Ethiopia’s Attitude of Gratitude

I just arrived back from an amazing experience in Ethiopia. I mean…AH-MAZ-ING. There are only a few things you really remember vividly your whole life, and this will be one for me.

The people, the culture, the love and gratitude were all shockingly more than I had expected. Ethiopians are a beautiful people, and the whole group that went on the mission acted like one cohesive team right from the start.

Experiences like this always make me look at my own life through a different lens. We complain about our healthcare, but some of the families we worked with walked for days to see a doctor about their spine deformity. YES – you read that right – they WALK for DAYS. Not miles. Days.

He gave me a thumbs up for the lollipops!

Could you imagine your family walking for that long just to see a doctor? Once at the hospital, these patients will be taken in – no questions asked. The care and determination help make their hospital system an amazing thing to see.

I’m not saying that any healthcare system is perfect. The US has lots of room for improvement, too. But in striving for the biggest and best in healthcare, we forget the basics. We shoot for super precise scans rather than a better primary care system. We demand individualized cancer treatment, rather than focusing our efforts on prevention.

The best healthcare systems have BOTH great technology AND a great basic standards of care. A great standard of care that every person – every patient – has access to sets the foundation of better health for everyone. The best care shouldn’t be limited to those with the biggest wallet or the best employer-based insurance.

The CUTEST little girl who we got to visit

Honestly, traveling to Ethiopia made me realize how gosh darn spoiled we are in America. All the little things that many of us take for granted were HUGE for these kiddos. Handing out candies, for example, made these kids light up like Christmas morning. Their gratitude for all the little things is something we should all remember in our daily lives.

Their attitude of gratitude is forever memorable.

I’m ever so grateful for this amazing trip across the world to help these remarkable people. They will always remain in my heart.

 

How 5 Minutes a Day will Change Your Life

Do you ever have a day where you thought to yourself “where did the day go?” That’s me. Everyday. I’m the QUEEN of the day that got away. Every evening around 6 o’clock, my husband laughs when I act so surprised that dinnertime has magically arrived without my knowledge.

And it does! After I suddenly realize that dinner snuck up behind me, I scramble to first THINK of something to cook, and then frantically fix something (somewhat) healthy.

After the chaos of dinner, I’m done. Tapped out. I’ve forgotten whatever I was in the middle of doing before cooking dinner. I feel as though my whole day was flung together and I have nothing to show for it. It’s as though that little bit of chaos threw off my whole day.

So what did I do? I set a new goal in my journal. And it worked.

I’ve been journaling for some time now. In the mornings, I do my own version of the ‘5 minute journal’ approach. I call it “Gratitude and Goals”. Gratitude for the things I have currently and goals for the things I want in the future – and every morning, I write these things down so that my day is a bridge between the two.

And it’s changed my life.

It takes about 5 minutes most mornings. A quick 2 pages of writing, and my mind is clear. This approach to journaling helps me to take on the day without all the clutter usually rattling around in my brain. My day starts and ends more clearly and with a purpose – plus it helps me to remember dinner!

So how do YOU do this? Grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee.

You ready?

OK start with page one. Write down 2 things you are grateful for – and why. They can be something simple, like your family or your home or the fact that you could sleep in that day (I’ve written that one a few times!) Whatever you are truly grateful for in your life and why you’re grateful.

Now close your eyes and see those things in your mind for 2 deep breaths. Seriously. Picture your family/home/sleeping in. Now breath in…out…in…out while holding that image.

Ready for step 2?

Write down 2 goals you have. They can be anything – to accomplish more at work, to be more mindful, to beat cancer (that was my written goal for forever!!) Even just being less nauseous from chemo treatment. Whatever you REALLY want to do.

It can be something you want to accomplish that day (like putting dinner on the table by 7) or that year (like finishing that ‘honey-do list’). Small or large, whatever it is, write it down.

Now, again, close your eyes. Picture yourself reaching that goal. Hold that image and take 2 more deep breaths.

At this point, I usually turn the page and write my thoughts. Whatever has come to mind, I write it down. If it’s a big appointment day, I write down my fears and anxieties. Or sometimes I write about activities from the night before such as a fun dinner party or seeing family. Whatever is rattling around in my brain first thing in the morning is written on the next page.

FIVE minutes. And its changed my life.

How did I come to this? Well, I’ve always found that writing is a great outlet for me. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness since my diagnosis, and I found that this 5 minute journal method combines the best of journaling, visualization, and mindfulness.  Over time, I’ve found it keeps me ‘present’ and less stressed all day. I now direct my day rather than my day directing me.

It’s also helped tremendously with my cancer fears. As Tony Robbins likes to say, you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time. I am proof that changing your mindset really DOES change your life. This five minutes has helped me to quiet the fears and find a greater meaning in everyday life BEYOND cancer.

Using a journal to focus my morning thoughts has retrained my brain to see the bright side. Throughout the day, my mind thinks back to the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m fearful might happen. My gratitude has replaced my fear.

And some days, having a calm dinner with family shows me the happiest and greatest meaning of life. Set aside 5 minutes to try something that may change YOUR life – like this 5 minute journal – and take control of your fears.

5 Life Lessons I Learned from my Garden

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds ~Mexican proverb

My garden is my sanctuary. As I wander down the stone path, through the trees to the garden, I always get a feeling of uplifting calm. The quiet peace allows me to breathe and absorb life in a whole new way. I can sit and reflect on the day, do some mindfulness meditation while watering, or even take my frustrations out on those darn weeds in the tomato bed. Many days, I look on in awe as I create life through the simple ingredients of light, soil, water, and seeds.

The simplicity of my garden helps me to reflect on life on a deeper level.  What does it all mean? Why are we here? And over the past few years, I’ve learned many a life lesson from my garden (sometimes the hard way when nothing grows!) They may open your eyes to the simplicity of life in a whole new way.

My happy place

1 – Things grow faster with a little rain

Bad weather always seems to last forever. When it rains, it pours, and it feels like the sun will NEVER come out again. Winter in New England is like this…it drags…and drags…and draaaaaaaaags on forever.

But you know what? Seasons change. Even though it’s raining now, it will not rain forever. If you hunker down and hang on long enough, the sun will indeed show its happy little face again.

Weathering a few storms only helps us grow. Personally, professionally, and spiritually you can’t grow unless you have some challenges along the way. My melanoma was a HUGE challenge for me – and I can honestly say it was probably the best life-altering challenge I could have asked for. It changed my whole outlook on life and I am a happier/stronger/better person now because of it.

Did I think that way during the hailstorm of treatment and doctors’ visits and scans and sickness? Heck no! I just hunkered down and rode it out. But I never let the rain bring me down.

2 – Keep pulling those pesky weeds!!

Every gardener will let you know how much they HATE weeds. Weeds are nothing but pesky little nutrient-suckers that steal the life out of whatever else you’re trying to grow. They create an unnecessary competition for your plants that will overpower them if you don’t keep weeds at bay.

Weeds don’t seem that harmful on the surface, though. Cute little baby sprouts around your plants don’t seem all that imposing, so what’s the point? Or maybe you don’t have the time to pull all those darn weeds, so you leave them to grow. You’ll get to them next weekend.

But before you know it, these weeds have stunted your garden. They compete for nutrients, sun, soil space, water, everything – and before you know it, your tomatoes all have blossom end rot and your daises are crowded out by the dandelions.

This happens in life, too. Every person has that one friend or coworker who just seem to suck the life out of you. It’s always a competition and you feel like you’re being suffocated. They feed off of you, always take, take, take and they never give back.

You just gotta pull those weeds, people. Pull them out of your life and don’t look back. Cultivate your garden of relationships and don’t let in those pesky weeds. You are much better off letting your real self shine through.

3 – Sometimes you need a change in perspective

I tend to be a shoot-from-the-hip flower gardener. I swoon over the wild-flower “English Garden” look. So I grow a bunch of flowers from seeds and when they are big enough, I go plopping them around the garden all willy-nilly. It’s a bit of organized chaos, but when it comes to flowers, that’s the look I love.

Plopping things randomly may look great, but it often doesn’t come out the way I expected. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work for the flowers. Flowers, just like humans, tend to grow best under very specific conditions.

So as my garden evolves, I try to help things along the best I can. Many times, the plants just need a little change of perspective. A transplant from a shady area to one with full sun. Or maybe from the rocky hill to the soil-rich bed. Sometimes they look better clumped together, other times they look better spread out.

What’s the magic combination? I have no idea. Every flower has different likes and dislikes, and sometimes a little change in location is needed to help them get along with their neighbors. Its like Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – you gotta keep trying until you find the right fit for your attitude!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

4 – The secret’s in the soil

I’m going to continue along those same lines and go a little further. Some plants in my garden have it all – great sunlight, perfect amount of rain, living near neighbors that they get along with, good vibes going their way, the whole deal. And yet, SOMEHOW, they refuse to grow.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they wanted. No amount of questioning or moving helped me figure it out. Until I added a little nitrogen to the fertilizer.

You know what I discovered? The secret is in the soil.

Any plant can grow with just the necessities. But to flourish – to really grow beyond belief – the secret is in the soil. Tomatoes love nitrogen and calcium. My cucumbers love Epsom salts. Every plant will blossom under the certain circumstances.

And humans are the same! Take any one person and transplant them somewhere else. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. For example – put a gifted writer in a computer coding class and they will flounder. Send that same writer to a fiction writing summer camp, however, and they will absolutely blossom.

You need the right conditions to grow beyond expectations. Keep on trying until you find the perfect mix for you!

5 – You harvest what you sow

Last year, I didn’t plant a single head of lettuce. You know how many heads of lettuce I harvested?

Zero. (Of course!)

Last year, I also planted about 10 lupines. You know how many blossomed last year?

Also zero.

But you know how many blossomed this year? Three.

Gardens take some time to grow. They take time and energy and effort to get going, to grow stable root systems and blossom. You simply cannot expect to put 10 seeds into the ground and get 10 gorgeous plants within a few months.

So why do we do this with life?

If we move into a house, we expect everything to be perfectly decorated – immediately. When we get a new job, we get frustrated if the first week doesn’t go well. Or when we put in extra effort to get that project done and no one noticed.

We all want a first class life on a shoestring budget. And we expect 100% success rate from every little effort, with immediate results. One day of extra effort doesn’t guarantee you a life of luxury. Months and years of extra effort? NOW you’re adding that secret ingredient to the soil!!

Gardens take lots of TLC – just like life. With gardens, you take the time, put in the energy, and reap the rewards. We need to transfer this into our own fast-paced lives and slow down. Put in a little more TLC to the area we want to get more out of. Maybe that’s your family. Maybe that’s your job. But don’t be afraid to spread the love.

Enjoy the journey of life. Take the time to let your garden grow. Then reap the rewards of a VERY plentiful harvest.

 

Elimination Diet Update

Hello eveyone! Memorial Day Weekend is always an interesting holiday. It signals the beginning of summer and grilling out and pool parties, but it’s also a day of remembering those who have bravely served our country. I’m sending a lot of love and thanks to those who are presently serving and those who have served in our military (including some members of my own family). We wouldn’t be here without you – thank you for your bravery and your service. You deserve a lot more than a weekend holiday!!

I am incredibly lucky to spend Memorial Day weekend with a great group of friends. We rent a house on Martha’s Vineyard and get to unplug and enjoy each other’s company – biking, grilling, shopping, playing games and going to the beach – we really get to have a weekend filled with great times and make great memories. I’m incredibly grateful that these people are in my life, and many of them helped me through the hardship during my melanoma diagnosis. They are truly my New England family and I love them to pieces!

Thank you to all the members of our armed forces for your dedication and bravery

And we all had a good time. A little TOO good of a time, you might say. So good that my husband and I are definitely feeling the repercussions. There is nothing quite like a weekend filled with lots of grilling and eating out to make you think about your diet choices. My husband has been sooooo incredibly good about watching what he eats to help with his reflux, but he TOTALLY fell off the wagon this weekend.  It’s so hard to stay vigilant with lifestyle changes when you’re surrounded by lots and lots of things that remind you of how you used to live. My husband is Italian, so food is a big weakness for him (and for me!)

So I thought I’d do a follow-up to my elimination diet posts (you can see the first post here, my week one post here, and my week two post here).

To my amazement, he’s COMPLETELY off of any reflux medication.  This is a HUGE step – he was previously on 2 prescription “Prilosec” pills a day. If he stays true to his diet, then he doesn’t reflux at all – his coughing was drastically reduced to the point that he and I would both forget that he had acid reflux.

And doing this diet helped us to realize that he has 2 sign of reflux – one is the coughing that we had previously noticed, but another was burping. Yup, that’s right – when he ate something that made him burp, sure enough the next day he’d be coughing. And this sounds strange at first, but it actually makes sense – when you burb, the air brings up little molecules of your stomach contents, which is mostly acid.

So what made him burp? Here’s a list of the things that we found were triggers:

1 – GARLIC

2 – Carbonated drinks (club soda, beer)

3 – Yeast

Garlic was by far the worst offender. I had never even thought of this before going on the diet, and I’m a HUGE garlic fan, so I would add it to meals ALL THE TIME and not even realize that I was the one CAUSING his reflux!!!! How awful, right?! It was as if I was slowly killing my husband like a “Forensic Files” episode but I didn’t even know it!! Needless to say, I quickly cut out the garlic from my recipes and his coughing became less noticeable immediately.

No more garlic for us!

Carbonated drinks completely makes sense, but what about yeast? That was a strange one, and we discovered it due to process of elimination. I had used a store-bought chicken broth for soups and a chicken dish and he was burping up a storm. The only new ingredient in the broth was “autolyzed yeast extract”. BINGO! I don’t understand why, but I don’t need to – just knowing his triggers is what this whole elimination diet was all about.

Other things we noticed that also increased his coughing, and we think this is likely due to their highly acidic content:

1 – White wine (well really, any wine, but white was much more noticeable than red)

2 – Pasta Sauce

3 – Canned tuna

4 – Pickles and olives

5 – Wine and cheese nights. EVERTYHING in the typical “wine and cheese” appetizer evening made for a rough next few days. Seriously – who doesn’t live for wine and cheese?!? I love these nights, but unfortunately we’ll have to tone it down a bit.

All in all, the diet was COMPLETELY worth our time and all that home-cooking energy. It was a couple months all-in, which seemed like forever at first, but the time flew by rather quickly once we got used to the routine. We both learned so much about what triggers his reflux and what to avoid. I highly recommend that everyone with any types of food sensitivities take the time to do an elimination diet – what have you got to lose? It’s only a couple months of your time and it can improve your quality of life dramatically.

Take control of your life – and your gut – and go for it!