Tuesday, October 25, 2011


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


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.