiyaan reminisces about yesterday and thanks me for bringing her to this experience. Normally, she is happy to return home after a vacation. Today, she wishes that we had one more day in Denver. She also adds that after watching Jason Mraz live, no other music sounds real!
I know we will be back in Red Rocks. Maybe it’s not a bucket list thing; maybe it’s just a new family ritual; where we travel across the country to be where God intended music to be – and someone as beautiful and talented as Jason Mraz or Christina Perri sets the stage on fire.
Mraz finishes the concert with his amazing I Won’t Give Up; on this great night, in this great location, listening to this great song, I can only think of Daiyaan and Shania.
When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
This week, one morning, I received a simple text from Wasima, “Mirjam is No More”. I stared at the text for a while, put the cell phone away and went about doing whatever I was doing; but I don’t remember what I was doing. I just wanted to not believe, in the news.
It’s easier not to acknowledge the news you don’t care for.
This morning, Daiyaan sent me a text at 12:30 am, “ I am looking at old pictures of Mirjam and literally sobbing”. On this cloudy, rainy Sunday, Daiyaan shows me a collage she has made of her memories of “Mirjam Nanu”; my heart stops beating for a second.
My teenager was sobbing last night thinking about all the people that she has met and how they have influenced her life. On the other hand, her 45 year old father just refuses to deal with it!
As if, if I don’t talk about it, it’s going to go away somehow.
The first time I met Mirjam, was ~ 14 years ago; I worked for a Swiss-Swedish conglomerate and had to go to Zurich for a meeting. I had heard so many stories about Mirjam, Peter and their wonderful family, that I had to meet her in person and complete this picture.
Wasima had spent quite a bit of time with them and ever since, had become a de-facto member of this family.
The first time Mirjam hugged me, I felt as if I have known her forever. All of her goodness seemed to seep into me with delight. I felt an instant connection.
Mirjam, in my opinion, is the epitome of a mother – caring, loving, yet nudging and firm. Strong willed, yet nurturing; always taking subtle details into account – what you like to eat – collecting small gifts or foods for you; always very much giving. Over these 14 or so years, I have met Mirjam maybe 5 or 6 times; in Zurich, Denver and also, at one of her favorite summer spots Paros – in the Greek Isles.
My most favorite moments with Mirjam were at her home in Stadel, where she was truly at her element; we would sit in front of the fireplace outside, and have breakfast or dinner and our conversation would flow like the meandering river – sociology, history, music, charity, friends or family. The beautiful garden, always lush and green (I only visited her in Summer) and the food always hearty and wholesome, the music always classical – the wine always splendid – and the joy of friendship, always fulfilling.
I remember falling asleep on a hammock outside of her Summer home in the Greek Isles; I remember the smell and taste of the olive oil in the salad she had tossed up that day; I remember how she took Daiyaan to swim in the cold waters of the azure sea, full of rocks below.
Mirjam gave me the joy of enjoying her wonderful concoction of Mueslix. On a nice summer morning, the wonderful Mueslix that she had soaked the night before – with fruits and nuts, is something I search for in European hotels.
When I was a little boy, an aunt taught me that, right around the time of sunrise or sunset, when you feel a mild breeze, you know that angels are passing by and kissing you with a breeze.
On many sunsets or sunrises, in different parts of the world, I have felt touched by a cool breeze. Every time, I have thought about how or what angels looks like. I wrote about this same feeling about a year ago, when Abdullah Chacha (uncle) left.
The last time I saw Mirjam, was in Zurich, one early morning, when she took us to the bus station. Greetings were exchanged and hugs were flowing. Little did we know that we would not meet again.
Maybe that’s what this life journey is meant to be; at meeting points, where we exchange feelings and emotions an then move away.
As we age, on sunrise and sunset, we get too busy, and don’t feel that breeze any more. Angels stop passing by us, or worse, stop kissing us on the forehead, when we really need a good wish.
In a few hours, when the rain stops in Fort Lauderdale, I will take a walk outside, around the time of sunset and see, if I can still feel that wonderful breeze that Mirjam touched my life with, for a very significant part of my adult “family” life.
I am not ready to give up on my angels, yet.