Nov 23 2019

Time, Happiness, and Seizing the Day

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time. How we spend it, how much we have left, and whether or not we appreciate the moments as we live them. There is nothing like a brush with cancer to teach you, had you not already learned this lesson, to appreciate every day, every moment.

Paulo Coelho wrote, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

Over ten years ago, we moved to Costa Rica with 10 suitcases, a laptop computer, and our Siamese cat, Cleo. As we were packing and preparing to move, I remember wondering whether this was the right decision. We had left the “back door” open, so to speak, by not selling our house in Baltimore and not shipping everything we owned to our new home country. We were pretty sure that we would love it, but we weren’t ready to cut all our ties to our previous lives. What convinced us that we should take this chance was what was happening to some of our friends in Baltimore at the time. Within a few months’ time, four of our friends had heart attacks and needed open-heart surgery — in one instance, first the husband, then two weeks later, the wife. And all were younger than us. For us, it was confirmation that we should do this thing we wanted to do — to live in another country, another culture — while we were healthy enough to enjoy the experience fully. We’ve never looked back.

Costa Rica has been good to us. We were able to start our business, Retire for Less in Costa Rica, and through that, we have been able to interact with people all over the world. It has given me great satisfaction knowing that we have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years decide whether or not they and Costa Rica are right for each other. We have built relationships, learned about the people and the culture of Costa Rica, and we have enjoyed the immense natural beauty that this country offers. It is a place of peace, family, and national pride.

For the past few years, we have been spending more time in Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City), Mexico. I first visited Oaxaca during our honeymoon in late 2003, while Paul had spent some time there back in the 70s while attending University in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. Now, as it was then, Oaxaca is a magical place. This year, 2019, we are spending 6 months in Oaxaca. In fact, I am writing this while sitting at the dining room table in our little one-bedroom bungalow in Oaxaca, Mexico. Many of the things I have loved about living in Costa Rica, I am now appreciating in Oaxaca. The sky is blue, the mountains are in the distance, hummingbirds are flitting around between the pine tree and the palms. At night, I can lay in bed and listen to the night sounds, as I learned to love doing when we lived in the country just outside of San Ramón in Costa Rica’s western Central Valley.

For years, I fought my growing love for Oaxaca. I worried about the long-time readers of our website, What would they think? Would they think we are “betraying Costa Rica” (as one reader actually wrote to us) by splitting our time between Costa Rica and Mexico? Would they think we have been lying to them for 10 years about how much we love Costa Rica? Would we be letting people down, especially the people who wanted tours during the months we were out of the country?

And then, cancer happened. One year and two months ago, Paul was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in his kidney. One year ago, on August 9th, 2019, Paul had surgery in Costa Rica to remove his right kidney. It then took five months of anxious waiting before we received the results of the biopsy. During that time, we spent two months in Oaxaca, having delayed the trip by one month to allow for Paul’s recovery from surgery. Our goal during that visit was to fully enjoy ourselves, to fully live each moment, appreciating each other and this beautiful city. And we did just that. We ate the food, danced in the streets — especially Paul — participated in Day of the Dead celebrations, drank a little mezcal — especially me — and immersed ourselves in the local culture and arts scene. We didn’t know what news would await us when we returned to Costa Rica and got the biopsy results. So we chose to live and love fully during this trip and to enjoy every moment.

This was when I admitted the truth to myself. Oaxaca is my happy place. I finally let go of the guilt I had been feeling about “abandoning” Costa Rica and our readers, of not being all things to all people. After all, loving one place doesn’t mean you don’t love the other — just as loving your second child doesn’t mean you stop loving your first child. A Tica friend asked us a few months back whether we liked Costa Rica or Mexico better. “We like them differently,” we answered, and then we proceeded to tell her what we liked about each place. We have never regretted our move to Costa Rica more than 10 years ago. We still love the people we have met, the friends we have made, the experiences we have had, the beauty of the countryside and the beaches, the slow living and sense of peace. We still appreciate the healthcare system that found and treated Paul’s cancer and probably saved his life. And we still plan on continuing our lives in Costa Rica, just for less time.

Life is short. Too short. We don’t want to wake up one day and discover that we are out of time to do the things we love. So, we are doing them now. We will do what makes us happy and believe that everything will work out. And for now, that means spending six months or so every year in Oaxaca, Mexico. Living in two countries has its challenges, for sure.  Will we do this forever? We have learned not to talk about forever. We are seizing the day and choosing what makes us happy. Regardless of whether or not we can offer you a tour of Costa Rica when you come for a visit, or share with you our Costa Rica cost of living for the month, we can share this lesson with you: Don’t wait. Do it now. Do what makes you happy.


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