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Making the path for the light at the end of the tunnel

OMG. Holy Moly. I don’t know about you, but it has been a rough past few weeks for me! However, I can see the LIGHT at the end of the tunnel and I’m in a much better place. What happened and how did I get to the light?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12 NIV

I believe wholeheartedly I’ve been under spiritual attack. Six weeks ago, my husband, Bryan, and I joined a Lifegroup through our church, LifeAustin, and we’ve been studying the “Detours” series. I wrote about this new experience for us in a previous post, which you can read about here.

This experience has been beautiful and uncomfortable as we’ve been sharing with fellow believers in our church (whom we didn’t know previously) the detours that have surfaced in our lives. We’ve been learning the purpose, patterns, and promotion of detours according to God’s word.

I’ve come to look forward to my Tuesday evenings. Our hosts welcomed us into their beautiful home each week, prepared a delicious meal, played the video that accompanied the week’s lesson, and led us into discussions about detours. It’s a great experience because I enjoy sharing my perspective, learning from the Bible scriptures, learning from others, especially Bryan, and bonding with new people.

In the midst of our Detours Lifegroup, I was feeling increasingly burned out at work and home. I’m a giver. I’m an overachiever. My hormones were out of whack (all over the place). I was not getting enough sleep. I was in the process of interviewing and hiring for one of my vacant positions. Deadlines I’ve been juggling for years began to feel impossible. My team was noticing I seemed different. My boss was noticing. Bryan needed an urgent heart procedure to determine if he needed a more invasive surgery. I was feeling overwhelmed…too overwhelmed to write a blog post last week.

My internal thoughts were attacking me, but I can only take so much. Despite how positive I am and how much I preach about self-care, I’m susceptible to setbacks like most people. We’re also susceptible to spiritual attacks. I must be doing something good and right because I felt the weight of the attacks on my spirit, mind, and body. Then, this week, the weight was lifted.

The path that led me to the light was this:

  1. Awareness – I knew I was off kilter.
  2. Vulnerability- I shared how I was feeling with others – my Lifegroup family, my husband, and my sister.
  3. Prayer – My husband prayed over me, our Lifegroup family prayed with and for us, and I prayed.
  4. The Word – On my commutes to and from work, I listened to sermons that encouraged me.

In the meantime, I also surrounded myself with people and the furry animals who love me.

Beignet and Cannoli. LPC

I got out and enjoyed the glorious weather when we had it.

Trip to an asian market. LPC

Lucrece and Bryan at the Capitol. LPC

I entertained my sister in law visiting from Illinois.

Sadie, Bryan, and me. LPC

I’ve continued to do my favorite form of exercise…DANCE!💃🏾

A little sweat session in the garage Thursday morning. LPC

I’ve been catching up on my zzzzz’s. Thank you time change. I’ve been going to bed earlier because of it.

I love this sleep mask. LPC

By the end of this week, I could appreciate my accomplishments and most importantly what God is doing in my life. We completed our 6 week Lifegroup, I hired an excellent candidate for my team, I continue to use my position at work to mentor and uplift others, my daughter got all A’s in her second semester as a freshman in high school, my son registered for his community college classes, I have a game plan for the dance I’m coordinating for our office holiday party, my spiritual and mental energy has been restored, and Bryan doesn’t need an invasive heart surgery.

My final thoughts are: Life is GOOD. Hang in there. Appreciate what you have. Pray incessantly. Have FAITH. Keep moving forward.

What encourages you during difficult times?

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Food chronicles: October adventures

I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve been doing it wrong for a long time too. I remember watching Rachel Ray’s, 30-Minute meals on the Food Network back in the day and she did the same thing. She said the best way to store herbs is in a large zip lock bag with a paper towel inside to absorb the moisture. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’ve watched countless food shows over the years and have seen herbs displayed in vases and jars, within easy reach for the chefs/cooks to pluck what they need. I don’t know why I haven’t made the connection previously, but a couple of weekends ago, I decided to change my method in storing herbs. I was getting tired of throwing away brown, rotten parsley and cilantro, especially cilantro! I despise wasting food!

Guess what? I placed a bunch of cilantro and parsley, each in their own mason jars with water, over a week ago, and they’re still beautiful. I admit I was skeptical. The cilantro would start turning black by now in the storage bag. Not only does the jar storage system keep them fresh, but it’s aesthetically pleasing to see mini herb bouquets when I open the refrigerator. Also, because they are visible and easily accessible, I’m likely to use more fresh herbs.

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Our grocery supply is getting lower since it’s towards the end of the month. Remember, I purchase the bulk of my groceries at the beginning of the month. I get paid once a month on the first, so this makes it easy to pay large household bills and expenses like food right away. As the month goes on, I tend to need to stop at the grocery store only to buy fresh produce and herbs, which is expected since some have a short shelf life.

To help make groceries stretch, I purchase large quantities of frozen vegetables, including peppers and seasoning blends. The peppers above are frozen tricolor peppers I bought from Trader Joes. I buy about two bags per month. I’m thinking of buying three bags in November. They are very convenient, especially for cooking in the middle of the week.

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Hash cake filling. LPC

For those who follow my site, you know by now I incorporate vegan cuisine into my weekly meal rotation. Frozen peas came in handy for this hash cake recipe that includes: cooked, quinoa, chia seeds, green onions, parsley, garbanzo beans, peas, and spices.

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Oven ready hash cakes. LPC

I love the hash cakes as a snack while I’m at work. I take about two per day and warm them up in the toaster oven. My taste buds love salty, crunchy, and savory foods, so these hash cakes hit the spot and I don’t have to worry about calories.

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Jerk chicken, grits, & collard greens with cabbage. LPC

Something in me conjured up the combination above and it was absolutely satisfying and delicious. I learned a few years ago my grocery store carried frozen collard greens. I sauteed fresh cabbage and onions with frozen collard greens and peppers plus spices. The result was a delicious side dish. The grits were by far the star of the show.

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Gumbo File. LPC

Another cold front came in this week, which prompted me to make a hearty and scrumptious pot of chicken and sausage gumbo yesterday. I was so proud of my roux. I really took my time with it and got it to a rich, dark chocolate color. It gave my gumbo so much flavor. I also used three bags of frozen vegetables in this recipe: a bag of frozen okra and tomatoes, .5 bag of frozen okra, and .3 bag of frozen corn. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers.

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Delicious chicken & sausage gumbo. LPC

There’s no telling what ideas I’ll come up with for next week.

What are you cooking?

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What breast cancer has taught me…

Breast cancer awareness month is nearing its end. I often spend September and October reflecting on my life after my breast cancer diagnosis, mostly because I was diagnosed right at the onset of breast cancer awareness month.

About 10-12 years ago, when my mom was attending to her breast cancer treatment, I had no knowledge of the disease. She told me she was struggling with how to proceed in her course of treatment considering how much her breasts meant to her. My mom had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction with an implant. I didn’t think she needed to get a breast implant. Admittedly at the time, I thought it was odd my mom was talking about her relationship with her breasts, considering she was in her late 60’s. I thought she wouldn’t care so much since she was in a different phase of life. Looking back, I was insensitive.

She wasn’t sure what to do and I wondered if she was repeating what medical staff might have told her to consider in her decision making. It’s possible I wasn’t accepting her position because I had never heard my mom discuss how she felt about her own body. The procedures took a toll on her. There was a complication with the breast implant, so she had a repeat surgery. She got through it. My mom is my finest example of a strong Haitian Queen.

Three years ago, I was faced with contemplating what my breasts, and LIFE, meant to me. Upon initial cancer diagnosis, doctors arm you with so much information. In a week’s time, I had met with my primary care physician, two different surgeons (one who would remove the tumor and one who would perform the breast reconstruction), and the oncologist. It was overwhelming. I presume they do this to ensure you know all of the options because of the unknowns about the cancer until the initial surgery to remove the tumor is performed.

There are different regimens of breast cancer treatment – surgery to remove the tumor, plastic surgery for breast reconstruction, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and oral medications.  These activities don’t necessarily occur in this order and one may not need every type of treatment. Characteristics of the tumor, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, determine the course of treatment. The initial surgery to remove the tumor is the main treatment. Tumor pathology results further dictate the course of treatment.

Ultimately, I had a lumpectomy, followed a week later by breast reconstruction of both my natural breasts, then radiation therapy daily for 3 weeks, and finally (I pray), due to my age, I take oral medications for another 2-7 years.

I have a long complicated history with my breasts, but not as long as women who are diagnosed around the average age of 55 years old. I’m an anomaly, along with other women diagnosed at younger ages – twenties, thirties, and forties. We may no longer be anomalies in coming years given younger women are diagnosed every day. Much of that has to do with the increase in breast cancer screenings and earlier detection thanks to breast cancer awareness campaigns.

I developed breasts early. I was around 11 years old. I remember my mom’s friends at times whispering to her while pointing at my breasts. It felt awkward. I was getting the messaging I was developing early.  This caused me to be self-conscious. By the time, I got to high school, I really noticed how the boys reacted to my breasts. They gawked at them, which made me even more self-conscious. I recall my first day as a freshman, waiting on classes to start in the gym. A boy said “hi” to me. We chatted for a bit, then he whispered to his friend (not really a whisper), “Nice cherries!” They both nodded and snickered.

It never occurred to me that I should love or be proud of my breasts. I was conflicted about them for sure. I knew boys and men loved them. They would just stare. I knew this type of attention is what girls are taught is not good attention. Plus, it also made me uncomfortable with my sexuality and how to process the attention I was getting.  Growing up in a religious environment didn’t really address body image issues and sexuality. Sex occurred after marriage and that was it.

Fast forward, I got married and had my two children, both of whom, I breastfed. I loved I was able to breastfeed my babies. I was doing what was best for them. However, breastfeeding two babies left me with sagging breasts. It wasn’t long before I started wishing for the beautiful size C cups of my youth. I was left with some large, lanky size double D’s. I had to double up on sports bars for my workouts. I would complain to my husband, Bryan, I needed a breast reduction. We would joke about it…”one day, when we got a lump of money…”.

Three years ago, I was in my plastic surgeon’s office listening as he explained plastic surgery options. By this time, I had shown my breasts to every doctor/nurse I had seen in a week’s time and this continued for a year. The awkwardness of showing strangers, especially male doctors my breasts can’t be fully explained. I already had a love/hate relationship with my breasts.

If I chose to get a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction, fat could be removed from my stomach to rebuild my breasts. The surgery is 8 hours with a minimum of 1 week in the hospital and 1 month recovery post surgery. I could opt to get breast implants too like my mom. I would need to make a plan for nipples because I would lose them through surgery. But there was a resolution for that too….tattooed nipples. I’m as squeamish as they come, yet he was showing me before and after pictures. I could hardly stand it. My preference with my body is to always pick the least invasive approach.

I didn’t want to go through any surgeries. I wanted to be alive for my children. However, the path to wellness was surgery. Also, I was finally going to get a breast reduction and my size C cups back, but this was the farthest from my mind. I couldn’t imagine how I would get through all that was ahead of me, but I did by taking things in small bites – day by day.

When I told my mom I had breast cancer, she wailed, pleaded, and even told me on repeated occasions, she couldn’t accept it. Her reaction was as if she blamed herself. The fact is, I may have quite possibly gotten it through her genes, considering my grandmother, my mother’s mother, also had breast cancer. Genetic testing results came back negative. Genes are a trip. I’m thankful my siblings didn’t get it. It’s the luck of the draw. My children do have a real risk of getting breast cancer.

By the time, I told my mom, I knew I had a positive prognosis and had full faith I would be healed. I think I surprised her with my calm demeanor and positive attitude. I knew I had to get through my treatments to get to the other side. I was determined to do just that. I showed her how brave I was.

There is no question a cancer diagnosis brings you face to face with your own mortality and makes you consider what’s really important in life. You often will hear people who have had a sudden onset of a serious health condition say things like they know what’s important in life now, they don’t sweat the small stuff, they are more grateful, etc.

I agree with all of those things, but I still have a hard time with overachieving and overall doing too much and feeling guilty when I do try to do less. I’m working on it though. It’s takes awareness and deliberate action daily.

Ultimately, breast cancer has taught I can brave any storm and my one body is beautifully flawed. How people process their diagnosis varies and should be respected. Breast cancer has also reminded me of the need to:

  • Fuel my body daily with nutritious food and liquids
  • Reduce stress
  • Move daily
  • Think kind thoughts about myself
  • Have self-compassion
  • Slow down
  • Do things I love
  • Ask for what I need
  • Say what I mean to say

What have life challenges taught you about yourself?

 

 

 

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You can change the atmosphere

Great news! Yes, you and I have the power to change the atmosphere! Here’s a thoughtful post on changing the atmosphere, just in time for the beginning of the work week.
Happy 3rd week of October!

enlightenedsocialworker

Last month, I went on my first business trip in months – a sign that my work life is back to normal. I welcomed the trip because I was in a work “slump”. My attitude had not been the greatest due to some recent decisions made that were out of my control. Those decisions impacted a project I had been working on for 3 years. I often use the travel time to reflect and regroup, and boy, did I have some epiphanies!

I know I have the power to change the atmosphere (environment I’m in) with a positive attitude, but it takes work. Sometimes, it feels more comfortable to mope around, but it doesn’t provide any long term benefits. Here’s a personal example from my business trip of changing the atmosphere.

This incident occurred at the airport on my way to my destination. Yes (eye roll)…I hadn’t even left Austin…

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This is what breast cancer looks like

enlightenedsocialworker

I’m actually starting to feel normal again…my brand of normal.   I listened to my doctors and rested for the most part.  Over the last few weeks, I gradually started doing housework, cooking, getting organized, primping myself with mani/pedi’s, and have completed a week at the office.  I’ve been exercising for a week via DVD’s from my vast exercise DVD collection.  The desire to do more things has been a sign that I’m getting better…stronger. It’s been 4 weeks post breast reconstruction and I am healing beautifully.  I have to admit that I am beyond pleased with the results…stitches and all.  My breast cancer is Stage 1 and I’ve gotten test results indicating that chemotherapy would not impact my survival rate very much.  Therefore, I will not take part in that treatment.  I’ve since met with the radiology oncologist and had a CT scan last Monday.  It’s just a matter…

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Brave in Sunny San Diego

I’ll never forget this place!

enlightenedsocialworker

San Diego…what a beautiful place! I’m here for a few days to attend a behavioral health business conference. It’s been a positive experience. I generally love conferences because I walk away inspired and energized. I needed this considering I’ve been drained.

I admit the first day, preconference, was rough: a 3 hour flight and then I couldn’t figure out where to enter the hotel due to construction. I drove around several times. There was a slight problem with my hotel reservation, but it was resolved. My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day. I was tired and irritable. My nose was congested.

I felt better when I woke up Thursday morning at 3:14 a.m. My body was thinking it was 2 hours ahead in Texas, so I woke up on time. On Friday, I woke up at 3:48 a.m. I’ve still been getting a little less than…

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It’s Finally Here!

Hi all! It’s finally here! Yippee! Fall in Texas finally came…even if for just a few days! See what I mean below. We’ll be hot again before you know it, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. The weather unpredictability factor is pretty high this time of year. But I’m so happy the season has finally caught up with my meals because I’ve been cooking comfort foods for a while now. You can read more about my favorite comfort foods here and here.

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I was so excited to find canned organic pumpkin on sale for $1.50 at my local grocery store last week. I bought several cans so I can make my delicious pumpkin green smoothies. I’ve already enjoyed a batch of pumpkin/pineapple/spinach and pumpkin/mango/super greens. In all of my green smoothies, I add some power foods depending on my preference such as flax, chia, and/or hemp seeds. I choose a liquid depending on what I have a taste for such as brewed green tea, coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk or plain water. I wrote a post about my love of green smoothies a while back which you can read by clicking I love green SMOOTHIES.

In Chicago, I didn’t grow up eating pumpkins. Everyone I knew ate sweet potatoes, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over the years, I’ve become more interested in the nutritional benefits of certain foods. I’ve learned that pumpkins are very nutritious and have a high amount of Vitamin A, so when they are available at a reasonable price, I purchase them for smoothies.

I don’t remember eating sweet potatoes all year around in Chicago like I do now. I enjoy a plain baked sweet potato with a pinch of salt whenever I want – no butter and no sugar. On occasion, I also enjoy a sauteed sweet potato and onion hash as a breakfast side.

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Hardy breakfast: sauteed sweet potatoes, quinoa, eggs, & bacon. LPC

For the holidays in Chicago, family and friends made sweet potato pie and sweet potato casserole, which usually included marshmallows. We didn’t eat pumpkin pie. I do believe this is cultural because my inner circle consisted of Haitians and black or African American friends.

Sweet potato pie

My Sweet potato pie-LPC

In my first few months living in Texas as a new bride, I bought a Texas holiday cookbook. If the book weren’t so worn out, I’d share a picture. I never learned how to make the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. My sister, Gina, makes a fabulous sweet potato casserole. I’ve had many a delicious sweet potato casserole. They tend to be really sweet as you can imagine. It’s almost like eating a dessert.

There is a recipe for mashed sweet potatoes in my Texas holiday cookbook that I’ve been making for 22 years. It’s so good, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE! I always get compliments when I prepare it for potlucks or for my guests during Thanksgiving. It’s so simple, it’ll blow your mind. The secret ingredient that takes it over the top is brandy. Yes, indeed – ALCOHOL. The brandy allows the sweet potatoes to SHINE. Therefore, no marshmallows needed.

Thinking about my wonderful holiday recipes is making me excited for Thanksgiving, but we have a little ways to go before we get there. In the meantime, my weekends are spent prepping delicious meals for the upcoming week. I work to please my family’s palate as well as my own. Cooking is soothing for me. It is also gratifying knowing I’m doing something beneficial for my body by preparing healthy meals.

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Love, love, LOVE my simple salads. LPC

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The best mess. LPC

I had a taste for cashew cream, which is a versatile, vegan substitute for sour cream or whipped cream. It can be used for sweet or savory. I’ve come to really love cashew cream and have gotten quite good at making it. This last batch was the fluffiest I’ve ever made. I used it in my vegan Waldorf salad with apples, roasted walnuts, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cashew cream. I omitted the celery because I’m not a fan of it in the salad.

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Cashew Cream. LPC

I bet the cashew cream will taste delicious with my sweet potato pie and a dusting of cinnamon. I may try it this Thanksgiving. What do you think?

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I usually reserve stir fry for during the week because it’s quick to put together, but last Sunday, I made a scrumptious chicken stir fry with fresh pineapples and brown rice.

Mid week, I made crock pot chili before work. Here’s a funny story. I tasted all the ingredients before I left for work, so I knew it was going to be delicious after a 10-hour simmer. My trick is to layer the flavors. I was only missing the chili seasoning packet. I left a “honey do” list for my husband, Bryan, to pick up a packet at the grocery store along with hot dog buns for their chili dogs. Before I left the office, I had asked him to put a baked potato in the oven for me. I was looking forward to my chili cheese baked potato.

Of course, the chili was delicious. I grabbed my plate and loaded up my baked potato. I noticed the chili seasoning packet on the table. I asked Bryan if he bought more than one seasoning packet. He said no. I asked if he’d put the packet in the crock pot. He said no. He said I only told him to buy the chili mix, but he didn’t know I meant for him to put it in the chili. Really???

I have to admit my chili was seasoned so well I didn’t need the chili seasoning packet, but REALLY, Bryan!