The first birthday after

Friday, April 1, 2022

 Today was your birthday. You would have turned 70. We sometimes spoke about your setentanera. "Mija, if it is God’s will..."

This is the first birthday without you. I knew it would be a hard one. I had no idea just how hard.

Momma, you’d be so proud of me! I earned that promotion I told you about. I have a seat at the figurative table…the one I told you about…the one I dreamed about. I told you I was gonna change the world and no one would know about it and that was ok. I’m doing it, Momma. I just returned from London a couple of days ago. This is my third trip to the UK in the past 4 months. I will be going again very soon.  India is on the horizon. I already hear your voice proudly expressing, “wooooow! You go girl! Good job mija” followed by that special whistle.

You said if I ever made it over to England you wanted to go with me. I settled with taking a photo of you imprinted on a button that I affixed to my new camel colored trench coat. “Mija, did you buy the shoes? You always buy the nice shoes for work.” Not yet. I haven’t gotten them, but I will. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Also, it happened! Mari is my height! Soon I will be looking up to her. I now understand what you meant when you told me I was perfect and you would love me for always. So much perspective I’ve gained in the past six months!

I woke this morning and took Obi for a walk around the block before showering. I was already trembling. Anxiety creeping to the surface. Today it looked like an upset stomach, pressure in my chest, and tears waiting to erupt. My words left me, only raw emotion. Sadness, a bit of anger, grief…a lot of fucking grief. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been able to  let go in the ways that people do. Then again, who really ever gets over the depth of such a loss? I’m forever changed, a rock of sadness in my pocket, but I am blanketed with a layer of gratitude. I lived in a world where YOU were my momma! It was a world of magic and faith and optimism with profoundly deep altruism. 

We dropped off the girls at school. Tesla melancholy, expressing her desire to have joined me on this trip. She misses you so much. Mari, too, hugging me tighter than normal, wiping away tears. My whole world misses your physical presence. 

A quick plane ride and I was with Daddy. While in the air, I was notified that I’d been in close proximity last week with a couple of people who tested positive. This damn virus still plagues the world, as if I needed yet another reminder that it hasn’t gone away. We went straight away to the pharmacy so I could procure a test, I refused to take off my mask until I had certainty. We stopped for coffee, then went to visit you. 

You had a beautiful decoration in your vase already. Margie was there. It made me happy. We then proceeded to give you a heart of white roses that Daddy bought for you. We planted sheets of seeds inside of the heart--making a mental note that the seeds had a better chance of survival if we added nutrient dense top soil. He added a small balloon to the vase to accompany the helium happy birthday balloon. Brother added tierra from his recent travels to the national parks. We both sprinkled two cascarones on you. Confetti is always a great idea. I shared some of my cafecito with you. Your voice in my head saying, “It’s good, mija.” There was a funeral not far from us. They had some Mariachi playing songs, the first one was “Amor Eterno.” I couldn’t help but smile through my tears thinking that of course, you’d have free Mariachi graveside on your birthday—even if they weren’t the best. Then a subsequent chuckle that you may have given them feedback on how they could improve their free performance for us. Always trying to be helpful to others in your own way. I sat on the uneven ground, digging my toes into the hard Lubbock red dirt. Not soft like sand until you got a couple of layers deeper. That caliche dirt strong and unwavering, the only thing thriving in that soil are the stickers that were poking through my leggings.

We sat there in the sun, celebrating your marvelous life, revisiting your many adventures. In the short six month since, I've come to realize that I"m a lot more like you than we both thought. I'm tenacious and fierce. I have grit and I'm teaching that to my girls. I'm gregarious and altruistic, caring less what others think of me and standing proudly in my authenticity. Any time I do something great, I can hear your voice, "Good job mija" Thank you for saying it to me more than a million times in my life. 

We went to have some lunch to continue the celebration. Mexican food, of course. We made sure to have your favorites: tortilla soup and enchiladas. Margie joined us, catching up, and sharing time. We were stuffed! We sojourned home for a nap but my anxiety wouldn’t let me find sleep. So I went to have a cafecito with a friend. Coffee and walking have seemed to help me most.

Later, Mikey, Nono, Brittany, Uncle Mutt, Daddy, and I had a red velvet Nothing Bundt Cake. We put your graduation photo stick in the cake (covered with Saran Wrap at the base) and I placed my purple emergency birthday candle in it. I lit the candle and we sang happy birthday to you. Once we finished singing, the candle went out on its own—hi momma. I hope you got your wish—I know it was a prayer for each us. We each enjoyed a slice and others were able to have a piece to-go for those who were unable to join us. 

Then it was time for me to catch my plane home. More flights to come this week, more work and Mommy work, but today was for you. I wish I would’ve had more birthdays with you. I miss you so very much. 

Happy birthday, Momma. It was a good day celebrating you. 

Memorial Page: San Juanita Reyna De Leon Valenciano

Memory: My Bisa Tias and East Los

Thursday, December 17, 2020

 It was a cool afternoon in Southern California, which means it was in the upper 70's and the sun was shining brightly. Fluffy white clouds were lazily lounging in the sky, as the cool breeze rattled the backyard tchotchkes. Succulents dangled from the late-blooming jacaranda tree as I sat recalling all of the moments.

My first memories of this place, the elders sat in the fold out chairs, gathered around long 6-foot outdoor tables. They were made of metal in the 80s and my familia covered the tops of those tables with floral contact paper, then a vinyl tablecloth, adorned with doilies that presented various manteca and butter containers with varying degrees of salsa and other spicy relishes. Each of the tias would show up with large platters of their specialty comida: jalapeno poppers adorned with pickled carrots, chiles rellenos, tamales, or puffy tacos---prominently diaplayed with their own aluminum or mesh tent to ward off the moscas. And you can't forget about the fresh warm and crisp tortillas, masterfully singed around the edges, resting inside of a hand embroidered tortilla warmer, essentially a dish towel with a brightly colored blanket stitch along the border. Inside on the stove was a pot of bubbling frijoles and an even bigger pot of arroz. Earlier in the day, my two youngest bisa-tias went through each grain of rice, checking for color and inconsistencies. If it passed inspection, then it was put into the mug. If not, then it was placed in the discard bowl.

In that brightly lit kitchen, they sat across from one another at the avocado green formica table, each wearing a floral delantal with a dainty lace pocket in the shape of a heart on the right side of that cloth apron. The quiet tia carried around a golf pencil and a small notebook in that pocket. The boisterous bisa-tia talked endlessly about her novelas, her work, her marido, anything really, while the quiet bisa-tia would occasionally issue a delicate vocable and nod. Both focused in her own way at the task at hand. And once their mugs were full, they would rinse the rice, lightly saute it with oil, then add it to the already seared onion, garlic, and tomato. On low heat, it would cook until it was time to be served.

La gente would arrive and dar saludos a todos, then settle in at their respective chairs in the backyard patio under the blue shaded tarp. All of the adults had their favorite seats around the gathering table. A mish mash of both metal and folding chairs, some of the chairs at least half a century old. 

The expansive yard housed many types of trees and other vegetation. A visual and olfactory playground for a curious child. Strawberries, Lemon trees, tomatoes, as well as a variety of hierbas like laureles, tomillo, and sabia. These herbs were difficult to find as an adult because I didn't know the English words and it took some time for me to locate a Mexican market to fill my pantry. 

These things would become part of the sacred language that only emerged from others who I'd known from that time. The vocabulary dormant until I was physically placed in that area. Words I spoke as an adult, understanding the mis-pronunciation because the last time the phrases were uttered I was a small child, nestled next to the hip of my bisa-tias. I was a quiet child, conservative with my trust, but when I felt a connection, it was often difficult to wrestle me away. God Bless my tias for their patience with me and for teaching me so many things that I would later learn served to strengthen the foundation for the rest of my life. 

Oberon's Perch

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

When the pandemic first began, I was unaware of the deep connections I would make with my family. Leading up to March 2020, I was overwhelmed with our busy lives. Each day was a balancing act of work and home---volleyball, basketball, and softball, commuting to and fro for it all AND trying to remain hydrated, exercise, and be a good friend. Oberon, silently observed all of it, but his favorite is to observe the outside world. 

In March, I'd just returned from a 5-day whirlwind business trip that had me visiting Manhattan, Jersey City, and Houston before we embarked on our Spring Break road trip to Colorado. MariJul had an out of state volleyball tournament and we elected to remain a few days afterward to ski--a dream of Don's since before we were married, to ski with his children on the same mountains he enjoyed in his younger days. Because of the early days of the pandemic, we were allowed ignorance of what would come. Rigorous handwashing, aside, face masks and social distancing were not yet the norm. We completed the tournament on a high, eager to conquer the slopes and enjoy our time as a family. Unfortunately, within hours of arriving to our rented home, I fell ill: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste and smell, tummy troubles...sound familiar? During the days that would ensue, I remained in our rented home while my family went skiing. Oberon remained by my side during those blurred hours, occasionally taking a break to glance out the windows to the mountains and the big horn sheep. It was all a haze of soup, blankets, and comfort...I braved the slopes for a couple of hours, insisting that the fresh air and sun would help me, and they did! Upon returning, dutiful Oberon, curled up with me while I continued my regimen of essential oils, chicken soup, ibuprofen, breathing treatments (kiddo and I have asthma and we had the machine with us) Tylenol, and Mucinex. Tests at that time were not readily available, so we returned home and quarantined for 14 days just in case. 


Not long into working from home, I made the decision to move into my favorite room: the dining room. Every element in this room was chosen intentionally, the light is bright, not to mention the incredible memories made in this room: family dinners, birthday parties, holiday meals, tamaladas, and even a rehearsal dinner. Oberon claimed his typical position, firmly planted at my feet, especially because I have a standing desk. 

As the family fell into routine, so too, did Oberon. The girls' enjoy a mid-day break to swing or decorate the sidewalk with their art, their joyful noise background to the many meetings I take each day. My meetings begin while the home slumbers and will last until the chopping of vegetables begins for dinner. In those days when I worked in the dining room, I caught Obi staring out the window and as such, moved his bed to make him more comfortable. Since then, each day, when I commute from my bedroom to the dining room, he will do an early morning stretch in his egg (a bean bag that he's claimed as his own) and move to his perch by the front window. He checks in for his work day, supporting me from his position, carefully watching over our girls during their break and protecting the home from menacing squirrels. 

While these past nine months have been challenging in many negative ways, it has also introduced the idea of new challenges to the system that I'd been so comfortable: too harried and busy to enjoy simple moments. I've learned that my eldest daughter is not a morning person. Even in utero to her now 12.5 years of life, mornings are a struggle. But when she awakes, I marvel at the way her ideas manifest onto the screen or paper, her growing curiosity to know more about my life and the work I do. My youngest very much determined to complete all of the things, organized and insistent that her classmates focus, as well. We share stories. We online shop. They hear the power in my vulnerability at work. They witness transformational shifts, and moments of regression. They both are secure in the ability to begin again. They understand and hold steadfast to my motto: Make it Better. 

Oberon, a witness to it all, an extension of me in all of the best observer of the world.

Photos for Mari

Friday, August 14, 2020


2019 Holiday Baking - No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Crispy Treats

Thursday, December 19, 2019

This year, I only have a toaster oven because sometime last year, our ancient oven went out on us. They no longer make ovens in that tiny size---unless I want to spend thousands on a European oven. Not that I'm opposed to that, but if I'm gonna invest that money, it will go toward a TOTAL remodel of our home. Why? Because I love our neighborhood and location and I love our home. BUT, it is in desperate need of some TLC. We need a new foundation, to replace all of the pipes, add a bathroom, remodel the existing bathrooms, knock out walls to extend the living area, full remodel of the kitchen and laundry room, and adjust the fireplaces. See what I mean? Full remodel. So for now, I wait until that day, content with my 15 year old toaster oven, which is just as trustworthy as ever, albeit tiny. I digress...
No bake treats are a plus in my book. This year, I opted to make my MIL's chocolate peanut butter balls, but modified to fit our dietary needs. Gluten free, lactose free, and soy free with natural products. What happened was that I did NOT make the chocolate covered peanut butter balls. Nope. Instead, I failed forward and emerged victorious with chocolate peanut butter rice crispy treats. 😀


1 stick of unsalted butter (Vital Farms if you got it)
1 cup of cane sugar that I pulverized into powdered sugar because I didn't have powdered sugar. meh, no bigs
2/3 of a container of organic creamy peanut butter
Rice Crisps until it looked good. recipe called for 3 cups and I stopped counting after 5 cups.
1 package of Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chunks - melted over double boiler. 


Drink 1 glass of wine. 
On the stove melt butter, then add peanut butter. Mix well. 
Pour another glass of wine, set aside. 
In a separate bowl, mix powdered sugar with rice crisps. Pour your peanut butter mixture over the rice crisps mix. Stir until generously mixed. Set aside. Sip the wine to make sure that it is opening nicely.
Melt chocolate in double boiler (be sure to line your bowl with butter so it won't stick too much!) and pour melted chocolate over the peanut butter rice crisp mixture. Mix it generously.
Pour all of that onto parchment paper and refrigerate for about an hour. 
Finally, enjoy what remains of your second glass of wine.
After one hour, remove from fridge and cut into squares and package individually for delicious treats! These are best when refrigerated. If you let them sit out too long, they begin to melt and you will need lots of paper towels or a spoon to eat. 
They don't look the best here, but they are delicious. No, I don't have the nutritional content. They are sugary, buttery, with many calories and some protein.

Dear Sugarbean on your 10th birthday

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

My darling daughter,

Do you know what a joy it is to be your mother? When my alarm goes off in the morning, I have one that sounds 5 minutes before you awake. This is to ensure that I am at a point in my morning routine to stop, walk down the hallway and wake you with a hug. Who doesn't want to start their day with a hug. It took me a bit to realize this is something that you likely needed, but more than you, it was something I needed to.

This year, you have achieved milestones. In the course of your short volleyball career, you've managed to find your serve. You are an excellent leader, you have fun, and best of all, you are an excellent teammate. You celebrate with your friends when they excel and you encourage them when they aren't their best. You are a heavy critic with yourself and while it breaks my heart a bit to see you get so down, I am appreciative of your internal voice pushing you to be better.

We had an extended family vacation filled with plenty of outdoor activities. It was my hope that you would fall in love with the Pacific like I did so many years ago. My heart leapt each time I saw you dancing with the waves on the shore. You took to each water sport as if it were second nature, not surprising, but I remained in awe. You wanted me to join you, saying, "C'mon, Mommy! It is easy, watch." Surfing and paddle boarding in the ocean are definitely not easy, but I liked that you felt that I could do it just as easily as you. One of my favorite moments was when we held hands while we snorkeled. Together, we watched life below the surface. I never felt more like a mermaid than in that moment, and it was definitely a happy feeling.

This year, you also had your first job! Because of a friends keen eye and consideration, you hired as a model for a local renowned sculptor. You posed for her and witnessing the process---an artist creating a likeness of you---was poignant and meaningful. Soon, your 9 year old likeness will be in a public space for many to enjoy. I can't wait to see it and be able to visit it when you are older!

You also encountered other milestones, ones that I hoped you wouldn't have to face again for a long time. With grace, you dealt with unwanted attention from classmates, and were empowered by using your voice to speak up and say, "No, this isn't right." I'm grateful for your school for working with you, to listen to you, and allow you to use your voice rather than dismiss you! You managed to work through it with very little intervention from your parents. In that moment, you needed us a little bit less, which was bittersweet. You are unwavering in your character, knowing at this young age what feels comfortable and stating clearly, when things are not.

You are coming into your own! You are inquisitive, creative, intuitive, passionate, inspiring, stubborn, fearless, loyal, considerate, definitely an authentic individual! We've made it these first ten years. I continue to be unapologetically emotional, showing you that it is more than ok to be vulnerable. I remain your biggest advocate.  I am humbled to be your mother. I'm filled with pride when you accomplish the goals you've set for yourself. Most of all, I'm just so thankful to share this life with you. Thank you for making me a mommy.

 Happy 10th, Bug!

Monday Minute

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hello! I'm back! CHEERS! HOORAY!

Yes, after a near two year hiatus, I decided it had been far too long since I'd shared some thoughts. Kicking things back in gear with a Monday Minute. I will share something for you to consider for a minute. Not too much time right? First off, this quote:
"Every time you judge someone, you reveal a part of yourself that needs healing."

Whoa! That's some powerful stuff, huh? Read it again, slower. Dismiss it if it doesn't speak to you, but if it angers you, ask yourself why. If reading the words makes you feel guilt, ask yourself why. In any instant, take the words, make it better and move forward.

Be An Encourager

Friday, March 25, 2016

More than three years ago, my younger brother embarked on a journey for personal growth. During that journey, he began to ask himself questions like, “What does it mean for me to be wealthy? What makes me happiest?” I have asked myself those same questions in the past and still do an annual check-in around my birthday and the new year to define said things. My journey is different from his, as ours is different from you, the reader. (If you haven’t asked yourself these questions in a while, you totally should.)

Begrudgingly, he accepted a challenge to run a 5K for my 35th birthday and not-so-quietly told me that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to actually run a continuous mile, but he would try. For work, he is required to be on his feet 10+ hours a day. Small movements and walking, but nevertheless, standing. I work in an office. I am grateful to have a convertible desk that allows me to sit and stand. I mention this because if you try to run longer distances, part of what you have to get used to is being on your feet for a longer amount of time than what most people are. I knew he would be able to complete the 5K walking. I wanted to help him set a goal that seemed unrealistic—one that he would never have set for himself. That’s my job as his older sister. He finished that first 5K just under 50 minutes, which is about a 16 minute per mile pace.

Here is where I give you a bit of backstory: He is the youngest of our siblings. He has always done things his way, many times, not the way I would approach it or even understand it for that matter, but it is his way. Our older sister is an accomplished athlete who has had to overcome so many obstacles, the most recent being Rheumatoid Arthritis. In spite of that, she still manages to not only persevere, but achieve victory. She is incredibly driven and ambitious! If you have read my blog, then you know I suffer a myriad of health issues—most of which I quietly dismiss and consider them more of “bonus rounds” in this game of life, much to the dismay and disagreement of my doctors. Our family has a history with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Those are our predisposed genetics that we have working against us. However, also in our DNA are things that can’t be measured. We are a friendly people who overcome. We can endure, even if we don’t like what we must endure. We are fiercely tenacious and stubborn. We are hardcore and a little crazy because we typically surpass people’s expectations of us. We are adventurous, committed, and loyal to the causes near and dear to our hearts, especially when it comes to familia.

At that time, Brother was incredibly overweight. I must admit, I was both worried and jealous. Worried because I didn’t want to see him struggle with his quality of life like others in our family. Jealous because his body is otherwise perfect and unbroken and he can keep pushing it like I wish I could push mine. <—There I said it. I’ve finally admitted it, ok, so let’s move forward. Remember that initial 5K I mentioned, well, it was less than six months later that he found himself faced with another 5K and this time, he ran it in the high 30s---under 40 minutes---and all he did was commit to moving a little more more each week, as in actually running a mile at least once a week. A year later, he opted to run a 5K in the Fall that worked with my marathon training schedule . I was to do 15+ that day, and the plan was to finish my mileage with the 5K. I finished my race, turned around, and jogged back to find him and encourage him to finish strong! He wasn’t hardly that far behind me. That race, was a sub-30 5K for him—and the tears flowed. By that point, he’d lost 40+ pounds (I think it was actually closer to 60!) and he was more determined to keep going in the right direction. At his pace. In his own way.

Last year, he asked me to run a 5K with him. He’d chosen the Insane Inflatables 5K. It was a mostly flat course on a dead soccer field, cold, and windy, but all was immediately forgotten when we started running. We went with a Super Hero motif and enjoyed ourselves as we bounced around remembering what it was like to be a kid flailing against the bouncy walls of the jump houses from our youth.

Afterwards, with a wry smile, I challenged him to a Half Marathon. He let out an incredulous balk and grumbled, “Never, ever, not ever.” at me. But there it was, I planted the seed. I went on to run the rest of my races for the year and he did a few more themed 5Ks. 

We are fortunate enough to set some time aside each year to gather as a family to make tamales and do our Christmas exchange. We don’t draw names in our family. Our mother doesn’t like to be limited by giving gifts, because that is her love language. So each of us gets gifts for everyone in the family and we have tremendous fun! Like every year, my brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I thought long and hard about it. I wanted an experience with my brother. I wanted something fun and challenging. I wanted something that would make us better. “Brother, I want you to run a Half Marathon with me. Rock and Roll is on sale, which makes it incredibly affordable. This gives you more than enough time to train for it! That’s what I want for my gift.—And Texas Tech socks.” He tried to encourage me to have other material items and after failed lobbying attempts, we stopped having the conversation. After our gift exchange, I looked to him and inquired where his receipt was for his entry fee. I didn’t find them in my socks, which were quite amazing, too. “Check your email.” *tears* I was humbled. This was going to be difficult for him. This was going to require commitment and a dramatic change from within. This was going to make us better. I did my best to give tips and suggestions for training. I became an accountability partner. I reminded him that it was coming. I shared inspirational videos and generally did my best to be an encourager.

The weekend arrived and his level of anxiety was the same level the night before he had football try-outs fifteen years earlier. The weather didn’t help to give any comfort, either. A cold front had blown in, so we were likely to have a cool race and wind. Hooray for no rain, I suppose. Luckily, he had planned for this just in case and had packed tights and a long sleeve. That morning, we crossed the starting line holding hands and I said a silent prayer for him. I took off and ran my race with intermittent notifications that he was still going strong. Earlier, I asked his goal. He replied, “I want to finish the race and not die.” “Brother you aren’t gonna die.” “I am hoping to finish in 3:30. I will be really excited if I can finish in 3:20.” “Ok. I’ll see you at the finish line.” Like most recent races, I’d visited the medical tent, but only allowed myself 20 minutes in there so I could be there to welcome the rest of the family who was running.
I forgot to mention this part! My cousin Margie had signed up for the race. This was her second half and after completion, we would celebrate her birthday. She managed to convince her brother Phillip and his wife Sylvia  to run this race—both Navy Chiefs. My brother and I convinced Margie’s son, our cousin Michael to run this race. We were Team Mediocre. Because all of us might be mediocre runners, but in life, I’d like to think we are all far from mediocre.  A couple of weeks ago, our younger cousin Elijah passed away unexpectedly. We were going to make shirts for this race, but we wanted to dedicate this run to him. On each of our right sleeves was por Elijah. He was Phillip & Sylvia’s (and his ex-wife Norma, too) son. It was a devastating and tragic blow to our family, but we wanted to have him with us. As if the run wasn’t difficult enough, my primo Phillip ran most of the race with a cup of coffee in his hand. In it was actual coffee, because water and Gatorade are for punks. (I’m sure he had some of that for himself, but the story is better this way.) Military folks, I tell ya! See, I said our family was hard core.

Michael arrived as I was exiting the medical tent, followed closely by my cousin Phillip, and my speedy sheep friend Meighan, who is my running BFF. Shortly after, I went to say hello to my Beloved and to some of my other friends, as well. (If you are reading this, thank you for helping me when I finished running and for making sure I made it to safety!) While I was chatting, my phone notification went off telling me my Brother had crossed. My heart leapt and I ran towards the finisher area to find him.


He looked at me and I was already sobbing.


You blew your goal out of the water!!!!! He had tears in his eyes, too. I’m not sure if it was because he was in pain, he was happy, or angry. I believe it is the myriad of emotions almost every recreational runner feels after a race—especially one that is incredibly grueling. it is a feeling of disbelief, accomplishment, and pride. Three hours and eleven minutes. Fourteen weeks of training. One incredibly special Christmas gift delivered to me in the only way he could.

Be an encourager of growth and you will receive an infinite amount of indescribable rewards. Thank you Brother (and family & friends—especially those of you who supported us!), this was one of the greatest gifts you’ve ever given me!

I have a not-so secret, secret that I need to tell you.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

“Why are you so tired? You just haven’t seemed like much of yourself.”

Her words pierced my heart because this not-so-secret SECRET I’d been holding onto had finally started to present itself to the world. I remember having endless amounts of energy. I also remember when I was in high school, I went through weeks of less energy than normal, but I always equated it with hormonal shifts. During my early 20s, though, I started to notice extreme fatigue. I figured it was because of all of the added stress I put myself under and the lack of sleep I was getting. Once I graduated, though, I felt much better. I was tired, but not like before. After the birth of my second daughter, though, I noticed I struggled to find energy. Again, I chalked it up to being a mother to two adorable, precarious, and energetic small ones. However, something that seemed to become more and more common was the regularity in which I was contracting strep. I went from getting it once a year, to 3-4 times a year for the past few years.

Then my health continued to shift downward. I had vertigo. I discovered I had a Venus Cavernous Malformation. I have degenerative disk disease, likely cause by a fracture in my lower spine that I sustained when I was 4. I have asthma. And….I’m exhausted. Like I was hit by a truck exhausted. At the end of this summer, I went in to my doctor, with certainty that I had strep, yet again, but detailed everything else I had on my mind. She ran lots of blood work for me, ordered an MRI, and I waited for the results.

Bianca, it appears that you have arthritis in your neck. I’m going to recommend pain management therapy, even though I’m sure you will decline.” She referred me to a pain management specialist, but I declined--for now. Just as I declined for my chronic back pain. I am able to live with the pain, so I don’t want to undergo injections until I really need it. But for now, I am able to manage just fine as long as I keep stretching. My doctor was ok with my decision for now and she was supportive of me. “Just keep moving, Bianca. That’s the best thing that you can do. Move within reason, though. Don’t go crazy!” she told me.

“Bianca, you don’t have anemia, but you do have low Ferritin.” Ferritin is the protein that iron binds to, so if is low, then you have lower iron. I show many traits of anemia, but I am not anemic. She encouraged me to shift my pescatarian diet to one that included red meat a couple of times a week. I tried it and I did feel more energy, but I also felt heavier and slower.

Bianca, you have Epstein-Barr Virus. Actually, you have so many antibodies of it, that we can’t even measure it. Based on what I can tell, you have had EBV since  you were a teenager. Have you ever felt so tired you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck? Have you had a coffee for energy, but it doesn’t seem to work?” I nodded my head. “Well,” she said as she put her hand on me, “you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And right now, you are experiencing a really bad episode.

I was shocked, but calmly asked what I could do, while letting out tiny sobs. She encouraged me to rest, while also smiling knowing that it would be very difficult for me to do that. She said, “Bianca, I’m going to need you to take a diet from life. Just pull back a bit and allow your body to heal, because you don’t know the long term damage that you could be causing by not resting when you need to. Please take a couple of days off from everything as you need to. Yes, I still want you to keep moving, but go at a different pace.” She said diet because no one likes to go on a diet. Change your diet, but not forcibly go on one, right? I like that my doctor knows me well enough to know the kind of person that I am—one that doesn’t want to rely on pills and medication and a person that is always on the go. Because I love to read medical journals and whitepapers for fun, I dove deep into the throes of learning all about EBV and CFS. I know what my indicators and triggers are. I know how to adjust and adapt. I do NOT yet know how to deal with slowing down. While I try to make myself be ok with it, when it is noticeable by others, inside, I’m upset and angry. I’ve run marathons. I’ve run half marathons. I’m a college athlete. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I work in Corporate America. I’m also a photographer. I’m an event planner. I’m a writer. I’m an adventurer! I don’t have the time to have a diet for life. I don’t want a diet from life!

Here is where I issue a blanket apology to some: I’m sorry for the inner shade I threw at you when you caught me staring at you. Those of you who are absolutely healthy otherwise, but take it for granted and choose not to appreciate your unbroken body, yeah…those people, I was jealous of them. I was envious of their lack of guilt for not exercising, of all of the sleep they were having, of their poor dietary choices---and their lack of enjoyment for eating all of those things they let themselves eat, because dangit, I want to eat 3 honeybuns, too, but I can’t because I will totally feel it later. I’m sorry. I’m not a nice person when I’m hangry. I’m not a nice person when I’m hurting. Really, I just needed a hug. Then I would eat some chocolate and lay down.

Sometimes you meet people at the right moment when you are supposed to meet them.

Last month, I found myself in NYC eating brunch next to a friend of a friend. She and I were talking about various things and I noticed that she didn’t eat sugar, or grains, or even drank alcohol. She monitored her diet very carefully. So I asked her if she was gluten-intolerant or Celiac. She said no, that she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She told me how it consumed her body and as typical of CFS, it attacked the parts of her body that she used most—her brain and communication skills. You see, she is a writer and she recounted to me how difficult it was for her to focus to formulate a sentence, to have a clear brain to use her language skills. She knew of the words, but she was unable to articulate and recall her vocabulary. Also, she said she had little to no energy to even get out of bed. She also told me of her friend who was a dancer, who lost the ability to to use her legs. She wasn’t paralyzed, but her legs were too heavy, too stiff, too painful to move. So she went into further detail of her dietary changes, which was a supplement to a treatment she’d received back in her native country (not at all approved for by the FDA). We had to depart, but her words stuck with me.

Then, less than a week after that, I had a discussion with a friend of mine who went through a dietary detox to reset her health. She actually went through a specific program, but as we talked more and more about the details, I was going to simplify it and determined to give it a try. It gave her great results for her health goals (not weight loss), so I told myself that November 1 would be the day I would start. It would also give me the opportunity to mindfully eat and to consider those who do not have food immediately at their disposal. Leading up to the first, though, was a vacation in Sonoma with friends and family. I ate and drank without restriction and with passion. However, I also suffered as a result from it. I felt so incredibly bloated, slow, and fat. I was exhausted, I had headaches, and body aches. I look at images from that trip and while I am truly happy, I am not at all happy with my shape. On Halloween, I stepped on a scale and was horrified by the number that was looking back at me. But this isn’t about fitness or weight, so I won’t fixate on that. I will, however, say that CFS took a big toll on me in recent months, both physically and mentally.
What was my diet?
  • Vegan
  • No dairy---no cheese, no milk, no butter (aaaack)
  • No animals of any kind. No animal broth. No fish.
  • No rice
  • No caffeine…including coffee
  • No sugar—raisins were ok, but no honey, nothing with added sugar in it.
  • No grains
  • No alcohol
  • Coconut oil for everything.
I had to prepare, yes, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. (I did however miss eggs!) HUGE shout out to my support group who encouraged me by suggesting recipes, trying out juice, or just giving me a thumbs up.


I made my own cereal of equal parts flaxseed and chia seed. I mixed in 3/4 cup of coconut milk and heated it for one minute in the microwave. I topped it with banana.
Kale Yeah juice from Whole Foods: kale, pineapple, banana, orange juice


Salads topped with beets, black beans, garbanzo beans, and half an avocado


the other half of my avocado and plain hummus or sometimes artichoke and olive hummus


Quinoa with some type of vegetable medley
Vegetable soup
The goal was to make it to at least 10 days. On day 8, I caved and ate eggs, but I was strict with everything else! I was happy to know that eggs didn’t bother me. On day 11, I tried a bit of dairy. It didn’t affect me too negatively, but I did notice a change. On that day I also tried a glass of champagne. I took all I had to finish the glass and I immediately noticed adverse reactions. My intestines felt like they were on fire. The next day, I felt sluggish and I had a headache. Immediately, I went for my Kale Yeah juice to see if it would help and it did. But something else happened. I came across this article about EBV. Yes, I saw it was on Goop and rolled my eyes, too, but I strongly suggest you read it, especially if you suffer from CFS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Fibromyalgia. Much of what I took from it was the simple truth that I’d experienced first-hand. I had to change my diet. Yes, I still need rest, but I also need plants---whole, organic, non-GMO, plants as my medicine. I’ve already lost 10+ pounds, but I’m not hungry. I want a piece of chocolate and I would like some coffee, but I’m not hungry for them. Other friends who I’ve known who have adopted a plant-based diet---more than 95% plant based and cutting out all of the other stuff---have also noticed a significant improvement/positive shift in their health.

As for me, I’m gonna keep trying. I want to make it to 80, but not just arrive, but I want to dance and run into 80.
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