Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wanted to post this earlier but time has gotten away from me these past couple weeks. 2016 ended with a boom for me, and even though I usually have time over the Winter break in December to blog and catch up here in this space, this year things were a bit different.

I flew to Miami on the 13th, with Max, to spend three weeks with the Pelos and the rest of the fam. The first week was really good, I got to rest, exercise, spend time with my parents, Nick and then Liz and Sophie, who arrived a few days later. But on the 19th, the day Tata turned 89, she fell and was taken to the hospital. The paramedics were called because she had fallen and they thought she might have broken something. What they found had happened was that she had had a stroke, a hemorrhagic cardiovascular accident (un ACV hemorrágico).

As you can imagine this was all very stressful and emotional for all of us, because we are far away, but especially for my mom because she has been wanting to go home and visit her mother for quite some time now. She has not been able to because of issues with her passport, and the overall difficulties of going back to Venezuela. But quickly after hearing the whole situation, I looked for tickets and booked my parents a flight for the next day.

Los Pelos were in Caracas from the 20th to the 30th and got a chance to not only see Tata and be with her a bit, but also help out and offer support to all the aunts and uncles there. Tata was released from the hospital on the 28th, so los Pelos were able to see her home before they came back.

Currently, Tata is home with a nurse 24/7 by her side, and my uncle Emilio, who lives with her supervising everything. Everyone has pitched in, in one way or another. It really takes a village, and in this case, the village has poured all resources into helping make sure Tata is ok and slowly recovers.

This whole ordeal has been tough. Each of us has dealt with it in her/his own personal way. Some are depressed, some are a bit paralyzed and others like me, are a bit numb. There was one-day sadness really hit me while in Miami, and I felt I just wanted to be in bed all day and do nothing. I was clearly sad. I had been holding it off for too long. Christmas was rough. Not only different because it felt really strange to be at los Pelos’ house without them and celebrating Christmas, doing secret Santa, crackers, pernil, hallacas and pan de jamón, without them. But the whole atmosphere was off.

We had the traditional Christmas dinner, we wanted the kids to have a “normal” Christmas, and I think we accomplished it. I cooked the pernil my mom always makes, following her recipe. Liz made pan de jamón, and brought hallacas she had made in NY. Cas made blinis and Swedish meatballs, traditions from his Swedish family. And we even had the British crackers and Cas’ potatoes al gratin. Sophie set up the Nativity set and we did our secret Santa bit. So it was Christmas as usual, but it was the worst Christmas I have ever had. I was on edge, and didn’t really enjoy it as I usually do.

2016 was a rough year in looking back. My mom got sick and almost died back in February. And then my grandmother gets sick and almost dies in December. Work related issues in the Fall, of which I’m really not going to talk about here, also put a big damper on the final quarter for me. My dad got diagnosed with diabetes, and I with perimenopause. And then to top it all off Trump wins the presidential election. It was one of the worse years I have had in all the 44 I have been alive. So I was not really sad to see it go. I suddenly got it, I now understand what people mean when they say they are eagerly wishing specific years to end.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year. In fact, I know it will be, because it already has begun much better than how 2016 ended. Although I still have this bit of lingering sadness, that I think won’t truly go away for some time. Tata is recovering, but let’s face it, she’s 89 and is not getting any younger. So it’s just a matter of time, and I’m here, far away, and it’s hard.

I don’t want to wrap this up on a negative, sad note. If you know me, you know that I always bounce back. I am a warrior, it runs in my family, and I never give up no matter how hard it gets. So there’s always that. There were good things about 2016, and if we want to see the glass half-full, in 2016 my dad got his BioFeedback certification, Mike got two new jobs, which have been great for him, Nick started college at Carnegie Mellon University, and the freaking Cubbies won the World Series!

So here’s hoping that in 2017 we can continue to count our lucky stars and the balance at the end is more positive than negative. I truly hope your Christmas and New Years were good, and if they weren’t, there’s always another year, and hopefully 2017 will be a good one, once again.

Merry Christmas 2016

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I hope you all have a Very Merry Christmas and if you don’t celebrte Christmas, I wish you the best of Holidays!

See you again soon,

Jen

Giving Thanks

I’ve been extremely busy these past few weeks, so I am very glad to be able to stop a bit tomorrow and take stock of all the things and people I have in my life. I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I am to have family, friends and colleagues that support me in ways that consistently surpass my expectations. For them, for you, I am beyond grateful.

I want to take a minute here to say, thank you. A true, deeply felt, and sincere thank you! I would not be where I am or who I have become as a person, without you. Thank you!

I hope as we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow (in the US), you all also have many things and peopl to be thankful for. Keep safe, keep happy, and keep full. And as I frequently tell my niece and nephew: be good, be kind, be awesome.

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Menopause Barbie

This post is for all my girlfriends, to all the ladies out there that I know and care about, young and old. It doesn’t really matter what age you are, if you are a female, this post is for you. From me to you, because I care about you.

I am 43 years old, and as of last Fall, give or take, I started having menopause symptoms. First it was just inconsistent periods, but then all the other stuff started to hit. The diagnosis was confirmed by a blood test prescribed by my gyno, which resulted in high estrogen and low progesterone levels, which are indicative of Peri-Menopause.

The symptoms are nothing I would desire on anyone, unless I really, really disliked them. The over heating sensation, like you are burning up from the inside out, the lack of energy, being tired all the time, hair loss, insomnia, weight gain, and the kicker: acne. All very undesirable symptoms, I have been having on and off since about a year ago. Well, as it turns out every female out there, sooner or later will go through it. Peri-Menopause (the moment any of these symptoms begin) will happen to you all, it’s just a matter of time.

But don’t despair, this is where this post comes in.  My gift to you is this YouTube channel I recently discovered, it’s called Menopause Barbie.

Dr. Barbara Taylor, a retired OBGYN, is now dedicating her time to put her book and seminars into YouTube videos in order to reach a broader audience. She is out to spread the Menopause word to all women out there. the videos are somewhat wacky, but they are filled with useful information and clarify a lot, if not every question you might have about menopause. And if you are Pre-Menopausal, meaning you are not having any symptom (the first one is inconsistent periods), you can still benefit about learning about your body and knowing what to expect, because believe you me, it is coming, and when it gets to you, you will want to know what the heck is going on.

Watch the videos. Check out her website. Download the worksheet and the outline. Or buy her book. But don’t let peri-menopause reach you unprepared and uneducated. Believe me, you will be happy you did it. And if you are going through it right now, you will be so thankful you understand what the deal is with your body, and will learn about all the options you have to manage your body’s changes in whichever way you see fit.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You are very welcome!

Pool Time

Mike is still in Chicago, he won’t be back until the weekend, and then he stays with us for a whole week. But he was here the weekend we arrived, and my dad took these photos of us having some fun in the pool. My “new” family of 4.

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Vacation? Food!!!

One of the pleasures of being on vacation is being able to eat whatever one wants. And in Miami, the pleasure is even bigger because one has access to Venezuelan treats. I thought I’d share some of the goodies I’ve been able to consume these past days.

Empanadas de Cazón

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Pabellón con Cochino (Paleta, le dicen los Cubanos)

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Tequeños y Colita

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Homemade Tres Leches

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Alfajores

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Cachito de Jamón y Empanada de Queso

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Más cochinito y tajadas

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Platanitos

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Summer 2016

At the start of July, when I last posted, I said I would be back here to update you and share some of the things that have been going on this summer. Well, we are almost mid-August and I’m just now getting back to the blog. But, let’s get on it because a lot of big events have happened this summer:

Max turned 8 years-old on June 27th. It’s been 5 years since I adopted him, and we have come a long way. Love you Maxy!

Max 2016

Mike and I had our 1st wedding anniversary on July 25th and we had a nice outing. We went to see The Book of Mormon and then had a spectacular dinner at Boka.

1st Anniversary Collage

I was not able to make it to the UK on July 25th for the International Children’s Spirituality Conference, because of visa issues. But fortunately my paper and presentation were ready and Dr. Karen-Marie Yust was kind enough to read it, so even though I was not physically there, my work was shared.

Karen-Marie Yust

Mike turned 50th years-old on July 31st, and we celebrated with family. We had a plentiful meal at The Chicago Chop House and then stopped over at The Redhead Piano Bar for live music and drinks. (photos to come)

The boys (all of them) and I flew to Miami on August 5th and will be spending three weeks with los Pelos. This is where we are now. Mike had to go back to work, but will be back during our last week here as a vacation for him.

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I just realized I have most of my photos and videos in my hard drive at home, in Chicago. Bummer. I’ll update this post once I get back. For now I’ll share what I do have with me on my phone.

How’s you summer coming along? Did you get a break? Did you celebrate something special? Or is work looking mighty up to date for you? Speaking of which, I need to get at it my self, these papers don’t write themselves and classes are not prepped by the prepping Gods, unfortunately! Hope you are all having a wonderful summer!

I’m still here

Thursday was a weird day for me, emotionally. I felt out of sorts all day. I realized I was completely unmotivated and didn’t want to do anything productive. But, I didn’t want to wallow in it either, so I started fake smiling, to see if I could trick my brain into thinking I was happy and have some endorphins released to give me a boost of happiness. It worked. A little bit.

On Friday, I decided I was going to go out. I had planned a visit to IKEA on Saturday, and thought it would be smarter to go Friday, to avoid the weekend crowds. It worked. I mean, leaving the house, going out, seemed to give me an emotional boost. The visit to IKEA was productive in the sense, that I did avoid the crowds and bought the things I needed, but traffic was hell. I drove for over 3 hours yesterday, so today, there was no way I was getting into the car again.

Mike is off to Wisconsin, for a Grateful Dead’s concert, which I passed on, because I don’t really even know who the Grateful Dead are. And I figured I would not be happy surrounded by drunken, high people, while not even being able to sing along. Not that the Grateful Dead’s music is the sing-along type, but you get my drift, right? So today, I’ve been hanging out at home with Charlie and Max doing fun-for-me activities: sleeping, eating, Simming, SnapChatting, catching up on DVRed shows from October (Oprah’s Belief series, interesting), and perusing catalogs and beauty magazines. I also payed bills online, caught up on work emails, and did some laundry. And just now, I figured, let me check on my blog, since it seems like I haven’t been here in ages.

Well, ages it has been. The last time I wrote here was in February, and in reading back there are only 6 posts this year. Talk about dropping the blogging ball! Also, I looked at one of January posts, updating you all on my new year’s resolutions/goals progress and realized one of my 2016 goals was to go on a no-buy (!). I completely forgot about that, obviously, because my spending these past 6 months has been out of control, particularly in the beauty department. I recently decided to not buy any more makeup. Period. I have so much there is no way I will be able to use it all before things begin to expire and go bad. But I’ve moved my shopping habits to other areas like facial care products, clothes, bags and most recently been eyeing jewelry I’m drooling over. I need to get a grip. Yesterday!

The meditation goals is still going strong. I meditate every weekday for 10 to 15 minutes, first thing in the morning. And I truly  believe that is what has been keeping me sane all these months. Not that life is so crazy I would go mad it left to my own devices, but I can truly see and appreciate the benefits meditation has been having for me since I resumed my practice back in September 2015.

On the weight-loss front, nothing has really improved. I’m still fluctuating between 144 and 148 lbs. Of course, nothing that needs to change in order to help that number go down has changed either. I’m still eating whatever I want, whenever I want. And I only just started going to yoga (irregularly) and walking/jogging a couple weeks ago.

My plan is to continue with the exercising, absolutely continue with the meditation, and definitely go on a no-buy stint, as soon as possible. I also want to be more active here, on the blog. I’m not going to commit to anything in writing, but I will come back soon, this week, to provide an update. There are some posts roaming around in my head, I want to get out. So I’ll be back. Soon. Promise.

Valentine’s Day and Updates

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Hope it was kind and sweet to you. Valentine’s is special around our place because it’s the day we celebrate my dad’s birthday and also, old lad Charlie’s birthday. And, we also celebrate the anniversary of our first formal date, back during in the awful blizzard of February 2011.

Mike had made reservations to go out to dinner at Emilio’s, the restaurant in which we had our first date 5 years ago. We try to go back there every year. But we had to cancel and hopefully reschedule for next weekend. Mike started feeling icky Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning, he had a full-on fever of 100.4, which got a little worse to 100.6, until it finally got better Sunday night. So this was the backdrop for our Valentine’s day…

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We still celebrated a bit, with cards, gifts and chocolates. Mike got jeans and I got much needed tech-gloves and an infinity scarf.

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Charlie, the old chap, would have loved to relive this:

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But instead got several short walks in the snow and lots of treats.

Liz flew into Miami Saturday night. The initial plan (before my mom’s health emergency) was to be with my parents for the kids spring break and my parents birthdays (my mom’s birthday is also coming up in a few days). Great timing, because they could all be there to visit Coco and celebrate my dad’s birthday as well.

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Coco is doing better. Still at the hospital (it’s been over a week now) and still not well enough to go home (although she asks every day), but better. After the TIPS procedure, there were going to be side effects both from bypassing the liver and the general anesthesia. The blood that is now not going to be cleaned of toxins by the liver, takes these to the heart and brain, causing elevation of toxins in the brain, also known as Hepatic Encephalopathy, which is an altered mental state. In order to control these toxins and eliminate them, she is given a laxative type of medication, which for a while there she refused to take.

Another complication/side effect from the whole episode was low hemoglobin. She had lost a lot of blood from the initial esophagus bleed, and even though she had some blood transfusions, the hemoglobin was not a stable normal indicator yet. This coupled with the general anesthesia, caused respiratory issues. She developed liquid in the lungs. As of yesterday, she had one lung clear and liquid remaining still in the second one. She’s been taking diuretics and being nebulized every 6 hours now.

So these are the 3 variables they are controlling for currently: eliminating the liquid in the lungs, keeping the hemoglobin up, and lowering the toxin levels to avoid Encephalopathy. The side effects are plenty: bruised arms from all the injections and blood drawing, many bathroom accidents due to excesses diuretics and laxatives, weight loss and thus loss of energy and vigor, and overall being done with the whole thing and wanting desperately to go home already!

She is getting better, the values that need to go up are rising and the ones that need to go down are slowly decreasing. But she’s not yet ready to go home. The Dr. said today that if she went home, she most likely would have to come back soon, and we all definitely want to avoid that. The hospital is the best place for her right now, until she’s stable. Hopefully this week, she’ll be able to go home to her Jack, and all the fun awaiting her there with Liz and the kids. Keep those prayers going, and the positive thoughts coming. They are all helping very much. Thank you!

A family of 4

My mom had another esophagus/varicose vein bleeding episode, Saturday night. I thought about it for a bit and decided, the best I could do was take a plane the next day to be there with my parents. Last time this happened in September, Liz and I talked about coming and we offered, but the Pelos said it wasn’t necessary. Things had evolved quickly and they had her under control. We both felt bad my dad had to go through all that by himself, with no direct or continuous support from us, since we were in Chicago and New York, and all that was happening in Miami. So this time, we decided it would be different. I flew in Sunday afternoon, with the earliest ticket I could get, and will be staying until Thursday. Liz and her kids are coming down this Saturday, and staying for a week. So, this time the Pelos will be on their own less than 48 hours.

Of course, they are not completely on their own. There is a lot of support from extended family and friends, and for that, we are all immensely grateful. But, I think it’s important for us to be here. The nuclear family. The family of four, as my dad used to call us when we were growing up. He used to say “No matter where life takes us, we will be fine because we will always be together. Us four, always together. We are a family or four.”

Our family of four got extended to five (Cas), then six (Nick) and then seven (Sophie). Liz added in, what I jokingly refer to as her “combo”. And more recently, with Mike, Max and Charlie, it grew to a family of 10. Now, we have Hazel and Jack too, so we are 12! Six adults, one teenager, one wanna-be teenager, and 4 dogs. The family of four surely has grown. But, sometimes, when we are together, just the four of us, it feels just as it did when we were growing up, just us, a family of four, and I truly appreciate that.

Yesterday, before my mom was going into surgery, we got to speak to the radiologist. I, unfortunately, had to run to the bathroom. My bladder had been waiting for over 30 minutes and I really had to go, so I ended missing the talk with the radiologist (!!!). When I came back, my dad told me he had gone through every possible negative outcome, as if covering his back, in case anything went wrong. Instead of building my dad up and telling him to keep it positive, like every other doctor had done so far, he completely deflated him and put all these negatives images in his mind. My poor dad. He was worried, nervous, and now frightful for what could happen. There was a possibility that the doctor could not do the procedure, because of the difficulty of finding the veins. He was doing a TIPS procedure, to bypass the malfunctioning liver (my mom has an autoimmune liver disease, that has caused hepatic cirrhosis, and bleeding varicose veins due to high artery pressure, is a side effect of the cirrhosis), and of course, anything can happen when a person is fully under anesthetics. But, for Pete’s sake, anything can happen to anyone, anywhere. Why did he have to bring up the possibility of death, right before she was going under, and make the two-hour wait an unnecessary nightmare?

I tell you, I was so mad at myself and my bladder for not being there, because you know I would have put that dickhead in his place. I’m usually a kind, calm, sweet person, but if you mess with my family, are rude, unnecessarily disrespectful or a complete jerk, I will go ape-shit on you. I wanted to punch that asshole in the gut! In retrospect, I guess it was for the best that I was not there for the talk. It wouldn’t have helped one bit to punch the doctor just before he was to operate on my mom.

Thankfully, what doctor-no-bedside-manners lacked in tact, he made up for in expertise. He came back ecstatic saying “we did it!”. Apparently, it had been difficult to get the bypass in (it’s all tiny instruments operating in an already compromised organ) and for a moment there he had thought it would not be possible to do, and they would have to try again next week (!!!!). Fortunately, there was divine intervention, and at the last minute, the procedure worked and immediately the arterial pressure dropped. He said “she’s not bleeding anymore, and will not be bleeding again”.

Coquito is recuperating now. They have her under observation and she’s making progress. Hopefully, she will be back home soon. I know Jack truly misses her, and she misses him. Soon our family of four (or twelve) will be back to normal, as it has been since 1972, that’s when I joined the clan. If you have been praying and sending positive (get-well) thoughts to Coco, thank you! I truly believe they all worked their magic during the surgery yesterday. And helped us continue to be the family of four, we have successfully been for all these years. Thank you! And may Coquito continue to get better.