Friday, December 28, 2012

No Excuses

“Oh well.”

They’re words we’ve all said before. Words we often use to let us off the hook or to silence that nagging voice inside our heads that says we should know better. But what about those times when “Oh well” isn’t good enough, when experience and integrity tell us the situation calls for something more?

I recently had to wrestle with this dilemma on a trip to Puerto Rico. I was at an oceanside restaurant with my nephew and some friends. Because of the nice weather and stunning scenery, we’d opted to dine outside on the beach -- 100 yards from the restaurant. Not expecting to get service so far away, we were shocked when one waitress trotted over to get our drink orders and ask us what we wanted to eat. Not only did she bring us our meals, she also went back and forth four or five times, refilling drinks, bringing us condiments. And for all her troubles, I left a hefty tip.

I left the restaurant feeling like I’d adequately honored her hard work, only to find a discrepancy on my credit card transaction when I got back to the hotel. It seems the hard-working waitress never received my tip.

What do you do when your good intentions are thwarted? Do you say “Oh, well” and move on? What about when the discovery comes at the last minute and you’re late for the airport? That was the situation I faced. I was at an emotional fork in the road but I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure she got the money I knew she deserved.

So the next time you’re tempted to say “Oh, well” and move on, ask yourself if the situation calls for more. If “Oh well” is really just code for “I don’t care.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Get Well

Do you ever feel like you’re being held captive by your health; like you have little to no control over your own body? Have you ever been given a diagnosis that seemed to rob you of options? If you’ve ever struggled with your own wellness destiny I have a story to share that just might make you reevaluate how much control you truly have over the future of your health.

When I first met Sarah she was a child selling Girl Scout cookies. She was dynamic, smart, loving and independent -- all the things I love in a person. And by the time she was 14, she was also a Type 2 Diabetic. To look at her, you’d never guess. She had a ruddy glow and a sunny disposition. But despite her seemingly good health, she was dependent on insulin.

Fast forward a few years and Sarah found herself on her own -- going to college, managing her own money and waiting tables to make ends meet. Of her small take-home pay, much of it was going to insulin shots. One day, Sarah noticed that when she ran, her insulin intake went down. That gave her an idea. If she could control her insulin with exercise she could put more money in her pocket -- in fact, she could save as much as $200 every three weeks!

Today, Sarah is still running and still controlling her insulin levels with exercise. While she may not be insulin-free forever, she has more control of her own destiny than ever before. As someone who comes from a family of diabetics, I find that encouraging. I once had a doctor tell me that if you eat well and exercise, there’s no reason diabetes should be part of your future. It doesn’t have to be inevitable.

So whatever your health concerns may be, ask yourself if there are things you could be doing to improve your own wellness. Are there habits you can break or good ones you can cultivate that will give you back some of the control you’ve lost? It just might be that with a little determination, you too can change the trajectory of your future health.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "Fall" Basket

We’ve all been there when hardship finds one of our friends. Unsure of what to do and how to help, we fumble around for the right words and the appropriate acts of kindness. Does our friend want us to acknowledge their situation or is the pain too fresh? Do they want us to bring it up or just ignore the obvious elephant in the room? Lots of questions, no concrete answers.

A few years ago, I myself, went through a hard break-up where I found myself on the receiving end of my friends’ good intentions. Knowing I couldn’t muster up the strength to get through a conversation without crying, I sent out an email alerting those I cared for about the situation but also telling them I wasn’t ready to talk about it. My girlfriends respected my request, but also knew they had to do something to show me how much they cared.

The following week, one of my clients and friends came into the shop with a large basket of candles, coasters and potpourri. When I asked what it was she replied: “Oh, it’s just a fall basket for you.” I gratefully accepted the gift and didn’t think much about it until another person came in with a set of notepads for me. Once again, the reason for her kindness was the fall season. Throughout the week, about a dozen or so people came in to bring me some form or another of a “fall basket.”

What was this long-standing tradition I had somehow missed? How could I have lived here for so long and not known about these “fall baskets?” It took me a while, but eventually, I caught on: those beautiful “fall baskets” were my friends’ way of nonchalantly showing me they cared. Without making a fuss, or bringing up painful memories, they did what good friends do: gave me unconditional love and support. And during those dark days, their simple acts of kindness and those “fall baskets” made all the difference in the world to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Memories From South Africa

I wasn’t used to this sort of thing -- sleeping outside on a mattress that had been drug out onto the deck. But everything about South Africa was outside of my comfort zone. Both raw and pristine, rugged and charming, it was the very definition of contradiction. And so I slept, fitfully at first, under the stars on a private game farm overlooking the valley with the Mabalingwe Mountains in the background.

I’d come here for a man (how often have you heard that one?). But until that moment, I’d only seen the country through his eyes -- his stories of playing rugby, the chutney his mother used to make, the landscape of his childhood. I’d heard so many tales it was hard to distinguish what was South Africa and what was him.

While it wasn’t as savage as the country I’d imagined in my mind, it certainly wasn’t for the finicky either. When my boyfriend told me not to turn on the light at night while going to the bathroom, he wasn’t kidding. One flick of the switch and a mob of bugs went scurrying across the floor right under my feet! And then there was the time I went to get a soda from our campsite only to look up and see a ceiling full of bats. But there was also the mama baboon we had to stop for as she crossed the road with a baby on her back and a hyena nursing her pups just six feet from where I sat.

So despite my fears and reservations, I gave into South Africa that night and she became more than memories I’d borrowed from someone else. That evening, I slept under a blanket of stars and awoke to the rustling of the trees in the morning. “Whatever you do,” my man whispered, “don’t move. Just watch.” And so I lay there, perfectly still, as dozens of tiny monkeys played in the branches above us. They jumped, grabbed each others’ tales and lunged for what remained of the previous night’s dinner. It was my reward for facing my fears, my own connection to the land and a dream that no one can take away from me.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Looking For Mars

I went to an all-girl schools most of my school years and grew up in a house of women. With my live-in grandmother, mom and eight sisters my father never stood a chance. Perhaps it was because of our influence, or maybe it was just how he was wired, but he was not your typical guy’s guy. I don’t remember him watching TV, playing sports or being a handy man. Instead, he seemed to spend his time dodging the never-ending stream of rants, melodramas and PMS-induced episodes.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I got my first glance into the world of men. I remember when the guy behind me in class asked me a question. I wasn’t sure if he was being nice, hitting on me or just trying to get the answer to the problem. To me, men were the unknown, foreigners from another world. And I was scared.

As I spent more time in the company of men I discovered just how different they were from me. To begin with, they were simple. The things they talked about were straight forward: no talk of feelings, no conflict of emotions. Just a simple problem and the pursuit of a solution. Women, on the other hand, have to look at the problem from every angle, even when it’s not all that big of a problem to begin with. We phone a friend, read some books and then begin to psychoanalyze it to death -- something a guy would never do.

After a while spent driving myself crazy trying to solve the secrets of men, I decided to act like a guy and take things one gender-different moment at a time. I’d laugh it out, skip the self-help books, and resist the urge to survey every woman I’d ever known. In short, I was going to trust myself and my instincts.

What I’ve learned is that men are never going to be like us. And why would we want them to? Most women describe their ideal man and it seems they’re just looking for the masculine version of their girlfriends. Not me. I want a man who is a man. Someone who is the compliment to me, not the mirror of myself. I want a man and all that implies: someone to order my drink and move me to the inside of the sidewalk, someone who will treat me like a lady, protect me in a crowd and make sure I make it home safe.

So for all truth there is in the statement that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” I think that may be why we’re so attracted to each other. It seems those “foreigners” I was so perplexed by as a child were the very thing I was looking for.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Barefoot & Pregnant

It all began with asaltos, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. When my co-workers showed up at my house that night I didn’t think twice about tagging along with their roaming holiday party. After leaving a note for my husband, I took my young daughter and my 6 month pregnant self and joined the festivities as they headed off down the road.

If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship yourself, you may not understand what came next or my own inability to predict it. I guess the signs were there but when you’re in that situation you just hope it doesn’t get any worse...until it does.

When I got home, he was awake and insanely mad. I knew it was going to be bad. To be honest, I don’t even remember everything that happened that night. I guess it’s my “borrar cinta,” it means to “erase the tape” or the ability to forget the bad in order to protect yourself. We all do it to some degree. It’s what allows us to move on from a trauma. What I do know is that he physically dragged me outside and locked the door. I tried to fight back but there were no winning with a 6’3”, 250-pound, drunk and anger-driven man. I had no shoes, no belongings and, worst of all, no daughter. Barefoot and pregnant, I walked several miles to the closest government building where I spent the night on a wooden bench. The next morning, I went before a judge to request a police escort back to the house. I don’t recall much about that journey just that in the end there was a report of domestic abuse, I’d moved in with my sister and I had my daughter back.

I guess it’s true that we see the past with 20/20 vision. If only we could have that kind of clarity in the moment. I did ignore red flags and dismissed my instinct and intuition. Should I have known our relationship could come to that? Probably. But men like that can make you believe it’s somehow something you did wrong. Abusers rationalize their abuse and make you doubt what really happened and your role in it all...and they’re really good at it. There’s also part of me that wanted to believe things would get better -- the eternal optimist. But that night was a deal breaker. I ended up leaving my husband and within a year-and-half I was living in the United States.

When I was considering divorce, I was torn with the belief that when you get married it’s supposed to be forever. But there were two things that kept me going in the right direction -- my toddler and the new baby I’d just had. I didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking that’s how a man treats a woman, or that was marriage. I didn’t want them to one day excuse someone else’s bad behavior by thinking it was love. Today, both of my girls are in wonderful relationships with men who in no way resemble their biological father. That was all I could hope for as I made that long walk in the dark all those years ago. This place I’m at now -- where we are happy, safe and well-grounded and I am strong and independent -- was the place I was heading towards as I trudged on, barefoot and pregnant.

During this time in my life, I felt very alone and I was convinced I was the only one with this type of secret struggle. Time and wisdom have taught me that, unfortunately, abuse is all too common. If this is something you are dealing with, you don’t have to be alone. I invite you to email or call me, reach out to another friend or get in touch with one of the many support organizations available. Love isn’t supposed to hurt, and life can get better.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Eating Healthy On-The-Go

Whether you’re trying for a whole new you or just working to shed five pounds before bikini season, eating out is always tricky. Nothing can de-rail your intentions to get healthy faster than a split-second compromise in the drive-thru lane. Here are some of the tips I’ve found to keep me on track. That way, I can save my splurges for something I’ll really appreciate -- rather than a mediocre fast-food craving.

  Coffee shops are hidden calorie culprits. Order a shot of espresso for a caffeine jolt rather than a fancy coffee. Or, better yet, opt for water and the Protein Bistro Box from Starbucks. That way you’ll get a satisfying meal rather than a 500 calorie drink without any nutrition. 
  Skip the soda and drink water instead
  For breakfast on the run, order an egg-white dish. I love Starbucks’ wheat english muffin with egg whites and Subway’s egg-white wraps. To make it even better, treat the wrap like a napkin; just peel it back and enjoy the eggs and veggies without the carbs.  No cheese please!
  There’s always grilled chicken on the menu. Chose it over non-lean protein or anything breaded.  No bread please!
  When picking a side, go for a salad over fries. Try it with no dressing.
  If you really want to have the dressing, watch out for the hidden calories and fat! Try a “dry” salad or with oil and vinegar.  Worst case, order dressing on the side or one pouch.
  If you’re craving a burger, go for it; just ask for it without the bun and cheese. If you need more protein, order two and toss the bread.
  Fill up on proteins and lentils. One of my favorite dishes is a flank steak with lentils at Luma on Park Avenue. It’s a tasty meal without a buttery, fattening sauce.
  Seared tunas are always healthy choices.
  To control portion sizes, order an appetizer rather than an entree meal.
  If you are craving one of the entree meals, just ask your server to bring you half of the dish and box the other to go.
  Supermarkets are great for on-the-go healthy meals. Stop by the deli counter for a few slices of turkey and then hit the produce area for fresh fruit.
  When getting a sub, ask if you can make it a lettuce wrap instead of having the bread.
  If you’re having Mexican, you can always ask for your burrito to be made as a salad. Skip the tortilla and eat it with a fork.
  Canned tuna is a quick, healthy lunch option to keep on hand.
  Remember to take your time eating. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to know that you are full. If you slow down, it may take less than you think to make you feel satisfied.

When you’re hungry, it’s easy to fall for the tempting pictures on the menu or the delicious treat your co-worker just ordered. That’s why it’s best to prep your food before you arrive, set your determination and keep your ultimate goals in mind.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Goes Around, Comes Around

I didn’t grow up with the idea of karma in my culture but life has taught me there’s a bit of truth in the concept that “what goes around, comes around.” The good you do and the bad decisions you make always seem to find their way back to you. Like a cosmic boomerang, karma has a way of coming back and hitting you upside the head.

The question karma forces us to ask is “how am I living my life?” When you reflect on your own life how much good are you doing? Are your actions healthy and helpful or damaging and destructive? While not every bad thing that happens is a result of bad karma, when you see a pattern you have to ask yourself what role you’ve played.

So often we don’t connect the dots. What is just coincidence to some is karma to others. Like that time I followed after the woman who’d left her checkbook, then helped the man at the laundry followed by helping the family with kids at the airport. They all had left something behind and I was there to warn them.  How coincidental this could be? What if I wasn't in their path?  Simple, common courtesies that were easy to do. But later when a man at the airport train reminded me I had left my laptop in the plastic bin at security, I thought it might be something more. What if all those little gestures of decency on my part throughout the day were being returned? Like a boomerang effect. What if doing good does, in fact, lead to more good? What if unexpected kindness is just karma coming back around?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Seek Wisdom Beyond Your Years

Wouldn’t it be great if we could Google wisdom? Order it up like Chinese take-out, delivered to our doorstep in 30 minutes or less. What if we could snap our fingers and know all that life has to teach us without all the messy fumbles and failures that are often the best teachers? There’s a saying my mom used to say: mas sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo, “the devil knows more because of being old than because of being the devil.” It seems life experience that comes with age, not position, is what matters.

So just how does one acquire wisdom? Or better yet, prudence? In my experience it goes something like this: First, you begin without knowledge. Then you gather some experience which leads you to knowledge. When you have enough of that knowledge you develop wisdom. And when you practice enough wisdom it leads to prudence. So if that’s the roadmap, just how do you go about getting started in the right direction?

It’s impossible to be wise without having lived through some things. That’s why I try to seek wisdom beyond my years. What I mean is that I try to look ahead and find others who’ve already walked the road I’m walking or about to walk and try to learn from their experiences. For example, as a new grandmother I know that there’s a lot I don’t know so I go to a friend who has already been there to get what I don’t have. If I want to know about marriage, I find a couple who’ve been together for 30 or so years and ask them ‘how do you do it?’

I look for people who’ve had success, people who’ve managed to deal with certain situations with wisdom and prudence. Like a business would choose a board of directors, I seek out those I trust. In my life there is a core group of wise men and women that I look to for direction. I take the lessons they teach so that I can then apply prudence. So while I haven’t yet dealt with a moody teenage grandson or the hurdles of retirement, there are those in my life who have and managed to do so successfully. And they, in turn, have lent me the lessons they’ve learned so I can have knowledge that exceeds my experiences and wisdom beyond my years.

Monday, June 4, 2012

When God Speaks

Have you ever felt a stirring inside yourself that you just couldn’t explain? Or heard a voice that spoke an unmistakeable message out of nowhere? When God speaks, are you listening? And when you don’t, does it sometimes seem like a never-ending nag?

Years ago, God told me to warn a close friend about doing business with a particular associate. After three months of that persistent voice in my head, I finally delivered the message. As someone who didn’t believe in spiritual things, my friend took my cautionary tale as “women’s intuition” or simply a good hunch. All I know is that once I told him my concerns, the voice stopped nagging me. It was as if I had done my part, and now the load was no longer mine to bear. In the end, the warning was heeded and the concern was well merited.

I’d like to say I was always so obedient but it wouldn’t be the truth. The next time I was given a message for a friend, I chose not to speak up. I kept telling myself “it’s none of your business. Don’t get involved.” In the end, my silence cost him a great deal of money. Years later, I got up the courage to reveal the message I’d received and failed to deliver. I asked him to forgive me for not warning him. I had learned a lesson: I have a responsibly to pass on the messages I’ve been given.

I guess you could say I learned through both my obedience and my lack thereof. When I listened to what turned out to be truth, my faith in God’s voice and my ability to hear it was reaffirmed. When I didn’t, I learned from the consequences of failing to do so. It was a lesson that came in the nick of time, and one that I could not have afforded to miss.

The same voice came to me when I was driving home late one night with my daughter, Viviana. The traffic light had just turned green on a very busy road when I felt something inside of me telling me to stay where I was and NOT GO. This time, I did not move or question the message. “Why are you stopped?” she asked.

How do you tell your teenage daughter that a voice has warned you? I was just imaging her shaking her head and rolling her eyes at me when a car came flying past us at break-neck speed. If I’d have gone seconds earlier, she would have undoubtably been killed. At that very moment, I knew that God had spoken.

I now know that the progress of learning to hear God’s voice is just that...a progression. He starts with small things and builds on them; teaching you through trial and error so that when the ultimate test of life comes, you are listening when He speaks.