Monday, January 27, 2014

Learn & Help

This is an unabashed plug for some causes - check out the website links to learn more:

Kibbutz Laton & Sustainable Living

On our trip to Israel, we became friends with a Houston family. Their daughter just became Bat Mitzvah and is directing all her gifts to raise $35,000 to build one complete EcoDorm housing unit on Kibbutz Laton. Kibbutz Laton is located in the Arava Valley of Israel's Negev desert and is committed to living in a sustainable way while educating others to do the same.

Last I heard she was almost half way there!

Zack Attacks Leukemia & Immunotherapy
CLICK HERE to Get Involved

Zack is this amazing 9 year old boy from Dallas who has been battling AML leukemia for 4 years. His family is helping to raise awareness and funds for immunotherapy. Their goal is $675,000 and they are at $374,000!

Wheel to Survive for Ovarian Cancer
CLICK HERE to Be the Difference

On February 23, 2014, Nancy Brickman and her Spin Sisters will be participating in a 6 hour cycling event to raise money for ovarian cancer research and to help diagnosed women in the fight to survive. The Spin Sisters have already surpassed their team goal of $2,500! The event is hoping to raise $300,000 and they are just under half way to that goal. You can also join the riders too!

Harvesting Stones & Domestic Violence
CLICK HERE to Buy Harvesting Stones
CLICK HERE for Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC)

Paula Lucas wrote a memoir that takes you through the abuse and captivity she and her three sons suffered in Dubai. She founded AODVC to help abused American women trapped outside of the US. Karen Lewis is the president of this non-profit.

I bought the book the first day it was available and read it in 2 days - a remarkable and frightening account. Government funding for AODVC has been greatly reduced so any support is appreciated.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Strong Southern Women

I saw August: Osage County tonight. Oddly, I did not walk out feeling blue or sad or depressed. And while it is certainly not a feel-good drama, it is real. Many scenes and some of the characters hit remarkably close to home.

I come from a Southern family. The themes of prescription pill addiction, alcoholism, abandonment, uncomfortable family gatherings and stories that make your skin crawl are familiar. These stories go back to my grandparents and both my parents and on to my generation.

What else is familiar? Strong women. Smart women. Flawed women. Women who survive. Each woman in the movie was hurt - some more than others. However, each one found a coping paradigm - some better than others.

The Southern women in my family are strong, smart, flawed and survivors. These women are my aunts, my cousins, my grandmothers and most importantly my mother.

My mother did not live past her early twenties. And she did not have a great childhood to say the least. But she loved her children fiercely for a few precious years and gave them a strength to last a lifetime. I got that strength from her. (click here for more about her)

Perhaps I see the characters in this amazing movie surviving until tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that. I know some of them will break the cycle little by little, generation by generation. It does happen.
1968: Cheryl Henry, my mother, after having my brother. I definitely did not inherit the hair and make-up gift!
Not too many family photos exist: Daddy, me (in those hip white socks), my infant brother and my beautiful, strong young mother.
Must be Spring 1969 right before she was killed in May - in the field beside my grandmother's house in Fort Worth - my brother and me with our mother.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Commuter Family Goes to Commuter Husband

On this holiday MLK weekend, Commuter Family has reversed the routine. On Friday afternoon, I picked up Oldest Son and Youngest Son at 1:45pm from school and we drove from Dallas to Houston. Our goal was to be at Congregation Emanu-El for Shabbat by 6pm. With some speed and a quick clothes change at the gas station, we pulled into the synagogue parking lot just a few minutes late.

Commuter Husband happily welcomed us as he ushered us into the synagogue. We had to stop for Youngest to re-button his shirt, Oldest Son and Commuter Husband to dash into the bathroom and all three of them to grab kippahs from the basket. We slipped in to see Bat Mitzvah Girl, our friend and purpose of our trip, reading prayers from the bimah.

Just over one year ago, this Jewish Houstonian Family of Three, were with us in Israel when Oldest became Bar Mitzah. Last March, we reconnected for Spring Break - CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT IT.

Last night as guests introduced themselves at Shabbat dinner, we heard from friends and family who had traveled in from 14 states! A few familiar faces were from our own Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. We are thrilled to be included as new friends of this special family. Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and Youngest Son even made the photo montage covered in Dead Sea mud with Bat Mitzvah girl - we may have been the only ones who knew it was us under all that black mud!

We are spending three nights in the designated Bat Mitzvah hotel for out of town guests. Our family of four quickly situated ourselves last night as we have spent quality time in one hotel room many, many times. I always love these times when we debate who is sleeping with whom in two queen beds, listening for the first "I forgot ..." (Oldest Son gets that honor this time as he forgot his dopp kit) and the teasing banter of male voices. It is also clear that these middle school age boys are becoming more and more independent by the minute; however, our family cadence is solid.

Being a Commuter Family certainly has its drawbacks but this chosen path more importantly gives us a bond and an identity. Commuter Husband is thrilled to have us on his weekday turf and we are excited to get away from our daily grind.

These excursions typically have ups and downs that form our unique fabric. And the running angst these weekend is ... Youngest Son, who clearly inherited my impatient nature, had to leave school Friday before he learned what his part is in the 5th Grade Greek Play. After a multitude of text and email requests, we still do not know if Youngest Son is Hades or Hermes or Eros or something else. Youngest Son might just explode if he does not find out before Tuesday when school convenes again!

December 2012 in Israel (ages 12 and 10): Oldest Son's Bar Mitzvah trip where we met Houstonian Family and where we enjoy the closeness that single hotel room.

Monday, January 13, 2014

One Year Ago ... Cancer ...

On Monday, January 14, 2013, many things were happening ...
  • Commuter Husband and I just had the most romantic Saturday night at Hotel St. Germain
  • My brother had flown in from Seattle to assist in whatever way he could
  • Offers of help and support were beyond anything I could have imagined
  • And I was headed to the hospital for a bi-lateral mastectomy with no reconstruction - my chosen treatment for early stage breast cancer

What did I underestimate?
  • I did not realize (accept) it would take 3 full months to heal 
  • I would need meds for 3 months to get through the nerve damage
  • Thus, I should have spread those awesome meals given to us out over a couple months
  • I was nuts to fly to Atlanta the weekend after surgery and more nuts to snow ski one month after surgery although I would do it again -- which, I guess, makes me nuts still - ha!
  • I did not fully understand the extra skin, tissue and dog ears that would be left - I thought my chest would be perfectly flat

What did I get right?
  • I chose the exact right treatment for me
  • I went to Baylor and had a great surgeon
  • I asked for and accepted help
  • I was open and honest with Oldest Son and Youngest Son
  • I had chosen the right kind of man to say and do all the right things in that moment
  • I shared my journey

What has changed?
  • I think I dress better because I have all these rocking scarves given to me by the many thoughtful and kind women in my life
  • I am more focused on my body being fit thus I eat better (working towards organic) and walk regularly with a few runs thrown in
  • I only drink one cup of coffee a day - HUGE change for me!
  • My tendency to seek new experiences is even stronger

What do I want other women with breast cancer to know from my journey?
  • Living breast-free is an option - explore it - think about it 

What do Oldest Son and Youngest Son say? 
  • Youngest Son matter-of-factly states "You haven't changed after it."
  • Oldest Son reflects "For awhile everything was different. You were out of commission, sometimes grumpy but now things are the same."

What did Oldest Son say when I asked if he was ever scared?
  • "No, I knew if anyone could get through it you could."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

An Interfaith Celebration ... So It Seems

SIL got stockings for all of us including the two cats. SIL found one very special stocking which we gave to Commuter Husband. Can you tell which stocking is NOT like the rest? AND, can you identify the reason it is pointing right to left? 
Commuter Husband and I do not think of ourselves as an Interfaith family. However, we are.

Commuter Husband chose the Jewish faith years before I met him - around age 30. As a teenager, he had abandoned the notion of his Catholic upbringing. When we decided to marry in 1995, I agreed to raise any offspring as Jewish because I knew I was not going to move forward in the Baptist faith of my childhood. After four years of study and soul searching, I also converted to Reform Judaism. In August 1999, I plunged under the mikvah waters when six weeks pregnant with Oldest Son - the timing was perfect.

Our home has always been and is Reform Jewish. Neither Commuter Husband nor I have clung to any of the Christian traditions we experienced while growing up. Both of Commuter Husband's parents are deceased as well as my mother and my father is not in the picture. Consequently (and sadly), there are no grandparent influences to integrate. Other extended family members are gracious, loving, respectful and accepting of our Jewish life; however they are not engaged in our Jewish traditions.

Thus I am back to the first short paragraph. Our family unit of four is focused on our Jewish life which we share with the Jewish friends, teachers and community around us. And there is seldom the pull of interfaith interaction with extended family. It is worth noting that the boys' adopted grandmother in Dallas does share coloring and hunting Easter eggs and making Christmas gingerbread houses with them every single year which we love dearly - her and the traditions.

However, this past Christmas presented an opportunity. My Brother and Sister-in-Law (SIL) generously invited us to Seattle for Christmas. Oldest Son and Youngest Son had never experienced a Christmas morning!

Preparations for the visit included some educational conversations. First, my Youngest Niece, age 9, expected Santa Claus and his reindeer to visit. Oldest Son and Youngest Son were educated on cookies for Santa, oats for reindeer and filled stockings Christmas morning. Honestly, trying the explain the connection between Santa and the birth of Jesus was challenging but we discussed the spirit of Christmas and the associated traditions of celebration to honor the meaning of the holiday and time with family.

So on December 24th, Commuter Husband helped SIL prepare a scrumptious Christmas Eve dinner and the kids each opened one gift from under the tree while Christmas tunes played joyfully. Cookies were baked for Santa. Oldest Nephew led the kids in a hilarious chorus of Feliz Navidad - over and over ...

Christmas morning excitement included the discovery of unwrapped gifts from Santa and opening the many brightly wrapped packages under the tree. Breakfast tacos filled our bellies. Then the day was spent playing with gifts and relaxing with family.
Table is set for Christmas Eve dinner.

Youngest Son, Youngest Niece and Oldest Niece read the letter that Santa left!
I am thankful we were able to share the Christmas traditions of my Brother's family. We want Oldest Son and Youngest Son to be exposed to many belief choices and respect the countless ways people choose to celebrate their spirituality. 

Perhaps a small bit of interfaith crept in ...
Youngest Niece painted this tile, wrapped it and put it under the tree for me - LOVE.