Creating happiness in your life

The other week, my husband and I attended a talk by Dr. Sanjiv Chopra on what makes a person happy. Dr. Chopra’s points resonated with me, especially because one or more of these elements often lifts me from blah into a happier place, so I thought I would share my interpretation of his talk.

He summarized four aspects of life that can increase your happiness:

  1. Family and friends (your chosen family)
  2. For others
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Gratitude

Family and friends

Surround yourself with people who lift you, who love you, who you love back. People you want to have in your life. Spend time with them. Enjoy those connections.

Forgiveness

Don’t carry the energy of anger, hatred, resentment, etc. Forgive others. Forgive ourselves.

For others

Doing things for others. My husband and I debated the meaning of this one. If you are a nurse and help people all day long, does that count? I don’t believe it does. I think you have to help others with them in mind, thinking about what they like. I can take care of my family by making meals, creating a space that feels good to live in, planning fun outings, etc. If I do it as an obligation or routine, that doesn’t make me feel better. It makes it feel like drudgery. But if I do it with them in mind, considering what they would like, the same action is more fulfilling for me and usually for all involved. For example, being home for my child after school is different than thinking, “He might like to play this game – let me set it up so it is ready to go when he gets home from school.” or even “They would really enjoy this for dinner – let me put that together for them.” (I know – I sound so house-wifey.)

Gratitude

Take the time to truly appreciate the gifts you have in your life. Think about this: What if you woke up tomorrow and found that you only had the things you explicitly were grateful for today? What would those things be?

For me, gratitude also helps me to notice special happenings in my life that otherwise would go unnoticed, kind of like finding little surprise treats in my day.

I wish happiness for you – today and always. When you are happy, you feel like you can do anything. May you have that fabulous energy that enables your dreams to become reality. And your happiness will be contagious!

Love,
Marie

 

 

 

Help when we ask for it

When I was in bed on chemo, I fantasized about what I would do if I had blocks of time where I could move around freely and think more clearly, and where my schedule wasn’t bound by doctor appointments.

Now that I am on a holiday from chemo, I’m not really doing anything “big.” Mostly, I spend the time doing more of what I was already doing, like driving the kids around or running errands. I find it liberating to be able to plan for any day of any week, rather than only agreeing to do things that accommodate my chemo schedule or fit my prediction of good days.

At the start of my chemo holiday, I optimistically assumed that every day would be a good day. So I joyfully and confidently volunteered to lector at two Masses over Easter weekend: The Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night and the 10 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass. Of course I would feel good!

My assumption, however, was wrong.

On Friday night before Easter, I had a painful intestinal obstruction resulting in approximately 2 hours of sleep. I fumbled through the next day’s hair appointment and childcare, figuring that I would rest at some point.

Of course, Saturday evening arrived without a chance to rest beforehand.

The Easter Vigil Saturday night Mass would be about two hours long. I decided that, if I needed to, I could leave after I did my part.

However, once I did my part, I realized that my energy was holding up. I actually stayed for the entire service. I may have been lifted by the spirits of the crowd, but I also believe that grace steps in and carries me when I really need it.

Once home and in bed, I suddenly had pain from tumors and AGAIN couldn’t sleep. The last time I looked at the clock, it it was 5 a.m.; the kids woke us at 6 a.m. filled with Easter excitement. I was slow to rally on three hours of sleep over two nights.

The boys opened their baskets and hunted for Easter eggs. Then at 9:00 a.m., I headed back to church. I had two roles that morning:

  1. Stand at the door and welcome people as they arrived and
  2. Lector during the Mass, which included reading two readings, out loud, from the Bible.

On the drive to church, I worried. Could I stand long enough to greet people as they arrived? And, could I read aloud? My voice is getting stronger, but it is still weak from chemo. It often has a strained tone that is hard on the ears, and it cracks and skips as I speak. When I am tired, it sounds even more strained.

I wanted to deliver a good reading to the overflowing Easter crowd. I wanted to vary my tone and expression, so that anyone listening had at least a chance to get something out of the readings, but I had little control over my voice.

As I drove, I talked with God. I told Him that I wanted to do this for Him and that I know that He always comes through and carries me when I need it. But this was cutting it close.

Then I thought about the event we were celebrating: Easter. I wondered if Jesus had a similar conversation during the crucifixion. Did he think, “I have more teaching to do to spread Your word. I haven’t reached everyone yet. This isn’t looking good. I know You will take care of me but this is cutting it close.”

Did he know that his answer would come three days later? Or did he feel like, okay, this is it?

While my problems are nowhere near crucifixion-size, this did help me to feel more like, whatever happens, God can save it. He can take whatever we offer and use it for good.

I was able to stand and greet people. When I read, my voice still had a funny pitch and it cracked, but it was there. It wasn’t what I imagined as perfect but it all seemed to come together well enough that, hopefully, everyone present got what they needed on that Easter Sunday.

Thanks for your prayers and for helping me to get what my family and I need. This situation is not what I imagine to be perfect, but it does seem to come together well enough that we generally get what we need, when we need it.

Now that I have a bit more time available, I’m so happy to be able to help others. I still believe the good moments far outweigh the difficult ones, and that we can be carried through the difficult moments when we ask for help.

I hope that your moments are beautiful, and that if I can help in any way, please give me the honor of stepping into that opportunity.

Blessings and light,
Marie

CT scan stable – let the holiday officially begin!

It was a big day of meetings but the bottom line is that my most recent CT scan was stable with respect to the prior scan, so I will be taking a chemo holiday. Woo hoo!

The scan showed one thing that was “curious,” so we are running it by my incredibly gifted surgeon for her opinion. Regardless, it is a “watch and wait” thing, not something that we could or would act on right now anyway, so that will just be put onto the back burner for now. In the meantime, I can work on it energetically. My next scan is scheduled for the end of May.

Thank you for your support and prayers, your confidence and humor, your upbeat presence. You are amazing. I hope you know that.

Blessings and love,
Marie

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