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Health is wealth

In the last 2 weeks I had a health scare…two more tumors showed up on my mammogram and ultrasound, but the biopsies came back BENIGN. Praise God! The results confirmed my commitment to healthy eating. Now, I’ve completed my lunch prep. A big part of my weekend is spent preparing meals for my family and vegan/vegetarian meals for my work week. I’ve found a sweet spot of being mostly vegan/vegetarian during the week day, then eating meat in the evenings and weekends. I may deviate from time to time, but I don’t deviate from my daily green smoothies. 

I was tired today, as usual, but I went ahead and prepped my lunch bowls. I could easily not do this because it’s time consuming. However, I care about my health too much and enjoy eating healthy foods. I haven’t decided if I’m going to have a smoothie as an afternoon snack in addition to having one for breakfast, but I blended two pumpkin green smoothies. Yum!

Pumpkin green smoothie ingredients

Lunch prep: one down, three to go

Lunch bowls: quinoa, sweet potato, egg, sauteed peppers

This week I plan to work on this sweet tooth I developed after returning from Chicago after my mom’s funeral in July. I’ve been on a cookie habit…one or two every couple of days.  I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, but I went months without eating sweets aside from fruit. 

Roasted Garbanzo beans & spices

All in all, I make healthy food choices. Health is wealth and a large part of being healthy is eating well.  Thank God my latest tests were benign. My oncologist again told me I’m healthy and to keep doing what I’m doing. For a while I have been slacking off a little, but I haven’t veered off course.  The recent health scare reminded me of what’s important in life and reconfirmed my commitment to take care of myself.

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I love you back

What’s up with these children of mine?  I’m not sure why I don’t write more about parenting considering I have two children – a 16 year old son and 12 year old daughter. It might be because they’re at a phase where they’re no longer impressed by us as their parents. They’d much rather spend time on the computer, phone, or talking to their friends. My husband and I have officially been deemed boring. We have a few choice words about how we view them too. We often find ourselves rolling our eyes in awe of the foolishness that’s come out of their mouths, particularly my son who I affectionately call, “THE BOY”. Karma is a @#%^!@ because we were once them too.

Whatever they think of us, we know they are our blessing. And I find them to be quite humorous.  I’ve said time and again, my life would be boring without my children. I’ve told many a story to coworkers, friends, and family regarding their shenanigans.  Even though they can get on my nerves with the arguing, ignoring, yelling, making excuses, exaggerating, correcting, resisting, stealing (apparently our room is a store), procrastinating, etc., every now and then, I see a glimmer of sparkle and innocence in their eyes like when they were little. 

Occasionally my daughter spends the day with me at work when she is out of school. On one such day, she typed an action memo on my phone, ” I love you, mommy”. I didn’t see it immediately…maybe later in the day, which made it so much sweeter. Those little gestures warm my heart and fill me with so much joy.  My children like to make me laugh too, which I think is funny. It reminds me of how much our children’s identities are tied to us as parents. We are their first mirror. They look to us for who they are. They look to us for confirmation and validation. They look to us to determine how to act and react. 

When we’re watching my daughter’s shows on tv, she spends more time watching US to see if we are laughing at the funny parts or gasping at the shocking parts. When we make eye contact after having the same reaction to a scene, I can see how excited she gets. Even though she’s starting to explore being in opposition to us (i.e., the clothes she chooses, her selection of hairstyles, what foods she likes), I can see that she’s still watching us…watching to see our reaction…watching to see if we approve.

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Oh September

September has been difficult for me emotionally. Last September (2016), mummy came to Austin for a two and a half week visit. The whole time she was here, I was undergoing multiple tests to determine what the tumor was in my left breast. I didn’t tell her what I was going through and I wasn’t planning on it until it was confirmed by my doctor.  I don’t regret it either.  The day she left, my husband and I took her to the airport, then headed to my doctor’s appointment for the news. I already knew. I had been researching breast cancer obsessively. September 28 marks one year since my life changed drammatically.

It’s been almost 3 months since mummy passed away and it’s been a struggle. Most days, I’m well, going through my normal routine and then it’ll hit me. I become overwhelmed with emotion and start crying. It especially hits me when I’m driving home from work because for about 5 years, it was my routine to call her during this time. I miss her voice. My Facebook memories feed also reminds me through pictures that she is gone. I’m glad that I’ve taken so many pictures with mummy when she’s come to visit or vice versa. My sister noted that she and my other siblings didn’t think to take as many pictures with mummy since they all live in the same city and saw each other frequently. I happen to enjoy selfies plus I didn’t have the luxury of seeing mummy often, so I loved commemorating her visits.

On September 1, I had my annual exam with my primary care doctor and it was also emotional for me because the last time I saw her, she told me that I had breast cancer. She was on the verge of tears when she told me. Of course, I was happy to report that I’ve been well and healthy, but I soon found out that I need more tests for some other potential issues.  Her words were, “You’ve been through a lot this past year already. There are still some questions.”  I had testing on my breasts yesterday and things didn’t go as smoothly as 6 months ago. The radiology technician called me back 3 times for more testing, then Iltheu requested the ultrsound. This was all too familiar, but last year, I didn’t think anything of it. Apparently, I’m not completely out of the woods yet on this cancer thing. I need a biopsy. The doctors want to be sure about the 2 new spots on the same breast.

I’m generally a positive person, but I don’t want to go down this road again. However, this does put things in perspective in terms of what is important in life. I needed the reminder. The hardest part of all of this is that my biggest supporter will not be around to take care of me for whatever procedures/treatment I may need. Last year, once it was confirmed that I had breast cancer and after we had met with the surgeons and oncologist, I told mummy of my diagnosis. She took it hard, but was back in Austin by the end of October to be here through my two surgeries in November. How will I get through this next phase of whatever without her.

Whatever happens, I will do what I need to do to be alive as long as I can for my family.  I am strong and brave. I just wish September wouldn’t be so hard. On the positive side, the weather has changed. The expression, “seasons change”, just rang in my ears and we all know that to be true. Only God knows why I’m faced with these health challenges in this season of my life. I will go through this season with everything in me… like a champ or chump, by fighting hard or barely hanging on, but I’ll get through it with her spirit within me. I’ll get through it with the support of my family and friends. I’ll get through it with God.

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Weekend Warrior

There used to be a show on cable called Weekend Warriors where people would spend their whole weekend on an adventure to complete a major renovation project. The work was labor intensive (i.e., installing new landscaping, kitchen renovation, replacing floors), but the result was worth the blood, sweat and tears (often literally).  As I juggle being a wife, mom, employee, manager, sister, friend, etc., I realize that unlike Weekend Warriors, I spend my weekends trying to cram a MULTITUDE of projects into two days. Something has got to give, even though I get satisfaction from crossing projects off of my mental list.

There is a part of me that is deeply satisfied with a clean and organized home.  A couple of weekends ago, I had my husband take the big dining room light down, which he hates doing because it’s not easy to maneuver. I’ve been asking him for over a year. He doesn’t think it’s been that long. I think it’s more than likely been two years.  After he finally took it down, in about 10 minutes, I had that sucker sparkling like new.  One weekend, I completely organized the garage. Another, I cleaned all of my spice jars. Another weekend, I reorganized the freezers. This weekend, I dusted the walls in my bedroom (unbelievable how the dust piles up), did some major vacuuming, and folded all clothes that came out of the dryer (mostly my kids).

I see no problem with this if I didn’t have other things on my activity list such as exercising, hanging out with my friends, cooking, meal prepping, going to church, doing work from the office, and catching up on phone calls with family and friends. Sometimes, I am filled with anxiety due to my extensive Weekend Warrior “to do” list. It’s like I’m running a marathon to do all of my favorite self-care activities (work from the office is not one of my self-care activities).

I think deep down (probably not so deep) lies a woman within me that is holding her household together by shouldering most of the work, partly out of control, partly out of perceived necessity, and partly for my sanity.  I’ve worked the whole time I’ve had kids, but there is a part of me that regrets going back to work after I had my daughter.  My husband and I talked about how much we struggled with paying child care and all of our other bills, but we were both scared of the unknown – living off one paycheck. Looking back, we both agree that we should have taken the chance. However, had I stayed home for let’s say, some years, I would have delayed getting my master’s degree, being able to contribute significantly to our finances, and meeting colleagues I’ve grown fond of over the years.  Had I stayed home, my house would probably be as sanitary as a hospital room and I’m sure there would have been other pluses like more involvement in my kids’ schools and lives. Either way, I’m not mourning my decision. I believe I would’ve have gotten to where I am now eventually.

There’s a lot at play here.  I told my husband on more than one occasion that I am not a housewife. I’m literally a boss in the working world. I complained about coming home to shoulder most of the housework, yet a part of me enjoys it. Like most marriages, we tend to re-evaluate our roles every so often and the conclusion is that this isn’t the 1950’s. Still it can be difficult to totally relinquish those cultural expectations.

Here’s the thing. The ritual of cleaning is soothing to me.  I get great satisfaction out of living in a clean space. And I have relaxed my standards a great deal since having kids. They do have their assigned chores also. My husband does load the dishwasher, takes out the trash, mows the lawn, among other things.  We all contribute, but I have the gift of identifying the odd projects that no one else thinks about. After all, my husband could care less about the dust on the ceiling fan…until I show him how caked up it is.  I am a Weekend Warrior, but when I end the weekend exhausted from my escapades, then that’s a problem.

This weekend, I got to soak in the tub two days in a row, I gave myself a mani-pedi, and did my hair. It wasn’t all Weekend Warrior, but I’m so happy I dusted my walls.  I suppose that’s my balance.

Surely, someone else knows my struggle. If you do, I would love to hear how you handle it. Please share.

 

 

 

 

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Who’s your mentor?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post simply because a lot has been going on in my life lately. As my primary care doctor said Friday while wrapping up my appointment, “You’ve experienced a lot this past year.” There was a pronounced pause, and as I contemplated what she said, my eyes welled up and I felt my lips curve sideways slightly…Yup, I sure have. That conversation is material for a different blog post, but for this one, I want to write about mentorship as I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while.  I’m at a point in my career where I have mentors and the experience has proven to be invaluable.

A few months back, I wrote that I received a promotion which was a big deal. With that promotion, I was assigned a mentor, who was on the interview panel.  Before I knew that he would be my mentor, we chatted briefly prior to the interview and I got a good vibe from him instantly.  Since then, we’ve been meeting for lunch and phone and connect through email.  I’ve been determined to absorb as much as I can, which is why I think I’ve been open to the mentoring experience.

I also have mentors outside of my agency and of different disciplines, backgrounds, ages, sex and race. I think it’s important to get different perspectives.  However, I will write a different blog post on how to handle it if one of your mentors provides advice you perceive to be off base (stay tuned) . As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable and there are few things more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know something. I’ve learned the temporary discomfort of vulnerability leads to growth. Therefore, I’m more willing to reach out for help and use my resources.  I’m willing to hear constructive feedback and use it to make myself better.

From my experience, there are many benefits to working with a mentor such as knowing that someone supports me, having someone to listen to my concerns and answers my questions without judgement, and having someone to provide guidance.

Support

Knowing that I have another person in my corner is a great feeling.   I’ve always had people who have supported me, but this is different. A mentor is devoting their time because they want me to succeed. Depending on the work climate, people may support you until it conflicts with their own interests. Because my mentor does not work in my area, I don’t think he has anything to lose by supporting me.  I also have a mentor who is retired and I regard one of my dear friends as a mentor.  Again, neither have any dealings with my agency, so their support is unconditional.

I make it a point to keep in communication with my mentors as often as I can, especially when I’m not feeling confident.  When you have support resources available to you, use them.

Listen to Concerns and Answer Questions

It’s important for me to be able to share my concerns with someone who will not judge me.  I already have issues with trust in the workplace based on plenty of hard lessons learned.  Trusting my mentors will not judge me is an act of vulnerability.  I focus on the benefit of me sharing the information and I trust my judgement that they are trustworthy. 

If trust is an issue for you, it is a good idea to assess if the person you want to mentor you is a good fit for you. Do you trust their judgment? Will they support you? Are they interested in your success? How are they perceived by others (i.e., what is their reputation)? 

I’ve gotten some valuable feedback and ideas that I haven’t thought of myself by sharing my concerns with mentors I trust.  It has also been game changing for me to be able to ask specific questions without worrying I’ll be judged for not knowing something.

Guidance

In order to accept guidance, you need to be willing to hear constructive feedback and be open to incorporate different perspectives into your life.  I have to leave my ego at the door for this.  Since I’m focused on advancing in my career, I am open to following the guidance offered by my mentors.  For complex situations, which I have a few, I listen to the different perspectives of my mentors and then make a decision. This has not always been easy, however, they’ve provided me with great guidance.

I can’t write enough about how life changing it has been to work with mentors. For career growth (or any other areas of growth), it is definitely worth it to reach out to people who are where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement, although some agencies do have these. It starts with developing relationships and expressing interest in others.  Striking conversations about non-work related activities, inviting them out to lunch or coffee/tea, asking questions about their area of expertise…these are a few ways to start building relationships to get you closer to your mentor.

 

 

 

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In her shoes

To know mummy is to know that a few years back, she had an impressive shoe collection of mostly high heels and pumps. My sister and I were talking recently about how my stepfather used to take mummy often to Chernyn’s Shoe Store in Chicago to buy her shoes.  The day before I left Chicago last month, I halfheartedly went through mummy’s closet. I really didn’t feel like looking. It felt oddly intrusive.  My sisters told me to see if there was anything I wanted, and if so, to take it because they would eventually be sending mummy’s things to her sisters and other family in New York.

I didn’t see much. I was curious about what happened to the shoe collection because what I saw was mostly modest, orthopedic type flats. Mummy was 78 years old, so I know she stopped wearing heels a while ago. There were so many nice clothes  hanging in her closet, some with the tags still on. I saw a few items I gave her when she was in Austin visiting in September 2016 and when she returned in November 2016 for my breast cancer surgeries. The only piece of clothing I decided to take was a lounge dress I bought for her while in Jamaica last year. After mulling over a unique pair of lilac shoes, I decided to take them too.

As of Tuesday, August 8th, it has been one month since she passed away. It still feels surreal…more like surreal-ality as I indicated in my previous post. I had a rough week, but Tuesday was particularly difficult. I discussed with my husband the night before that the next day would be one month, but I forgot about it the next morning. However, my subconscious didn’t forget. I was sad at work and really struggled emotionally. My tolerance and patience were very low that day.  I made my husband worry because I started crying when he asked me how my day was going. I attributed it to something going on at work. It wasn’t until I spoke to my oldest sister that evening that I realized what it was because she was struggling too.

I had worn mummy’s shoes for the first time on the one month anniversary of her death. I didn’t plan it, but it was comforting knowing that she was so close. I wondered how I would react if someone complimented me on my shoes and I would tell them they were mummy’s.  Had someone said something, I might have remembered what day it was, but no one said anything about my shoes and it was like any other day.

Mummy and I didn’t see eye to eye during my teenage and early adult years…in fact, for most of my life. We had very different upbringings. I’m not sure that I could ever survive what she’s been through or walk in her shoes. I was literally in her shoes for the first time on Tuesday, August 8th, and you know what, the shoes felt comfortable. They were worn in just right. They were stretched slightly enough to be firm and provide support, yet allow me to slip them off when needed (as I tend to do in my office). The shoes fit me perfectly. They are pretty, unique and interesting just like mummy and myself. I love them.

By the way, my sister told me about 2 weeks after I left Chicago that a bunch of shoes were under mummy’s bed. So that’s where she kept her collection. It never occurred to me to look under the bed. Oh well…

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Surreal-ality

It’s been over a week since we buried mummy and I’ve been facing a new reality – surreal-ality.  Yes, this a word I made up as an attempt to describe this realm I’m in. It seems surreal that she’s gone, and yet, it’s the reality I must face. Nothing in life prepares you for the death of a parent, although intellectually and spiritually (for some), we know all humans will die.  A high school classmate very thoughtfully wrote on my facebook page, in sum, that she is still with me, but in different form. His words were touching.

From the outside, it looks like I’ve gone on with my life, and in many ways, I have. I went back to work on Tuesday, have been cooking, exercising, tending to my plants, shopping, doing housework, reading articles, and so on.  What has been difficult is not hearing her voice, but I can still hear her voice in my head. You see, for the past 5 years, I’ve called mummy almost daily, particularly during the work week. I decided to do that a few years ago because I was aware that I didn’t know how much longer she would live. Part of that has to do with mummy prepping us for her death for about 15 years now. She became ill a few months after retiring. She’s been telling us since then we need to prepare.

My purpose in calling her was two-fold – distract me from my work day and bring a little joy to mummy’s life. In the process, I’ve gotten to know her as a person and I haven’t held back in letting her get to know me as an adult child. It was difficult at times to switch roles and be the encourager many times, but I did it.  My brother told me twice after the funeral that he knew I was her favorite. He said he heard her talk about things with me he never heard her talk about previously.  I don’t know how to take what he said, but I am certainly thankful I made this effort. I miss her voice. Even when she was irritable due to the medications or pain, or when she was complaining, or when we were arguing, I miss her voice.

The Saturday before I returned to Austin, I was at my oldest sister’s house, in the backyard, reviewing the paperwork from the funeral home and signing the 100+ “thank you” cards.  There were 4 small boxes in a bag. Curiously, we opened our boxes together and gasped with tears when we realized what the gift was – an embedded photo of mummy in a light up key chain.  It was such a special moment that we shared together. My sister asked me not to tell my other siblings because she wanted to be there in person to see their faces.

When we returned to Austin, I was reviewing the many photos I took in Chicago. I came across a photo where I was trying to capture the breath-taking key chain in the light, and in the background, I noticed my kids playing with each other.  They rarely play with each other, let alone outside, but my sister had a toss game that she set outside for them. It was a gorgeous day.  They might have played for all of 10 minutes, but it was so touching to see in the picture because I hadn’t noticed it when we were there.

Caleb & Elise 2017

Caleb and Elise, Chicago, July 15, 2017

As my brother said, mummy is in all of us. This picture gives me comfort because I know that she is with me, with all of us, and that she left a beautiful legacy. We’re going to be okay.