Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What if You Forgot Yesterday?

5.2 million people in America are currently living with Alzheimer's Disease. There is currently no cure - this brain disease just progresses until the affected person passes away (either from related health symptoms or another health issue).

Yesterday was an extremely difficult day following an exhausting week. Things have been stressful as Jorge still waits for word on the positions he's interviewed for (I have applied for several jobs, too), and his grandma ("Abuela") has very bad days where it's not really ideal to be in the same room with her.

Alzheimer's makes her aggressive and argumentative. The aggression seems to increase when there is a lot of noise or unfamiliar people (like my girls) surrounding her. I'm constantly trying to find a balance of not being reclusive, yet giving Abuela ample space and peace so as not to create confusion or disturbance to her.

Did you know that there are no treatments or medicines available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's? There are medications only available to treat symptoms. Dementia (a broad term which includes Alzheimer's Disease) can lead to depression, aggression, and agitation.

Eventually, if there are no other health related issues, and an Alzheimer's patient lives through all stages, they will lose their ability to eat or walk, and their organs begin to shut down as their brain continues to become paralyzed by this slow-moving, heartbreaking disease.

When I first moved to Miami ten years ago (before marriage, and before babies), I had the unique opportunity to interact with my husband's grandmother on a daily basis. She has always adored my husband, and she let me know it on a daily basis.

It was through us chatting every day over cups of Cuban coffee that I learned Spanish, learned about her life in Cuba and the life she had after moving to the United States in the early 60's, and just how much she loved her husband, who also had Alzheimer's, and sadly passed away in 2004. If we forget yesterday, or five minutes ago, there are memories that are stamped in our hearts that our diminishing brain could never erase.

I'm not sure why, but she feels comfortable with me. We have great talks, and my heart aches for my husband who is left to enjoy the days that are few and far between when she remembers who he is and why he's here.

One of the biggest things I've learned from Abuela since we've been back is that the moments we have on this Earth are precious, yet fleeting. The ones we hold onto the longest are the ones that made us feel something fierce (good or bad).

More than anything, I've learned that when logic is no longer a barrier, simple, compassionate, human interaction is all we need to show our love to others. We don't need the right words, all the facts, or the smartest, wittiest comments. We just need our hearts.

I never want to forget the things she's shared with me. I never want to forget that the impressionable moments are cemented in our core. I never want to forget that although I make mistakes, I've done a lot of good, and that's what I need to carry with me.

I pray I live to see a day when there is a cure for Alzheimer's Disease so we can remember our yesterdays and savor all of our memories until the end.

If you'd like more information regarding Alzheimer's Disease including warning signs, care, and the most recent studies, please log onto www.alz.org.

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Ways to Pull Yourself Together When You're Falling Apart

In my last post, I explained that we are living in tight quarters. Prior to moving, I wasn't all that worried about it. We lived in a 5 bedroom/4 bathroom home in Green Bay and were moving to a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom apartment in Miami.

The apartment is attached to Jorge's Grandma's house, so it wasn't like we didn't have additional living space. I read Apartment Therapy, and there's an IKEA within a reasonable distance, so this situation was gonna ROCK!!!!

I knew it was temporary, and I was feeling positive about nurturing our family during this time, and focusing on our experiences together.  

"This will be a little tough", I thought. "But it is actually going to be way better. Imagine all the ACTIVITIES we're going to do as a family! Downsizing means less financial burden, right? So much more time for activities! FAMILY TIME! YEAH!"

I was looking forward to reducing our stuff in exchange for enhancing our time together.

The idea felt like a benediction, and I imagined that God would display His approval by sprinkling glitter from the clouds, Chelsea (our dog) would resemble a unicorn, and we'd skip away on a rainbow and it'd play out like an episode of Good Luck, Charlie - laugh track and all. At least, I had moments where I felt like that.

So...Where's the Unicorn?

That all changed pretty much the first night we got here. It's one thing to imagine what downsizing looks and feels like. It's another thing to arrive 1,500 miles away from your "normal" and try to raise a family in a completely new, five times smaller environment.

I wasn't counting on an air conditioner that cooled only about 200 sq ft at a time. I wasn't counting on Jorge's grandma being in the late stages of Alzheimer's and being physically and verbally abusive. I didn't think he'd still be waiting on an answer from the potential employer who interviewed him four times. I wasn't sure how my kids would adjust to a completely new culture.

I found myself weeping in the middle of the night, sitting on the top of an old milk crate turned upside down, blabbering over and over how this was the wrong thing to do. I know - Jorge couldn't have found a more sane person to marry. After all, it was me, who, huddled under two comforters during another bitter cold night in January, definitively said, "We need to move back."

Suffice it to say, the first few weeks we were here I was a mess. A roller coaster of emotions. I hated everything one minute, and felt hopeful the next. ROLLER.FREAKING.COASTER.

Since then, I've fallen back on a few coping skills I've learned and I've tried to be really, really intentional about trusting God.

This isn't easy, especially when I feel like my world is ending and I'll never be able to enjoy glittery clouds, or have a unicorn pet, or skip on my rainbow, but it is possible to know it'll all be okay. I'd like to share those with you now.

7 Ways to Pull Yourself Together When You're Falling Apart 


1. Go for a Walk

One look at me, and you'll know I don't work out. But I do like to walk every now and then.

And when I do, I bring my dog. Not the unicorn dog, but the dog that pulls agressively and I have to stop with every quarter block. I usually have some sort of strange power surge as I'm walking, and start to do a run/walk that probably looks a lot like one of the munchkins from Wizard of Oz on a treadmill.

While I'm catching my breath, I usually have a conversation with God in my head. There is nothing special about my prayer, it usually goes something like:

"Please, Jesus, I need to catch my breath. This dog is wearing me out, Lord! Yes, I know I should be doing this more often. Also, can you please just help me get through the rest of the day without feeling the need to physically assault someone? Thanks."

And guess what? So far, so good. I'm writing this now, aren't I?

2. Play with Your Kids

I know this might be the opposite of what you want to do when you're freaking out about life, but when's the last time you turned around and were completely enveloped in what your kids were doing?

When's the last time you asked to be the "second player" in their video game, or were the "customer" at their shopping center, or became the "parking attendant" when they were riding their bikes? (Yes, I do feel super smart for getting my kids inside last night with that last one!)

Kids feed on chaotic energy. They know when Mom and Dad are stressed, and it stresses them out, too. I'm no child psychologist, but when you chill and bring life down to their level, the kids chill, too. There's peace, even if only for a few hours, and all your problems that you can't exactly fix in that moment don't really matter for a little while. Bonus: Giggles. Lots of hearty, real, giggles.

3. Engage with Your Friends

If I could choose just one reason why this move has been great, it would be because of our amazing friends who actually want to spend time with us.

Before we left, I remember praying for strong and fast friendships for us and for the girls.We have spent almost every free day in the presence of other families since we moved back. Whether we were welcomed for a day on the beach, or invited to a barbeque and a Frozen "concert" (put on by four adorable little girls), we have been extremely blessed to have some really great people in our lives who have made this feel like home again.

Your friends don't have to be prepared with all kinds of life advice, so don't spend time with them expecting a counseling session. Just enjoying their company is a stress relief and reminds you that there is a lot of good happening in your world, and maybe you just need a change of environment for a while to see it.

4. Venture Out of Your Comfort Zone

I'm an extrovert with a touch of the Social Anxiety. 

Big parties, weddings, networking events, and even church all sound like good ideas, but you basically have to convince me 100 times to get ready to go, because I will probably cancel last minute if given the opportunity. And if I do finally make it to the event, I will find the bar immediately before exchanging words with any strangers. (p.s. they don't serve mimosas at church, fair warning in case you were wondering.)

That's why, when we got here, I knew I had to get involved with a church right away or I just...wouldn't. Life would start getting busier once we developed a routine, and I would push it by the wayside. I didn't want that to happen for us, so we attended Christ Fellowship the first weekend after we arrived. It has been a tremendous blessing.

We felt so unbelievably welcomed the first time we arrived, and last week, I searched their small groups online for one in our area. What a wonderful group we stumbled upon! The best part is all of the families that attended the small group last week have kids that are right around our girls' ages. They had a great time playing while the adults ate a meal together and discussed scripture.

None of that would have been possible if I didn't reach out. Nobody wrote the email for me, nobody drove us to a stranger's house, and nobody prepared us or coached us on what to say before we arrived. We just showed up. It's funny how when we "just show up" with honest and pure intentions, God seems to show up in an even bigger, more pronounced way.

5. Dance

Because you can't possibly feel sorry for yourself when you're dancing your heart out. And no, I'm sorry to say that is not me in the video. Caballito!

(Click here if the video doesn't automatically load.)

6. Don't Consume Yourself with the Future, and Get the Heck Out of Your Past

I used to live in my past, but once I got over that, I started only living in the future. And I needed to stop. I'm a poster child for extremes, apparently.

We all know we can't change our past. I also tend to forget sometimes that I can't possibly know what's going to happen tomorrow. Goal setting is fantastic, and I am a personal growth junkie. However, I have to remind myself that even our best intentions can lead to great disappointments. We are never guaranteed anything.

I was spending too much time trying to figure out tomorrow, when I really need to figure out how to get through today in one piece. If this is sounding too cliche', I would challenge you to try to spend one whole day just appreciating what's around you. Write it all down if you have to.

We have great weather, I have food to eat, and we have our health. Please know these are not small things. In this city, there is poverty like nothing people have ever seen or experienced. We live less than 700 miles from Haiti, and less than 300 miles from Cuba where the suffering continues, and some don't have enough to eat.

While I ponder things like "Will I have a successful launch?",  some people are relishing in the fact that they got to eat a lunch today.

7. Praise Your Higher Power

When all else fails, and I really feel bummed and like I might die wallowing in my own misery, I just hand it all over to God.

The ironic thing about this point I'm trying to make is that it should be the first thing you try - not the last thing, and I need to remember that. God gave us this amazing gift of life and He wants nothing more than for us to discover our purpose and live out our story.

We're in a series at church right now called "This is My Story". As I listen each Sunday, I realize the difficulty I face is I want to write all the words to my story. I want to lay out each chapter and skip past all the suffering, heartache, and trials that I have to endure. Even though these chapters are uncomfortable and HURT - MAN, they HURT, if I continue to praise Him for all He's done for me, the story just keeps getting better!

Just Keep Swimming…Just Keep Swimming

Whenever I start to feel like things can’t get any worse, I usually remember that things have been worse, and I’ve made it out okay.

In fact, I’ve usually made it out wiser and stronger than I was before. These moments of conflict and pain are necessary to build our character and reinforce our foundation.

This is what we were put here for! SUFFERING! Just kidding. Really, though, we were put here to persevere. Giving up is not an option!

Add to this list in the comments - how do you pull yourself together when life seems to be falling apart?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Leaving it all Behind

Two kids, two cats, one dog,  two adults, and one mini-van. For better or for worse, my husband Jorge and I apparently lost our minds at the same time, decided to sell everything we owned in Wisconsin, and donated whatever was left. We packed up our traveling circus family and moved 1,500 miles away to live out God's plan for us - which we're still trying to figure out.

If you would have told me three years ago that we'd be moving back to a place I was miserable living in the first time around, I'd have laughed in your face. I would have said "I'm NEVER moving back to Miami." And you'd be the one laughing today, because here we are again. 

We are literally in the same place. We're in the same city, same climate, the same apartment we started our lives together in ten years ago. All 400 glorious square feet of personal living space for 4 people, two cats, and one dog. I'm not kidding. Well, there is a house attached to our apartment where Jorge's grandma and mom live. We use the kitchen there and eat dinner there. 

Oh, this? This is me trying to work with the Frozen soundtrack playing 5 ft away from me at full blast. I grabbed my daughter's froggie headphones because my good ones are still packed away in one of our 100 Priority shipping boxes that I didn't use for personal belongings. Those are for mail only, you know.

After a series of shitty events unfolded over the last couple of years, my husband, Jorge, and I got to thinking. What if there was more to life than a big house with a big yard, and our 9-5 jobs? What if all this "stuff" we were struggling to maintain wasn't even what we were supposed to be striving for? What if we were meant to do more? Pursue more? Where would that bring us? What would our lives look like in 10 years? More importantly, where does God want us? (I know what you're thinking. God doesn't want me to say "shitty"... I'm working on it, but I also know God loves me anyway.)

After stripping off our winter gear - heavy coats, mittens, and hats and packing in our pets and sleepy kiddos, we started our journey on a Friday evening and arrived 26 hours later in sunny Miami. Well, it was dark when we arrived at 1 am on Sunday morning, but you get the idea. 

Here are some photos of our drive:
Who doesn't love Chicago traffic at midnight!? They were doing some construction. Everything was backed up.
Cincy by moonlight
Beautiful Tennessee
So happy to be in Florida - still had about 7 hours to Miami from the GA-FL state line. 
The drive itself was long, tiring, mentally and physically draining. I have self-diagnosed myself with a mild case of claustrophobia and if I would have been in that van an hour longer, it might have received a DIY sunroof. 

We packed most of our stuff that we were able to take in a moving container that wouldn't arrive for a week, so, whatever a family of 4 (plus three pets) needed for a whole week had to be packed in our minivan next to us. Looking back, I see why some people said we were crazy. 

We tried to get the girls as excited as possible about the move by checking out the sights and events happening the week we arrived. The Youth Fair was going on, so we took the kids. They really liked it and nobody barfed, so I'm calling it a success.

Our 10-month-old Lab mix, Chelsea, has had a hard time adapting to the new location and has regressed a bit in her obedience training. It's been stressful, frustrating, and a bit disheartening, but we're working on re-training, walking, and I know we'll be back on track soon. 

So far, the beach has been our no-fail solution to a cheap, relaxing day out. (Except when the kids are throwing sand at each other or strangers, or screaming because they have sand in their swimming suit, or one of them wants the exact same shovel the other one is using.) 

We've been to the beach 3 or 4 times since we arrived just two weeks ago. I was born and lived in Orange County, California, and while I love west coast living more than anything, I will be the first to admit Florida beaches are 100% better! The water is warmer, clearer, and the beaches are so much cleaner than any in the OC. I haven't seen one dirty diaper floating near the shore yet!

Miss L is not a huge fan of sand in her swimsuit, thus, was not excited about our second trip to the beach.
Can't you tell? 
Miss M is all about the beach, just like her mom and dad.

Although I work from home (and my job, therefore, is portable), I'm in the process of transitioning my business from a client-based format to a more flexible, ready-to-use format, so money is non-existent tight right now. We have some saved for essentials and we purchased bunk beds for the girls when we got here. We'll be okay, it's just been a stressful change.

That said, Jorge came here without a secured position. He's had several interviews with the same potential employer (he has a final one today!), but no back up plan. No Plan B. 

Does that freak us out a little? Hell yes. Do I regret our decision? Not one bit. Trust me, I wanted to regret it and admit that this was a huge mistake. I don't like being tied to a budget. I don't like living on top of each other. I wanted to lock myself in a closet yesterday and just scream for 10 minutes. But, I can't even convince myself this wasn't the right thing to do, because in my heart I know it was. 

For some reason, God pulled us here, and I'm actually pretty psyched to see what He does in our lives. 

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 NKJV

Have you ever done something that you knew was right but scared you to death? Let me know in the comments below.