Full Plates Fortify Futures

It’s something about the twinkle in their smiles.  The way they can make a long, monotonous day into one of the best of your life with a simple stick figure drawing of the family that they enthusiastically request that you hang with all the others on the refrigerator.  Children.  They restore the gray areas of our once colorful imaginations and give us a reason to want to be the best versions of ourselves.  But, what happens when children dream in black and white?  What happens when the best they have to give is being a consistent classroom attendant but not an active participant?  What does it mean when the last bell of the day rings and a child goes home unsure whether there will be enough dinner to go around for the entire family?

In America, over 13 million children are lacking one of the basic necessities of life – food.  They walk along our sidewalks.  They swing on our playgrounds.  They sit in our classrooms.  They play with other children we know and love in our communities.  Some may have even sat at our tables.  In the most industrialized country in the world, one in five children are unable to access nutritious food on a regular basis.  While federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have attempted to close the gap, there remains an ongoing need for food assistance in this country.  Poverty plays a significant role in food insecurity and continues to perpetuate a cycle of inadequate access to food and other resources.  I encourage you to read this article about the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures the poverty rate and this one about the reasons it hasn’t really changed.

We know that in order to strengthen bodies and develop our minds, we need nutrients, particularly in the early stages of life.  I don’t think I need to present any scientific or psychological findings to convey the fact that when you’re hungry, you’re not focused or productive and in many ways you’re disengaged.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been “hangry!” This is reality for millions of children who without food assistance programs and other community initiatives to combat hunger, they would not be able to sustain much less excel in their learning.  I wonder how many times a child has been labeled a “problem” at school for performance or behavioral issues, when the root of the problem was a growling tummy.  Things that make you go hmm…

LKO - Snack Packs

LKO Social Action Committee & Volunteers

Fortunately, there are organizations that have made it their business to address childhood hunger.  You may be familiar with several national organizations and initiatives, including Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Childhood Hunger Ends Here.  Often times in your community, there are opportunities to get involved and support local efforts.  My chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Kappa Omega, is one of many service organizations in the D.C. Metro area that partners with local agencies, food banks, and pantries to increase access to nutritious food.  I have personally had the privilege of donating my time and money to assemble after school snack packs for elementary school children.  These snack packs become critical when a child might not receive another complete meal until breakfast the next morning at school.

We’re all here to help shape the future of the children who will become the next leaders in technology, education, business, medicine, music, sports, arts, politics, and beyond.  After all, we’ve only come this far because others have assumed responsibility for our growth and success.  So, on this National Childhood Hunger Day, I encourage you to share your heart, lend a hand, and take a stand by donating food, money, or time to initiatives in your community that ensure our children grow up with full plates that will help feed their imaginations and empower them to be extraordinary.

Snack packs for the children of Fairfax County

Monday’s Mantra: Keep Your Zest

Who would have thought I’d find a little nugget of wisdom in a kitchen gadget?  I swear wisdom is all around you if you’re awake and conscious of every day moments.  Last week I elaborated on what it meant for me to be whole and shared a few of my cooking creations in my attempt to get better acquainted with my dinner table.  And this week as I thought about how I would maintain my chopping and sautéing momentum, I remembered the one gadget that would take my marinade to the next level!  It’s one of the easiest to manipulate and clean.  It also aids in producing a smell so incredibly crisp and fresh that’s to die for.  Ok, please don’t die.  My friends, ask yourself if you have a lemon zester!  If you don’t, Homegoods will be expecting you.  I honestly think they named it a lemon zester not just because it easily peels off the skin of perfectly round and bright citrus fruits, but also because the aroma literally induces excitement (hence the reason citrus scents show up in a ton of products)!  I implore you to get one and find a reason to use it!

As I was rolling the lemons around the zester, I noticed that despite my careful inspection of the fruit in the grocery store, they still had a  few imperfections.  I then began to think of how I’ve used this one fruit for so many things.  Got a pimple?  Use a lemon.  Sore throat making you miserable?  Use a lemon (in your tea).  Getting ready for your spring cleaning?  Use some lemons!  Need a pick me up?  Slice a lemon.  The list goes on and on!  I admire versatility in fruit…and people too of course.  In this moment, I found myself thinking that lemons are a lot like people.  In spite of our imperfections, we can still be used to do and become a host of great things.  Our uniqueness is what keeps the universe energizing and delightful.  In addition, we all have an opportunity to use our gifts to bear fruit in many areas of life.  And despite our scars, we can still choose to be bright and refreshing in all that we do.

The only things that should be losing their zest this week are the lemons for your marinade or cake or cleanser or…fill in the blank.  Don’t let opposition or opinions dim your shine.  So, be like a lemon — Stay vibrant.  Be flexible.  Embrace your cool.

Lemon zest for my marinade

Lemon zest for my marinade

Monday’s Mantra: Be Whole

I like food.  No, I take that back.  I LOVE food!  One of my favorite hobbies is trying new restaurants especially those that offer an eclectic cuisine.  I do draw the line at some wild food delicacies though.  I’m adventurous, but I don’t eat bugs!  You can put all the chocolate sauce on a worm that you want, but it’s still a worm!  My love of food is of course about the taste, but it’s also about the versatility of ingredients that can be used to make dishes.  As I’ve matured, I’ve gained a new appreciation for food and what it means for my body.  I think part of that is because I’m now the one buying the groceries and leaving the tips at restaurants.  Your wallet has a way of making you see the light!  But, I’m also fascinated by the multitude of fruits, vegetables, and herbs created for us to eat!  It’s like a rainbow of yumminess.  I go to Whole Foods sometimes to stare at all the colors in the produce section.  🙂  I’m much more mindful now of what I consume probably than I ever was before.

In my efforts to enrich my life with those things that are motivating and wholesome, I’ve tried to translate that into the way I look at food.  I buy and consume food with my future in mind.  I love pizza, French fries, Doritos, and plenty of other not so healthy foods although my mom seems to think that carrots and hummus are always my preferred snack of choice.  I’m come this far, but I’m not there yet!  These days I’m making a conscious effort to live in a way that makes me feel whole, and part of that means I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.  I also allot time to search for recipes that incorporate whole foods.  Dear God, thank you for the Pinterest founders a.k.a geniuses.  By no means am I a gourmet chef, but I don’t let that stop me from trying to make meals at home.  It’s crazy because cooking has never been one of those things I’ve liked to do or really felt I had the time to do.  But, the less I’ve focused on the act of cooking and instead considered the benefits of making better food choices, the more therapeutic cooking has become for me.  That may be attributed to the fact that my last few dishes have been superb, but either way I’ll take it!

I know this is the age of the microwave and all things fast food.  And truthfully, some days we don’t have the time to break out the cookbook and Calphalon.  However, if we are to be the best version of ourselves, then we have to ensure we have the right fuel.  We are not machines.  When we treat our bodies like they are machines, then things typically start breaking down.  And the older you get, the harder it is to bounce back.  So, whether eating whole for you means one less bowl of ice cream or one more home cooked meal per week than usual, let that be the start of creating a life that’s full of what will help you think clearer, live longer, and look better.

Here’s some inspiration from my kitchen!

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If I Can Help Somebody

I had quite the number of “firsts” over the last several days.  I’d love to spend the next few paragraphs documenting my safari adventures in Africa or grape smashing in Italy, but then you’d be walking in my imagination instead of reading the truth.  Part of me struggled with the idea of sharing this story not because I have anything to hide, but because I like to keep my personal life…personal.  I choose not to spill tea on my timeline particularly about my own life. *shrug* However, I decided to write about my experience this past week because it may save someone’s life.  It’s an assignment that’s bigger than me and any feeling I have about being private.  Here’s some context…

I can now say that for the first time in my life I’ve had a biopsy, CT scan, been transported in an ambulance, been admitted to the hospital, and seen what an operating room actually looks like all within a week.  And yes, the room really looks like what you see on TV!  It feels like a freezer, the doctors scrub in, and they even listen to music.  But, save yourself the visit and just take it from me.  I think all of these “firsts” are starting to sink in for me now that I’m home and feeling like myself again.  But, just a few days ago, I endured several agonizing moments.

I had a scheduled liver biopsy about a week and a half ago due to elevated LFTs (liver function tests) that surfaced some time ago during a routine physical exam.  After being tested for everything under the sun, the biopsy was the last course of action to determine the reason for the elevation.  I was freaked out about the entire thing since I had never had any similar issues and was otherwise a healthy adult.  I spent about a month contemplating if it was the right decision.  After much thought and prayer, I decided to have the procedure done, because I didn’t want to be in a position where there was something I could’ve done about a potential serious issue that I avoided simply because I was scared.  Sometimes you have to do it afraid.  Plus, I knew this was one of those times in my life where God was testing how much I was willing to release control and not allow the fear of the unknown to lead me into a state of worry and defeat.  Why?  Because I worry…a lot.

The procedure itself was relatively painless and went well.  I was back to my daily activities within 24 hours and awaiting the results.  The preliminary report indicated there were no issues with my liver, but they also still didn’t have an answer for the abnormal LFTs.  I was a mystery.  And I was willing to accept that.  Sometimes you don’t get the answer you want in the way you want it.  That doesn’t mean that’s how the story ends though.  I was willing to take a backseat and continue to do my best to take care of myself even if everything wasn’t adding up.  I expected that one day it would all work out for my good.

Things quickly took a turn though.  The day after I received my preliminary biopsy results, I started having excruciating abdominal pain.  It was a type of pain that I’ve never felt before that literally brought me to my knees.  The pain was episodic and would dissipate after a few minutes.  Honestly, I thought I had taken one too many bites of a food that causes flatulence until the pain returned at least three other times.  I knew my body was trying to tell me something.  I went to Urgent Care, and my doctor sent me to have a CT scan given the fact that I had had an intravenous procedure a few days before.  Again, they found nothing, and I went home thanking God but also praying to God that the abdominal pain was a thing of the past.  Unfortunately, that same night the pain returned.  I spent the early morning hours sleeping on a bed in Urgent Care with my boyfriend at my side as an IV pumped pain medication in my body and we awaited the arrival of a technician to take an ultrasound of my abdomen in another attempt to determine what was causing the pain.  You don’t know intimacy until you’ve had to share a twin-sized hospital bed with your significant other for four hours because you don’t want him to sleep in the chair that’s only made for temporary sitting.  Somehow we managed to get some shut eye despite the beeping heart monitor and nurse station chatter outside the door.  But, even after the ultrasound, they still couldn’t pinpoint the cause of my abdominal pain or find anything that demonstrated I may have been having complications as a result of the liver biopsy.  I was sent home with instructions and pain meds.

Before we could even make it out of the building, I found myself in the restroom vomiting blood.  That instantly changed the game.  To make this long story short, I had to be transported to the hospital so doctors could perform a procedure called an arteriorgram to ensure one of my arteries or blood vessels hadn’t been punctured during my biopsy thus causing me to bleed internally.  While this was a procedure my doctors could’ve performed in the outpatient setting where I had been all morning, they preferred that I was in a hospital in case there were any other issues.  I didn’t want to go to the hospital of course, but I’m grateful to have had people around me who cared enough about me to do what was best.  They were my “hidden halos”!

They found no internal bleeding during the procedure, and I stayed overnight for monitoring.  Thankfully, my blood levels were stabilized and I was able to return home after one day.  It all happened so fast that I’m still internalizing what I’ve been through yet I have a considerable amount of gratitude for everyone who took care of me, prayed for me, and checked on me.  My KP physician team (Drs. Nguyen, Oh, Mathur, Camba, Brown, Truong, and Stone) demonstrated what it means to provide team-based, quality care, and I’m sincerely grateful for their professionalism and kindness.  The KP nurses and technicians and the Holy Cross Hospital nurses (Nurse Terri, Tonya, and Lissa) were extremely patient and gentle.  I know there were times when I probably wasn’t the nicest person (I was “hangry” and nauseous lol), and so I’m just thankful they didn’t take my frustration personally and made sure I was taken care of as directed.  My boyfriend was my rock throughout this entire ordeal!  I know I probably scared him, but I’m so very thankful for his comfort and love.  My mom was right there as always in Mama Bear mode!  Love you, Mom!  To everyone who thought of me, I thank you for helping me to endure.

I can’t deny this was one experience in my life that created much anxiety.  From the very beginning, I never knew what to make of it.  But, I thank God for the unknown and the fact that I had no choice but to take everything in stride, because it reminded me Who is always in control.  Ironically, I learned a song about three weeks ago by Mahalia Jackson called “If I Can Help Somebody.”  The song says, “If I can help somebody, as I pass along, than my living shall not be in vain.”  So, I tell this story hoping that I’ve helped someone to be brave enough to take whatever next step that’s needed to face your affliction head on.  I made it out, so that you could make it to the best days of your life.  Take charge and cherish your health, because it is definitely your wealth.  As for me, I’m doing well and hoping my next encounter with the OR is on Thursday night at Seattle Grace.