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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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Shopping deals during COVID-19

There is so much going on in the world right now between the COVID-19 pandemic and the long standing pandemic of racial injustice in the world. Although I’m an optimistic person, it’s no wonder that many people including myself have been feeling mentally drained.

Like a lot of people, I’ve engaged in some retail therapy to help me cope. Some of this is normal in the sense of using distractions to help ourselves feel better….like self-soothing. However, shopping can become addictive, so be careful. If it’s not in the budget, then you don’t have the money to spend. This sounds simple enough, but unfortunately that doesn’t stop people from spending what they don’t have.

I had my last big shopping hoorah last week. I’ve pumped the brakes on shopping because I have everything I need and want. I’m able to discipline myself when needed, plus I have long term goals. Also, there is no space to keep a huge accumulation of stuff. That’s the bonus side of living in a small townhouse.

I admit I get a massive boost of dopamine from a great sale. And lately, I’ve found great sales which I attribute to COVID-19 effects on the economy. Retail stores are struggling. I find the few I’ve visited barely have inventory or places like Kohl’s have huge inventories of winter pieces that they want to get rid of. Also, many stores are not equipped to process massive online orders like Amazon. It took The Container Store one month to send my order which was delivered on 3 different delivery dates.

Brand new sweater $3.50 (after additional discount) from Kohl’s. LPC
Simply Vera by Vera Wang less than $4 (with additional discount) at Kohl’s. LPC

If you have a few extra dollars, this is the time to stock up on winter items. I purchased 7 sweaters at less than $4 a piece because of the extra 30% off on clearance at Kohl’s. Occassionally, Kohl’s offers cash back on certain amounts you spend, plus additional coupons.

Costco also has been having cheap prices on clothes. Cheap as in $5 dollars for name brand pants and tops. You have to really pay attention or you’ll miss it. The sweaters plus a few other items are stored under my bed in the storage boxes I bought from The Container Store.

Since I work in a professional environment, I’m usually looking for professional pieces. I like variety. I got really excited when I found coats on clearance I could wear to work.

Cathy Daniels $25 final price. LPC
Chaps sweater/coat $14.22 final price. LPC
Apt. 9 jacket approximately $15 final price. LPC

I know winter is a few months out, but these are great deals. I honestly thought we’d be back to the office by now. With the increase in COVID-19 cases in Texas, I’m wondering if we’ll be back to the office at all in 2020. I hope I’m able to wear these pieces I bought this year. If not, I’ll hold onto them for winter 2021.

My whole household benefited from Kohl’s sales. I found some major deals for my husband, Bryan, and my two kids. I also brought several items on clearance I needed for the kitchen such as a Pyrex glass dish, mixing bowls, and cooking/prepping utensils.

Randall’s tea clearance. LPC

Not only have I been finding deals on household items and clothes, but my grocery store has been clearancing out some items including expensive, organic, responsibly sourced teas such as Mighty Leaf, Numi, Traditional Medicinals, Organic India, Yogi, etc. for $1.97. To my surprise, the expiration dates are fine: 2021 and 2022. There were too many teas to capture in the picture. Randall’s is also having a clearance on coffees, including some organic ones and fancy nut butters and organic jams. I stocked up and may even reserve some as gifts.

Overall, groceries have been more expensive, but I’ve found my Randall’s has been slowly bringing back their weekly sales and ads. Shopping is no longer like a scavenger hunt, at least for now. I’m able to find what I need which is great. However, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Texas makes me think there will be another lock down. Whatever the case, I’m prepared. What about you?

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Cooking new recipes during COVID-19

Starting in April and lasting through May, I reduced the amount of cooking I was doing for several reasons, none of which was planned. The reduction in cooking wasn’t due to a lack of groceries either. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, I’m grateful for a well stocked pantry, deep freezer, and refrigerator/freezer.

In April, I was still getting used to teleworking and initially was finding it difficult to make time to eat in my newfound virtual reality. I continued to drink my nutitious green smoothies daily, but I’d begun relying on convenience foods. Example: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets and orange chicken paired with salads or soups.

We were also in celebratory mode for a while because my husband, Bryan’s, disability was approved. This was such a relief for him because his life has been in limbo. He deservedly received compensation for back pay which has allowed us to live comfortably during a pandemic. We’ve paid off many debts in a matter of months. We also have the emergency fund that Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman have been preaching about for years.

Also, May is a special month in that Mother’s Day and my birthday are one week apart. We celebrated with takeout from the same delicious Italian restaurant for both occasions. This was the first Mother’s Day since my mom passed three years ago that I didn’t cry.

No matter how good convenience foods and takeout foods are, I always return to craving my own cooking. Also, I didn’t like gaining a few pounds since teleworking. I know when I cook, I’m able to control how healthy the meal is and add my own flare. I’ve been tracking my calories on my Fitbit since the end of May, and thankfully, the scale is going back in the right direction.

I’ve been doing weekly meal planning…nothing fancy. There are so many YouTube videos of meal planning, shopping on a budget, and being frugal. Since shelter in place, I’ve increased my viewing of these videos exponentially. I enjoy them so much. Some youtubers have their own products to help people get organized, but I created a simple hybrid system which is tweaked here and there.

I created a master list of the foods my family enjoys. I asked them for ideas. When I get some time, I plan to type up the list, but for now, I keep track in my journal. Weekly, I write a menu I create on the dry erase board on the refrigerator. I also get inspiration for new ideas from the YouTube videos and sites I follow. Although I don’t recall what inspired me to make the vegetarian lasagna roll ups, it doesn’t matter because they were so good. My family loved them.

Spinach & ricotta lasagna roll ups with salad. LPC

On my birthday, I got to speak to one of my long time friends for a while. We were talking about everything and then the conversation inevitably landed on food. We both love to cook. I noted that I’ve never tasted mussels or oysters. A couple of days later, I began asking myself why I was limiting myself from trying these foods. Next thing you know, I was in Costco and bought a frozen bag of mixed seafood. Seafood soup popped in my head. Then, I learned something for the first time.

Seasoned seafood ready for the pot. LPC
Beautiful sauteed veggies for seafood soup. LPC
Seafood soup. LPC

Mussels are actually quite delicious. I don’t like that it’s taken me so long to learn this.

Sunny side up egg and mashed sweet potatoes. LPC

In January, while participating in the green smoothie challenge, I blogged about the importance of people setting themselves up for success. Prepping ingredients on the weekends sets me up for success during the work week. A couple of weeks ago, I roasted my last 5 or 6 sweet potatoes and mashed them with only cinnamon. There was no excuse to not have healthy options. I tried a new breakfast combination of a sunny side up egg with mashed sweet potatoes. It was delicious!

Peaches and biscuits. LPC

I caught a video of vegan, social media superstar Tabitha Brown (google her) making a vegan peaches and biscuit recipe. I’ve never heard of this combination, BUT I was inspired to try it. On Saturday, I found myself buying Fredericksburg peaches from a lady who was deaf on the corner by the park by our house. Ten dollars for a large bag.

Fresh peaches simmering in maple syrup, freshly squeezed lemon, cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg. LPC
Nothing says summer like fresh peaches. LPC

What a delicious treat! I was careful about ensuring I had enough calories in my daily allotment. I’ve found tracking my calories to be helpful because occassionally I get too lax. I was able to eat this treat and not worry about exceeding my calories. WIN! WIN! WIN!

I’m so glad to be back into my cooking groove. I’m even more excited to be adding new recipes to my meal rotation. Homecooking is not only healthier depending on what you’re cooking, but it’s more cost effective for your budget. Even if I can afford it, I want to live below my means and save money where I can.

What inspires you to cook? What new foods or food combinations have you tried recently? What are you cooking up this week?

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Father’s Day message

Happy Father’s Day! In case you struggled today, this message may be for you.

enlightenedsocialworker

There’s no denying the impact a present father has on his child’s life. In my culture growing up, he wasn’t “father” or “daddy”…he was called “poppy”. Whether positive, negative, or mixed, it’s an impact that lasts. I think when a father hasn’t been in his child’s life, especially from an early age, the impact becomes more tricky to assess. My perspective is personal because my father was not in my life. In fact, I barely speak of him. He was dangerous. He was irrational. He was bitter. He was defeated. He was misunderstood. He was broken.

My father was around, but he didn’t raise me because he was incapable of raising his family at the time. People whispered about him in my presence. When visiting my uncle, his brother, he couldn’t sit in the living room…he could only go to the basement. My uncle would arrange for me to see…

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What breast cancer has taught me…

In recognition of National Cancer Survivor’s day June 7, 2020

enlightenedsocialworker

Breast cancer awareness month is nearing its end. I often spend September and October reflecting on my life after my breast cancer diagnosis, mostly because I was diagnosed right at the onset of breast cancer awareness month.

About 10-12 years ago, when my mom was attending to her breast cancer treatment, I had no knowledge of the disease. She told me she was struggling with how to proceed in her course of treatment considering how much her breasts meant to her. My mom had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction with an implant. I didn’t think she needed to get a breast implant. Admittedly at the time, I thought it was odd my mom was talking about her relationship with her breasts, considering she was in her late 60’s. I thought she wouldn’t care so much since she was in a different phase of life. Looking back, I was insensitive.

She…

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Quarantine 5, 10, 15…

I’m trying to decide if I’m worried about the 3-5 pounds I’ve picked up since quaranteening. It’s been about 9 weeks since I’ve been teleworking and I’m not moving around as much as I used to working at an office.

I adjusted my Fitbit step goal weeks ago because I just couldn’t retain a high amount of steps when I’m moving around in this small space as opposed to a 3-story, government building with large parking lots and hallways.

Because I weigh myself a few times a week (used to be daily), it’s been one of my strategies to keep my weight in check. If the scale teeters upward for over a week, I adjust my food intake and exercise regimen. However, I’ve learned over the years, it’s much easier to control your food intake rather than trying to burn off the extra calories, especially as you get older. I also can’t overlook that I’m on a new steroid medication to help my lungs. This could be contributing to extra pounds.

It’s no wonder that I’ve become more lax in my food choices with all that’s going on in the world as COVID-19 is at the forefront of everything. I know I’m not the only one. We did celebrate a big take out, Italian feast for Mother’s Day. I’ve been generally eating more convenience type foods like fish nuggets from Trader Joe’s and Panko breaded shrimp from Costco.

My family can’t get enough of my homemade chocolate chip cookies. It’s comfort food and I think most everyone’s heart and soul needs comfort right now.

Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. LPC

So I got on the scale this morning and it was up a little. My weight tends to fluctuate daily, which is why I stopped weighing myself daily. However, I’ve noticed an upward trend. I decided to do some meal prep today and tend to focus on vegan and vegetarian foods if my weight increases in the slightest. Meal prep helps me set myself up for success because I still struggle with taking breaks during the day to eat since I’ve been teleworking. I’ll share a couple of meals I prepared this weekend.

Turkey chorizo egg muffins. LPC
Turkey chorizo egg muffins ready for the oven. LPC
Sauteed turkey chorizo…my 1st time trying. LPC

I was inspired to make the chorizo variety from the Pioneer Woman herself- Ree Drummond from the Food Network. I’ve made what I call “lil egg muffins” many times in the past using whatever ingredients I have. I knew I could remake this for way less money than the frozen item and I knew it would be delicious. I also chose to use turkey chorizo instead of pork which helps with the calories.

I tend to be low in protein and iron, so these egg muffins will be a great protein snack I can quickly warm up in between my back to back meetings.

Fennel Lentil soup. LPC

This soup is one of my ALL-TIME favorite soups to make and it’s VEGAN. I’ve posted pictures of it in previous posts. Soup is so comforting to me. This one will fill me up without lots of calories. I’m getting plenty of iron from the lentils and spinach.

Baked sweet potato, broccoli, sauteed onions and fried plaintain. LPC

Sunday’s brunch was a vegetarian play on the steak dinner I made last night. It would be vegan if it weren’t for the parmesan I sprinkled on the broccoli when I baked it earlier in the week.

Thin cut New York strip steak with sauteed onions, rice and peas with fried plaintain. LPC

I’ve restarted menu planning a couple of weeks ago mostly because we are well stocked on groceries and I want us to use them. I don’t cook Haitian foods often although it’s in my blood, so I decided to devote at least one day a week to Haitian cuisine. Rice and beans is a Haitian staple.

I made a special trip to the grocery store to purchase steak since I’ve been craving it. This could be a sign my body needs the iron so I listened. Saturday night’s steak dinner was delicious.

Marinade for two different types of steak.

A fresh marinade I tend to whip quickly in my mini food processor is fresh parsley, lots of garlic, lemon, green onion, a hot pepper of sort, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper. You can use this marinade with any protein, but it’s especially good with chicken.

Sunday small portion dinner: steak, plaintains, and premade salad kit. LPC
Roasted garlic parmesan carrot fries. LPC

My husband misunderstood when I asked him to pick up carrots from Costco. He got me two large bags of baby carrots when I asked for just carrots. The expiration date was upon me, so I had to do something because I was tired of eating raw carrots. The carrot fries were good, but I think they would be better with a dip, which I haven’t found a recipe that peaks my interest yet. I’ll keep looking.

I think I have a solid plan for food this week. The only thing is my birthday is in a few days and I know what’s on the menu. I’d like to celebrate without worry. My plan is to stick to my healthy options the other days of the week and then splurge a little on my birthday. I’ll talk about exercise in a different post. I’ve been experimenting with various exercise platforms for a few weeks and it’s been fun!

Am I worried about the few extra pounds? I am a little, but in the big scheme of themes, my life is great because I’m healthy, happy, and loved by the people who matter. I’m being proactive and that’s what matters.

How are you coping? What’s one healthy habit you’re committed to doing every day?

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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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Sometimes things get worse before they get better

I type this post as I lay in bed awakening from a nap on this lazy Sunday afternoon. I rolled over and felt the urge to share my progress. If you read my previous post, you know on Monday, 4/13/2020, a nurse called to tell me I did not have COVID-19. SWEET! That news was relieving although I was not surprised. By Friday, 4/17/2020, I had spoken to 2 more nurses and my primary doctor because I was miserable and not feeling any relief in symptoms despite taking a full regimen of antibiotics and prescription cough medicine.

Esperanza plant. LPC

I want to be as perky and bright as the beautiful bells of my Esperanza plant… I’m not there yet. Yellow is one of favorite colors. The dress in the cover photo is one of only a few pieces of yellow clothing I own. Yellow is my go-to color when I want a pick me up and I need one right now more than ever.

I bought the Esperanza plant because it was planted all over the property of a beautiful house one of my best friends rented for us in Wimberly a few Father Day’s ago. Wimberly, located just outside of Austin, is considered the “Hill Country” and it has a woodsy, lush, and lazy charm. We spent the weekend with my husband and kids, my friend, her niece and nephew, and her parents.

I’m thankful to have pleasant memories such as those to dwell on and perk up my spirits. I think I’m on the way to the other side of this thing called bronchitis, but not without more medications.

Advair inhaler

I haven’t seen the likes of this device since my son, Caleb, was first diagnosed with asthma years ago. His medications have since evolved to different types of inhalers. I’m grateful Caleb’s asthma is under control, but because of his asthma, he would be considered high risk for contracting COVID-19. I worry about him as he goes to work at the Walmart near our home. However, he’s given personal protective equipment on his shifts and tells me he washes his hands often.

I never imagined one day I’d be taking the same medications Caleb used to for his asthma. I haven’t been diagnosed with asthma, but I have significant upper respiratory inflammation. I tend to be conservative with medication and prefer natural remedies where applicable, but I need some relief. I’m not sure if I’ve noticed a change yet since using the inhaler for 2 days. I do feel a little better as my doctor also prescribed another medication for the cough.

I’ve been telling myself it is necessary for me to take care of myself and I shouldn’t feel guilty because I’m sick. I do struggle with the demands of my job, especially when I’m not at my best. I took off work Friday afternoon and I’m still not sure if I will work tomorrow. I know my husband, Bryan, would prefer I take off another day. I will see how I feel in the morning.

The main things I’m doing right now to get better is listen to my body, take my medications, drink lots of liquids, continue to eat healthy, exercise, rest, and be comforted by my loved ones. If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend this regimen for you too. As with this whole COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes things get worse before they get better. One day this will be behind us and the world will be better. I’ll be better soon too.

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Self-Care 101: Lotion Up

Who else has dry hands due to the constant hand washing and hand sanitizing? And who else neglects to moisturize those hands after getting them all squeaky clean? With COVID-19, now more than ever we need to be vigilant about personal hygiene, but I’m not complaining. I’m here to remind you that self-care is as simple as lotioning up.

I’m guilty of washing my hands frequently throughout the day and then wonder why my fingers look like PRUNE STICKS hours later. I have no excuse either because I have lotions tucked away all over the house. I love the feeling of moisturizing my skin with a luxious, rich lotion after my nightly shower or bath. The lotion PLUMPS my parched skin back to life.

I’ve tried all kinds of lotions for my different body parts. The lotions/creams pictured are my favorite at the moment, but it could change next month. My full body is represented with these products from my lips (Eos), to my face (Andalou Naturals), to my to hands (Meyer’s Clean Day), to my body (Nivea), and to the heels of my feet (Shea Moisture Shea Butter and Vaseline).

I do have some other lotions not pictured. Anybody remember Avon’s Skin So Soft (SSS)??? My mom used to “sell” Avon products. I think she was more interested in getting products for her daughters and herself rather than “selling”‘ for a profit. When my mom was last in Austin over 3 years ago, she left me a tube of SSS for the hands. It’s in the junk drawer in the kitchen. Do lotions have a shelf life?

I’ve had a long history of dry skin. I’m no dermatologist, but I believe brown skinned people are more susceptible to dry skin. I learned early on from my mom the importance of skin moisturization although I didn’t really take it seriously for my face and hands until I was a young adult in my early twenties.

I love Olay’s slogan of “love the skin you’re in”. This one body is working hard to keep you strong, healthy, and alive. It’s magnificent, resilient, and efficient. Love it by keeping it healthy.

Take care of your precious skin. It’s a simple action that goes a long way towards self-care.

What are your favorite moisturizing products?

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COVID-19 Chronicles: Test results are in

Personally, I find there is so much to be thankful for despite this unprecedented pandemic we’re all forced to deal with at varying capacities. In a previous post, I wrote I was built for this pandemic because as a breast cancer survivor, I’ve experienced the worst news of my life at this point. To top it off my mom passed away within 9 months of my diagnosis and my husband, Bryan, has a chronic illness that blind sighted us all. I’m not one of those people who walk around FLEXing my muscles, but I am pretty strong.

Alive is a good. Thriving is better. When times are hard, being alive might be all you can manage and you can be thankful for that. My heart goes out to all people who have lost their lives to this illness, and for their loved ones who’ve not only lost them, but who can’t properly bury them. My heart also goes out to those recovering. I send my love and light to them and pray they come out on the other side, even stronger.

I never thought I had COVID-19 because of my symptoms, BUT I’m relieved knowing my test results came back negative. The nurse called to deliver the news this morning. There is no doubt my body is actively fighting some kind of illness, but I’m a FIGHTER. I will win and it will pass. In the meantime, I listened to Bryan and took the day off work (most of the day) to rest and recover.

A special thank you to my community of family and friends who’ve sent me warm, kind, and thoughtful words and PRAYERS. I need as many prayers as I can get. I also thank all of the healthcare professionals for the sacrifice and life saving work they are doing every day for all of us.

Be well. Be safe.