Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let the Travel Begin

One of our greatest desires is to see and experience this part of the world. When we decided to come to Penang I made the stipulation that we would travel as much as possible and hopefully, that would be once a month. Lucky for us, Eric has 18 public holidays here which greatly expands his vacation time, if planned right. Next week is Hari Raya and National Day. Eric has 3 work holidays. Naturally, we planned a 10 day trip and Phuket, Thailand fit the bill for water and land fun! Did I mention that we get a 10 day vacation and Eric only has to take 2 days off of work! Yippee!

I am looking forward to getting away, just Eric and I. This last year has been rough, lots of changes and we have been extremely busy. This trip will be our anniversary re-do and Eric's birthday re-do, since both were major fails this year. I'm looking forward to reconnecting and exploring together, just the two of us.

We will post pictures and our trip details when we get back! Time to shower and pick Eric up from work. We will be in Thailand in less than 6 hours!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Shipment has Landed

After 9 weeks our sea shipment has arrived!! I can hardly explain my excitement watching the movers bring in our boxes and unpack them. It felt like Christmas in August. Now our place is feeling more like our home.

Here are a few highlights from our shipment:
Our BED is here. I had been nearing the end of my rope sleeping on the rock hard mattress that was provided. Lots of tossing and turning led to grouchy mornings, extra coffee and a stiff neck.

My kitchen is officially here and now I can cook a meal with more than one pot. My stainless steel collection will be put to good use along with our Pyrex bowls, containers and pans. I also brought along a 220V Food Processor and Blender. As soon as I can I will be whipping up homemade pesto and margaritas! I have enough plates, bowls, glasses and silverware to invite people over for dinner. I also have appropriate wine glasses to drink our overpriced wine out of.

Eric and I never have to buy clothes again. Let's just say I have been doing laundry for the last 3 days nonstop and I still have more to go...Eric only brought "50 or so" of "his best t-shirts" and we paired down and donated a bunch before coming.

I have choices in shoes. I love my Keens but sometimes I feel like a frumpy hippy in them and love a few extra options.

Our fridge magnets and pictures arrived. Our stainless fridge is now covered in color and reminders of our life back in the states. Also, our save the dates for Jamie & Brian's wedding and Robin & Eli's wedding are proudly displayed. (Don't worry, we will be there)

Finally, our scuba equipment arrived. This became one of the more important things on our shipment since we are leaving tomorrow for 10 days to Phuket, Thailand. We will be completing our PADI Advanced Open Water certification and needed that gear. Luckily, it's here and I can stop worrying about it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hungry Ghost

August is a very religious month here.  With the mix of cultures and religions there seems to be nonstop festivals.  The two big celebrations this month are Ramadan, for the Muslims and the Hungry Ghost Festival for the Chinese.  We are fortunate to live next to a mosque, where we hear Call to Prayer 5 times a day and on a street with a very prominent Chinese community.  Diversity abounds and tolerance is plenty.

Last week, our neighborhood set up two makeshift stages to celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival.  During the 7th lunar month, it is believed that the gates of Heaven and Hell are opened and the ghosts are free to wonder back to Earth looking for food.  During this time, people set up an effigy to the King of Hedes and offer him food and prayers, which are then shared with the wandering Ghosts.  In addition to leaving food and alcohol "to feed" the ghosts, the Chinese also have traditional Chinese Operas and contemporary music at night to entertain the ghosts and living. Giant joss sticks are burnt throughout the festival.  At the end of the festival, people offer paper money to the King of Hedes and then burn the effigy.  Pretty interesting!  To read more about this festival click here: Hungry Ghost Festival Penang

Eric and I had a birds eye view to the entire festival on our street.  At night, we could hear the Opera and live music in our condo and we couldn't avoid walking and driving past the stages.  It was pretty cool.  We joined the neighborhood for the burning of the King of Hedes.  It was probably the quickest burning bonfire we have ever seen.  Here are a few pics from the festival.

Paper statue standing in a pile of money about to go up in flames.

 Opera and stage setup on our street.

Food and alcohol offerings set out for the ghosts

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fish Feet

Ok, so another new beauty secret...Fish Spa Therapy.  Fish spa therapy, what is that?  Basically, its a spa where you sit with your feet in a large fish tank and fish eat the dead skin off of your feet. Let me quote here, "Let these little 'masseurs' nibble away your dead skin and pamper your feet to a pleasant sensation and relaxation of 'micro-massage' that is followed by a tingling sensation.  Your feet will emerge with baby smooth skin and make your pores unobstructed to promote blood circulation of the skin." To learn more keep reading here:

In the mall they have these fish spas.  I've been dying to try this since we arrived in Penang.  This sounds like a great symbiotic relationship, the dead skin gets eaten off my feet and the fish get fed.  Sounds like the perfect therapy for a social worker.  

Yesterday my friend Sally and I decided to pamper ourselves,  and sat with our feet in the fish tanks, followed by a shoulder massage and foot reflexology.  It was a great way to spend our morning.  We had the luxury of choosing which size fish we wanted to have nibble away our dry skin.  We started small and worked our way up to the big daddies!  It felt like someone was tickling my feet but with purpose.  Surprisingly, my feet do look and feel better.  The dead skin on my toes and heels is better. I think this may get added to my list of guilty pleasures.  To top it off, our hour and a half plus of pampering set me back $24 USD!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Has it really been 6 months?!?

I haven't written much about this on our blog, but I decided that its time.  I will preface this by saying if you are finding this out for the first time on here, sorry.

Six months ago I saved my life by having a prophylactic bilateral double mastectomy with DIEP Flap reconstruction.  Six months ago.  Already, really?!?  Wow.

Before we left Austin, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Snyder asked me to write my story for their new website, where I will be featured as a successful story about a woman in her 20's.

Here's a part of my story:

My breast reconstruction story began when I was 10 years old and my mother, at age 32 was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I witnessed the grueling radiation and recovery that she went through.  Luckily, she went in to remission, until, 10 years later she found another lump and was re-diagnosed at 41 with breast cancer.  After a fierce year and a half battle, through chemo and radiation, she passed away.  My mom was 43. 

I grew up fearing breast cancer.  I saw firsthand the way it transforms lives.  The pain, the struggle and the loss, I knew them all too well.  I had been lectured by numerous physicians regarding my risk of developing breast cancer and the importance of having genetic testing done to see if I carried the BRCA gene.  Since I was 22, I had yearly mammograms and/or MRI’s for screening.  It took me eight years to decide to have the BRCA test.  I knew if I tested positive then I would do whatever it took to prevent having breast cancer.  In November 2010 and at 28 years old, I was diagnosed BRCA-1 positive.    

At first, knowing I have this gene terrified me.  I was 28, happily married, no children and facing the realization that I have 87% chance of developing breast cancer.  Those odds were crystal clear.  I had a choice, I could wait for breast cancer to find me or I could do something to prevent it and save my life.

I quickly sprung into action after allowing myself a 24 hour period to feel sad, upset and angry.  The physician who diagnosed me with the BRCA gene was not an expert in reconstruction options and quickly referred me to a breast surgeon and oncologist.   I quickly found out that my reconstruction options included a DEIP Flap, which would allow me to use my own body to reconstruct my breasts.  I knew if there was a possibility to have my reconstructed breasts come from my body, that that was what I wanted.  My breast surgeon provided me with two plastic surgeons performing the DEIP flap, DR. Snyder in Austin and an office in San Antonio. 

As an action oriented woman, I wanted to move forward with the mastectomy and reconstruction as quickly as possible.  For me, being armed with the knowledge that you have “time bombs” on your chest really solidified the necessity to act preventatively.  My first meeting with Dr. Snyder was in January, 2011.  Dr. Snyder and I discussed my reconstructive options, including the use of implants or my own tissue.  He spent over an hour with my husband and I discussing the DEIP reconstruction process, answering our questions, calming my anxiety and reassuring me that having this surgery would reduce my risk of developing breast cancer from 87% to 2%.   I knew after our initial meeting, that Dr. Snyder would be my surgeon.  His compassionate, knowledgeable and flexible demeanor solidified for me that he and his team would work and partner with me throughout my reconstructive journey. 

On February, 15th 2011, I had my “big” surgery, a prophylactic double mastectomy with immediate DEIP reconstruction. I had spent the 3 months before surgery preparing physically, emotionally and spiritually for this transformation.  I was in surgery for 9 hours.  I don't remember much from that morning except being asked the same questions about 100 times and being given my "margarita" before being wheeled to surgery.  I woke up in the ICU where I stayed the first night to make sure my transplanted tissue was receiving oxygen.  I was alert, hungry and not in pain.  I remember laying in the hospital feeling a sense of relief and happiness because I knew I had just saved my life. I remember being asked about my pain levels.  Honestly, it was hard to feel much pain because I had made a conscious decision to have this surgery.  I never felt like a victim or traumatized throughout this process.  I also had good drugs!  I spent 4 days in the hospital before being sent home.  Eric stayed by my side for the entire experience, taking care of me, going to Central Market to get my soup and bread and sleeping on the crappy cots.  I am grateful for the love and support that I received from family and friends.  Lots of flowers, visitors and love.  A big thank you to everyone who shared this journey with me!  Your support helped make the healing so much better.

The next 6 weeks were spent recovering.  My Aunt Jo came from North Carolina to help feed me back to health.  It was wonderful having her to support my physical, emotional and spiritual recovery.  The first week home I was so tired and my system felt like it had been re-booted.  Eating was a challenge and I was figuring out how to manage my pain and meds.  I slept a lot. I was also sent home with appendages, 6 of them to be exact, 4 drains and a pain pump. Luckily by week 3 I was appendage free. Christie and Jay took week 3 and visited from Michigan.  I was much more mobile by then and it was good to have people at home to make sure I didn't do anything I wasn't supposed to.  By week 4 I was off most pain meds and ready to be more active.  I started driving again and I could get out of bed without help.  Progress...

By the time my 6 week post op visit came I was ready to be released from my 10 lb weight restriction.  I knew I wasn't super woman by this point and that I no longer aspired to be her, but I was ready to move.  To celebrate, Misty and John took us out on their boat where I promptly dove into Lake Travis, it was April 3rd! From there on out, I was back.  Not too long after I was riding Mya again, zipping on the zip lines and going for short hikes at work.  I was still tired and sore but better, much better! 

Everyday since my surgery I get a little bit stronger.  I see my body changing and my scars going away.  Having this surgery was one of the best decisions of my life.   The fact that I had the opportunity to choose this surgery was a gift and I grateful everyday to have had the choice to save my life.  I know that thousands of women are not as fortunate and I encourage everyone to take the BRCA test, if and when it’s right for you.  Having this information empowered me to save my life.   

It's hard to believe that it's been 6 months.  For me, the fear of developing breast cancer is gone and not waking up wondering if today is the day is an amazing feeling.  The out pouring of love and support from family and friends got me through the tough times and validated my choice.  I hope those of you who read this remember my story.  My hope is I can help other women save their lives. 

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family or you have a friend that does please encourage her to have the BRCA test.  If she is not ready support her where she is.  Let her know there are amazing and life saving options for her.  

With Gratitude,

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Last weekend we woke up to a beautiful rainbow directly behind our condo!  I snuck out of bed to get the coffee started, took a quick look outside and saw one of the most perfect rainbows I have ever seen.  I quickly grabbed the camera, screamed for Eric and ran to the back patio.

This was a wonderful reminder that we are extremely blessed to have this amazing opportunity in such a beautiful and magical land!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Organic Produce...

We are very lucky to live 2 blocks from the "Wet Market".  The wet market sells all types of fruit, veggies and fresh fish and shrimp.  It's called the wet market because all of the fish and seafood are kept "wet" or on ice that melts and turns to cold water.  The fish are fresh.  Generally, they are caught in the morning and brought directly to the market.  We haven't been that adventurous yet, although I did buy shrimp this week and they were great!  Maybe once our sea shipment arrives with our pots and pans I will attempt to cook some fish.

I have been going to the market 2-3 times per week with our neighbor Becky.  Becky is from the U.K. and her and her family moved into our building the same day as us.  It's been nice to share the shopping experience with someone who is just as novice as me!  The produce is so fresh and beautiful but I've only been buying small quantities, as I'm not too sure how long things last. 

This morning after our morning visit to the market I was cleaning my Organic lettuce and found a few little friends.  I think this stuff really is organic! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Few Penang Beauty Secrets

Admittedly, I am not much for fashion or vanity.  This could explain why I have worked on a ranch for the last two years.  I don't mind being dirty and my favorite hairstyle is a ponytail accessorized with a dry-wick hat and sunglasses.  However, I do allow myself one girlie eyebrows.  It drives me nuts when they aren't in their place and when my unibrow is showing her ugly head. 

Needless to say, its been 6 weeks since my last visit to Shahnila at Hair It Is in Austin and my uni was coming back.  I was in need of a good threading and I didn't know where to start.  Lucky for me, Penang has a booming Little India.  Surely someone can fix my overgrowth.

For those of you who aren't familiar with threading, here is a quick description from Shahnila's website: Threading is an ancient Indian technique of hair removal involving pulling out a row of hairs from the follicle by twisting the hairs into a 100% cotton thread. The specialist holds one end of the thread in her mouth, and the other end in one of her hand. With her other hand, the stylist holds the center of the thread to form a loop. This loop traps a row of unwanted hairs and that are pulled from the skin, leaving a smooth finish. Threading is the most natural, safe and effective method of hair removal.

I love threading!  It's more accurate than waxing and the skin around my eyebrows isn't red for 3 days.  It also lasts longer.  Despite it's amazing qualities, threading hurts.  It's a bit like torture but the pain is totally worth the end result...if you haven't tried it, you should!  

Back to my beauty adventure...

I volunteered today at the WCC and needed some beauty help.  I asked around and found out that there are tons of places that thread in Little India, as I suspected.  The ladies took me during lunch today.  It was great and to top it off it cost RM 5 or $1.70!! I can hardly believe it!  Seriously, $1.70 to thread my eyebrows and they are perfect! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our Ann Arbor Goodbye

Again, a bit overdue but here it is...

After our amazing Oregon adventure we made a quick trip to Michigan to say "see you later" to family and friends. Naturally, Eric and I decided that Ann Arbor, the city where we met, fell in love and were married, would be the appropriate choice to have a going away party!

We arrived super late/early on Tuesday AM (read: 1:30am) into DTW. We quickly found out that our rental car agency was closed for the night and we would have to wait until 5am to get a car...seriously!?! Not off to a good start. Lucky for us, Jenn worked her charm and was able to snag us a spot on the last bus back to Alamo where we got the "after midnight special" thanks to our bus driver! We were on the road in no time, with our favorite rental car, the Dodge Caliber! We had a Cali in Oregon as well!

A HUGE thank you to Christie and Jay who let us stay at their lovely home in Saline, where we could spread out and sleep in late! Thanks guys!

We spent our time in Ann Arbor eating at our favorite places and drinking Sangria at Dominick's! Yum! We ate Rubens at Zingerman's twice! So good!!

We had our "See you Later" party at Cottage Inn on Wednesday night.  We had lots of loved ones drive in from all of the state to see us and I know we both felt pretty special that night!  We felt the outpouring of love and support from our family and friends for our upcoming journey.   We were able to share our visit to Penang in November with everyone, as well. A big hug and thank you to all of you who were able to send us off!  We appreciate everyone for joining us, even on a work night :)

We spent Thursday packing our 7 suitcases before heading to the airport for our long journey to Penang via Phoenix, LAX and Hong Kong. 

To all our loved ones in the states: we love you and we will see you later!