Hiding in plain sight

Though I of course have a million stories about Costa Rica, I will wrap up this series with these three, which helped me to see even more of the beauty and totally fall in love with the people of Costa Rica.

The yellow bird

We ventured into the sweet nearby town, which consisted of two grocery stores and two bakeries – gotta wonder about that business model, but it seems to work for them.

Town on Osa

We checked out one of the grocery stores.

Grocery store in Osa

 

Grocery store in Osa

 

Produce in grocery store

Grocery store in Osa

After buying some treats, we headed back to our inn.

Dirt road into town in Osa

On the dirt road, we passed occasional hostels and small homes but didn’t see many people at all. At one point, the road split and my husband veered to one side while our son and I (our other son opted out of the walk) veered to the other.

Suddenly, a grandmotherly woman appeared on our left, pointing ahead of us and speaking in very fast, stage-whispered Spanish. I understood only that she wanted us to stop and be quiet. Once we did, she continued to share more information in an urgent tone.

“No habla Espanol,” I told her. Obviously, since that is the wrong conjugation, meaning “You don’t speak Spanish.”

She looked at me kindly, slowed her speech and used Spanish words that I was able to understand. She was trying to show us a beautiful yellow bird, giving us directions on where to look.

My son saw it first; it took me a little longer. But she patiently pointed and slowly described until I finally could see it too. As we watched the bird together, she exhaled deeply and smiled to herself in that deep contented way, clearly happy with it all – to her, sharing the beauty seemed to be as important as seeing the bird itself.

The blue-jeans frog

Gliding down the river in our raft, our guide suddenly looked up.

“Shhh,” he said urgently, and then steered the raft to the side of the river. He jumped out and ran barefoot into the brush, looking around for something.

Guide on side of river looking for blue-jeans frog

He was gone long enough that we stopped being quiet and started talking in whispers.

Then he ran back to the boat with his prize.

“I knew I heard it!” he exclaimed. “This is the blue-jeans frog.”

He held out a tiny frog for us to behold. Our son (who may watch way too much Discovery Channel but honestly knows so much about these things) knew that it was poisonous, but it was also beautiful.

Blue-jeans frog on river bank

Blue-jeans frog on finger

When we finished marveling at the frog, our guide ran off with it, returning it to its original hiding place. How humane.

I could not believe that he could identify the sound AND find that tiny thing in all the brambles. Not to mention that he did it all barefoot, all so we could enjoy it too.

The sloth

Our adventures included guided hikes, ziplines, Tarzan ropes, and rappelling. We walked over hanging bridges and paddled on a river raft ride. In each case, the guide would point out the wildlife and describe where we could see it. I often had trouble seeing wildlife when they were still, but it would catch my eye when it moved. For example, the shaking trees indicated where monkeys were swinging. Birds take flight in their bright colors. Lizards look like a branch then suddenly stand out when they run.

The sloth is an essentially sedentary animal who primarily lives in the trees. During the day, the two-toed sloth sleeps and the three-toed sloth moves slowly if at all. Even when the guide had his telescope fixed on one, I could not distinguish it from a termite nest. After trying a few times on a few different tours, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort of craning my neck or hogging time at the telescope.

On the last day of our trip, we took a river raft tour. Our guide pointed out a variety of lizards and birds, called to howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys and even spotted a coati / anteater, all of which I was thrilled to see.

But when he pointed to the sloth in a tree above us, I looked up politely, not even trying to find it.

He glanced at me and said, “You don’t see it, do you?”

“I don’t, but that’s okay. I always have trouble seeing sloths.”

We were next to the shore, so he reached out of the raft and grabbed some tree roots to turn the boat so I could look from a different angle. I still couldn’t see it. He moved us all a little downriver in case that helped. He pointed to the tree trunk and had me visually follow branches to find it. He described the location of each body part of the sloth so that maybe I could see it that way.

Each time, I looked but it didn’t stand out. I kept telling him that it was fine if I couldn’t make it out. I thought to myself that I wouldn’t see it unless it made a big move (highly unlikely) and that I don’t really care if I see a sloth.

But the guide didn’t give up and suddenly, I saw it! The sloth, clear as day, was eating and moving slowly along the branch. Though I didn’t think I cared, it was kind of cool to see it. I thought that the guide would be relieved, but he was only happy that I could share in the joy.

——-

In each of these cases, I appreciated that someone could see something that I could not. I loved that their pace of life allowed them to observe and relish the beauty.

I especially appreciated that someone took the time to patiently help me to see something special, something they saw but I could not, to differentiate it from the surroundings, to help me to see what was hiding in plain sight.

And once I saw, I could not un-see. What a gift.

Sometimes my life is like the rainforest. It feels beautiful all around, with hints of danger, looking slightly different as I move through it.

But then, there is more that I don’t see, that exists among the growth and the brambles.

Thank you for taking the time to help me to see the things that are so clear to you but perhaps not so clear to me, to differentiate the special from its surroundings, to see what is often right in front of me. Your sharing what you see expands my world, whether I am stuck inside my home or traveling to some new place.

I love how we can help each other to see from different angles, especially when we go at a pace that allows us to share and to listen.

I hope you feel content and happy with the beauty that you take the time to share. It generates good in the world, makes all our lives richer, and helps to make sure that we don’t walk right by the beauty in our days.

Love,
Marie

 

 

 

 

Something for everyone

Leaving the lovely, magical Aquila de Osa Inn on the Osa Peninsula for the Arenal Volcano involved taking a boat to a van, which would drive us to the local airport. From there, we would take a small plane to San Jose International Airport, where we would wait endlessly until we took another small plane to Arenal (or thereabouts), and then finally a van ride to our next lodging.

We said goodbye to the wonderful folks at the Aquila de Osa Inn as we and our massive luggage boarded a small boat at their dock. We quickly motored to a nearby inn to pick up another gentleman and his one small and probably efficiently packed bag. From there, our boat driver headed to the beach where we would meet our van and driver.

Leaving the Aguila de Osa InnIt was low tide, so our boat soon got stuck on the sand just below the water. The three guys in charge of the boat jumped out, stood around the boat until a wave flowed underneath it, then gave it a shove. As we were moving, they jumped in and motored forward, only to stop again a few feet later and repeat the whole process.

After several of these stops, my husband and the other gentleman got out of the boat with the crew and into the water, lightening the load and helping to push. The water came to just below their shorts until a wave came, making the water come to almost their hips.

Pushing the boat in Drake Bay

While the other man didn’t seem to mind, my husband was already grumpy after spending three days in a humid climate without air conditioning and with intermittent internet access. (Thank goodness there were no bugs!) Getting his clothing wet as we began our multi-hour travel day did not add to his experience of fun and adventure.

Once we reached the beach – well, we got near to the beach. To actually get to the beach, we got out of the boat and walked through the water to the shore. Yes, I did that! Thankfully, the water was warm and beautiful and I had worn flip flops. I have never done something like that or gone into water without wearing a swimsuit. I felt so….outdoorsy! This only added to my sense of fun.

It helped that the boat guys carried our luggage.

Unloading the luggage at the beach

The boat guys and my husband. I am eternally grateful.

Tiron with luggage at beach on Osa

Our next hotel had AC and fast internet access. Something for everyone on this vacation. Even if not always at the same time.

 

Keeping the magic alive

Our family just returned from a fabulous trip to Costa Rica, so the next few posts will be about our experiences there. We visited three areas: Manuel Antonio, the Osa Peninsula, and the Arenal Volcano. The first and especially the last are quite touristy; the Osa Peninsula is more remote.

Though I was worried that the Osa Peninsula would be too remote for my tastes, I quickly fell under its magical spell. To get to the intimate Aguila de Osa Inn, we boarded a small boat to travel down a river, through a mangrove swamp and into the Pacific Ocean. I’ve never arrived at a lodging via boat before!

On our way to Osa, through the mangrove swamp

Riding through the mangrove swamp

The manager greeted us on arrival.

Arriving at Aguila de Osa

After a brief orientation to the inn, Dixon the chef spoke with me to understand my diet and to tell me about his meal plans for me. I was stunned by the wall of fresh, organic produce in the kitchen.

Produce in the kitchen

For every meal, every single day, he thoroughly accommodated my vegan-no-sugar-no-acid diet by creating beautiful and delicious entrees. He even suggested a fancy cocktail made without alcohol or sugar, and made sure that the happy hour appetizers worked for me.

Happy hour

The visually peaceful surroundings include beautiful wood structures nestled in the rainforest, and it is all open-air.

The open air dining room and common space at Aquila de Osa

The open air dining room and common space at Aquila de Osa

You can barely see the structures from the water and even when you are on the property, you can only see small portions from any vantage point.

Each small structure has two to three rooms. The rooms have no closed windows, only screens, so you remain connected with nature even when you are inside. I felt the breeze on my skin at night, fell asleep to the sound of the ocean, listened to the rainfall in the middle of the night, and woke to the sounds of the birds.

Screens, no glass!

Screens, no glass!

Early every morning, one of my sons and I sat together on the deck to listen and watch the variety of birds as they woke; to catch the loud, deep call of the howler monkeys; and to see the colors of the sky at sunrise.

This place has a soul.

When the manager encouraged us to come to happy hour followed by a communal dinner, I cringed. I don’t like forced mingling. However, once we arrived, I got caught up in the positive vibration, as this unbelievable energy ran through the structures, the staff and the guests. It was like a thread connecting the best in us all.

I was thrilled to meet a fabulous and friendly guest who is a Hippocrates Health coach – the place where I got the diet that I follow! I wanted to attach myself to her.

Her husband radiated love and laughter. I felt calmer and more grounded just being near him, and I wanted to soak that all in. I later learned that he is a shaman, and he and his wife lead trips to Peru – something I have been thinking about doing for years. I could not believe I was getting to spend time with them!

As we shared stories about our travels through Costa Rica, I learned that they hadn’t planned to be at this inn, but suddenly felt that they needed to travel there for some unknown reason. They stayed for only two nights, and we got to snorkel together and have a picnic on a nearby island. It was like they dropped from the sky into my life, giving me some infusion of something intangible, something I could feel but didn’t even know I needed.

We met another family with kids around the same age as ours. My husband and I really liked the parents – we value the same things and live a similar lifestyle – so everyone played happily together.

Just when I thought that I had met more cool people than I could expect to meet in one place, another group joined us. Stephanie and her two male friends were smart and funny and easy to be with – my favorite kind of people! They got along with the kids and with us, and I couldn’t get enough of them.

The air was so fresh that I could take breaths clearer and deeper than I thought possible. I effortlessly climbed the hills and had more energy than I have in years. Our son did not need his inhaler. This was truly a healing, sacred place. When the chef came up with a fancy drink for me that had no alcohol or sugar, I felt like it couldn’t get better than this.

Though I was in my own version of paradise, my husband was miserable in the humidity. We had one more destination on our journey, so after three days, we left Aquila de Osa. From there, we moved to a hotel where two busloads of people arrived at the same time we did and the service was impersonal. It did make our family happy to have air conditioning, a fast internet connection, multiple swimming pools and a spa.

The culture shock made me feel amazed and in awe to have experienced the magic at all, and reminded me that it is up to me to keep that magic alive.

Thank you for being here with me. In gratitude, I send you bits of magic and hope it helps to keep alive the particular magic alive in your life. It is way more fun to keep the magic alive for each other.

Love,
Marie

How I hear the scan results

After my CT scan on Friday, I will be in vacation mode! I will be off chemo for at least three weeks straight. I’m so excited. Today I felt fantastic – I was able to go outside and move around and really do anything I wanted. I got to see my son in yet another school performance (yay!) then randomly ran into TWO friends at Whole Foods. What a great start to the day! I live on that kind of energy.

Back to the CT scan – I had a choice to have the scan this week, or to wait until after my doctor’s vacation and have the scan then. I chose this week – I wanted it to be as close to my most recent chemo as I could bear. But that meant that I wouldn’t get the results for over two weeks.

That was fine with me, and the nurse practitioner noted that that was unusual, to wait that long. So I thought I would explain, in case you are wondering or in case this helps you.

When I first started down this road, I couldn’t wait to hear the results. In fact, I would ask if they would let my husband (a radiologist) in the room during the scan so that he could read the scan as they did it. On days when he couldn’t be there, I would request a disk of the scan and bring it home for him to read.

At some point, he admitted that this was stressful for him, so I started to wait until my doctor could tell me the results, ideally as soon as possible after the scan.

One of the things that I HATED about that appointment was this: I would be feeling fabulous, walk into the exam room where they would give me “news,” and that news would dictate how I felt when I left the room. It was like that room was some transformation booth: I walked in one way, and walked out another, unpredictable way. I disliked the powerless feeling of that situation.

So, I turned it over in my mind several different ways and decided that I was letting their projection of the future, based on my scan results, determine how I feel. And I needed to change that. So I started to look at the “news” as simply data. The scan information was data, and their feelings about that data were simply their points of view.

Receiving scans about every six weeks, I had lots of opportunities to practice listening to the results in this new way. I would try to distinguish which was data and which was their point of view. Then I would scan my body to see how I felt. Did I physically feel any different than when I walked in? After doing this a few times, I noticed that I generally felt good, and that feeling outweighed any data from the scans.

The other way I looked at this was this: No matter what they said, someone, somewhere was receiving worse news. That person would prefer to be hearing my news.

So I had to make a decision this time: Have the scan sooner and wait to hear the results? Or wait to have the scan, though the results might be ambiguous: Is the chemo working? Was it simply that I took a break from chemo?

I decided to have the scan as soon as possible after chemo, because I want a chance to show that the chemo is working. I decided that I could wait to hear the data.

Really, the most important data is that I am feeling good. And I finally am feeling really great! So I’m holding that closely and treasuring that.

Now, I talk a good game. Let’s see how it goes. But I get a chance to practice a new way of being. And it will help to have this wonderful break!

Thanks for your prayers for a good scan! Here’s hoping that you can, today, trust your inner feeling more than anything anyone projects onto you.

Love,
Marie

Unforeseen Jewels

Once a year, I see my dermatologist for a checkup. I’ve been seeing him for possibly 7-10 years. Early on, I learned that he loved being married and spending time with his many children. He even considered the middle-of-the-night wake-ups to be special father-child bonding time. A genuinely nice guy with a good attitude, and an overall great family man.

Then one year, when I saw him at my annual appointment, he looked absolutely awful. So I asked what was going on. And he told me. His wife left him. He was trying to figure out his living situation and feared he would have no time or relationship with his kids. On top of it all, he was diagnosed with MS.

My heart broke for him. Everything in his life was falling apart, and neither of us knew how it would come together again.

Fast forward to today, only a couple years later. He has remarried and is happier than I have ever seen him. He is leaving this medical practice for another one that offers more flexibility in his schedule. Because it is closer to home, he can be present for special events with his children. The whole family recently returned from a family trip to a third world country. And physically, he looks amazing. He is fit, has a bounce in his step, and emanates joy.

We talked about that time, not so long ago, when everything felt horrible, and how difficult it was, at that time, to see the jewels that life would hold for him.

I’m going to miss having him as my doctor, but am so very happy that he is moving in a positive direction.

As for me, these past few weeks have been really, really difficult in so many ways, including physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. However, the light started creeping in, and I am slowly seeing my way out of my hole. Today’s doctor visit was a good reminder to keep going, one step at a time.

Thank you for your prayers and positive thoughts for last week. The chemo days went better than usual, and I was actually able to get out of bed early Friday morning and drive myself to my son’s school play (which was adorable). You make a huge difference in my life and in the life of my family.

This coming Friday morning, I have a CT scan and appreciate any good prayers and energy to that end. (I will get the results in about 2 weeks.)

Thank you for being there. I hope you know there are jewels in your future, whether or not you can see them today.

Love,
Marie

Spring will come again!

Over the past three weeks, I have been in bed more than out. At one point, that would have meant lots of fun. At this point, it meant that I had a horrible cold, then chemo, followed by more of that cold, plus a bowel obstruction. Sometimes, I could get out of bed and do one thing with much effort (like brush my teeth), and then return to bed.

Lying there, I spent most of my time looking out the window at the many shades of pale: the grey skies; the white snow on the roof and trees; the clear, thick icicles hanging from the gutters. We live in Cambridge, MA and have been in the throes of winter for weeks. The snow is deep and the temperatures frigid. We can get outside, but doing anything requires more effort than it does when we have less snow and warmer temps. Though we have storm after storm and it can feel like this winter season will never end, I know there will come a day when I will look at green grass and budding flowers, and I will feel the sun on my skin. The piles of snow and cold temperatures will all be just a memory.

I try to take that vision of spring and apply it to my body. I have been sick for so many days in a row, in so many different ways, that it is hard to imagine ever feeling well. I have an underlying worry that this every-other-week chemo will be my life, and I try not to let that take over my psyche but it has been a constant battle. I envision breathing clearly again and actually speaking a full sentence without coughing. I dream of a full week without vomiting. I consider that I won’t need to brace for pain at every turn. I will be able to shower and dress without a second thought to the amount of energy it takes. I imagine feeling light and energetic, able to do whatever activities I want, all day long.

While I am waiting for all this to unfold, I need to find a footing, some stable place to stand that feels even a little like wellness. Without that, these thoughts feel a bit like make-believe, untethered and existing only in the ether.

I know from experience that if I ask for help and wait, guidance will come, but I still get impatient. What if it doesn’t come this time? Like this winter, it felt like my well-being would never shift for the better.

Footing did, however, eventually present itself in a few forms: A friend sent me an email about a promising clinical trial for a cure; I received a really nice card from a friend; I was eventually able to get out of bed and pick up my child from school; my husband and I attended a dinner party where I ate solid food and laughed for the first time in two weeks.

One step at a time, my prayers were answered. I’m starting to feel better. I can breathe clearly for longer stretches. I have been out of bed all day today.

Being ill can make life feel long and dark, like winter. And even though another snowstorm is predicted for tonight, I know that it is only for now and spring is slowly making its way. Even if I can’t see the signs, I know they are there. I just need to hang in there and be patient and watch for the small signs of change.

(Man) sees the morning as the beginning of a new day; he takes germination as the start in the life of a plant, and withering as its end. But this is nothing more than biased judgment on his part. Nature is one. There is no starting point or destination, only an unending flux, a continuous metamorphosis of all things”

~ Masanobu Fukuoka

May you feel your metamorphosis into better and better being. The small changes that make you more of yourself, give you a fuller life, take you to places higher than your dreams. Today is just today, this moment, and there is the potential for better, in the next moment and always, no matter how slow it feels.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, and for believing. Your faith in the future helps me to believe that, underneath events that can be difficult to deal with, there are beautiful, unseen things waiting for the right time to bloom.

Love,
Marie

Decisions, decisions

The snow in Boston is crazy high, the temperatures bitterly cold, and the kids don’t have school.

Trudging through the backyard

Though it can feel like we are trudging through, it is all actually fine. I love hunkering down with my family, the snow is beautiful, and I bought a super-warm blanket. The only glitch is that, in the past few days, I caught a cold that includes a dry cough with a really sore throat and fatigue.

No big deal, for sure. But here is the scoop: I am scheduled for chemo tomorrow. I need to decide whether to go ahead with it.

Last time I went in with a cold (about two years ago), here is how it went down:

I signed into Dana Farber, where they always ask if I have a cold or flu. When I said yes, they gave me a mask and sent me to my first appointment, which is where the nurse accesses my port and draws bloods to get data.

I told the nurse that I was not feeling well. He or she was sympathetic but not the decision maker. They accessed my port, drew my blood, and sent me (needle in my chest, tube dangling) to my next appointment, to see my oncologist.

My blood numbers were good, so my oncologist told me that he sincerely believed that I should do chemo. Besides, he reasoned, I was already accessed (meaning, I had the needle in my chest, ready for chemo….).

By then, I had spent two hours at Dana Farber. I was tired and in no shape to disagree with anyone who remotely felt like they had authority. I moved forward with chemo.

This happened every two weeks for quite awhile.

As a result, I had no voice (not even a whisper) for over a month and really couldn’t shake that cold for much longer.

But I understand their point of view: Of the two illnesses, the cold is simply uncomfortable and will eventually move on. Cancer, who knows.

From my point of view, having my body deal with chemo on top of this cold is a lot. I also know that, before I have the conversation with my doctor, I need to start out with my own point of view.

Here’s what I know:

  • My oncologist is doing his very best.
  • His medical knowledge far exceeds mine.
  • My throat is so raw that inhaling through my mouth causes pain, as does swallowing.
  • I cannot imagine vomiting.
  • I will have a CT scan in March and want to do as much as possible to keep things stable / improving so I can take a break.

So, I have to develop a going-in position. Then I try to have this conversation over the phone, rather than go in and have my body ushered through the process while my will weakens. But first things first.

Here are some options I see:

  • Postpone chemo until Friday, if they can take me then. (That is another day when my doctor sees patients.)
  • Postpone chemo until next Tuesday. This creates a complicating factor impact on the rest of my life, as it changes my chemo weeks and off-weeks, and I plan important things for those off-weeks.
  • Postpone chemo for two weeks. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but after that chemo session, I’m taking a three-week break, so that isn’t an ideal solution.

My oncologist may have other suggestions.

I feel a bit like I am playing roulette, which is scary. But I also know that I have to take responsibility for my decisions and that ultimately, I know that my doctor will do what I want. I just have to be clear about what I want, and listen to his point of view as well.

If you can see a good solution, do share!

I would love to, for example, hand this over to someone who both shares my values and knows more than I do. But this is my circus for sure. Advocating for myself does not come naturally, though definitely a good thing for me to learn.

I hope you have easier decisions to make today, and if you have difficult ones, I’m hoping you can find the answer that works for you.

Much love,
Marie