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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.

 

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Happy Birthday to me

Today, I turn 44 years old. I was talking to my 78 year old mom on the phone yesterday, reminding her of my birthday and she exclaimed repeatedly, “My BABY is turning 44!” Yup, mummy, its true…your baby turns 44 and I feel great. I love the confidence, wisdom, discernment, patience, focus, and unapologetic self-assuredness that comes with being in your 40’s. These attributes helped me nail the best job interview of my life on Monday, 5/15/17, resulting in a promotion. I’ve been floating all week. 

Sure, I see more defined frown lines on my forehead and bags under my eyes. I was just telling my hubby this week I can see I look older. I recently noticed some small lines on both sides of my mouth when I smile. After Zumba class last week, I actually questioned if I was getting too old for all the jumping because I was unusually sore the next day after giving it my all and “leaving it on the dance floor”. I later concluded that I probably should have gone to bed early instead of attending Zumba class because I was exercising on an almost empty tank after a long day. I toned down my intensity in subsequent classes. I do get the occasional aches and pains. However, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been and even have muscle definition in my arms. I wouldn’t trade my emotional, spiritual, and mental growth to be back in my twenties where I was depressed, unhappy, insecure, and didn’t appreciate my size 8/10 shape. I admit those old insecurities still come, but I know how to manage them.

Office birthday party favors 5-19-17

This time last year, I didn’t celebrate my birthday because my husband had brain surgery…on my birthday. We visited the emergency room twice in May 2016 and had to cancel our trip to Florida. My very first post to my blog was about that whole experience which you can read about here. My hubby is doing much better. Little did we know that 4 months later, I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. At the Caribbean themed birthday party my coworkers coordinated for myself and another coworker yesterday, someone commented, “You guys have been through an ordeal!” My response was that we did get some mileage out of our health insurance plan and you better believe we met our deductible! We got a good laugh out of that. The point is life happens. You deal with it, make adjustments, and keep moving forward. I’m thankful to be alive and thriving with the ones I love. 

Today, will be a low key day with my family. I plan to get some rest because I’ve worked late all week as a result of getting acclimated to my new job which includes managing staff. Long work days will become a new normal, but I am not deviating from my self-care strategies. Exercise, eating well, reading, sleeping, writing, catching up with friends…these are all things that rejuvenate me. 

We may hit a movie and dinner later, but for the most part, I want to be around the house. I’m content because I have everything I need and am grateful to be alive. I can’t wait to see what this next year of growth has in store for me.


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Illuminata

I knew my husband loved me when he bought me the book, Illuminata by Marianne Williamson, while we were dating over 20 years ago. I asked him what made him buy it and his reply was that he thought it would help me. He saw the author on an Oprah Winfrey show and felt moved by what she said. I knew he was a keeper when he demonstrated that he also cared about my spiritual health. I was just emerging from a rough patch in my life (early twenties) when we got together. Therefore, he was right. My week day morning routine is to pray and read a scriptural/spiritual passage before I get out of the bed to set the tone for my day. I didn’t realize that I had this book by my bed side until I read the titles of the stack of books on my dresser. I love books and keep them very close. Periodically, I rotate them with the ones on my living room bookshelf to ensure that I get through them all. At some point, I moved Illuminata to be bed side. Great choice!

It feels so good to be reconnected with my Illuminata. The prayers are beautiful. It may seem odd for prayers to be captured in a book, but it’s so befitting. While in Catholic school growing up, we learned prayers verbatim from the bible. Sometimes, it’s difficult to come up with the words. Often, I simply have conversations with God, but I don’t always know how to ask for what I need. It’s a thought-provoking, illuminating, contemplative book and I love to marinate on it as I get ready. Sometimes, I even read a few passages before bed.

Books next to my bed

Books next to my bed

Beignet giving me love early in the am

Beignet does not understand how I could read instead of giving him cuddles

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A week in the life

It’s been a week! It started last Sunday with me at the airport for my monthly business trip and ended on Saturday (yesterday) with an unexpected job opportunity that stirred up lingering insecurities that are difficult to shake. Confidence and doubt. Courage and fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. It is possible to live with conflicting traits. I’m a living testimony. At the end of the day, I have nothing to lose…or do I? There is a beginning, middle and end to my story, but I’ll stick with 2 out of 3 since it’s Sunday and I’m a little tired. Here it goes.

The Beginning

Towards the end to my flight to Lubbock, Texas last Sunday, there was a ridiculous amount of turbulence. Turbulence to the point where I didn’t know if I needed the barf bag or a toilet because my stomach was doing somersaults.

This is bad. As a side note, I had actually typed “summer saults”, then changed it to “summer salts” because I forgot how to spell the word “somersault”. I knew it was wrong, but couldn’t remember so I looked it up. I’ve had recent conversations with people about the phenomenon of losing our ability to spell. I blame the constant reliance computers. Are we the only ones?

I occasionally glanced at my neighbor and we made exchanges about the turbulence, but then after a while, I noticed that she was staring at me rather intently…too intently for my comfort. She asked me if I lived in Lubbock, and before I knew it, I learned that she was a clinical social work therapist in private practice, working with the elderly and that she was returning from visiting one of her 7 kids in Austin. I’m usually hesitant about telling strangers my state business in Lubbock. However, as a fellow social worker, I gave her a vague snippet. I won’t talk about it here either, but for the record, it’s official state business and it’s not really in Lubbock. Lubbock is just the biggest city to fly in.

That Sunday, I wasn’t in the mood for small talk because I was somewhat sad about leaving my family on a Sunday and was prepping my mind for Monday’s meeting. However, I usually end up caught in random conversations because I’ve accepted the fact that folks in Texas are chatty and I think I have one of those faces that say, “You can tell me anything…I’ll listen”. She might have noticed that I was reading a book about difficult conversations. If I remember, I will come back to cite it later, but I believe the author’s name is Harrier Lerner, a psychotherapist, and it’s one of the “Dance with…” books. (UPDATE: Harriet Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Connection). Her first one was called the “The Dance of Anger”. I have that one too. I learned about her through social worker and researcher Brene Brown’s references.

My flight neighbor and I had a nice conversation, exchanged business cards, and despite her offer to call me whenever I’m in town, I knew that was the end of that exchange. Unless, I see her next month. I’m from Chicago, I come from a long line of suspicious people, so I’ll leave that at that. But seriously, I’ll keep her card just in case.

I spent part of Sunday night shopping for some healthy snacks/foods while away from home and prepping for my Monday meeting. The visit went well. I always feel better when I prepare. I pray that I am relaxed, professional, and myself. I channel my higher self and then everything else goes smoothly. I’m sharing this because on these trips, I’m sure that it would be preferred that I not be there. However, I am there representing the state, the agency that allocated funds to this entity to provide a service, so my hosts tend to be attentive and on their best behavior.

The End (of the week)

Yesterday, I was presented with an opportunity that I had not expected. It would mean a great amount of responsibility at work and I know that there are people who have their doubts about me. However, there are also people in high places that think highly of me. My insecurities bubbled up. Never mind, what they think of me…do I think I can do it? This is what I’m faced with. I can’t go into detail now, but I decided that now is as best a time as ever to have faith in myself. I’ve been making moves already. I simply need to decide. I activated my personal prayer warriors…people who I know will pray for me and I asked them to pray for me about this particular thing. I really want to and need to hear God on this. It’s not about the money although that definitely helps. If I am still in consideration for this opportunity, I’m going to give it my best shot. I deserve to do this for myself. Confidence and doubt. Courage and Fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. I have all of these traits. Some of them can be euphoric, and others downright painful, but I still move forward. It’s about growth.

 

 

 

 

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Glowed Up

It’s been 13 days since I’ve been on a vegan journey and it’s been amazing. I’m all GLOWED UP from the inside out and I want to tell everybody about it. I started to type that “no, I’m not going to be a vegan for the long haul”, but that’s mostly because the whiff of french fries and broiled steak still gets my mouth-watering and stomach churning.  I’m more than half way through this cleanse. When the 21 days is over, I may very well decide that I’m a convert. I’ve definitely entertained the idea of becoming a vegan. However, this has been a lot of work. It’s a commitment to better eating habits. It’s a commitment to myself. 

I’ve been on the fence about doing this particular cleanse, Fresh Start 21, Spring Edition, partly because I’ve completed 2 and started a 3rd one with Simple Green Smoothies earlier this year.  I completed Simple 7 and Thrive: 7-Day Reset. I attempted Fresh Start 21 (fall edition) back in February 2017, but at 5 days in, my dear friend took me on a weekend spa adventure. The great recipes in the Thrive cleanse opened my eyes to the vegan possibilities. I didn’t know vegan food could be so filling, delicious and creative. In addition to the cleanse guide which included a meal calendar, a shopping list and the recipes for smoothies, snack, and meals, there was a very supportive, Facebook Live group – the icing on the cake. It was so helpful to read daily posts from participants from all over the world. To know that I wasn’t alone was comforting and encouraging. It was a fun experience, which is why I was very interested in joining the most updated Fresh Start cleanse. The format is very similar to the Thrive 7-Day reset.

So why did I need a Fresh Start? I’ve been wanting to kick my sugar habit for a while now and my bout with breast cancer was good motivation. The main reasons why I wanted to do the cleanse was to develop the habit of being more deliberate about food choices, gain more energy and focus, to feel lighter, kick the sugar habit, and lose a few pounds. I’ve been open to learning new recipes and incorporating more whole foods into my diet.  Most people in my circle know that I’m all about green smoothies, but I wanted to go further. I frequently post pictures on my Facebook page of green smoothies and healthy ingredients/meals.  I even wrote a blog post about my love for green smoothies (you can read about it here). I attempted to do Fresh Start Fall Edition on my own in early February, and as I typed earlier, I got through 5 of 21 days. I had been receiving emails about the Fresh Start Spring Edition, so it was on my mind.

What led me to ultimately take the challenge was that I knew the Live Facebook group would be supportive, and let me tell me you, it’s been amazing. I’ve enjoyed communicating with fellow Rawkstars (cleansers) from around the world. The orchestrator and co-founder of the Simple Green Smoothies movement, Jen Hansard, and the recipe creator, Lindsey Johnson, communicate with us frequently by answering questions, offering tips and encouragement, and checking in to see how we’re doing. It’s been entertaining and refreshing to see how honest folks are as we complete the cleanse.

Fresh Start: Spring Cleanse

Fresh Start: Spring Cleanse

So how am I doing on the cleanse? The first week was the honeymoon phase. The recipes were great and filling. I wasn’t hungry during that week at all. It was exciting communicating with other cleansers. The prep was grueling, but I soon found out how helpful the prep actually is during the week, especially as a busy working mom. What I like about this plan is the flexibility to move snacks & meals around and rotate the ones you really like into your schedule. 

The second week (which I’m in now) has been more challenging because this is where the cleanse really kicks in. Calories and proteins are drastically reduced and grains, legumes, and bananas are omitted. I’m not going to lie. I’ve been hungry all week and not all of the recipes appeal to me. However, I’ve been sticking to it despite having a small cheat meal yesterday.  My husband and I took my daughter shopping for Easter. While out and about, we naturally got hungry. My husband suggested burgers for himself and the kids and I began to panic. What is neat about the restaurant he chose is that they have fresh vegan burgers. I ended up having a quinoa vegan burger, green style (lettuce as the bun). I know…I wasn’t supposed to have quinoa this week, but I took the plunge.  I also had 6 french fries (they were ok).  When I got home I enjoyed my cheat meal, but got right back on track and ate one of my avocado lime popsicles. My scale let me know this morning that the cleanse is doing its job, which has encouraged me to keep going.

At day 13 (of 21), some of the benefits of the Fresh Start: Spring Edition cleanse that I have personally experienced are:

  • Clearer skin (The GLOW)
  • More energy
  • More sound sleep
  • Feeling lighter
  • 4.5 pounds of weight loss

This has been a success thus far and I plan to keep going. I’m all GLOWED UP from the inside out and I’m glad that I’m doing this for myself. I saw my oncologist this week and he told me that I was healthy, looked great, and to keep doing what I’m doing. That put a smile on my face. Regardless of whether or not I decide to become a vegan, eating more whole foods and less processed foods is the way to go for me. 

I’ll soon write another post of this experience. Stay tuned!

 

 

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Life is a beautiful mess…

Near the end of January, my dear friend sent a text asking how I was doing. We first met in the 7th grade and our friendship was sealed in high school. She moved to Texas some years after I did, so now we live just 2 hours apart. I caught her up quickly on my cancer treatments because she didn’t realize that I had already started and completed radiation treatment. Naturally, I was honest and indicated that I had been feeling moody and not wanting to be around people, more so than the usual. I attributed it to the hormone therapy I had started a few weeks prior. Her reply was an unexpected, pleasant surprise to the tune of taking me on a spa retreat. We scheduled it and it was AH-MAZE-ING! She picked me up on a Friday night in February and I returned that Sunday. Yup…a whole weekend of spa wonder, relaxation, exquisite farm to table food, and most importantly time spent with my dear friend catching up on everything.

First and foremost, I admire my dear friend as she is very successful in her field. She’s always been very generous. I attribute this to her parent’s example of generosity and unconditional love, which made a tremendous impact on me in high school. If I’m honest, I will admit to being envious of my dear friend at certain points in my life. As I’ve matured, I no longer feel that need to compare. I’m simply so proud of her. We each have our own paths, but we have an undeniable bond. Friendships ebb and flow with life’s milestones and we’ve experienced that in our frienship as well. She works hard, travels frequently, and takes great care of her family. We don’t talk all the time, but when we do, it’s like continuing where we left off. I know she has other friends. I have other friends, but nothing compares to this.

That weekend was beyond wonderful. It was what I needed – time away from my day to day busy life…time away from my husband and kids. After breast cancer treatment, I wanted to be lighter, not worry as much, and not take things so seriously, but something has been off and old ways of coping were creeping back in. That weekend, I was fed well and pampered. My dear friend and I caught up where we left off with ease, revisiting our history, talking about our relationship, catching up on our families, sharing our current struggles, and expressing our appreciation for our friendship. 

Have you ever experienced something so beautiful and thought that everyone should experience it? That’s how I feel about this. Sure, its great to be whisked away to a spa and be pampered, but that’s not the norm. That was evident to me as I was sharing the spa experience with my coworkers and telling them they have to visit at least one time. One coworker responded non-convincingly that it MIGHT happen one day WAY in the FUTURE. I thought about that and acknowledged that not everyone can afford to do something like this. Hell, I couldn’t afford to do it at the time that we did. Therefore, I contemplated what about that weekend made it so special. This blog is about self-care and our weekend at Travaasa Spa will go down in my book as one of the pinnacles in my self-care journey. The massages, facial, pedicure, manicure were amazing. The massage therapists were knowlegeable and caring, offering me tips on managing possible side effects of breast cancer treatment. Every meal was fresh and delicious. The equine experience with our guide and very own horse, Pete, was therapeutic and unforgettable. The service was impeccable. Despite all of that, hands down, the most meaningful exchange was the time spent with my dear friend. It was the fact that she carved out time in her busy life to spend a WHOLE weekend with me. That was the greatest gift.

That weekend reminded me how important friendship is, especially with regard to self-care. Spend time with your friends. Make time for your friends. Get to know people so that you can make friends. WARNING: It does require the willingness to be vulnerable at times, but that’s how you get people to know the real you. The benefits outweigh the risks. The return on investment is high. I consider my husband to be my best friend, but there is nothing like friendship outside of marriage. I only have two people who I consider dear, close friends and they’ve known me before I met my husband. We’ve maintained our relationships since we were adolescents and have been there for each other through life ups and downs. That is something special. That is something to be cherished. I’ve also developed other friendships over the years.  We make time for each other by having lunch once a month (with one group of friends) and having breakfast on the weekends after Zumba fitness class (with another group of friends). Solitude has its place, especially for an introvert like me. However, friendships provide support, comradery, fun, and love, among many other things. 

Courtesy of the staff from the spa, “Life is a beautiful mess, made better with friendship.” Get out there and spend some time with your friends.