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“Routine” Independence Day

Unlike years past, July 4th, 2020 looked like any other day. It’s been my family’s tradition (hubby and kids) to attend the Auditorium Shores fireworks display in Austin for many years now. I love the experience of finding a spot on the grass with the crowd, snacking, playing games and enjoying the weather, and then later gasping at the magnificent display. Even if we couldn’t make it to “big” fireworks show in previous years, especially when the kids were little, we traveled to nearby, smaller towns to see their displays. However, last year, we made it to the big one.

July 4, 2019 LPC

It felt great sleeping in this morning. I took a couple of days off work on Thursday and Friday. My husband and I took our routine walk and hike along one of our favorite trails before it got too hot. We returned to the house and I made bacon, pancakes, and eggs for brunch. I ran a few errands, took a nap and made chilli dogs and chocolate chip cookies (their favorite). My son got to eat before he went to work. It was a quiet, peaceful, and normal day…normal as it can be with COVID-19 looming.

My famous chocolate chip cookies. LPC

Instead of complaining about the state our world is in right now, I choose to focus on how immensely grateful I am for being born and raised in this country. Despite the problems and history of the U.S., I can tell you I appreciate the freedoms we have in this country.

My parents and most of my family were immigrants from Haiti. From my view, people from other countries who have hopes and dreams of living a better life in the U.S. view the U.S. differently than those born and raised here. I don’t want to make any political statements, but I’ve received a good education, I’ve never been persecuted for earning an education as a woman, I can vote for who I want, and I can choose how and where I want to live.

Fireworks, Austin, TX July 4, 2019

Yes, there are absolutely problems in this country, but I’m free…free to live my life in peace. As the country celebrates it’s independence from Great Britain, I celebrate living the life I want, where I want. I’m hopeful for the future despite the pandemic and racial unrest.

I hope you had a safe and peaceful day.

What are you grateful for this independence day?

Fireworks, Austin, Texas July 4, 2019
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Blessings abound

Even in the midst of a pandemic, blessings abound. I’m approaching my 8th week of telework already and it has been an adjustment. Yet, my stress from the work commute is zero. I’ve been meeting some work related goals such as hiring another brilliant person to my team. My family and I have been spending unprecidented amounts of time together without being at each other’s throats. My son got hired at Walmart about a month ago. I feel loved, safe, and healthy. I’m actually reluctant to return to the office whenever that is and my agency is definitely in the planning stages.

My husband, Bryan, and I have had our share of hardship over the years, but particularly since 2016. We have serious battle scars, so as I’ve indicated in previous posts, this pandemic pales in comparison to what we’ve been through. Hell, I even took the COVID-19 test and never worried about the results. We were so thrilled when we received the FABULOUS news that Bryan’s social security disability was finally approved after two years since he applied.

Bryan’s social security disability hearing with an administrative law judge was held in March… right when COVID-19 was solidifying itself as a global pandemic. I think it’s cruel for a person to be forced to wait so long (years) to get results. When I worked at an outpatient mental health clinic years ago, I saw my clients struggle with housing, food, and health issues as they waited on disability. On some level, I’m assured that the government doesn’t just grant it to whoever who asks. You have to prove you need disability. It is what it is and ours was approved during a time when many people are living through very tough financial circumstances due to COVID-19.

I’ve financially supported my household solely for almost 3 years. I would be lying if I didnt tell you it was a struggle at times, especially in the last 6 months. It did force us to be very careful about spending and stick to a budget. We’ve accumulated so many medical bills due to both of our health issues. After a while my credit score began to suffer, but I knew in January 2020 things would get a little worse before they got better. That didn’t stop me from making a plan. See my previous posts about my 2020 financial goals.

I’m so grateful to have been able to support my family and will continue to do so. Bryan’s social security disability determination puts an end to the waiting, wondering, and stressing. A huge weight has been lifted from Bryan’s shoulders more so than mine. I also find the news bitter sweet because it confirms he has a disability, but we’ve known this and are coping with it just fine. Now, Bryan gets to put this process behind him and plan what his future will be.

This past week was one of the best weeks for us in a long time because we were able to pay off some debt, add to our savings, and gift funds to our family. We did make a few purchases. The gifting was the most exciting part. We also tithed to our church. On top of that, on Thursday, my boss told me I received a raise (without asking)!!!

And the ultimate activity that almost took me over the edge on Friday was telling a few members on my team that they would be getting raises, unbeknownst to them. They were so surprised and one told me her spouse had been impacted by COVID-19, so the raise was shocking and much appreciated. I was grateful I had a window of opportunity a couple of months back to make this happen for them.

I wasn’t sure about posting this message because I never want it to seem as if I’m tooting my own horn. I struggle with embracing the good in my life with humility. If you get anything out of my message, I hope it’s that with patience, faith in God, positive action, and perseverance, you can get through just about anything. Just keep moving forward.

How have you been coping? What blessings have you seen come out of this pandemic?

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Forever shopping in my closet

I’ve finally done what I committed to do back in July 2016.  If it weren’t for me rereading my blog post on Closet Shopping, which you can read here, I probably would’ve thought I just recently came up with the idea to take pictures of outfits I assemble with my existing wardrobe. Genius! Yesterday, I spent most of Saturday (7 to 8 hours) getting reacquainted with the clothes in my closet. As I prepare for 2020, I want to let go of feeling like I don’t have enough.  I have plenty!

For clarification purposes, on this recent endeavor, I was focused on my winter wardrobe, which mostly occupies the closet space in my bedroom. My summer clothes reside in my daughter’s closet. With changing seasons, I switch out the clothes.  I grew up in the midwest (Chicago, IL) so changing clothes with the seasons is a habit. 

I didn’t think it would take me 7-8 hours, but time flies when you’re having fun. I had my music playing in the background as I diligently went through my clothes, focusing on the pieces where I tend to have more difficulty assembling outfits.  As the QUEEN of “separates”, I sometimes forget which pieces work well together.  This exercise will help me remember. 

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I enjoyed this outfit at the office earlier in December. I felt extra chic with my black tights and black suede boots. LPC

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At home after church 12-29-19 LPC

Clearly, I’m not a photographer.  After I tried on combinations I liked, I just layed out the pieces on my bed and took pictures with my phone camera.  The lighting in my bedroom is HORRIBLE.  You can see it didn’t capture the vibrant hue of this sparkly blue top. The impetus for assembling my outfits is that I had an epiphany recently.  I spend very little time getting myself dressed because I’m often multitasking, trying to get things done that I think are more important.   

This became apparent to me when I ended up not liking the outfit I put together for Christmas Eve service at church.  My husband and I took a picture together at a display at the church sanctuary, and let’s just say, I didn’t post the picture to my social media.  A complete ensemble consists of not just the clothes, but jewelry, shoes, and a hairstyle.  I have a bad habit of neglecting to spend time on the whole ensemble.  This will change. 

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Golden. LPC

Another epiphany I had is that when I was in my shopping frenzy heyday, I didn’t have a systematic way to shopping.  Unless, there was a special occasion, which was rare, I shopped sales.  This could be another reason why it feels like I don’t have complete outfits, but just a bunch of pieces.  My mom would ask me why I had so many tops, which is still true to this day. I think it’s easier to pick up another pretty shirt.  I didn’t have to put much thought in it.  Over the years, I’ve gotten more strategic about pieces I need (i.e., black dress pants, white shirt, etc.) 

The good thing is as long as my clothes are good quality, I hold onto them for years.  I still  wear some clothes as old as my daughter (she’s 14).  The brown skirt pictured above with the gold shirt is about 13 or 14 years old. I bought the gold shirt and necklace (separate purchases and stores) about 2 years ago.  

My weight has fluctuated over the years, but I’ve lost roughly 25 pounds two years post having my daughter.  I’ve already given away clothes that were too big (except for a few favorite pieces), which is why I probably don’t have any clothes from the time I had my son.  I was heavier then.  Three years ago, I lost more weight and have been maintaining all except 5 pounds. 

In 2020, my goal is to lose 20 pounds.  Although I’m putting shopping on pause now, I will likely need to shop in the future to accommodate my smaller frame.  I need to find a talented tailor for a few pieces I have now and in the future. 

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Pop of color LPC

 

There was a time I had very little black pieces in my wardrobe. I loved bright colors and I still do to this day. Then about 15 years ago, I had a manager who mostly wore black. She used to live in New York City for a period and I noticed she wore black often. She said everyone wears black in New York because it’s chic.  She had me thinking about black, so I added a few black pieces to my wardrobe.

I hope this post encourages someone to stop the madness of constantly buying clothes only to constantly feel like you have nothing to wear.  Why buy things if you don’t take the time to enjoy them.  Spending a whole day in my closet, assembling outfits is a rare treat, but it gave me an appreciation for what I have.  

And what I do have is a whole lot of dresses, especially summer dresses.  I didn’t bother taking pictures of them all.  That will be a future post in the spring.  I’ll have fun pairing them with blazers and dress sandals.  What I’ve learned since living in Texas for 22 years is that you can turn a summer dress into a winter ensemble by simply adding a sweater and some boots. Just like that, I’m able to extend the life of my dresses. 

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Dress is best.  LPC

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Muted hues LPC

I have a small closet filled with clothes and I haven’t even touched the surface.  In my earlier post on Closet Shopping, which you can read here I give insight into how growing up poor contributed to my obsession with clothes. 

Although assembling outfits from my existing wardrobe was a useful and fun experience for me, I want to acknowledge I also felt overwhelmed.  I only touched about 40-50% of the clothes in my closet.  I assembled approximately 25 outfits (not all pictured). 

Earlier in the year, I purged a decent amount of clothes after I watched Marie Kondo on Netflix.  I did the exercise of purging the clothes that no longer served me and I kept the ones which brought me joy.  I think purging should be reevaluated periodically.  It’s not a “one and done” activity.  What brought me joy 9 months ago, may not be bringing me any joy today.  You can apply this to other aspects of your life. 

One light lesson as we close 2019 is I need to purge some “things” from my closet. 

Namely, I want to let go of these false truths:

  1. I don’t have enough
  2. I have to be constantly acquiring stuff to satisfy me
  3. External things define me

The truths I plan to embody are:

  1. I am enough
  2. I have enough
  3. External and materials things don’t define me

How much time do you spend coordinating your outfits? What’s in your closet that you might need to purge? What are you looking forward to in 2020? 

 

 

 

 

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The Slow Down

I love the holiday season for many obvious reasons: family time, delicious food, sleeping in, holiday decorations, nostalgic feelings, and connecting with family and friends. There is one more reason I’ve been craving since August: the overall slow down. I’m able to unravel my thoughts after a few days of rest. During the “non-holiday” part of the year, life can be fast-paced, busy, sometimes chaotic…especially my life. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know I’ve had a lot going on since 12/26/2017. My Thanksgiving 2018 was no fuss, no travel, no rush, and no stress. I was only surrounded by my husband and children. We made calls to family, but ours was a quiet Thanksgiving. A friend said she might stop by, but there was no pressure or expectation. She ended up not coming, which was worked out fine.

The holiday slow down is my time to refuel, realign, and re-engage with my family and myself. I planned an extra day off work today because I like to be off on Cyber Monday (although my holiday money hasn’t arrived yet 😑). I also prefer not return to work on a Monday after an extended weekend off. Ironically, my plans for today includes catching up on some office work, but it will be balanced with some pampering, organizing, and getting up to speed on my personal affairs.

Although I’m slowing down, I fully recognize that for many people, this is the time of year for what seems like endless shopping, holiday parties, and overall doing and buying stuff. Even the driving on the roads tends to being more frenetic and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more car accidents this time of year. I don’t want to fall into the trap this season. Yes, I will Christmas shop (mostly online) as I do have 2 children, but it will not be the mindless, overconsumption of stuff.

There’s something to be said for giving yourself what you need and creating a space for it to happen. I’m grateful I can create this space for myself.

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Gratitude 

I’ve had a wonderful time enjoying my Thanksgiving holiday being in the house with my family. For an introvert like me, it has been a slice of heaven. I’ve read, slept, cooked, and watched mind-numbing t.v. My children might feel otherwise. Unbeknownst to them, I’ve been soaking up their chatter, laughter and conversation. I didn’t host anyone for dinner this year, which hasn’t been the case for a long time.  It was just us and that was plenty.

I’ve read countless articles on the benefits of being grateful and of expressing gratefulness and I absolutely agree. I’ve also read passages on being grateful for all experiences, good and bad. In the past year, I’ve experienced so much (breast cancer, mom’s death, husband’s health struggles, son’s struggles in school) and I’m still here to tell you about it. I have 2 healthy children and a husband who loves me.  I’m healthy. I have the support of my family and friends. I have a job with health insurance. I have peace of mind and contentment. I can go on, however, I want to point out that wish I could turn that grateful button on when I’m in the midst of a gut-wrenching problem or one of my self-inflicted ruminating tirades.

For me, it takes work to be grateful. In case you are one of those people rolling your eyes at me, hear me out. I believe being grateful and expressing gratitude is a practice. I have an awareness that there are some mental deficiencies in me that trigger self-sabotage and other unpleasant outcomes if I don’t keep them in check. I constantly have internal conversations with myself to lighten the atmosphere in my mind because I can “go there”.  Inevitably, no matter what perceived turmoil I’m experiencing, eventually things settle down and I can see the whole picture for what it is.

If it takes work for you to be grateful in the midst of challenging times, don’t despair. I know  I’m not alone. Be persistent with your positive self-talk. Surround yourself with the things and people that bring you joy and remind you why you’re grateful. Spend time alone. Let go of things you can’t control. Read books and articles on gratitude. Pray. Repeat…

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Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen

Yesterday, I received the dreaded call that no one ever wants.  My sister was on the other end of the line. She sounded calm, and for a moment, I was relieved. However, her next few words pierced me to the core, “Mummy, passed away this morning”.  It took me a few seconds to process. I heard her voice quiver. We exchanged a few more words of which I can’t remember and she reassured me of something.  I told her I’d call her back. I walked to the group of ladies from my Zumba class who were talking. I  tapped on Mary’s shoulder and muttered the words, “I just found out that my mom passed away”.  I cried hard and loud as they embraced me for what felt like forever and I’ve been sobbing intermittently every since.

Albeit painful, I made peace on Friday that mummy might not make it through the night based on my sister’s report from the doctor.  They were transitioning mummy to hospice care. This is painful to write and I stopped a few times due to the uncontrollable tears. My husband told me that I should stop and that it’s too soon, but I must because writing for me is therapeutic. When I woke up Saturday morning without hearing new updates, I decided to go about my normal routine of  going to Zumba class and then the grocery store. I’m so thankful that I was in the company of my Zumba-loving prayer warriors because they consoled and prayed for me.

Words can’t truly express the sorrow I am feeling right now. However, despite the sorrow, I am overwhelmingly thankful Solange (SoSo) Nicholas was my mother. I’m thankful that I saw her beautiful smile in person last month. I’m thankful that I hugged and kissed her.  I’m thankful that my sisters and brother made sure mummy was not alone while she was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. I’m thankful that my sisters made efforts to shield me from what they were experiencing while watching mummy suffer. I’m thankful my sister put her phone to mummy’s ear so mummy could hear me tell her that I loved her.  She told me that mummy’s eyes got bigger indicating she heard me.  I’m thankful that mummy is no longer in pain and that she can finally rest in peace. I’m thankful that mummy gave us her best. I’m thankful that she saw me beat breast cancer and came to Texas to be with me for my surgeries. I’m thankful that she always thought of us first. She even made and paid for her funeral and burial arrangements, so we wouldn’t have to worry. I’m thankful that I had a loving mother because not everyone has a loving mother.

SoSo, you did a valient job raising your 4 children…only if you knew it while you were alive. However, maybe you did because I spotted the look of contentment on your face when all of your children were together last month. You were always so humble and generous.  You came to Texas to visit your baby, the youngest (me), any time you could. You’ve been here, by far, more than anyone else.  You’ve been there for me, by far, more than anyone else. I can only aspire to be like you. BRAVO, my Haitian queen!

I have no more words…for now.

 

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Gratitude

This is the time of year for giving thanks, so it’s no surprise that I’m about to lay out exactly what I’m thankful for in this post. Before I do, I will point out that practicing gratitude on a daily basis is something I’ve aspired to do over the years.  At one time, I arranged for each of my kids and my husband to have their own gratitude journal. I personalized each journal with their name followed by a heart ♡ that I drew myself. The plan was for us to write or draw what we were grateful for when the urge hit.

Looking back, that was my attempt to instill the love of journaling into my kids. To my chagrin (I may be exaggerating), I don’t know what happened to those journals. I was just kidding myself thinking my husband would do it, but for a time I think he used it to write his notes from church. I’m not even sure where mine is, but I’ve had so many journals over the years it’s likely somewhere. My daughter loves paper, notebooks, and journals, and she never really learned to use the whole book before starting a new one. Occasionally, a journal that’s been missing or forgotten would pop up in a corner after months. That’s the case with these gratitude journals. One popped up a few months ago and I thought to myself, “Oh look. I remember you”, and kept on walking.

In the world we live in today, there is so much competition, so many choices, and so many opinions. I sometimes get frustrated reading the comments section on social media posts because people can be rude, mean, and thoughtless.  There are also many pleasant, thought provoking, and affirming comments, but I hate it when I get blind sighted by mean, rude, thoughtless ones. It does give indication of how people across the world think, even if folks are hiding behind a different persona than when not on social media.  All of this can be overwhelming, making it difficult to hear our own voices. I suspect that if I’m feeling it, someone else is too.

I did a quick superficial google search to compare the definitions of gratitude and thankful and they are generally synonymous. A very slight difference is that the definition of the word gratitude includes the word “expression” (i.e., expression of gratitude).  Thankful is described as a “state of being” (i.e., of being grateful/pleased). Both can be used as an expression and both can be used as a state of being. Feel free to research these nuances on your own, but I’ve used them synonymously in this post.

It is so important to be grateful for the little things as much as we are grateful for the big ones. This year, I’ve been living more in the present than ever before. Here’s a short list of what I’m thankful for:

  1. God bestowing His love and favor on me
  2. Waking up
  3. The love and support from family, friends, and all my social connections (church, fitness)
  4. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical (actively working on the breast cancer) health
  5. Cooking nutritious food that tastes good for my family…like the homemade sweet potato pie I made shown in the picture 😉
  6. Our cozy home
  7. Creating memories with my loved ones
  8. My little, furry nuggets of love (i.e., my 2 kittens and cat. (Update: the cat, Baby, passed away.)
  9. Being a compassionate person and choosing a career in social work that serves people that are marginalized, poor, and unseen/forgotten
  10. Doctors, nurses, and other medical and health professionals that truly care about what they do
  11. The wealth of information that is available and accessible
  12. Living in the USA

Happy Thanksgiving!  Update: Happy “week after” Thanksgiving!  I hope you spend every day expressing gratitude.