How can we be a better friend?

We are all unique in our essence, in our abilities and in our personal qualities that allow us to contribute positively to the lives of the people we love most and the people around us.  Many times, although we are aware of these wonderful people who are part of our lives, we tend to spend our time being able to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations and we do not do enough to show our love and our appreciation to these people.

I have been very lucky to have seen friendships that lasts a lifetime and through my own experiences, I have been a witness of the importance that a solid friendship can have in our lives.  After thinking for a while, I have come up with a list of the actions we can do for our friends. These actions do not have to be large or elaborated, but they have to be initiated by the love and gratitude we feel.

  • If you know of someone close to you who is recovering from an illness or struggling with a disease, make a casserole or lasagna and take them home, without asking if they want it or not, just knock on the door and hand them the plate so they have a meal (or two).
  • If you know of someone close to you who is recovering from an illness or struggling with a disease, make a casserole or lasagna and take them home, without asking if they want it or not, just knock on the door and hand them the plate so they have a meal (or two).
  • Participate in those activities that your friends are coordinating and need help or participants.
  • Go to the soccer, baseball, or dance recital of one of your nephews, especially if it is an important championship. Your friends will appreciate your sharing such a special moment in their lives with them.
  • Help a friend who has just started working on a new job, either with new unknown software, or by offering advice on his / her new line of work.
  •  If your friends are trying to make a change in their health and are taking actions to be healthier, support them and encourage them.
  • If your friends are asking for volunteers to help them in moving to a new house or painting their house or setting up a new office and you can, sign up and help them.
  •  Give a compliment if they got a new haircut or are trying to eat healthier.
  • Give thanks for something they have done for you, no matter if time has passed, take the time to say thank you and express appreciation

We all have high expectations of our friends, but at times is good to ask ourselves, are we doing all we can to make sure our friends feel loved and appreciated by us.  Next time you have the opportunity to show it, take it. You are cultivating a lifetime of great moments and experiences shared.

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Barcelona Day 1… airplane trip, arrival, and walking Las Ramblas

Vacation planning… airplane trip, arrival in Barcelona and walking Las Ramblas!

Every time I travel I  like to visualize the voyage, the process of “getting there” and for me, this is even more important when you are traveling with family and friends.   We are traveling to Barcelona to take a 8-day Mediterranean Cruise with my kids and my parents (I know God Bless my husband). We are flying to Barcelona via Frankfurt and it will be FUN!.  Having been in long flights throughout my traveling time I am looking forward to “cross the pond” with my kids for the first time 😉)

TIP#1:  Book a transatlantic flight that flights through the night so you force yourself to sleep during the flight and helps you handle the jet lag a bit better

We are departing from Houston at 4:30 pm.  The kids will go to school as usual and we will go from their school to the airport.  I will give them a light snack at the airport and wait until dinner on the plane. The intention is for them to sleep as much as possible and “wake up” in Frankfurt. From Frankfurt, we take a 2-hour flight to Barcelona and arrive in Barcelona at 1:30 pm.

We meet my parents at the Hotel which is located by Plaza Catalunya and the Rambla.  We take some time to rest and we go for walk by the Ramblas. My intention is to walk hitting the following places:

Casa Batllo – 3-minute walk

Plaza Catalunya – 9-minute walk

Rambla del Raval – 15-minute walk

Palau Guell – 7-minute walk

Colon Monument – 7-minute walk

We will have dinner when hungry and I have spotted three different “Tapas” places along the way.  

We will walk back to the hotel while expressing our gratitude for been in Barcelona altogether and I hope we can spot a good place to have a dessert with coffee on our way back to the hotel.

TIP#2: When you are jet lag and its time to sleep take melatonin. It helps to regulate your new time zones.  Also if you can sleep with the curtains open so that the sunlight can help to wake you up and will be easier for your internal clock to self-regulate.

I will take note of the first day and see how close we are to the above itinerary. I am always curious to see how much of the planning becomes a reality and even more important how much it helps when we deviate from the plan itself.

And now lets get to Day#2

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The Power of Daily Goals

A few months ago I completed a self-improvement challenge and one of the new habits that I decided to adapt to my daily routine was having 1 to 3 daily goals.  I would write down the goals in the morning and kept them on my mind as my day unfolded and reflect on them at bedtime.

The goals are to be simple and attainable.  From working out to drinking more water, to listening to a new podcast, to limit time spent watching youtube, to have a conversation with my husband after we put the kids to sleep.  The idea is to feel in control of your actions, of your decisions and to make things happen.

I invited my husband to join me for the daily goals and he happily accepted, so we both, while getting ready or making breakfast will take the time to out loud say our goals of the day.  Then we invited the kiddos… and it has been a wonderful decision.

We all as individuals see and perceive things differently. I work as a marine engineer for the maritime industry and have been doing so for about 14 years, my husband has a contract to do home health so his industry is wellness and performance.  Then we have our 12 and 9-year-old whos live is mainly school, soccer (younger one) and running (oldest one), and home. So, the 3 daily goals are as different as they are surprising.

For me, my daily goals can look like: 

  • Taking a walk during lunch break
  • Drinking 6 glasses or more of water during working hours
  • Acknowledge a coworker (ask them how they are doing and do small talk)
  • Listen to a podcast while driving
  • Limit sugar intake / do fasting in the morning
  • Take a moment to write on my journal or working on my blog
  • Workout (in the morning or afternoon)
  • Have a smile when coming home after work

For my husband, they usually look like:

  • Try to rest when I come back from work
  • Have a healthy snack when I come back from work
  • Finish my water bottle during working hours
  • Have at least 1-hour work out (on gym days) which means less chatting more sweating
  • Call my wife mid-morning
  • Listen to a new podcast while driving
  • Be nice and offer any additional help to my patients
  • Stop by my mom house to say hi on my way home
  • Cheer for my son while at soccer practice
  • Have a 15-minute chat with my oldest son right before he goes to bed

For my two kiddos, the goals are usually:

  • Eat all my lunch in the lunch hour
  • Say thank you at least 10 times during the day
  • Be helpful with the teacher
  • Sit in lunchtime next to someone I don’t know that much
  • Do my homework as soon as I come from school
  • Tell my dad and mom a joke after school
  • Read 10 pages of the book I am reading
  • Give my brother three hugs during the day

We always try to discuss how we did with the daily goals, what we accomplished and we did not.  With the time I noted that we are all more open to trying new things, to set the bar higher as we accomplish these goals and also to be accountable when we don’t reach them. We are more self-assured and more confident and most importantly we are doing our best, personally and collectively to improve ourselves, to be better with ourselves and those around us.

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The power of true friendship… looking into my memories

Memory Lane…

I grew up with a fantastic group of friends.  Some of them are part of my life since I was 5 years old (really we met in kindergarten!).  Others were added to the circle as we grew up, however, we, all together, go back since we were 12 years old.

We are now older, we would think smarter, definitely more experienced, we want to believe wiser.  We have stuck together through 25 years of friendship where marriage, divorce, kids, distance, and loss has happened.  But we are us, uniquely us, we encourage each other, we help each other, we give each other company, we complain about everyone and everything and we, sometimes, don’t see eye to eye (at all).  I am a very fortunate and grateful person for having them in my life.

I have personally a great story about what friendship is all about, what my friends have taught me with their actions.  I was 17 years old when I had a bad car accident. I broke my neck (C5) and back (L2 through L5), which meant I was so very fortunate to be able to tell the story, even more of fully recovering from it.  The recovery took months and one constant through all those months were my friends. They took turns coming to visit me, they learned how to help me with changing clothes or with shower and bathroom duties, they helped eat when I was not able, learned to clean my wounds (I had the halo), and most importantly where constant emotional support.

We were young, just graduated from high school, we had boyfriends and we liked to party. We were wild in our own way.  We were good kiddos that truly enjoyed going out and living life and so for the next few months, we held parties at my house so that I could be present, they slept in my house so that my parents could leave for the weekend to attend other commitments, they took me to therapy when needed and wherein the house the moment I would feel down and in pain. They were my rock.

I am so grateful for my friends for what the did during one of the most painful times in my life. I am grateful for their company, support, encouragement, compassion, and kindness.  My love for them has only grown stronger as the last 25 years have passed and we remain as close as ever. Even though I chose to leave Panama and come to live in the US and therefore my life took a different route than theirs back home, we talk every day through Whatsapp and phone, always fully invested in each other lives.  Always. That is what I call best friends forever (all 13 of them).

Treasure your friends, no matter where they are, no matter how different their lives look from you now, friendship is an infinite source of power and encouragement, but it needs to be nurtured, you need to pay attention to it, you need to be present and provide as much time as you can.  Call them, talk to them, listen to them, tell them how much their friendship means to you. Always.

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Appreciating SOLO Time

Self-discovery is a journey

When I look back I have always being a loner… I like spending time by myself and with myself.  Always had. At times friends and boyfriends would complain about me being reclused and moody, and I always admitted to it, never fought it or felt insulted. It was true, I could recluse myself into solitary to study, to soothe my mind, to nurture my soul. I just need time alone.

I have always been surprised how after 20 years of leaving my home country, my friends (my closest friends) are the ones I have back in Panama.  Those amazing 13 women were, are and will be one of the best gifts life has given me, and thanks to WhatsApp we are constantly chatting, giving advice, reprimanding, complaining, encouraging and congratulating each other.  Of course, I have made friends since coming to the U, but 20 years later there are just about 5 people that have been close enough to call them a friend.

When I turned 35, there was a major shift in me. I started reading self-improvement books, marriage books, communication books, mindfulness books and with this new information I was learning, I became aware that me being a loner was a trait of my personality and most importantly I learned to embrace it.

So what are the things that I enjoy doing all by myself? Here are a few of them:

Watching a movie: I work next to a movie theater and ever so often I try to treat myself for an early afternoon movie on Fridays.  Maybe it happens once every two or three months but when there is a movie (especially a rom-com girly movie) I go in, popcorn in hand, and have a blast all by myself.

Having a meal in restaurants:  I know it’s not easy to see people eating by themselves, but what if that person is choosing to be alone?  In my case, there have been so many times in which I have been eating by myself, in a nice place, watching people walk by or just observing the restaurant.  I remember when I was in college I would go to this cafe for lunch and sit by the window just watching people walk by, I enjoyed the meal, the view, and the loneliness.

Traveling:  Walking into an airport is instant relaxation for me.  I like going to the airport at least 2-hours before my flight and sit in a food court or Starbucks and watching people walk by.  Also been by myself in a long flight (8 or more hours) is therapy to me.  Watching movies, reading, writing, or just plainly thinking, enjoying the constraint of not been able to go anywhere for the next 10 hours. Princeless.

It is my experience, now at 39 years old, that taking the time to get to know yourself better is pivotal in our continuous self-improvement.  We need to decipher ourselves and embrace our own thoughts. We are all different and when I am walking in a mall and I pass by a group of friends, I smile… my lonely trip is their group trip… and we are equally enjoying it.

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Question of the Week: What song or songs remind you of your younger self or of a specific time in your life?

This question has been on my mind for a very long time, the reason I think this question often pops in my head is that I have vivid memories that are strongly attached to specific songs, each time I hear these songs, my soul goes time traveling back to that moment and I feel encapsulated with all the colors, people and places of that time. Which song/moment combo comes to you when you think about it? It can be a sad, happy, lonely, coming-of-age moment, or just powerful enough to find its place in your memories. My Top 3 moments and their songs are:

1.Place: Street Car in New Orleans   Band: Duncan Dhu (all songs)   

I studied  Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of New Orleans and one year into my studies I moved to an apartment in uptown New Orleans with my best friend.  While living in uptown meant we were closer to our Panamanian friends and Bourbon Street with all its glory, it meant also that I was far from where the University was and had no car, so for a full year, I took the Streetcar (from beginning to end which is approx 1 hr) and then a  bus that would take me across the city until reaching the University campus. I went back and forth every day while listening to Duncan Dhu, a Spanish band and one of my old-time favorite’s. I had a big collection of their records so I was always changing the CD on my CD player (oh yeah!!) and never ever getting tired. 

I have one perfect memory of being in the Streetcar, passing through Audubon Park in Saint Charles Avenue while listening to A Tientas, with my head resting on the window.  Its been 20 years since that time and the memory remains the same.  It is one of my favorite memories because although I felt tired, lonely, and overwhelmed with the studies, and uncertain about the future, the song lyrics and melody allowed my soul to sing giving me profound hope for the next chapter in my life.

2. Place:  New Orleans    Song: Late in the Evening by Paul Simon (in Concert)

When I was 14 years old my dad introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel and was love at first sight.  I barely spoke English but the album Bridge Over Troubled Water had a special place in my music collection.  With the years I was able to slowly collect more albums and the album The Concert in Central Park became my favorite.   In 2001, when I was living in New Orleans Paul Simon came to Jazz Fest and he was giving a concert and of course, I wanted to go.  I could not get one person to come with me so I asked my then-boyfriend to drop me off and pick me up after the concert to which he agreed.   I remember I had bought the cheapest ticket and was on the second floor, but since I was by myself I slowly moved my way down and placed myself in the center of the fourth row. It was magical. Seeing all these people singing Paul Simon’s songs was unbelievable to me.  And then he played Late in the Evening and the people exploded and I was there, dancing, singing, seeing Paul Simon singing while playing his guitar was unbelievable, it was a moment of excitement, of pure joy, of pure greatness.  No matter where I am, every time I hear this song, I smile… I fill myself with love and joy and happiness… Thank you, Paul Simon.

3. Place: Driving in our car   Song: Everything will change

We have been fans of Gavin Degraw’s music for years.  We have all his albums and we constantly listen to him in the house or while driving.  My husband and kids are huge fans too which makes it super easy to ask Google to play his music at any time. He is our to-go-artist when the four of us are together.  My husband always dreamed of buying a convertible and after saving money for a couple of years we were able to buy one. One beautiful morning, we went for a ride, with the top down, the wind blowing, the sun shining, and Gavin Degraw’s Everything will change playing out loud.  I captured this moment in video and this moment represents fulfillment, joy, happiness, and love. I catch my husband every now and then watching the video with a big smile on his face, holding on to that moment in time in which as a family, we felt whole, we felt connected and we felt loved.  The kids are much older now and although their love for Gavin Degraw and especially this song has not diminished, this moment in time will forever be ours.

I believe in the power of music, on the power of songwriting, from been a teenager and listening to Sublime, to Ruben Blades (of course best ever), to singing Regueton with my oldest son, or reaching for Pearl Jam during traffice time, music plays an important moment in my life. So what about you?  Which are the songs that connect you with that special memory time and time again?

Family Rules Got to love my children Loving Life We got married Writer's drawer

Question of the week…

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I have been thinking about ways to engage with you, the reader, and have decided to do, every Thursday, a “Question of the Week” segment, in which I will ask a fun, insightful, interesting and hopefully smart question that will challenge you to answer it.  You can answer it out loud on the spot, use it for your journal entry, or just reflect on it for the next couple of hours or days.

The intention is to invite you to reflect and make you aware of your thoughts and feelings while you answer the question… creating a mini mindful moment.

The question of this week is:  If you had an extra hour every day, how would you spend it?

When we ask ourselves this question, we tend to gravitate towards those actions or activities that we “keep putting off” mostly because of the “lack of time”.  Some of the most common answers are:

  • I would exercise
  • I would cook a healthy dinner 
  • I would take time to converse with my husband and children (or parents or friends)
  • I would study to further my education (go back to school or a work-related course)
  • I would practice meditation or work towards mindfulness
  • I would start my own business
  • I would start a hobby (or go back to it)

This question, when we answer it honestly, can reveal things that are sincerely important to us since we are no longer blaming the “lack of time” as the culprit for not doing them.

Think about that extra time and what you would do with it. Maybe you will realize what is truly important to you, and rearranging your schedule to make it happen can be something worth looking into.  All is possible within our reach and our time schedule. Yes, we do need to rearrange and prioritize, but we can do it.

 

 

Mari Park

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