Family Time in Tampa

I had a wonderful time during the rest of my visit to Tampa. My cousin Sarah and her husband Zack have a beautiful home with an amazing backyard. It was like being at our own private resort. They grilled ribs and roasted corn on the cob for us on their Big Green Egg grill. It was delicious! The weather was cool at night, and we soaked in the jacuzzi, which was a perfect combination. Sarah made us all low-fat mojitos with fresh mint. Mmm! We didn’t want to leave!

Zack is a doctor and I had a chance to ask him about some of his most memorable experiences. That was really neat since I’m interested in all-things-health lately. I got to spend a lot of time with the kids too which was nonstop fun.

Years ago, Zack planted an olive tree tree with the boys, and if you look closely, you can see a small Palestinian flag wrapped around the trunk. I love this idea! The olive tree is symbolic of Palestine, and I adore the fact that he had each of the boys take a part in planting its’ roots. We left from Tampa to Clearwater Beach, which I will post next!

backyard pool

olive tree

Me & Omar

Me (reliving my childhood memories of power wheels), and Omar going for a drive.


Leo the playful, golden poodle


Trombones and Dreams

When I made the decision to step away from my career, someone close to me said that it would be a tremendous learning experience. They were right. This week I had the chance to visit with family whom I haven’t seen in years. I spent the week with my older cousins, Sarah, Amani, and my sister Ivan, who are each strong, courageous women by their own rights. I also spent time with my younger cousins–four beautiful, loving boys. It was amazing to see how each of them has their own personality and individual ways that make them special.

It has often been said that people come into our lives for a reason. This idea has revealed itself time and time again as my journey continues. The opportunity to spend time with the boys was a blessing. It must have been God speaking to me. More like yelling, loud and all at once! I felt renewed by their energy and laughter. I didn’t expect it to be a learning experience. But it was a testament that life is a continuous learning process, and we can learn from people who we least expect to. One particular moment served as a lesson to me.

Khalid, the eldest of four, is 11-years-old, and he is learning to play the trombone. One afternoon in the kitchen, I overheard him and my sister having a conversation. She was speaking of a friend who is in film school in New York, and who has always dreamed of making films. Khalid, in a matter-of-fact tone that only an eleven year old can articulate, asked, “Why is she doing that? Do you know how many people fail trying to make movies?”

I was taken aback that someone so young would say such a pragmatic thing, but also saddened by it because he seemed to lack the idealistic outlook that I expect of someone his age. My sister, ever the optimist, pushed back and replied, “Yeah, but you’ll never know if you don’t try to pursue your dreams. And if you fail, at least you tried, right?”

The next evening, Khalid brought his trombone out and played for us in the kitchen. He filled the house with high notes, and we all gathered around and applauded him. His younger brother, Ehab, acted as conductor, while Nedal and Omar waved their arms and danced around the house. We even gave him a stage name, Kal Raz (although that’s still being contended). Khalid told me that he practices in music class at school, and every day at home too.

Later that evening, the two of us went for a walk together. I asked him about school, and what his favorite subject was. History. Then I asked him if he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without hesitation, he said “A lawyer.” I smiled, impressed by his confidence. “That’s great,” I told him. “I think you’d make a fine lawyer.” But deep down, a part of me flinched, hoping that he will keep playing the trombone, because I saw the way his eyes lit up after he played the first song for us. Or perhaps one day he’ll want to play the guitar. Or be an aspiring writer. Whatever it is that makes his eyes light up the way they did. Because as mature adults, we know that our interests and passions change along the way. Before I left, I told Khalid to keep practicing and working hard at the trombone. Because he’s good at it, and you have to work hard at any talent. I told him that one day he could be a great trombone player. In essence, I was pleading with him to follow his dreams. Now that I think back, I wonder, was I pleading with myself too?

I have always been someone who has sought advice from others. I am the youngest of four siblings. I was fortunate to have people guide me and teach me and learn from their mistakes. I have been blessed with amazing mentors who believed in me and supported me.  I am so grateful that I have had so many people willing to help me and share their knowledge with me throughout my career. I deeply value the insight and guidance I gained from all of them. But I never imagined that I would learn something so  inspiring from someone who still has his whole life ahead of him.

(from left) Nidal 9, Khaled 11, Sarah, Ehab 7, Omar 5

(from left) Nedal 8,Khalid 11,Sarah(mom), Ehab 7, Omar 5

Khaled Razick, 11

Khalid Razick, 11

Safety Harbor Resort & Spa at Tampa Bay

This week, I am visiting my family in Tampa, Florida. It was a spontaneous, last-minute decision (unlike me), but I’m so glad I decided to come. My sister is an expert at convincing people to do these things! But I also want to take advantage of my time off to see family that I don’t often have a chance to see during the usual work-life grind. I am visiting my cousins and their four beautiful boys (photos to come). The girls booked a spa day as a treat. What mom of four boys doesn’t need a spa day, anyway?!

We visited the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa at Tampa Bay. I learned a little bit of history while I was there too, which I love. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reached the shores of what is now Tampa Bay, landing near mineral springs that were used by natives for nearly 10,000 years. He believed he had found the Fountain of Youth, and named the waters “Espiritu Santo Springs”–Springs of the Holy Spirit. The springs were said to cure certain ailments, drawing thousands of visitors to the city every year. The spa is now located there. I loved this story of healing, whether it is factual or theoretical. You can read the full story below.

We tried to do as much as we could before it was time to pick up the kids from school in the afternoon. I managed to make it to a Pilates class. It was my first time trying Pilates, and I really liked it. (Although I’m a yoga lover.) I’d like to try another class again. After Pilates, I had a twenty five minute, back and shoulder massage, followed by a facial. The massage was great, since I carry a lot of my stress in my neck and shoulders. I enjoyed the facial too. I had a pro peel, which contains four different acids that provides a deep exfoliation for your skin. I mentioned in a previous post, that my skin has been extremely irritated lately, most likely from the stress of my transition in moving back home. I told the esthetician that I needed all the help I could get! Overall, we thought the service was average, but we enjoyed the day together anyway.

Espiritu Santo Springs

safety harbor entrance


After our spa treatment, we had lunch at the resort. I ordered clam chowder to start and surf and turf for my entre. It was yummy. We finished off our meals with cappuccinos, which were delicious! After we picked up the troops, we headed home. I wanted to continue the day of relaxation, so I topped it off with poolside yoga and meditation. It’s been a very long time since I meditated, and it felt wonderful. I really hope to incorporate more meditation throughout my day. I’m grateful for the day, and I hope to visit more health and wellness spas.

Surf n Turf: Petite filet mignon and Gulf shrimp with rice pilaf and sauteed vegetables

Petite filet Mignon and Gulf shrimp with rice pilaf and sauteed vegetables

safety harbor cappuccino

Best Pho Around?

This week, my sister and brother and I had dinner at a delicious Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Tau Bay. My sister and I had the Pho Bo, or beef noodle soup and it was spectacular. My brother had the Bun, which was equally delicious, if not better. The restaurant has recently received media attention, although it has been open for over 30 years. Anthony Bourdain featured it on his show that airs on the Travel Channel, The Layover, just before Superbowl swept the city in January. Travel+Leisure magazine also featured it last May as one of New Orleans’ Best Vietnamese Restaurants. It sits on the outskirts of New Orleans in a modest shopping center that’s easy to miss. (We drove up the street a couple of times before we could spot it.) It certainly deserves all of the praise it has received. I can’t wait to go back! I may write a feature story on it soon.

Pho sign 2

Pho menu

Pho with sauceBun

Party Go-er to Spiritual Guru

Someone special sent me this article today and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I liked it so much, I read it twice. I love to read stories of women who overcome personal struggles and find their healthiest, happiest selves. I think we all do. There’s something inspiring about knowing that a woman can make it through hardship, and transform it into an uplifting and empowering experience. Gabrielle Bernstein, a 32-year-old life coach, lecturer and author was a former publicist and club promoter in New York City. Now, she promotes spiritual fulfillment to young, working women. You can read her story in Bloomberg Businessweek, Gabrielle Bernstein, Guru to Young Professional Women.

Me and Silver Linings

Silver Linings

This week I watched Silver Linings Playbook and I thought it was an excellent movie. I enjoyed it because I found it to be a genuine, profound film, but I also deeply empathized with some of the struggles the main character faces throughout the story.

I was moved by Pat Solitano’s character, played by Bradley Cooper, who lived most of his life as undiagnosed bipolar. When he learns that his wife is having an affair, it triggers a manic attack which lands him in prison along with a restraining order from his wife. Pat moves home with his parents in Philadelphia after spending eight months in a state institution following his diagnosis.

The movie illustrates Pat’s struggle as he learns how to live with his condition, and his quest to reunite with his wife. Upon his initial diagnosis, Pat refuses to take the medication he’s been prescribed, saying he doesn’t like the way if affects his mind and body. In one scene, over dinner with friends, Pat describes it as making his mind “foggy” and his body “sluggish”. I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean!” Thankfully, I stopped myself, and most likely avoided adequately embarrassing myself. Accepting that you are bound to medication for the rest of your life is a difficult thing to grasp.

Another scene further along in the movie really resonated with me. Pat’s father (played by one of my favorites, Robert de Niro) has an emotional dialogue with his son. He expresses that he didn’t know how to handle Pat’s problem in his childhood. He is torn by the feeling that he didn’t do something to help Pat early on.

Living with an illness for most of your life without being aware of it, and then suddenly being diagnosed is overwhelming. I know first-hand. Knowing deep inside of you that something is wrong, but not knowing what, is both frustrating and alienating. Finally having an answer is an immense relief, but it is also sobering. I couldn’t stop myself from crying during this scene. I thought of my own parents and remembered the worry and grief in their faces while they watched me suffer in sickness as a child. They didn’t know what to do, and didn’t have an answer. That must be heart-wrenching for a parent.

In another scene, Pat sees his brother for the first time after coming home. His brother is obviously disturbed by what has happened to Pat, but he doesn’t know how to express it. Instead, he boasts about his own life and accomplishments, and by the end of the conversation, he is in tears and staring into his brother’s eyes. This reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my own brother. About two weeks after I returned home, he casually asked me, “So, this FMF your life really different now?” It was an honest question. But it was a moment of realization for me–that sometimes even the people closest to you, don’t fully understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. I have sporadic moments when I realize that my life has completely changed. It has been a slow wave of realization for me.

What endeared me to Pat’s character is his determination to overcome his illness through positive thinking. Immediately after my diagnosis, I charged into a proactive role to fight my illness. It’s a constant battle. I have found that as life bears down on you each day, this ideology becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. External factors come into play, and the challenges unfold. As the lovely Parisa Khosravi, a CNN executive, once told me, “Life just keeps handing it to you.” The mental battle of staying positive while living with an illness, either physical or mental, is exhausting.

By the movie’s end, Pat does not get the one thing he is desperately fighting and hoping for; to reunite with his wife. The movie does not have a picturesque ending. But Pat does eventually reach a point in his journey where he gains stability in his life and accepts who he is with his illness. That’s the point I hope to reach someday. That’s what I’ll keep fighting for.