Life’s A Bitch And Then You Die.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad always said this. While it may sound like the epitome of pessimism, it was just his dose of reality. His way of reminding us that we all have the same fate to look forward to. It’s how you live your life and treat others that matters.

Life is compiled of moments of happiness so tangible you’d swear you could reach out and touch it coupled with pain that takes your breath away. In the end, we all end up in the same place. You take those moments and you tuck them away to revel in or learn from as needed.

In my experience, those who suffer from death are the ones left behind. The ones left to our own devices, being swallowed up by our memories. Those who leave us aren’t hurting. They’ve done what we’re all meant to do. Mission completed.

Today, I visited my cousin Kathy. She’s battled cancer for a while and her time card on this planet will soon be punched. She knows this and appears to be content. As everyone around her dabs their eyes, she’s the same no-nonsense woman I’ve always known her to be, fanning herself dramatically as the attractive hospice nurse takes his leave, “That’s my future ex-husband,” she jokes.

Her sister sits with a large glass and they begin to fight over its contents. “You done drank that whole bottle of Crown. Are you fucking kidding me? That ain’t how you cope.” Kathy says. “It’s only my second glass and my birthday is tomorrow,” is her sister’s reply. Kathy fires back, “Bitch, that’s tomorrow! Don’t make me get up and jack slap you cause I’ll fucking do it. ”

Her sister breaks down. “This is how I’m coping. OK? I can’t handle this shit. They’re saying you’re dying and I’m just supposed to go on?” “Yes,” Kathy says calmly. “How?” her sister asks.

“You have pictures and memories and I’ll still be around,” Kathy says. Several minutes later they are hugging as Kathy continues her role as the comforter.

This is when I start to break. Here is my cousin, exuding strength and love when she has every reason to be angry as fuck. She’s 45-years-old and is going next week to plan her funeral. She has kids and a husband who adores her but none of that matters when your body decides to betray you.

She mentions a medicine that could dramatically improve her quality of life during this time but it’s $4,000 a month. It may as well be a million. I wonder how this process is for wealthy people. I know money doesn’t cure cancer but is the transition easier when you can buy the end-of-life comforts that are out of reach to folks like us? Do you pass easier knowing that your burial isn’t depleting someone’s life savings?  

Our conversations drift from family and the good times to those who are no longer with us. If I look to my right, I see the bedroom where my Uncle Gary took his own life not that long ago. My mind reels with the weight of it all. Why does it feel like death comes in waves?

My Aunt Tammy remembers that she just saw a great picture of my dad and pulls it up on her phone. It was a photo that I took of him during one of our adventures. We were at a brewery in Tampa and I was trying to convince him of the wonder that is craft beer. He has a pilsner in his hand, his cane between his legs, and a smile on his face. I love that picture. At the end of the day, he still preferred Yuengling Lager.

As we get ready to leave, I give Kathy a hug and tell her how much I love her. I think about all the times she’s lifted me up. She’s read pretty much everything I’ve ever written, sharing it on social media and sending me words of praise. Those moments have been priceless to me.

For the next few hours, my mind races with a million thoughts. I let myself enjoy the fact that my mom is in the driver’s seat and I got to spend the day with her. We travel across Lake Pontchartrain where my dad’s ashes were spread less than a year ago.  I think about all of the young, healthy people that are gliding along in life and will still not outlive Kathy because of car accidents and gun violence and whatever other bullshit it out to get us.

I admire my cousin’s faith and courage. She seems so peaceful and regal, even. If you didn’t know about her condition, you’d think she just had a long day at work and fighting the day’s fatigue. She’s a badass in the very best way. I think about what my impact on the world will be.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad was on to something. All you can do is live the best life you can and leave those who are left behind with a little bit of your goodness to spread along their path after you’re gone.

I love you, Kathy. There’s a spot for you in the book that I will one day write about this crazy thing called life.

An Interview With St. Nick


Yes, I am personal friends with the Big Man up North – Santa Claus. We go way back. So when I asked him if I could interview him, he was more than happy to oblige. I’m not going to lie – scoring major “cool points” with my nieces and nephews was a motivating factor in getting the scoop on St. Nick. I mean, how many aunts know Santa Claus! 

In this hard-hitting interview, I asked the questions that everyone is wondering. Read on to learn more (including how to make it onto the Nice List).

AG: What can kids do to get off of the naughty list and make it to the nice list?
Santa: Oh, it’s really not hard to get on the nice list. All you have to do is show respect for and be kind to other people. Even those who don’t look like you, sound like you or dress like you. And remember that being mean to somebody that is smaller, weaker, or just isn’t as “cool” as other people will get you that lump of coal you’ve heard about. Except, I don’t do coal anymore as I ’m trying to move away from fossil fuels entirely. I just use rocks painted black to look like coal.

AG: You eat a lot of cookies when you’re delivering toys. What is your favorite?
Santa: Well, it’s hard to pick a favorite. There are so many good cookies out there, you know. Peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and, oh my…snickerdoodles. I love them all!  But I guess if I had to pick one it would be chocolate chip with pecans.

AG: This is your busiest time of year. How do you plan to relax after Christmas?
Santa: Mrs. Claus and I will probably go someplace warm for a little vacation. Maybe to a quiet, deserted beach in Florida. Nothing too exciting, just a deserted beach where I can work on my tan and take naps. I’m partial to the Gulf Coast. The Redneck Riviera, if you will.


AG: Are the other reindeers jealous of Rudolph?

Santa: Not anymore. They were at first – especially Blitzen for some reason, but they’re all great friends now. You see, they’ve all got their own special talent and each contributes when they’re needed. Cupid, for instance, knows exactly how to talk us in when we land on a roof with a very steep pitch. Dasher is a real jokester, he’s great at keeping everyone laughing. And Vixen never ever gets lost. In fact, she’s our GPS. So Rudolph isn’t the only special reindeer, they’re all special in their own way.

AG: Have you ever gotten stuck in a chimney? What did you do?

Santa: I once misjudged a chimney in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I tried to slide out of my coat, thinking that would make enough difference in my girth to get me going, then shimmy on down without it and retrieve it after I got down. But it was too tight! About that time, with me squirming and wiggling in that chimney, all the cookies and milk I had been stuffing myself with released a giant bubble of air and I let out this huge burp! It was so loud, it scared the reindeer! But it made my belly small enough to let me slide on down to the bottom. It was a scary few minutes, let me tell you.

AG: How do you deliver presents to homes without chimneys?

Santa: At one time all houses had chimneys and there was no problem. Even in warm climates, people had fireplaces to cook in. Then people (grown-ups) started building houses with central heat and putting stoves in kitchens.  Suddenly, I had no way to get in! Fortunately, my head elf, Bernard knew of another elf who could make magic keys. He made me a set and I have never had a problem since. I’ve got my IT elves working on these keyless entry systems as we speak.

AG: How do you keep dogs from barking when you’re delivering gifts?

Santa: Oh, dogs know me and know that I’m not a threat to them or their families. Dogs can sense that I love them and want to be their friend. Also, I carry plenty of dog snacks in my coat pockets.

AG: How does Mrs. Claus help you prepare for the Christmas holiday?

Santa: She is a great source of cheer and merriment, which I really need when things get hectic or I just get tired from the long days and hard work. She helps me find answers to problems that come up and tries to warn me when I’m about to do something stupid. I absolutely could not do it without her.

AG: What is your favorite color?

Santa: You’re kidding, right?
Note: I have no choice but to assume that Santa’s favorite color is magenta.

AG: You’ve lived in the North Pole for quite awhile. Do you ever think of moving somewhere new?

Santa: Oh, I’m not saying the thought never crosses my mind but the North Pole is home to me now. There may be places with better weather or more fun things to do but, no place could ever feel like home the way the North Pole does. Plus, I could never abandon Bernard and the other elves, and they would never consider relocating

You can follow Santa on his Facebook  Page:  https://www.facebook.com/bestsantainatlanta/ and ask him your own questions along with where he may be making special appearances this holiday season. 

Get To Know Chicago

“The Bean”

Your first visit to Chicago should definitely include a trip to the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St.). Since opening in 1887, this landmark serves as the official reception venue where the Mayor welcomes all of the city’s most  important visitors from presidents and royalty to community leaders and diplomats.

While some pretty impressive people have graced the doors, everyone is welcome to explore this beautiful building. As the nation’s first free municipal cultural center, the Chicago Cultural Center is popular with locals and tourist alike and provides dozens of ideas on how to fill your days, as well as being home to many interesting programs and art exhibits. In fact, more than 1,000 programs and exhibits are featured here each year.

World’s largest Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center.

While you’re there be sure to check out the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world spanning more than 1,000 square feet and containing around 30,000 pieces of glass.

To get to know the city even better take advantage of the Chicago Greeter program. With over 200 volunteers waiting to show you their city, the Chicago Greeter is a free and customizable guided tour. All you have to do is sign up 10 business days in advance to enjoy a 2-4 hour tour based on your interests. Whether you’d like to learn more about the food, architecture or a particular neighborhood this is the best way to do so. Tours are offered in over a dozen languages so there’s no excuse to let this opportunity pass you by.

If you just don’t have the time for a full tour or didn’t register far enough in advance, no worries because the Chicago Instagreeter has you covered. Simply pop by the Chicago Greeter desk in the Chicago Cultural Center Visitor Information Center for an hour-long walking tour. No planning required.

The Chicago Cultural Center makes it easy for you to learn and explore so next time you find yourself in the Windy City don’t let an opportunity to visit this piece of history pass you by.

Tim’s Walking Tour of Porto Alegre, Brazil

There’s no better way to spend your first day in a new city than by foot.
Lucky for James and I, Thoughtworker Tim Cochran was familiar with our current city of Porto Alegre and offered to show a small group of us  around via a walking tour.

 

The public market in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

 

We met at Mercado Publico Central around 1:30 for lunch. This massive public market opened in 1869 and boasts over 110 outlets ranging from meat markets to restaurants. It’s obvious that this is the heart of downtown Porto Alegre. Everything seems to branch out from this historic area.

 

Enjoying lunch at the public market in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

 

We enjoyed a lunch upstairs at Taberna 32 as shoppers hustled about their business. Here you will find a variety of meat, lamb and seafood usually accompanied by rice and salad. If you’re in a hurry you may want to grab a quick pastel from one of the many vendors as the service here was very slow.

From the market we headed west towards Praça da Alfândega (Customs Square) which is surrounded by several attractions. One being the Santander Cultural Museum now featuring the photography of Brazilian artist Miguel rio Branco in an installment titled “Blind Spot”. Here you can admire the art as well as the architecture of this magnificent building with its giant columns and stained glass ceiling.

 

Guests enjoy the work of artist Miguel Rio Branco at the Santander Cultural Museum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

 

Nearby is the Memorial do Rio Grande Sul which chronicles the history of Porto Alegre. Everything is in Portuguese so you may not learn much but it’s worth popping in for a look inside this historic building.

Next store is the Museau do Arte do Grande do Sul. This modern gallery has several floors featuring a variety of artwork. The most interesting for me was the collection of homemade weapons confiscated from prisoners as early as 2002. Helpful hint, don’t end up in a Brazilian prison if your weapon making skills are sub par. You’ll be at a disadvantage for sure.

For a more peaceful experience we checked out the Metropolitan Cathedral of Porto Alegre. Erected by Pope Pius IX on May 7, 1848 this classic church has a simplistic beauty about it and offers a peaceful place to retreat from the outside world.

 

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Porto Alegre.

 

We briefly ducked into Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana. This cultural center was once a popular hotel and is named after Mário Quintana, one of tBrazil’s greatest poets who lived there between 1968 and 1982. The building now houses theaters, bookstores and exhibits. Café Santo de Casa is located on the top floor and has a terrace overlooking Guaiba River, our final destination.

On our way to the river we passed by Igreja Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows Church). With its origins dating back to 1807 this is the oldest existing church in the city. With its massive staircase leading to an ornate, stark white facade this church is a must see.

 

The oldest existing church in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

 

Our walking tour ended on the banks of the Guaiba River where we settled in to witness the sunset near Usina do Gasômetro, an old power plant built in 1928 which now hosts movie theaters and art expositions. This is a popular place to see the sun go down. As vendors sell popcorn and churros, hundreds nestle along the rivers edge to see the sun dip below the brush.

 

Resting and waiting for the sun to set.

 

Tim’s walking tour was a great way to get a feel for this new city. Perhaps the best part was that everything was free. Aside from our lunch, we didn’t pay a dime yet learned so much about this southern city. Thanks Tim!

 

The famous sunset along the Guaiba River in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Lunch in a Brazilian Favela

 

My first glimpse of Bar do Cabo in the favela town of Pina.

Any good traveler knows that whatever city you may be visiting, if a local  invites you to a meal at their favorite establishment you don’t ask questions. Just assume that they know what they’re talking about and enjoy the insider knowledge.

That’s exactly what I did when an offer to eat lunch with some Brazilians from Recife presented itself. The fact that it was in a nearby favela (a Brazilian shantytown) called Pina only piqued my interest further.

While I’ve lived several miles from Pina for the past  three months, I have never entered the narrow dirt roads of rundown buildings and small alleyways. I’ve only looked with interest as my taxi passes by the entrance each morning.

Known as one of the poorest areas of Recife, Pina doesn’t see many visitors.  This is apparent as we begin to follow a local through the streets who turns to us and says, “Please, don’t be scared.”

As I walked with my friends down Rua Nanuque, a road so small the only way to reach it is by foot, I wasn’t in fear for my safety at all. Instead, my mind was wondering about the condition of the place I’d be eating. Back home, I’m the type of person who is always on the lookout for the health department grade posted at the entrance of a restaurant. I knew that where I was about to break bread would be a pretty big leap out of my comfort zone.

The entrance to Bar do Cabo.

As I entered the small building of Bar do Cabo, the many awards hanging from the shabby walls offered some peace of mind. Surely, no one has died or gotten violently ill at a place voted “Best Beach Bar” several years in a row.

In keeping with true hole-in-the-wall fashion, this restaurant has no menu. Whatever is being cooked in the kitchen is what you get, served family-style, of course.  If you’re lucky that will include octopus rice. Reminiscent of the Spanish dish, Paella this seemed to be the most popular entree with the locals.

Seafood risotto with octopus and shrimp.

In addition, we enjoyed shrimp in a coconut sauce and a lobster stew with potatoes and other vegetables. The food was so delicious and plentiful that I quickly forgot about my qualms and simply sat back and enjoyed both the atmosphere and the flavors.

At the end of our meal a bowl of sweet, gummy guava candy was placed in the middle of the table. One of our hosts joked that he loved eating with foreigners because of the special treatment. Apparently, he’d never been given candy to end a meal.

My instincts upon arriving to this tiny restaurant were to politely nibble a few small bites but I’m glad I didn’t. The food was great and I’ll never forget the meal that I enjoyed with great people on a small road in a Brazilian favela.

The lesson is to take advantage of being in a new place by stepping out of your comfort zone. By doing this you have so little to lose and so much to gain. You never now what once-in-a-lifetime opportunities you may miss.

Waving bye to the guests at Bar do Cabo.

 

You Can Find It At The Beach in Boa Viagem

Boa Viagem Beach in Recife, Brazil

Perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Recife, Brazil is the beach in Boa Viagem.  Known for having one of the most visited “urban beaches” in northeastern Brazil, there are miles of sand and ocean on one side and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see on the other.

The upkeep along Avenida Boa Viagem is considerably better than the rest of Recife with well-kept, clean sidewalks and small kiosks dotted up and down offering drinks and snacks.

The many caution signs warning of shark danger do not deter many from enjoying the cool waters, especially in areas where reefs form natural pools and protection from unwanted sea creatures.

The best thing about this beach is that anything you may ever need, want or imagine can be found on its shores.

Lay your towel on the sand or rent rent chairs from a vendor. After you’re settled, sit back and relax as an array of treats are continuously paraded in front of you.

Sunscreen, sunglasses, beach toys, dresses and even bikinis are sold by vendors. Very rarely are they pesky. A simple shake of the head and “não obrigado” sends them on their way.

The sun is making your parched? No worries. You can buy coconut water, mixed adult beverages, beer and soda without leaving your spot and all at reasonably – if not ridiculously cheap – prices. For instance, fresh coconut water is R2.50 – that’s $1.25!

It doesn’t get any fresher than this! Enjoying coconut water at the beach in Recife, Brazil.

The best items offered on the beach have got to be the food.  You can choose a fresh fish from one of the many beach vendors. Once you’ve chosen a winner, they’ll fry it and bring to you – usually accompanied with potatoes and salad.

Carts continuously move past you offering queijo na brasa (grilled cheese) with either honey or oregano, boiled shrimp, oysters, caldinho ( black bean soup with different meats), cashews, boiled peanuts, and the list goes on.

Grilled cheese with oregano.

The biggest effort you need to make for a beach day here is where to place your beach bag. After that, just sit back and relax. Everything is taken care of.

Boiled shrimp on the beach.

 

Havaianas or iPanema’s?

Living near the ocean is magical. There’s sand, sun, tropical drinks and flip-flops. Lots and lots of flip flops.

If the women here aren’t teetering in the highest of heels (which they love) then they are doing the complete opposite with a pair of comfy, colorful flippy floppy’s.

In Brazil the brands of choice are Havaianas and iPanema’s.

Havaianas were born in 1962 and claim to be the “World’s Best Flip-Flop”. From shopping malls to gas stations, you can find this colorful footwear everywhere you look.

iPanema’s were born in 2001 to capture the beauty and style of Rio de Janerio’s famous Ipanema Beach. These too are widely available across Brazil.

The best news is that both are ridiculously affordable starting as low as $15.

I am fortunate to own several pairs of each brand and can say the both offer serious comfort. I’m inclined to pick Havaianas over iPanema’s only because I enjoy variety of styles better. You color and combination choice are endless.

However, I am now a devoted follower of both and cannot imagine ever buying another pair of Old Navy flip-flops again. Sorry Justin Guarini.