Tata

Columba Josefina Coello Adrianza de Gómez

12-19-1927 to 04-16-2017

This is how my grandmother looked when she was younger, probably younger than I am today. This is how I remember her from when I was a kid. Always well groomed, put together and elegant. She always wore the latest haircut and color and had her hair professionally styled once a week  Her makeup was always just enough, very classic, and her skin was always moisturized, plumped and perfect. I remember it felt like silk. And she always smelled as sweet as flowers. I’ll never forget how good she always smelled. There is no question she was a beautiful woman.

More recently, I remember here more like this. When she stopped coloring her hair and went for a more natural look, embracing her years in her looks and style. Because, she always embraced her years with her wisdom, which was shared openly and generously with those who might be in need of it. If anyone was ever in need of advice, she was the one to call, everyone in her family did, frequently.

Tata was the eldest of 13 siblings. Two of them passed away at birth, but 11 remained under her tutelage, and most considered her as their second mother. She got married very young, at the age of 19, to Toti, my sweet grandfather, who passed away some nine years ago. They had seven children, of which my mom is the eldest.  One of her children, the second child, Fanny, died about eight months after birth from a heart condition, which I don’t think Tata ever really got over.

Because she married so young and had a house filled with kids to look after, she didn’t go to college. She loved medicine and was an avid reader, and because what happened to Fanny, I think she made it a mission to learn as much as she could about health and the body. She was the person to call when you were sick. She would always diagnose you correctly and know exactly what you needed to do and take in order to feel better, but she also always sent you to the doctor for a “real” consult. She had a ton of faith in doctors and medicine.

Speaking of faith my grandmother was a very faith-filled and spiritual person. She lived her faith and spirituality religiously and was a practicing Catholic. I think if it had not been for my grandfather, who was more of a religious rebel, and a bit of an agnostic, if not even an atheist, I think she would have been to Church more often. I owe embracing my religious practices to my grandmother, for whom the sacraments were all very important, and even though I was allowed to embrace them at my own pace, when I decided I was ready and wanted to, a part of me always knew I would do it someday, if not only for her.

She guided me in my spiritual search and growth. She listened to my ponderings, she tried to answer my questions, she was always there for me. Mi Tatica linda. And even though I hadn’t seen her in person in the last almost seven seven years, and she was not able to make it to my wedding (in a Catholic Church, as I knew she would have liked it), I remember her and think about her daily. I miss her. I miss visiting her with my mom on some random middle of the week afternoon. I miss stopping by at the bakery to bring the goods for a merienda and a nice long chat.

Tatica, I know you are in a better place now. I know you are with Toti, and Fanny, and some of your siblings and your parents. I know you are ok. But I miss you. I’ve been missing you for quite some time now.  And I’m pretty sure, I will miss you always. I don’t know if you knew how special and significant you were to me. I hope you did. I told how much I loved you, but I don’t think words can really do justice of how in debt I feel myself towards you. I truly hope you knew.

I love you, I miss you, and I will forever hold you in my heart.

Tu muñeca,

Jenny

How do you define yourself?

I’ve been listening to S-Town this past week. It’s a podcast I discovered through a recommendation made by a YourTuber I occasionally watch. It’s a production of This American Life and Serial, which I was hooked on in 2015.

In one of the last episodes, there are seven of them, one of the secondary characters makes reference to herself as not as bad of a person as others may be perceiving her to be, based on her recent actions. It got me thinking, in how our definitions of ourselves can be so ingrained, that we can’t understand that sometimes not only can we waiver, but also, that being good does not preclude us from occasionally doing wrong. It also, seemed interesting to me the internal struggle of being a Christian, and being called to be good, and how that superposes itself with doing what we believe to be right, which might necessitate doing wrong to others, sometimes a specific person.

Another character, I think in the same episode (chapter 6, I believe), asks the reporter what he thinks of him, in a way that is looking for approval, or perhaps trying to gauge how others perceive him, in order to better define himself. He doesn’t want to be a bad person, I think he doesn’t believe he is, but by asking this it seems as though he needs reassurance through the perception others might have of himself. Maybe even more than a corroboration, but allowing for a glimpse of possibility, that his own perception of himself might be mistaken.

As I navigate the tribulations of this academic year, I find myself remembering the words a colleague shared with me recently, “Don’t let idiots define you”. I tell this to myself everytime I feel I’m losing north, or I’m wavering in the absolute confidence that I am who I believe and know myself to be. But what if those trying to define you are not idiots? What if they are people whom you respect and have even admired at points? Do you let them define you? Do you take their opinions of yourself to heart? Do you revise your definition of yourself to include their offerings? Or do we take a John B. McLemore approach to life and just say “this glass is neither half empty, nor half full, this glass is full of piss”?

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.