Midwestern kindness

20 Oct

Tracey, Mary & Cindy

hi mary! it was real nice to see u at the reunion the other night. u were always a nice person to me in high school and still are a nice person now! take care and i hope to see u before the next 10 years pass!

I traveled home, to the Midwest, twice in August. The first time was primarily to visit my parents. Last Christmas, we talked about going on a trip together and couldn’t quite make that work (cruise to Alaska, Montreal). And then we both thought at the same time: Why not come home? I hadn’t been home in several years, since my parents now visit every Christmas.

I was looking forward to the trip. I still have close friends who live in Northwest Indiana (AKA The Region). Band of Horses was playing a show in Chicago and I managed to snag tickets before the show sold out.

My parents always spoil me when I’m home. My dad gives me money when I go out with my friends, and when I leave. My mom offers to do my laundry, which I never really need to have done during these short trips home. They let me sleep in and I take walks around the neighborhood with my mom.

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Don’t move, don’t breathe. Don’t move, don’t breathe.

28 Jul

Medical bracelet

Those commands can be jarring and, of course, constricting. It’s what the technician says when you’re getting a mammogram. If I move, will something else show up on the film? If I breathe, will that appear as something abnormal on the test?

While waiting for my results, I heard the technician in the room next door offer similar instructions to her patient. It was probably the woman in the yellow sweat pants and shoulder-length blonde hair. She’d been accompanied by her boyfriend or husband. I was among a handful of women, all of us white except for a woman rescheduling an appointment, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that day.

It had been two years since my last mammogram. Yes, that is a confession and I was raised Catholic. I was overdue, I know. But the last time I went, my visit was so traumatic and I still felt a bit scarred, and anxious. I needed a biopsy, which was incredibly stressful. And research that I’d read (and helped to promote by Dr. Joann Elmore of the Univ. of Washington) about false positive exams and the toll that can take … well, I was living it two years ago.

I felt a heaviness in my left breast in the days leading up to this appointment. That’s the one that has a small titanium rod in it, following the biopsy. Writing that makes me want to sing, of course: I’m bullet-proof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away. I then started thinking that I might be mentally causing some malignancy by having these negative thoughts. The power of positive thinking, it’s important, experts say.

When I booked an appointment, I had the option of immediate results or waiting for them to be mailed. I grabbed the first option, not wanting to go through what I’d experienced before. If something was up, let’s discuss it and keep moving forward.

The technician was great. We talked about traffic on the way to work. Mine was easy, given that I lived right down the street, and even if there was a slow-moving truck in front of me. She had a drive that took more than one hour. I wore a dress to my appointment, not the best choice given the gown you have to change into. She helped me keep mostly covered up in my exposed state. It was just us girls in the room, any way. Right arm out first, and then left, and then repeat for side views. Don’t move, don’t breathe. I asked her how things looked. She said the slides looked the same as the last time I was there (a positive, I thought).

She asked if I wanted something to drink, water, after the screening was finished. I said that water would be great. I needed to stay in my robe and not change back into my clothes, she said, because the radiologist might want more pictures. The water never arrived. My magazine options were US Magazine and a cancer care and research journal. I stayed away from the latter, remembering how I made myself a little crazy the last time by reviewing my medical chart.

The technician knocked on my door and very formally announced my name. It was the same woman who had helped me the day of my biopsy two years ago. She said my slides looked fine, and I could come back in one year. I told her we’d met before, the last time I was at the center. She looked in my chart and said oh, yes, I see my signature here. Of course she’s seen a million patients. But I remember her helping me get through that difficult day. And I was grateful that she delivered the good news this week, too.

What does “yes” look like?

20 Jun

YES

Inspired by Alice Derry’s “Fooling Around,” and poet & teacher Elizabeth Austen

I’m saying “yes” these days to adventure, eating vegan (B6, mostly) and finding a new level of happiness. “What smoking, drink and the wrong man had done.” That could have been me, but I only had a few months over the course of a few years of damage.

I’m still a bit green in terms of this change, if that makes sense, though in many ways I’ve always said “yes.” The yoga retreat in Kauai was a boost and reading “Wild.”  Starting Bar Method in April kind of kicked off this new perspective, and then ballet lessons. I’m drinking less (mocktails with Lisa B. and Chloe!) and my rewards the other night included an impromptu ballet performance, Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” on the way home on the radio and a gorgeous sunset with radiant and explosive colors of gold, white, pink and blue.

I’m saying “yes” to a quick walk down the street with my camera after spying a pre-rain rainbow in the early evening. It was gone, alas, but I captured some pretty photos of the sky and crew members on the Montlake Cut heading towards Lake Union.

I’m saying “yes” and “no”to invites for meet ups, ensuring that I have a little down time and that I get my workouts in. Cleaning can wait. (ha)

And I’m saying “yes” to attending my high school reunion in August. At first glance of the post on Facebook, I thought “no,” because I was already going home at the beginning of the month. But I haven’t been to the last few reunions. And then FB friends forwarded the invite. Shannon, whose locker was just a few steps away from mine from 7th through 12th grade sent me an email message about the reunion. And the plane ticket wasn’t that expensive. So I’m going to do it. Oops that my parents won’t be home and I’ll need to rent a car and will maybe want to stay near Midway on Sunday night, because my flight is early-ish on Monday.

Julie Robertson, class of ’87 at DePauw University, and a sorority sister we fondly called “Pluck” because of a Woodstock costume she wore during rush, died two days ago from ovarian cancer. May she rest in peace.

Yoga, Kauai, vegan-ing, bliss, Samadhi

3 Jun

Secret Beach

Books read: 1, Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. This was really the perfect book for me to read, even if it sounded cliche to take on a yoga retreat in Hawaii – Cheryl’s mother died, her marriage fell apart and she went to find herself on the trail. I’m inspired to visit some of the places she described along the trail, inspired to be even more adventurous and take trips in the wild and calm.
Yoga classes: 13 (7 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily), courtesy of Samadhi yogis Kathleen (the lovely) and Sheev
Pounds lost: 4
Hikes: 2, including the Na Pali Coast trail (treacherous, sweaty! and got rained on, which felt pretty heavenly. Remnant – a blood blister on my big toe, right foot. Gross, but true.)
My yoga mat was mistaken for: fishing pole container, “a piece of rubber”
Dogs encountered:  5 – including one-eyed Maui, Kona and Pua (flower) at the retreat center
Laps in the pool:  unknown, but swam on two different days. Sun was harsh and left me with a “tramp stamp” sunburn one day (thanks for that description, K)
Rainbows viewed: At least half a dozen, while experiencing yoga on the lanai. Hope that my photos captured it.
Animals heard, day and night: Geckos, cows, chickens, roosters, dogsVegan meals:  7 + – I think I’m a convert. I know, it surprises me, too. I lost weight, feel wonderful, didn’t miss any foods and my skin looks fabulous, too. I may opt initially for Mark Bittman’s Vegan before 6 or VB6 as the cool kids say.

Smoothies: 12, estimate. Pina colada on the final day (virgin, of course).
Recipes to try: Coconut lime banana bread, Okinawa sweet potato curry (if I can find that potato here in Seattle), raw pumpkin pie- some from Jennifer’s 30 Minute Vegan cookbook. Yes, we were blessed to have her as our chef for the week.
Incorporate more in diet: macadamia nuts (though they’re expensive here on the Mainland), sweet potato, avocados, smoothies, vegan foods as declared above
Items purchased: Long-sleeve rash guard, tank top with cut-out back from QuikSilver
Beaches visited: 2 – Secret beach and non-secret
Naked humans observed: 3, at Secret beach. A woman praying to the gods of the ocean, a man rolling on the sand as we left the beach, another man walking in the distance. L walked closer to land so that she could see him. JK.
Dolphins: 60, according to a local surfer who captured some film on his birthday. Hurling themselves on the air … Breaching the surface and having so much fun at Secret beach.
Alcoholic beverages: one-ish, glass of wine with dinner on our final night at Dolphin in Hanelei
Fish tacos: 3
Places to visit next time: Queen’s Bath, Garden Cafe at Common Ground, Tiki Tacos, Secret Beach (again)
Summary statement of the week: good God (R on the final day, struggling with virasana after an arduous hike. I felt the same that day. Thank you for verbalizing.)
Music in my head the entire trip: Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia. And does it not sound like Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” in the beginning? I so need to be a DJ.
Movies to watch: South Pacific, North Shore
Hikes to try: Mt. Rainier, Bagby Hot Springs
Future vacation: Alaska
Items thrown away: Keens, bathing suit bottoms (too big, falling off my bod in the water at the beach and, yes, I had a smaller pair with me)
Items to replace: Keens
Products to try: Lavender and echinacea body lotion (courtesy of L)
Books to purchase or get from the library: 30 Minute Vegan, Bitters by Brad Parsons (recommended by V)

Bar (method), ballet and such

24 May

ballet barre

It’s been nearly a year and one-half since I wrote the infamous “tulle and me,” a blog post about my desire to take ballet lessons and to have legs like the dancers from Trey McIntyre Project or Whim W’Him or … fill in the blank.

I made it happen recently, ballet lessons, and I also started a new ballet-esque workout called The Bar Method that I am really enjoying and that has helped to transform my body. I don’t necessarily have ballet dancer legs yet, but I’m on my way, I do believe.

I’d been curious about Bar Method classes, and they launched a 60-day bikini body challenge in April that benefits Ben Towne Foundation, which I know through my work at Seattle Children’s. So it seemed like the perfect reason to try – improving my body and donating some money to a great cause (pediatric cancer research).

My aim was for 24 classes in 60 days, and I reached that goal yesterday. Yay, me. It feels pretty amazing and I know my body is stronger and I feel more confident and better about myself. Take that, ex-boyfriend who showed up at the recent W’Him show. Skinny khakis that used to fit now fit and a swimsuit I bought to swim laps fit me just a few weeks after I started bar. Kind of amazing and a wake-up call that I had somehow become lazy doing yoga. When I took my first bar class, which typically includes 30 to 40 push-ups, I knew that I hadn’t been working the right muscles. And it’s served also as a reminder of how the body can change as we age.

I signed up for the ballet class months ago, after seeing and buying a deal from Living Social. A friend from work had recommended the dance studio, Exit Space. I’ve had three classes so far of eight, and I was thrilled initially just to purchase and have a pair of ballet slippers. No leotard yet, but I have visions of using my footless tights, after seeing what others have been wearing to class.

After the first ballet class, I felt a happiness that was indescribable and seemed a bit silly, but it was real. That feeling continues. Bar Method classes have helped strengthen the muscles that help me in ballet, and we will see where it goes. I like the camaraderie at bar, even if at first it can be intimidating because there are, seemingly, lots of perfect bodies. As for ballet, I hope to graduate to the next level of classes and could aim for a move en pointe, though I’m not sure if older students graduate to that level.

And I’m off to Hawaii tomorrow for a week-long yoga retreat and strengthening on many levels, so this blog post is perhaps a bit more free-form and quickly written, compared with others. But it’s also overdue, to share the transformation story.

Claire, the refrigerator and the heat

12 May

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

I started watching “House of Cards” recently, after hearing a lot of positive comments on it and watching a bit of the White House correspondents’ dinner (which included a video with Kevin Spacey, one of the show’s main characters, Congressman Francis Underwood).

Robin Wright plays his wife. She’s so beautiful and a great actress. Like many, I’ve loved watching her since she appeared in “Princess Bride.” Her character in this show is not exactly a princess. That can be a little shocking.

In one of the episodes that I watched, Claire retreats to the kitchen to get more chardonnay for friends who are over for dinner. The female friend follows her into the kitchen, and sees her lean in to absorb the cool air. When I was watching, I thought that she was exhausted because the dinner was work-related and she was hitting this couple up for money to support her company. And they live in D.C., so who doesn’t want some additional cool air, especially if it’s summer time?

But the female friend initiates a conversation about hot flashes, and asks Claire if she is also getting night sweats. Claire changes the subject.

A few episodes later, husband Francis mentions that he has seen her lingering at the fridge. “Does it hurt?” he asks. “It’s not pleasant,” Claire says. He asks her if there’s anything that he can do and she says, “no.” I was intrigued by these exchanges because, as a blogger for Slate penned earlier in the year, you don’t often see scenes about menopause on TV.

I haven’t been lingering at the fridge but I am experiencing those same hot flashes and night sweats. I’m a few years older than my mother was when she went through menopause (which is how clinicians gauge timing) but even that small triumph is not a big consolation.

One of the worst parts of it for me, really over the last year, is interrupted sleep. I had been waking up really early for awhile, couldn’t go back to sleep and wasn’t sure why. I joked with friends about having Bill Clinton eyes. (Thanks for that, Clara S.) Initially, I thought that my bedroom might be too warm. That could have been part of it. But thinking back now, something similar was happening last fall when I spent the night at a friend’s house … kicking off the covers for a bit, and then diving back under the blankets.

The night sweats aren’t horrible. I feel a wave of heat come over my face, really, so I’m a little prepared. And there is just a small amount of moisture that I can easily wipe away. There is often a few drops in the crooks of my arms, too. Earlier this week, when I wasn’t feeling well (summer cold), it was also damp behind my knees.

I started acupuncture a few weeks ago and it slowly seems to be helping. I am now able to go back to sleep when I’m so rudely woken up, and that is a relief. It also seems to help when I don’t drink regularly (and that’s a good thing for me, too, I know). I slept in last weekend one day for the first time … in forever.

The last period that I had was in January of this year, and my nurse practitioner said I’m not officially in menopause until I haven’t had a period in a year. I can still get pregnant until that time, she said. It’s a lot to deal with – being single, not having any kids and now being pushed beyond that point. I know that I could always adopt if I really wanted to have kids, and it’s not like I have ever given up the chance to have children. It just didn’t happen for me.

So there’s all that behind this change I’ve moved into. I had dinner with a friend, Piper, recently and she said another friend of hers was going through the same thing. As she talked about grieving the loss and moving forward, I immediately burst into tears, and she hugged me tightly. “No one has ever talked with me about this,” I said.

Empathy

28 Apr

ImageI sometimes wish that I didn’t feel things so deeply. A few weeks ago, I was on the bus heading downtown. We stopped on Broadway in front of the QFC and a few riders got on the bus. One was an older man, with several bags. He shuffled slowly to the end of one of the seats on the left and in the front, the ones that face inward.

He was most likely homeless, from his unkempt appearance, shaggy beard and bags. He was looking for his pass or transfer when the bus driver began calling out to him in a loud voice. Sir, sir, come here, he said. The would-be passenger muttered that he was putting down his belongings. The bus driver’s voice became louder, he unhooked himself from his seat and continued to call out to the man in a voice that resonated throughout the vehicle.

When they both were in the doorway, the driver asked him to step outside and to get off of the bus. But my things … the man said. We don’t want to go through this again, the bus driver said, not hiding the scolding tone, as if he was talking to a child. I’m trying to keep you out of jail, man, the bus driver said. It was a bit heart-breaking. Even if this man has had jail troubles, did the bus driver really have to yell that out for all to hear on the bus? And I’ve certainly been on the bus before when I wished the driver had not let someone on due to being drunk or high or obnoxious. This was not one of those riders.

The older man swore at the driver as his bags were placed on the sidewalk and prepared to drive away. That’s what I’m talking about, the bus driver said, as if some harsh words at that moment justified the humiliation we all had just witnessed.