World Cancer Day

Today, I’m thinking about my mother-in-law, just as I have every day for months.

But, I’m not just thinking about my mother-in-law as she is struggling through the last, grueling phase of cancer.  I’m also thinking about my very best friend in all the world, keeping her sights set on her children’s futures as she fights leukemia.  I’m also thinking about my colleague, much younger than I, as she wages a head-to-head battle with osteosarcoma.  And, I’m thinking about friends, coworkers, family members from all parts of my life who have swallowed this terrifying diagnosis, “winning” and “losing” their private wars.

I’m also thinking about my father-in-law, whose life for months now has been devoted to the unimaginable task of caring for his wife, partner, best friend around the clock as she slowly slips away.  I’m thinking about my husband and his siblings, who are silently saying good-bye to the woman who kissed their boo-boos and pulled them in close beside her when they had bad dreams in the night.  I’m thinking about my own daughters, whose ears lean in to listen more carefully for clues as they overhear whispered conversations about their grandmother.

I’m thinking about my friends who have watched their own loved ones endure painful sores, unbearable nausea, and grueling treatments.  My friends who have themselves struggled with the unmatched mental and physical fatigue of juggling medications and dosages, building wheelchair ramps, and coordinating countless doctor appointments, CTs & PET scans.  I’m thinking about my friends who have relied on the kindness of Hospice workers to patiently and lovingly guide them through a “natural” part of life that we will forever struggle to understand.

Then, I think about myself.  My husband.  My parents.  My brothers and sisters-in-law.  My daughters.  My nieces and nephews.  And I think, this cannot continue.

We must make changes.

In my eyes, the only solution lies in prevention, and it starts small.  We cannot be caught by surprise.  Readers, for World Cancer Day, what are you doing to prevent cancer in your own inner circle?  What small step can you take today to reduce your own risks?  How can we protect our children from their own cancer stories?

Let’s start today.

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Crainte

Fear. 

On my refrigerator, a magnet hangs.  It’s been there ever since my grandmother sent it to me, in a package amidst any number of other little surprises, more years ago than I can remember.  It says,

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

On most days, I forget it’s there.  But on those chance days that I glance at it, or picture it in my mind, or hear the words whispered between my thoughts, I let it simmer deeply.  I stir it.  Slowly.  Thoughtfully. 

What does this mean to me today?

Over the years, this magnet has pushed me to action again and again.   In the early days, it might have meant lacing up my sneakers and heading to the gym to try out that new class or workout.  It’s led me to ignore my butterflies and pick up the phone to make the phone call I’d been avoiding.  It pushed me to ask questions, tell the truth, try something new.  Put myself “out there”. 

Be vulnerable.

I would say that this magnet has given me courage, but it hasn’t.  Truly, the courage was there all along, buried beneath the fear.  Ma crainte. 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Forgive someone.

Reach out to someone.

Dare yourself to start an adventure.

Get out in the world and do what you’ve dreamed of doing.

Plant your garden, tear out the carpet, learn to cook.

Go back to school, go camping, go to Africa.

Sample the hot sauce, buy a guitar, start a blog.

Go to the doctor.  Quit your job.  Sell your house.  Buy a house.

Walk up to that person that you’ve been avoiding and say, “Hello.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Tell someone you’re sorry, or tell them you love them.

Set a goal and invest in yourself.

Do something – anything – that scares you today.

 

Then, be grateful for your courage.  Be grateful for the strength you possessed all along.  Be grateful when you succeed and even if you fail, because either way – you did it. 

And then, do it again tomorrow.

bonne année

New Year’s has always been emotional.

I remember watching the ball drop on television on New Year’s Eve 1989, and thinking, “Good-bye, 80s…..whatever that means.”  In the last moments of the year, the experiences of the year are still too close to understand what it means to bid the year farewell.  With the exception of a night of cocktails or network specials televised from some cold street far away, it is just another end to another day.

Except the world tells us it should be so much more.

Which makes me fearful.

I become afraid.

Will I slowly watch my life pass by, year by year, without ever really achieving all that I should or can?  Will I sit here, New Year’s to New Year’s, letting the world live lives better, more exciting, more accomplished, more fulfilled than my own?

Or, will I succumb to the pressure and find myself, once again, standing on a crowded sidewalk somewhere, freezing and cringing between strangers’ bodies, hoping this is going to make me happier in some earthly way?

And resolutions.  Oh, the resolutions.  The silent pressure of Day One-One, whispering in your ear, “This year will be different, but only if you promise.”

It’s fear talking.

That’s fear telling you that you need to change.  That your life isn’t good enough already.  Fear hisses in your ears, “You need to be better…now.”

But is this true?

Aren’t we all perfect just as we are?  And if so, perhaps the promises we should be making are to see this perfection in our souls every day.  We should promise to sing loudly over the whispers and screams of fear.  Sing a song of love.  Find the beauty and take a wild swim in it, letting it wet our eyes and fill our ears.  Taste its salt on our tongues.

So today, on this frightening Day One-One, I will take my fears in my embrace and kiss them.

I kiss the fear of living a life unfulfilled.  I kiss my fear of failure.  I kiss my fear of financial misfortune.  I kiss my fears of fading youth, insufficient beauty, failing health, lonely days and nights, and heartache.  I kiss my fears of losing loved ones, fast growing babies, and pain.  I kiss this nagging fear of empty words and rejected works.  I kiss my fear of judgment and disdain.

I kiss these fears and smother them in love, because love speaks louder than fear.  Always.

And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, on the far less frightening days of the new year, I will remind myself of this promise of love.

May it be so with you, too.

à la prochaine et bonne année

Headed Somewhere

I love the title of this blog, mostly because it’s sort of a “one size fits all” for my life.  Much a good pair of stretch pants in basic black for a pregnant body, this title continues to fit my ever-changing moods and life stages.  On days like these, when I cross my fingers in hopes my Chrome still remembers my WordPress username & password — because I sure as hell don’t, I know that whatever thoughts are bumping around in my head will “go” here.

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For the past three months or so, I’ve been travelling down a road that looks a little like this:

Image

I’ve written here before about my personal goals to clean up and green up my family.  This year, my most recent leg of this journey began as I started looking into natural, food-based solutions to unwanted physical symptoms.  I found Dr. Mark Hyman’s wealth of nutrition-based resources and decided to cut out flour, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol for 7 weeks.

I was a few weeks down that road when I watched Forks Over Knives, Engine 2 Dietand began reading The China Study.  For days and weeks afterward, every time I looked at a piece of meat I thought, CANCER….HEART DISEASE….This is going to kill me.  Needless to say, my consumption of all animal products fell away like the shoulder of the road on a winding mountain road.

Right about this time, my husband started complaining of new-to-him physical symptoms he associated with our dietary changes.  While my body was finally purring like a well-oiled machine, his body was stalling out, rejecting his new ways.  That’s when a like-minded acquaintance introduced me to Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type, something I almost immediately dismissed as bogus.  But, I couldn’t pass judgement without first knowing more, and I couldn’t help wondering if this might possibly explain why my Type O husband wasn’t thriving on this plant-based diet, while my Type A body seemed to be reveling in it?

Yes.  Yes, it did.  In fact, the details that clicked and fit like missing pieces were ample.  But, I hesitated.  How can I just dismiss all the dangers of eating animal proteins I’d just learned and soothe my worried mind while my husband proceeds with a carnivorous lifestyle?  I couldn’t just accept it as true without understanding more about the foundational studies on which this book & practice is based.  (Mind you, he took that book as a green light to dive back into The Land of Beef & Bacon.)

While my research continues, I’m idling in an exploratory, self-reflective stage.  My physical and virtual bookshelves are filling up with vegan and vegetarian cookbooks and my Evernote & Pinterest accounts are filling up with vegan recipes & substitutions.  My refrigerator is stocked with coconut and almond milks, my (decaf) lattes and herbal teas are made with soy, and it’s tempeh and tofu all the way.

I won’t lie to you and say that I didn’t eat a Milky Way Midnight Bar from the checkout at Target the other day, or that I didn’t eat one of the best pieces of cheesy, NY style pizza I’ve had in a long time while I was on vacation a few weeks ago, or that I haven’t had a bowl or two of organic froyo this summer.  But I will say that I’ve been conflicted and aware, each and every time, and not ONCE have I thought, “Oh, to hell with it…I’m just going back to my old ways.”

Once again, I find that I’m taking baby steps, or maybe medium steps now, towards the person I want to be.**  Whether that person will belong to the religion-like “Vegetarian” or “Vegan” clubs, or take a more nondenominational stance as a “Flexitarian” or “Pescatarian” is yet to be determined.  More than likely, she’ll be some perfectly-imperfect blend of them all, not unlike my religion — Astrobuddhistian.

** More on this soon.

Are blogs on their way out?

As yet another symptom of my silent revolution, I’ve noticed myself pulling away from the blogosphere.  (Rather ironic to announce in a blog post, I know.)  As with most changes I observe within myself, I tend to sit back and watch it happen for a while before starting investigating and delving deeper (a strategy I do not recommend with weight related changes).

Why do I seem to be so disinterested in something that previously had me so enamored?  It seems to be going nowhere.

Perhaps I need to take a look at what I’m reading.

I approached my Google Reader with a machete in place of pruning sheers and began hacking away at my ridiculously overstuffed pile of posts.  As I shredded my feed of over a thousand unread posts down to zero, I started to notice a few things:

1.  Blogs written by (and focused on the lives of) stay-at-home mothers were the first to go.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate or respect these ladies – or their choice in life – but I just don’t seem to relate very well.  And, I really don’t need to read all about their kids’ lunchboxes….I have my own kids’ lunchboxes to fuss over, right?

2.  If a blog’s primary purpose was to entertain (a.k.a. I can’t take anything from your writing to help me cook meals, create something, decorate my home, find a book to read, or improve my teaching or photography skills) and it includes whining in any form, I nixed it.  I’m over whiners.  And yes, that means me, too.

3.  Blogs I was most likely to keep around a little longer were  people I know personally, include pictures that could appear in a magazine on my coffee table in every post, or pertains to my profession/hobbies AND offers ideas and solutions for my real world today.

Additionally, I found it really interesting that I’m (seemingly) not the only one drifting farther and farther away from the digital drain on day-to-day duties.  I didn’t count, but suffice it to say that a few handfuls of blogs to which I previously subscribed have dissolved in my absence.  Some bid formal farewell to their readers and web-friends, while others just simply…..stopped…..(The latter is more in line with my personal style.)

So, I’m wondering.  Is it just me?  Does anyone else out there feel as though the herd is thinning?  And, if so, where are all the bloggers going?  Are they retreating back to their “real worlds”, or just morphing their digital presence into a terser version of their online persona — tweets, status updates, and Facebook fan pages.  Or, am I completely out of the loop and there’s some new-fangled dimension out there in cyberspace where all the cool kids are hanging out?

As more and more of us are connecting online via increasingly mobile devices, will the majority of us still be sitting down to write or read lengthy posts for much longer?  Are blogs on their way out?  If so, what’s next?  Where do we go from here?

going green & clean

  Have you ever taken a moment to look at your own life from the outside in?  Have you ever had a day when, as you sit on the end of the rope, looking back on the beginning, you realize that you haven’t had a single drop of water — or perhaps even just anything noncaffeinated?  Or perhaps you ate every single meal from a drive-thru window or delivered to you by a person wearing a nametag?

When my nephew was little, like most little people, his idea of fine cuisine came in a bag that looked like the funny pages.  Dinners out with him included the standard moan and whine as we pulled up to a restaurant.  “I wanted FAST food, not SLOW food,” he’d protest.  We’d all chuckle at his literal thinking and chalk another saying up to the character of a child with Asperger’s, as this was long before the Slow Food movement had reached our corner of world.

Over the past months, I’ve decided to take a stroll down the Slow Food lane, pushing my babies — and pulling my husband — along with me.  It has not been an overnight transition, especially since I wouldn’t consider us “there yet”, but we’re making headway.

Surely, if it were only me, this would be a far smoother road to travel.  But with school-aged children and a husband who eats 80% of his meals away from the home, it’s taking some strategery.  (Because I can never resist that old joke.)  

I started with baby steps, like trading my girls’ morning Pop-Tarts for whole wheat waffles or homemade breakfast smoothies or banana bread.  That was fairly easy, once past the initial whining from Baby Girl.

Cooking dinner nightly isn’t so bad, but takes some careful planning when you work full time and have a family schedule where the routine is the absence of routine.  This called for a new personal ritual:  the weekend planning session.

Each weekend, I spend an hour or so creating my weekly plan.  I start with FireDaddy’s schedule, then the girls’ schedules and my own – Monday through Sunday.  Then, I call in the cookbooks.  Culinarily-speaking, I bore easily, so this part takes the most time.  On average, each week consists of one or two brand new recipes, with at least one night of a family favorite (comfort food) for my girls, and one “fix it yourself” (a.k.a. leftovers) night for the inevitable slack attack.  Next up is the grocery list.  I tweaked a Microsoft template I found online to reflect what I’m planning for and buying, as well as a place for my weekly menus.  After this is prepared and checked, it’s off to the stores, usually with two little ladies in tow.  Finally, upon returning home, I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen cleaning and preparing produce to be stored and served easily throughout the week.

It was somewhere within this leg of our journey that I realized how much money I was spending on produce, and what a burden these big grocery trips were to my weekends.  That’s when I discovered Palmetto Organics.   After working with them to create a delivery option that best suited my family’s needs, we’ve added Tuesday produce delivery into our regimen — and have loved every minute of it!  Quite frankly, I still buy some produce on my weekend grocery trips, but the primary focus of my shopping is dairy, meat, breads, etc.  An unexpected perk to choosing produce delivery is the excitement that accompanies each Tuesday!  I am still surprised at how the whole family is oohing and aahing over the week’s goodies as I haul in the cooler from the front porch.

That said, with relinquishing the duty of primary produce purchaser, I also acquired the job of primary produce researcher.  As our diets have truly moved to the “plant-based” category now, and are far more diverse than I could achieve at the local grocer, I’ve had to learn a lot.  As I lift the lid of the cooler and reveal these new dietary treasures, my next thought is, “What am I going to do with this?”  Thank goodness for the internet.  I Google that produce to pieces.  Searches begin with “flavor of ___” and “how to clean ___”, then move towards “____ recipes”.  I click and read and click and read, until I find “the one”.  I also consult my hero, Alice Waters, at least on a weekly basis.  Her book The Art of Simple Food is elegant, resourceful, and a valuable asset to any cook.

The next phase of my personal Slow Food journey addressed the sweet teeth in my household.  Oh my…..can you say HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP?  Baby step #1:  Stop buying Oreos.  Instead, I bake a batch of something homemade on the weekend — brownies, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, etc.  This batch has to last the week (moderation), and replaces any desserts packed in lunches or after dinner.  My theory is — if I made it, I know what’s in it.  I know I made those cookies with whole wheat flour and real butter.  I know that’s real cane sugar, not HFCS.  I know there aren’t any stabilizers or preservatives added to achieve the maximum shelf life known to mankind.

This weekend, we broke ground on the biggest undertaking on our family journey as we constructed the frame and prepped the site for our raised bed vegetable garden.  We practiced restraint as we decided to start with only one raised bed versus the two we’d planned, considering the cost of the dirt and manure alone we will need.  My porch is populated by my own little potted herb garden, something I’ve wanted for a long, long time.  And, we spied our very first baby tomato on our patio tomato plant.  This, to my children and husband, is finally the fun part.  We share visions of bountiful crops sprouting in our own backyard and sound like kids in a candy store when we daydream together, listing all our own favorites, one by one.

So, where do we go from here?  There is so much yet to do.  My mind is filled with plans for alternative natural sweeteners, warm dreams of baking bread, visions of environmentally responsible lunchboxes (my #1 goal for next year — banish the plastic bag), and thoughts of turning compost piles out back.  To some, these might sound like burdens and punishments.  I can honestly say, however, it has been more fun than I ever thought possible.  And as I listen to medical tales from friends and family, experience changes in my own body, and watch my daughters grow each day — I am reassured that this is more than just a fun project.  This is imperative for the health and well-being of my husband, my daughters, and myself.

Baby steps.  Start with baby steps.