Featured in the Lakeshore Weekly News
It wasn’t until I was about 40 years old that I started to drink alcohol regularly. For the last six years I’ve enjoyed white wines or vodka sodas, which were my go-to drink choices.
Enjoying a glass or two or three of wine with friends, or my guy, during a beautiful meal or a lively conversation was one of my favorite things to do. I love everything about wine. How it’s made, how it tastes, how it smells.
There is just one big problem. I have two autoimmune diseases. One is called Grave’s disease, the other is Hashimoto’s. When my immune system jumps into action to fight an illness or combat stress, my autoimmune diseases create antibodies that attack my healthy thyroid, causing a host of issues. It is slowly killing my thyroid.
I’ve been dealing with the Grave’s disease for about 19 years. I was diagnosed with the Hashimoto’s a couple of years ago. Today there is no cure for an autoimmune disease. Traditional medical doctors can only treat symptoms.
I’ve learned to live with or manage most of my symptoms when my disease is acting up. Most people who know me have no idea. I pride myself on living as normal a life as possible. I’m able to do this because I manage my time, learned how to say no, rest when I need to and I don’t take on more than I can chew, most of the time.
Often I’m dealing with: Extreme fatigue, sometimes so bad that walking up the stairs is a feat, a rapid heartbeat which is puts way more wear and tear on my heart than need be, muscle and joint pain, puffy face, sensitivity to cold, memory loss. Thankfully, my friends and family are used to me repeating myself and forgetting their names as well as unexplained weight gain. I keep clothes in three different sizes, and my least favorite symptom is hair loss!
When you have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chrohn’s disease to name a few, anything that causes inflammation is the worst thing for you as inflammation is the partner in crime of an autoimmune disease.
Alcohol is incredibly inflammatory. I’ve been able to minimize the symptoms of my autoimmune disease by changing my diet to one that is an anti-inflammatory diet in nature. For me, that is eating paleo.
Minimizing stress, getting outside, getting good sleep and exercise are also other ways to minimize autoimmune disease symptoms. Plus, those are smart things to do for anyone.
Even doing all of the above, my hair started to fall out recently. I have a few bald spots. Bald spots, people! You can’t see them the way I wear my hair, but they are there.
During a visit to my doctor’s office we talked about how important it was that I be on an anti-inflammatory diet, which I was, except for my wine and vodka consumption. I needed to stop drinking alcohol because of the inflammation affects. So I did.
My 6-year love affair with wine and vodka ended. I’m not going to lie, I was bummed out! I’m with an amazing man who also quit drinking alcohol with me in solidarity and support. We’ve come to realize that for us the benefits of not drinking alcohol greatly outweigh our desire to drink it.
Quitting was not easy, and I don’t expect it to be without a few road bumps. After a few months I could have a glass of wine once in a while. The thing is, I’m not a once-in-a-while drinker, so my partner and I have decided that we are just done drinking alcohol.
I also started a hair thickening treatment that is non-toxic and chemical free, which I found at Beauty Ecology Organic Salon in Wayzata. My bald spots now have sprouts of hair growing.
Since I quit alcohol, I’ve been able to string together several days of being symptom-free. My skin looks amazing, and I’m sleeping better than I have in years. I still love wine, but I love myself more, not to mention having hair.
I’m still enjoying beautiful meals and lively conversations, just with sparkling water instead of wine.
Featured in the Sun Sailor
Today’s modern family looks different than it did even several years ago. We have same sex parents, straight parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, grandparents and more, who make up a family in a household.
I’m divorced with three adult children. I live with my love Tony who has two young children, who I’m very involved in raising. We have his boys 50% of the time. Tony and I are not married, nor do we have plans to get married. We are a family and have been for a little over three years.
It takes time, work, patience and acceptance to blend a family. It was an adjustment for the young children, for my older children and for all of the adults involved in raising them. All in all I’m proud of the job we have done and continue to do.
Over time the boys came to me and asked if they could say I was their step-mom because at times it was easier to explain who I was to friends and teachers. They said that I was so much more than their dad’s girlfriend, even if we weren’t married. Since then they have introduced me as their “Bonus mom” or “Step-mom” or just as “Natalie.” I refer to them as my “Bonus kids” or “Step-kids”. They are fine with either. Regardless of labels we know we are a family.
When we have the boys I coordinate their schedules, and work my work schedule around them. We made the decision to design our lives so that one of us, and as often as possible both of us can be with the boys when we have them. I couldn’t be more dedicated to these kids if they were of my own blood. My grown children equally adore them as does my family.
On school forms or sports forms you have to check a box to explain your relationship to the child. There is no “Dad’s girlfriend” or “Bonus mom” box so we always put step-mom. It’s also how I introduce myself to their teachers. Trust me when I tell you school officials don’t take “Dad’s girlfriend” as seriously as they do “Step-mom.”
We had an incident recently where one of the kids was sick at school. The number to call is mine because I’m easier to reach during the day than their dad. The school nurse on duty refused to tell me what was going on because I was “Not a real parent.” That is what she kept saying to me, “I need to speak to a real parent.” She said, “You are not a real parent.”
This is after I explained that not only was I their step-mom but I was on the emergency contact form. If you have kids in the Minnetonka District, you know there is an area online called CareDox that we fill out for emergency contact information etc.
Now, If I were not listed as an emergency contact I would not fault the school nurse on duty for not communicating with me. What I would fault her for is being incredibly rude. She actually hung up on me when I was mid-sentence explaining again that I was not just a “Real parent”, but an emergency contact.
I called her back and let her that regardless of what was going on, I did not appreciate being hung up on. I point blank told her she was rude. I then went online to the CareDox forms, took a screen shot of the form that showed I was listed as an emergency contact and emailed it to the school.
Shortly after I received a call from a different school nurse saying they didn’t check CareDox because they were still using an old system. They allowed me to pick up my step-son who was sick.
There isn’t much that rattles me, but that incident left me bothered. First off, I was listed as an emergency contact authorized to pick up the child. The error in missing that on the school’s part is one thing, but what truly bothered me was that this woman thought it was okay to tell me I was not a “real parent.”
I wonder how she defines who and what a parent is? I have designed my life and schedule around these kids. I take care of them, live with them. I work with them on homework, sports, life lessons etc. All the things I did for and with my biological children.
The boys themselves will tell you I’m a parent as would their mom and dad. Their mom and I coordinate everything for the boys. A blended family is a team effort, one that sometimes comes with issues as does any family. It isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day we are doing this together and I appreciate the efforts of all of the adults involved.
I’m not letting one person’s unenlightened view of what a parent or family is define our family. I’m sharing about it with the hope of shedding light on the fact that families today come in all different shapes and sizes.
Charles Dickens said it well, “Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we’d give blood.”
Featured in the Sun Sailor
It’s the season for graduation parties and celebrations. The Minnetonka High School Class of 2017 has graduated. My son is one of this year’s graduates, my third to graduated from Minnetonka. Three down, two to go in our household.
A few days before the official end of the school year, a 17-year old Minnetonka student was arrested for posts he allegedly made to the social media platform Snapchat. The student threatened to shoot Minnetonka students of color and urged white students to stay home.
The 17 year old was arrested quickly. Early reports stated that the student didn’t intend to carry out any kind of shooting. He was just trying to get out of taking his final exams.
Minnetonka High School finished its last few days with an increased police presence and offers of help for anyone who felt they needed to talk to someone after such a threat. Otherwise, it was business as usual.
On Facebook parents were sharing their thoughts and concerns. Some parents were still going to keep their students home even after the arrest, most parents were comfortable sending their kids to school knowing the incident was an incredibly bad hoax.
On Facebook I read comments from parents of minority children who expressed concern over racism at Minnetonka High School. A few shared specific examples of things that happened to their own children or other minority children they knew.
Many parents responded, denying that there is racism at Minnetonka High School. From what I could gather, the parents denying the racism were parents of Caucasian kids. A few of the comments back and forth become quite heated.
I’m multi-racial. I have a Hawaiian, Chinese, American Indian, Portuguese, Scottish and Irish background. I have darker features. My children look very Caucasian, and have not experienced any type of racism directed at them, though they have witnessed it directed at others.
Personally I don’t feel there is a problem with racism at Minnetonka High School as a whole. There are individual racists, and some who are ignorant as there are in any community. The vast majority of students and faculty are inclusive of different minorities. Every community is going to have a few ignorant people. This doesn’t mean it is ok, my point is that Minnetonka is not immune to this.
This does not mean incidents of racism do not occur. When a parent of a child who is a minority or an individual who is a minority shares an incident of racism, remember that because you or your child never experienced it, does not mean it didn’t happen.
Racism, cultural insensitivities, offensive stereotypes, all have a spectrum. I’ve experienced it myself in our community. Just a few weeks ago I was getting my Jeep washed at a carwash in Excelsior. While it was being vacuumed I got out to help dry it off as I often do. The guys do a great job, but I like to hit certain parts with more detail.
Most of the employees at the carwash are Hispanic. Because I’m dark and many people have not been to Hawaii where they would recognize my nationality, I’m often mistake for a Hispanic or African American.
A man was picking up his car, which looked like it had just been detailed. He walked up and asked me if I knew where his keys were. He saw a dark skinned person with dark hair wiping down a jeep and assumed I was also an employee.
I see many people helping to dry their cars as I do when I’m at the carwash. Though I can’t guarantee it, I’m very confident in saying that if I had blonde hair and lighter skin he would not have assumed I was an employee and asked me where his keys were.
This is a minor incident, but it happens more often than you might think. More than one time I’ve had people try to give me their empty plates at a function where I was a guest.
I’m not saying that these incidents mean the people who made assumptions about me are racist. My point is that though we have come a long way in terms of equality for minorities, we need to continue to evolve.
When you have never experienced ignorance or racism, it is easy to assume it does not exist in your community. One bad apple does mean the whole bunch is rotten, but we have a way to go in terms of seeing people as human beings and not making assumptions about who they are based on skin tone.
How would you feel if you were robbed while walking down the street in Excelsior, but when you told people you were robbed their response was, “Well I’ve never been robbed or seen anyone robbed, so there is no way you were robbed.”
What if you grew up being robbed so much that it was something you realized you just needed to work around? You might become apathetic or frustrated at the lack of understanding of what it means to walk in your shoes. You might be sensitive or passionate about the subject or being robbed.
An open heart and an expression of understanding goes a long way.
Featured in The Lakeshore Weekly News
During your life so far, you may have found yourself in a situation where you were hurt mentally or physically in a horrible way. How did you feel about the person who hurt you?
It seems to be human nature to want to lash out against the person who hurt you or hurt someone you care about. An eye for an eye is the law of retaliation, but does retaliation really accomplish anything? Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I’m going to share with you something that happened to me in the spirit of raising awareness.
24 years ago I was sexually assaulted. I was about 22 years old. At the time I worked for the Church of Scientology and was told not to report the assault, or seek medical attention for injuries I sustained. The church didn’t want negative attention or authorities being called to their Los Angeles complex, which is where I was at the time.
I was convinced by individuals within Scientology that I must have done something to provoke what happened to me, therefore I was solely responsible for what happened. It took me almost another 20 years and leaving Scientology to realize what happened to me was not only not my fault in any way shape or form, but it was a heinous crime that should have been reported.
Though the man who assaulted me was a stranger when I met him, I knew who he was. Soon after my assault I moved to Minnesota. I was paranoid about open windows or unlocked doors. There was a fear I lived with. Not a fear of him coming to hurt me, but the idea that someone could. It was ever present.
There was also a heavy shame that I lived with for many years. I was ashamed of what happened to me, ashamed that I didn’t do more to stop it, ashamed that I was a victim.
While I lived with my fear and shame, the man who assaulted me went on with his life. For me the fear and shame was worse than the physical assault, which might sound strange. My bruises healed, my mind didn’t for a long time.
For years I wanted the man who assault me to feel the fear, pain and shame that I did. I didn’t wish he would die, but I wasn’t going to loose any sleep if he was assaulted himself. I thought maybe an eye for an eye would help me heal.
What did help me heal was finally acknowledging what happened to me and accepting that it was not my fault. More healing came in the last few years when I met and fell in love with a man who made me feel truly safe for the first time in a long time. The love, acceptance and thoughtfulness he shows me every day reminds me that there is more to love about life than there are things to be fearful or hateful about.
There was something else that helped me heal. I read a book called The Shack, which is now a major motion picture. There is a line in the book about forgiveness that I took to heart. It said, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.”
Eventually I was able to mentally let go of the throat of the man who assaulted me. I didn’t wish him any harm. Suprisingly, I felt a kind of pity for him when I wondered what must have happened to him in life to make him think what he did to me and possibly other women, was an ok thing to do?
Days ago I found out that the man who assaulted me 24 years ago died of cancer at age 50. It took me a few days to process the information and how I felt about it. I was surprised to realize it didn’t make me happy to know he probably died a painful death that could have been dragged out.
At the same time, I wasn’t sad about his passing. I felt compassion for his wife and young children. They are the innocents who have no idea what he did 24 years ago nor do they have anything to do with it.
His death didn’t bring me any closure or relief. That is because I realized that I already had that closure and relief. For me, I have to agree with Ghandi in that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Healing and closure will never come from hurting someone else. Love though, love is a powerful source of healing.
Featured in the Sun Sailor April 2017
It’s that time of year when we start to see our neighbors again. Winter hibernation has ended, yard work, gardening and outdoor fun have started. Every spring it’s like a reunion and I love it.
The true sign of spring is when Tommy’s Tonka Trolley opens for the season. At that point you know there is no turning back, only forward marching into summer. It’s the return of bare legs and unfortunately, Crocs.
The kids are out on their scooters, playing football in the neighbor’s yard, and we are all fishing for crappie. We grill year-round but this time of year almost daily if we can help it. I think we single handedly keep the meat department at Kowalski’s in Excelsior in business.
Last fall we expanded our family and added a giant schnauzer named Odin. This month he’s 7 months old and growing like a horse. He’s already close to 50 pounds and only halfway grown.
Odin loves people and animals. He is very friendly but sometimes doesn’t realize how big and strong he is, which is why we watch him closely around small animals and toddlers.
To Odin everyone is a potential friend. He loves meeting other dogs and people on the trail and even cries when they walk away. He likes to cuddle and is never far from one of his humans. In fact, as I write this he is laying on my foot under my desk.
Odin is as perfect a dog for us as a dog can be, there is just one thing that concerns me. It is also something that has been a source of embarrassment. Odin appears to be a thief.
While most dogs take your slippers, gloves, or shoes and chew them up, our Odin steals these items and hordes them in parts of the house. I just found a stash with two hats, a sock and a sleep mask, which he accumulated just this morning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that he doesn’t destroy them. It’s just odd.
Sometimes we have him at our store J. Novachis on Water St. We share a connecting door with Amore & Fede. When the door has been left open, Odin dashes over to Amore & Fede, goes straight to their dog’s Zoie’s bed and steals her stuffed rabbit. After he steals the rabbit he runs it back to our store and tries to hide it.
We have new neighbors at home. Yesterday, Odin saw a door open at their house. He took off into the house and escaped with a pair of their socks in his mouth. There is nothing like prying your new neighbor’s socks out of your dog’s slobbery mouth and handing them back to break the ice.
The other day I came home and Odin was wearing a pair of my underwear over his head, not sure how he even managed that. I checked one of his stash sites and sure enough, he had a fork, socks and a flute in his pile.
Again, he doesn’t chew up any of these things. He just puts them in piles in hiding spots around the house or our store like some kind of kleptomaniac hoarder. When I confront him about these stolen items he looks at me like I’m the crazy one.
Overall he is an incredible dog and addition to our family. We are all perfectly imperfect. This is probably Odin’s way of flying his freak flag, or maybe he is protecting our belongings from something. I have no idea.
Just know that if you meet Odin around Excelsior and go to pet him then find your wallet is missing, know we will make sure it is returned.