Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas


I have already shared this picture here many times and this memory too. It was Christmas Eve 1994. My brother's last Christmas and the very best Christmas ever.

As I get ready for Christmas Eve 2011, I am holding my brother in my heart and the many memories he gave to me.

Merry Christmas!! I hope your holiday is full family, and food, and love, and laughter. And wine, of course.

Olivia

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time is flying by...

I honestly have no idea where the time has gone lately. I feel like we're still in October and we're actually half way through December.

Things on my end have been really busy. (Thus the lack of updates.) I've been working a lot lately. Trying to improve volunteer programming and trying to establish stronger community partnerships at the GO Project. These things take time. It's an exciting challenge for me, and one that has definitely seen me grow, but a very time consuming one nonetheless.

I'll update more soon, I promise. I hope all is well with you!

~Olivia

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Magic Moment


"I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you..."
~ Wicked "For Good"


Four years ago today, I met Ylaria.

Some time ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about the universe and the way things happen when you least expect them to and the magic that lies behind so many little moments. Like how you could be running late for a job interview and almost decide not to go at all but you manage to finally grab a cab and get there and two days later, you're hired. (This was basically the story my friend shared.) She asked me then if I had ever had a moment like that.

If I had to pick one magic moment, it would definitely be meeting Ylaria. To be honest, I never should have met her at all. It wasn't logical that our paths crossed. I count my blessings every time I think about how the stars lined up on November 10th, 2007. You never really do know when your life is going to change forever.

It started out as almost nothing really. I happened to see the link to Ylaria's caringbridge site some time in October and I read one of Belen's entries where she talked about being in NYC for treatment. I signed the guestbook and said to myself something like: "It would be amazing if we met. I would love to meet Ylaria." I remember looking up as I said this. Was I praying? Was I intentionally asking Manny for help with something that I reasonably understood could never happen? I have no idea. But beyond all logic, I am convinced he heard me.

A few days later, I signed up for my first Ronald McDonald House volunteer dinner with Project Sunshine. November 10th was a Saturday in 2007. I was finishing up a 6th day of work and I was absolutely exhausted. I had just started my new job 2 months ago and I had been working long hours. Once our Saturday programming started, I was working Monday-Saturday. I was tired. I almost went home. I could just go to next month's Project Sunshine dinner, I thought to myself. I convinced myself over and over that I didn't need to be there. Nobody would miss me if I didn't go. But this nagging voice in my head kept telling me to just go. It insisted. And so, I took the 6 train to 68th street and made my way to the Ronald McDonald House.

Once there, I helped prepare food. I chatted with the other volunteers. I helped get the craft table together. I stayed busy. I can't remember now if I thought about meeting Ylaria. This is NYC, after all, and even if you're in the same building with someone, the chances of running into anyone without actually planning it are so slim. Add to that the fact that we had never actually met and the chances decrease even more. For something like that, you'd need magic, pure magic. And on November 10th, 2007, magic is exactly what I got.

For reasons I can't even explain (because I have no real idea WHY I did it), as dinner was being served, I decided to walk around and speak to the families. I introduced myself and asked them their name. I told the families about the craft table and asked them how they were doing. Looking back, Gino must have gotten jipped. I don't remember the exact details, but I went up to him as he was carrying Ylaria in his arms and must have said the standard, "Hi, my name is Olivia. What's your name?" I remember him replying, "I am Gino and this is Ylaria." At which point I screamed (Yes. Screamed.) "THIS is YLARIA!?!?!?!?!". I am not sure I ever told him about the craft table, I was so excited. I honestly felt like I was meeting a movie star. It was amazing. The memory still makes me smile.

A few days later, Gino asked me if I would be willing to stay with Ylaria for 20 minutes so he could run some errands. Ylaria was quieter back then so I did most of the talking that day. We played cards (which basically consisted of her-- silently-- picking up the deck of cards and dumping them on the floor for me to pick up. What can I say? When you're 2, the little things can be so fun. And when you're OCD like me, cleaning is a real enjoyment.)

Ylaria was sizing me up, I am sure. But, she must have decided she'd keep me around because she let me visit her and would often tell me (NOT ask. Ylaria had real character. She informed you of what you would be doing. She never asked you.) that I would come back tomorrow. And I did. It was never an obligation or even something I did to just be a "good person". I adored Ylaria. From the very beginning. I cherished any moment I could spend with her. I still have my old yearly planners. From time to time, I flip through them to see the dates where I had "YLARIA" written down. If I am going to be completely honest, I have kept those planners for that one word alone. I am still trying to recall moments. Sometimes I just sit and think for a long time hoping a forgotten memory will be remembered.

I am not exactly sure when the Dora band aids came into the picture but it must have been within the first few visits. Ylaria loved Dora when she was 2 and when I saw those band aids in the store one day, and I just knew I had to get them for her. The band aids were a huge hit. She never really saved them for herself. Gino and Belen would try to tell her not to use them right away but once we were alone, she'd open up the box and start putting band aids all over my fingers and arms. Ylaria was incredibly precise in her placement. If she didn't like the way a certain band aid looked, she'd rip it off and place it somewhere else. I can't even count the number of times I left the RMH covered in band aids. I got a lot of stares on my way home but I never cared. Some people will never understand the magic in Dora band aids. To this day, I always make sure to have a box of Dora band aids on hand. I can't bring them to Ylaria anymore, but when I need one, I picture Ylaria with me and I put it on with her incredible precision. Ylaria taught me so much in our time together. She was one of my best teachers. How to properly put on a band aid is one lesson I will never forget. Wearing it makes her feel less far away.

I could go on and on and on about Ylaria. I could say over and over and over that I love her and I miss her but it never seems enough. Sometimes there really are no words. And there certainly aren't enough words for all of Ylaria's magic. Today, all I can really say is that I grateful. I am grateful and honored and humbled to have been Ylaria's friend. To have been her sidekick.

There are magic moments everywhere. Meeting Ylaria was mine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fooducate


Yesterday, we took a family trip to the supermarket.

This sounds odd, I am sure, to hear that four 20+ years old people were excited and, I would go so far as to say-- thrilled-- about a trip to the supermarket, but it's true. It was great.

What brought on this new found energy for a trip to Key Food, you ask?

The "fooducate" iphone app. My sister (to remain nameless) discovered this fascinating tool yesterday and when she came home from work, eagerly introduced the rest of her "sorority" sisters to it. For those of you who don't know, the "fooducate' app, scans the bar-code of a food item and grades it based on its nutritional value. Grades range from A to D-. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find a food with a grade of an F. And trust me, when I tell you we tried. Apparently even spam, cheeze-wiz, and twinkies have some kind of nutritional value-- grades ranging between C+ and D-, in case you were wondering.

After scanning nearly every food item in the refrigerator and pantry. (We even tried to scan the dish soap to see what would come up-- the app "could not identify" that one.), my mom announced that she needed to run to the supermarket to pick something up for dinner. The rest of us (again, nameless to save everyone's dignity except my own since I, apparently, could care less that I sound insane and am openly sharing this escapade here.) jumped on this news like it was a trip to see Santa Claus-- in the North Pole. We grabbed our coats, made sure we didn't forget the iphone, and made a list of all the items we wanted to scan. For reasons I can't seem to pin down, yogurt topped the list (peanut butter, spam, oatmeal, and pork rinds were also in the top 5).

I can safely say that I don't think I have ever had more fun food shopping than I did yesterday-- with the possible exception of one New Years Day when my mom and I went to Waldbaums for breakfast items on possibly no sleep at all. We scanned everything we purchased and even more that we had no intention of buying at all. The people around us must have thought we were out of our minds, especially when one of us in the group held up the all natural Greek yogurt and screamed (yes, screamed), "it's an A!"

If you have an iphone, you really need to download this app. If you are like me and do not have an iphone, never fear, you can access this online website for similar information, though your supermarket trips will be much less exciting than mine was yesterday.

And now, I am going to fill up my glass with some grade A water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I have been thinking about Manny a lot lately. I think it’s the weather. For many reasons, some of which I can’t even explain, the fall reminds me so much of my brother.

Manny was diagnosed with leukemia in early October 1993. I remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard the words “cancer” and “leukemia”. It was early in the morning and my sisters and I was getting ready for school. I was in the middle of tying my shoelaces when my mom said, “Manny has cancer. He’s in the hospital.” I would be lying if I said those were the exact words. I don’t remember what was said at all. I just remember sitting on my bedroom floor, carefully tying my shoes, and being completely unable to look at my mom as she spoke. The biggest shift in my life was so mundane. Shoelaces. Sometimes, when I am tying my shoelaces now, I still remember that moment and the quiet that filled my ears afterwards. Silence can be deafening like that.

It would be another lie if I said here that I understood the importance of what my mom said. I did not. In fact, up until the day he died, I never really believed Manny could die. Knowing a person can die and believing your brother could die are two very different things. When I was 10, I knew people died. I knew people with leukemia died. And despite this knowledge, I lived firmly in the belief that Manny could not die. This conviction was rooted in my complete inability to picture my life without my brother. If I could not picture my life without Manny in it, I reasoned that life could not exist. It was so simple.

There was only one time that this reasoning failed me. About a week before my brother died, for reasons I cannot remember (perhaps there was no reason at all), I imagined living without him. I understood, for an instant, that Manny could die. And it broke me. I cried hysterically for a long, long, long time. I begged God not to let it happen. I must have promised Him that I would be better, love more, give anything- just please don’t let Manny die. Please. I begged and promised and pleaded and cried until I couldn’t think of anything more to say. I suppose there was nothing left, really. When you’re 11, it’s hard to understand cancer. And it’s difficult to grasp death. And it’s unimaginable to realize fully that you might have to live a life without your brother.

In life, you have to learn that you can’t always get what you want. Even if what you want is full of good intentions and a lot of love. I learned the hard way. I learned that a life without Manny was possible. I am still living that life. It's not one that I would have chosen for myself. Or for Manny. But I have learned to make the most of it. I hope that I have made him proud. It's all I have left to give him now. My prayers did not save him. So now, I do my best to keep his memory alive. And share as much as I can. I say his name here and out loud so that I will remember and others will know that Manny was here. He is so missed. He is so loved.

This post has taken a detour. It was supposed to be about pumpkins. And art. And Manny. It was supposed to be a lot happier than this one sounds. This happens to me sometimes, I start writing and what I thought I would be writing about is not at all the end result. I have to run to a meeting now. The pumpkins and art will have to be for another day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some more thoughts on food


I have been doing a lot of reading, research, and thinking about food lately. It's something that interests me-- as you can tell, no doubt, from some of my posts. I think it's important to have this reflection: on what I am eating, where it comes from, what it does to my body (& mind), and why I am eating it.

This morning, I came across an interesting website full of information that I thought I would share here. Dr. Andrew Weil is very well respected in the field. His website has his own recommended food pyramid (pictured here) and other food, exercise and health advise. It's definitely a resource I will be using regularly. As we get into the holiday season (yes, it's really almost here), it'll be especially important to remember.

Is there anything you found interesting or surprising? Have you made any lifestyle changes lately?


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Weekend


I went wine-tasting with my family on Sunday.(It was a Martha Clara's-- pictured above. I highly recommend it!) It was a lot of fun. And I do mean A. LOT. Many of you reading this blog already know my family is awesome. It's true-- we are. Give us an adventure (like wine-tasting in Long Island) and we're really in our element. Everything from singing in the car, to conversations with the wine guy- Glen, to our many gift shop purchases, to our farm stand stops on the way home were extra special because we were together (and drinking wine, no doubt).

I was telling my coworkers about this planned excursion on Friday and many of them mentioned that they didn't think they could ever drink with their family. This comment is something I have heard before. And every time, I think it's strange. I mean, totally weird. Maybe it's because I come from a very traditional Spanish family and I grew up seeing my family members drink wine. (My father gave me a glass of red wine when I was 5 and told me it was fruit punch.) Drinking with my family is second nature. Almost like breathing. I don't think about it at all. In fact, I feel much more comfortable drinking with my family than with my friends. Having tapas and wine on Sunday afternoons is expected. Followed by a siesta, of course.

So, as I was saying, I went wine-tasting. I prefer white wine to red wine any day. (But I did appreciate the pairing of merlot and dark chocolate!) It's not that I don't like red wine. There was a time, in fact, where I preferred it to white. I am not entirely sure how it happened but at one point a few years ago, I switched my preference to white wine and have stayed in the white wine camp ever since. My favorite white wine is albarino. (A wine from the region of Spain my dad is from.) If you haven't tried an albarino yet, you need to.

We had a great time together. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of empanadillas, chorizo, cheese, bread, and tortilla prepared by my mother. On the way home, we stopped at some of the farm stands. With it being autumn, there was an abundance of apples. We also got some honey and, of course, cabbage. It was the perfect day, really, and we're already planning another trip back.

I hope you had a lovely, relaxing weekend. But mostly, I hope you're blessed enough to have a family as loving, and fun, and funny, and eccentric as mine.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Last night I had a dream

 
 
I have been missing Ylaria a lot lately. She's been on my mind constantly. I remember her with Belen and share memories with Jennifer. I am grateful to those who let me say her name out loud. It's a great and necessary comfort.

When Ylaria first passed away, I kept having this dream where I would be looking for her endlessly until I would finally realize she was gone and then I would start to cry (in the dream). In the morning, I would wake up with tears in my eyes. Dreams can say so much sometimes. These dreams explained exactly how I felt. And, in a way, I still find myself doing this from time to time-- thinking Ylaria is somewhere else, or remembering her so clearly that she seems to be right in front of me-- until I remember she is gone and I have to find a quiet space to shed my tears.

I am not ashamed to admit I cry. Or to say here that I miss Ylaria so much sometimes I can't breathe. I lost my "little best friend" and my "little sister" (as I often called Ylaria) the day she flew away. There simply aren't words to explain the space Ylaria filled in my life and how much she meant-- and still means-- to me. I know she is still with me. But it's not the same. I grieve for my loss because it was a great one. Sadness isn't a "bad" thing. You miss someone because you love them. You mourn someone because your heart aches. You cry because you wake up to so many empty spaces. Empty spaces filled with beautiful memories, yes, but they are still empty of the physical being, the physical soul you long to hug, and to laugh with, and to share band aids with.To be with. Together.



 More recently, I had begun to ask Ylaria for a sign. It had been some time since she had visited my dreams and I missed "seeing" her there. I was beginning to think it may not happen and then last night I had a dream. I don't remember the specifics, but I can tell you that in a series of dreams, people were trying to hurt me, and chase me, and scare me. And the whole time I knew I would be ok because Ylaria was keeping me safe. 

I like to think that's how we work now. I was always her sidekick. Now Ylaria is doing her best to keep me out of trouble. It's a sign. I'll take it. And wait with hope and heart for the next one.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sugar


So last week I attempted to go processed food free. The week was not a success (so much harder than I anticipated!). There were some good days but definitely other not so good or totally bad days. Never fear, though! I am going to try again this week! I know it will be a success.

I lent my cousin my copy of Food Matters which, after she finished, led to some really great discussions. I've decided to start my Monday off with another food blog. The more I learn, the more I want to share. (My family has heard my endless rants on processed sugar.) As a complete sugar addict myself, I thought it would be good to start with some sugar facts. (They've certainly had me thinking and re-thinking how much sugar I eat!)

As one of my friends once told me, you only have one life and one body. It's important to know what you're putting in it. 

Here are 50 reasons to stop (or reduce) your sugar intake:
(From, http://naturalhealthpractice.org/78_reasons_to_avoid_sugar.htm)

  1. Sugar can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against disease.
  2. Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body: causes chromium and copper deficiencies and interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  3. Sugar can cause can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children (and adults!)
  4. Sugar can produce a significant rise in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol
  5. Sugar causes a loss of tissue elasticity and function.
  6. Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, biliary tract, lung, gallbladder and stomach.
  7. Sugar can weaken eyesight.
  8. Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract including: an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, malabsorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.
  9. Sugar can cause premature aging.
  10. Sugar can cause your saliva to become acidic, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
  11. Sugar contributes to obesity.
  12. Sugar can cause autoimmune diseases such as: arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis.
  13. Sugar greatly assists the uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections)
  14. Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
  15. Sugar can cause a decrease in your insulin sensitivity thereby causing an abnormally high insulin levels and eventually diabetes.
  16. Sugar can lower your Vitamin E levels.
  17. Sugar can increase your systolic blood pressure.
  18. Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children (and adults)
  19. Sugar can interfere with your absorption of protein.
  20. Sugar causes food allergies.
  21. Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.
  22. Sugar can contribute to eczema in children.
  23. Sugar can cause atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
  24. Sugar can impair the structure of your DNA.
  25. Sugar can change the structure of protein and cause a permanent alteration of the way the proteins act in your body.
  26. Sugar can make your skin age by changing the structure of collagen.
  27. Sugar can cause emphysema.
  28. Sugar lowers the ability of enzymes to function.
  29. Sugar can increase the size of your liver by making your liver cells divide and it can increase the amount of liver fat.
  30. Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney such as the formation of kidney stones.
  31. Sugar can damage your pancreas
  32. Sugar can increase your body's fluid retention
  33. Sugar is enemy number 1 of your bowel movement.
  34. Sugar can compromise the lining of your capillaries
  35. Sugar can make your tendons more brittle.
  36. Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.
  37. Sugar can cause an increase in delta, alpha, and theta brain waves which can alter your mind's ability to think clearly.
  38. Sugar can cause depression.
  39. Sugar can increase your risk of gout.
  40. Sugar can increase your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  41. Sugar can cause hormonal imbalances such as: increasing oestrogen in men, exacerbating PMS, and decreasing growth hormone.
  42. Diets high in sugar will increase free radicals and oxidative stress.
  43. Sugar is an addictive substance.
  44. Sugar can be intoxicating, similar to alcohol.
  45. Decrease in sugar intake can increase emotional stability.
  46. Your body changes sugar into 2 to 5 times more fat in the bloodstream than it does starch.
  47. I.V.s (intravenous feedings) of sugar water can cut off oxygen to your brain.
  48. In intensive care units: Limiting sugar saves lives
  49. Sugar may induce cell death.
  50. In juvenile rehabilitation camps, when children were put on a low sugar diet, there was a 44 percent drop in antisocial behavior.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Memories


I am glad that October is finally here. October is one of my favorite months. It's officially fall and very fall-like. I am sure that I have shared already that fall is my favorite season.

I love fall for many reasons. Fall reminds me of being in school-- and we all know I love school! I love the cool crisp air-- and it's awesome to run outside in that weather! The leaves start to change color. I love trees, most especially in the fall and I love hearing the crunch of the leaves as I walk. And for reasons, I have never been able to explain, fall reminds me most of my brother. Maybe it was because he was diagnosed around this time. I really have no idea why but there are days when I am walking outside, or putting on a sweatshirt to keep warm, or feeling the air all around me as I run and I just feel like Manny is right there with me. They are comforting and beautiful, these moments.Sixteen years is a long time to miss someone. I am grateful for all of the little moments that remind me of being with my brother, those unexpected instances when I can really, really feel him right beside me. It's a difficult feeling to explain, really, but I know there are those of you reading who understand.


Today, on the first Saturday in October, I woke up and I had another fall memory. One with Ylaria. On the first Saturday in October last year (exactly a year ago tomorrow), Belen and Ylaria were flying into NYC (getting a connecting flight to Vermont). My mom and I decided that rather than spend 3 hours waiting in the airport that we would pick them up at LaGuardia and hang out at the house before dropping them off again. It was another one of those days where I ran home from work and counted the hours until I would see them. As I was taking the train into this morning, I remembered this first October Saturday in 2010. Is it ok to admit that I wished I could rewind?

After picking them up from the airport, we went home and ate some food. I showed Ylaria my room and where I kept her pictures. I showed her the Dora band aid on the dresser and the Build-a-Bear I had made on the day we went to Build-a Bear together a few years earlier. I introduced Ylaria to my cat, Lucy. I think she really liked Lucy, And Lucy liked her. They followed each other around the house a lot.

After lunch, Ylaria and I baked cookies together. Well, to be honest, the dough was pre-made/store bought and I cut up the dough into circles. Ylaria did ALL of the decorating. (I have already told you, I was her sidekick. She ran the show. It's how we worked.) We only had Christmas sprinkles but Ylaria didn't seem to mind. By the time she was done decorating them, the cookies (and baking sheet) were COVERED in sprinkles. Absolutely covered. Simply put, it was an amazing piece of artwork. (As the pictures  clearly demonstrate.)


Once the cookies were in the oven, Ylaria insisted on cleaning. In true Ylaria form, she made sure the counter-tops were absolutely spotless. Not one stray sprinkle was left.

I remembered these pictures today. I hadn't shared them before and I thought today would be the perfect day to post them. Looking at them now, I remember that day so clearly. I remember running into the terminal to look for Belen and Ylaria so excited that my stomach was full of butterflies. I remember how eagerly Ylaria followed Lucy around the house. She giggled and crawled around with her-- at one point, I thought Lucy thought Ylaria was another cat. I remember how intently Ylaria made sure the cookies had as many sprinkles as they could possibly hold. I remember how carefully she sponged everything down when she was done. I remember how sad I was when they left for their Vermont flight. I am a very selfish person and I was especially selfish with Ylaria. I always wanted more time. I still do.


Ylaria, as always, thank you for all of the memories. They-- you--continue to inspire me. Every single day.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Letter from God

I saw this on Facebook and just had to share it here. (This is not mine I am just re-posting.)




Our 14-year-old dog Abbey died last month. The day after she passed away my 4-year-old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so, and she dictated these words:

Dear God,
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.


I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.
Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had. 

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, 'To Meredith' in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, 'When a Pet Dies.' Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note: 

Dear Meredith,
Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away.

Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I'm easy to find. I am wherever there is love.
Love, God


Monday, September 26, 2011

Some thoughts on food


In my house lately, we've been talking a lot about food. (We love food). We have all of the regular food conversations like what's for dinner, and what we need to buy for the week, and how I cannot seem to let a day pass by without some (all natural) peanut butter (with chocolate, of course).

But, we've also been discussing  other aspects of food and nutrition and health that are now becoming more newsworthy and more urgent. For example,

1. Some studies have suggested that if current eating trends don't change, three-fourths of adults in the United States will be overweight or obese by 2020.That's 8 years from now.

2. There are more obese people in the world now than hungry.

3. And a personal favorite of mine: the overabundance of processed versus whole foods (which is directly linked to points 1 and 2 mentioned above.)

Today, I woke up and as I was thinking about processed versus whole foods, I thought: wouldn't it be interesting to see if I could go one week (baby steps) without ANY processed foods? It would certainly be a challenge. Processed foods are everywhere and in almost everything. Living in NYC, and having a really long commute, it's easier and faster to simply grab a processed snack bar, pretzel or other such food than it is to sit down and eat a salad.

So, we'll see how this week goes without processed food (no white flour, sugar, or pre-packaged "foods".) I'll let you know how it goes!




Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Castle


It's that time of the year again where all of those TV shows I absolutely love to watch come back for another season. In case you're interested, my current show addictions are (in order of importance):
1a. Bones
1b. Castle (Bones and Castle are tied depending on the episode)
2. NCIS
3. The Good Wife
4. Glee
5. Grey's Anatomy


I feel like I am forgetting one, but these are the ones I keep up with most.


Last night, Castle started. It was AMAZING. I mean...AMAZING. I can't get over it.

If you haven't watched it, you need to. It's just that good. I owe my own knowledge of this show to Christina who is actually the person responsible for getting me addicted to shows 1a, 1b, and 2. Yeah, we're best friends. (For this, and other reasons, I might add!) Today, I feel the need to share the (TV addiction) wealth.


I can't talk about what happened since there are those reading who haven't seen the episode yet but if you watch Castle, what did you think?


What shows (if any) do you watch?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Christi




A little girl died. Five years ago today. Her name was Christi. She was 9. Christi was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was five and bravely fought the disease for 4 years.

Christi was an exceptional soul. There is so much we could all (still) learn from her.

Christi loved her family. Her mom, dad, and little sister were her favorite people in the entire world. Jennifer L, Traci W., were also very high on that list. Today, please keep them in your thoughts and your prayers.  

Christi loved to go to school. She had taught herself to read and could do simple multiplication by the time she was 4. She was beyond brilliant.  Today, when you pass a school, see school supplies, or enter a bookstore, remember Christi and her love of learning. If you can, donate school supplies to children less fortunate in Christi’s honor. She would love that.

Christi loved animals. She dreamed of being a vet when she was older. When she was in Philadelphia for treatment, Christi loved to see the animals that would come to the Ronald McDonald through the Vet’s Pet program. If you happen to see an animal today (in particular a cat), remember Christi and her love of animals.

Christi loved helping others. She held numerous Alex’s Lemonade Stands to raise money for childhood cancer. She would often bring gifts to the other children in the hospital, or read to a younger child as they were waiting for treatment. The Christi Thomas Memorial Fund (http://www.christithomas.org) and Kids Cancer Crusade (http://kidscancercrusade.org/) were two organizations established to honor Christi and to share her spirit with others. Today, if you can, donate to a cause in Christi’s memory. Through their work, we keep Christi’s spirit alive and her name resounding in the world. 

Christi is so loved and so missed. Today, as you hug your sister, call your mom, cuddle with your pet, read your favorite book, learn something new, help a stranger, or make a friend smile, remember Christi. She is alive in everyone and everything she loved.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Gratitude

I wanted to post something simple today. And then I thought I would share some gratitudes. Because who doesn't love to share in thanksgivng?

1. I am grateful for my friends. For putting up with my rambling emails and for being "there" to listen & love me. You guys are awesome. K., thank you for all of the advice over the last few days. C., I just read your email-- and got teary-eyed too!

2. For my "sorority". You make coming home so much fun.

3. For making new plans & taking new chances. They may not lead where I expect but I am finally opening up to the unknown and discovering that I enjoy it.

4. For great books that make me laugh. Even on public transportation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Did you know?

Gold Ribbon

Did you know …

In the U.S., childhood cancer is the number one disease killer of children, killing more children between the ages of one and 20 than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS COMBINED. It is the second leading cause of death during childhood, exceeded only by accidents.

 

Did you know …

Approximately 46 children are diagnosed with cancer every day.

 

Did you know …

Approximately 7children die from cancer every day.

 

Did you know …

Childhood cancer is not related to lifestyle choices as it is for many adult cancers, and there are no screening tests for most childhood cancers.

 

Did you know …

Most children cannot be treated at a local hospital, and families must face the disruption of moving for treatment at a regional cancer center.

 

Did you know … 

Only $0.007 of American Cancer Society and only $0.02 of Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising goes to childhood cancer research.

 

Did you know …

YOU can change these facts? YOU can help save a child's life.
YOU can contact your local congressperson to demand more funding specifically for childhood cancer research. For more information on how to do this, visit Hope Street Kids.
YOU can support Kids Cancer Crusade by donating to my upcoming Christi Thomas Memorial Run or by holding a fundraiser of your own. Kids Cancer Crusade was founded in 2006, inspired by Christi's caring and loving spirit. Christi was 9 when she lost her battle to neuroblastoma. Kids Cancer Crusade works tirelessly to keep her memory alive and to bring sunshine into the lives of other children with cancer and their families.
YOU can make Erin's Dream Lanyards which are sold to raise funds and awareness for the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation. Erin lobbied congress for more funds for childhood cancer research because she was "tired of waiting" (as she poignantly told a representative). Erin loved making lanyards. She dreamed of a cure. Erin passed away in 2009 after a nearly 7 year fight. She was 11.
YOU can hold an Alex's Lemonade Stand, an organization started by Alex when she was 4 years old. She wanted to help her doctors raise money for a cure-- for her and for other children with cancer. Alex died 4 years later. Her incredible legacy lives on in ALS's work.
YOU can organize a bake sale for Cookies for Kids Cancer, an organization started by Liam's mom when he was first diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Appalled to learn that the main reason 25% of children with cancer die is due to lack of effective therapies-- there are simply no funds for them, she was determined to change that. Liam died in January at the age of 6.
You can find more information at Kids Cancer Fight
 Don't wait until it's your daughter or grandson or cousin or classmate. Do something today. The children are waiting.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy News

My cousin wanted me to post something "happy" today. So here is some happy news...in case you're needing some.

1. According to the weather channel, it's going to be 66F on Friday. I can't wait. I love fall. It's my very favorite season. Bring on the warm apple cider.

2. Kids Cancer Crusade is making some hoodies! AMAZING!!! (I know). This is directly linked to my love of fall. My family will attest that if I could live in hoodies, i would. Apparently, they're not "professional", though.

3. I am (finally) buying Celia Rivenbark's new book (You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl) today. If she doesn't make you laugh, you don't have a sense of humor. I highly recommend ALL of her work.

4. The farmer's market is overflowing with absolutely delicious apples (and apple cider). Now that I can actually walk outside without feeling gross, it's a great morning stop.

5. And, last, but most certainly not least, my family is (allegedly) planning a trip to Niagara Falls. I can't say I'm excited though because we can't seem to find a date we're all free that doesn't land us at the end of November so we'll see. I'll keep you posted.

What's your news on this lovely Monday?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Today



Today, thousands of children across NYC are going back to school. They will begin a year of learning about addition, and subtraction, and history, and science. Their days will be filled with assemblies, art projects and after school activities. They will meet new teachers and make more friends. They will grow, and dream, and get one year older.

Today, 46 children will be diagnosed with cancer. They will spend this year learning about chemo and IVs. They will learn to swallow pills and to be careful with germs. They will spend more time with their doctors and nurses than they will with their teachers and classmates. They will miss countless school days, class trips, and special school events. Their hospital room will be their classroom. They will grow wise beyond their years. They will become braver and stronger and more resilient than most of us could ever imagine. They will fight for their lives, and not for a spot on the soccer team.

Today, 7 children will die from cancer. They will miss a lifetime of learning and growing. They will miss a lifetime of waking up early and packing their book bags. They will miss a lifetime of making new friends and running out to recess. They will miss a lifetime filled with the dreams all children carry. Their families will miss their warm hugs, their contagious laughter, and all of the hope that their children brought with them the day they were born.


Today.

Are you aware? If not, it’s time to be. There is no more time to wait. Visit Kids Cancer CrusadeErin's Dream Lanyards, Alex's Lemonade Stand, and the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation (to name but a few organizations) to learn more about what you can do to brighten a sick child’s day, bring hope to a family in need, and change the facts of childhood cancer.

Don’t wait for it to be a child you know and love. Act now. Together, we can make a difference.

Today.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Day in Dora Band Aids

I have to start off this blog entry by acknowledging that the story I am about to relate is most likely going to make me sound completely insane.

I am ok with that. There are those who will understand. And, I am confident that Ylaria would approve, which is really all that matters.

Yesterday was, as you know (at the very least from my last blog entry), the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness month. I intended to mark the month with a platelet donation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My iron levels, on the other hand, had other ideas. My counts were way too low and I was (very kindly) rejected. I am fortifying myself on iron-rich foods for another attempt in a few weeks. 

In addition to donating platelets, I had another mission in mind yesterday. For some time, Belen and I had been talking about walking around NYC together and leaving Dora band aids in Ylaria's favorite places. A tribute to Ylaria, if you will, a marker that would say, in its own small way: "Ylaria was here".  I started yesterday.


I left the first band aid on the 6 train sign in the Union Square subway. (You can sort of see it in this picture.) It may seem strange since Ylaria and I were never there together, but this place is significant to me because it is the train I would take to go see Ylaria after work. I know it sounds strange, but every time I pass that sign, I remember running down the stairs to get the uptown 6 train to 68th Street (the stop closest to MSKCC and the RMH). I remember the excitement I would feel at getting to see Ylaria and her family and how incredibly impatient I could get over the 45 minute commute. I miss my trips on the 6 train.

After this little Ylaria stop, I walked over to my office building and placed another band aid on the step outside the main door. Why? Because it's where I was standing the first time Gino asked me to babysit Ylaria so that he could run some errands. "Would I mind coming for 20 minutes?", he asked. "Of course not!", I responded. I stayed for two hours. That was the first of countless visits. I wish I could make some more. (There is no photo of this band aid.) 


My last band aid stop for the day was near the entrance for MSKCC (above). After I was denied my platelet donation, I walked outside and placed it very carefully on the sidewalk. Someone saw me snapping the picture and said: "Are you really taking a picture of a Dora band aid on the sidewalk." And I said. "Yes." (very definitively) and walked away. I am certain he thought I was insane. He doesn't understand the significance of Dora band aids.

After this picture, I did something I wasn't planning on doing at all. I walked into MSKCC. I can honestly say now that the need to walk in that building was my driving force at the time. When the security guard asked me where I was going, I told him I was going to peds on the 9th floor. He let me through. I walked into the gift shop and looked around. I saw things that I knew Ylaria would like. I saw chocolates that I remember sharing with Belen on one of my many visits there. Then, I got on the elevator and took it up to the 9th floor. I got out, stood in the hall for a moment, and then took the elevator down again. A nurse saw me then and said, "You just missed the elevator" (she did not see me get off initially.) I replied that I had missed my stop. The lump in my throat was too big to explain any more.

I am completely aware that in sharing the above, I sound completely insane. I can assure you, I am not. It's hard to explain. Impossible, actually. All I can say is that I wanted to do something to honor Ylaria yesterday. I wanted to spend some time reliving moments that I had shared with her. Some people feeling a need to remember a loved one might light candles. Others might choose to release balloons. I leave Dora band aids in places that most remind me of Ylaria. I smile every time I pass them now.

I did not raise any great degree of awareness on my venture . I'll be making more lanyards for Erin's Dream Lanyards and gold ribbons for Kids Cancer Crusade this weekend. But, yesterday, I needed to start my month with a tribute to one of my very best and most cherished friends: Ylaria, a soul who taught me so much about strength, and courage, and laughter, and love, and the pure magic of being alive.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month


Today is the first day of September. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Do something this month...every single day to raise awareness for this important cause. Working together we can make sure that a cure is found. The suffering of children and their families can stop. I truly believe this.

Too many children have lost their battles: Manny, Ylaria, Christi, Erin, Kayla, Liam, Sydney, Alex, Mary, Matty, Tyler...the list is endless.

Too many are still fighting: Elizabeth, Codey, Spencer, Emily, Maddux, Nathan, Joshua, Dominique....another endless list.

And many more will be diagnosed. Today. And tomorrow and all month long.


There is simply no more time to wait.

Together, we can make a change. Let's start. Now.

Today, I am going to donate some platelets at MSKCC. What are you going to do?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An update

It's been a while since I have posted. And, I thought I would give a very brief update on my life. So here we go...

1. I am back in full run training now. My Christi run is scheduled for September 25th. (I am raising money for one of my favorite organizations. Ever: Kids Cancer Crusade. Any donations would be greatly appreciated! This is the only race in NYC that fit into my schedule for the fall. It's meant to be a marathon training for NYC marathon runners and is 18 miles long. I will NOT be running that distance. I'm aiming for 7-8 miles and will be using it as a good gauge for the half-marathon I am going to be running in Disneyland in January with some amazing friends of mine. I can't begin to tell you how excited I am for this Disneyland run. Seeing my friends is the highlight, though I have to admit that the prospect of running in a pink and yellow tutu is also up there on the list of reasons this is going to be one amazing adventure.

2. Did I tell you my family got a dog? His name is Charlie and he is a riot. Training is....going. Being a Nunez family dog, he understands Spanish (quite possibly more than English). He mostly understands "sientate" (sit). We're trying to work on "salta" (jump) but it's a slow process. He loves sardines which I fully appreciate. He also loves tortilla chips and, for some reason, when he sees me eating them, he automatically assumes he can jump up and grab it from my hand. It's funny...except for that one time he managed to get into a bag (LITERALLY) and eat a ton. My snack was gone before I could even enjoy it.

3. As you may know from previous posts, I went on 30-day sugar free challenge. It was a really great experience. So much so that I am adopting it into my lifestyle permanently. This does NOT mean I won't be eating sweets. It just means that they will be naturally sweetened and processed sugar will be enjoyed sparingly, if at all. I am making a few other health changes these days which I will go into on another day.

4. I am looking forward to the fall. Really, really, really looking forward to the fall. I do not like the summer. It's too hot and way too humid and in NYC, that just means it is really gross. Fall is my favorite season. (October possibly being my favorite month). I love the crisp air and the way the leaves change color. I love the sound of the leaves crunching under my feet when I run and walk. In my opinion, there is no better time to run outside than in the fall. I am counting down the days to running outside with no heat or really disgusting humidity. I am already looking forward to buying crisp apples and delicious (sugar-free) apple cider at the farmer's market near my work. Fall also means I get to wear sweatshirts and go apple-picking and eat sweet potatoes or my favorite black bean and avocado soup. Fall also means I can enjoy my favorite bedtime tea and I can bake without feeling like my kitchen is the oven. This list could go on, but I will stop now.

5. I have started watching the show Bones thanks to my amazing friend, C. who sent me seasons 1-3 for my birthday. I was resistant to watching it at first, I'll be honest, but boy did I get hooked! (I apparently really love crime shows.)

I hope you're all doing well. More soon!

Olivia

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Manny

Today is Manny’s birthday. He would have been 31.

I love birthdays. If you know me, you know this: I absolutely love birthdays. (Especially when it’s my own!), but I think birthdays, in general, are pretty awesome. Sixteen years ago I realized just how very precious they are. You’re never promised a new day, yet alone a whole new year. When a birthday rolls around, you have to honor it. You have to celebrate your day and all of the hope that your new year offers. If not for yourself, than at the very least for all of those souls (& their loved ones) who wish they could blow out their own candles just one more time. Birthdays are a blessing, a gift that the Universe bestows on only some. They deserve to be cherished and filled with as much love, chocolate laughter, silliness, gratitude, and life we can muster.

I woke up today thinking about Manny. And about birthdays. I remembered just how much I love celebrating Manny’s birthday with him. I loved baking his cake— chocolate with vanilla frosting…and as many sprinkles as the cake could hold. I loved selecting his birthday card (A task I always take seriously. The card is my favorite part of any gift. A great card says as much of love and thanks and friendship as you can put into words. Selecting the right card is essential. Finding the right words even more so. ) I loved spending the day with Manny. I loved celebrating him, and seeing him smile, and hearing him laugh. It’s been a very long time since I have been able to do any of this; I remembered it all today. Not in a sad way that makes me think of what I have lost, but in that gentle way that makes me smile and realize the great gift I had in my life for 11 years: Manny.

I spent some time thinking of ways I could appropriately honor him. I may have even sent up a little prayer asking him what he thought would suffice. Manny answered. Of this I am completely sure because out of nowhere, I heard his voice: Just have fun! Do what makes you happy. Spend time with people you love. Just like that, my big brother sent me his birthday message.

His birthday now, is not only a day on which I can remember him and our many moments together, but a day on which I can honor Life and chose to live it. Completely. And I did. I ran really great Christi run. I read an amazing book that I simply can’t put down (April 1865). I shared cookies I’d baked with friends (peanut butter and chocolate—yum!). I asked Ylaria to give him a big hug for me. I laughed a lot and hugged friends too. I noticed the sky. I called abuela just to say “Hi” and “I love you.” I went out to dinner with my sisters. We didn’t talk about it really, but we all knew why we’d made a special effort to be together tonight. And, on the way home, we played Bon Jovi and sang “Livin on a Prayer” at the top of our lungs. Manny was there for all of it.

Happy Birthday, Manny. We love you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Life's Little Instructions

(Click on the image to make it bigger)
I saw this the other day and I thought, what else would I add?

Here are some:
* Sit in silence at least once a day.
* "Be" in every moment.
* Read books.
* Practice the art of reverence.
* Exercise.
* Laugh. A lot.
* Send Christmas cards (in the mail).
* Send handwritten letters (in the mail) just because.
* Walk barefoot in the grass.
* Look at the sky.
* Give hugs.
* Know it's ok to cry.
* Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
* Learn constantly.
* Don't lie.
* Be open to hearing other point(s) of view.
* Donate blood/platelets.
* Walk in the rain, and in the snow, and in the sun. Walk. A lot.
* Eat vegetables.
* Be grateful.
* Remember those that have gone before you. Don't forget the living.
* Sing out LOUD.

What else would you add?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's that most wonderful time of the year!


It’s that most wonderful time of the year again! The time where I get to tell you that I am preparing for this year’s Christi Thomas Memorial Run for Kids Cancer Crusade. This year the race will take place on Sunday, September 25th.

2011 marks the 5th year I’ll be running in Christi’s memory. Five years. Five years is a very long time. And while I wish I didn’t have a reason to run every year, while I wish Christi could share her own story with you, in the absence of that possibility, I am here to once again, share with you the brilliant wonder that is my dear friend, Christi Thomas.

I was amazed by Christi from the moment I met her. She was 5 years old at the time and unbelievably brave, as all children grow to be when faced with cancer. Despite her young age, Christi was incredibly wise and completely selfless. She took care of the other children in the hospital and was often more concerned about their pain than her own. She always visited her friends and brought them gifts when she went in for treatment. Her love and kindness brought them much needed smiles. Christi was a ray of sunshine in the pediatric cancer wing. From the beginning, Christi inspired me to be a better person—to give more, to love more, to laugh more, to believe more. She still does.

I adored Christi’s love of books and learning. I remember thinking it was amazing that there was someone else out there that loved learning as much as I did. (Even though, Christi was much, much smarter!) Christi is with me every time I enter a library and every time I miss my stop on the bus because I am so engrossed in my book. (This happens more than I care to admit. It seems I have a problem.)

Most especially, Christi is with me on my morning “Christi run”. Some of you have asked me what a “Christi run” is. Simply, it’s how I refer to my 4:30am run. I used to just do a plain old run in the morning until I realized it was much more fun to picture Christi running beside me. At 4:30am, I need some motivation and inspiration to get up when my alarm goes off. Saying, “I need to get up for my Christi run” provides just that! And then, once a year, I participate in a race in Christi’s memory to raise money for Kids Cancer Crusade. And, perhaps most importantly, to have another moment to share Christi with you. Christi deserves to be remembered and this world still needs her wonder shared among us.

Thank you for all of your support and love and kindness over the years. If you could donate again this year, it would be appreciated. Together, we’ll keep Christi’s legacy alive and support the great work of Kids Cancer Crusade. Thank you!

To donate: http://active.com/donate/christirun2011

To learn more about KCC: http://kidscancercrusade.org/

I love you!
Olivia

Friday, July 15, 2011

An update

I want to keep this short today.

In the last two days, I've faltered in my sugar-free challenge. But, I am not going to let this get me down. In fact, I learned some really great lessons:

1. I feel MUCH better physically when I eat natural foods. It sounds so simple, but I can tell you that it is much more challenging than it seems...sadly, natural food can be hard to come by. Especially when you're in a rush or working 12 hour days and not taking proper care of yourself.

2. I feel MUCH, MUCH better emotionally when I skip refined sugar all together. Even when I think I am going to enjoy the sweet, I don't. Sugar really messes with my head. Who knows if this will ever change, but the way I feel almost immediately after eating refined sugar simply doesn't make it worth it.

3. I really can do anything I set my mind to. Getting up after a fall is the first step. And one I know well. Tomorrow, I'll be back on track.