26 May 2019

Be Love. Travel. Embrace the Hippie Life.

Working in Puerto Rico. Sticker on my computer is by artist Documented Journey

Disclaimer: This is a very long post. Sorry. But not quite. Thanks for reading it all. 

You never really think about truly having that thing called wisdom from life's experiences until you've gone through crap. You don't have to be ninety-years-old. The only requirement is just REAL experiences. In other words, honest-to-goodness shit you wouldn't wish on anyone else.

And we've had it. Our most recent years included Stage 3 breast cancer. That alone is enough, right? But life already had our adorable seven-month-old baby and suddenly we had to manage the cancer terror with our little guy at our side, then moving back to Florida after a few years in Virginia, then a double mastectomy, harsh chemo where I lost so much of my hair, I just decided to shave it off because it actually hurts when it's loosening and then falling out.

Twenty-five daily sessions of radiation followed, two reconstructions, and then after that, being separated from my husband for almost a year as he trained for his new job that finally brought us to this island paradise of Puerto Rico. Can I be dramatic for a second, though? I still remember walking into our new house in Florida after I had been diagnosed, with my little baby in my arms, and I couldn't even acknowledge how pretty the house was. All I thought was, "Is this the house I'm going to die in?" Dramatic? Maybe. Real and true feeling? Yes.

The cancer journey was the most terrifying, as you can imagine. And just a life's lesson for everyone: it is NOT a free boob job. It most certainly is RECONSTRUCTION (at least for me). As a result of all of that shit, the mind-numbing effects of depression, fear, and anxiety were added to the road, and sometimes it feels like it's just been one thing after another. (I'm happy and thankful to God to report that cancer remains in my rear-view mirror, but read on if you'd like to send good thoughts, vibes, and prayers my father's way.)

Like many other bloggers who start their site focusing on one thing and are consistent and active, life  suddenly steers us in other places. We love our blog, have made friends here, and yet we can't seem to post or engage as regularly as we used to, so we feel reluctant to let it disappear into that ether of the interwebz, to be forgotten about. We think, "should I write about other stuff, or will it annoy my readers, or should I post a review of a book even if it's been months in-between?" The struggle to figure that out amidst our new hobbies and changing experiences shifted so many times for me. I probably made that thought process more complicated, but it's how I felt. And I still don't know what to post here. Reading is always my favorite hobby, but I don't read as often, or have the sudden urge to write a review like I used to.

Instead, Instagram has been my happy place. While I don't fit into the world of Bookstagram (I don't have the right socks for it - book bloggers will get that joke), I do try. I post short reviews, thoughts on life, hobbies (journaling, podcasts, Netflix, and more), and this mini/micro-blogging format has suited me. And I've met more people there as well! People who, in my opinion, are great and grand artists who create such beautiful artwork and handcrafted items, and the world hasn't fully recognized them yet. But I know them! It makes me feel blessed. I forget about this little blog when I'm enraptured with Instagram.

But I still like coming back home here, to my little corner of the blogging universe I started 11 years ago. This really is home. And I thank you all for reading with me, and living life with me.

So enough of all that. Let's do some updates, shall we?

Putting together a KiwiCrate subscription science project and eating cheese and grapes and apples on our balcony.

Family Life - My son is now five and a half years old! What? Wait! Almost SIX? He is a future rock star/guitar player, so you should probably purchase your tickets now...
Guitar tucked into his backpack while at the airport in Puerto Rico.
We moved to Puerto Rico for my husband's job and I'm now a stay-at-home mom after 16 years in corporate America. We felt it was a deserved time for me, what with that whole "f-cancer chapter" part. And I love it here. I am also now helping my in-laws' private yacht chartering business in Boston Harbor with Night Rider Charters (two luxury yachts, so gorgeous). The role fits me well for now. After all, my family and my husband's family has always been connected to the water in some way (Coast Guard, Navy, large supply boats supporting the East Coast or in the Gulf, and now my husband's current job in Puerto Rico where he is again, on the water). So while the boating season is incredibly busy during the season, and I miss my mom life time, ultimately it supports the whole family.

And I LOVE living in Puerto Rico. I love the people I've met and I crave the community and the feeling of being one with it. It's funny, I never liked meeting new people as I got older, but now, I try to meet new people all the time (in broken Spanish, of course). I love buying locally from artists and the farmers' market. We love it so much that my husband and I were just talking about how we can't picture ourselves moving in a couple of years, and that we likely will opt for longer.

Let's be real, though - it was a difficult adjustment at first. We live on a mountain and the mosquitoes are never kind to me. At one point, I whined on my Instagram-stories that I had at least 75 mosquito bites. We had a 6-foot boa constrictor on our balcony that we captured ourselves and then released back into a remote area of the jungle. Flying ants are a thing and they are disgusting. I was likely bitten by a brown recluse spider and ended up in the emergency room. Our beloved and (dog-like) cat appropriately named Puppy the Cat passed away at eleven-years-old after a prolonged kidney disease he had beaten five years ago resurfaced and he passed away in my arms on a terrible Friday morning, and it was SO FREAKING HARD. My husband and I cried so much at the loss. Our other cat and our dog suffered that depression right along with us. We miss that damn cat so damn much.

I get challenged every single day here but then that life experience thing just happens. I realized I'm actually a hell of a lot tougher than I ever thought I was. How many years have I wasted not doing something physical because I didn't think I could do it?

And you would think, you would imagine more than anything else, that Stage 3 cancer would have taught me that lesson, but it was honestly a whirlwind I never like to think about. The "right now" of this life, right here and now, as I sweat to clean the house because there is no a/c in the living room, while I climb a wall to feed the stray kittens or climb another part of the yard I mention later in this post, is much more of a lesson for me, and I sweat and I try and I do it again, and I try and I get mad about things at times, but I'm feeling HAPPINESS as I'm experiencing it. So cancer just taught me that life can suck really bad. You don't feel happiness going through cancer. You pretty much feel shit all the time, and you plaster that happiness face on to the world because can they really deal with your true feelings when you can't? That you had 29 out of 53 lymph nodes infected with it, so you're always afraid of recurrence? Or that you barely look at yourself because yes, you are grateful for living, but damn, that reconstruction is just downright horrible? Or that there are other people out there who are dealing with their own diagnosis and you can only sit on the sidelines for them, and you feel like you have to earn every single minute of your own life because they might not be able to?

So I put the damn smile on and pretend like I'm fine. It's not happy and it's not fun. Since I can barely handle dealing with the anxiety and the fear, why should anyone else have to hear about it? Instead, I work hard at this mountain house, making homemade things and learning how to compost and journaling and writing and making some art. This is how I've learned life's lessons and felt that happiness at the same time. Only here.

I grew up overseas (born in the Philippines and raised there, than in Greece, Venezuela, and more) and while Puerto Rico is an American territory, it's still unique enough that I know my son will have memories of this part of our lives, and I want to keep that going. I vividly remember all of my early traveling and I'm grateful I was born to parents who recognized the value in that. (My only regret? I didn't travel alone when I was young and single and could just pack a backpack and go! So do it, if you can! Now, with family, it's still wildly fun but there's just a whole lot more planning and list-checking.)

I want my son to have that knowledge and comfort of travel from us, I think about how often he's been on a plane in his five and a half years, and I am so proud of him. We are a nomadic and traveling family lately, and we will soon head back to Florida for at least a month, where my son will be at a summer camp and I'll work in the daytime and be right across the street from my father to help him anytime he needs me. But I like how we have become this adventuring family, and that we can head to different places around the world, that we can hop on a flight to the mainland to see family and friends and my son is used to it. I want him to grow up knowing there is more than just his house, his street, his neighborhood, his town. There is so much more in this world to try, to decide what you do and don't like. I want him to learn that lesson even earlier than I did. I want him to know what it's like without power sometimes, and how to get a generator going, that central air conditioning is a LUXURY.

Reading Life - I read all. the. time. It just takes me forever lately to finish a book. I still need to review Amor Towles' Rules of Civility, everything since last summer by Meg Wolitzer (short updates for both - all were incredible, and more). Right now, I'm reading Please Look After Mom by South Korean author Shin Kyung-sook and it is AMAZING. I usually hate it when books are written in the second-person (wait, I wrote part of this blog post in the second-person, sorry), but my goodness. This book is unbelievable. I love everything about it. You have to read it. And then call your family or friends and take care of them and notice them. NOTICE THEM. (I am reading it on my Libby app on my phone.)
Sojourner folio made by Sojourner USA, artwork pictured in the pocket by Little Raven Ink
Creative Life - I adore journaling and art and writing and will never stop. I have always journaled but became ferociously when I was diagnosed, fearing I would not be alive and that my son would only have my journals, because Lord knows I didn't want to just let him have Instagram and Facebook feeds to scroll through. Now, I journal and plan all the time, and I love my analog life. I love to collage, I love to paint, I love to draw. I am horrible at all of them, but I adore the process. Bullet Journaling has become my favorite way to combine work and home life, when I used to have one notebook to plan work life in and one notebook to plan personal activities - now I've combined them this year and adore it.
And I write. I have a story I'm writing. It's pretty fun. I read the intro to my husband, and he asked me, "Well, wait. So then what happens?" And that was the most thrilling part of it all!

Yes, it's Young Living. No, I will not pressure you into signing up. It will be okay.
Hippie Life - My favorite new quote: "Be an open skeptic."

At the age I'm at now, I realize that I'm truly a hippie at heart. I am conservative in so many things, but I love my new life in Puerto Rico, and I love taking mangos from my own backyard and making mango jam. I love how I had to scale the wall to our house to get to the backyard when the power was out, getting muddy and dirty and filthy to lug the diesel gas tank up to fill up our generator and hack cobwebs away; I love it all. I love my short nails and my silver rings and the essential oils I use.

I mean, let's really talk about this. I made MANGO JAM. USing mangos from MY OWN BACKYARD. I did it. It was easy. And now I can use it on toast, in a chicken and cheese tortilla burrito, or in a marinade for fish. I made that mango jam, and my husband and I were talking about this - people here in Puerto Rico regularly stop on the street and pick the mangos up that have fallen on the road. Why not? They don't take the ones that have gotten older, they take the ones that are perfect and ready for eating. We don't do that in the States because why? We have become so brainwashed that buying it at a store is the "safest" way. I've used the mangos in my backyard, and have picked up other fruit on the roadside as well and eaten them and they are incredible. And guess what - no chemicals! No preservatives on them!

So back to the first thing. (Although again, look at how perfectly I made that jam, it was just the right amount to fill up this old coconut oil glass jar! It was SO SATISFYING when that happened.)

Yes, I signed up with Young Living; wait, please don't freak out, I will not pop up in your inbox asking you to sign up. I had a membership 2 years ago and then let it go inactive. No one pressured me to stay enrolled. And that's how I am. I moved to Puerto Rico and started learning about essential oils and how to make my own products that were plant-based, not chemically-based, and so I reactivated my account. I got my starter kit and then started learning more and now I order every month. But I didn't have to do anything. I buy shampoos and soaps and home cleaning products that have zero chemicals in it. The money I used to spend on Tide or Dawn or some fancy shampoo and skincare is now transferred to what I purchase with plant-based products through Young Living. I'm okay with that. I got rid of all of the synthetic candles and plug-ins that I inhaled and now I smell fresh and clean rooms filled with a diffuser with pure, therapeutic-grade oils. I love my natural soaps, natural everything. (I still shave, though, in case you're wondering. I'm learning how to be natural with many things, but I'll always shave.)

You can click on my link here to enroll or you can just message me on Instagram if you have questions. I use the concentrated Thieves laundry soap in my washing machine and use wool dryer balls with a few drops of oil on it. Remember, you can buy oils in a health food store, but don't just trust the label that reads 100% pure. Really check it out and look at it. If you find Young Living or doTerra on Etsy or eBay or Amazon for very inexpensive prices - it's been diluted and someone is reselling them. Just be careful and do your research on everything. And biggest piece of advice? Turn your favorite products over to see what's listed in the ingredients - if you see "fragrance," toss it out. Fragrance is the heading major corporations use to tuck in all the icky things that are "synthetic" and they write it off as trade secrets. But "trace elements" of the same synthetic item used in your make-up (formaldehyde, for example) can change your body and NOT in a good way. So try to embrace the natural stuff, the earthy stuff. You can still be conservative and still embrace the gifts on this earth and not put chemicals on your body. If you have questions, ask me. I will not pressure you.

My Netflix Recommendations 
Watch Stink, The C-Word, The Bleeding Edge, and Heal. It will make you rethink how things are "regulated." How we trust things so blindly just because someone in "authority" said it was okay. Remember: "Be an open skeptic."

Faith Life
- My father was diagnosed with Stage IVB esophageal cancer, and that has consumed my thoughts and my heart. I am actively praying and I do not care what the doctors say. I will be a witness to the miracle that my Dad will have no evidence of cancer soon. I can see it. I believe it. I had the honor to deliver my father's speech at his veterans' reunion last month, and I'm proud to be his daughter. I embedded the video for you here, in case you have 20 more minutes to spare on my life. My father is a veteran of the Korean War, and was an underage veteran. And he created VUMS, the Veterans of Underage Military Service, so many years ago to get these underage veterans to connect and share stories. My Dad is an American hero, who once only had an 8th grade education, entered into the service, and then got out and went to college, and eventually got himself to Vanderbilt University. He never whined. He's a hero. (Care to sign my petition to the TSA about the treatment he experienced at the Reno Airport? Click here for that.) And side note, he hates all the hippie things and I thought he wouldn't go for the Young Living stuff, but now he absolutely loves his diffusers and refuses to be in either his living room or his bedroom without peppermint in his diffuser going full blast. (He will try other oils, but peppermint is his favorite, along with Panaway and Copaiba mixed with a carrier oil to massage onto his skin, into any pain he might have.)
Pray for this guy right here, my Dad
I hope I haven't lost you all, but perhaps you've moved onto other things. If so, but still want to connect, the best place to find me is on Instagram - so click here or find me on other sites through Linktree by clicking here.

Thanks for reading all of this. Tell me what you're up to lately. Would love to reconnect with you all again.