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Comfort Zone

I very clearly remember the first time I had to do a legit, grown-up, professional presentation. My manager and I had just completed leading our team through re-engineering our processes, consolidating functions with another business unit and converting to a new system. We were pretty proud of our work and it was noticed by the powers-that-be. We were asked to present our work to a leadership conference of about 200-250 managers, directors and vice presidents. We completely panicked!  We tried VERY hard to get out of it — begged, pleaded, offered alternatives — but deep down, we knew we had to do this, and we finally agreed.  This was big time out of our comfort zones!

We spent probably 100 hours (only a slight exaggeration) writing, rehearsing, stressing and getting pep talks in preparation. I recall there was a whole lot of swearing going on.  (How the &#$*^ did we get ourselves in this???) Right before the talk, we both thought we would be sick! In the end, it went fabulously well (those 100 hours really helped prepare us!), and we ran to the ladies room screaming with excitement!

That experience made me realize that, if I wanted even more of a leadership role in the company, I needed to figure out this public speaking thing. It couldn’t be an anxiety attack every time I needed to speak in front of people. I really needed to push myself out of my comfort zone.  And so I started looking for every opportunity to stretch.

I volunteered for business resource groups and offered to do introductions or even present. I accepted an invitation to speak to 400 people at the grand opening of the Philadelphia Hope Lodge (and even ended up on the Philly news). And I even agreed to make a commercial for the Philharmonic’s 4th of July show. Each one of these steps brought a bucket of nerves, self-doubt and self-consciousness. But I pushed through it each time and it got a little easier with each successive push.

Fast forward to present day…

This weekend I had the privilege of presenting at two wonderful plant-focused events as part of the community group, The Scranton Beets. First was a session at the local library (“The What, Why, How and Wow of Plant-Based Eating). As part of that presentation, I actually did a cooking demonstration, and my friend, Jean (www.theplantbasednurse.com), even put it “live” on Facebook (video is my next challenge to overcome). And then in the afternoon, Jean and I got up on a stage at the first (hopefully annual) NEPA VegFest to talk about plant-based eating for health and demo a wonderful kale salad.

Both were wonderful experiences that I would NEVER have done in the past. And I would have missed those experiences if I didn’t keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone — over and over and over again. It did get easier over time, and now I don’t even sweat it (much!). Public speaking has a big part in my future plans, so I’m glad I kept at it!

So what’s that one thing holding you back? What’s that one obstacle that requires you to keep pushing forward to achieve your dreams? Just take it one step at a time, one opportunity at a time — and go for it! Pretty soon, this new skill will start to feel pretty comfortable!

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In case you are interested:  here’s the Creamy Kale Salad (from Plant Pure Nation) we demo’d at VegFest. I loved it so much I made it for dinner tonight — with kale, carrots, peppers and a few remaining green beans from my garden!  (You can really use whatever veggies you want!) The dressing reminds me of that wonderful ginger dressing you get at hibachi restaurants!

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Enjoy!

IMDb: Comfort Zone (2013)

 

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Five Years Later

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2012, my second such diagnosis in 4 years, I was devastated. My son was only 11 years old; my marriage only five. I worried that I wouldn’t see either get older and I wasn’t sure I would survive cancer the second time around.

But here I am, five years later.  Thriving, loving, and looking into the future with a new perspective. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t worry from time to time, but cancer has taught me many things over the years and I do worry less.

On this, the 5 year anniversary of my double mastectomy (and the date that I count as my cancer-versary), I thought I would share some random thoughts on how cancer has changed my life for the better. (Perspective is everything.)

  • While none of us knows when our time will be up, cancer survivors face mortality head on. This gives us a unique opportunity to cherish each and every day as the gift that they are.
  • What we do to our bodies — or put into our bodies — matters. Whether it’s food, stress, negative thoughts, or too much alcohol or caffeine, we can either nourish or damage. I’m not perfect, but I choose to nourish with healthy, plant based foods, sufficient sleep, stress management, meditation, and yoga.
  • The little things don’t matter; and what my definition of “little things” is has changed. In general, “things” don’t matter. People and relationships do.
  • Trust your instincts and be your own advocate. Our healthcare system is broken and flawed. Don’t assume that everyone is looking closely at your case. Follow up, ask questions, challenge the status quo, get a second opinion and do your homework. I’ve said “no” a lot more times in the last five years than I would have previously. No, I won’t reconstruct. No, I don’t want to take a drug that makes me feel 102. No, I won’t do that procedure (CT scan, chest x-ray, etc) because I don’t want more radiation. No, I don’t want steroids.  Listen to your body and your intuition to do what is best for you.
  • After being afraid of dying, so many other things seem less fearful. Like starting a new career, making new friends, putting myself out there in this blog, challenging a doctor, asking for what I want/need, trying something new.
  • Nothing is a guarantee in life, but you can persevere. Always have hope.

Breast cancer recurrences “usually” recur within five years, so this anniversary is a big deal. Depending on what charts you look at, I had about a 72% chance of making it 5 years for Stage IIIA.  Overall breast cancer rates, for my age, were in the 85% range. So I am very grateful to be here.

Does five years mean I’m off the hook forever?  No.  But it does mean that what I’m doing to keep myself healthy is apparently working, and I should remain diligent in my self-care.

Thanks to all of you who have been by my side — physically and virtually — through this journey.

Here’s to the next five!

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IMDb: Five Years Later (2010)

Festival Express

The summer is completely zipping by! It’s been a full 4 weeks since my “retirement” and I wonder how I ever found time to work. It feels like I’ve been gone even longer than 4 weeks and my life is as full as ever. The list of household projects sits barely touched, with only one room (my son’s) having been ripped apart thus far. At this point, I think most of it will have to wait until school starts at the end of August.

Yesterday was one of those very full days… a fun day of festivals (“fests”).

The day started with “Elite Fest”. This was a health-focused event at the fitness center (Elite Fitness, hence the name) where my step-daughter is a personal trainer. This event started at 10:00 a.m. with an hour-long metabolic workout. Ethan and I participated and  both thought we would die about half-way through — but we were proud of ourselves for having completed the challenge and doing ALL the exercises!  We did exercises on equipment that I didn’t even know existed!  (TRX machine… air assault…?) There were also contests and a relay race, but I was pretty much done by that point. The event ended with a super healthy lunch with lots of veggies and whole grains! I am a little sore today, but in all, I really enjoyed the work out.

After running home to shower — and drink another large coffee (I was exhausted!)… we were off to “Jazz Fest”.  This was the 13th annual Jazz Festival in Scranton and my son was participating. Ethan had a prior gig Friday night where he was allowed to play with the professionals at a coffee shop. I was so proud of him stepping out of his comfort zone, sight reading and improv’ing on his trombone.  Yesterday was the official event where the students of Marywood University’s Camp Crescendo were the opening act of the evening’s performances. Ethan had two improv solos during two of the pieces and I was one proud momma (complete with tears in my eyes). He did fantastic and I’m so glad we opted for this camp this year.

Following the concert we were off to “Corn Fest”!  (Seriously… these are the legit names!)  Friends of ours have an annual party, complete with lots of corn cooked on the fire and free-flowing adult beverages!  It’s always a great time and this year was especially nice, because I got to see so many of my (former) co-worker friends. It’s nice to be missed and all the hugs made me feel loved!

The night had one last stop… to drop Ethan off at a camp-out at a friend’s house. I’m not sure how he still had the energy to stay up late, but I guess that’s the benefit of youth.

So here’s to a great day of celebrating fitness, music and friends! May we have many more festivals to celebrate in our future!

IMDb: Festival Express (2003)

Reflections

I always view the New Year as a time of reflection — on both the year that ended, and the year to come. I count myself as one of those relieved that 2016 is over. It was a tough year, complete with disappointments, uncertainty, fear and loss. Many of these things have distracted me from focusing on my health, and I found myself a bit stuck in negative feelings.

To be fair, 2016 had a lot of highlights as well: parties, dinners and game nights with family and friends, volunteer activities, vacations and trips (New Hope, Cleveland, Lake Placid, Virginia, Brockway, NYC), music events (recitals, concerts, football games), Marina’s engagement, Mikayla’s off Broadway play, and a few weddings. We had a year of continued good health, with me passing cancer-versary #4, and blessings of all sorts. I am grateful for so much in my life, but the ups and downs of the past year were draining.

So where do we go from here?

I’m not necessarily a big “resolutions” person. I’d like to think I am reflecting on my life all year long, continually looking for ways to be a better person and to improve our lives. But as we start the new year, I wanted to think about the areas that should be priorities.

Yesterday I watched a video produced by our church about having your Best.Year.Ever. (Watch here.) The first principle is to start with the end in mind, meaning: think about where you want your life to be at the end of 2017 and create a blueprint of how to get there.

I’ve always struggled with long range plans and answering questions like “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Or even 1 year.  I’ve been around the block enough to know that life doesn’t always go the way you plan or expect. Those curve balls keep coming so I find it hard to be very specific on where I want to be in a set period of time.

That said, here are my high level areas of focus for 2017:

  • Re-commit to my Health (and that of my family).  This includes getting back to clean eating (no oil, no processed, etc.),  cooking more and eating out less, juicing, more water, and exercise. I need to get back on the treadmill, and I really miss yoga.
  • Spend more quality time with family and friends. Laughter is good for the soul, and so is time with the people you love. Combine them, and it’s nothing short of heaven. 🙂
  • Read more. Write more.
  • Be grateful and look for the little joys in life.
  • Declutter. Simplify.
  • Pray more, and accept each new challenge with grace and strength.

As you reflect on 2016 and starting anew in 2017, what’s on your list?

IMDb: Reflections (1984)

Empty Rooms

And the walls have grown sturdy and the halls have worn well
But there is nobody living inside, nobody living inside…

These days, whenever I think of my parents’ house, my childhood home, these lyrics from Dan Fogelberg play in my mind. The house is almost completely empty after a yard sale — and a summer of cleaning and purging. (Enormous thanks to my cousin, Stephanie, and Aunt Pauline who did most of the heavy lifting and whose kindness can never be repaid.)

I have walked around the empty house many times and each room holds special memories.

I picture my mother always in the kitchen, with aromas of fresh baked goods, homemade chicken noodle soup and pierogies. There was always a pie or some other sweet on the counter. I remember Mom and me laughing as I struggled to learn how to roll out cookie dough! I picture my dad in the chair in the corner of the kitchen kicking off his work boots by the back door. We all learned to cook and bake in this kitchen and, like most homes, it was the hub of activity.

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In the back of the house we had a room affectionately known as “the toy room”. In our childhood, there were old school desks and chalk boards, rocking horses and toy pianos, and boxes upon boxes of toy soldiers, Matchbox cars, and comic books. The floor was covered with Fisher Price “little people” and accessories. Who didn’t have the barn and airport? And we were even allowed to draw roads – with crayon – on the worn out carpet! The grandchildren also grew up in this room and played with many of the toys my brothers and I left behind. The grandkids were much more into dressing up (in Mom’s outdoor decorative flags, of all things) and play-acting — the house was full of tigers and warriors and wizards.

The dining room was the focal point for homework, board games, and family gatherings. Many a late night game of Monopoly or Aggravation was played at the table, and it’s where we all learned to play Pinochle. Holiday dinners were Mom’s specialty. We would add extra tables to extend into the living room so there was space for everyone to sit togehter and there were the special table cloths just for such events. While stained from years of use, I actually kept one of the lace tablecloths since it held such great memories.

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Very specific — and yet random — memories come up in various places in the house. I remember the Hot Wheels track looping from the dining room table to the living room. Playing jacks on the hardwood floor. The hole in the bedroom wall from rough-housing. Sitting on the landing of the stairs waiting for the Christmas tree to be plugged in on Christmas morning. The cedar-y smell of the closets and the pull string lights in the bedrooms. Rows of jars of garden fresh canned goods in the dark basement. The hissing and warmth of the steam radiators.

The house has undergone some transformations over the years and I think about what it looked like “way back when”. When we had a bath tub and no shower. When the heavy door with the weird doorknob and key adorned the front of the house. When the old kitchen cupboards were painted yellow. When we had a coal furnace, a wood stove in the kitchen, and no railing on the front porch (which led to multiple broken windows from kick balls and baseballs with nothing to stop them).

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There are so many joyful memories, and many experiences that shaped who we all are today. I could write a book.

The house has not really been “home” since my mother died and now it’s time to let someone else make happy memories there. Sale of the house is set to close in the next week or so (prayers for successful closing!). I’ve met the prospective buyer and I was excited to hear that someone else’s grandchild will grow up here. I think my parents would be happy with that. I know it makes it easier for me to let go.

IMDb: Empty Rooms (2012)

Pink Zone

Pinktober is in full swing! Pink ribbons are everywhere — from football players to cereal boxes and everything in between.  I’m not a fan of the whole pink ribbon thing, and I’m not a supporter of SGK for numerous reason.  I think we’re all pretty “aware”.

That said, I think it’s awesome when people support local organizations that help those battling cancer (breast or otherwise) through financial or other means of assistance. In my corner of the world, there are a number of organizations that do just that, including Candy’s Place: A Cancer Wellness Center, the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, and, my personal favorite, Michele’s Ladies in Pink.

Ladies in Pink, as I have mentioned previously, is an organization that raises money for local women fighting breast cancer, as well as others fighting any type of cancer.  Today was their 10th Annual Ladies in Pink Party, and in those 10 years, they have given out well over $125,000!!!  That’s just amazing!  As a beneficiary of their hard work and generosity, I can attest to how much they have truly helped so many people.  I am so proud of all of the women who celebrate and honor the life of their sister and friend, Michele Z.

I urge you, wherever you are, to donate to your local organizations and help those in your communities who really need it.  You might even have fun while you do!

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IMDb: Pink Zone (2014)

Love in the Kitchen

Today is the second anniversary of my mom’s death. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her tremendously.  Not surprisingly, I feel closest to my mother when I am in the kitchen. Mom was always in the kitchen and some of my favorite childhood memories involve baking. She also frequently baked with the kids, especially my two nieces, and you could always count on some cookie dough in the fridge or a dessert on the counter. She knew everyone’s favorite pie or favorite cookie, and she was always making someone’s favorite for a special occasion. Or just because.

Mom was a fabulous cook and baker and I frequently talk to her while I am preparing meals or making a dessert. I ask her for guidance and try channel her skills, although I think I’m a little better with a sharp knife. (Inside joke.) I wonder what she would think of the meals I prepare, and I know she would be proud. In fact, I know she would love each new recipe. Prior to her passing, when I tried a new recipe, I would drop some off at the house for her to sample. I miss being able to do that. She loved to learn and I know she would have been interested in all the new recipes and techniques and gadgets I have accumulated.

Just this week, three new recipes, using new ingredients and new gadgets.

  • Portobello Pot Roast from A Virtual Vegan – definitely a keeper and relatively easy to make.  Just need to make it on a day that there’s nothing going on, since it does need an hour in the oven.  Growing up, I always loved the carrots that cooked my mom’s pot roast.  The carrots in this recipe were ever so close to that — with no meat or fat!
  • Festive Stuffed Shells from The Jazzy Vegetarian Cookbook – Stuffed shells with no cheese?? Say what?? These were delicious.  Another add to the rotation. It helped to bake the potatoes the night before. The recipe says use 4 potatoes; I actually used 5 and that “just” made the 3 cups.  Might want to make more to be safe.
  • Holy Mole Black Bean Soup from Vegan Under Pressure Cookbook – I wasn’t sure what to make of this one.  It intrigued me from the list of ingredients… could these things possibly go together? So I took a chance, and we really enjoyed it.  Ingredients include: onion, cacao powder, jalapeño, dates, peanut butter and fire roasted tomatoes. Spices: chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, cumin and thyme.  We loved the creamy texture and blend of flavors. It was my first foray into using dried beans and the instructions were great for using the Instant Pot. Of course, I got home late, and this recipe books some time to prepare, so we ate late. I do think it was worth the wait, but next time I need to remember to a) soak the dates in advance, and b) soak the beans overnight. Luckily, the instructions on the bag of beans had a “quick soak” option that worked well.

A few other quick notes:

Dad’s biopsy has finally been scheduled for March 3rd.  No one called, but he got a letter in the mail. Unfortunately, the letter only tells us the date and location, but no time.  *sigh*

Finally got my tumor marker results — normal range.  *whew*

IMDb: Love in the Kitchen (1899)