AS YOU TRAVEL

This recent picture was taken at the 80th birthday party for my high school choir teacher a few weeks ago.

This recent picture was taken at the 80th birthday party for my high school choir teacher a few weeks ago. The blouse has a hole that is named “a cold shoulder.” This story also carries another example of that!

Below is an audio recording of a new arrangement for my song “Someone to Love You”

Someone To Love You 2/19/17 Copyright 2017 by Unger

Last week, I received a notice from WordPress to congratulate me on my seventh anniversary blogging. It was shocking to me. Has it really been seven years? Perhaps it was a lifetime ago when I began to pour out my heart on this blog.

7-year-wordpress-anniv

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt ready to open my heart again. There are a few reasons. While working with my naturopathic doctor, I willingly embarked upon a detox/cleanse that lasted six weeks. It was very tough and I finished it last week. I’m slowly getting my energy back.

Devoting myself to getting healthy has been my focus – especially since my dry eye condition has improved. I’ve emptied myself of toxins and I believe in some ways, I’ve emptied myself of the stress and sadness, which ruled my life for almost two decades.

I’m peaceful, but to be honest – the word “blah” comes to mind. I think being blah is okay, especially after living through the many traumatic things I’ve experienced. But I expect more from life. And that leads me to a very different topic that I’m going to start writing about.

 This is a perfect opportunity for me to share a baby picture.

This is a perfect opportunity for me to share a baby picture.

“As You Travel” is a line is from my song “Someone to Love You.” My musical life is deeply intertwined with everything I go through.

I wrote my song for my children. But the twist is that I hear my lyrics being spoken to me!

I’m actually willing to accept the possibility of falling in love again.

as-you-travel

So instead of writing about grief, loss, healing or songwriting – get ready – I’m going to throw out some humorous experiences as I tiptoe into the online dating world!

I’ll start with what triggered my willingness to supplant terror and sign up on an online dating site.

“As you travel to places you’ve never been . . . “

During my trip to Costa Rica, it was fun to taste new fruits. This one is named litchi. I found out later that it’s not actually from that country.

During my trip to Costa Rica, it was fun to taste new fruits. This one is named lychee. I found out later that it’s not actually from that country.

I was in Costa Rica with an old friend whom I actually hadn’t seen in 26 years. My willingness to take an adventure to another country with someone I hadn’t spent time with in decades was courageous and possibly foolish.

I have already written stories about my trip. I shared details of my physical adventures, which were fun and exciting.

I struggled being with my friend. I was confused and unable to share any of it. Now that four months have gone by, I am ready to write about my feelings.

Triggers, triggers, triggers. For me, triggers are land mines – they are situations where feelings erupt far bigger than what is currently happening. Those emotions are rooted in familiar past experiences.

Halfway through my trip, I was triggered.

My friend’s mood abruptly changed and she was clearly upset about something. I didn’t want to think she was upset with me, but I wasn’t sure. I sweetly asked her if she was okay. Without making eye contact, she said she was fine. She would respond to any of my attempts at conversation with one-word answers. I began analyzing every past interaction over the past two days where I might have done something that irritated her.

After a few hours, I worked up my courage and asked, “Did I do something to upset you?”

She replied that she was preoccupied thinking about her job back home. I wanted to accept that, even though the warmth I felt from her at the beginning of our trip was gone. I decided to be a good friend and give her space.

Once her freeze-out started, the remainder of our trip became awkward. Mealtimes were very strange. She wouldn’t respond to anything I said so I stopped engaging her. I watched people talking at the other tables as we ate in silence. I ate my food, excused myself after and then walked back to our room. For the rest of the trip, we never really connected again.

On our excursions, she chatted with other travelers and I did, too. I enjoyed my conversations with a few lovely couples. I found myself thinking, “I deserve to be with someone who talks to me – someone whom I enjoy being with.” One man lavished a lot of attention upon his wife. They both enjoyed telling me anecdotes about exotic trips they had gone on.

All of this triggered me back to how I felt when I was married.

The lack of intimacy, of holding feelings inside, of feeling lonely while being in the same hotel room was all too familiar. Inside my head I was crying, while on the outside I continued to smile.

Even if I had done something that upset my friend – it was unintentional. I was more than willing to apologize, but what could I do if she wouldn’t talk to me?

I suppressed my simmering frustration and tried to make the best of it. My trip was still a wonderful experience and I didn’t want this to dampen it. I saw a beautiful country and had adventures I’d never forget.

After I came home, I wrote a few friendly messages to my friend. She did not reply. If I had any doubt that she was done with me that put it to rest.

I decided to write her a letter expressing how she had hurt me, but then I tore it up. There seemed to be no point in sending it. She wouldn’t reply and probably didn’t care about my feelings anyway.

A month after this trip, I surprised myself. Perhaps the best thing that came from my disappointment was new insight.

I deserved companionship. My willingness to be open to it was huge for me. It was time for me to find the courage to begin a new adventure.

I went to an online dating site and created a profile.

Was I really ready?

my-child-i-have-a-wish

Below is a performance of one of my favorite original songs “How We Don’t Care.” It allowed me to sing my feelings in such a beautiful way not long after my trip.

 

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AMAZED AT WHERE I AM TODAY – PART 2

Working with a Naturopathic doctor has really paid off for me. These are only half of the supplements I take every day. I’m in “treatment” and won’t have to do this long term.

Working with a Naturopathic doctor has really paid off for me. These are only half of the supplements I take every day. I’m in “treatment” and won’t have to do this long term.

My post title is a lyric line from my song “In The Past.” At the end, I’m going to share a recent performance of this song that I’m very proud of.

Since it’s a new year, I’d like to take one last look back at 2016. My vocal coach, Hannah Anders asked me what my accomplishments were last year. I didn’t realize how much progress I made. During our lesson, we also came up with new goals for me in 2017.

There were two things I forgot to mention to Hannah:

I created 29 illustrations and I released five music CD’s!

I look back

This was one of my favorite illustrations from 2016. I added the sky (so I could make a print for my sister-in-law). Originally, the illustration had a white background and was used for a Tillamook yogurt label.

This was one of my favorite illustrations from 2016. I added the sky (so I could make a print for my sister-in-law). Originally, the illustration had a white background and was used for a Tillamook yogurt label.

This is how my illustration will be used. No sky was needed.

This was a mock-up of how my art was to be used on the label.

Below is a recording and transcription from my voice lesson last week. Click the link below to hear audio:

Lesson with Hannah 1-7-16 Blog Excerpt

HANNAH: We’re going to start with, what you feel were your best accomplishments in 2016. And this can be obviously singing, music, personal goals, personal accomplishments, and professional accomplishments – so this can be anything.

JUDY: Well, music comes to my mind because that’s why I come here. So I’ll go to that accomplishment. I guess I was just thinking of this recent performance. Reliability. When I came to you, I had this nervous feeling that I couldn’t rely on my voice. I didn’t know if I’d have a good performance or not. I mean I still have a little picky pitch issue here and there.

HANNAH: That’s okay.

JUDY: But what a difference! I think 90% of my performances now I’m putting on YouTube.

HANNAH: That’s so awesome.

JUDY: I could make less guitar mistakes, but that’s just practice.

HANNAH: That’s being human!

This picture of Hannah and I is from last summer.

This picture of Hannah and I is from last summer.

JUDY: I was just thinking about my journey. I was thinking about how it leads you to places you’d never imagine. I suffered with my dry eyes for four years. And I came to you – it was just a stroke of luck that I was calling around trying to find another recording studio. And because of you, I found Dr. Wang.

And it was because of Dr. Wang that I did the coconut oil and my eyes got better. Is that not a life-changing moment?

HANNAH: It’s huge!

JUDY: It’s so huge. I was just thinking today that I haven’t had the writing bug and I’m just getting a flash about what I could write about. Healing. Healing is not objective – it’s really subjective and I’ve decided that I’m healed. Doctors told me, “It’s incurable and people never get better.” That’s what I’ve heard. If I want to, I can feel that I have dry eyes some days – I do. But I don’t go to that place. I go to the place that I’ve healed from the suffering and I have a life back. Same thing with grief.

HANNAH: That’s huge. When you started your eyes were one of the reasons we had short lessons, one of the reasons you were afraid about seminar. You asked, “Is it okay if I need to step out?”

JUDY: I was in too much pain to be with people.

HANNAH: And look at you. You’re a different person.

JUDY: I know.

HANNAH: That’s awesome. All right, what else?

JUDY: Well, you know I got my health back. I lost weight. It was really hard to get my mind in gear. That was the hardest part. Doing it wasn’t as hard as getting there.

HANNAH: That’s the truth. Once you’re in the zone it’s easy.

JUDY: It’s getting the key to let yourself out of the prison.

HANNAH: That’s right.

JUDY: And the key is really the mindset; love is the mindset. And courage. I went to find myself a new arranger. That wasn’t easy for me – even on-line dating.

HANNAH: I know!

JUDY: Which hasn’t let to anything yet. It’s funny.

HANNAH: But it will. Arranger – I’m going to write that down. You took a vacation.

JUDY: Oh yeah, that took courage. There we go again. Everything is tied together.

HANNAH: Absolutely.

JUDY: Healing allowed me to feel better, to have the courage and then to act on it.

HANNAH: You went on vacation and stayed on your diet.

JUDY: Yes!

HANNAH: They featured you on that dry eye video.

“Turning Point” DRY EYE VIDEO – Judy Unger

JUDY: Yes! This is really funny. The name of it was “Turning Point.” And wasn’t it a turning point? I said to them, “Are you sure you want me? Because I’m not healed.”

And then, of course, at the very end of the video I say, “I think good things are ahead for me.”

HANNAH: That’s right!

JUDY: And my audio book possibility.

HANNAH: It was a good year. You got a lot done last year.

JUDY: I sure did. I didn’t realize it until you had me recite everything.

HANNAH: That’s why we do that.

JUDY: I love it!

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AMAZED AT WHERE I AM TODAY – PART 1

enjoying-performing-3I’m going to write a very personal story. (I hope my son will forgive me for sharing it.)

So many times, I’ve said this line: “I’m not a singer! I’m a songwriter.” I know that really isn’t true because I put a lot of energy into singing. I go to a vocal coach every week and perform regularly at open mics.

I didn’t sing for decades and once I rediscovered my love for music, it changed my life.

When I sing, I feel alive.

Music transports me somewhere else and my heart sings along with every word that falls out of my mouth.

These are lyrics from my song “My Dream.” I believe my message is one of joy, even when I sing songs that carry sadness.

These are lyrics from my song “My Dream.” I believe my message is one of joy, even when I sing songs that carry sadness.

Early last year, I developed a persistent cough that affected my singing. Until that happened, I really took my ability to sing for granted.

My cough was due to acid reflux and a doctor told me that losing weight might resolve my problem. After that, I committed myself to a weight loss program and have dropped 30 pounds already. Thankfully, my cough disappeared and my voice came back to me!

I share a close up of one of my paintings, Dessert Medley. I’m not eating these desserts now.

I share a close up of one of my paintings, Dessert Medley. I’m not eating these desserts now.

No chips or tacos, either.

No chips or tacos, either.

But I am into fruit again.

But I am into fruit again!

My first-born son, Jason died at the age of five. I shared music with him and grief swallowed me.

I have three other children and they are all adults now. When they were growing up, I forced myself to sing to them despite my grief.

But my oldest son did not like it. If I sang to him, he would actually cry and shriek. His tiny hand would reach out to cover my mouth.

My two other children did appreciate music and have beautiful voices. While in her teens, my daughter wrote original songs and shared her recordings on YouTube. She’s very talented, but lost interest in music several years ago.

One day, I told her I hoped she would sing again. It was a shame because she had such a terrific voice. I regretted saying anything because she snapped at me. With annoyance she said, “Let go of it, mom. It’s not happening unless I want it to.”

How could I not understand? When I was 23 (her age), I stopped playing my guitar. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I played again.

enjoying-performing-2

As much as I love to sing, I feel uncomfortable singing in my apartment when my sons are there. My sons like to sleep late on their days off. I don’t want to disturb them with my singing. But I admit that there are times when it’s very frustrating for me.

My oldest son has had issues with noise his whole life. At his own Bar Mitzvah, he couldn’t handle the music and went outside to escape.

One time, he gently said to me, “Mom is it possible you could sing while I’m at work? I can’t concentrate when you’re singing – I’m just waiting until you finish.” It was difficult for him to say that but my 26-year-old had been working long hours and treasured his downtime.

After that, I tried to work around his schedule. If I worked on my music, I wore headphones and sang softly so as not to disturb him.

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I’m going to describe something that happened last night, which surprised me so much that it’s hard for me to contain my emotions.

My son has a two-hour commute every day to his job. Sometimes he rests or reads in his car until the traffic is lighter. “Being in my car is nice because I like the peace and quiet,” he once told me. I hoped he didn’t avoid coming home because my music and singing bothered him.

Last night, he came home a little after 8:00 p.m. He walked into the kitchen where I was cooking and smiled at me. My oldest son, who never liked music, told me he had a confession to make.

He said, “Mom, I’ve discovered singing. I’ve been practicing in my car.”

To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

I grinned and said, “Wow! Honey, that’s fantastic. Singing is such a great release – you know how much I love to sing!”

“Would you like to hear me? Can I sing for you?” he stammered.

“Of course!” I said, trying to mask my shock.

“I’m not even sure how my voice sounds. I’m pretty nervous about this, but I think I can do it,” he said.

“Where do you want to sing?” I asked.

He replied, “How about in your bedroom?”

My bedroom view

We entered my bedroom. I sat down near my bed and he stood across the room.

“My heart is pounding – I’m so nervous! Do you see I’m sweating?” he said.

I reassured him and then I closed my eyes. I hoped he’d be less nervous if I wasn’t looking at him.

He chose the song “Hallelujah.”

It was quiet and he tentatively began to sing. I had to concentrate in order to hear his soft baritone notes. But as he went along, he sang more freely. His voice was so soothing and sweet, caressing my heart and soul.

I never imagined this would happen, that my son who disliked noise and music would want to sing to me someday.

He paused and asked me how he sounded. I effusively told him what a wonderful voice he had.

“Would it be okay for me to sing a little more?” I beamed and enthusiastically nodded yes.

When he was finished, I stood up and gave him a huge hug.

It just wasn’t possible that I could love him any more than I did at that moment.

In this picture, Jason is holding his brother. Jason died five months after this picture was taken.

In this picture, Jason is holding his brother. Jason died five months after this picture was taken.

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YOU’RE NOT THERE

This post is named “You’re Not There” because I am sharing a very touching music video created by the very talented Lukas Forchhammer. His manager sent this to me and I wondered if perhaps it was because I have a similar song named “You Were There.”

Last week I read in the newspaper that his group, Lukas Graham, received three Grammy nominations. How fantastic!

Aside from being very touching musically and lyrically, I appreciated the use of Photoshop where the Lukas’s father fades in every picture. That is quite difficult to do because it requires recreating the background in a convincing way. It’s actually quite amazing to watch this video.

It’s so interesting how our song titles are the opposite and yet carry the same message.

My song celebrates my mother’s presence in my life as I mourn her absence. Lukas’s song does that also, but his father wasn’t very old when he passed away. Since my mother lived to be 88, Lukas had many more years of absence to face.

I am very lucky to have had my mom that many years, but watching her decline was tough. I hated to see her suffering and I have friends with elderly parents going through similar scenarios.

Recently, I made a new acoustic recording of my song, so I am sharing it with my own video, as well.“

“You’re Not There” is actually a good description of how I’ve been feeling lately toward my blog. I just I haven’t felt much like writing new posts. I plan to write again soon because I have a lot of exciting things to share.

Thankfully, I’m in a good place; I’m extremely peaceful and relaxed. Writing was an emotional outlet for me and I released so much over the last 7 years. I’d like to see it as emptying my heart of sadness so I could be filled with contentment.

Only this past week, I actually started up writing again. Feeling peaceful was an interesting place to be as I revisited my audiobook. I am submitting my final draft to be professionally recorded by a wonderful actress/speaker/reader. I met Susan and when I received her test sample my heart was very moved. She read my words with such feeling and connection; I cried as I listened.

My book will be published on Audible in early 2017. Saying I’m excited about it is an understatement. I’ve refined my book over the last seven years and I’m close to the finish line now!

JASON MARK – PART 1 Audio book test sample by Susan

© 2016 by Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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MEMORY OF LOVE – PART 3

Click the blue links to hear my song:

Memory of Love Guitar & Vocal

Memory of Love Vocal Mix

Link to other stories about this song:

MEMORY OF LOVE-PART 1

MEMORY OF LOVE-PART 2

For some reason, purple roses fit well as my image to describe my memories of love. I cannot explain it.

For some reason, purple roses fit well as my image to describe my memories of love. I cannot explain it.

It has already been over a month since I returned from my thrilling vacation to Costa Rica.

I’ve missed writing, but I’ve had some “writer’s block” lately. So much of my energy has been directed towards getting healthy as I continue to lose weight on a strict diet program. This past week, I reached the milestone of 25 pounds. I’m also taking a lot of supplements through my naturopathic doctor, and that regimen (literally) has been a lot for me to swallow.

Since my trip, I’ve decided to carry that same spirit of adventure with me at home. I started out by doing something I never expected; I signed up on an Internet dating site. So far, all I’ve done is read profiles with curiosity. It feels very strange, but I like the idea that I am open to possibilities.

This past Thanksgiving was a perfect time for me to celebrate how much healthier I am. My nagging cough (related to gastric reflux) finally disappeared so I can sing freely again. Most of all, my dry eye condition has improved to where it no longer rules my life. I cry tears of joy for this miracle.

My music continues to give me great pleasure. Every other week, I perform two of my original songs at Kulak Woodshed’s “Twofer Night.” I usually pick ones that I’ve recently recorded for my acoustic albums. I’m still working with my wonderful vocal coach, Hannah. Her support kept me uplifted and excited about singing even when I had my cough.

Unfortunately, living with my two adult sons has affected my ability to record and sing at home. I am seldom alone in our small apartment and when either one is home I feel very inhibited to sing. This has been an ongoing struggle for me.

This is a montage of photos I put together to help me design my cover for “Memory of Love.”

This is a montage of photos I put together to help me design my cover for “Memory of Love.”

Last week, I had lunch with my mother’s former companion, Miriam. It was so comforting to be with her; our connection is very special. Miriam really understood what I went through as my mother declined with dementia.

I confessed to Miriam that I felt guilty because I forgot to light my mother’s memorial (Yartzeit) candle this year. My mother was very observant with this custom and I had promised myself I’d do this very thing for her. But somehow the date (which is different every year) wasn’t marked down on my calendar, and quietly went by.

miriam-shirley-judy

The feelings brought up by this were familiar ones. I was never religious the way my mother wanted me to be and I felt badly that I disappointed her. The fact that she was gone didn’t change that.

Miriam held my hands and looked into my teary eyes and told me, “Judy, you were there for your mom while she was alive. Everyone at the nursing home was amazed by your love and devotion. Did you know they still remember you and always ask me how you are doing?”

Her words helped me smile through my tears.

I chose to find a different way to look at this to feel better. Instead of lighting a candle, I memorialized my mother with songs. It was just as valid.

And coincidently “Memory of Love” was a song I had been working on that same week. I decided it would be the title of the next acoustic album I’d release, so I began designing an album cover for it.

Composing music is a spiritual experience for me. I crave it, but cannot force it to happen. In addition to the lack of quiet space and time, I believe my diet regimen and low energy has made it hard for me to feel creative.

My last composition, which I named “My Healing Song,” remains unfinished. I just haven’t found any lyrics in my heart to write down. I’ve wondered if perhaps the purpose of my beautiful instrumental was to heal me and words weren’t needed.

Even without writing a new song, I’ve enjoyed relearning my older songs as I continue to record my entire music library. I have over 50 songs compositions and I’m very determined to have an acoustic version of every single one.

What I love most about my music, are the connections it has brought me to other people.

My friend, Joni, took this picture after our sunrise hike a few weeks ago. I was exhausted!

My friend, Joni, took this picture after our sunrise hike a few weeks ago. I was exhausted!

Sometimes, inspiration comes to me when I least expect it. I have hardly promoted my music despite having many CD’s available for sale.

When a meditation app called “Insight Timer” asked me a few months ago if I would be interested in sharing my meditation album on their site, I agreed. I wouldn’t receive money, but I’d get credit and a link back to my blog and music. I considered it to be free advertising.

My meditation album (named “Set You Free”) can be heard on the right side of this blog. That album contains the last music I created with my former arranger, George. It has been over a year since I’ve seen him and I am still working through my sadness about that musical chapter of my life ending.

When I listen to those beautiful meditation songs, I get pangs remembering the struggles I had working with George; he did not like creating them with me at all.

set-you-free-front-cover-cd-baby

But then something beautiful happened and I found the fuel I needed to change my thinking.

One day, I went to the “Insight Timer” site to see if my album had been listened to.

Not only had thousands of people listened to my songs, there were hundreds of sweet comments for me to read. I replied to every single one.

I had connected with the hearts of people all over the world! The comments for my meditation song “Memory of Love” especially left me teary as I read them. What touched me most was the fact that my music was completely instrumental. Even without lyrics my song’s message was felt.

I share a sampling of comments at the end of this post.

kulaks-snap-md

I want to mention again how I’ve decided to carry a sense of adventure since returning from my vacation in Costa Rica. Thoughts lead to how I feel and can change everything.

Instead of mourning that I’ll never have another meditation album like “Set You Free” again, I began looking for a new arranger.

I’ve already found someone. He is very accomplished and so far has been easy to work with. Our session this past week was wonderful and I look forward to sharing more about it soon. 

Seeing life as an adventure has definitely made life more exciting for me!

it-comments-page-1 it-comments-page-2 it-comments-page-3 it-comments-page-4 it-comments-page-5 it-comments-page-6 it-comments-page-7 with-my-mom-at-the-nursing-home

© 2016 by Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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MY ADVENTURE IN COSTA RICA – PART 2

For this second story about my vacation to Costa Rica, my pictures only slightly capture the wild excitement I experienced!

Dive Picture 3

I am not a seasoned traveler, by any means. In the past, I usually traveled with my parents, husband and children.

Therefore, going to a different country as a single woman was huge for me. The most beautiful part of my adventure was the fact that my eyes were not bothering me at all.

Ever since my divorce, I avoided traveling because I was very vulnerable with my dry eye condition. But suddenly, the constant eye pain that defined my life for four years faded away. It all seemed to coincide with my newest instrumental song composition, which I actually named: “My Healing Song.”

On this trip, I made wonderful new memories. My water adventures were especially fun. River rafting and scuba diving were things that I had done with my ex-husband. I proved to myself that I was able to still enjoy these things on my own.

I wondered how I would I maintain my commitment to losing weight while staying at a resort with all-inclusive food. My wonder simply became determination and I ate exactly the things allowed on my diet program. I enjoyed everything I ate; the vegetables, salad, fruit and meat were delicious. I came home and discovered I had lost weight – a first for me while on vacation!

raft-1

On the fourth day of my trip, Lupe and I went river rafting in the warm jungle waters of the Guanacaste Province. I was a little concerned for Lupe because she was not a swimmer. Even with a life jacket on, I thought it might be traumatic for her if she fell out of the raft.

As our group hiked down to the rushing river, I felt slightly nervous. When the rafts were lowered down, one woman was so afraid that she chose to go back and skip the ride. Her husband turned around to join her. “That was a smart move,” his friends told him.

There were four rafts in our group. Our raft never flipped over during the trip, but the other three rafts did. One young couple requested it because they wanted to go swimming

From the moment our raft started bounced down the first group of rapids, I was exhilarated. In between moments of spray and splashing, there were smooth areas of gently flowing water. It was warm and breezy and the surrounding jungle was absolutely gorgeous. I had to scrunch down at times so as not to hit my head on a branch.

I marveled at how I could see every detail around me. I was wearing my new soft contact lenses and felt just the way I used to feel before I had cataract surgery. It was heaven!

raft-picture-0

Our guide liked to make a loud cracking noise by hitting his paddle hard against the water. When Lupe and I jumped, he laughed. But when he splashed us as a joke, I reacted with annoyance. My eyes were burning after water hit them because I wasn’t expecting it.

But after I complained, he even warned the other guides not to splash our raft in fun. He pointed to me and said something about my eyes in Spanish.

Here we are approaching a big drop. I had no idea what I was in for because the other rapids weren’t that rough.

Here we are approaching a big drop. I had no idea what I was in for because the other rapids weren’t that rough.

Our raft trip lasted about two hours and at the very end there was a waterfall, which was considered a Class 4 rapid. We had the choice to get off before it if we wanted to.

With a grin I said to Lupe, “Let’s do it!”

raft-3

I gripped the raft with one hand and held onto my paddle with the other as the raft began to fall forward. I sure wish I had an extra arm that could have held my nose closed. The rushing water roared over us and it felt like a hose was shooting water into my nose and out my ears! Luckily my mouth and eyes stayed closed.

raft-4

I was amazed that our raft didn’t turn over!

I was amazed that our raft didn’t turn over!

raft-6a raft-7

I experienced a terrible headache from the water up my nose. It lasted about five minutes and thankfully went away.

raft-9

I didn’t regret doing that last rapid once my headache passed. It was great seeing those photos and marveling at the bravery Lupe and I had!

I painted this watercolor a long time ago.

I painted this watercolor a long time ago.

Scuba diving was also on my list of activities to try. I made sure that I brought with me my old certification card from 1980. The last time I had gone scuba diving was about 12 years ago.
scuba-card

It was wise for me to pay a little extra for a “refresher course.” A wonderful young man met me at the hotel swimming pool one hour before my scheduled dive.

He patiently explained how to hook up the tank and regulator. We went over all the hand signals that my guide and I would use to communicate under water. I struggled strapping on my buoyancy compensator vest while floating in the pool. The heavy weight belt had me sinking under water and gasping for air. It was so exhausting that I hoped I’d be up to the big dive an hour later.

Fortunately, the young man had a huge smile and was very patient with me. I repeated all the things he had explained to me. I did forget to do the “smell test.” I laughed because it was a smart thing to do – to sniff the air from the tank before breathing it in.

And I do have to mention there was one fear I had to overcome. A long time ago, I had gone scuba diving where I was seasick the whole time. It was a terrible experience.

I was confident I’d be okay because earlier that week. Lupe and I had gone on a Catamaran for sunset tour. The water was very choppy, but I enjoyed the ocean wind and felt fine. I was elated that I hadn’t gotten seasick then and really felt like a new person!

After the lesson, I decided to skip lunch before the dive. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I snacked instead on an energy bar I had brought from home.

My dive was scheduled for 2 p.m. I arrived a few minutes early and waited along with another young couple. They were friendly and it turned out they were from California, too.

It turned out that I was the only scuba diver that day. The other couple would be doing SNUBA; they would be breathing from a hose connected to a tank above in 30 feet of water. I noticed they had a waterproof camera and I asked them if they wouldn’t mind taking a few pictures of me. They were so nice and I was thrilled.

The location for the dive was on a volcanic reef that was only ten minutes away by boat. I climbed onto a small motorboat on the beach and soon climbed aboard a larger boat. It roared through the water at high speed and we were on our way.

Suddenly, my sun visor flew off into the ocean. I was very touched and couldn’t believe that the captain turned the boat around to get it. My handsome diving teacher jumped into the water and handed it back to me a moment later.

The boat lurched to a stop. It was time for me to put on my gear. I opted not to use a wetsuit because the water wasn’t cold at all.

I sat down on a bench and attached the three snaps on my vest; the tank and regulator were already attached. I was glad about that since I’d already forgotten my lesson by now. There was only one problem. I couldn’t stand up!

I was laughing when the captain and dive instructor lifted me up from my armpits. The boat was rocking as I moved slowly with my big flippers slapping the slippery deck. I looked out at the water several feet below. Now all I had to do was take a “big step” while holding onto my mask. I closed my eyes and held my breath.

I hit the water and was relieved to be floating on the chopping surface. It helped having my guide right there next to me. He told me to let the air out of my vest and hold onto the anchor rope as I went down.

dive picture 1

My breathing was bubbly and noisy and I practiced clearing my mask. I was glad my eyes were okay and my contact lenses were unaffected.

Dive picture 2

As I descended, my ears hurt from the pressure. I squeezed my nostrils together and blew hard until I heard strange popping noises. I kept popping my ears until I was 50 feet down on the ocean floor.

I was in a fish tank! Schools of metallic fish were moving all around me. Because this area was a volcanic reef, the clarity was much better than other areas with silt from the rain run-off.

dive picture 4

I hardly had to kick and swim. I moved with the current and my guide pointed out things to me. A few enormous rays sailed by effortlessly. I saw a few menacing eels slithering through the rocks and an occasional puffer fish.

The time flew by and then the guide told me it was time to go back. I was surprised because I had plenty of air left. But it was fine because I had gotten a few leg cramps; I was tired.

Amazingly, the same anchor rope appeared in front of me. I tried to go up slowly, but in a few seconds I was on the surface again with waves tossing me around.

It took me a few minutes to unhook my vest, but I did it. I handed the vest with the tank over to the men on the boat. I grabbed their arms and they helped to pull me up.

I noticed my knee was bleeding from a small cut; I must have gotten too close to some coral. But other than that I was fine.

I collapsed on a bench and took deep breaths. I was very inspired and so proud of myself for doing this!

Dive Picture 5

On our last day, Lupe and I went to an interesting adventure park that had a beautiful waterfall and choices of activities. The main attraction was African animals that we could feed carrots to from a bus.

holding-carrots

It was very cool to feed the giraffes and zebras. I knew they weren’t indigenous to this country, but it was a wonderful opportunity to see them up close. I learned a lot about these exotic animals during this tour.

feeding-a-giraffe judy-feeding-a-zebra

After the safari tour, I chose hiking as my second activity and Lupe chose zip-lining. I was surprised that I was the only one that chose hiking in our group, so I ended up having my own personal tour guide. His name was Juan and it was fascinating to learn about the jungle from him.

fungus-group fungus-group-2

From the beginning of my jungle walk, I was entranced by the amazing varieties of fungus in the rainforest. I took many pictures of them while Juan listened carefully for noises. I had hoped to see an animal, bird or reptile up close. Even though I didn’t see anything big, I enjoyed looking at small details. We examined an amber-colored ant that was bigger than any ant I’d ever seen.

Juan pointed out a “thorny tree” for me.

Juan pointed out a “thorny tree” for me.

Juan helped me take a short video of a particular fern that actually moved its leaves when touched!

There was a type of fruit that Juan called “monkey fruit” because the monkeys loved to eat it. He was excited when he found some on a tree that was untouched. He pulled off a clump and broke the fruit open so I could taste it.

He asked me what it tasted like, and I couldn’t really describe it well – it was very unique. My closest description was sweet and spongy, perhaps a little like citrus mixed with a pear.

monkey-fruit-tasting

I was very glad Juan was my guide. I learned so much that day!

hotel-sunset-2

On my last evening, I took a picture of the sunset overlooking the hotel. I loved the “pink clouds in the sky” and had recently sung those song lyrics before my trip.

I had mixed feelings about my wonderful trip coming to an end. I wasn’t looking forward to the long bus ride back to the airport in San Jose at 3 a.m. Or the two flights to get to Los Angeles. But during those hours in transit, I was able to reflect on all my wonderful experiences in Costa Rica. I felt peaceful and looked forward to coming home and seeing my children.

At night, I find myself dreaming of jungles and warm beaches . . .

waterfall-background

Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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MY ADVENTURE IN COSTA RICA – PART 1

jungle-pic-judyMy nine-day adventure to Costa Rica was absolutely wonderful. Each day was filled with adventure and I marveled at the beauty of this gorgeous country. My post will serve as a lovely way for me to hold onto sweet memories.

It’s easiest for me to share about my experience with pictures.

The day before my trip, Lupe shared a picture with me that I hadn’t seen. It was of us hiking together in 1988.

The day before my trip, Lupe shared a picture with me that I hadn’t seen before. It was of us hiking together in 1988.

I wasn’t at all familiar with the geography of Costa Rica. My first challenge was to pace myself for the flight there. Of course, I packed far too much stuff. I carried a heavy backpack with me, in addition to my old classical guitar.

I hadn’t anticipated that it would take two full days to arrive at our resort. Perhaps there was little choice since it was a last-minute booking. But I wish the travel agent had booked our flight to the airport in Liberia, which was only half an hour from our hotel.

But that hardly mattered, because I was so excited to meet Lupe again. In Mexico City, where my flight from Los Angeles had a 5-hour layover, I met her for the first time in 26 years. I departed on October 14th, which was actually my birthday. It was a very long day, but such a wonderful one.

lupe-judy-reunion

It was so handy to have a friend who spoke Spanish. Lupe helped me go in front of a long line to check in my guitar for our connecting flight to Costa Rica. The baggage handler only needed her instructions and tip to do that.

The hours flew by as we ate lunch and caught up on our lives. Soon we boarded our flight that would take us to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It was over an hour before the plane took off, however. We were told there was too much turbulence from the volcanic activity near the San Jose airport.

I have to admit, that made me slightly nervous! But the flight was fine and we had such nice conversations with the people around us.

After going through customs, we were both exhausted as we arrived at our hotel close to 2 a.m. The next day, we were to be transported to our resort in the early afternoon. Our hotel was named the Riu Palace and it was in the province of Guanacaste.

Before leaving, Lupe and I walked across the street from our hotel and ate lunch at a Mongolian restaurant. It was perfect for me because I was determined to eat healthy on this trip. Lupe really enjoyed her juice smoothie.

mongolian-bbq mongolian-food

The rest of that day was very exhausting. Our ride in a van on bumpy roads took almost six hours. There were long lines at five different toll roads.

Regardless, I still enjoyed looking at the beautiful jungles and vistas on that drive. Sometimes, a volcano could be seen in the distance. At one of our stops, I was able to see monkeys swinging and gorgeous parrots in the trees above. I was enthralled.

It was dark when the van pulled into our resort, the Riu Palace. My heart jumped to be staying in such a luxurious place. All of my fatigue was forgotten as Lupe and I entered the white expansive lobby. We were hungry and there were five restaurants to choose from.

We chose the buffet and it was wonderful. I was able to eat so many things I enjoyed without feeling like I was overeating. I simply avoided carbs and desserts.

The next morning, Lupe and I were up early to be ready for an excursion. We found one that was very close to the hotel; there was a zip-lining park only five minutes away. I was glad because I wasn’t up to another long van ride so soon.

It was nice to see the hotel in daylight and as the driver drove off, I took a picture of the hotel driveway.

Hotel arrival

Lupe had no idea what zip-lining was, but she trusted me when I told her it was safe and would be fun. I had never done it before, but was willing and ready. It turned out that we were about to experience the longest zip-line in all of Costa Rica.

It was called “Superman” and required a special harness like an apron. We would lie down and travel one mile across a valley at 60 miles per hour.

But first, we went on a few easier zip-lines to prepare us.

Ready to zip-line

Our white resort can be seen on the left side. It was paired with another beige resort on the right side.

Our white resort can be seen on the left side. It was paired with another beige resort on the right side.

We were loaded with heavy gear and I was sweating a lot. I pretended not to be nervous. My first experience was terrifying – especially as I approached the platform at breakneck speed. I clenched my teeth and prayed as my body came to a sudden halt with a big swing onto the platform. Whew!

A tractor drove us up to where the Superman zip-line was. We put on even heavier gear. Lupe was very nervous and announced she would go back down with the tractor and wait for me at the bottom.

ready to run Judy and Lupe before Superman

I was calm and reassuring to Lupe, but I was actually very nervous. Together we watched the other people ahead of us being “sent off.” Each time it took about five minutes or more to set them up for the ride.

When it was our turn, I felt resigned and knew there was no going back for me.

A professional photographer took these next pictures.

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diamante-3 diamante-4

This was a completely different ride than the other zip-lines. I was hurtling fast and the wind was too powerful for me to keep my eyes open.

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I was told to open my arms before my landing, but I was late doing that because my eyes were closed. My helmet thumped hard against the foam braking apparatus. It didn’t hurt, but it scared me. I was so grateful that it was over and I was safe.

Lupe was exhilarated and loved her experience. She did the optional bungee jump off that last platform. I was too wobbly to even consider it. It turned out she was the braver one in all of this.

hotel-beach-viewLater that day, Lupe and I explored the grounds of our resort. We relaxed in the pool, which was wonderful.

lupe-in-the-pool relaxing-in-the-pool

Our resort had a scuba diving hut and I walked over to talk to the man at the front desk. I had my certification card with me from 1980, 37 years ago! I discussed the diving options that were available because it was something I definitely wanted to do later in the week.

The man told me I could take a snorkel out to the beach for an hour. I was excited to jump into the ocean and check things out. There wasn’t much to see; the water was murky from recent rains. I was told the volcanic reef areas nearby were much clearer. But the water was warm and comfortable; I loved it.

beach-for-catamaran

Lupe enjoyed the zip-lining so much that we signed up for a longer excursion the next morning. It was called a “Canopy Tour” where we’d be zip-lining closer to the jungle. Our trip also included a water slide, hot springs with a mud treatment and horseback riding.

The tour guide explained that the area we were going to was named “Buena Vista.” It meant “good view” and we stopped to take some pictures on the way up.

Buena Vista View

It was interesting when our guide pointed out a tree that grew the parts used for Maracas!

maraca-tree

I found the zip-lining experience on this particular excursion physically exhausting. The climb up the mountain to where it began wasn’t easy and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I was embarrassed at how difficult it was for me to jump up so the guide could attach my harness to the rope. There were 10 zip-lines to sail down and I counted each and every one of them.

easier-zipline-judy

Lupe was relaxed now. When one of our guides showed off by hanging upside down, she asked if she could try that. I was amazed that she did that!

lupe-upside-down

After zip-lining, I had the opportunity to go down a water slide. I decided to skip it because I would have to climb the same mountain I had struggled with earlier. Lupe did, too. She wasn’t a good swimmer, so that made sense.

I kept thinking how great it was that I had lost weight before this trip. Being fit was definitely a plus for these kinds of adventures. And I was excited knowing it was going to only get better in my future.

on-horseback

I was a little nervous getting on a horse because I had a traumatic experience on one when I was younger. But I put it behind me and stayed in my courageous mode.

My body used even more muscles riding to the hot springs area on horseback. The road was uneven, rocky and muddy. On the steeper parts, I held on tightly and prayed my horse wouldn’t slip.

The hot springs were incredible and just what my body needed. It was drizzling and the ground was very slippery and wet. I almost slipped several times and was grateful I hadn’t hurt myself. Our guide pointed out a boa that was slithering on the walkway behind us!

hiking-to-the-hotspring hotspring-area

I was sore for the next few days, but it was all worth it. That night, I relaxed in the hotel room and pulled out my guitar to play for Lupe.

It felt like Jason was with us. She reminded me of many memories, which brought him back to me in ways I hadn’t expected.

Lupe’s first plane ride had been with me on a trip to Lake Tahoe with Jason and my parents when he was only two years old.

As we talked about that trip, Lupe reminded me about the time she went into a casino with Jason in a backpack. We had gone out to dinner and had left her with Jason in the hotel room.

Lupe laughed as she reminisced. “I said, let’s go, Jason!” She said they walked into the casino and he was bouncing happily in his backpack. Lupe put a single quarter into a machine and it started ringing loudly. She won $300!

My parents and I were nearby and heard the jackpot. When I saw Lupe and Jason, I quickly ran over and told her she had to hurry out of there. A security man also told her to leave, but she was able to collect her $300.

As Lupe shared her wonderful memory, I was so happy. It was because all I had remembered about that vacation was how sick Jason was from the altitude there. His heart couldn’t handle the extra work and he cried constantly.

tuning-my-guitar-on-the-bed

Now I wanted to play a few songs on my guitar for Lupe. But when I started singing “Beside Me Always,” I began to softly cry. It was too real now and I couldn’t sing that song.

My emotions surprised me but I understood them.

Lupe was lying on her bed and took a picture to post on Facebook. I was very touched by what she wrote.

playing-guitar-at-night

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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LOVE LIVES ON

judy-and-jason-in-the-living-room

Twenty-four years ago, my 5-year-old son, Jason died. I am so grateful that on this sad “anniversary of the heart,” I am peaceful.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “getting over” a tragic loss. Heartbreak changed me into a different person. I believe I cried so many tears after my son’s death that there just weren’t any left for this later time in my life.

When I wrote Jason’s story in 2010, I began to heal. I didn’t have to remember every painful detail of his life and death anymore. Eventually, I was released from the prison of grief that confined me for almost two decades.

All these years later, Jason lives on in my music and our love continues to inspire me. He also lives on in the memories of people he touched during his brief life.

feel-me-with-love-you-share

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a very special woman I knew a long time ago. Like a shining star, Jason shined his light upon my life again in such a beautiful way.

Some of my memories are hazy, but I’m summoning them up so I can tell a very touching story.

This is a page from Jason’s Baby Book. Sadly, my entries were quite different than what I imagined when I bought the album.

This is a page from Jason’s Baby Book. Sadly, my entries were quite different from what I imagined when I bought the album.

Jason was a “cardiac baby.” He was born with a severe congenital heart defect. After having an emergency C-section, I was still in a lot of pain when Jason was released from the hospital ten days after his birth.

I brought home a new baby that was too weak to nurse or suck a bottle; he cried continuously. I was a very inexperienced mother and it was beyond anything I was ever prepared to deal with.

My mother and husband tried to help, but it was futile. At doctor appointments and emergency room visits we were told Jason would require surgery in a few months. He would become bluer and bluer until then.

My mother came over several days a week and I found out later that she gave up graduating from college in order to help me. But it was a grueling schedule for both of us and we couldn’t keep going. I wanted to hire someone who could take care of Jason at night so I could sleep.

Hiring a nanny through an agency was far more expensive than I anticipated. A friend suggested I put an ad in a Spanish newspaper to find someone more affordable. The only problem with that was that I didn’t speak any Spanish.

I followed through and immediately began receiving non-stop phone calls in Spanish. It was overwhelming since I couldn’t communicate with anyone!

One woman called who spoke English. She said her sister had just come to the United States and needed a job; unfortunately her sister didn’t speak any English.

My heart sank and I wondered how this could possibly work. Then the woman on the phone said, “Look – why don’t you just meet her. We can come over right now.”

I felt so desperate that I was willing to give this young girl a chance. Within ten minutes my doorbell rang. Lupe stood there next to her older sister.

Her eyes were large and she was clearly nervous. She was nineteen or twenty years old.

It was slightly awkward as I spoke with her sister because Lupe didn’t know what we were saying; she stood there quietly. I looked over at her and smiled. Then she reached her hands out to take Jason who began wailing and was slightly blue.

I noticed how she held him with confidence. She swaddled him tightly in a receiving blanket and miraculously Jason became quiet. I asked her, “How did you do that?”

She carefully showed me step-by-step how to fold the blanket and fit him in it. The blanket was then wound tightly around him and tucked in.

With great relief, I hired Lupe that day and she began working for our family immediately.

Lupe joined our family on a trip to Lake Tahoe.

Lupe joined our family on a trip to Lake Tahoe.

Having this young Mexican girl living in our household was an adjustment. We had a small town home and Lupe’s bed was in Jason’s nursery. Those first few nights, I got up to check on her and Jason. I felt badly about her being kept up all night.

Gradually I relaxed. Lupe grew to love Jason and was able to even feed him better than I did. She was wonderful.

My life improved greatly after hiring Lupe. I was even able to work and take illustration jobs again.

lupe-and-jason

I spoke to Lupe using a few Spanish words from a dictionary and we were able to communicate in our own way. Eventually, she learned English and was able to speak it fairly well.

Lupe worked for me for two years. During that time, Jason had his first open-heart surgery. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that time if it weren’t for Lupe’s help.

lupe-jason-and-judy
sad-babybook-1 sad-babybook

I can’t remember exactly why Lupe left. I was sad, but Jason was doing better and I had just signed him up for preschool. She helped me find a replacement but I really missed her. Later on, I heard from her sister that she moved to Texas.

Four years later, Lupe called to say hello. I became choked up when I softly told her that Jason had died.

She cried on the other end of the phone and I’d never forget her words. She was a mother now and had two sons. She said, “Jason was my first baby.”

Although Lupe lived in Texas, I told her that if she ever visited her sister and came to Los Angeles, she should definitely let me know. We could go together to visit Jason’s grave.

Jason's gravestone

Twenty years later, in 2014, I heard from Lupe again. She had done an Internet search and found my blog. I was so moved by her phone call that I wrote this story: YOU’LL TOUCH SO MANY OTHERS

playing-guitar-lupe-background

When Lupe called me last month, I was so happy to hear from her again.

I didn’t feel like she was a stranger because we were Facebook friends. I shared stories about my life on a regular basis.

Even if I didn’t understand her posts in Spanish, I always loved seeing her. Many of her pictures were taken in other countries and I was very happy for her.

It hadn’t occurred to me that she was solo in most of her pictures.

lupe-traveling

Lupe’s first words were, “How are you, Judy?”

I had so much to tell her and started out by saying I was fine. And then Lupe dropped a bomb.

She told me that two months earlier her husband had died. He was only 56 – the same age I was.

Lupe was anguished telling me how hard she worked to get him medical insurance. But he refused to see to a doctor.

More than anything, Lupe loved to travel. She begged him to go with her on trips, but he didn’t want to go anywhere. He hated leaving the house. So Lupe told me she began to go places alone. When her sister’s family went to China, Lupe joined them. After that, she signed up for a tour of Europe. She said, “Judy, everyone was with someone and I was alone. But I’m still glad I went.”

Now I understood her pictures.

She was very emotional as she shared how he had had a heart attack while she was on a trip to Mexico. She immediately she flew home, but unfortunately he died before she got there.

I hoped she didn’t feel guilty about her husband’s death and the choice he made to stay at home while she traveled.

lupe-in-china

We talked a little longer and I told her how I admired how she traveled alone. I wished I had the courage to do that. My eye problems held me back. I was vulnerable and depressed for almost four years. But now my eyes were better.

I had thought about traveling but wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. The truth was that going alone wasn’t very exciting for me.

Lupe reminded me that she flew on an airplane for the first time on a trip with me. She said, “Judy, when I went to Lake Tahoe with your family, I was so scared!”

jason-on-the-airplane-with-lupe-2

With genuine affection I said, “Lupe, I would love to see you again. Maybe you could come visit me or I could come to Texas to see you.”

She paused and said, “Judy, instead why don’t we meet somewhere – take a trip together. It would be so good for me. My house is empty. I feel sad and need to get out.”

My heart jumped as I quickly answered, “Lupe, that sounds wonderful! Where would we go and when is good for you?”

Lupe replied that she wanted to go as soon as possible. We chose mid-October, which was when my birthday was. I mentioned ideas of places we could go. I had always wanted to see the autumn leaves changing on the east coast. Or perhaps we could visit some National Parks I hadn’t seen.

Lupe laughed and said, “Judy, do you remember when you took me hiking?”

I did. There were many pictures of those outings.

She said, “Well, I have to tell you. In Mexico, people just don’t go hiking. I never did it before. When you took me on my first hike – I hated it!”

So that explained why she was so serious in some of our outdoor photos.

Then she laughed heartily and added, “But now I love it. It’s the best!”

I can’t wait to see live butterflies. Perhaps I’ll have photographs that will inspire new illustrations!

I can’t wait to see live butterflies. Perhaps I’ll have photographs that will inspire new illustrations!

I hung up the phone and couldn’t believe it. This was truly a door opening in my life. I hadn’t imagined that it would appear like it did – just at a perfect time.

In only one more week, I am meeting Lupe. We haven’t seen each other in twenty-six years!

Our trip will have us flying on an airplane together again and we’ll be doing lots of hiking (which is good, now that I know she actually likes it!)

I will be leaving on my birthday (October 14) and flying to Mexico City; there I’ll connect up with Lupe. Together, we will board a flight together to Costa Rica where we’ll be staying for nine days.

The young girl I remember is now an adult woman with many life stories to share with me. But I know she is deeply grieving and I’m hoping this trip will be a respite for her.

How do I feel about this adventure?

I am filled with awe and amazement.

My angel son, Jason, brought Lupe into my life and his light continues to shine brightly.

I never imagined when I wrote “Mother’s Message” what was ahead for me.

I never imagined when I wrote “Mother’s Message” what was ahead for me.

lupe-jason-and-judy-in-parking-lot

lupe-and-jason-in-bathing-suits

lupe-jason-on-the-grass

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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I TURNED MY LIFE AROUND

judy-on-the-mountain-2

In order to stoke my motivation to lose weight, I looked for some old pictures that stir wonderful memories.

For this post, I am sharing my feelings about something so personal that I’m amazed I’m able to do it. It isn’t easy to talk about being overweight and dieting.

I went through some old picture albums to add thinner pictures of me to this story. Remembering the time in my life when I embraced hiking and the outdoors was poignant.

Turning my life around is a lyric line from my song named “Clear.” My song speaks about letting go of fear. Trying to lose weight definitely confronts my fears of failure.

judy-on-the-mountain-3

“I’m a loser!”

”It was morning and I stretched leisurely in my bed. My body felt very strange; I began imagining ways I could describe it.

I was in a submarine. In the ocean depths I could feel the water pressure squeezing my head. The submarine’s engine hummed and my body was propelled through dark depths.

I was standing at the North Pole. My body couldn’t stop shivering. The strangest part was that I was warm and not shaking at all. My mind was just imagining those shivers.

I was a participant in a drug orgy. Yet I wasn’t euphoric or sick. I noticed that every movement was an effort; I was gliding in slow motion. My thoughts kept bumping into each other as a freight train ran through my mind. There wasn’t any sound; just a “chug chug” that made it impossible for me to think clearly.

All of this was related to the intense diet detox I was going through. I was on Day #5 of a medically supervised weight-loss program. (I’m not sharing which one because I don’t want to advertise anything at this time.)

im-a-loser

In 2012, my father died. My mother was in a nursing home and had dementia. I made the decision to end my marriage of 31 years.

Before I moved out, I had three cataract surgeries (I had what was called a “cortical chip” and the doctor had to go back for a third surgery). I had other complications and developed dry eye syndrome. My mother died the following year, two days before my birthday in 2013.

I carried grief over ending my marriage and losing my parents whom I was so close to. But it was my dry eye condition that overwhelmed me the most. I was frustrated, depressed and discouraged because I was living with chronic pain in my eyes.

Over those past 4 years, I devoted myself to my healing. Fortunately, I had music to soothe me but unfortunately, I also soothed myself with food. As a result, I gained a lot of weight. I wondered whether my weight problem caused my eyes to hurt more, but I didn’t have the strength to change my eating habits.

Not a day went by that I didn’t feel terrible about it. I let my problem mushroom even more out of control as I gave up.

judy-on-the-mountain

But deep down, I knew I was capable of turning my life around. I had done it in a huge way already by finding the courage to end my marriage. When would I be ready to do it again?

My readiness came after I had an endoscopy last month. While I was on a gurney recovering, the gastroenterologist told me that a 30-pound weight loss might completely resolve my condition.

My “condition” was a persistent cough that was related to gastric reflux. Being on acid blockers alleviated some of my cough, but I didn’t want to take them forever.

My motivation was because I still had a cough whenever I sang. Singing was my expression of feelings and my passion. I had to do something and couldn’t be complacent any longer.

In this picture, I’m with my brother, Norm, and sister-in-law, Jo. They are doing great at maintaining their weight loss.

This picture was taken a few days ago. I’m with my brother, Norm and sister-in-law, Jo. They lost a lot of weight last year and have done well maintaining it.

This is a “before” picture of my brother, Norm, with our father.

This is a “before” picture of my brother, Norm, with our father.

Two weeks ago when I had lunch with my brother, Norm and sister-in-law, Jo, I asked them a lot of questions about the diet program they had been so successful with. They both looked amazing and were maintaining a 40 and 25 pound weight loss respectively. I was so happy that Norm didn’t need to take blood pressure medication anymore. Clearly, he had really improved his health.

I’ve been on many diet programs in my life and have lost large amounts of weight before. But since having four children, I’ve struggled. 

He told me, “Jude, the first two weeks are tough – but then it’s great. You’ll be so glad you did it!”

This is a good opportunity to share my artwork. My father saved so much and that’s how I found this adorable old note.

When my father died I found a lot of my old artwork, as well as this adorable old note.

The next day, I made an appointment to sign up for the same weight loss program Norm and Jo were on. I liked structure and it was a program that I was certain could work for me.

I entered the clinic and was very subdued. For my appointment, I was instructed to fast so labs could be taken that morning. A nurse took some of my blood, then I was weighed and a lot of my body parts were measured.

I kept thinking about how hungry I already was.

When the counselor explained the program to me, I told her I hated feeling hungry. She assured me that the low-carb program was designed to put my body in a state of ketosis, which meant I was burning fat. I would be eating protein every two hours and I wouldn’t feel hungry, but would possibly have a headache the first two days.

She shared with me that she had lost 130 pounds on the program. Losing that much weight seemed unbelievable. I didn’t have to lose even half that much, so it would be a piece of cake for me. (Okay, I’d better watch my metaphors!)

Red Velvet Final Art Colored Pencil

I chose a ten-week weight-loss plan and signed a bunch of papers. Even though I was seldom negative, I confessed to her, “I feel like I’m signing up for prison today!” She smiled and reminded me that a positive attitude was much more helpful to ensure weight-loss success. Of course, I knew she was right.

I decided it was more like boot camp.

And as far as being in a prison, I was miserable with how my body felt in its current state. So that was my prison. This program was going to see me free!

I’m sharing a bunch of my food illustrations for fun. Okay, this was not my protein bar.

I’m sharing a bunch of my food illustrations for fun. Okay, my diet protein bar did not taste like the one above.

I left that day and was fascinated how the protein bar sample they gave me kept me full for several hours past lunch. It was a good sign.

I was set to begin the program five days later.

I met with a nurse the day before starting. She checked me and went over the lab results. I was relieved to know that on most of the tests I was in the normal range, but there certainly was room for improvement.

I was very interested in a test that was a marker for inflammation. I thought it might explain my allergies and even my eye problem.

I asked the nurse what my result for that test was. She called it my “CRP.” The words “highly sensitive” were next to my number. I had 11.80. And under that was a paragraph stating that anything over 3 led to a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Normal was supposed to be less than 1. Yikes!

Lots and lots of eggs, but no bacon!

Lots and lots of eggs, but no bacon!

I wish my shake looked like this.

I wish my shake looked like this.

The first three days I ate every two hours; mostly the program’s packaged foods – a shake, a protein bar, pudding, chili, as well as a low-carb yogurt and a scrambled egg. My counselor was right; I wasn’t hungry.

But by the end of the day a fog rolled in, also known as “the diet flu.” I also had a real flu shot the day before to compound things.

At every bi-weekly clinic visit I was given a Vitamin B-12 shot, a standard thing that was supposed to perk me up. Each time I was there I was offered an appetite suppressant, but I didn’t want it. I wasn’t hungry – just spacey.

I learned that on the fourth day, I would be able to have fruits and vegetables again. My counselor told me I’d definitely feel better after that. I was pretty excited about it.

falling-salad

No croutons – too many carbs. I guess “olive.”

No croutons – too many carbs. I guess “olive.”

Doing this intense weight loss program was something I had dreaded and yet, I’m so glad I followed through and signed up. I’m being reborn again!

My experience so far has been different from what I expected. I’m floating instead of hungry. The weird sensations have been fascinating, but slightly disturbing.

I do need my brain, as it was difficult to even write this story.

vegetables-five

The night before my fourth day, I was dreaming about which fruits and vegetables I’d eat. I had to admit that I was getting hungry. But it was okay because I could feel my progress and everything tasted so much better.

There was a knock on my door and it was my son. He said, “Mom, I feel terrible. I ate your container of chicken without thinking. I know that’s the only thing you eat – so I’ll go buy you more tomorrow.”

This looks awfully good to me right now.

This looks awfully good to me right now.

I looked forward to that chicken every night. I noticed my voice was shrill as I said, “Don’t tell me that!”

I was very crabby and took a deep breath. I didn’t want to be angry with him. Our refrigerator was pretty empty and my son loved eating.

Lately, I had gotten tired of shopping for food so often for both my large sons. Since I wasn’t eating much, this was a great time to make a change. I told my son I would appreciate him going food shopping the following morning.

I wrote out a detailed list with two columns: “food for mom” and “your food.” I wanted chicken, a few low-carb yogurts, lots of salad, vegetables and some assorted fruits. Then I jotted down a few items I knew my son needed.

I debated once more about letting him have a wad of cash to buy food, but reminded myself that this was an important step in his development. For God-sakes, he was almost 20 years old!

I never thought I’d be craving something like this!

I never thought I’d be craving something like this!

“I’m glad I can laugh about this now”

I was gone all morning and dreaming of my lunch. Soon I would have some warm chicken and a big salad. Which fruit would I choose?

I could feel my energy draining out of me. I needed fuel and soon I’d have some real food.

Because bananas are loaded with carbs, the portion size is 1/3. Not enough for me!

Because bananas are loaded with carbs, the portion size is 1/3. Not enough for me!

I drove into my coop’s parking space. I practically danced through the front door and asked my son how it went at the market. He smiled and said it went fine.

I was really pleased; it was apparent that he had even put everything away.

But I didn’t smell my rotisserie chicken.

I opened the fridge. My face was probably slightly contorted as I looked at an entire shelf filled with a cinnamon roll flavored low-carb yogurt. I said, “Didn’t I tell you to buy only 2 containers of yogurt? I know it was clearly written on my list!”

My son grinned and said, “But mom – it was on sale! You have to buy 10 to get the sale price.”

I began to launch into an explanation with him about sale prices and quantity. But then I decided it would be better to do that later. I really needed to eat!

Where’s my chicken?” I asked.

His face looked bewildered. He stammered. “I didn’t see any that was ready when I was there. And I forgot to check before I left. Oh, Mom, I’m soooo sorry!”

My brain began to pound. I couldn’t believe it. I was dreaming of it being right there on a plate ready for me to eat.

I was shrieking as I reminded him that only the night before, he had promised to get me some chicken. That was why he went to the market in the first place – to make it up to me!

He said quickly, “I’ll cook you some right now, mom! Is there any in the freezer?”

I glared at him, “I need to eat now, not wait for you to cook it. And it won’t be garlic-flavored like the container you finished off last night.”

“Okay, I’ll just run and buy some right now,” he exclaimed. He was halfway out the door, running away and trying to escape my wrath.

I yelled at him to come back. With every ounce of calmness I could muster, I said, “Let’s just eat lunch together and then you can get it later. I’m just going to make myself a nice salad. I can just make do with some packaged turkey.”

My son smiled and said, “I bought you mushrooms, carrots and bell peppers.”

I stopped in my tracks. “What about lettuce?”

He squirmed and said slowly, “Oops. I forgot that, too.”

judy-at-the-beach-hawaii-close-up judy-at-the-beach-2 judy-at-the-beach

© 2016 by Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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TAKE THE BEST AND LEAVE THE REST

This is a picture of me with Hannah, my wonderful vocal coach I’ve been working with since December of 2015.

This is a picture of me with Hannah Anders, my wonderful vocal coach whom I’ve been working with since December of 2015.

I love the concept of “take the best and leave the rest.” It can be applied to so many parts of my life.

I’ve had three wonderful voice teachers and have learned from all of them. Sometimes I’ve been confused when concepts collide and contradict what I’ve learned before.

This just reminds me to “take the best and leave the rest.” I trust that I can decide what is best for me personally. For certain, working with a vocal coach is not just about refining techniques and gaining confidence. It has also been great therapy for me.

I’ve been struggling and last week I saw Hannah even though I wasn’t feeling that great. Below is a short clip of us talking from my most recent lesson.

LESSON WITH HANNAH 9/15/16 BLOG EXCERPT

My eyes were so much more manageable since I went to an outside ophthalmologist earlier this year. But I wasn’t satisfied – I kept searching for something that would make them feel even better.

Because there weren’t any remedies left for me to try with my corneal specialist through my HMO, I decided to see a Naturopathic (NT) doctor. She came highly recommended.

Since working with her, my eyes are significantly better. I bathe them in coconut oil before going to bed every night. In the morning, they aren’t uncomfortable like they used to be.

Last week, I had an appointment for a follow-up with my NT doctor. Before my appointment, I visited with a good friend who lived close by.

My friend enjoyed camping and hiking with her husband. I listened to her share her recent adventures and felt a slight pang inside. It reminded me of what I had once wished for in my failed marriage. My latest news revolved around my health issues and the rat that plagued my apartment, so my sad feelings were understandable.

I shared with her how a few nights earlier I had heard a rat again in my closet. I jumped from my bed, threw open the closet door and hissed, “Shoo!”

My heart was pounding as I crawled back into bed. Suddenly, I heard a scuttle across the floor and thought I felt my covers moving. It was like I was in a horror movie; I shrieked and ran into my oldest son’s bedroom at 5 a.m.

He took a flashlight and checked under my bed and didn’t see anything. When he shined the light into my closet we could both see rat poops all over. He reached in and gingerly picked up a shredded, half-eaten chocolate bar.

I said, “Oh, my God, I probably hid that somewhere a long time ago and that animal found it!”

It was hard not to laugh while telling my story; humor always helped me. I appreciated my friend’s sympathy.

I switched from humor to being serious. I said, “I love how you go camping. I wish I knew what to do. I feel like I need to run away from where I’m living, but I have no idea where to go.”

She was thoughtful and helped me reframe my statement.

She pointed out that running away was a negative thought. Instead she suggested I run toward something positive and nourishing for my soul.

I wasn’t leaving my apartment because I was miserable. I was leaving to find some joy!

autumn-leaves-1

My appointment with my naturopathic doctor was enlightening. She felt the two rounds of antibiotics I was prescribed a month earlier had harmed my gut and worsened my condition. Also, my gastroenterologist had given me powerful acid blockers and she hoped I could get off of them as soon as possible.

This was definitely a case of “take the best and leave the rest.” I had to decide what was best for me. It was her idea to request an endoscopy, which was a very good thing indeed. And I was elated that my eyes were so much better – it seemed like the coconut oil remedy she had given me was working. But she also instructed me to give up swimming, because she felt chlorine was toxic.

I was struggling with depression and really missed swimming laps because it always cleared my mind.

With my new air purifier running 24/7 and my coop’s air ducts cleaned I felt some relief. I had my closet thoroughly cleaned and called for an exterminator to come out. A young man set plenty of rattraps in my apartment and was also assigned to place poison bait all around the coop complex.

I hadn’t heard the rat in my closet for two weeks. It was still hard to relax because I kept imagining the moment when a trap would snap shut with a squealing rat in it. I kept wondering how I’d dispose of the rat if it was still alive and I was home alone.

Because of my persistent cough, I gave up singing and recording my songs. Although I had my “healing song,” I found myself weepy and depressed. I wasn’t sure whether to take a voice lesson with Hannah, but last week I went. Being with her definitely lifted me up. This week I had a barium test scheduled instead of a lesson. Thankfully, I was told I did not have a hiatal hernia.

My ears were still bothering me after I finished antibiotics so I had them checked by a traditional doctor. The doctor said they were inflamed and thought it looked like I had an allergy.

I told her I had been tested for allergies – everything came up negative. She recommended I take allergy medication and set up an appointment with an audiologist to have my hearing checked in two weeks.

The allergy medication she recommended knocked me out. I could barely function after taking one pill; it just added to my feeling disoriented and depressed. Confusion drove me crazy; my mind was spinning every moment. I kept trying to figure out what to do next.

Which doctor was I supposed to listen to?

This was a great opportunity for me to “take the best and leave the rest.”

This is a picture of me from long ago. I’m so glad I've had the courage to dive into things!

This is a picture of me from long ago. I’m so glad I’ve had the courage to dive into things!

It turned out that my low point wasn’t destined to last; somehow everything improved this past week. Here were a few of the things that I did:

I started to go swimming again and that alone helped me feel much better.

I gave contact lenses a try for the fourth time and I was able to see again the way I used to. I was elated!

I signed up for an intense diet program.

I planned an amazing trip. In two weeks, I’m going on a trip to Costa Rica for the first time in my life.

I’m so glad I was able to turn my life around when I needed to most. I have so much more to share and plan to soon.

leaves-that-are-dying-2

© 2016 by Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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