I Almost Committed Skin Suicide—Four Skin/Beauty Care Myths Debunked Saturday, Jan 9 2016 

Since the recent cancer diagnosis of yet another family member (who never smoked nor drank alcohol), I’ve been digging deeper into the causes of cancer.  It just doesn’t make sense that a few decades ago, one in twenty people got cancer; TODAY, one in TWO men and one in THREE women!  I may just be one little lady, but I have a huge heart and a big mouth, so I’m on a mission!

Here are four myths I once believed and honest answers, resources and calls-to-action.

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No point in growing our own veggies when I was (unknowingly) slathering my children with poisonous products labeled ‘all natural!’

Myth #1 My beauty and skin care products are safe because I only buy premium products. 

I’ve been a fan of many Origins products such as their ‘A Perfect World for Eyes Firming Moisture Treatment.’  The company touts its ‘plant to formula’ process and I naturally—no pun intended, assumed all products were safe.  I was shocked after performing a simple search in the EWG database to learn that this eye cream scored a ‘7’ on a ten point scale where 10 is highly hazardous.  After researching all of the products I use, at least half were hazardous.  I’ve used an Estee bronzer for years and was flabbergasted to learn that it contains talcum powder which has been found to cause cancer.  This was a major cause for alarm and propelled my mission.

Myth #2 The US FDA regulates everything I put on my skin so when choosing ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ skin and beauty products for my family, I am protected.

Wrong again! The U.S. regulations that govern its $60 billion cosmetics industry were passed in 1938, and do not provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the power to ask cosmetic companies for safety data or issue recalls of cosmetics found to be unsafe.  Worse yet, the laws have basically remained unchanged since 1938—can you believe that?  Brace yourself:

  • In the U.S., only 11 ingredients are restricted or banned from cosmetics compared to nearly 1,4000 ingredients banned in the European Union (EU)!
  • Beauty and skin care product manufacturers in the U.S. are not required by law to test products nor disclose the results.
  • Many U.S. product labels are misleading as they may state that they are organic, however they may in fact only contain one ingredient that is only one tenth of a percentage point organic. Lies!

Myth #3 What I put in my kids’ mouths is much more important than what I put on their skin.  

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I was SO consumed trying to reduce my eco-footprint.  Now I’m consumed learning about a slew of legal toxins in products labeled ‘safe’ and ‘natural,’ all known to cause cancer, infertility, severe allergies & Asthma, ADHD, and other health issues.

I was the mom who pureed organic fruits and veggies when my children were babies.  When the book, Healthy Child, Healthy World, was published, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I withstood snickering from neighbors when I hung their onesies on a clothesline to decrease my eco-footprint.   I thought that my kids would be just fine because of their mostly healthy diets, until I realized that their skin is their largest organ.  This means that what I put on their skin is just as important as what they eat.  I assumed I was safe using phthalate-free baby wash, but no!  I was duped!

In truth, every squeeze counts.  Small amounts add up.  On top of our families being exposed to toxic chemicals in the air, food and water, most are also exposed when they use the daily average of 12 cosmetics and skin care products.  Even tiny amounts of chemicals used in seemingly safe products have huge impacts.  Endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals like BPA, parabens and phthalates that mimic or block hormones, can have major health impacts because they mirror the function of our real hormones.  Ever wonder why so many couples experience infertility issues?  There’s your answer!  These are the hidden harms.  There are obvious ones too.  Check out the results of an Avengers bath product (I didn’t use) that someone bought for my son!  https://www.facebook.com/randii.babyy/posts/10153665514935505

I speak the truth…these are proven facts!  Scientific studies over the past 40 years have fueled the consensus that exposure to toxic chemicals plays a role in the incidence and prevalence of many diseases and disorders in the US.1

Myth #4 There isn’t much I can do about cancer and other health risks beyond modifying the types of food and skin care I purchase for my family. 

Yes, there is!  Today, 90% of my family’s hair, skin and beauty products are made in the U.S.A. by a company that banned even more ingredients than the EU.  Beautycounter excludes nearly 1,500 ingredients from its products.  Moreover, I have not sacrificed performance for safety.

Am I selling Thirty-One Gifts anymore?  No, January is my last month.  Why?  I want to use the free time I find to have real conversations about the U.S. beauty industry’s smoke and mirrors.  I want to sell products that can ultimately save people’s lives.  I want to make a difference, so I challenge you:

Take five minutes this weekend and enter the names of the products you use most into the EWG databaseGet the facts.  If any of those products have a score of three or higher, let’s have a conversation about alternatives.  Please, please search the database!  You’ll be astonished to learn that the most toxic relationship you’ve ever had was not with your ex-boyfriend; rather it’s with some of your skin care products.

I’m on a mission.  Join me.

Have 14 minutes?  Learn the Ugly Truth About the Beauty Industry.

This post was written in memory of my beloved mother, Judith Roman Scavnicky- R.N., whom cancer stole in August of 2011.  Fortunately, I see her beauty and hear her laughter in my children every single day.

1Sources: http://saferchemicals.org/health-report/; http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf ; http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/children/areas-of-care/childrens-environmental-health-center/childrens-disease-and-the-environment

Cancer’s Friendly Ghosts Saturday, Aug 8 2015 

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My mom, myself and my grandfather at the couples shower my husband’s family hosted for us.

Three years ago today, the Lord called my mother home. Beyond being spiteful and angry, I was uber upset that He took her one week before my son’s birthday. Flummoxed and frustrated, I proceeded to host my son’s birthday party a few days after my mom’s memorial service. I had to maintain a happy face for his sake, but thought, “Will I ever be able to enjoy my son’s birthday again?”

“YES!” the angels cried in various forms over the next three years. Here is how:

My friends are angels. Timing is everything and I believe we live on His timeline. We enter this world when He declares our birth and we exit it when He calls us home. I used to lament to the Lord, “Why did You take her so soon? I need her. My dad needs her. My kids need her. I’ve been faithful to you my entire life; why have You forsaken me?” No response. This usually happened the minute after I strapped my kids into their car seats after spending time at parks, Pump It Up, Jungle Java, library (my mom took Luke every Tuesday morning for two years), malls, you name it!  Seeing grandparents dote on their grandkids made me feel resentful and robbed.  Tears would pour over my face as I threw my arms up at the sky questioning God.  (BTW, my priest says this is okay.  God can take it.  He won’t get mad at you as long as you continue to pray for His guidance).

Over time, angels spoke to me.  I knew my friend Kendall had lost her mom, but it wasn’t until after I had lost mine she shared that her mom took her own life—just shortly before my friend graduated from high-school.  I was in SHOCK!  The frog in my throat wanted to say, “I’m sorry I’m so selfish!  I’m complaining about losing my mom at 36, and you had half that many years with yours!”

My grandfather, myself at age five, my grandmother 'Buna' and my mom on vacation.  They took me to Disney World.  My dad was always working.

My grandfather, myself at age five, my grandmother ‘Buna’ and my mom on vacation. They took me to Disney World. My dad was always working.

Then, I befriended a former Muslim beauty whose own mother disowned her when she converted to Orthodox Christianity.  This means that her mother missed her conversion, wedding, grandchildren’s births—and having a meaningful relationship with an amazing daughter for what I feel is such an unworthy reason.  My heart cries for her to the point that, yet again, I feel grateful I had the relationship I did as long as I did with my mom.  Both revelations brought me peace I imagine only an angel could bring.

Another friend called me as soon as her mother had a heart-attack. She was bawling and freaking out, so I ‘washed her feet’ as we refer to it Bible study. I tried to be her angel by consoling her and offering her words and actions of support. Her mom is recovered now and I am so grateful to have been able to serve my friend this way.

I talk to my mom. I splurged and ordered a brand-new BMW in January. My car was a decade old and I felt I deserved something nice. When I drove it alone for the first time, I shouted, “Don’t you love it mom? I know tan leather will get dirty, but so it’s so pretty with the white exterior, right?” Radio silence. There are countless examples of when she doesn’t respond, but…

My mom does talk to me. I never imagined I’d bury my mom before her father, but our Father willed it. Elie Roman, my maternal grandfather—‘Mosu’ is what I called him, was called home last February. I had been praying for this since he was emaciated, incapacitated and in so much pain. Moreover, his step-brother had already assured me that my grandfather was ‘saved,’ had already committed his life to the Lord. After I got the call, I asked myself, “What would my mother want at his funeral?” and I heard clear as day, “One of those photo collages you do, like the ones you just made dad.” So that was it. I started scanning and creating. I heard her say, “Get the Romanian belt to tie around it,” and I retorted, “What belt? Where is

My daughter--my mom called her 'Mirabella Cinderella' and myself at my grandfather's funeral, all dolled up per my mom's request!

My daughter–my mom called her ‘Mirabella Cinderella’ and myself at my grandfather’s funeral, all dolled up per my mom’s request!

it? Dad moved!” and I heard her say, “It’s in his walk-in closet; not the regular one.” I drove to my dad’s the next day, and there it was!

I had just completed two collages for my dad's surprise 75th b-day party when I got the call that grandpa had passed.

I had just completed two collages for my dad’s surprise 75th b-day party when I got the call that grandpa had passed.

While thumbing through my kids’ church clothes trying to find something black, I heard, “Go get something new! Luke was his namesake for crying out loud!” Once again, as I had complied with my mother’s infinite requests made both on Earth and in Heaven, I bought new outfits for both kids…check!

Last week, my son wanted ice cream after dinner, but he only ate a third of it so I said ‘No.’ Clear as day, Juju’s (what my kids called my mom) voice said, “C’mon, Liz. I’m not there to take him for ice cream like I used to. Please give it to him.” Since she died a week before he turned three, I had totally forgotten that she and my dad used to take him to the mall for Haagen Dazs! I’m so glad she reminded me—I gave him ice cream.

I realize affirming that my mother talks to me may cause people to laugh and call me insane. I both understand and accept that. I would rather be called crazy than to deny the divine or discount dialogue with the deceased.

This year, 95% of our family will be away on vacation and therefore unable to celebrate my son’s 6th birthday. I am too full of gratitude to be upset. For so long, I was angry my mom passed a week before his birthday, but my angels helped me to understand the timing of her death—by that point, she was no longer fighting to liveshe was fighting to see her beloved grandson turn three.

Bitter vs. Better—Grow with God! Wednesday, Jan 21 2015 

If you knew me during my childhood and adolescent years, you know I went to church every Sunday, was active in our youth group and sought to serve whether that meant singing in the choir or washing dishes after Sunday banquets. I enjoyed going to church and I felt committed to God, but I was ignorant about my faith in many ways. When I experienced setbacks, I would lament to God “Why? Why did this or that happen? Why couldn’t I be chosen as the one for <insert any female tween’s desires here>?”

In my twenties, my faith remained steadfast which means that I still attended services regularly and told my significant other that if he wanted to be in a relationship with me, he would have to pursue a relationship with God. Sounds controlling…because it was!

It wasn’t until the Lord called my mom home on Aug. 8, 2012 after a treacherous six month battle with cancer that I ‘got it.’ Where I was once ignorant, I now saw the light. Believing in God and knowing Jesus Christ was my personal savior wasn’t enough. I needed daily instructions for how to live correctly; how to be slow to judge and not scream at my kids every time they made a mess.

I needed the scriptures, however in my Orthodox faith, the main focus of liturgy is the Gospel. My understanding of the rest of the Bible was limited at best. Many Bible-based churches weave scriptures throughout the entire service; ours does not. The onus is on us as Orthodox Christians to study the Bible in our free time. For many years, I only wanted to study business news; Francophone and Hispanic cultures; the latest Google algorithmic changes and the teachings of Dale Carnegie. One day, my friend invited me to her Bible study and my new life began. I started to understand the long-suffering part of my existence thus far. I learned that I’m elated to receive the good, but I must also accept the bad.

Proof that God is in control and on His own timeline used to frustrate me, but now I trust in Him. Here are some examples:

  1. I wasn’t allowed to play sports growing up. This meant that most afternoons after school while my friends were at soccer practice, I was playing in the basement by myself at home.  I used to invent new restaurants like ‘Space Burgers,’ liken it to the Jetson’s Burger King, and other businesses.  I created everything from not much; usually floor and tile samples because we were always looking at model homes.  A piece of Carrera marble was my space burger happy meal.  In middle school, I forged my parents’ signatures on the track registration form so I could run track. They found out and pulled me off of the team.   I was angry for many years, especially later on when I saw how much fun my friends had being on teams; everything from their camaraderie, long bus trips to their uniforms irked me. I felt it wasn’t fair. When I complained, my parents would always say, “When you’re an adult, you can do whatever you want, but while you’re living under our roof…”
  2. My parents made my sisters and me perform (Shhhh…‘me’ is correct here; not ‘I’).  We were born with beautiful voices and our parents were hyper-culturally focused.  They trained us to sing three-part harmonies in seven different languages and then paraded us around my dad’s faculty members’ holiday parties.  People loved to hear us sing, but we didn’t enjoy having to perform.  We wanted to build snowmen or spend time with friends instead.
  3. My mom’s Lupus caused major upheavals when it was active. When it was dormant, she was fine.  When it was active, it meant waiting on her hand and foot; worrying she might die at any time and learning how to delay gratification—my hopes, interests, dreams—even vacations, were put on hold.  This caused resentment and frustration in me.  I used to plead with God, “Why can’t you just make my mom well?  Why can’t she ride bikes with me like so-and-so’s mom?”  I still went to church, but these were my thoughts when I prayed.  I was mad she couldn’t take me to Skate World, the movies or pick me up from my friends’ homes.  When I complained, my parents would always say, “When you’re an adult, you can do whatever you want, but while you’re living under our roof…”
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Shortly after welcoming my daughter into this world, I held my mom’s hand while she suffered in her departure from this world. This is the last photo I have of her as a healthy woman.

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Monday marked four years since I bid farewell to my spiritual home of 34 years due to language barriers and joined Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church. My parents weren’t happy, but they never criticized me-not once.

Guess what? Now, I’m an adult and I don’t get to do what I want all of the time. I have to deal with ignorant people who don’t appreciate how I’ve served others; care about how I feel; respect what I do for a living and haven’t taken three steps in my shoes. They haven’t been working since the age of 11; aren’t responsible for the care of their elders as I am. They don’t have the stress that results from owning your own business and income properties.

In retrospect, I know now that:

  1. All those years spent playing in the basement inventing new lines of business resulted in my being an astute business woman.  All of the creativity that poured from my little brain planted seeds for my future.  Selling popcorn at the end of our driveway is partially why I’ve never missed a sales quota.  My current focus is small businesses; go figure.  God knew all along!
  2. All of that performing was preparation.  I’ve taught the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage course; trained GM Dealers on how to use software and taught a variety of subjects at most companies where I have worked.  Today, public speaking is my passion!  I also love to sing for large audiences and recite poetry which I’ve had the pleasure of doing.
  3. Learning to live with my mom’s debilitating disease taught me that time is as valuable as money; I would argue even more so.  EACH MINUTE is precious!  Each breath is critical.  Every morning, I wake up and thank God for another day.  I don’t complain that he took my mom too soon because I understand everything He does is on His timeline; not mine.  I’ve stopped saying things like, “Had I gone away for under-grad and grad school, I would be living and working in Paris right now!  Why did you implore me to stay home and help with my mom, Lord?  Why?”

I know why. God had bigger plans in store for me. He’s got big plans for you too if you’ll just ask Him. Even if you aren’t sure if you believe in Him, just ask for Him to help show you the way. It may take a while, but He will. If it takes a LONG TIME, don’t stop asking. Don’t be disappointed. Ponder the apostle Paul who was thrown behind bars early on in his career. He could have become depressed and given up like many do. Instead, he penned over half of the New Testament behind bars!

No one can live in the past; it’s gone. All we can do is apply what we have learned to the present so that each day is a gift. As adults, we can choose how and with whom we spend time. Evaluate your relationships with people—are they life-giving or life-taking? Do they raise you up or tear you down? Esther, an orphan raised by her Uncle Mordecai, was able to protect the entire Jewish population and avert genocide because she won the favor of King Xerses- a relationship that was life-giving! God was clearly at work through her. Surround yourself with people that are life-giving, and SUCCEED in all you do.

When God called us to serve, He did not mean that we have to continuously bend over backwards for people who don’t care about us; criticize and mock us, etc. He wants us to live abundantly and be blessed, but we can’t do that without establishing boundaries and trusting in Him. If we spend all of our time trying to make other people happy, we will be unhappy all of the time.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope I’ve planted a seed of faith in you even if it’s the size of a mustard seed.

‘He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”’ Matthew 17:20

The Giving Tree–My Mom Friday, Aug 8 2014 

8/8/08 may have symbolized good luck for the Chinese who hosted the Summer Olympics in Beijing that year, however 8/8 will always be an unfortunate day for me.  Exactly two years ago today, my mother was born into eternal life—she died of neuroendocrine cancer less than a year after my daughter was born and a week before my son’s third birthday.

Thank goodness my mom had more children after my firstborn sister!

I miss my mom every single day, and still feel as though I was robbed.

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When I was growing up, both of my sisters had moved out because they were nine and eleven years older than me. My mom was often sick with Lupus when it was active. I was always scared she would leave me too.

I think of her at least a few times per day; sometimes more.  The day that she passed, I attended my regular Yoga class and shared her passing with my fellow Yogis who had been so supportive for many months.  No one judged me as I wept on my mat, class after class for months—I was so tired from nursing/caring for a newborn and toddler, working and going to the hospital almost every day for 20+ weeks.

Recently, my instructor—Kavitha S., my Yogini and Guru, resurrected a story of solace that really resonated with me because it underscores my mother’s unconditional love for me—The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  (He too was only 68 when he passed.)  If you are unfamiliar with the story, check it out.

Essentially, a tree loves a boy from the time that he climbs her trunk and naps in the shade she provides until the time that he needs to sell her apples to support his family, and ultimately, the tree lets the the man cut down her trunk when he is too old and tired to do anything else.  It’s a lesson in unconditional love in that the tree has given up everything because she loves the boy, and yet even after she ‘dies,’ her love eternally gives since her stump serves as the man’s respite.

My mother is my living giving tree—even from her beautiful mausoleum across the street from 12 Oaks Mall.  Her physical body may be rotting, but her blessings, wisdom, cuisine, perfectionism, beliefs, values, humor, beauty, music, masterpieces, poems—even her fashion, are resurrected in me every day.

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Two-thirds of my mom’s Chanel bags were consigned. My sisters and I split up the remaining 1/3. I enjoy wearing them because I remember my mom buying and adoring them. She went NUTS over Chanel, David Yurman, Emanuel Ungaro, and all those other great guys, John Hardy, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, St. John, etc.

My friends and colleagues say I’m lucky when I sport yet another one of her cute, coordinated outfits, Chanel bag or shoes, but the truth is that I never wore the brand when she was alive because I thought it meant I was trying to prove something.  Everyone says they wish they could wear rock-size tennis bracelets and other beautiful pieces of jewelry, but these are all just her earthly things.  Perhaps they make me feel a little better about my mom, but not because of their worth—solely because of HER worth.

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My mother was her happiest after I gave birth to darling Luke Roman Yaekle (her maiden name was Roman). She had always wanted a son, and now she had one!

I hear my mom’s joy in my kids’ laughter or ‘YUMMY!’ replies after I prepare her recipes.  I feel her next to me when I’m crying in bed at night because I feel so empty about so many overwhelming things, and so frustrated because I can’t ask her for advice.  Sometimes I think she is still in the passenger seat of my car waiting for me to get in and drive her somewhere.  I hear her beautiful voice on an ethnic holiday CD we had produced and sit on the furniture she antiqued.  I admire her love of art as I gaze at original Salvador Dali and Picasso sketches.

I appreciate her tenacity and unquenchable thirst for knowledge when I rearrange her books at my dad’s, or sort through the VOLUMES of notes she took in just about every undergraduate class offered at Wayne State Univ. (She graduated from Montefiore Nursing School in PA, but continued taking college classes for most her life).  She is physically gone, but she is with me spiritually.

When I was at my dad’s new home still going through her stuff—can you imagine spending 19 months going through over 5,000 sq ft of your mother’s stuff?!?!?—as we didn’t have time to get through it all before he moved, a little Ziploc bag fell to the floor.  In it, EVERY SINGLE CHECK I had ever written to my mother; all un-cashed, all in perfectly good shape, appeared in chronological order.  I never noticed she never cashed them as I’ve never had to pay attention to my bank account balance (insert a HUGE ‘Thanks be to GOD’ here).  I was in disbelief…I still am.  Two years after her passing, she continues to give.

Although my mother is no longer a living tree, she is still my giving tree and forever will be.

Memory Eternal + ‘Juju’ Judith Patricia Roman Scavnicky

PS- It may seem odd that I share so much personal, deep information publicly, however I find writing to be extremely cathartic, and much healthier than taking anti-depressants.  So do other grieving writers.  I hope I’ve encouraged you to hug your mother, honor the lives of those whom you adore and cherish each moment.  Author of the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin said it best: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

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I’m so grateful for my children; they literally saved my life. Their joy is mine to share. Here are two of Luke’s latest works of art.

Happy New Year? Boo Hoo Year… Wednesday, Jan 2 2013 

Thank goodness I threw my parents a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party.  I never imagined my mom would die of cancer a year before their 50th.

Thank goodness I threw my parents a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party. I never imagined my mom would die of cancer a year before their 50th.

My husband and I were in bed before midnight on New Year’s for the first time in both of our lives.  Our three and one-year old children, and the hustle of the holidays, rendered us exhausted and depleted of all celebratory motivation.  I saw Santa five times in nine days; baked eight dozen cookies; took my son to a Tinkerbell play at a children’s theatre and many Christmas parties in addition to family celebrations. 

As the NYE clock counted down, my eyes filled with tears around ten seconds and by three, I was weeping.  No New Year’s kiss for my one and only, just sobbing in the realization that this is the first year in my entire life that I must go on without my mom. 

I begin this year a different person either because the act of mourning is a thievery of so many joys or because many aspects of me died along with my mother.  There is no spring in my step which, for those of you who know me, may be hard to believe.  My response to many questions has become, “Whatever,” “I don’t care,” or “Doesn’t matter to me.”  My house, once immaculate from toe-kick to ceiling crown molding, has grown dust bunny farms under the couches and fingerprints don my stainless steel appliances.  Shirts are rarely ironed and grout is rarely scrubbed.  Worse yet, there is only laughter when my kids are awake. 

Simple tasks I used to find so joyful, whether blogging or calling customers, have become mountains I feel forced to climb at times.  There are times I don’t recognize myself in the mirror.  I just see a sad, tired mom looking back at me without hope or encouragement. 

I haven’t seen my friends in months because I’m afraid I’ll bore them with my same old song of which the chorus goes, “I miss my mom.  I still can’t believe she is gone.  When will I see her in a dream?  Why did He take her from me?” 

Christmas wasn’t the same without my mom.  I missed everything about her- her sarcasm, traditional ethnic recipes, melody during carols, funky and chic attire, adorable and artistically wrapped gifts for the kids and me.  It’s been four months and twenty-five days since she passed away; almost six months since she had her faculties to recognize me.  The hole and pain in my heart are both still HUGE- unbearable at times.

I always looked up to my beautiful mom who I pray now looks down on me from Heaven.

I always looked up to my beautiful mom who I pray now looks down on me from Heaven.

By the grace of God, my children have been the greatest source of comfort.  Luke still says, “Don’t cry, mama. It’s gonna take times.  Juju is in heaven and she can see us, so it’s okay.  You can talk to her like this, ‘Hi Juju.  I love you.  Thanks for my Cars boots!’”  Luckily, it is impossible to feel any sadness when an adorable 13-month old baby removes a hat from her face in an attempt to play peek-a-boo.

So, I’m sorry I haven’t called or written.  I apologize for not being myself for the past few months.  In time, hopefully the witty, upbeat Liz of yesteryear will return and inspire you the way my mom inspired me- every day.

Cancer Is KING Thursday, May 31 2012 

My mom (week before all of her hair fell out) and my baby girl during one of MANY hospital visits.

My apologies for not posting since April; a blogger’s cardinal sin.  I’ve refrained because I’ve found it challenging to find something positive about which to write.  I’ve been absorbed with my mom’s ailing health for the last ten weeks.  

After a three-week hospital stay, her diagnosis of neuro endochrine cancer was revealed which is a rare form of cancer.   Of course it’s not the adnoma type for which stages can be assigned, it’s the extremely rare version with which few oncologists are even familiar. 

Most days, I am an emotional wreck and I find it hard to do just about anything without crying.  I thought it might prove cathartic to share what I’ve learned through my crash-course with cancer:

Cancer is a thief.  It literally steals the lives of (most of) those whom it attacks, and crushes the lives of their family members.  It robs the joy of the present moment, and the hopes for the future. 

This past Mother’s Day was the first time I attended liturgy without my mom by my side.  It felt very odd to listen to our priest’s sermon about mothers without having her hand to hold.  I tried to hold back tears, but couldn’t.  In fact, I cry every Sunday because my mother is the one who gave me the gift of Orthodox Christianity.  I miss her so much; particularly in church where I would often hold her hand.  I can’t even sing anymore, a simple act that brought me so much joy.  Cancer stole that joy, and many others. 

It steals great joys, like knowing my mom probably won’t see my son on his first day of school, and simple ones.  For example, I used to sing about what I was making him for lunch and he would guess what it was.  I can barely muster the energy to feed him lunch let alone sing while I prepare it.  I’m not even excited about my garden because I wish my mom could be involved with it as she was last year. 

Cancer robs people of sleep.  I can’t sleep well because (of course my kids are both still not sleeping through the night and…) my mind conjures up every possible scenario about my mom for the following day; e.g., will her pain improve?  Will she have the energy to see Luke?  Will she be able to have dinner with us?  How can she take care of her father in this state?

I also, for the first time, celebrated my birthday without my mom.  I always enjoyed a delicious meal at a fine restaurant with my husband and parents; just wish I had known last year was the last celebratory supper. 

Cancer calls the shots.  Everyone must follow its agenda.  Cancer sets the schedule and then changes it a million times; e.g. changing chemo dates, planned family activities, pain levels, available caregivers, etc.  Cancer usurps a person’s focus.  Right now, I should be creating my Thirty-One Gifts team June newsletter, however my focus is consumed with cancer.  In fact, I’ve been consumed with it for the past two months.  When I look at my gorgeous baby girl, often times I just sob.  I cry because my mom won’t see her grow up and I cry because my darling might someday experience the pain for me that I currently feel for my mom.

Cancer does not discriminate.  As I’ve written before, I’ve never known my mom to be healthy.  She has struggled with Lupus and myriad ailments my entire life.  I cannot understand why she would be relegated to such a painful exit strategy; hasn’t she suffered enough?  Aren’t 30+ years of being in and out of hospitals and treatment centers enough?  Why must Cancer take her now?  Why does it take anyone of value?  Why not murderers and thieves instead of loving parents, siblings and amazing leaders?

The mother that I once knew- her authentic self, has already passed.  The bald woman who tries so hard to make the most of the fleeting time she has left with my children is not even half of who my mother was.  This woman who is on so many different medications does not resemble my mother- the most beautiful, witty woman I knew.  She was so intelligent and my lifeline for all things medical, haute couture, culinary, cultural and more.  I don’t know where to begin or where to end without her. 

Cancer has robbed us of so many simple and great joys.  My mother is still technically alive, but it has stolen my mom from me.  My identity is also endangered as I have become so resentful, bitter, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed and SCARED. 

My husband and I have been entertaining family members who have flown into town to see my mom.  They want to visit with her before she dies.  It’s as if we’ve cooked at least ten repasts already.  While I consider myself very fortunate to have been with her at her best vs. her worst, I can’t entertain anymore. 

I am so very sorry for everyone who has lost someone to cancer.  I am also sorry for people who have lost themselves because someone they love has/had cancer.  I will continue to pray and ask you to do the same; please remember Judy in your prayers.  It’s okay if you forget as after all, cancer is king. 

PS- Sorry that this post is so sad.  Hopefully I can remove this shroud and have good news next time.

How Many Hats Must One Wear? Monday, Apr 2 2012 

At least someONE is happy!

How many hats must one wear?  Surely one can be retired, perhaps one with a tear?

Maybe the Moms’ Club Infant Playgroup Coordinator cap, way back there?

No time to blog, see friends or get a massage- I wouldn’t dare!

Indeed of myself, I certainly do not take care…

Because my mom is still in the hospital and who knows when she’ll be released.

I’ll visit her often and merrily cook for my dad as long as she isn’t deceased. 

No time to paint the nursery a pretty, feminine shade;

For it seems that every day through a sea of crises I wade.

I’m counting the days until my next Thirty-One party with good measure;

Because connecting with virtuous women gives me so much pleasure!

My plate is so full; the cracks make me want to SHOUT!

I suppose that’s why most of my hair is falling out.

Yet there must be at least one hat I can throw away;

To make a little time for myself today.

Nine gifts to wrap this April; Twenty Easter cards I must write;

I really need my Lord and savior to shed some light.

For how is it possible to remain sane when the sky is falling day after day?

Yet wife, mother, sister, leader, author, neighbor, landlord and motivator I remain.  

I wish I had time to relax to the sounds of Debussy instead of typing this poem which sounds Dr. Seuss-y.

Yet it was well worth it you see; I actually took four minutes for ME!

I needed to be fed. Sunday, Mar 4 2012 

Two of my new favorite Thirty-One sisters- Robin and Natasha!Every other hour of every day, I am concerned with whether or not my baby girl needs to be fed.  She is now three months old and nursing every two to three hours.  Some nights, she sleeps eight hours straight through which is great because I can work from 4-7 am while she, my son and husband sleep.

I treasure that time in the wee hours of the morning; when the morning sky is still dark and birds have not broken the silence with their tweets.  My morning routine never wavers.  I make coffee while my computer powers up and make my husband’s lunch.  I always let out a HUGE exhale when I pour that first cup of coffee because I know there are a hundred things I need to accomplish today, when all I really want to do is read a few Bible verses and practice Yoga.  I quickly dismiss those thoughts because I know I won’t have time, so there is no sense in stewing about it.

Like most mothers, I’ve sacrificed a lot because my kids are my number one priority.  No more physical therapy, book club, Bible Study, going out with friends, seeing a movie at a theatre; going out to dinner, etc.  Sometimes, I wish I were an octopus so I could juggle four times what I currently manage.

For the past few months, I’ve felt the ‘need to be fed’ myself.  I write this post, as I pump, from a gorgeous hotel room at the Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where I attended the Team Graves’ Royal Retreat hosted by my Senior Executive Director and mentor, Amanda Brooks Graves.

My participation in this leadership retreat required a lot of planning and scheduling sacrifices by my supportive family and me- including having to pump every 4-5 hours to keep my milk supply flowing for my baby girl (even on the floor of the Winston-Salem airport chapel floor since the bathroom’s voltage would not generate enough power to my pump).  I am still tired as I haven’t gotten much rest, but I am full of the Holy Spirit!  Most of all, I am so grateful because I was fed:

My soul was fed with scripture and prayer

My heart was fed with the love of new sisters in Thirty-One Gifts 

My body was fed with energy I needed to make the most of each meeting

My mind was fed with new ideas, human motivation principles and so much more!

My faith was fed through conversations with fellow Christian women

My hope was fed after hearing inspiring stories from other women who, like me, wear too many hats

My confidence was fed with the resounding applause given after I made my very first keynote speech

My ears were fed with the loving, joyous voice of my two-year-old son who misses me dearly; and I him

My stomach was fed with delicious, gourmet meals that I actually had time to SIT and enjoy

My future was fed with amazing ideas about how to grow my business

I can’t wait to return home to family!  Although I am somewhat exhausted, I am full of GRATITUDE for my Thirty-One sisters, my SED Amanda B. Graves and my savior for calling me to this retreat.  I am blessed!  I WAS FED.

Warrior Woman- Living My Life through Warrior Poses Thursday, Feb 16 2012 

This warrior pose, Virabhadrasana III, represents how I live my life- I am able to balance many things one foot while remaining calm and focused. Try it!

My apologies for my blogging reprieve. 

As most of you know, I opted against a maternity leave, so on top of already working two part-time jobs (one of which is my own business), I added another 56 hour per week commitment of breastfeeding.  I’m sleeping the least amount per night I have in my entire life which is down from even four hours per night over the last two years, but hanging in and ON for dear life. 

Although I haven’t posted any personal blog posts, I haven’t missed any for my clients- Dale Carnegie franchisees in the U.S. and Netherlands, and also ciaovita.com. 

After giving birth back in Nov, I was back online in my hospital bed entering holiday orders for my Thirty-One Gifts business and yelling at the hospital staff to, “Keep it down!” while my husband slept in the chair beside me in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve managed to still churn out five homemade dinners per week; kept a clean  house and haven’t wavered on my fitness commitment of five work-out days per week. 

At times, I’ve broken down and curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.  It’s rather cathartic to cry for a while, let it all out, wash my face, blow my nose and resume whatever it was I was doing.  Everybody needs a release- esp. new mothers.

It was hard working out of my home when I only had my sweet toddler, however adding a newborn to the mix has been one of the greatest management challenges of my life.  I choose the word ‘management’ specifically because that’s all I do: manage my family, schedule and commitments.  My ability to manage it all is critical.  When I break down, I have to pick myself right back up as a true warrior woman would. 

Reflecting on my Weds. night Yoga practice with superstar Yogini, Kavitha, I thought about how I embody each of the three warrior poses on a daily basis.  Each pose has a different stance and offers many insights into how I ‘manage’ my days, and ultimately, my entire life.

Warrior One Virabhadrasana IBoth hands high up in the air and legs are in a lunge position.  It resembles my daily morning stretch and acknowledgement of everything that must be done each day.  Each day, I must think and act like a warrior would.

Warrior Two Virabhadrasana IIBoth arms out at the sides with a twist.  It’s a stance a warrior would take before advancing and attacking.  The pose reminds me that every morning, I am ready to take on all that must be accomplished.  For example, last week:  

  • Emergency root canal?  Give it to me.  I drove to two different dentists and three Endodonists last week which ultimately meant a loss of nine hours and made for a very LONG weekend of early rising to complete everything that had been previously scheduled for those time intervals.  Plus, I had to pump and dump three times because of the anastesia.  Huge time loss and stress gain, yet I did not miss any deliverables.
  • Catching the gross congested cough and hacking up mucous for three weeks?  Caught and fought it!  Sure I was tired because the coughing kept me up most nights and I was certainly embarrassed when I hacked during my weekly Yoga-Latis class, but I persevered!
  • Third care-giver change in three weeks?  I can roll with it!  Just have to get up even earlier to attack the day’s tasks and remain energetic while taking care of my two beautiful children.  BTW, I am grateful to everyone who was willing to reschedule meetings with me as a result of the changes in my schedule.  Thanks for your compassion!
  • Newborn diaper blow-out?  I’ve become accustomed to stripping and wiping my daughter down, putting on a new outfit and holding her while I scrub the nasty stains out of her onesie and outfit.  I’ve got this method down-pat. 
  • Newborn spit-up explosion?  Whether it’s all over the bed’s throw pillows, couch, my clothes and/or heating pad, I can clean this mess up in less than 20 minutes without freaking out as I used to do.
  • Newborn too gassy to eat?  No problem!  I can hold her in my left arm and nurse her when she’s ready, and type with my right hand.  It’s amazing how many different positions my body can contort to accommodate her!

Warrior Three- Virabhadrasana IIIBalancing my entire body in a horizontal position on one leg with both arms out in front requires the use of almost every muscle in my body.  This pose represents my ability to balance everything- work, family needs, household chores, etc. successfully, gracefully and effortlessly, despite constant scheduling changes and challenges regardless of the source- family, tenants, clients, etc. 

My Yogini, Kavitha, always says, “Don’t worry about where you are; just be there,” meaning don’t worry about how your pose compares to others, just relish in the sensations of where you are in the pose– and honor it.  

I only compare myself to myself which means that my standards are excessively high, however they are mine.  I remain STRONG and focused in each stance just as I do while working on any of a hundred daily tasks.  I thank GOD for my strength!  Like any other woman warrior, I shall rise to the challenges and mange all of them, every single day!

Photo Credit: Kosmica Music

The Sound of SIRENS- Why We MUST Live Each Day to Its FULLEST! Friday, Jan 6 2012 

I enjoy- and am grateful for- my family every single day!

Each morning, I awake well before dawn to begin working while my boys and baby girl sleep.  Every so often, I hear the sounds of sirens- fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, and I literally cringe because I know it means there was an accident on 696. 

Yesterday around 6 am, I heard them loud and clear, however they lasted much longer than usual.  As always, I pondered what could have happened?  Who was hurt? Any fatalities?  Much to my dismay, a father of three children was changing his tire on the shoulder of 696 and was hit three times by multiple vehicles, and ultimately died.  No one saw him in the darkness.  The first car hit him and threw him into the air, and then more vehicles hit him.  The highway was covered with his dismembered body.  I cried when I heard the full story on the news.

I can’t imagine what the last moments of his life were like, or what the next years of his wife and children’s lives will be like, and although he is a complete stranger, my heart aches for him and his family.  I already miss him for them.  A mother and father are the most important role models to their children.  I’m too sad to type anymore on this subject.

People often ask me, “Why do you commit yourself to so many things/events/people?  Why do you work if you don’t have to?  Why do you always over-do it?  Why do you try to be so meticulous?”  …and I usually reply, “My mother was sick my entire life.  In middle school, I was told she had Lupus and two years left to live.  I therefore believe that we must live each day to its fullest.  The good Lord numbers our days, so let’s make the most of them….I can sleep when I’m buried in the ground and relax when I ultimately reside with my Lord and savior in heaven.” 

The truth is that none of us knows when we’ll be taken from this Earth- which is why I always tell people not to wait until tragedy hits to become religious, and to choose and practice a faith regularly.  It’s also why I always tell my husband, parents and children that I love them when leaving…because it may be the last time I see them

It’s why I bust my hump 20 hours a day; even after delivering my second child in the hospital, I was right back online answering customer questions about their Thirty-One Gifts orders, providing gift and embroidery recommendations, delivery estimates, etc..  I allocate 5-7 hours per day breastfeeding because it’s best for my daughter, and I love her dearly.  It’s why I (try to) work from home, so I can spend time with my son most days of the week instead of putting on professional clothes, heading to work, having adult conversations and lunches for nine hours, and enjoying many other rewards that full-time employment offers.

Bottom Line: If God decides to take me tomorrow; I am ready.  I don’t want to go because I want to spend as much time as possible with my family, however I know no matter what happens to me, we’ll all be reunited in His kingdom some day.  Yikes- I hope I’m not jinxing anything- “HEY UNIVERSE- I will live to a ripe old age and witness my children’s marriages, and grandchildren’s births.”  I must speak in the affirmative so everyone, including God, knows I want to live a LONG TIME.  …but if I don’t, I know I made the most of every single day!

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