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What I Want for Mother’s Day

10 May

Mother’s Day is coming. I know this because I get a dozen emails a day about sending mom flowers, buying mom the perfect gift or taking mom to dinner. I also get asked by the husband what I want for Mother’s Day at least once a day. My answer is simple, even if it might not be what most moms wish for on Mother’s Day.

I want to spend the day with my friends and family. I want to have a bbq. I want to cook for them. I want to open good wine. I want to turn on some classic rock. I want to sit outside in the sunshine. I want to laugh. I want to be with the people I love. I want them to feel loved. I want them to feel cherished.

Because it really does take a village. I have not done this alone. First and foremost, I have an AMAZING partner. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of daily tasks Mike takes on around the house…I am blessed beyond belief. From bath-time, to packed lunches, to parks, to homework and dinner. The man is truly a partner in all things, especially parenting. He is hands-on. He is involved. And 99% of the time I don’t have to ask for help. I am lucky to have him. And sometimes I can’t help but hear this lyric in the back of my mind, “I have been blessed. With so much more than I deserve…”

And then there’s my family saving the day with sleepovers and play dates. Seriously…I have had to leave Ava with a babysitter once in 5 1/2 years. Do you know how much peace I get in the fact that she’s with people who truly love her? I’m so grateful for that. I am grateful for the advice, perspective and experience that each set of parents bring to the table. I am grateful to have a family that is supportive without being overbearing. I’m grateful that I can pick up the phone and say, “What did you do when _____ happened?” and always have an answer. I’m lucky, but more importantly Ava is lucky to be so loved.

Then there’s my girlfriends. Always ready and willing to help regardless of when or why. I’ve dropped Ava at their houses at 7am on Saturdays so I can get my long training run in. They have picked her up from school when I got stuck in traffic. They offer to bring soup when I’m sick and bring dinner when Mike is out of town. They are always there to offer advice and to help when I need it. But mostly they are there to listen when I’m trying to juggle it all. And sometimes, when all else fails and I drop all the balls, they show up with a bottle of wine and a big, fat hug.

So yes, what I want for Mother’s day is time with the people who help me on the journey…because I haven’t done this alone. I want a good playlist, phenomenal food, great friends, my family, sunshine and a good bottle of red. I want to say thanks.

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What I Learned While Microwaving Dinner

20 Oct

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve seen this quote a thousand times. It’s always resonated with me. I’ve always liked it. I pretty much like anything that’s all, “Hey…be nice to people.” A funny thing though, every time I’ve read this quote, I’ve always thought of the people who have caused me to feel hurt. Because let’s be honest…it’s really hard to forget (and forgive)hurt and we hold onto the hurt for much longer than is healthy for anyone involved. As if holding the hurt creates a cloak that will prevent us from ever being hurt again.

Last night Ava and I went to the grocery store. It was late. She was asking to buy everything and I was too tired to say no. As we were checking out, our checker, Milton, was talking Ava up. And Ava was, of course, hamming it up. As we were finishing up he said, “You have a beautiful little girl there. You really should put her into acting. She’s full of personality.” I thanked him and went on my way. As we walked across the parking lot, a man sped by and came a little too close to Ava and I. In my anger I said, “What an idiot!” And Ava said, “I know. I stuck my tongue out at him!” And I quickly stopped, knelt down and explained to Ava why I shouldn’t have called someone a name and why she shouldn’t have stuck her tongue out at him. As I loaded the groceries in the car, I thought, “Man this compassion thing takes practice and so much work.” How quickly I had replaced my good feelings from Milton with negative feelings from a stranger.

We got home, unloaded the groceries and I threw my dinner in the microwave. I stood at the microwave and checked Facebook. I saw the following message posted on my wall from a great friend:

“I’ve had a REALLY trying week, and every time I’ve wanted to tell someone to “shut the hell up” (or at times WORSE…lol) I thought of you…and found my compassion. Thanks for always being the inspiration that you are! I love you dearly! MUAH!”

And you guys…I seriously did a little happy dance…I felt so surprised and grateful. And then I thought of the Maya Angelou quote up at the top of this post. I learned an important personal lesson yesterday. It’s more important to remember the good that people make me feel…I need to practice that more. It’s a burden to carry past hurts. And yet so uplifting to carry around all those good feelings.  

And I’ll end with this…do not let anyone, ever steal your joy. It’s never worth the energy it takes to get your joy back.

I Tri!

19 Oct

I’m a triathlete. Yup…that’s right…I did it! I’m sure some of you remember my Vineman post about my friend, JP, who inspired me to sign up for my first triathlon. He also was my coach and a damn good coach at that. He spent alot of time correcting my swim technique and trying to get me over my fear of swimming in the ocean. I’m terrified of sharks and the fact that I was going to look exactly like a seal in the ocean, well yeah, that didn’t help calm my nerves. I’d just like to share my experience and hope that I can inspire just one person to maybe give it a try.

The day started at 4:30 a.m. Up to get dressed, eat and get over to transition to get everything set up. It was cold and rainy. I get into transition and got an excellent spot to rack my bike and set up. Little did I know that when I’d return from my swim, some lady would have decided she liked my spot too and made it hers…literally. She moved all my stuff, including my bike over so she could have my spot. Pretty shitty in the world of triathlons. I did have the urge to move her bike to a completely different area just to mess with her, but didn’t. Here’s a shot of transition.

After leaving transition, Heather and I slipped into our wetsuits. Okay…slipped may be an exaggeration. It really should be illegal for me to attempt to get into a wetsuit in public. I’m dead serious when I say JP had to, literally, put my butt into the wetsuit. And people were watching. A bit humiliating. Once we are all wetsuited up we went over to the water and got in for a minute. Here we are coming out of the water.

Now it’s time to get with our wave group. I was doing fine until this point. They started playing the Star Spangled Banner and I got all emotional. It hit me that I could get injured doing this. Things could go wrong. I started to feel a little anxious about the water. And then I’m standing with a bunch of people I don’t know and Heather finds me again…instantly comforted. I almost started crying with relief. I felt a little alone for a moment and just seeing her, Annette and Liz made me feel so much better. And then it was time for high-fives and good-byes. It was RACE TIME! Here I am (far right, still standing) getting in the water. Orange is definitely my color. No?

The first four minutes of my swim I panicked like kid who just saw Jaws for the first time and was thrown in the ocean. It was the only time during the whole race that I actually considered quitting. I was that scared. It started okay and then I saw the kelp on the ocean floor. Not cool. It was dark, rainy, dreary and I’m in the ocean with kelp where bad things MUST live. I alternated between swimming and flipping over on my back to collect myself and calm down. Finally I gave myself a little pep talk. I said, “Damnit Janice…you didn’t train this hard to wimp out in the water…flip over and just count.” And so I did. I rocked the rest of that 1/2 mile swim and was so happy to get out of the water!

Transition 1 went smoothly and I was out on the bike. I was on a hybrid bike which is essentially a different version of a mountain bike. It was heavy. I was working my butt off and getting passed by all these people. I got frustrated because I knew how hard I was working and I just felt like the tortoise. Super slow and heavy. We did two loops around Fiesta Island. I was so done at about mile 10 where I gave myself another pep talk out loud. I even cursed at myself. I’m crazy good at kicking myself into shape. And then I hear “On your left” and I’m thinking, “That’s awesome. They just heard me go nuts on myself.”

I jumped off the bike, racked it and headed out for my run. Ahhhh running…my favorite part!!!! Until I get the dreaded side stitch which about killed me during Surf Cities Half Marathon. Of course…not even a mile in I get it. Not much to do but keep running. Which I did. I kept reminding myself, it’s only 3 miles…you can run 3 miles. This is a short run. Coming around the last turn I find some extra energy and pick up the pace for that last 1/2 mile or so.

Crossing that finish line felt super sweet. It was a really great experience being out there with so many women…some of them cancer patients and cancer survivors. I really loved the competitiveness of the women out there and the encouragement along the way. Another really awesome thing was Mike and JP were at every part along the way. When I got out of the water, when I got on the bike, off the bike starting the run, finishing the run…it’s amazing how hearing your name and knowing people are watching will give you that extra boost of energy. And I just want to say if you are ever a spectator of any race, we racers love hearing the cheers…whether they are for us or not. It’s nice to hear people cheering. It changes the vibe and energy of the race.  

I cannot express my gratitude to JP for the hours he spent whipping me into shape physically and mentally. He was there every step of the way and he believed in me. He believed that I wouldn’t wimp out in the water and I didn’t. And to Heather who inspired me a few years back to run that Skirt Chaser 5k and then a 10k and then a half marathon and then a triathlon. What will she encourage me to do next? And my wonderful, super awesome husband who has been there every step of the way. The man who cooked dinner so I could train longer. The man woke up at 4 in the morning to drive 2 hours to see me race. The man who didn’t bitch about my alarm going off on a Saturday morning to go biking. He’s been nothing but supportive and encouraging.

I have to say, I was overwhelmed with all the support that was shown to me throughout my training and up to race day…from my parents watching Ava to all of the wonderful Facebook posts, messages and comments. Seriously…I feel humbled and extremely blessed. I’m reminded again how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life.

DISTANCES: 1/2 Mile Swim, 20k Bike, 5k Run
OFFICIAL TIME: 1 hour, 42 minutes, 24 seconds

My Best Friend is a Triathlete and Also a Breast Cancer Survivor

11 Oct

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I’d like to share my best friend’s story because:

A) She’s amazing
B) She kicked cancer’s ass
C) She was only 31 when she discovered the lump and
D) She started a super awesome company for all cancer survivors

Ladies, I can’t say it enough…check yourself before you wreck yourself. And now…it’s time for you to meet Heather, founder of Also A Survivor.

Heather’s Story

I never thought of myself as an athlete, but I was always active.  I was never into any sports.  I was in dance from age 2 until age 16, but that was it. I worked in gyms in college. I was in to any kind of aerobic class I could get in to, sometimes 2 to 3 a day.  At age 31, I had a great life. Happily married, good job, just bought my first house; I was enjoying life in everyway.  Like many women, I found my lump in the shower.  It was on the upper inside of my chest so I wasn’t concerned, although it was quite large and seemed to appear overnight.  A week later I had my annual well women’s exam. I had no risk factors but my doctor still ordered a mammogram and ultrasound; both were inconclusive.  Still wanting a diagnosis, it was decided that I should have either a needle biopsy or a lumpectomy.  Given its size, I choose the lumpectomy.  I remember sitting in his office the day the lab results came back.  The doctor came in and said with the most amazingly straight face, “it is cancer.”  He quickly moved from chemotherapy, to radiation, to a mastectomy.   I was numb.  The doctor paused for a second and the tears started, and the conversation was over.  I was not prepared for this discussion let alone the decisions I was being asked to consider.  As one wades through all of the information on-line, learning about the disease the possible courses of action are more than overwhelming.   When I was ready to move forward, I found a wonderful oncology group: great surgeons, specialists, and support; truly a great place. I felt they were honestly concerned with my life.  I had a second lumpectomy to clear the tumor margins.  I also had a sentinel node dissection to determine if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (which it had not), and to have a port inserted in my chest for chemotherapy.  I had great results from these procedures.

I would not say that I am “girly,” but like most women, I have always been concerned with how I look, and I now had one breast that was smaller than the other and was about to start chemo treatments that were guaranteed to make all of my hair fall out; I was dreading this.  My husband is very athletic, and he thought that I should do some “pre-game” before chemo.  He thought that I should beat it to the punch and shave my head.  Although I did not buy in to this idea at first, it became my first opportunity to show this disease that I was in charge and I was not going down without a fight.  It was a great evening, our friends came over, my husband got out his clippers (he shaves his head), and did the honors.  I remember feeling empowered and ready to take on Cancer.  All of my girlfriends were crying and I was smiling.

I went through 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 8 weeks of radiation.  I was lucky with chemo.  I had some nausea two to three days after treatment and then I was just tired.  As the rounds went on, things got worse, but never terrible.  Through all of the treatment, I tried to keep my life as normal as possible; aerobics classes and working with a personal trainer.  I missed a few days, but made it to more than I missed.  I spent the first two years after treatment getting my strength and stamina back. This is also the time when “survivorship” begins.  During this time, I considered what my role in the “fight” against cancer was. I began to think about not just showing the world that I was beating this disease, but seeing what I was actually physically capable of.  A year and a half after my first surgery and treatments, I put on my best pink gear and with the support of two of my dearest friends, walked a half marathon. This was an amazing experience: the achievement, the camaraderie, and the joy.  Later that year, I found a new lump.  It turned out to be a fibroid cyst, but the scare was more than I could take.  I spent a lot of time thinking about “what if?” So, I decided to have some genetic testing done to try and ease my mind; fat chance.  I tested positive for the BRACA 1 gene.  This basically meant that I had a 60% chance that either the breast cancer would return and I could eventually get ovarian cancer.  Again, I had choices. Do I wait to see what fate would bring, or do I take an aggressive approach to beating this disease. Do I want to have children? This was that moment.  My husband and I had discussed children before, and prior to my initial diagnosis we were actually considering the possibility. After much discussion in a very short period of time we choose for me to have a double mastectomy with TRAM Flap reconstruction for the breast cancer, a complete hysterectomy and oopherectomy for the ovarian cancer.  It was a 13-hour procedure and 6 week recovery period just to be able to walk around pain free.  It was nearly two years before I was back to my “new” self, and I wasted no time.  I walked two half marathons that year. I also decided to start competing in triathlons. My husband, although skeptical at first, was very supportive of me and helped me through the simple stuff; you know how to ride a bike, run efficiently, stuff like that. I completed my first triathlon that same year. The following year I ran the entire 13.1 miles of a half marathon and have since competed in 9 triathlons.  I am also happy to say that after helping me through my first triathlon experiences, my husband has also taken up the sport.  He competed in his first Ironman distance race in July 2010; I could not be prouder.

With this new level of fitness and good nutrition, I feel better than I ever have.  The commitment that it takes to train and participate in these events has definitely had a positive affect on my life.  I cannot say that I have become competitive; I still do not try and “beat” anyone, but I do strive to improve upon what I have already achieved.  Get a little faster from race to race and encourage even more women to achieve all that they can.  In October of 2009, I had one of my knees scoped so that I can continue to be out there racing.  I have 4 tri’s and 2 half marathons scheduled for 2010.  With the support of all of my friends and family – I can never say it enough – I could not have done or continue to do any of this without all of you, I look forward to seeing you all out there.

Also A Survivor,                                          

Heather Pawinski

Family Portrait

26 May
We never did a holiday portrait this year as family. I’m lazy and don’t think of things like that. So I thought I would post this one. It’s the closest thing I have to a family picture and it would be a great family portrait if this was my real husband and I had two daughters. If you see this on next year’s holiday cards, you will understand just how lazy I can be. I think I can just overlay Mike’s face on to Art’s. I dunno…anyone good with photoshop?
 Note: The people in this photo are not paid actors. Art is our best friend and Mimis is his little girl.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 Nov

I’m sitting at my dad’s house writing this and can smell the turkey cooking. I realize how lucky I am to have family so close by. Most everyone in LA isn’t from LA so if they aren’t flying home for the holidays, they are pretty much spending holidays with friends. And I love my friends, but there’s nothing like being with family on the holidays. I was watching my dad pull out casserole dishes and pans from the cabinet and he was talking to himself and in that moment he reminded me of my grandma. And my friends can’t do that for me. 😉

I’m so grateful this year for my job, as I know many people out there have lost theirs. I’m so grateful for my husband, who has been an amazing supporter in helping me train for my half marathon. Just today on the run he ran up ahead and then stopped to pull out water for me so I wouldn’t have to stop running in order to hydrate. He’s AWESOME!! Training is a huge commitment on not just my part, but his also. I’m thankful for my wonderful friends who always know how to make my days better and love me even when I’m not being the easiest person to deal with. I’m thankful for Ava who brings an enourmous amount of joy into every single day. When she doesn’t even have her eyes open in the morning and she’s smiling and says, “I love you, Mama” that just makes my heart melt. I’m thankful for my relationships with my parents…all four of them. It’s been a long road with many bumps but in the end, I feel EXTREMELY blessed to have such an awesome family!

We are heading out for our annual trip to the desert tonight! We’re all really excited and will post when we return! Happy Thanksgiving from my home to yours, may the rest of the year bring more things for us all to be thankful for. God bless!

Ahhhh….Mexico

18 Nov

The trip to Mexico has come and gone but the memories we made are simply awesome! There was Xel-Ha, Cozumel, three room changes, one hotel change, many, many beers, Miami Vice’s, banana dacquiris, lots of confusion, sea turtles, JP speaking Spanish, Deseo, me sick, Heather sick, Casie sick, obstacle course ping-pong, pyramids in the pool, pelicanos on take off, fried tacos, el pastor tacos, fish tacos, dancing the cha-cha-cha with Heather on the catamaran, four pictures with the El Segundo Herald, Heather not being able to keep her eyes open for at least 1/3 of the 320 pictures we took combined, boogie-boarding, friendship-bracelet making, more confusion, lots of laughter, too much food, the waiter who didn’t know how to remove bottle caps, Casie turning 40, Super Mario, matching outfits (unplanned), Tuti swimming in the deep ocean, Tuti losing a fin in the mangroves and Casie coming to his rescue, sea turtle spotting, colorful fish, warm days, cool nights, a jacuzzi gone awry…note to Mike: You cannot turn on the jets before the jacuzzi is full; it leads to one wet hotel room, chocolates on our pillows, turn down service, 2 trips to Mega in the heat of the morning because they don’t sell beer before 10 a.m.,…I could keep going but unless you were there you will remain “confused” as the locals say. Thank you to Nick, Heather, JP, Casie and Tuti for making this a trip full of wonderful memories!!! We had a blast and will be planning another one for departure in 2 years! Hope you all can make it!!! Here’s a link to all of the pictures:
http://picasaweb.google.com/janicecaruso/Mexico200802#

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