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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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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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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.

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Happy place

I’m enjoying a soothing, warm drink at one of my favorite places in the world right now…my front porch. It’s a modest porch…more like a covered stoop, but good enough for me to fit 2 comfortable chairs, a variety of plants/herbs, and a couple of citronella candles. It’s a party for my senses sitting out here as I get a slight chill from the light breeze, inhale the soothing candle aroma, catch its flickering light in my peripheral vision, and listen to the bugs, cars and other sounds in the distance.

I’m in my happy place. I’ve always loved summer nights and I’ve accomplished much today. Earlier, I took a nap, cooked a few meals/snacks for the week, exercised, jotted down my Monday to do list, and now I’m writing a blog post, which I didn’t think I’d get to do. A lot has happened in the last few weeks and I’m grateful for the experiences. Even the Bishop at my church has spent the past few weeks on the message of being responsible for your own happiness.

I have to write a post about my trip to Chicago to visit my famy last week, but that will have to wait for another time. It was FABULOUS and just what I needed. I look forward to writing about my experience in my new position at work. I’m having growing pains, but nothing I can’t handle. The most beneficial thing is that I was set up with a mentor. He was on my interview panel, we’ve had one phone consultation, and we plan to meet tomorrow. I’m excited about all that I will learn. I also want to write about a post I read from a journalist who is a fellow cancer survivor. She shared what she’s learned from other renowned doctor’s about how cancers develop. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as for me it emphasized how important it is to reduce stress. The key seems to be having a strong immune system because a weak one can invite trouble. It reaffirmed in mind that daily prayer, eating well, cooking, exercising, sleeping, doing the things that make me happy, saying no to some things, saying yes to others, etc. is necessary for my survival. Self-care is not selfish, it’s life saving. 

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Oh sweet May is coming to an end

I’ve always loved May mostly because it’s my birthday month. I love that it signals spring (or summer in Texas). Growing up in Chicago, I’ve experienced a cold day or two (or more) in May, so you’re really not in the clear in terms of warm weather until maybe June. Since I’ve become a mom, I get to add Mother’s Day to the festivities. Then there’s Cinco de Mayo, which I didn’t start celebrating until I moved to Texas. Mexican food has always been my favorite. We end the month remembering those who’ve lost their lives in the armed forced on Memorial Day. For me, the whole month of May is about celebration, inspiration, creativity, reflection and gratitude. This May has been especially sweet to me.

Last May, my husband experienced a serious health challenge and ended up having brain surgery on my birthday. This May, I get to prepare to see my family and friends in Chicago. I almost canceled this trip because with my new position, I was concerned about coverage for my unit, but some other managers agreed to cover for me. Plus there really isn’t any other time. I got a sweet deal on the tickets and my kids may be involved in various summer activities. We’re moving forward with the plan as scheduled.

My kids and I are leaving on 5/31 while my husband stays with the kittens. My son was on the verge of staying home too if he hadn’t arranged to take his finals early. I can hardly wait and neither can the kids. I’m so looking forward to getting fueled up with love. Not that I don’t get it here, but you know what I mean. It’s just my husband and I in Texas with our kids while mostly everyone we know and love is in Chicago. I’m also looking forward to the food, sites, and smells that I miss. I don’t have any plans of moving back because I hate the winter (so does my husband), but I don’t mind visiting when it’s technically supposed to be warm (weather channel shows 60’s & 70’s this week). Hey…it’s not December. I made a vow in 2009 that I would never return in December because it was so cold.

This visit is especially sweet because having dealt with breast cancer, I realize how fragile life is. Today, I picked out my outfits for the suitcase and have been encouraging my kids to do the same. Sometimes I surprise myself with how quickly and efficiently I pack now when that hasn’t always been the case.  I’ve been traveling for work for at least 3 years now, so I’ve become a pro.

Oh sweet May, you’ve been so good to me. I can’t wait to see what June brings besides the heat.