Sunday, April 23, 2017

Treat Yourself as You Would Treat Others

Hi everyone. Mara here.

When we're young and not feeling well or when we've had a particularly big disappointment, our parents or a caregiver was there to give us a cuddle and help us feel better. When I was little, my mom would always make a special trip to the store and get me my favorite foods and go to the video store (back when there were video stores!) and rent me a couple of movies. I felt pampered and cozy and it made me feel better. 

But when we get older, we no longer have a parent at our sides to shower kindness upon us when we get sick or when we have setbacks. In fact, I've found that as an adult, when I get sick, I tend to just get frustrated with myself. I grumble to myself and feel upset that I am not super-human and able to ignore the needs of my earthly body. I often force myself to keep struggling along even when I know I need to slow down. And if I can't get everything done that I need to get done, I beat up on myself.

The old adage says, "Treat others as you would treat yourself." But as I get older, sometimes I have to remind myself to actually treat myself as I would treat others. If my daughter or my husband get sick, I want to do special things for them to help them feel better. If they've had a disappointment, I want to soothe them and remind them to keep the experience of one disappointment in perspective. 

And that's what I need to remember to remind myself to do when I am feeling badly. Instead of heaping more blame or pressure on myself, I need to take a step back and try to remember how I would treat others in my situation. I need to try and look at myself through my own mother's eyes and remember that she would want me to be nice to myself.

So what do I do to treat myself kindly? I let myself stay in my pajamas all day because if I'm in my pajamas, I don't feel pressured to get things done. I am less likely to decide I need to clean the bathroom or run errands.  Sometimes, I'll take an extra shower. Standing in a hot shower is relaxing and feels luxurious when I don't actually need to take a shower. Sometimes I'll buy a book I've really wanted for a while, or I'll ask my husband to stop for take-out on the way home.

Most importantly, I tell myself it's okay that I'm not feeling my best, and it's okay if I need to cancel plans or reschedule a meeting. And that my family will survive if I'm not able to meet their every need for the day. 

It doesn't always work. I usually still feel guilty for feeling poorly or for feeling as if I've disappointed others or been unsuccessful at something. But even just reminding myself to tell myself that it's okay, and that I might try to be kinder to myself helps—even if I don't manage to fully convince myself!

So what are the things you do for yourself if you aren't feeling well, or if you simply need to give yourself a boost?


Questions for Toni:

During your illness, you've had many health-related setbacks: unsuccessful treatments, your cancer diagnosis, etc. How did you manage to overcome the emotional setbacks that went with this?

Well I didn't do very well at first. When a treatment for my chronic illness didn't work, I would get so frustrated and disappointed that it did cause emotional turmoil. It took several years for me to realize that the emotional turmoil was only making my physical condition worse. I think this applies to anyone who's struggling with a health issue—getting frustrated and angry only makes us feel worse. 

Your dad often says something I really love. I actually put it in my second book: "When things are tough, at least we can try not to make things worse." That's one of his themes in life—to not make things worse. So the question is how can you do that?

The first way is not to blame yourself when life doesn't work out the way you'd hoped, whether it's the fact that you got sick, or that a treatment failed, or that a doctor was disappointing. Illness comes with being human It's not anyone's fault. It's one of the conditions of being alive. I like being alive, so I work hard on accepting that illness is one of the conditions of living. 

Thinking about overcoming emotional setbacks in terms of my having had breast cancer, something comes to mind but it may not resonate with everyone. If it doesn't, ignore it. I hung out a lot in breast cancer forums when I was diagnosed and during treatment. They were helpful in so many ways, but I also noticed that a lot of people cope with it by saying "F*#@ Cancer." They talk a lot about how much they hate it, as if it's the enemy. 

This is obviously helpful many people, but it wasn't for me because the cancer was part of my body and so it felt like focusing hatred on the cancer was actually hating my body. Instead, I allowed myself to feel sad, and wish it weren't so, and even be scared, but then instead of moving toward negative feelings—what worked for me was to move toward kindness and compassion for myself over what had happened to me.

I often say there's never a good reason not to treat yourself kindly. When I think about being kind to myself, I often think about my Nana, who lived with us when I was growing up. She was the person I went to when I needed comfort. I can still smell her perfume. I would go to her room after school if I was feeling down or under stress. She'd be crocheting and would put it down and let me just sit in her lap. I don't remember if we even talked, but it was so comforting. So I'll sometimes say to myself "What would Nana do?" 

Or I'll ask myself "What would I do if someone I loved were suffering?" And I always answer, "You would be nice and be comforting." So that's a good way to turn the tendency to be negative around. Think to yourself, "Is this how I would treat someone else?" Then treat yourself as you would treat others.

Do you have certain things you do to treat yourself kindly if you're having a particularly hard day?

Yeah, I do. The first thing I do is re-prioritize. I put aside anything that I don't feel like doing, unless it's a have-to. We all have have-to's. But think about something like laundry. We always say we simply have to do the laundry. But really? Is there ever a time when laundry can't wait one more day? Even if it means you have to wash a pair of underwear by hand. So, on a day I'm feeling awful, I re-prioritize and I don't do things I don't want to do unless it's something essential. Then I think about what might ease my physical or mental pain. I indulge myself and don't make demands on myself. 

I think a lot of people don't realize they can do this. I say that because, when I was younger, I didn't realize I didn't have to do every single thing that I thought I did. We're so programmed to be productive and take care of business immediately, but sometimes it's better to put things aside for another day. 

So that's what I do. I let go of all the things that aren't crucial, and pamper myself. And if people reading this are thinking to themselves that they don't deserve that kindness, I can't emphasize enough that everyone deserves kindness from themselves. Life can be hard. It's hard for everyone. The very least we can do is ease our own burden by being nice to ourselves. That's one thing we can control. We control so little of what happens to us, but we can control how we treat ourselves. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Things We Do That Annoy Our Family

Mara here: I'm sure many people are annoyed by some of the things I do. Still, all of us have a particular gift of being able to annoy the people we're closest too. And I am fully willing to admit that I am an annoying person to live with. But in fairness to me, all the things I do make sense to me inside my own brain. I just sometimes forget that they don't make sense to people who aren't inside my brain.

And, even when I do manage to correct an irritating behavior (like leaving half-finished Diet Coke cans everywhere), a new one pops up to fill the void.

So confession time...what do you do that your family finds irritating? 

Here are what I believe are my current top three irritating behaviors:

1. I throw things away. 

I like to keep things tidy. I'm not a person who has to have things impeccably clean, but when I go into cleaning mode, then things simply have to be cleaned. This means that if something gets left around for too long I might just throw it away. Or I'll have a cleaning mood and go through and purge boxes out of the garage that I feel have been sitting around for too long. 

Unfortunately, inevitably I throw something away that someone needed, like library books or the title to a car. Then they get really irritated with me. 

2. I'm obsessive about punctuality.

I don't like to be late. In fact, I worry about being late so much that I am always ready to leave at least 10 minutes early. This leaves me sitting around waiting for my family to be ready and asking them over and over if they will be ready on time. They find this annoying. And my daughter finds it really annoying that we always arrive everywhere early.  But we live in LA where it's impossible to know how long it will take to get anywhere. If you aren't early, you're probably late. Being late gives me I'm always early.

3. I think Mount Rushmore is in West Virginia.

I really want to see Mount Rushmore. But for some reason I think it's in West Virginia. My husband used to think it was funny, but now he just gets irritated that I ask him how far West Virginia is from places because he knows that the reason I'm asking is so I can figure out if we can make a side trip to Mount Rushmore, but since Mount Rushmore is actually in South Dakota, it doesn't matter how close anything is to West Virginia. 

And if you're thinking maybe my husband shouldn't be irritated, just image your wife of 20 years asking you about West Virginia every other month of your life when you know she means South Dakota and see if you would manage to not be irritated.

And now, Toni's turn:

1. I repeat myself. 

For some reason, I always assume that whomever I'm talking to in my family hasn't quite understood what I meant by what I just said. And so, although I know it drives them crazy, I often repeat a point I'm making again (and again and again). It's not that I've forgotten that I made the point...I just want to be sure they get it. 

2. I send texts that are way too long.

I use texting as if I'm on the phone or sending an note via email. Unfortunately for me, it appears that texts are supposed to be short. Unfortunately for my family, I ignore this unwritten rule. I think this happens partly because I text from my laptop instead of from a smart phone, so it's much easier to just keep typing, putting in as much detail as I want. But I forget that they're usually reading the text on their smart phones...and would prefer just a sentence or two. Oh, and I still don't use texting abbreviations like "u" for you.

3. I'm always asking someone to bring me something.

Mara says that when she was young, I constantly asked her to bring me my purse. I'm not surprised. Since it's only me and my husband in our house now, he's the one who's constantly being asked to bring me things. Poor guy.

P.S. I'm sure there are many more things I do that annoy my family. You'll have to ask them what they are though!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

It's Easter! For those of you who celebrate, we hope you have a wonderful day! For those of you who don't—eat some chocolate anyway!!

Growing up, my family didn't celebrate Easter. My mom's family was Jewish (although they did celebrate Christmas), and she and my dad weren't religious. They were definitely not into the commercial part of the Easter Bunny thing. I always felt left out of the excitement of looking forward to a basket of treats like many of my friends got. So every year when Easter rolled around, I'd go to my friends' houses to find hidden eggs and eat candy.

When my daughter was born, I wanted her to have all the Easter baskets I never got. So every year, I put together a basket of goodies for her. When she was really young, she believed in the Easter Bunny—although it made her very nervous. Always a cautious child, she would repeatedly confirm with us that the Easter Bunny was not going to "hop into her room." On Easter morning, she would gleefully run out of her room to find a basket full of candy and toys.

Now that she's older, I still put together a basket, but she knows it's just stuff I buy at the store. And, being a teenager, for the most part all she really wants now is money, so I put dollars in some of the little plastic eggs and fill the others with her favorite candy. It's not a day that's filled with religious meaning to us, but it does feel special because it's a day when we make sure to share a family meal (this year we're making ham), and we take time to get each other some treats.

That's what Easter is for our family.

For me personally, Easter is when I think about Spring having arrived. It means that the school year is almost over and it's a time to reflect on what I'm grateful for. And even though I'm not religious, I like to watch all the shows about Jesus on the History Channel. And if I'm being super honest, one of my favorite parts about Easter are the Peeps. Yes, I love those crazy little sugar-covered marshmallows. They used to only sell them around Easter, but now they have them in different shapes and colors for lots of holidays. But I still think the little yellow bunny-shaped Easter Peeps taste the best.

Oh, and I like to take pictures of my dog with bunny ears on.

How do you celebrate Easter?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Memorable Moments When Parenting Got the Better of Us

Anyone who is a parent can pretty easily think of many times when things have not gone smoothly. It doesn't matter how prepared we think we are—life happens. But most of us have one or two stories that stick out in our minds as particularly awful...

Mara's Bad Night:

Malia was around three, and she was sick with the flu. This was also around the time when a) she refused to throw up anywhere near the toilet, and b) she would projectile vomit on a regular basis. I think we all know where this is going.

So late one night I heard Malia crying. My husband Brad kindly got up and went to check on her, but Malia wanted her mommy. So I staggered out of bed and waded through the mess on her bedroom floor. 

Typical for a toddler, Malia had toys scattered around her room. In my bare feet, I tried to carefully tip toe my way through a pile of large plastic bugs that Malia had decided she wanted from a recent trip to the toy store. She was going through a bug phase and everything was covered in bug stickers from the bug book she had convinced her Papa (my dad) to buy her. But the hard plastic bugs were the worst—little bug shaped GI Joe-type figures that were hard plastic. If you stepped on them (which I did all the time), they hurt.

Having maneuvered my way through the bug pile, I made my way to her crib. I could see her lying pathetically on her little toddler bed. As soon as she saw me, she reached out her arms and whimpered "mommy," and then projectile vomited all over me. 

I don't remember exactly what I did except it involved taking a step backward from her. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my big toe. I'd stepped on one of the plastic bugs! Argh! I looked down at my foot and saw a very large white bug near my big toe. No, it was attached to my big toe and it was wiggling. "Ahhhh!!!!" I screamed and kicked the real live bug across the room. 

Malia was crying, because she always cried after she threw up, and I was screaming because some kind of crazy giant bug had just taken a bite out of my toe.

Brad came running in and I tried to explain to him, without further scaring Malia, that there was some kind of monster bug that had bitten my toe. And, oh yes, I was covered in vomit.

What happened after that is a blur. Somehow Malia was cleaned up and put back to bed, and I think I trapped the bug in a bowl and took it to the garage. I wanted to throw it in the bushes and never see it again, but I didn't know what it was, and I was worried I was going to be allergic to it, so I thought I should keep it in case I needed to take it with me to the doctor if my toe suddenly fell off or something. It looked like an alien, but it turned out to be a harmless potato bug and we all survived. 

That's definitely a night I will never forget! I also threw away all the plastic bugs the next day.

Toni's Bad Day:

This happened when Mara's brother, Jamal, was in the 5th grade at elementary school. I was attending law school across town from his school. Law school had been a stressful experience for the whole family. I'd been out of school for so many years that I had no confidence in my ability to do okay, so I was studying all the time and this took me away from the family. I felt guilty about it...and then this happened.

One day while I was in class, Jamal's school called. They'd tried our home phone but there was no answer (Jamal's dad was, in fact, out of town). The message was that he was in the nurse's office because he'd fallen on the playground and appeared to have broken the little finger on his left hand. 

Instead of going to a dean or someone else who had the authority to get me out of class, the receptionist put the phone message in a student folder for students whose last name started with a "B." (Yup, that's me.) Some time after class ended, I made my way to the student folders, which I dutifully checked a couple of times a day. In it, there was the phone message from Jamal's school. 

I drove there immediately only to discover that he'd been sitting in the nurse's office for THREE hours. The school couldn't take him to get medical care without parental authorization because they didn't consider this to be an emergency. Right away, I noticed that the broken finger was quite bent. Off we went to the doctor who told us that because so much time had elapsed since the break, the finger had already begun to set in place bent. He'd do his best to straighten it before setting it, but thought it might remain bent...which it did.

This was a day when, to quote the title of this piece, parenting got the better of me. I felt as if I'd let Jamal down, and that I shouldn't even be in law school with two small children at home.

And now for the good news! Two positives came out of this experience, the second one an unexpected treat. First, what happened led to a change in the law school's policy. If there's any question about a student needing to care for a family member, they look up the student's schedule and send a staff person to the classroom to get the student.

And second, when Jamal decided to play baseball in high school, he became a pitcher, that bent pinky finger gave him a wicked curve ball! He likely would have been the star pitcher in his senior year too, but he broke the pinky finger on his other hand in a basketball game just as the season was wrapping up and, as a result, was unable to play most of the baseball season.

I have other parental memorial moments (no surprise) but this is the one that comes to mind.

We'd love to hear of yours!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Toni Shares a Personal Story About the Kindness of a Stranger

Many strangers have been kind to me over the years, but when I think about kindness, one incident from decades ago always comes to mind. 

My husband (also named Tony) and I were living in Winnipeg, Canada where he was working as a teacher. Our son Jamal was a toddler. Tony and I are from California so we weren’t prepared for the harsh prairie winters of Winnipeg. (When people in the U.S. ask me where Winnipeg is, I tell them it’s north of North Dakota; they immediately understand this means that it gets very very cold!). 

The winter we spent in Winnipeg, it snowed from September through May. At one point, a blizzard made transportation of all kinds impossible for two days and people were stuck wherever they happened to be. Downtown department stores were packed with people who had to sleep there for two nights. 

And, because there's no mid-winter thaw (common in coastal cities where there's snow buts the climate is more moderate), the snow in Winnipeg piled higher and higher as winter progressed. I remember walking down snow-plowed sidewalks where the “walls” of snow on each side of me were taller than I was. And the color of those walls were a combination of white and yellow, having been decorated by dogs being walked by their owners. They'd stay that way until the spring melt.

Winnipeg is a beautiful city. It’s a cultural oasis—home to the Winnipeg Royal Ballet and several terrific museums. And it has two rivers running through it. There’s so much to love about this city but winter was more than I could handle, especially with a small child. Even though the people were very friendly, I felt isolated and depressed at times.

And so, after that one winter, Tony and I decided to return to California. In Winnipeg, we’d bought a Volvo on credit and had been making monthly payments on it. We bought it because the car we arrived in didn’t keep us remotely warm in winter. The Volvo was the fanciest car we’d ever had, but when we decided to move back to California, we had to sell it because we didn’t own it. In exchange, we bought an old Dodge Dart.

Come summer, we loaded the car with all our earthly goods. It was bulging at the seams. We said goodbye to Winnipeg and began the drive to San Francisco where we’d be staying with Tony’s parents until we decided our next move in life.

When arrived at the border crossing, about 60 miles south of Winnipeg, we got out our U.S. passports and everything seemed in order. But then one of the border guards asked where on the car he could find the emissions-control sticker. “What sticker?” we thought. He said that when people move to the U.S. and bring a car with them, the car has to meet U.S. emission standards. This had never occurred to us, so we had no sticker. He said to us: “You can enter the U.S., but your car can’t.”

So, there we were, sitting in a room at a fairly remote border crossing, all our goods in the car outside, our toddler squirming around impatiently, very little money in our pockets, and no dwelling to return to in Winnipeg. I had no idea what we were going to do. It felt as if my world was falling apart. Suddenly, I began to cry. I wasn't trying to garner sympathy from the guards. I knew they were just doing their jobs. But all I could do was cry at that moment.

Then the guard who'd told us we couldn't cross the border with the car said: “Let me go look at that car again.” Tony and I watched as he went outside and walked around the Dodge Dart three or four times, sometimes crouching down to look underneath. We had no idea why he was doing this. When he returned to the room, he told us that he must have missed the sticker on his first inspection and that we were free to bring the car into the U.S.

I could see by his expression that he knew he was lying about having seen a sticker. It may be the most compassionate lie he ever told. 

This was a kindness so special that the memory of it is still vivid in my mind, decades later. (Memory is a funny thing because, once we got to California, we either brought the car up to emission standards or we got rid of it. Honestly, I can't remember!)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Our Favorite TV Shows Over the Years

Toni here: 

Before most people had a television, my dad brought one home for the family one day, as a surprise. I remember that the screen was more olive green and white than it was black and white! 

The first show I remember watching was Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca's The Show of Shows. The whole family watched it every week. We also watched The Jack Benny Program and The Milton Berle Show. These types of variety shows used to be all over TV (years later, my husband and I watched The Carol Burnett Show and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour). I think their demise was largely due to the writer’s strike in 2007-2008. When the networks suddenly found themselves without scripts, they turned to a new genre that was already big in Europe: the unscripted reality show. Who knew they’d come to dominate TV the way they have.

One more show stands out to me as a child. There was a McCarthy era television show called I Led Three Lives in which a U.S. agent infiltrated liberal organizations to look for people to accuse of being Communist sympathizers. My parents had friends who were victims of McCarthy’s witch hunts, and so they forbade me from watching I Led Three Lives. Of course, this meant that I hoped they’d go out the night it was on so that I could watch it! I saw a lot of episodes.

In my teens, my favorite show was Father Knows Best. My dad died when I was ten, and the father on that show (played by Robert Young) became a substitute dad for me. I adored him just as I'd adored my dad. I never missed an episode. 

In high school, I also watched American Bandstand with Dick Clark after school every day. Looking back, it was a sign of my loneliness. I often came home to an empty house (my mother had to work) and this show was my company.  I came to know all the kids from Philly who were regulars. I had my favorites and if they were there, I was excited to see them. I also had favorite couples and would feel sad if they broke up (which I’d figure out because they wouldn't be dancing with each other anymore). I also saw most of the big pop music stars perform on that show—Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Connie Stevens...and many more.

Then there was a long period—college and beyond— when I didn’t watch TV.

When we had our two kids, we started looking for family fare on TV. The Bill Cosby Show rose to the top of our list. Of course, I condemn his treatment of women off-screen, but the original Cosby show was, in my view, one of the best sit-coms to ever be on television. By then, we had a VCR (yes, the now antiquated VCR), and we recorded most of the shows and watched them over and over.

When my kids got older, I don’t remember what I watched—if anything—for many years.

Then, when I became chronically ill in 2001, TV became my new best friend. The problem was, there was hardly anything worth seeing on it, so we subscribed to Netflix and I started watching movies, sometimes all day long. (Back then, they only came to you as DVDs in the mail.)

I wanted to watch tennis, which I’d learned to love on TV when I initially fell ill and was stuck in bed on a trip to Paris, but the big matches in most of the major tournaments, such as Wimbledon, took place in the middle of the night for me. Then my friend Nhi suggested I get a TiVo so I could record the tennis and watch it when I got up in the morning. My first reaction was that this technology was way beyond my ability to purchase and set up. Not deterred, Nhi got all the information for me, helped me order it and set it up. 

With the TiVo in place, a new era of TV watching became part of my life, and not just because of the tennis that was on. My husband and I decided to splurge (since I was home all day, mostly in bed) and buy premium cable, which included HBO. Back then, HBO had a terrific line-up of shows, such as Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Sex and the City (the latter may seem trivial, but the writing was superb: each half hour was a little morality play, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker). I loved HBO: no ads, no censorship, great scripts, superb acting. Now, several other cable channels have become competitive in quality with HBO. 

I rarely look at network television. And, if I do want to see something, I record it to watch later so I can speed through the commercials. In addition, with TiVo (or a DVR which is what we have now), I can pause a program if I want to, and I can rewind it if I didn't understand something or if I just want to see a good scene again. I love my DVR!

My husband and I do have one guilty pleasure on network TV and that’s Survivor. We think our attraction to it comes from the days when he was an elected official and had to play a similar “game”: the social game and the political game.

The show I miss the most is David Letterman's Late Night. We recorded it every night and watched most of them the next evening. Dave was like a relative you love but who can also drive you crazy. He could go too far at times and even be obnoxious, but  so can that relative you love. He was smart and he was fast with his humor. And, I loved his honesty. He was like a member of the family to me, and none of the other late night show hosts come close to taking his place. I wish he were still on.

And that's my brief history of TV watching!

Mara here:

My list is not as in depth as my mother’s...and I’m sure I’m missing some because I don’t have a great memory. I used to watch a lot of television, but more and more I don’t watch dramatic programming very much. I usually have news or the Food Network on as background noise. But there are definitely a few shows that I feel a connection to. 

The ones listed below are the ones that I watched every week, or if they’re still on, I make sure to DVR them. I’ve only included ones that were on for multiple years. There are lots of newer shows I enjoy, but they haven’t been on long enough for me to feel like they've become part of my life history. I’ve divided my list into three categories: childhood, young adult, and adult. 


Inspector Gadget
The Jeffersons
The Facts of Life
Three’s Company
Little House on the Prairie
Family Ties
The Bill Cosby Show

(Honorable mentions are Dallas, LA Law, Hills Street Blues, The Wonder Years, and Moonlighting because those were shows my whole family watched together.)

Young Adult:

Ally McBeal
Law and Order
Mad About You


Ghost Hunters
Deadliest Catch
Game of Thrones
Downton Abbey

Note from Toni: After reading Mara's list, I have to add to mine of course. Yes, I forgot all of her honorable mentions, which we enjoyed watching together as a family. (We watched Dallas to make fun of it!) And how could I forget Downton Abbey, which I watched so faithfully that when I thought the fourth season wasn't up to par, I wrote a piece for Psychology Today about it! If you want to read it, here it is: Has Downton Abbey Jumped the Shark?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's on Your Bucket List?

Mara here. Do you have a bucket list? I like the idea of making a list of things you want to do before you die—kick the bucket. I don’t have a formal written one, but when I see something that peaks my interest, I often add it to the imaginary list in my head.

For some reason, creating an actual list feels like it would suddenly make it very serious and official, so I'd have to try and figure out what a true bucket list encompasses. Is it simply a list of things I would like to do? Or is it a list of what I really want in life? 

If I’m being honest, what I really want in life is for my daughter and husband to be happy. But I don’t think that’s that kind of thing one puts on a bucket list. The next thing that pops into my head is that I want to add a bathroom onto our bedroom, but is that a real bucket list kind of thing? Not sure. Maybe I’m overthinking this whole bucket list thing. 

This is why I've never created an official bucket list. I'd make it too complicated. I'd start to question it too much. 

In addition, my list would be constantly changing. What would have been on my bucket list five years ago is different from what would be on it today. Plus, I assume the idea of the bucket list is that it consists of things you might reasonably be able to complete at some point. But my list would never be completed because I'd be constantly adding and deleting things. Then I'd feel like a bucket list failure, which I am also pretty sure is not the goal of keeping a bucket list.

Also, what I would like to do in my head is very different from what I would enjoy practically. Seeing the pyramids in Egypt is definitely something I think I want to do. But traveling to Egypt might be dangerous, depending on what's happening in the world. And my creaky old body gets really uncomfortable on long plane flights now…so would I really enjoy a trip to Egypt? Maybe not. But part of me still thinks that I want to see the pyramids, so it probably does belong on my bucket list.

I’m also a little wary of bucket lists because sometimes when I've done things that were obvious, definite bucket list type things, they weren’t the experiences I thought they would be. A few years ago, my daughter was working in Japan, so we took the opportunity to visit Seoul, Korea. I knew that visiting the city of my birth (where I was adopted from) was on my in-my-head bucket list. I had dreamed of going since I could remember being told I was adopted from Korea. So we took a trip to Seoul. And, while visiting a new place is always interesting, Seoul was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel any sort of connection to it. However, I was enamored with Kyoto in Japan. So, what’s the point of a bucket list if the things on it aren’t nearly as interesting as the things that are not on it?

And really, what separates a bucket list item from non-bucket list items? Is it the expense? The time? The likelihood of accomplishment? Whether or not it’s been extensively planned and done on purpose? Sometimes I'm daydreaming about what I think is my bucket list and I'm just making a regular non-bucket list of things I need to do like go grocery shopping and change the batteries in my smoke detector.

And if I don’t accomplish any of my bucket list items, does that mean that I somehow didn’t live my life correctly? That seems like the wrong attitude toward the bucket list.

What does attract me about the idea of a bucket list is that I do enjoy identifying things that inspire me, things that motivate me. And there is a very special feeling when I accomplish or experience something that I have been working toward for a long. 

Oh, and I also have a reverse-bucket list for things I didn't realize would mean a lot to me at the time I did them, but when I look back, they had a very significant impact on my life.

One thing I do love is discovering what items are on other people’s bucket lists, because often I realize some of the things I've experienced that felt mundane or perhaps were not particularly memorable, are things another person wishes they could experience. This realization puts things in perspective because sometimes it takes viewing things through other people's eyes to realize how fortunate we are. 

Finally, thinking about how my own view of bucket lists has changed as I've gotten older, I wondered how my mom's illness has changed her long term goal-setting and her expectations for the future. And, does she even have a bucket list? 

So here are a few questions for my mom. (Below her answers are a few of my bucket list items. Read them now before they change!)

Did you ever have a bucket list?

Well, I used to do what you're doing—have one in my head that changed all the time. I never had a written list, but I had lots of ideas for one, mostly places I wanted to travel to. 

Has being chronically ill for so long affected how you think of bucket lists?

Absolutely. The year I got sick, 2001, turned out to be a real watershed moment in my life. So many things changed. One of them was that the idea of a bucket list became irrelevant. I guess you could say it was a casualty of the illness. 

As people who've read my books know, I got sick on a trip to Paris. I wanted to go to there as opposed to traveling all over Europe or even just around France. The plan was to stay in Paris for three weeks so my husband and I could immerse ourselves in Parisian life. So, that was one thing that was on my in-my-head bucket list.

And I had a lot of other places in mind to go and other things I wanted to do. Instead, what's happened in the almost 16 years that I've been chronically ill is that I've watched family and friends live out most of my bucket list. I always wanted to go to Japan, now you've gone there. Your brother's been to several countries in Europe. And my close friend Dawn, has travelled to many places since I've been sick. She's been to Japan, Australia, Brazil, Italy, New York City many times, and she's about to leave for Austria and Germany. 

All this went on while I was stuck at home. At first, when I would hear about other people travelling and going places, it was very hard—especially if they were going someplace I wanted to go. It was as if I were saying: "Wait you can't go there; that's on MY bucket list."

But now I rarely think about things I'd like to do in the future. My focus is on getting through each day as best I can—making the most of what I've got.

So when I think about the future, which is what a bucket list focuses on, I don't have a lot of wishes. Aside from the global ones we all share, such and end to poverty and famine, my wishes for the future are that you and your brother and your spouses and your children be happy, which you talked about in your essay. I don't think that kind of wish is what most people think of as bucket-list material—which, for the most part, consists of fun things that people want to do.

My other two wishes are health-related, so I don't think of them as bucket-list items either. First, when I think about the future, I find myself wishing that I don't wind up in a hospital surrounded by doctors and staff who don't understand my illness. Second, and this looms large for me, I wish that nothing happens to your dad that would require me to be at his bedside in a hospital all day long, because I couldn't do it.

So that pretty much covers my wishes for the future: happiness for my family and no medical crises. As I said, I don't think that's really a bucket list.

So how does that make you feel that you don't have fun aspirations for the future? Does it make you feel sad? Or is it liberating not to be constantly planning your future?

That's an interesting question. My initial reaction to what you said is to feel a bit sad. I think, "I want to go so many places and do so many things." But that thought passes quickly because I feel better when I'm not constantly longing to do things and just focus on trying to make each day as pleasant as I can.

So yes, it is liberating not to be longing to do things. Well, there is one thing  I long to do. I want to see your house. [Mara note: we bought it about three years after mom got sick and we live 400 miles away.]

Really? That's your one bucket list wish? I feel like you would be terribly disappointed. [My house is really not anything special and usually needs to be dusted.]

Well, I'd still like to see it, so I guess yeah, I do have a bucket list!


Mara's Bucket List:

—Have a pet squirrel (My husband tells me squirrels are the pets of serial killers...but I still want one.)

—See the Northern Lights [Toni here. I've seen them. They're spectacular, and I hope you get to see them.]

—Walk on the Great Wall of China

—See the pyramids in Egypt

—Successfully make my own pore strips (This might belong on the pipe dream list because I keep trying and failing.)

—Get a wedding ring tattoo (This could easily be accomplished except that I’m very afraid of the pain.)

—See the earth from space (But I have no desire to actually travel in space so I’m not sure how I would accomplish this.)

—Own a tiny house (I am obsessed with tiny houses, but I’m not sure I could actually live in one, so it may not be the best investment.)

—See Mount Rushmore (I have a bizarre fear of giant things—faces, heads, etc. so this one scares me, but I am determined to see it. I have actually had nightmares... but still really want to see it!)

—Write a book [Toni here: At least you've had a book dedicated to you!]

—Learn shorthand

—Find the perfect purse [Toni here: Good luck with that!]

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Our Gratitude List for March. What Are You Grateful For?

Things we are grateful for in March!


—Flowers. Beautiful flowers are one of the things that always make me stop and take photos. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll notice that most of my photos are of flowers. (This is also partly because my daughter no longer allows me to take pictures of her!) I just get mesmerized by the miracle of nature that creates the colors and the variety of flowers! And we have a gorgeous crop of them this spring because of all the rain!

—Bee Specialists. So I looked out my window the other day and noticed a shocking number of bees swarming around my backyard. It looked like a cloud. I felt like I had been dropped into a bee-pocalypse. If you've never experienced a bee swarm, it's a bizarre flurry of bees that fly around and then settle into what looks like a hive. Usually they're not actually creating a hive (with wax and honey); they're just stopping to eat and rest. But they go from being this crazy swarm of bees to being a giant clump of bees that look like the hives you see in Winnie the Pooh stories. Fortunately, there are bee specialists who will come and collect the bees—alive—and relocate them to a safe place. Bees are very important and helpful...I just didn't want 1000 of them in my backyard.

—Earplugs. I'm not a great sleeper, so about 10 years ago I started sleeping with earplugs because there were too many noises in the night that would wake me up: my daughter going to the bathroom, the dog licking himself, my husband snoring, etc. Well, turns out that our lovely cat, regularly sits on our bed and meows at my husband at 3 a.m. because she wants whatever a cat wants at 3 a.m... but because of my earplugs it doesn't wake me up!! Yay earplugs!


—Everything Mara said about earplugs. Except I don't have a cat or a daughter living at home, so substitute parties in the neighborhood and squirrels scurrying around on the bedroom roof.

—My friend Dawn. She's been a steady visitor ever since I got sick even though, before that, we hadn't seen each other for many years. Imagine that. Many of my friends dropped out of my life when I got sick, but Dawn came into it. In March, I'll have seen her four times.

—Signs of spring. Mara talked about flowers. I love them too, but the most special part of spring for me is when the trees and bushes start to "blossom" with light green, soft and tender leaves. They're especially beautiful when backlit by the sun the way the crepe myrtle in my backyard sometimes is as I look at it while lying in bed. The last few days, the leaves on that crepe myrtle seem to be growing as I watch! 

What have you been grateful for this month?

Swarm of bees in Mara's backyard.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nobody Is Paying as Much Attention to You as You Are

Mara here. I am worrier. And I am very self-conscious. I often feel as if people are watching and judging me. And even if I’m alone, I can manage to make myself unhappy by imagining what people would think if they happened to be watching me.

Not surprisingly, because of this, I am not a spur of the moment, fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. I like to plan. I like to know what I’m getting myself into. And when I find myself in a situation that I’m not comfortable with, afterward, I tend to relive it in my mind over and over until it’s hard for me to remember what actually happened versus what I think happened. Did I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings? Did I talk too much? Did I laugh in a weird way? It’s exhausting. 

As a young adult, my worrying started to make me so self-conscious that I began to have trouble socializing. I overcompensated for my anxiety by trying to be in too much control. I would plan what I would wear, what I would do, what I would say, how I would handle every possible outcome because I didn’t want other people to think negatively about me.

Of course, all my efforts simply made me even more uncomfortable, making it impossible to enjoy things because I was always worrying that I wasn't doing what I should be doing. And, as I mentioned, the discomfort of worrying didn’t end once the interactions or events were over. I'd go back and relive my interactions. I'd rewind the events in my mind and try to identify if I had done or said things that could be interpreted differently than I'd intended. I would recreate people’s reactions to my behavior, spinning whole tales of how my behavior had somehow negatively affected them.

 Then I heard something that completely changed my perspective: “Nobody is paying attention to you as much are you are paying attention to yourself.” 

I can’t remember if it was something I heard in a movie or on TV or read in a book. But it was one of those few moments that literally changed how I viewed myself.

At first, it seemed funny and slightly off-putting. Like, really? People don’t care that much about me? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it was. And once I realized that, I saw how freeing it was. FREEING. Yeah, maybe my ego was a little ruffled by the notion that people didn’t notice everything I did, but it was liberating to recognize that my actions weren’t being minutely examined. 

It was as if someone had just turned a light on in a dark room and suddenly things looked clearer: I was the only one scrutinizing myself. It released me from the responsibility of making sure everything I did made other people happy. It made me realize that most people aren’t affected by what I’m saying, or what I’m doing, or what I’m wearing, or if I accidentally interrupt them, or if I laugh strangely. Nobody was noticing these things as much as I noticed them. 

Ahhhhh. Even as I sit here and write about that moment of clarity, I feel almost giddy. 

And it made so much sense because I don't analyze everything about the people around me, so what made me think they were analyzing everything about me? Yes, I sometimes notice if someone is wearing something I think is strange, but do I think about it for more than two seconds? No I don't. Am I sometimes a little annoyed by things people say or do? Yes I am. Do I let it affect my whole perception of that person? No I don't. All of us are allowed to make mistakes. And all of us are allowed to be unique. Is that part of being human? Yes. Yes!

I still worry sometimes. Ok, I still worry a lot. And I still sometimes beat myself up about things I’ve done or things I’ve said. But if I catch myself doing it, I remind myself, “Nobody cares as much you do.” And it comforts me. It takes a heavy weight of responsibility off my shoulders. And it allows me to forgive myself a little bit.

Here's how my mom answered some questions on this subject.


Is there a Buddhist practice for reminding ourselves that we are not the center of other people’s attention?

That's a tough question. I would say mindfulness. Yes, mindfulness—in or outside of meditation—you don't have to meditate to practice mindfulness. There are a couple of ways in which mindfulness can help us remember we are not the center of other people's attention. 

First, mindfulness is simply paying attention to what's going on. If you use it to pay attention to other people, you'd make an effort to become aware of what they're interested in, what they're saying, etc. If you truly do this—pay attention to other people—you'll discover that they're busy dealing with their own life with its crazy ups and down. They're not focused on yours. 

Trying to lead our own lives in a decent way is hard enough. So, if you practice mindfulness by saying, "Okay, I'm going to pay attention to other people for a bit," you'll see that they're much more interested in their own lives than yours. So that would be using mindfulness to serve as a reminder that you're not the center of other people's attention. It's even true of the people you're closest to; you might be the center of their attention now and then, but not all the time.

There's a second way mindfulness can help and it happens to be the reason I value mindfulness so highly. You can use it to watch what's going on in your own mind. And again, you don't have to be meditating to do this. If you pay attention to thoughts and emotions that arise in your mind, you'll be able to see early on whenever you're caught up in a stressful thinking or emotional pattern that has you worrying about what other people are thinking about you. 

The reason it helps to become aware of stressful thoughts and emotions as soon as possible is that you have a better chance of letting them go—of just dropping them, and this stops you from starting to spin stressful stories about whatever is bothering you, such as "She doesn't think I'm really sick" or "Everyone is thinking I should just snap out of this depression." It's amazing how we tell ourselves stories and then believe them without even questioning their validity. Almost all of those stories aren't true but they make us really unhappy nevertheless.

So, in the context of this topic, if I were to notice that I'm worrying because I'm focused on what other people might be thinking of me, once I become aware of it—that's the mindfulness part—then instead of inventing scenarios that are pretty certain not to be true, I can help myself out with a few reflections. 

First, I can reflect that have no idea what other people are thinking." This is the value of becoming aware of what's going on in your mind—once you see what you're doing, you can reflect on what the real truth is. And the truth is you have no idea what other people are thinking! 

Second, I can see that this focus on what others are thinking of me is a tremendous drain on my energy. This is especially hard for me because I'm chronically ill. And people who are depressed often don't have a lot of energy either. I think of energy as a precious commodity, and I don't want to use it up worrying about what other people might be thinking about me. 

Lastly, when we start to spin—and believe—those stressful stories about what other people are thinking about us, we're likely to get down on ourselves. We might even start questioning ourselves. That's our inner critic and we definitely don't want to give it an opening to come visit! When we're worried about what other people are thinking about us, that worry can boomerang back and lead us to be down on ourselves. And that does not feel good. 

As I said, it's amazing the stories we can spin that make us miserable. So the sooner we can become aware that we're starting to worry in that way, we can stop those stories. This is a practice that's consistent with mindfulness but comes from the work of Byron Katie—a wonderful teacher who's not a Buddhist. She has a technique for learning how to questions the validity of our stressful thoughts. I write about it in both my first and third books because it's been so tremendously helpful to me.

While I usually find comfort in this notion that other people are more wrapped up in themselves than they are in me, because of your illness, have there been times when you felt as if you wished people would notice what you were going through more?

I've been chronically ill for almost 16 years now, and for the first few years I did want people to acknowledge that was sick. I interpreted someone's lack of that acknowledgement as proof that they didn't believe I was sick or that they didn't care about me. 

As far as not caring about me, I learned I was always wrong. It's just that a lot of people don't know how to behave around illness. Until I became chronically ill, I didn't realize how many people I knew had a chronic illness (which includes chronic pain) but looked just fine. Most people who are chronically ill do look fine. So that was another example of using up precious energy spinning stories about why people weren't acknowledging I was sick. 

I finally reached the point when I stopped doing that. I said to myself, "I know I'm sick, My family and close friends know I'm sick." Because, if you're around me a lot, you see the illness. My husband knows how I'll be feeling on any given day based on how I look in the morning. My good friend Dawn can tell how I'm doing whenever she visits. I don't have to tell her. And really, what does it matter if someone doesn't believe I'm sick? I don't need everyone to believe me.

That said, there are times when I do wish people would notice my limitations. It's when I have to miss out on something really special. I think I mentioned in our social media posting from last week the family trip to Disneyland. Your brother's family, your family, my husband—everyone was there except me. 

That was an event where I have to admit it would feel great to have someone acknowledge how hard it is to have to miss something like that. Just an "I'm so sorry" would do. I don't actually remember if anyone did acknowledge it in that way, but it's an example of when it helps to have people notice the huge effects this illness has had on my life. 

It would help because it would make me feel understood. Feeling understood is what we all want whether we're healthy as can be or struggling with our health. Everyone wants to feel understood.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Do You Google?

Hi everyone. Mara here. The internet is a wondrous thing. However, sometimes I realize that I am using its powers for evil instead of good. Okay, not evil, but I’m clearly wasting the power of the internet just because I’m bored. Growing up, we had an old set of Encyclopedias that I used, and I felt lucky we owned a set and I didn’t have to go to the library all the time. Now we have access to what feels like all the knowledge in the world. 

I probably look things up on the internet 100 times a day. I will sit and Google things as they pop up into my brain because I like that I can. Sometimes I research interesting and important things, like how to fix my garbage disposal. But usually I’m looking up random things because I can and honestly most of the stuff I look up is goofy.  

What do you look up for fun? Comment below!

Here’s some of Mara's recent Google searches:

—How to make Taco Bell Baja Blast Freeze

—How tall was Jackie Kennedy? 

—IMDB: War Dogs

—How long does salsa last?

—Can I reuse pickle juice?

—Search for ice tongs

—Fainting goats

—Dog heads cut into cube japan

—Search for small tubes



—Santa hat glitter

—Crochet tiny french linen

—Alexa lights

—Defensive driving teen discount

—Nose irritation inside

—Front bumper camera

—26 cm inches 

—Chicken potato packet

I have no idea what some of these things mean or what I was looking for, but it was important to me at the time!

Toni here. These are some of my recent Google searches:

—Cold feet (as in their temperature)

—Is it “wax eloquent” or “wax eloquently”?

—Does svelt have an “e” on the end? (It does and so I didn’t get points in Boggle for listing it)

—Dental implant v. bridge

—When was the last February 29?

—What is a utility knife?

—Florence Dome Medicis

—Eurasian Blue Titmouse

—What is abstract expressionism?

—Coldest water safe for dog to swim in

—IMBD: Frances McDormand

—Is it “reception area” or “receptionists' area”?

—Weather in Sydney

—Are Sharpies toxic?

—IMBD: Length of Mud

—How to do the levitation trick

—Can bonsai plant be left outside if it freezes overnight?

—What is cultured marble?

—Tennis: career grand slam v. holding all four majors in a row

—Moldy thermos

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Social Media in Your Life: Are You Missing Out...or Just Worrying About Missing Out?

I love social media. And I hate social media. 

I love seeing photos. I’m mostly an introvert, so I love that I can feel like I’m staying connected to people in a quiet non-intrusive way. But there are definitely times when I find social media overwhelming. I start knowing too much about people whom I don’t want to know very well, or I start to feel too wrapped up in other people’s lives.

And, as a mother, there are times when I wish I could hit a button and pretend the internet doesn't exist, because it’s hard for kids to know what all their peers are doing all the time. Inevitably, sometimes their friends are doing things without them and this can cause so much heartache. When I was a kid, you didn’t know where all your friends were or the fun things they were doing without you. Now, almost every minute of a teenager’s life is on display in one format or another. 

Even the most balanced kids are going to feel social anxiety from time to time when they see posts of their friends doing things without them.

And this happens to adults too. Or at least it happens to me. I’m not a very social person, but even I find myself feeling stung with hurt feelings if I see that a group of my friends have gone out and didn't include me. Even if I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to go, or even if I know that it wouldn’t have been appropriate to include me…it still feels bad. And it feels even worse when it’s something I really do want to be a part of. 

And then I get irritated with myself because I know that the posts and photos on Facebook never tell the whole story—that even if I had been invited and even if I had managed to convince myself to go, it doesn’t mean I would have had fun or that I would have looked like one of the smiling people in the photos. I tell myself that the things people post on social media only tell us what they want us to know about or see. But my pep talk usually doesn’t work, and I often sulk for a bit until I remember that I don’t actually care that much.

I have purposely removed myself from social media for long periods of time because I know it’s better for me to focus on myself and not worry about what my 700 Facebook friends are doing. It’s peaceful putting myself back in a position of not knowing what everyone is doing or what they're thinking. And while I love that people's kids get awards, win prizes, or book amazing jobs, I don't need to know about these things if I'm struggling to get my kid to pick up her shoes off the kitchen floor.

I realize that this is my own issue. I don't blame social media. I don't blame people for wanting to share the things in their lives that they're proud of. I do it too. But there are times when, for my own sanity, I need to take a break. Sometimes I just don't want to know all the details about what I'm missing out on. 

So I wondered how my mom, whose main link to the outside world is through Facebook and the internet, handles feelings of missing out when she sees posts and photos about things she wishes she could be a part of. Here's my interview with her.


What do you think of social media?

You captured perfectly in your essay what a mixed bag it is. And you’re absolutely right that we only see what people want us to see. This is true of in-person interactions too, of course, but social media makes what people are doing feel bigger than life because we see it in pictures, videos, and even short pithy status updates.

The fact is, none of us really knows what goes on inside the walls of other people’s houses—or even in their minds—whether it’s an in-person interaction or an online one. People who are always bragging about their kid may be constantly fighting with that kid at home. Someone who posts a picture of chocolates that her spouse or partner gave her that makes us think, “Lucky you to have such a thoughtful and loving partner” may be well aware that it’s the first gift she’s received from that partner in years…but, of course, she’s not going to share that.

When I realized that I don’t actually know what other people’s lives are like, it helped me stop constantly comparing myself and my life to others. When I can do it—not be comparing—I’m much happier and my life is better. 

And then there’s the problem of TMI (too much information), which you also mentioned. One of my Facebook friends posted about how many times she’d gone to the bathroom that day. I don’t need to know that!

I think social media sites are more important for people who are housebound due to illness or other reasons. I call Facebook “a port in the storm” for them. At one point, there were so many therapist at Psychology Today—where I also write—who were saying that Facebook was bad for our self-esteem, etc. that I posted a piece called “In Defense of Facebook.” Rather than repeat my defense, I hope people will read it. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems. 

In addition, because I’m pretty much housebound, I’m mostly cut off from what’s happening in my relatively small town. By having local friends in my Facebook news feed, I can keep up with what’s going on, even why (as happened the other day) a helicopter is flying over my neighborhood!

Finally, on the plus side, although this may also be due to my books, I’ve met people from all over the world, so Facebook has made me feel like an international citizen. I get messages from people in Russian, Pakistan, even Syria.

How do you handle the feelings of missing out when you are seeing events on social media that you were not able to be a part of?

Thankfully, after 16 years of illness, for the most part, I’ve learned to accept missing out. I don’t expect to be included in social gatherings or to go traveling and the like—and it’s okay with me. That said, when everyone in our family goes somewhere together and I’m the only one missing, seeing photos on Facebook of their adventure is hard. This happened with Disneyland a couple years ago—your Dad was there along with your family and your brother’s family. On the one hand, I wanted to see all of you having fun, but it was also painful. Yet, overall, I would rather have seen the photos that were posted than not seen them. The digital age has made life so complicated!

Do you ever take “breaks” from Facebook?

To be honest, I’d like to at times but I don’t. I assume that, due to my books and the articles and other stuff I post, I have a huge following—almost 400,000 people. No one is more surprised than I am about this! Actually, I have two Facebook pages. One is a personal page for close friends and family, and I don’t post there very often. The other page is the one with the big following. I call it my “book page” although technically Facebook considers them to be “commercial pages,” like one for Nike for example—who can afford to advertise and uses its page for promotions. Yes, I do sometimes post about my books on my page, but I’m not comfortable promoting them and so I’ve turned it mostly into an art page. People tell me that they appreciate it and say they look forward every day to the photos and artwork that I post.

It is a lot of work to keep that page up, I admit, because there are rules to follow. You can’t just post a photo, for example, simply because you know the photographer’s name. You have to have his or her permission, so I only post from sites that are “free for re-use.” It can be a challenge to find high quality photos that way, but I work at it. Thankfully, on a Facebook “commercial page” you can schedule a few posts in advance that go up automatically at a specific time, so I don’t have to always be at my computer to click “Publish” when I want to put up something new.

More important than the photos and artwork I post on that page is the fact that many page members depend on me for support with their health struggles (which often lead to personal and relationship struggles).  I want to help them if I can, so I always check to see if someone is reaching out to me. They might do it in a comment to a post or it might be a private message. It’s one way I can help others, even though I can’t do it in person.

My husband considers the work I do on Facebook to be a part-time job and I suppose he’s right. It’s work…but I will say that I’ve learned a tremendous amount about flowers, birds, artists, and the difficulties people face in life.

If you were not chronically ill, do you think your relationship to social media would be different?

I don’t know—and I guess I may never know. I think I’d be on social media less, but maybe not. I see lots of people with full-time jobs outside the house who are always posting on Facebook. I do know that, lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort not to hang out online all the time. The computer screen can drain my energy stores fast.

Are you on social media sites other than Facebook? 

I am but I’m not active on them the way I am on Facebook. By this I mean that when you and I post a new piece or when I post an article I’ve written for Psychology Today, I do post them all around: Google Plus, Pinterest, Linkedin, Twitter. 

I’ve never otherwise been active on Google Plus. I did spend about six months going Pinterest-crazy a few years ago, creating lots of boards and putting up photos and articles, but I felt I had to cut back on my computer use, so I've cut way back on that. And Twitter…I don’t understand how to use it effectively and I don’t seem to want to take the time to learn, so I just have my Facebook “book page” automatically post to Twitter. 

I hope others will share their thoughts on social media. It’s a fascinating topic and it’s changed the way that most of us live.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Life's Simple Pleasures: The Little Things that Bring Us Happiness

Mara here. So apparently there is no secret to miraculous happiness in life. As amazing as a pill or magic spell would be to suddenly make everything perfect, I've discovered that little things can make me feel, at least for a moment, a little surge of joy. These little things don't solve problems or pay my electric bill or anything like that. But they do remind me that life has moments when it feels magical if I'm simply willing to look for them. 

Little things that bring me happiness:

—Waking up two minutes before my alarm goes off. Waking up ten minutes early makes me wish I’d slept ten minutes more, and waking up one minute early makes me stressed because I have to get to the clock fast before it starts blaring in my ear. But two minutes is perfect.

—When the podcast I'm listening to ends right at the end of my jog. It makes me happy when the two things coincide like that.

—When my total bill at the grocery store comes to a whole dollar amount. Feels very satisfying.

—Ice cold drinking water on a hot day.

—Finding one of my favorite movies on TV.

—That first day I feel better after I’ve had the flu.

—When a package from an online order gets delivered. (After all these years. it still feels magical that I can click a few buttons and have things arrive at my front door!) [Toni note: it's still magical to me, too, Mara.]

—Taking a shower at the end of a long day.

—Seeing a perfectly shaped rose.

—Finding a parking spot right where I need one.

—Walking in the rain.

Little things that bring Toni happiness:

—The sun coming in my bedroom windows.

—Opening the front door when it’s pouring rain to watch and listen.

—Like Mara: Finding one of my favorite movies on TV.

—Eating a banana.

—One of my Psychology Today pieces taking off in cyberspace and I have no idea why or why the number of clicks on it is suddenly soaring.

—The tiny Black Phoebe who flits around my backyard like a hummingbird and has the cutest chirp.

—Seeing one on my bonsai trees sprout a new leaf.

—Finding all the socks I put in the dryer (some clich├ęs are true).

—Eating the elegant dinners my husband cooks for me. (Many of these dinners are more than "simple pleasures"!) 

—Turning over from my nap to find myself face-to-face with my dog who immediately starts licking my face.

—Decaf mocha, no whip.

What are your simple pleasures? We'd love to hear about them; maybe we'll add them to ours!

Walking in the rain