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For the caregivers

Thus far in 2020, I’m being brave and accepting the realities in my life. I’m a caregiver. I have no choice, but to be brave because it’s vital for me to live in honesty and authenticity. I’m not a caregiver to a parent who is aging, as you would expect, because my mom passed away two years ago. My biological father and stepfather passed away several years before my mom. My mom was 78 years old. I’m a care giver to my husband, Bryan, who is just 54 years old. I’m just 46 years old.

Could I have imagined this in my life at this time while raising a family? Absolutely, not. I’m not bitter or disillusioned either. It goes without saying that I love Bryan. I will do whatever I can for him. I’m deeply grateful I have the capacity to manage all I do because I’ve often prayed for God to give me the capacity and He continues to do so. I’m coming to terms with yet another challenge I must endure.

It does sting a little to add the title of caregiver to my list of roles because it requires me to let go of dreams and plans for how I saw my life. I remember a year ago when I was planning to get my 4 wisdom teeth removed, one member of my team was describing how wonderful her mom was with catering to her as she recovered from getting her wisdom teeth removed. She indicated I would enjoy being catered to. I vividly recall telling her that in my life, I’m the one who takes care of people not the other way around. I’m her mom! This employee, and about half of my team, fit the millenial demographic.

It is what it is. I’m built to be strong. And Bryan is my rock when he is well. He did take care of me for those days of recovery after my wisdom tooth surgery. He could drive at the time too, which was helpful. When I was in the thick of my breast cancer treatment, he took care of me. We’ve taken care of each other over the years. That’s what marriage is.

I’m not interested in wrestling with my circumstances. I’m interested in learning from the light lessons, increasing my mental, spiritual, and physical capacity, and finding joy in the seemingly smallest things.

So if you’re a caregiver of any age, to any one, I know what that means. I choose to focus my energies on encouraging you (and myself) to be brave. Stay encouraged. You are the best person to care for your loved one. But take time for yourself. I know this sounds cliche, but it’s so true.

Little things count towards self-care like taking a warm shower, cooking (or buying) healthy meals to nourish yourself while you care for others, calling/texting a friend, unplugging, listening to inspiring music, researching support groups online, and taking time off work, to name a few.

If you’re a caregiver, you’re not alone. I’d love to hear how you take care of yourself. Please share any tips for me in my journey. 😀

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What’s next on this 2020 health journey?

Now that I’ve completed the 10-Day green smoothie challenge, what’s next for me on this health journey? Well, for starters, I will use this momentum to continue to cook and eat healthy meals.

Canned goods for Sunday soup. Mango Madness green smoothie in the background. LPC

I used my homemade chicken broth (collagen benefits) as a base for my delicious vegetable soup called Flat Flush soup. Soup is my ultimate comfort food. Flat Flush soup is full of nutrition. You can do a search on the internet for Flat Flush soup recipes.

Soup prep LPC

The ingredients in my soup are: onions, garlic, a variety of peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, spinach, canned tomatoes, beans, parsley, cilantro, lots of spices, and chicken broth (can also use vegetable broth). Whatever healthy ingredients you have on hand for this soup will work. The cover photo was taken prior to simmering for 2 hours.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that cooking healthy meals is not just about keeping my physical body healthy, it is a soothing, essential part of my self-care routine. I particularly needed self-care yesterday after sitting in the emergency room for hours with my husband, Bryan. I was reminded then (not that I needed the reminding) health is beyond physical health. Physical health is very important, but in order to take care of our whole selves, there are other aspects we must attend to.

Health is a state of well being that includes physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, intellectual, social, occupational and environmental health.

It’s essential that we all take care of our whole health. It may not be feasible or make sense to tackle everything at one time. This is where goal setting, planning, and execution comes in.

On a special note, I’ve adopted a new perspective on planning in the midst of the realities of life. I’ve been following Pastor Tony Evans out of Dallas, Texas. He wrote the bible lesson plan on Detours. He says to by all means plan, but plan making a space for God’s will. Plan acknowledging, “if God wills it”. That way when life doesn’t go according to our plans, we won’t be so crushed because we know God is with us and we’ve made a space for Him.

So in 2020 I’m looking forward to setting more goals, planning, and taking care of my whole self, my whole health, bit by bit.

How about you? What are your health plans/goals for 2020? What steps have you made thus far? How are you setting yourself up for success?

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to my WP friends from all over the world! I was up super early after a night of repeatedly getting up to use the restroom. Serves me right for drinking a glass of water close to bed time. You’d think it was a gallon.

Of course, my cats heard my movements, so I could hear the purring from out in the hallway. My husband, Bryan, and I were on our cell phones. Then, my son, Caleb, walked into our room. Soon after, I heard my daughter, Elise, come out of her room. They were ready to open gifts. I’m tickled that my kids still feel the excitement even though they’re getting older.

Beignet and Cannoli Carr with their gifts – LPC

Everyone was back in bed by 8:00 a.m. I’d been exchanging texts with family and friends most of the morning. I spoke to a dear friend for a while. I exercised on my step board my husband got me. I was so excited I had saved one of my old step aerobics DVDs.

I burned some serious calories on Christmas Day! LPC

I plan to have a quiet day at home. My real purpose in this post is to send a special message to those of you who may be struggling this time of year. Whether the struggle is financial, grieving a lost loved one, loneliness, isolation, weariness, homelessness, illness, etc., the reason for this season is to celebrate Jesus’s birth. It’s not about the consumerism and materialiam that we’re bombarded with daily.

There’s peace, joy, generosity, good will, gratitude, and love in the air that I hope permeates your soul today and every day.

Merry Christmas!

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Hug in a bowl

In my last blog post titled Comfort, I noted how I have been prepping to make my mom’s Haitian Bouillon (beef soup) since last weekend. Although I’ve been living in Texas for 22 years, my body knows I was born and raised in the midwest and I tend to crave comforting foods this time of year….just in time for fall. I couldn’t let this weekend go without sharing the outcome of my efforts.

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1 week old watercress. LPC

I rarely hear anyone talking about watercress, especially in Texas, but when I grew up, my mom, aunt, and cousins used it often. It has a peppery taste and many nutritional benefits. Growing up in Chicago, my mom would go to “Commercial” to buy all of the unconventional produce (e.g., malanga) she needed for her Haitian dishes. “Commercial” is a predominantly Mexican area of the city.

I’ve only been able to find watercress at a couple of stores in Austin. I bought one bunch last weekend. On second thought, I probably should have waited to ensure absolute freshness, but oh well! I’m not wasting any food. I ended up using the whole bunch in my soup.

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Beef bone broth. LPC

What I didn’t mention in my last blog post (you can read about it here), is that last weekend, I also made a large pot of beef bone broth from some bones I bought from Central Market. I wanted to ensure my soup had depth of flavor and richness. Also, I’ve been reading on the benefits of bone broth. It has collagen which is good for the skin, hair, nails…plus there are other nutritional benefits. I’ve been making my own chicken broth for years, but this might have been my first bone broth adventure. I let the beef bones simmer with herbs and vegetables for hours. I skimmed the layer of fat off the top when ready to use.

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Scratch made french bread before the rise. LPC

I was really feeling myself yesterday because I had the nerve to make French bread from SCRATCH. I’ve made it before, but this was by far my best product. It’s also mind blowing how easy it is to make bread. I simply “googled” a recipe online. Why don’t I make bread more often?

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One day old homemade french bread. LPC

I attribute the bread’s deliciousness to the organic flour. I forgot to take a picture of the brand, but I’m so glad I got it on sale. This might have been my first time buying organic flour. In the past, I’ve used pastry flour, which also makes a beautiful bread.

Fall in Chicago is by far my favorite season because it reminds me of comfort, change, coziness, cooler temperatures (not in Texas), friends and family. I’ve had a lot on my plate (no pun intended) lately, and cooking, especially the dishes my mom taught me how to make, soothes me and allows me to feel closer to her.

My bouillon had so much depth of flavor and richness. It’s also full of healthy ingredients: onions, garlic, plantains, carrots, malanga, watercress, herbs, spices, homemade beef broth, and beef (iron rich). In every way, it reminded me of my mom, who I miss so much. I would be talking to her about some of my woes if she were here. I poured my heart into my bouillon, thinking of what she taught me to do. My husband and daughter loved it, especially with the bread.

I wonder what other cravings I’ll have in the coming weeks. What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

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Solange taught me how to cook

This isn’t the first time I’ve boasted about my good cooking. I attribute my cooking skills to my mom. She started teaching me as early as 11 or 12 years old. She taught me when I didn’t want to learn. She made me do it. She would call me into the kitchen when she was making a dish like one of our Haitian staples: rice and beans. You can make rice and beans two ways: separately (pot of rice, pot of beans-sauce pois) or together (rice and beans cooked in the same pot with herbs and spices). These two methods could produce probably hundreds of meals depending on the combination of beans and rice you choose. She’d have all the ingredients out and would walk me through every step from washing the ingredients, to chopping, to putting them in the pan, to tasting, and to admiring the completed dish.

As it’s been two years since my mom passed away, she’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I decided to use my pilon (Haitian Creole) that I purchased from a garage sale a while ago. My mom always used a wooden pilon, but what you usually find nowadays in stores are marble ones. I didn’t know it was called a mortar and pestle until sometime after I moved to Texas. I’m very big on meal prep and I had a taste for rice and beans made in the same pot. The types of beans and rice are endless, but I particularly selected peas because I learned a month ago that I’m iron deficient and peas are a good source of iron. I’ve been diligent about increasing my iron intake.

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I haven’t actually used a pilon in years. One time a friend was over for dinner and she saw me using the pilon. She asked me why I just didn’t use a mini food chopper/processor. I thought to myself at the time, “Good idea!” because it was easier, so I stopped using the pilon. Looking back, what I should have told her is that by smashing the herbs in the pilon, it releases the juices allowing for more flavor. For years, I used the food processor, but today I tested my theory. I was right…the herbs were more fragrant. I might be a little biased. This reminded me there is wisdom in tradition. My grandmother likely showed my mother how to cook the same way. I also remembered using a pilon is a workout in itself as a result of pounding the herbs.

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Herbs sauteing in olive oil before I add the peas. I ommitted the salt pork. LPC

The rice and peas were delicious. I ate a bowl with nothing else. So did my daughter. For my work lunches, I will have them with chicken breasts. I blogged about Haitian food when I was in the Dominican Republic last month which you can read about here. I’m not putting any pressure on my daughter to learn the techniques my mom taught me. I want her to come to me when she’s ready. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bless my family with these creations.

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The largest “Pilon” or mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen-Dominican Republic 6-7-19. LPC

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Missing you today

Two years ago today, my mom, Solange, passed away. She was mummy and Grandma SoSo. The void of her physical presence is like an aching, gaping hole that will never be filled. The pain isn’t as intense as when she first passed, but I feel it. You can read about my experience here. My solace is that she is no longer in pain. I’m grateful for her love, sacrifice, and everything she taught me.

I’ve been toiling with the notion that I am, in fact, an orphan. One of Merriam-Webster’s definition of orphan is “a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents”. Both of my parents and my stepfather are deceased. I’m hesitant to put too much thought into the term orphan, but I heard someone refer to another adult as an orphan the other day and it got me thinking. I imagine that orphans who grow up without their parents from an early age feel alone in the world. I had my mom for 44 years of my life and I’m grateful. However, as the youngest of four children, I am not alone. As a child of God, I am not alone.
Our mom’s passing has brought my siblings closer. My brother, Patrick, visits her grave every Sunday and sends us (my sisters and I) a picture via group text.

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Patrick at the cemetery – Chicago, Il. LPC

I love these texts. Visiting my mom’s grave at the cemetery is how my brother and sisters honor her and manage their grief. I live in a different state and manage my grief (and everything else) through writing.

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Mylene and Patrick visiting mummy’s grave – Chicago, IL. LPC

In the past few months, my mom missed four of her grandchildren graduate: two from college (Nicholas and Saiye), one from high school (my son, Caleb), and one from middle school (my daughter, Elise). At Caleb’s graduation in May, my sister, Gina, reminded me that our children are SoSo’s legacy. My mom missed the news that my niece, Gabriella will be going to graduate school at UCLA in the fall. She missed her nephew, Emmanuel having another baby. Our lives are going on without her and it doesn’t seem fair. Life isn’t meant to be fair. But we have each other, her DNA, memories, and love. We miss you and will see you again one day in paradise.

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Lessons from Solange: Part Two

I’m behind on my blog posts, but I always return back to what brings balance and peace in my life: one such thing is writing. In May, I wrote the blog post Lessons from Solange: Part I. I had intended to complete my second installment sooner than now, but better late than never. I think about my mom often, but my recent trip to the Dominican Republic has me thinking about her and the lessons she taught me even more. My mom, Solange, passed away on 7/8/2017, so we’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary…another reason I’m thinking of her. I requested that day off work, so I can spend the whole day thinking about her undisturbed. I wrote about my grief and loss in these posts: Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen, Surreal-ality, and Family is everything. I hope these posts will help anyone who has lost someone close to them like a parent.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing the amount of influence mothers have with shaping their children’s lives. I’m more focused on my mother because I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father. He passed away a few years before my mom. My mom was my everything. She shaped my world. You only have one mother. Despite how complicated our relationship was and how much we disappointed each other, the bond was undeniable and cosmic.

A few more lessons Solange taught me that the world (more accurately, the people in my world) get to experience:

  1. Be a good cook – My mom was of the belief that you need to be a good cook to get a husband. My younger, rebellious self was not thinking about a husband. I was about 12 years old when my mom put her foot down and started to teach me how to cook particular dishes. Tears are coming down as I think about how much I respect her now for doing that and how ungrateful I was at the time. It was like participating in my very own cooking class and I didn’t appreciate it. Because I am a good cook thanks to her, I’ve had the satisfaction of pleasing my family with many delicious meals. Did I think my mom’s ideals were sexist…YES! However, I happen to have a family and I know they appreciate my cooking. I can feed them, which I think means something different when poverty was part of your history. I also am able to cook Haitian foods, which connects my family and myself to our heritage. I’ve shared my cooking with others such as extended family, friends, and coworkers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Dress well – If you knew my mom, you know she loved her suits, shoes and purses. For every shoe she had, she had a purse to match. After she passed away, I wrote a post about a pair of shoes I took of hers back to Austin. You can read it here: In her shoes. My mom passed on her love of dressing well to me. It was one of the few indulgences she was able to entertain and she deserved it with all the trauma she experienced in her life. I love clothes and I have many of them. A few months back, I binge watched “Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up” on Netflix and purged my supply. I vowed to only keep clothes that bring me “joy” moving forward. In a “not superficial way”, the lesson I received from my mom was to have pride in my appearance, to take care of myself, and to be aware of how I presented myself to the world.
  3. Be a giver – When I was in graduate school, I participated in counseling the last 6 months before graduation because I needed help with managing the stress of being a working mom in a graduate program and attending to my final internship. As I hashed out my stress to the therapist, she said something that I will never forget. As an explanation to my woes in a particular circumstance, she said, “it’s because you’re a giver”. Quite frankly, the comment floored me because I never thought of myself as a “giver”; yet, I had this insatiable appetite to give all the time. I’d often prayed to God to “use me for his purpose”. The therapist referred me to an article about givers and it made sense. It was at that point, I knew I was a giver. Now where did I get this trait? My biggest role model for giving was my mom because she gave so much of herself to her children. She also gave to others like her family in Haiti, New York and beyond. We didn’t have much growing up, but on occasion she would host dinner parties at our small apartment. I remember being so embarrassed because my brother’s bed was in the living room, but she wasn’t too proud to have people over to experience her cooking. She was my greatest example of a giver. I’ve learned to balance some of that giving to others with giving to myself.

A mother’s love is like no other in the cosmos and you only have one. I’m thankful Solange shared many light lessons with me, even the ones I didn’t want.

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Learn to say no

In the rental car on the way to my meeting near Lubbock, Texas, I caught the middle of  an interesting discussion on a Christian radio station. From what I gathered, people were calling in to discuss their struggles with saying “no”.  I’ve read countless articles on wellness and self-care that emphasize the benefits of saying “no”.  With age, I’ve vanquished most of my people-pleasing ways. My “no” indicates boundary setting and and acknowledges my limitations. It’s a statement indicating:  I value myself more than I desire to please people.  Let me tell you, it took a long time to get here!

The radio host’s perspective on thinking about saying “no” struck a chord with me. His point was that it’s great for people to take on different tasks, goals, activities, etc. as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing their very best in their primary God-given assignment. Everybody has an assignment from God whether it’s taking care of their family, community, business, ministry, etc.,. Yet, if you take on so much that you are unable to effectively manage your NUMBER ONE assignment, then it’s time to say “no” to some things.

The radio show resonated with me because I’ve had to learn to say no without feeling guilty, as many people do.  I know that my primary, God-given assignment is to take care of my family. However, there was a point in my life where God had to remind me. I’m a constant learner and overachiever. Upon completing graduate school, I felt like SUPERWOMAN and had to share my SUPERPOWERS with the WORLD.  Who else works full time, raises small children, and earns a graduate degree? Soon after graduation, while working my full time job, I became a board member of a small dance company my daughter attended. I had also been leading a ministry at my church.

Both projects required much time and effort.  I genuinely enjoyed them both, but boy did I OVEREXTEND myself! I started to see the toll this was taking on myself and my family.  I honestly didn’t realize how much work each would take. God was sending me messages that I was doing too much. I was stressed and struggled with resentment. I began questioning my intentions and why I had committed myself in such a way.  Then one day, I heard the message loud and clear, “I should be pouring my gifts into my family”.

I used to pray for God to use me to help others, but he had already entrusted me with my beautiful family (people to help). I had spent so much time away from them while in graduate school and here I was helping other families in projects when I needed to be with my own. Don’t get me wrong, my family was not neglected (that much – I’m an overachiever), but I began to think about what more I could pour into them by redirecting my energy.

I resigned as the board chair of the dance company after a year. That experience taught me to examine my expectations and returns on investment before I agree to extend my time.  What did this project have to do with my larger goals?  I also eventually phased out of leading the ministry at church after several years. Thankfully, the pastors were messaging to all congregants the importance of taking a break from ministry to avoid burnout. It was all coming together.

Another point the radio host stated was to ask God about what to do when approached with the requests for your time and energy. As an intellectual, I can rationalize and come to a solid conclusion on my next steps – participate or not.  I also rely on my gut and determine if I am at a place of peace with my decisions, which I also attribute to me seeking guidance from the God within me. However, I will work on also asking God directly.

Currently, I get offers to participate in  lunches, fitness classes, events, projects, etc.  Similarly to what the radio host indicated, if any of these activities take me too far away from my primary God-given assignment, then I say “no”.  And I do think it’s possible to have more than one God-given assignment although the radio host didn’t mention it. He specified a “primary” assignment.

My family’s happiness is my barometer of performance in my primary assignment.  If my children start having problems of any sort, I pull back on my activities. If I find myself working on projects that cause me to spend less time with my family, I pull back.  If it feels more chaotic at home, I pull pack. If I sense my husband is becoming stressed, I pull back.  If anyone becomes sick, I pull back. If I no longer feel enjoyment, start feeling burdened or stressed by the activity, I pull back.  I coordinate work travel arrangements so that I am not gone for too too long, so I can get back home to my assignment.

I hear someone from the peanut gallery (I haven’t used or heard that expression in years…ha!) frowning and thinking I’m giving too much and should put myself first. I am selfish at times. I also know that my primary God-given assignment (my family) requires me to be selfless too.

What’s your primary assignment?  Is it time to say “no” to some things? What should you be saying “no” to?