BRCA and my family

BRCA and my family

Nearly a million Americans carry an inherited BRCA mutation associated with hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers and it is estimated that 2.3 million women in the U.S. are at high risk for breast cancer due to family history.  Well, my family is in this lot as I participated in genetic testing and learned that I carry the BRCA 1 mutation passed on from my mother.  We are Czech in my mother’s lineage (Hovorka is my mother’s maiden name) and there is some evidence that people from this area are more likely to have BRCA 1 than others.

My mother died of ovarian cancer, diagnosed in her late 50’s, too late to do much but try to give her more years via chemotherapy.  She identified closely with Gilda Radner who also died too young from ovarian cancer about the same time as my mother. I loved Gilda like I loved my mother, maybe more as a teenager is tended too.  I have a cousin that died of breast cancer in her 40’s.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer, very early stages, in my late 40’s and have so far fended the beast off and I am thankfully still around at 55 with no signs of cancer.  I took the preventive steps to have my breasts removed and a complete hysterectomy.

Last week, I went to the oncologist (you know you are a cancer patient when you ask, who is your oncologist?) for my six month check up and got the all clear one more time. These check-ups are a part of my routine now for regular screenings, plenty of exercise, and mindfulness that every day is a gift.  I have recently explored meditation as an additional method of coping with stress and finding happiness. I can hear my father chuckling about this as he loved to poke fun at people who meditate as part of that “new age fad.” Meditation is something that people from different countries have been doing for centuries.

I am happy even without meditation but there are times we all need techniques to deal with stress.  I am a person that enjoys projects and a busy schedule so meditating for me is a challenge.  But so important for me to allow my brain to rest for just 20 minutes or so and not think about anything, nothing, but the sound of my own breath. It is quite empowering and a litter bittersweet that I only discovered the techniques at this later age instead of when I could have really used it back when I was a young mother or when I heard that I had cancer.

I also subscribe to massage therapy and a good soak in a hot tub from time to time. Oh, and a glass of red wine is sublime as well. I also surround myself with positive influences including the people I love – both at home, work and play. So, how do  you take care of yourself?  Some ideas I have heard are:

  • Weeding the garden
  • Walks in the woods
  • A good, long belly laugh
  • Aromatherapy
  • Dance around
  • Lost in a good book
  • Take a road trip

My new favorite is mindful meditation.  How?   Focus on your breath. Notice anything that passes through your awareness without judgment. If your mind starts to tackle your to-do list, just return to focusing on your breath.

And make sure you get regular mammograms and conduct breast self checks.  It was a life saver for me

BRCA

 

 

 

 

Fish Fry Baby

Fish Fry Baby

Don’t you love a fish fry?  Baby, we do here in Texas.  Can you smell the fish frying yet?  I can.

This July, we are hosting guests from our sister city in Africa, from the country of Swaziland and the city of Mbabane.  The delegation of six high school students and two teachers are visiting Fort Worth for several weeks of cultural exchange hosted by Fort Worth Sister Cities International (FWSCI) as part of the summer International Leadership Academy. Our girls were regular participants and travelers with FWSCI and RM and I have hosted countless students and teachers in our home each summer.  This year we are hosting two teachers from Swaziland.  We get so much pleasure from learning from them and sharing our little bit of heaven here on Ashland and in Fort Worth.  It is true about the paradox of life “that the more you give the more that you get” with every experience.

What better way to share a bit of Texas culture than with a traditional fish fry?  It is so much easier to fry a large batch of fish using a fryer designed for use outdoors that hooks up to a propane tank.  It is not a good idea to fry foods in flip-flops or bare feet but try telling these guys when Texas outdoor temperatures are in the 90’s and that’s at night.

guys

What’s on the menu for our fish fry?  Catfish, assorted salads, corn fritters (the bomb), and of course, Texas sheet cake and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.  The Midwestern Table Cookbook  I found the recipe for the corn fritters in Amy Thielen’s cookbook (see link) that I checked out from our local library.  The secret ingredients are light beer, white corn and poblano peppers.

menu

 

We love to entertain and add a few extra touches to pammason jarper our guests a bit.  This time, we decorated mason jars and dressed them up with pretty red and white bakers twine and festive paper straws.  The jar makes a fun keepsake too. We served lemonade and iced tea. We repurposed my July 4th fabric banner as a table cloth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

C3 is a baker in training and she whipped up this yummy Texas sheet cake with a sprinkle of Texas pecans for good measure.  Why is the cake called Texas sheet cake?  I think it is the use of buttermilk and pecans that defines it as truly Texan.  But the historians are all over the map on how this cake got its name. Sometimes we add tiny marshmallows to the hot icing for an extra sweet kick. It makes a mighty big cake for a Texas size sweet tooth.

texas sheet cake

Pioneer Woman Best Texas Sheet Cake

 

Quiet

Quiet

I recently took the online quiz “are you an extrovert or introvert?”  and the outcome was neither.  I am what the test referred to as an ambivert.  I fall somewhere in the middle on the extrovert-introvert spectrum.

I can’t decide which is a better memory – that one party or that night spent alone watching Netflix.

As leaders of organizations, we can’t ignore the data about the importance of appreciating all types of human nature, especially introverts, on our teams and in our families:

  • 50% of the U.S. workforce self-identifies as introverts. And 64% of workers believe their organization does not fully harness the talents of the introverted employees.
  • 96% of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts—which means leadership teams are often imbalanced and do not fairly represent a diverse workforce.
  • Less than 30% of U.S. workers feel engaged in their jobs—which means that 70% of workers are not working at their maximum potential. (source:  The Quiet Revolution)

If you haven’t yet read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, please check it out soon. The book is on NYT best seller list and has been there for a while now.

She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts. She offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships and empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a “pretend extrovert.”

As an ambivert, I am working on my mindfulness by attending meditation training on Sunday mornings for an hour and half at the Intermodal Transportation Center, downtown Fort Worth.   The meditation and teachings are offered by the Kadampa Meditation Center of Texas. I am not a Buddhist but I am interested in learning about the teachings and the benefits of meditation.

Why meditate?  There are a lot of myth busters about meditation.  But one is you don’t have to sit on a floor, on a weird pillow, to meditate.  Just sit in a regular chair or on your couch.  You don’t have to sit still either.  You can move around if you need to get comfortable.

mindful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, a few minutes meditating provides a way to train my mind to settle and some freedom from day-to-day busyness. To do this requires me first to slow down and experience my thoughts or rather, no thoughts at all.  Through this process, I get to know how my mind works. I am beginning to see that I have a choice in the matter: I do not have to act on every thought. I don’t have to follow it down the rabbit hole like I am conditioned.  Believe me, I struggle at the meditation.  I find my mind easily distracted to thoughts about what I did yesterday, what I am planning to do today, and what I want to do tomorrow.  But with just a little practice I can already see the improvement to focus only on my breathing during meditation and let the other thoughts go for just a while.  Try 10 minutes at first.  I recommend an app, Calm, to practice or find a local meditation group like I did for support.

 

 

I’d Rather Be Dancing

I’d Rather Be Dancing

My mother drove an Audi with a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “I’d Rather Be Dancing”. She was a mom to four kids and a high level bureaucrat within the state of Kansas Department of Health and Human Services.  I am sure there were many days where she’d rather dance than deal with serious problems like child abuse and infant mortality.

My parents were avid ballroom dancers from as far back as I can remember.  They took weekly lessons at a dance studio in Wichita and practiced faithfully in a DIY dance studio, complete with cement floors and a now retro turntable in our modest basement on Main Street USA.  They mastered the Foxtrot, the Cha-Cha and the Paso Doble.  They were not big fans of the waltz.  They liked to move and do the quick step. And go to local clubs to dance as often as they could.  Some of their favorite artists were Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, and Don Ellis.  In the 1970’s Big Band Music was in a decline but artists like Chick Corea, Thad Jones and others tried to make it relevant and my folks ate it up.  My dad had quite the jazz and big band album collection, then tracks and cassettes.  I still have a few of them in my own collection.  Dancing together helped them stay together.

On Friday, RM and I were invited to the Southside Preservation Hall in Fort Worth to listen and dance to Buddy’s Big Band.  This 19-piece-band plays the first Friday of every month at the hall, admission is $12.50/person, opens at 7:30 p.m. for four sets of great big band sound with a female vocalist to boot.  Oh, free popcorn too.  BYOB.  Great people watching. What pleased me the most was the variety of ages in attendance.  There were a lot of young people grooving to the Lindy Hop, decked out to the nines, and having a really good time.

RM and I are hoping to catch some of the free dance classes offered every Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the hall for only $5/person.  Our current moves involve a type of box step but I think we can do more with little bit of training.  Bossa nova here we come.

Wouldn’t you rather be dancing?

buddy

Red, White And Blue

Red, White And Blue

banner

Inspired by a settler design from the late 1800’s that I adored when I first saw it so picturesque on a farm in Illinois, we stitched together a red, white and blue banner to enbellish our towering Sycamore tree on Ashland for the 4th of July holiday.  Here are our DIY directions if you are daring enough to make one of your own.  The funky banner reminds me of the colorful knitted cozies that popped up recently around Fort Worth on tree branches and lamp posts.

  1.  Measure the circumference of the tree first.  Our tree is about 100 inches around its girth so we calculated we would need about four yards of fabric per stripe (3) or a total of 12 yards of unbleached muslin fabric.  This will give you enough fabric to go around the tree and give you some slack for a bow or to tie it off.  And leave some for error in calculating.  Nobody does this but me, right? My daughter, the math major, was home during the planning for this project and she checked my numbers.
  2. I was able to purchase the fabric for about $1.39/yard on sale.  You can probably get it cheaper with a coupon.
  3. I bought fabric dye in both red and blue.  You will also need a sewing machine and matching thread.
  4. I cut the fabric into 4 yard sections of three equal lengths of fabric.  I dyed one red and one blue using an old mop bucket to soak the fabric in. Follow the directions on the fabric dye package.  The version I used required adding salt to the mixture.  I let the fabric soak in the dye for at least 24 hours, then laundered and dried it to make sure the tint set. We had some tie-dyed looking spots so maybe stir it more rigorously in the dye to eliminate this issue next time.
  5. Next.  I cut each of the three lengths in half, length-wise  to provide more narrow strips since the fabric was much wider than I needed.  This also enabled me to create two tree wraps.  One for me and one for C1.  It seems fitting to have one of our creations in west Fort Worth and then the other in east Dallas.  Perfect metroplex feng shui.
  6. I then pinned the red strip to the white strip and sewed it together length-wise.  I repeated by pinning the blue strip to the white and sewed the two pieces together to complete the three-stripe-effect.  Just make sure you have the sides matched up correctly.
  7. I made a hem on each end of the banner and sewed it for a nice even look to eliminate fraying.
  8. Next step is to hang your banner by draping it around the trunk and securing the top and the bottom in a simple knot.

What a cool way to celebrate Independence Day, by creating guerrilla banner street art, and tagging your neighborhood this 4th of July season. Happy 4th to you and yours!