Saturday, December 27, 2014

1st Trimester Report: FOG

Boy, this 1st trimester is bad.
It's so bad that I can't recommend anyone TRY MESSIN' with it.

But, seriously, folks: this pregnancy has not been romantic. I can write pretty stories about it all, true stories, even, but it has not been pretty. By now, you've read of my nausea in other posts. I've never experienced anything like it. Still, everyone has had stomach virus, and many have had much worse. I could never be glad that Brendan suffered from CVS during highschool and college, but it definitely has made him empathetic. Actually, knowing that my episodes were causing him flashbacks helped me to be a little braver about the whole thing! He's full of helpful, normalizing information like: "Oh, yeah, coughing up a little blood for a while after is the worst." And, "Believe me: throwing up something is better than throwing up nothing." My poor baby. I wish he didn't know these things. (I say that, but I have had to repent of all the times that I wish he DID know how POTS feels.)

I'm not glad that I finally got a rough 1st trimester on what will likely be my last pregnancy, but I am glad to know a bit more fully why so many women hate pregnancy. I have to admit: I realize now that I felt pretty judgy in the past about women who would complain about pregnancy. I think beginning my child-bearing career with a miscarriage set me on a path of never wanting to utter a negative word about pregnancy because "at least my baby is alive." That's a tough standard. I was truly thankful and willing to put up with a lot, but I see now that it's not a very generous position to take. Of course, with each subsequent pregnancy and the increasing discomforts that accompanied them, I became a little more empathetic. I suppose the trend continues.

Because I believe so strongly that children are blessings worth bending over backwards for, it's difficult to admit that I have frequently asked myself over the last weeks "What is wrong with me???? Why did I just have to have another one of these people?! Where do I get these ideas!?" It's a good thing I wrote down my pretty story about wanting this baby because I definitely have had to go back and read it a few times. I've not wished the pregnancy away; I've just needed a lot of reminders of the Why. This rough trimester reminds me of being in Seattle summer morning fog. You go to bed with all these hopes for the predicted sunny day. Then, when the day actually begins, you look out and WAH-wah: gray clouds. You can't see from your place down in the city that it IS a beautiful day; there's just a marine layer. It's easy to get discouraged and wonder why you ever were dumb enough to make sunbathing plans when you KNOW you live in SEATTLE! You have to keep hope and remember that, as any seasoned Seattleite will undoubtedly say, "this will burn off." So, yes, I decided to take the risk of getting pregnant with POTS and the OB's words that the first trimester would be bad. We decided to try to do it anyway because with a long-term perspective it's easy to sign-up for 3 (or even 9, or even 30) rough months because ANOTHER PERSON!! A wonderful blessing! The three we have are incredible, so why not do it again? But then... you wake up on that cloudy morning, and it's inevitable to wonder for at least a moment, "What were we thinking exactly?"

After the fog does indeed burn off, the summer days in Seattle are incredible. There's nothing like a perfect Seattle day, and I think they are a little bit better because of all the suspense of that dang morning fog. Am I trying to pump myself up? You betcha. I need all the encouragement I can get- even if I do just write it myself. Being a pregnant POTSie is really hard so far. My blood pressure has been very uncomfortably low and has seriously exacerbated my POTS symptoms- particularly the racing heart and dizziness in upright positions, digestive troubles, fatigue, and weakness. BUT, I do take some solace from the fact that I was told this would happen. I'm hoping and praying that this fog will burn off as I get into my second trimester in a couple of weeks. The increased blood volume of the latter stages of pregnancy has, for some, even given the feeling of curing their POTS for a few months. I look forward to reporting on the subject.

There is one thing of which I'm sure: God will love me whether I feel better or not, and I will be looking for that love to shine through no matter how long the fog lasts. I'm so grateful to my family for being the number-one source of God's love to me. My children have empathetic abilities beyond their years, and it's no wonder to me that my husband bears the name of a saint. I don't know how this story will end. It could go badly; and though I do not dwell on that, I know enough to prepare myself to accept it as a possibility. I can only survive this if I keep my eyes fixed on things above because down here I feel like I'm gonna barf or maybe pass out.

But it is fun to think of baby names.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What It's Like Today

In the interest of being more honest about what chronic illness is like for me, here's a confession: I'm really sad today that I'm sick. 

By God's grace, I'm a fairly positive, hopeful person that looks for the beauty in my life more than the dark, but every now and then I get emotionally exhausted. Every moment of every day some part of my heart and my mind is distracted, plagued by thinking about how my body feels. Sometimes, my pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or pounding, arrhythmic heart is ALL I can think about. Other times, I'm just so tired that I can't get through a full idea or sentence without stopping. I can't remember the last time that there wasn't some little part of me being forced to direct attention to self-preservation. You know the feeling: you're sick with a cold, and there's just this little bit of you that has a running script of, "dang, my head hurts. Uggh, this congestion. When should I take another Tylenol? I hope this person isnt grossed out by me. I wonder if they can tell how sick I am." Or, when you have something really awful like strep-throat or stomach flu, and it just hurts so badly that it is ALL you can think about. Well, that's how it is for me ALL the time, and it's been this way for 2 years now. 

Maybe it's the "2 years" part that has me newly depressed and discouraged. My bizzare symptoms began 2 years ago, the week of Hazel Belle's first birthday. Anniversaries do things to me, and my little, emotional self seems to begin groaning before my mind realizes that there is a seasonal reason for my funk. 

I can't have a conversation, or rest in my bed, or do an errand without constantly having to evaluate how much more I can take. I HATE IT. I'm sick of being sick! It is so, so draining. I feel like I have adjusted somewhat to the constant physical drain. I just know now what I can and can't do. I usually know the point at which I am officially spending too much energy and WILL be forced to pay the price later. I have to decide all the time what activities are worth X amount of cost. Mostly, I choose to spend what I have on people- mostly my family and making memories with them. I could spend more time resting, but for what? A lifetime (doctor's predict) of memories of missing out? No thanks. I'd rather flash and fizzle over and over than just be a tiny little flame in pajamas that's not really shining for anyone. All that to say, I'm adjusting to the physical limitations. The emotional drain? Not so much. 

I miss using my full heart and full mind to focus on what's in front of me, and this week I'm just so, so sad about it. I want to use my energy for more than just being able to pick up kids from school and maybe take a shower. I'm glad that I've been able to make it out for a few holiday events- office parties, etc., and I have enjoyed them. I'm glad that my family understands that being together at church for a few hours or picking out a Christmas tree means that I'll need to spend the rest of the day in my bed. I'm also hopeful that once this baby is born (about a billion years from now...) I can get back on all my medications and feel a little bit more energetic- even if it is a strange, manufactured feeling. I know that I won't feel this sad every day, but I do want to share more often when it feels this bad.

I'm feeling pretty angry today too. I'm pissed at POTS. I'm frustrated that the medical community does not understand why this happens to people- young, strong people in the prime of life. I feel like I have to stay at least a little bit mad about it, or I will lose my willingness to fight back. I don't want my children to get this crap. I don't want this to swoop down and do to my daughter what it has done to me right when she most wishes she could be healthy and strong for her family. I don't want my grandchildren to have to worry about their mom fainting. So, I have to stay a little bit mad. I need to be a squeaky wheel... if only I could figure out who it is I should squeak to! If you're a passionate, medical researcher looking for a cause, you give me a call! 

Advent is a good time for groaning with dissatisfaction, I think. "Long lay the world in sin and error pining." "O, come, O, come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear!" I feel the pining! I feel the captivity! To modernize a bit: "My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love." I don't want things to stay this way, and I'm SO glad that things will be new someday. I need the Incarnation to be the truest of true. For today, I'm crying.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nutcracker- Part III

We did it. We went to Nutcracker thanks to my amazing church family. We sat in what I felt were the best seats in the house, and I cried once.

Getting out the door to drive down to the opera house, park, and make sure everyone had eaten something before the 5:30 show was definitely a challenge. That week was probably the low point of my POTSy, nauseated pregnancy so far. I was genuinely concerned that I might need to vomit during the performance. Thankfully, I have years of training under my belt in the "show must go on" category, so I sucked it up and faked wellness. In a way, it was a good distraction- not too much attention left for getting myself in an emotional tizzy over what we were headed to do.

The kids were really pretty golden. They were appreciative and in their own, age-appropriate ways understood the emotional gravity of the experience for me. They had been given the carrots of choosing 2014 ornaments from the gift shop and eating overpriced cookies ($30 for 3 cookies, an 8oz cold egg nog, and a small bottle of San Pellegrino!!!) at intermission if they behaved. They achieved both! They were very interested in understanding the story fully and asked lots of intelligent questions beforehand. Hazel asked insightful little questions that felt like those from a future dancer's mind (if I do say so...) like, "Why her shoes so noisy?" and "How does he do that spin?" The boys wanted mostly to know, "Is that a real sword!?!" every time a sword appeared on stage. By the middle of Act II, Hazel, almost 3 years old, was just trying to survive sitting still for another minute. My favorite thing Ezra, 6.5, did was hum along to all the songs... that he didn't really know. I kept telling him to cut it out, and he finally asked, "Why won't you let me sing?" "Because everyone here paid a lot of money to hear that orchestra... not you." He understood; Ez definitely can appreciate wanting to get one's money's worth. Ivo, 4.5, was considerably more emotional about the whole thing than the other two. He wanted to be close to me, and I think he was feeling sad for me. He kept asking me if I knew the different parts he was seeing and was adamant that I point out the exact moment in the show that I had been injured. I think Tchaikovsky's very emotional score got to him too as he is easily affected by melody and timber. He wasn't alone.

The overture had me holding my breath and my heart beating fast just like it did when I was 7 years old and waiting to be the first little girl on the stage and when I was 19 and a bit panic stricken that I would fall (and then did.) I think, though, that I successfully held both those emotional extremes in  my heart and tried to let them have their effect. I was really sad and really wistfully happy at the same time.

My overwhelming feeling in the party scene was that it was about as boring to watch as it was to do. It felt like it took forever, just like it always did on the other side of the orchestra pit. Too, it made me proud of the work we did at Lone Star Ballet. Our small city show was every bit as engaging; and, honestly, I think the Amarillo kids gave much better face and were more together... at least back in my day. These Seattle children don't get enough sunshine. I enjoyed watching the fight scene, though, and thought that all the little soldiers were adorable. I was never a soldier, nor did I ever want to be one. But, they sure added a lot to the scene.

The crying came during the first pas de deux. Different productions use the music for different things, but usually it's some kind of pas for Clara or a Snow Queen. I cried because I had danced to it and because the memory of dancing to it was so, so sweet. What a blessing all those years at Lone Star Ballet dancing lead roles were! I would not have nearly the body of work in my memory had I not been given those opportunities. The dancers were beautiful too, and I appreciated seeing such talent. The dancer who performed as the Nutcracker Prince that night was a friend of mine (acquaintance?), and many nice stories of fun times with him and my other friends came to mind too. He danced with such cheery, generosity- just like he is in real life. I had fun later relating to the kids my story about him teaching me about arnica gel and giving me the last of his tube of it for a stress fracture in my metatarsal.

During the snow scene, my favorite to watch and to dance, I was so pleasantly surprised to see how very visible my spot felt. I realized that people really had seen me dance. TONS of people saw me dance. When you are dancing in the corps, it can feel like you are a bit hidden, and like your job is very secondary to the the principal and solo roles. But, I loved watching the corps dance, and no one was hidden. Almost certainly, people watched and appreciated the work I did, and that felt so nice to realize.

At intermission, I was SHOCKED by how insane the house was. SO MANY people go to this show! As a dancer, I don't think I ever realized just how willing people are to inconvenience themselves for this production. Nothing about it was convenient or cheap. I wish I had appreciated a bit more back then what a privilege it was to have that many people make that great an effort to watch us dance. What a pleasure to know that I added to so many people's holiday joy.

Second act went by quickly, for me not the kids, and I loved watching Flowers. I was happy again to see that it did matter that the girl dancing my old spot was there. I clapped long and hard at the end after mentally dancing every step of the finale- classic Stowell Nutcracker hip-wiggle and all. I had a teeny bit of sadness that the hip wiggle is going away, but I also felt really glad that PNB is doing a new production next year. It's time.

In the harried departure from the theater and then 40 minute wait to get out of the garage, my ability to fake wellness seriously flagged. I felt like crap the whole way home and was pretty miserable from overdoing it for a few days afterward. But, I felt so glad that we had made the effort and had been given such a special opportunity. I felt like a grown-up. I felt like I had done some maturing, and I'm thankful that bitterness had lifted. Am I eager to start a new Nutcracker watching tradition? Not at all. But, I'm glad I said hello to it as an audience member for the first time, and I'm glad my children got to see it too.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nutcracker, Part II

I JUST wrote about how great a storyteller God is, and here I am already with another piece of story to share. You cannot make these things up (well, actually, I totally could, but I'm glad I didn't!).

The story starts a long time ago. I wrote a bit about it in this post about how I feel about The Nutcracker. Obviously, God is doing some major housekeeping in this heart. My feelings about ballet have been a jumbled mess: bitterness cobwebs, boxes of joy buried deep in the crawlspace, righteous anger stuffed behind rubbermaid tubs full of a dancer's grin-and-bear-it decorum, wells of sadness. Yesterday after reposting my commemorative post on my life changing accident, I said to Brendan, "Do I seem like I'm just hung-up on old news? Am I obsessing over something that I just need to get over?" "NO! Not at all!" he answered. "Well, it seems that way to me..." But, here's the thing: that life change happened 12 years ago, and I'm pretty sure I spent the first 6 years just trying to survive it. The next 3 or 4 were spent trying to tell myself it was time to be over it without ever having explored how to grieve. It took 10 years for me to be able to start really looking at the whole thing, and it is only through regular counseling sessions (that I began to attend for help dealing with the current disruption of my illness) that I am finding how greatly effected I am by it all- as in daily effected. I use this analogy a lot because I think it is so true: ballet and me as ballet dancer were like a major influential person in my life- like a special aunt, teacher, or sister, and losing ballet was like experiencing the death of that person. I struggle to give myself credit for that loss because it wasn't really a person, and I guess I behave as though only some kinds of losses deserve compassion. But, I need compassion. The moment my body hit the floor, I knew I needed compassion, but I began steeling myself against that need. Deciding not to be needy works for lots of people. It worked fine for me for a long time. Of course, "works" should be in those quotation marks because I don't think I was able to be fully myself. I worked some things out here and there (ALWAYS in connection with spiritual growth through the work of the Holy Spirit through his Word and his people), but I did not try to engage the work of healing. Rather, I tried to tell myself that healing wasn't required.

I know this all too well now: you never quite know how sick you were until you start to feel better. I remember being in the third grade and having a cold that I was trying to fake my way through during the holidays (probably so that I wouldn't have to miss any Nutcracker rehearsals). I had a bad, scratchy cough and was in the back line of my little Christian school choir performing some songs for an elderly bunch at a nursing home. I was miserable, and I recall thinking, "What was it like to feel well?" I looked at all the other kids who were managing to sing while I tried not to gag-cough all over the row in front of me, and I just couldn't picture what they were feeling like. I think this memory stands out to me because it was one of those times as a kid that you realize something that you know you need to carry along with you. I wanted, when I was well, to really be glad that I was well. Having been sick now for a few years, I don't remember what well really, really feels like. I see it on other people and it conjures memories, but I can't remember it viscerally. But, I had a couple of weeks during the summer when my symptoms improved and my beloved methylphenidate was supplying some clarity and energy, and I realized then, "Wow, I have been really sick." Thus with the ballet stuff: once I started admitting that healing was required and started unpacking everything I saw that I have been a mess!

Writing out my feelings, about Nutcracker revealed to me how much I really love it. I honestly didn't know. I didn't know that I had more love and joy over it than depression and animosity. Just expressing through writing my conflicted heart was like cleaning out that closet. A wealth of joy was hidden behind just a few, though large and intimidating, boxes of pain. And today I learned that people are willing to help me with my boxes! (I should have known...)

So, here's the story:
A few days ago I posted a mini-version of all this sentiment about The Nutcracker on Facebook and confessed that I actually would truly love to go enjoy it. I only could enjoy it fully, I feel, with my children in tow. My children are my lenses through whom I see things afresh, and that is what I need: to see the Nutcracker like I did when I was a kid. So, I started looking for tickets for my family of 5 to attend the show only to discover that there is NO WAY we can afford to go- especially during the holidays. I followed up my mushy post with a somewhat defeated post about how pricey it all is (we're talking $500+ for my family to sit in good seats). Here's a confession: I was really, really hoping that some PNB contact of mine would see my plight and be able to help somehow. But, after a few days and no bites, I just told God that if he wanted me to go, if he had business for me in that theater at that show with my family, that he would give me tickets. I felt total peace in surrendering my heart to the Lord. I was excited to see what he might do, and I was relieved to know that if I shouldn't go for some reason that I was being prevented. God did not work a miracle; he used his people. Sometimes he does work miracles when they will help his story, but mostly he just uses us. More than one person who loves the Lord decided to love Him and to love me by pooling money for our family to go to the show. And we are sitting in the ROLLS ROYCE of seats! All these people are incredible.

Here's my favorite part in this story: Today was the first Sunday of Advent. So, what did we learn and talk about today? The Light. My pastor preached about our opportunity and privilege to live in the Light- to be a community that chooses to bring each other into the Light and genuinely love each other. What a joy for me, a doer, to be a receiver today! Not to say that I'm not given much, but just to say that I'm more likely to be bending over backwards to help than I am to be asking for or accepting help. I feel the Light, people! And I had a week of fighting darkness. This pregnancy is doing a number on me so far, and I have been battling physical weakness and pain as well as spiritual distress and fear. A dose of kindness goes SO FAR.

Even more than the tickets and the opportunity to begin my life as a joyful ( I hope!) ballet patron rather than participator, as extremely meaningful as that is, the great prize to me in all this is knowing more of God's love and feeling that love through his people. God. loves. his. people, people! And so do I. Today I learned that a lovely woman (this is your shout-out, Elizabeth) whom I really just barely know, has been loving and blessed by my writing here to the point that she reacted in love to my plight. What a joy to me to have this outlet of writing when I feel locked up in so many other ways! I can't be the hostess I once was. Heck, I can't even carry on a very long conversation anymore! BUT, once again, God has his own ways of writing the story. I have spent time feeling guilty at not being able to reach out hospitably to this very woman, and yet God was allowing us to get to know each other anyway. She, and so many others, are doing exactly what we heard about today in worship and are bringing me to the Light. Thank you to all of you who are sacrificing some extra holiday cash to help me! I need your compassion, and I'm so grateful for your responsiveness to the Lord. I love you very much.

You KNOW there will be a follow-up post...

And one last thing, Bethany Robbins. This TOTALLY reminds me of you coming into town for my 6th Day Dance performance. What wonderful people God's people can be when they walk in the Light.

I hope Advent is filled with hope for all who wait on Jesus, and I pray that you would see him for the first time if you have not yet. This is a story you want to be in!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Below are some words I wrote to share for my Thanksgiving Eve service at church. I have a good story to add:
Our pastor had emailed 4 of us who were asked to share beforehand with the order of worship for the evening, so I knew the point at which I was expected to step up. This blessed pregnancy of mine has been making me very sick these days. I'm not usually very nauseated during my pregnancies, but it has been pretty bad! On top of that, my OB's predictions are proving true, and my POTS symptoms have been terrible; it almost feels like my meds are not working at all. I'm halfway through the 1st trimester and am hoping that the other predictions of low symptoms in the 2nd and 3rd come true too! Today I felt AWFUL. As I sat there in the service waiting for my turn, I went into full-blown POTS mode- shortness of breath, tachycardia, dizziness, painful, heavy limbs, etc. I was struggling with what I should do! I knew that if I tried to stand up there I would pass out. There was not a graceful way to pull out a chair or something, so I thought I'd just sit on the front pew and try to lean over into the aisle or something. But even with that plan, I was afraid that my breathing would be too ragged for me to manage reading my little story. I had written it down because my brain hasn't been too reliable lately thanks to my brain fog- another POTS symptom. I was praying, praying, praying for God to make a way for me to share! I was trying to decide if I needed to just give it to Brendan to read for me when the pastor accidentally skipped over me. I thought they may just skip me altogether, and I prayed that if God wanted for people to hear what I had written that they would bring it up later in the service. I also prayed that God would not allow Satan to keep my words from people if God wanted them to have them. While I sat and rested, the POTS episode passed. After the homily, the pastor called me up. Although my tremulousness was pretty bad and I did feel pretty weak and short of breath, I was able to stand through my whole reading and my heart beat normally. Even in sharing about God using me in his own ways during my times of weakness, I experienced him using me in his own way in my time of weakness!

When I was invited to be up here tonight, I was very excited because I love public storytelling- especially telling stories of God's faithfulness, and we got to see God do a lot of amazing, kind work in the past year. But, as I tried to choose which story to share, I decided that I couldn't do any of them justice in three minutes. I'm going a level up to share the overarching view, and you can just trust me that the supporting details are there. 

So, my big thank you to my God for this year is for HIS amazing storytelling. The closer I look at Scripture, the more romance and beauty I see. I see the art in going through Levitcus and now Hebrews in our sermon series. There are so many overwhelmingly beautiful analogies, characters, foreshadowing, and intertwining, generation-spanning plot lines that I stand in awe. If you spot a theological hole in this next point, you can set me straight after, but I like to behave like we are living in Book Three- like God is writing a trilogy. There's the history in the OT, and then the NT, and then here we are living in the last installment leading up to the grand finale of Christ coming to establish the New Kingdom. We all get to be God's characters in his story. 

18 months ago, my character's storyline took a twist. I was diagnosed with a mysterious, currently incurable, chronic illness, and my family and I did not like what was happening to our story! My illness came with life-changing levels of exhaustion, pain, and weakness. It leaves me faint. I was afraid that I was being written off to the sidelines of the Story, but, of course, that's not how God treats people who love him- he's never going to drop me. And, you know, a great writer spends time on character development. I know that I have become richer, and I hope for his sake, more compelling, because now I can appreciate promises like these from his story: "He heals all your diseases... he satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." And this from Isaiah 40: "Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not grow faint." God has me praying for and looking for this kind of work to happen in my life. And, funny, the more you pray the more you see. One way that he has renewed my youth and strength is by giving me desire for and then blessing us with another baby- one we are expecting in late July and who at this moment is making want to throw-up. He renews my spiritual strength every day through his Word and increases my faith by using some of my worst days to encourage others. He even has used me to bring people here to Green Lake. So tonight, I am thankful that I get to be in this story and thankful that I get to be in it with you. I give all glory to The God Who Sees, The God Who Heals- my most beautiful, romantic storyteller.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Beginning

One of my favorite things to do in a new house is to see what kind of plants grow in the yards through the first year. There are always surprises, but usually not much. Although I am a novice, I enjoy gardening, and I love plants. I like to know what they are all called and at least the first thing or two about them. Here at our new house, not many things have grown. However, in late Spring I was doing some weeding and hesitated to pull a little guy growing right by my front steps. It just looked like something special that deserved to live compared to all the oxalis and dandelions that I was ripping out by the roots. Over the next few weeks the little plant got bigger, and I was glad that I had left it. I wasn't sure, yet, if it was something I should have left, but I was still curious and willing to let the little bit of nature take its course.

During that time in May, when the dogwood trees are in bloom, I love to celebrate the birth of my second son who was born on the twelfth. It was such a lovely birth, and the beautiful dogwoods always remind me of walking the blocks in my old neighborhood with my husband and then my friend while I was in labor with him. I started to be a little sad that I wasn't walking those blocks since we were at our new house. I think it was then that I felt my first little pangs that none of my babies were born in the house we now "owned" (with our good friend, BANK).

If you look back at the posts on this blog from the Spring and Summer, you'll see that most of them address self-care and my simple pleasures. I was finally feeling like I was having a break in the shallow end rather than desperately treading shark infested waters! I had started taking a medication that was really helping my fatigue and brain fog, symptoms of my POTS and autoimmune disease that were still really keeping me miserable and struggling even though some of the other more debilitating things were already controlled by other meds. I had reached a great new place in which I felt some hope that I could still have good days, even some great ones! In that new place, I looked up, finally, at the state of things. I had a baby girl who was no longer a baby, a beautiful guest room and master suite that were just begging for a baby and a birth, and sons who were wondering when we'd ever have another kid in our family. I could not believe I was thinking this way! My switch just suddenly flipped. I was completely happy to NOT have a baby each time I helped at a delivery or saw my breastfeeding or pregnant friends, but now... Oh, man, I was in trouble.

I was afraid this little growing idea in my heart was a weed, and I didn't say it aloud to anyone for a while. But I did start asking God to rip it out if it was a weed. I was afraid that this was a little seed of discontent. Things were feeling so much better; I was basking in my blessings, and here I was wishing for more and starting to be sad that I didn't have, probably couldn't have another baby. My endocrinologist had been pretty clear when I began seeing him that I should probably cool it on the childbearing since reproductive stress (you can say that again!) is a strain on the thyroid. I was afraid that it was just silly and selfish for me to want another kid, and I kept imagining all the doctors (and everyone else) shaking their heads at me and thinking, "Leave well-enough alone, lady! You already have THREE!!! You even already have both sexes!" Friends, those thoughts were the weeds, and they almost choked out that other little plant. It took more effort to control those thoughts than it takes to control these dang northwest dandelions. The first time I floated the idea to my husband, he was very surprised, but agreed that having another one of these crazy people would be awesome. When I talked to my counselor about it, I walked out feeling for the first time since I'd noticed the thought like it was OK for me to have it. So, I decided to protect it. I decided not to try to root it out. I prayed about it everyday and watched it grow. I could see that it probably wasn't a weed, but I wasn't sure if it would be OK to keep it forever.

I wasn't sure that I could keep it forever because I was still so, so afraid that I was being selfish. I knew that a pregnancy would make me needy, potentially VERY needy. I do not like to be needy, and I was terrified that I would just be burdening our family and all the people we love by adding another person. My family already feels unwieldy, and here I was thinking about making it even more so. I'm sad for myself now that these fears were so big, but I'm grateful that they did make their way through my heart and mind. I needed to see how much I still needed to grow in my willingness to just be loved. I decided that I wanted to start talking about it with my friends and the family members it would most immediately effect if we did it.

While this idea began to grow so big that I had to decide to make room for it, the little plant by my front steps was doing the same thing. I moved a couple of other things I'd planted out front because obviously this little guy was meant to be there and loving the spot. In August, just before our big church camping trip, the plant made a very interesting little head of buds. It was about to show itself! I would go out and check it first thing each morning. As we packed up the van, I decided to talk to my friends and brothers and sisters-in-law to get a read on whether my fears had any place. The whole drive there, I was running baby names past Brendan. On our last day, sitting in the sun on the grass near the beach, I finally broke down and cried and shared all that I was terrified by. I was received with love and more tears by people who were willing to encourage me and give me the outright declarations of love and loyalty that I was really, really needing to hear- not because they ever gave me reason to doubt it, but because I struggle to believe that I'm worth any trouble. I was relieved and excited to keep giving harbor to my little growing idea. And when we got home, my plant had bloomed with a beautiful cluster of pink, peachy little precious flowers. I did a little investigation: it was a Verbena.

I didn't yet know what this baby idea was yet. Was it the first steps towards having someone new in my body and in our lives? Was it the prompting I needed to start saving for an adoption? Or, was it the beginning of my need to grieve the loss of my ability to have more babies? I was so scared that the last option was the case that I didn't do the google search that I knew could answer most of my questions and would be Step 1. Through prayer, I finally arrived at a day when I felt ready to enter the words "POTS pregnancy." Lo and behold, there was a recent study showing that POTS symptoms improved during pregnancy and that it posed no additional risk to mother or baby. Well, that was the boost I needed. I emailed my neurologist who, very kindly, called me to say that he thought it was a definite possibility, but that I'd need to see a high-risk OB to make sure things would be OK with my meds.

By the time I saw the OB, I was not nervous. I had read the research on everything and figured I just needed her approval and agreement to all the conclusions I'd come to on my own. It was the very best doctor visit of my life. She was a lovely person, and everything went as well as it possibly could have. Compared to the visits I had had over the past two years that were so full of fear and confusion, this visit was such a joy. I knew what I was talking about, and the room was so full of hope. She said we could start trying whenever we wanted and that there was "no reason you can't have a baby." Even the meds I was on were the exactly right choices for a POTS pregnancy. I had anticipated that this would be my moment of truth. That moment when you've ordered the chicken only to suddenly and clearly realize that you wanted the beef. I figured that once all the other barriers were cleared Brendan and I would know if we really were brave enough, willing and excited enough, to accept the reproductive stress. We both immediately reacted with a resounding, "YAYYYY!!!!!"

Two weeks ago, though, off my med that was finally giving me energy (the only med not cool for pregnancy) and at the end of a week of me and three children being quite sick, I was exhausted and second-guessing the whole thing. "I can't do this!" I cried to Brendan. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether or not I can handle this, and I'm scared that I can't. I'm afraid of being an inconvenience! I'm afraid of being alone in the difficulties. I'm afraid it will take too long, or maybe I won't get pregnant at all." We just kept praying, and I prayed that if God wanted me to do this baby thing, that he would make it quick. Well, he answered that prayer, and he answered it quickly, kind, gracious, generous God that he is. We only found out on Friday, but I'm telling everyone and their mother. I find it a kindness of God that I got a positive test the morning before our church's women's retreat. I got to go with so many of my fears already relieved. And just like I needed to be with God's people on that camping trip to share my fears and think things through, it was great to be with God's people to share the joy. It's a break from the social norm, but I'm telling you I'm pregnant at only 4 weeks (probably) along. I know how it feels to lose a baby, and it does suck to tell everyone. BUT, your knowing means that maybe you will remember to pray, and I want to enjoy every possible moment of this child's life with us. Already, in only three days, he or she has brought joy and healing to me.

Around the time my Verbena starts to get buds, I will, hopefully, be giving birth. Praise be to God who "satisfies your desires with good things, so your youth is renewed like the eagle's." POTS has made me feel old, but this baby makes me feel young!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Leaning into Affection

I have the privilege of attending births as a doula. A doula is an educated perinatal professional who specializes in comfort measures and labor techniques. I don't deliver babies or assist in deliveries like a nurse or midwife does. I do try my best to be a cheerful, calming, encouraging, creative presence before, during, and after a woman's labor and delivery while staying focused on protecting and considering the mother's (and partner's) psychological experience of the process. I am not at a birth to promote any kind of agenda or revolutionize the way birth is handled in this country (though I support those efforts by doulas and other birth professionals and advocates when they are not serving the needs of a client). That means: if you want an epidural, I want an epidural for you. If you want a homebirth in the water, I want a homebirth in the water for you; but, if at any time I begin to see that choices need to change to protect your heart, body, or mind, then I am gently encouraging you to make decisions that make you feel most safe and in charge. I love being in this role for women and their growing families. It is a job that requires a lot of my favorite parts of myself, and when I say it is a privilege, I mean it! I get to see babies being born! I get to see women and their partners being the most amazing, vulnerable, selfless they may ever be. I watch people turn into mothers and fathers. I have a store of precious images in my mind, little snapshots of what true love, true grit, true trust, true power look like, and I indulge in recalling them when I need them for myself or for the encouragement of others (though identities are protected!). Because I don't have to be focused on charting or medical details, I really can be fully engaged in the emotions of the whole thing.

Through watching these emotional experiences so closely and somewhat regularly this year, surprise, surprise, I've learned something- or at least, I'm sensing a pattern. Better, much more experienced professionals than I have observed the same thing, but I love that my own experience is adding to the body of evidence in this concept's support. Love and affection are powerful, powerful tools. Before I get into this, I should first share a word for those who haven't, or maybe can't, experience what I will describe. Some people hate being touched, and there are probably reasons for that. Some people have been trained by experience to only rely on themselves. Others are easily overstimulated (especially during times of intense stress) and can really only feel at peace by going to a deep, quiet place inside. So, as I discuss this, know that I do not think you are doing things "wrong" if you don't agree or jive with what I propose. My proposal is this: If you let people hug you and show you affection, you will feel your burdens lighten. I see this in L&D situations, and I definitely saw it in my own births. The harder the contraction, the more I would tightly cling to my husband (he may argue that it was a little TOO tight at times...). The more discouraged I got, the more I would force myself to ask for some encouragement. "Am I going to be ok? Is this going ok?" "Yes! Yes!" they cry. "You're doing so well!" It's amazing what a simple pat on the back, foot rub between contractions, eye contact, stroke of the forehead with a cool rag, or hug (oh! the power of hugs!) can do. I've used all these and more for myself and my clients. Because of the usefulness of these "tools," I do all I can to establish trust before the labor. I've seen some nurses very quickly establish themselves as safe people to receive touch and intimate encouragement from, and I have done my best to learn and steal their tricks. I went to a birth very last minute as a backup doula for clients whom I had never met. It was a challenge to do my very intimate job well without any history, but I find that just doing what I know is right usually works (as long as I'm watching very closely and am sure to back off when I get "Back-off!" cues).

The context of birth has been a great lab in which I have worked with this theory. Birth is SO hard and SO challenging emotionally, mentally, and physically that people are easy to observe. Their real feelings are much easier to suss out because there isn't a lot of time or mental space for concern over social norms (like not hugging strangers and not saying directly what you want or need). It is incredible, though, how strong those norms are! Women still worry about things like their house being pretty enough, or their (MY) very strong desire to not inconvenience anyone. Thankfully, I have not been to a single birth in which there wasn't at least one moment in which I saw all those fears fall away. That is usually the moment that ends up on my shelf of memories worth keeping. I feel strongly that most of us are at our best when we are inviting others into our struggles. It may feel like a huge risk, and it can certainly BE a huge risk! That is a lot of why I'm a doula! Too many birth professionals pay no attention to any of these emotional nuances and railroad over moments that could be formative for a new mom. Am I right? Isn't it nice, or at least, wouldn't it be nice to be able to look up for love, help, support and get it? Doesn't that help you look up for help the next time? Instead, sadly, many people are left looking for help, finding nothing and concluding that either they don't deserve it or it's not worth asking for. This is tragic.

I've been thinking about this whole thing a lot. In labor, I am at my best because that is one context in which I have, thankfully, seen and believed that other people are truly THERE for me. So, I am able to let go, be vulnerable, and enjoy the strength of the people I've invited to be around me. (Another great reason to hire a doula, by the way, is that she was invited by YOU and is there for YOU). I now am able to return that strength and affection to others when I am at their births. At least that's when I do it as a doula. I hope, though, that I'm trying to do it all the time. Even more difficult for me, though, than giving strength and love, is receiving it. I want to be enough for myself all the time. When I feel vulnerable, I don't want to lean into the hugs that are offered. I get spiny and hard instead. Those ideas in my head about how I want to be or should be perceived are too strong. I think I'm afraid to lean into the affection and support that is offered because that would imply that I needed it! But, boy, do we ALL need it.

There is a scientific explanation for affection and it's efficacy in labor. The hormone that dilates the cervix, oxytocin, is found in higher levels in people who are feeling loved and supported. So, the more love and support that a woman is experiencing, the more relaxed she will be, and the more oxytocin is available and effective for getting the job done. This is not a perfect explanation, but I'm confident that the core point is accurate. Stress hormones, like adrenaline, slow down labor and keep us feeling uptight- tight is no good in labor. Oxytocin makes you feel good. Adrenaline makes you feel bad. So, like I said, I've been thinking about this. When I'm "in labor" in my regular life, when I'm struggling to overcome a challenge or fear, isn't it best to lean into the affection? Wouldn't that help in the same way it does in labor? That oxytocin is in all of us, not just laboring women. You know the feeling, that feeling of relief that comes from letting yourself hang in a good hug. The release of letting out the tears. I've got to work on this. It's so obvious to me when I see a laboring woman mentally or emotionally running away from relief, and I think it's just as obvious when I'm doing it in my day to day life.

Sadly, there are reasons why we run away from the hug, just like there are reasons some laboring women don't want to be touched. There have been times for all of us when we let ourselves be vulnerable and looked up for some support and found none- or, worse, got some kind of smack-down for even looking. I'm so, so sorry those things have happened, and I will offer no trite phrases for the pain. I just think we have to make ourselves try to learn that sometimes we will get the help we're looking for. This brings me back to the idea of who we invite to be around us in our stress. I know that the people I invite to my births are there for good reason and have proven themselves to be my loving friends and supporters. I don't expect people to willy-nilly cast about for love and affection. I think we all know that can have some disastrous results. But, I do think we, or at least I, need to be quicker to seek love and affection from the people we have purposely included in our lives and have invited into our stresses. Maybe it starts with just "hiring the doula," with making sure someone is around who cares to watch over the heart. I, for one, think I've made progress in sharing the struggle and letting people "be there" to see it. But, sometimes I'm like a writhing person in labor who just won't let anyone come in to help!

I may be pushing the analogy too far, but bear with me. When these women, when I, lean into the available support and affection at birth, a baby is born. A good, good thing results. And in addition to a new life, a new story is added to the volumes of that family's life- a birth story. Maybe we are having such a moment of cultural obsession with birth stories because it's one of the few situations left in which we allow ourselves such high hopes and become vulnerable. This is why couples go into their births clutching a birth plan! We know that we want a good birth story, and we know that we don't want to walk out of there with a story filled with regret and painful memories of mistreatment. The specifics of the struggle, the method of delivery, the hours of labor, do matter in the story, but no matter how rough the details are, the story can be, WILL be, a good one if the owners of that story felt loved and empowered on their way through it all. They will walk away with some stats ("oh, my babies are big; my labors are long/fast/stop-start/etc.; I had x number of stitches; I pushed for x hours"), but those aren't the parts of the story that will visit them for the rest of their days when they least expect it. They will remember things like this: "my husband loved me so well; my doula could tell that I was afraid, and I was able to talk about why; when I looked at my baby, the product of all my struggle, I knew that the struggle was worth it."

So, that's what I'm going to start going for the next time I'm "in labor." I'm going to try to sink into my husband's hugs. I'm going to call that friend for some encouragement because maybe on the other side of the struggle, I'll have more to my story than just the facts, and maybe I won't come out feeling quite so battered.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sleeping Beauty

When I was a little girl, my mom and dad would sometimes let me rent a movie at Video Warehouse. We would occasionally go for Follow that Bird, but I didn't actually like that one. Ms. Finch really freaked me out because she wanted to take Big Bird from his peeps on The Street. She misunderstood his situation entirely. I still hate when things are misunderstood. Most of the time, though, I wanted to watch another movie full of danger: Disney's Sleeping Beauty. When it became available on Blueray several years ago, Brendan bought it for me. Watching it recently a LOT with another little girl who claims SB as favorite film, I've recalled loving it so, so much. And now I appreciate so much I never saw before. It is a beautiful movie. I love the look of all the characters and scenery. The trees look like those in medieval paintings. Understanding what I do now about childhood influences and experiences and their future effects, I see that the story of The Sleeping Beauty has been an informing narrative, and score, in my life.

I think as a little girl I liked SB the best because Aurora was my favorite princess. But, watching it as an adult I realize that the music, all adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet version of the tale, and the fairies were really what I loved. And Philip. I loved Philip. My romantic dreams somewhat developed based on Philip (and Mighty Mouse, ahem... but that's a different post...). Here was this prince who did two things that I still find attractive: 1) He asserted himself, showing confidence and bravery, and 2) He sang and danced. I loved dancing even as a tiny little thing, so a prince who knew how to just walk right up and join in your dance seemed like a great thing. He also cared more about "love" (I do NOT want to have a discussion about whether the instant-infatuation model of early Disney was good for kids or not) than position. After all, as he pointed out, it was the 14th century. Later on in the movie, Philip is a real-deal hero. He has to slay the dragon, Maleficent, who employs "all the powers of Hell." He uses a "sword of truth" to do it. Christ-type, much? Of course I was attracted to him. I want a hero who will slay all the powers of Hell for my sake.

Then there are those empathetic, celebration-loving, gift-giving, thoughtfully planning, sacrificial, virtuosic fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Greatest names ever. I realize now that those fairies were who I really patterned after. And they are there in the fight against evil with Philip- turning arrows to bubbles and boiling oil (how very 14th century!) to rainbow archways. I wanted to be Aurora in my play because she was the star, of course, but I think deep-down I wanted to be those fairies! My little list of adjectives for them became my own character goals for myself. I was never much of a romantic, princess type. I was never the Beauty among my peers. There were other girls to play that part (a fact I was regularly reminded of every time some boy that I liked would come to ask me if some friend or another of mine was into him!). But, I was the fairies. I was a mastermind, a mascot, a planner, a little eccentric, a lover of Flora and Fauna. And I sure did love to flit about.

And when I would flit as a young, young thing, I would hold Tchaikovsky's themes in my head and heart. One day, the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty was shown on PBS. OH. SNAP. You mean this is a BALLET?!?! You mean that music is BALLET music!?!? I was deleriously happy! The choreography I saw on the screen gelled in my head before I even knew I was trying to learn it. My dramatic heart loved the scenes with Carabosse (Maleficent) casting her curses and Aurora's death-throes dance around the stage, but who did I love the most? The fairies. SO MANY FAIRIES, all with adorable choreography and music. If there was any part of me left that didn't want to be a ballerina, it gave in completely upon sight of Sleeping Beauty. A few years later, at Summer intensives around the country, I learned lots of solos from the ballet, and I still know them all. I especially loved the giant envelopes for Bluebird.

My dreams continued coming true when I arrived for year-round intensive ballet instruction and perfomance at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. The first ballet I was cast in was, you guessed it, Sleeping Beauty. It was the first time PNB would present the work, and Ronald Hynd and Annette Page came from England to stage it. They had both been dancers in the Royal Ballet. I read that Hynd had a similar experience to mine- falling in love with Sleeping Beauty as a young, hopeful dancer in the 1940s. Of course, I had very small bit parts, but I got to be on stage while that wonderful music played and add to the scenes my little smile and body and was therefore in Heaven. I was on stage for all the fairies' variations. I loved every minute. I also got to learn the part of nymph, a baby fairy in the corps de ballet. I laid on stage as a sleeping nobelwoman while the awaited kiss was planted, and I sometimes got to harass the Prince with a rubber snake in the much-coveted, flattering role, Hag #1. That Spring, for our student production, girls were cast to do the fairy variations. I understudied the Fairy of Beauty and struggled with the pointe work but always nailed the pirouettes at the end. I never danced it on stage, but at least I got to rehearse it.

Three years later, after my injury, I was struggling to make it through what I was slowly realizing were my final weeks as a ballet dancer. What was the last ballet of the season? Sleeping Beauty, of course. One of the better, older dancers in the Professional Division by that point, I was cast to learn and even perform some much more respectable roles than wet nurse and hag. I was learning Lilac Fairy Attendent- a tutu and wing wearing part that I loved. I would dance a lot during that beautiful prologue with all those fairies. But, one terrible day at my doctor's office, he let me know that my injury was clearly not healing and that, yes, that pain was dangerous. I discussed with him that this part I had that I loved so much was hurting me and that it was probably a better long-term decision to let it go. I had to go to the Ballet Mistress' office and confess that I couldn't hang. I was afraid that I'd hurt myself or make too many mistakes because of pain. Boy do I kick myself for that decision now. I don't know that there really was an alternative, but I wish I had just pushed myself to do it anyway. Instead of dancing my way through my favorite ballet scene of all time for my last performance, I stood on stage as a member of the court in a hideous gown and wig and watched everyone else dance everything I had ever hoped for. I hated every moment and would silently cry through the whole thing. I didn't even try to hide it, but of course, no one ever noticed because no one was watching me.

Last year, a friend of mine gave me some free tickets to see that same production. I knew enough to bring along a best friend and our husbands. It was a lovely evening, and the pain of watching it all was somewhat mitigated by time, my own progress, and being able to at least use my knowledge to fill my girlfriend's ear with top-notch, insider commentary! I don't think I even cried. I might have later at home. I was surprised that I didn't get upset while we were there, but I think there are a lot of reasons for that. First, I'm Flora-Fauna-Merryweather type. I want it to be fine for everyone else, and I'm excited, truly excited, to have my experiences, even the really, really crappy ones, make things better or more interesting for others. Also, I have stuffed that ballet pain down with an iron tamp, and it only comes out in very extreme circumstances or when I want it too (although, even then it's hard sometimes). At any rate, I enjoyed the night with my friends and was reminded how much I still love Sleeping Beauty, even if now I have some really painful memories of it that I really could do without. I see the art in my story. I love the running Sleeping Beauty theme. I see the artistic intention in Sleeping Beauty being the first and last ballet I ever danced professionally. Do I understand it? No, I really don't. Or I didn't, but I'm starting to see it.

I was inspired to dredge all this up while watching the Disney Sleeping Beauty with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. All the tears I should have cried that night at the ballet with my friends came pouring quietly out during the movie. I cannot watch it without dancing all the parts I hear and feeling all the hopes of my childhood come raring up. My sweet little daughter dances along to the movie, and she doesn't even know my history with the whole thing. I watch the fairies now with more identification than ever as they play the role of little mommies to Briar Rose. I see my husband and my God in Philip and am more in love than ever with them both. I cried when I felt the pain of the King and Queen as they hear their daughter being cursed, watch her taken away as a baby, and wait for her safe return, "never knowing." I don't think I would get so much out of the movie if I wasn't watching it with a heart that is so inflamed by the music. I don't think I'd look at my daughter and marvel over the fact that she is here and that I have the stories I have to pass to her and for her to use. People ask me all the time if I'm going to put Hazel in ballet and my heart leaps every time. "Why would I do that to her?" is always the first thought that races through, but it is followed up with all my sweet memories of dreaming and hoping, of waltzing and spinning. I do hope Hazel will find something she loves as much as I loved dancing, as much as I love The Sleeping Beauty. Maybe it will be something horrible like basketball. I shudder to think! But I do hope that I will be a good little Flora to her and plan and help on her behalf as she uncovers whatever it is that she loves. I hope that she will have the Sword of Truth. I hope that she will plunge headlong after her dreams and stay in the story. I can't wait to see how Sleeping Beauty continues to come up. I am sure that it will.
My Blurry Little Dancer

My Princess Aurora
See? Hideous.

Cutey Peasants (and my friend in the nymph costume)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Ah, The Nutcracker. I wonder what that music, that Tchaikovsky score, feels like to "regular" people- non-dancing people. I wonder what it feels like to hear any part of it and not have the deeply memorized choreography come marching, leaping, tip-toeing to the front of your mind no matter where you are, no matter what else you may be doing. Holiday season is approaching. No place will be safe...
Picture, if you will, the inner thoughts of a thirty-one year old woman...

Oh, here I am! Finally away for some mommy shopping time alone. Wow, I think they must pump a special holiday version of their signature scent in here. Anthropologie, how I love to hate and hate to love you. I mean look at the pricetag on this sweat... AND UP, UP, TURN, UP, and travel, travel, travel, and pose...

Ulchh, that sucked. Who knew Chinese was now trendy, Anthro holiday music. Oh well, at least that one doesn't make me cry. Now for some coffee (at Fran's, natch. where else?). ooh. maybe I'll get a couple truffles while I'm at it. Whisky, an imperial, maybe a salted carame... MARCH 2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Chasse, chasse, chasse, POINT, BOW! GAH!!! Screw it, I'm out! Really, party scene???? REALLY!?

Well, now I need a real drink. Time for my favorite cocktail and a spot at the bar. "I'll have the St. Germaine/Gin thing. thanks." Oh good, they're playing emo Christmas music. perfect. I should be safe here. Oh, I wish I didn't hate Nutcracker so much. Or is it that I love it? I guess it is that I love it, and I hate the stage crew at PNB for ruining it for me (for ruining much more than just a little Tchaikovsky). I just can't listen to any of it without thinking about what has been lost. Parts I'll never dance again. Parts that I never danced as a professional. Parts that were my first glimpse of the life I wanted to throw myself towards. Nutcracker really is how it all started. I was cast at age 7 in a role that had me being the very first body on the stage. A little party girl on her way to Clara's house. It was only the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium, but it might as well have been the Met or Radio City to me. I walked into the house for the first big cast meeting at the theater. The audience seats seemed to go on forever. I saw real scenery for the first time. SO BEAUTIFUL! I couldn't have imagined it. I could never have pictured it if anyone had tried to explain it. I can even remember the smell. The older girls all acted like it was all perfectly normal, and they were trying to act cool. But I just gawked, and gawked, and gawked. And the director used a microphone to talk to us. It was so magical. No matter what show from then on, I felt a little bit of that first time every time I walked into a theater where I'd be dancing. whew... better stop there, Jessica! You came in here to STOP thinking about dancing. Just be here. In this bar. In this new life that has nothing to do with what you set out for. This body you're sitting here in doesn't want to remember that it used to do all that other stuff. Now you're just "normal." That's why you're wearing these 28s. You are normal now. Blah. Quit thinking about that stuff. Ah, cute. They're showing "A Christmas Story" on NBC. Haha... oh, commercial... NOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Freaking Nutcracker!! Get out of my life!! YES. WE KNOW. Pacific Northwest Ballet does The Nutcracker. EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS!!!! "CHECK, please!" Drink. Slam.

That PNB Nutcracker is SO weird. I'm glad I got to do it, but man is it different. I'm glad Peter is taking PNB to the Balanchine version. Good riddance. I did love that PNB snow scene, though. And flowers. Probably one of the most beautiful waltzes ever. Oh, that choreography felt so good... well, when you could breathe. "Puffy." It was "puffy," we'd say. That meant we couldn't breathe! It was so flowy and gorgeous though. And it made you feel like you were really, really dancing. I could use all my Texan smiley face too. Flowers was so happy and generous. I remember the last time I danced "company" flowers. It was a dress rehearsal. Three different teachers found me afterward to tell me how different I looked, how beautiful. How they noticed me, and were so excited for me. I'd give anything short of my children to get ahold of that videotape. It was the performance of my life, and I didn't even know it. Well, maybe I did. I knew I looked good that night. I knew I was dancing the best I ever had. I had every reason in the world to hope, especially after those people all pulled me aside. One was nice, but three? Yes, it was all starting to happen. But then, the next day, it wasn't. That's when ALL the shit hit the fan. No one else knew, but I think I knew right then. Up there in the dressing room after the accident, I think I knew things were going terribly wrong. That's why I cried so hard. That's why I cried so hard for months. OY! Stupid Nutcracker! I'm supposed to be shopping. Well, screw that. I'm going home to hug my children.

At least I know. No one else really knows just how awful it feels. But, I do, and I'm one of the most understanding, empathetic people I know. What would I say to me? I'd say: "You WERE beautiful that night. Just know it. Just believe that those three people and whoever else saw you were given a gift to see you that night. Believe that the ballet world missed out, and so did you. You would've worked your way up. Maybe at PNB. Definitely somewhere. You would have kept loving every time you walked in and saw the scenery. That smell. That marley floor warmed up by lights would still be your favorite place. It's ok that it is even now. I'm so sorry you never get to go there. I'm so, so sorry it can never, ever be the same. I'm so glad your back doesn't hurt anymore like it did for so, so long, but I'm so sad that your heart probably will never heal. People don't get it. They can't. But we do. I'm so sorry that Ballet Jessica died. I'm sorry people try to tell you that she didn't. She did. She was wonderful, and I know why you liked her so, so much.  She's gone. That's the thing about being a dancer. You can only be a dancer if you can dance. and you can't. and you don't. Try, though; try to understand that that soul, the Ballet Jessica soul, didn't die. It's in yours. You, the non-dancing Jessica, you have all that stuff in there still. But it will essentially be continually stifled. There are ways to use it. Having that ballerina trapped in there is great in some ways! It's special knowledge. She comes with a special kind of artistic sensibility and determination, and you can do your best to apply that in your life. But, you won't ever be your full, full self this side of Glory. Just like Ballet Jessica wasn't your full self either. After all- she never was a wife. Never gave birth. Never was a doula. Never got a degree.  But she did dance. And she danced The Nutcracker A LOT, so Christmas time will always have a little bit of SUCK to it."

Yep, it sure will.

Incarnation, though. That does have something to do with it, doesn't it? God put on a body that felt all kinds of weird. It was limiting. It was frustrating. It hurt. And he did that so that he would be perfect for the job. "Job" is insulting. The Quest. The Mission. The Project. The Only Hope. A perfect son, he had to suffer. He knows. I know. Dead Ballet Jessica knows. and He knows. What would I do if he didn't know? He's the only one who can do anything about it.

Did that bus just have an effing Nutcracker poster....


Thursday, October 2, 2014


Yesterday we spent a lot of time in Lower Queen Anne near the Space Needle, the opera house, the ballet, etc., so I was lost in nostalgia most of the day- slamming back and forth between laughter and resisting a flood of tears. On our last drive by the ballet, I succumbed to tears. Ezra said, "If you miss it so much, why did you leave?" 

I let Brendan tell the story to the kids. He did a great job (as he would, of course. He was there). It was nice to hear what he chose to communicate, which parts he chose to highlight. In light of us having a 6 year old who is struggling with perseverance, we both highlighted the hard work and years of practice required of me. To emphasize my improvements thanks to practice, I told them the story of how the first time I ever auditioned for PNBS, I did not get in. 

Years after that gawky audition, I worked in administration for the school and discovered (with permission and prompting from other staff members) the notes from my audition. I think it said, "ft, t-o, ext..." which are all good things I'll leave to be deciphered by those of you in the know, but it also said, and I really do quote, "weird." We all had a great laugh over that in the office, and it never hurt my feelings because I'm sure I was weird! I didn't know much about the big, wide, ballet world. I'm sure my ettiquette wasn't quite right, and I remember being out of mind nervous. As we say in Texas, I was a greenhorn. 

Back in the car last night, all I said to the kids was, "They didn't let me in the first time because I was weird." "Why did they think you were weird?"- Hazel or Ivo said. "I don't know. They meant that something about my dancing wasn't right yet." "OR," said Ezra, "maybe they just said that because you ARE weird." 

Yep. Maybe so.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Favorite Holiday

Ever since I was a kid, I would always name July 12th as my favorite holiday. You didn't know that was a holiday? It's my birthday, of course. And, you might observe, it's tomorrow. So, even though I'm home with a sad, little, fevered son and kids who are doing their best not to tear down the house, I'm in a pretty great mood. Anticipation is the best part.

I began to wonder why I'm such a birthday lover. I love everyone's birthday! It feels like the best news ever to me whenever someone makes that shy little announcement, "well, it's my birthday." Obviously, to find the answer to this question, we must go back to childhood, and if it ain't one thing, it's the mother. My mom was the best birthday party thrower. She was that Pinterest Mom who makes you jealous long before that was a thing. She loved to bake or pick a special cake at the bakery and do all the little crafts and decorations. But, what I think stands out to me is not that the parties were elaborate, because some were and some weren't. (We love to recall my little sister opening box after box of orange tic-tacs. She loved it, of course.) What made an impression on me, I've concluded, was that my mom made us feel special. I didn't grow up in a spoiling environment. There were lots of healthy limits. But, birthdays were indulgent. At least that's how I remember them. I was bratty for many a birthday- probably because I, being a young, precocious thing, would take a mile when they'd give me an inch of indulgence for my special day. That's definitely how my kids sometimes handle all the special occasions I promote.

I love having an excuse to share with others for partying and being together. I LOVE it. So, tomorrow, I'll be throwing a birthday party for my son whose birthday is the 13th. It's really the best birthday gift I could have: to have children to throw parties for, one that will guarantee a party around my birthday every year! Being a doula, birthdays have taken on even more significance because now I've seen time and time again just how much a birth is worth celebrating! Your mom did something incredible for your sake- no matter what the birth story was. We ought to celebrate just to commemorate for the mother the end of pregnancy! New people entering the stream of life is a very big deal. It's worth a yearly party for sure.

So Happy Birthday to ME (and to my son and all the other July-babies ((we're the best. don't tell the rest)))!!! THANKS, MOM!!!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Coping Chronicles: Take a Retreat

Early on in my struggle with illness, before we knew what was really the matter (or that anything was really the matter), I went on a personal retreat. I spent one night at a hotel, alone. Taking time away from your daily demands to have mental space to think about what is going on is essential, I believe. Whether you are coping with what you'd consider a major life-change, or not, finding some time to be alone can be both refreshing and revealing.

First, let's deal with the logistics. At the time that I took a break, my baby was 15 months old or so. I don't recall, but I think we had just stopped breastfeeding. My boys were just under 3 and 4.5. So, I understand that it is difficult to leave very small children to take time for yourself. Thankfully, I do have a brave, kind husband who was willing to let me go for 18 hours. If you do not, I bet that you can find a friend or relative who can spend the night at your house while you go or have the kids to sleepover while you stay home alone. BUT, I do highly recommend trying to get out of your own home. It is just too, too tempting to get things done when the kids aren't around. If you can't afford a hotel, even after priceline and groupon checks, see if you can stay with empty-nester friends in a spare bedroom. Assure them that you won't bother them (and make sure they are people who won't bother you! This is about alone time).

The most obvious benefit to this time alone is uninterrupted sleep! Of course, I was unfortunately caffeinated (we'll get to that) and didn't sleep well, but at least it wasn't anyone's fault but my own! Do whatever you can to ensure that you will have a fighting chance to sleep well. Avoid caffeine if needed. Bring pillows from home. Bring the white-noise machine. Be sure you have a quiet room, etc.

Other benefits include all the things you wish you could do, but never have time to do! I spent time journaling, drawing (I'm a major fan of art therapy: draw about how you feel- even if they are crappy stick-figure drawings), listening intentionally to music, watching a couple TED talks (David Blaine on how he held his breath forever is one of my favorites!), and enjoying a few spa treatments. I prepped at home for all these things. I brought everything I needed including my homemade hair and skin treatments:
Body Scrub
Coffee/Cocoa Facial Scrub (This was awesome, but it kept me up! duh! Save it for the morning)
Avocado Hair Mask

I had a hotel room with a bathtub. I cleaned my bathtub first with clorox wipes, and then took a nice long bath and did all these treatments. It was so fun! After a long time of ignoring my own health and beauty, these things felt so luxurious.

If/when I go again, this is the kind of schedule I will follow:
Check-in to hotel
(If you are extroverted) Have girlfriends or partner meet up with you for an afternoon/early evening room service happy hour in your room or hotel bar.
Return to room and read or journal
Get the bath running and do hair and body treatments. Just wash face.
Do 20 minutes of yoga on hulu or netflix
Order a snack or walk out to grab some take-out
Choose a movie to watch, TED talks, more reading, etc.
Try to go to bed at a decent time.
Wake up whenever you're ready.
Eat a good breakfast- preferably in bed
Drink green tea or coffee and do facial treatments
Take time getting dressed, doing make-up, fixing hair (never get to spend much time at home, right?)
Pack things and go to U.Village or do something else you don't get to do- now is the time for that rock climbing session, massage, hot yoga class, run around the lake, whatever!

Hopefully, at this point. You are ready and eager to be reunited with your family! It's OK if you wish it wasn't over. This is where the "revealing" feature of the personal retreat kicks in.

1. What did you miss the most? How can you get more of what you missed in your day-to-day life? Did you miss snuggling and playing with the kids? Maybe you should let the housework go a little bit more to spend more time enjoying your kids' company. Did you miss your own bed? Maybe you should work on your sleep hygiene to ensure better sleep each night. Did you miss your partner terribly? GOOD! Tell him or her so, and do your best to remember how much you like him!

2. What were you relieved to be away from? Oppressive children in the night? Maybe you and partner need to buckle down and set up some harder rules for the kids after hours. Messy house? Maybe you can look at your budget and find money for house-cleaning once a month (it's more affordable than you think! Post on that to come!). Or, make rules (and enforce them) that help you to keep at least one area of your home for you alone to enjoy and keep clean as you wish.

3. What did you remember about yourself? Are you an introvert who needs more alone time? Look for one group activity per week to drop. Are you an extrovert? Try to proactively schedule for ADULT friend time (I mean age not rating... of course... oh, you weren't thinking that... well...). Do you like painting your finger nails? just do it. Are you a fan of reading? Pull out a novel or something instead of reflexively turning to netflix every night. Do you like eating breakfast in bed? TOO BAD.

4. And the hardest question: Did this retreat help? If it did, GREAT! Get excited to do it again in 6 months or so. Save those pennies. If it didn't, why not? Were you too plagued with trying to figure yourself out the whole time? Maybe you need to seek counseling. Were you in pain or unable to sleep? Maybe you should talk to your doctor.

I realized after my retreat that I must have bigger health problems than I realized. My retreat did not make me feel better at all. I still felt exhausted, distressed, and pained. It was a good test to see if I just needed a break (which I did and many of us do) or if there was more going on. I talked to my doctor about how my body and heart still felt terribly run down even after my mini-vacation, and it led to more conversations and, eventually, the uncovering of my diseases and syndrome. Now that I know how much was happening to my body at the time, everything makes so much more sense. I was just such an exhausted, depressed person. I kept asking myself, "Is this just how all mothers with 3 very young children feel?" Well, the answer was "no."Taking the time to get alone with myself and relax and really see what was going on with me even with no responsibilities was a very helpful evaluative step in my health care. Hopefully, when you take your personal retreat, you will come away feeling refreshed and ready to take some of your great self-care inspiration and inject it into your usual week! If you come away feeling like something is still not right, take the next steps and find help to discover what's happening. I am so glad that I did and so is my family!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Graduation: A Very Personal Story

In the Pacific Northwest, we don't get to say goodbye to our school year until mid-June. The rise of FB makes it worse because everyone else in the country kisses school goodbye a few weeks sooner than we do! I don't recall paying much attention to graduation season in the past few years, but for some reason, this year's is really getting to me.

In 2007, I completed my 4th year of college, 2nd year at the University of Washington School of Business. It was a rough 4 years. I worked like crazy. I worked up to 32 hours a week, and no less than 28 most weeks while taking a bit more than full time course load as well. I had to do this to afford what was left of my tuition and living expenses after my grant and scholarship money was used up each quarter. I was what they called an "alternative student," married (by my junior year) and commuting to campus. I did not enjoy being "alternative." It translates to: "weird." Married undergrads aren't real common. And I was a little older than everyone else because I had spent my first 3 years following high school on a dance career that didn't pan out. I was definitely a mess from all that.

However, I was an excellent, excellent student. I graduated magna cum laude from the Business School Honors program as reigning Society of Human Resource Management Jeopardy champ of the PNW. Still the same old geek from high school! I would have been headed off for some great job following receipt of my BA in BA-HRM except that Brendan was the one already set up with the great job. He graduated 6 months before me and was working full time in his chosen field. A couple months before graduation, I managed to convince him that I could just have a baby. Once we were married, I figured we could just get on with having children, so that by the time they were grown and gone we would still be young enough for a round 2- which to me meant career and travel! I still am looking forward to all the things I want to whole-heartedly pursue once my kids are out of my house. About as soon as we had a conversation about having a baby, we were pregnant with our first baby in the Spring of 2007.

You may know from reading this blog that I am big on celebrating special occasions. I've always been that way a bit, but I think that my failed ballet career experience sealed that. My parents basically never saw me dance once I moved away to Seattle. I always played down every part and performance because I knew the cost of them coming to see me all the way from Texas was a big deal. My last performance opportunity was ruined by a last minute sprained ankle, so my last hurrah became instead one last, huge, depressing, flop. I fell in class, the last class I would ever take in the studios at PNB as a student, while my mom and sister were on the plane to come see me. I picked them up from the airport on crutches, and the weekend proceeded to suck in, oh, so many ways. I think the seed was planted then that I needed to just let myself totally go and celebrate every big moment I may ever have because you never know when things will be ripped away. In this spirit, I threw a giant graduation party for Brendan on the rooftop of the Hotel Deca. It was so great, and I sort of felt like it scratched whatever celebratory itch I may have for my own upcoming graduation. But, a couple months before my scheduled graduation, under a blossoming cherry tree on a sunny day, I told my mom over the phone that I would actually really like for her to come to my departmental commencement. I wanted to be proud of what I had managed following such a devastating loss that ended in a terrible visit at the end of my ballet career. She understood, and we made plans for her to come.

These plans became even more exciting when the visit would also be the first time my mom would be with me pregnant! Such an added treat! Everything felt like it was ending well. It had been a very hard 4 years, but in spite of my previous loss, here I was: married, graduating with honors, and pregnant with my future. I was particularly tickled by the fact that I would "walk" pregnant- just like my mom had with me inside 24 years earlier.

Sadly, things took a turn. While Brendan was away on business in San Francisco, I started bleeding a little bit. I'm pretty sure that this is why I still hate it whenever he has to go down to Cali. The next two weeks were a terrible rollercoaster with blood work looking fine, and bleeding improving, to terrible gushes in the middle of my work day at the Foster Business Library's writing center. A day or two before my mom was supposed to arrive, I went in again for bloodwork. While my mom was on the plane, my beloved midwife called to tell me that my pregnancy was over. I picked her up with the news that, once again, it was going to be a very rough weekend.

At that point, I was ready to hide in a ball in my apartment crying. Then, my pastor called me. He had heard my news and was calling to give me his condolences and counsel. I mentioned how awful it was that this was ruining my mom's visit and my graduation. He encouraged me to still do my best to be thankful and celebrate the work God had done by seeing me through my 4 years of school. I decided I should still do the departmental ceremony in spite of the circumstances. I bawled my way through church that morning and passed what I'm pretty sure was my baby in the rest room of my church building. Sometimes I still think about it when I have to go in there. Later that afternoon, armed for the terribly concurrent events, I graduated from the University of Washington. There was no party. My mom took Brendan and me to a nice little dinner at St. Clouds. I remember it being delicious. I remember the labor pains.

So, I get a little crabby about graduation celebrations. Mine was so wrought with grief and confusion. I had nothing to look forward to but mourning the death of my first child. Or so I thought at the time. Now, three more children later, I know that I became a mother that weekend at the same time that I graduated from college. I have no great business career, not do I want one. But I am a mom, and, as my children love to hear me say, it is the best job I could ever have. That time 4 years prior to my miscarriage when my mom had come to see the death of me as a ballerina, something beautiful rose up. Brendan suffered from cyclical vomiting syndrome during high school and college. It was a terrible phase. That weekend of my not-performance, he wound up getting so sick that he was hospitalized for a few days. I was faced with the sadness that I was in love with a man who may be too sick to ever be there for me in my worst moments- as happened that weekend. The day after my mom and sister flew away, I sat in Brendan's hospital room about as sad as I had ever been in my life. It was a quiet moment when no one else was there. He threw up, and, as I cleaned the basin out, I felt the thought come clear as a bell: "I don't ever want anyone else to do this." I decided right then that no matter how bad things might get for either of us, I wanted to be with Brendan for better or for worse. A year later, we were engaged.

In a similar fashion, that weekend of my graduation, something beautiful came again: I could trust and love this God that was overseeing all these awful things that were happening and had happened in my life. I was more ready than ever before to love him and be loved by him for better or for worse. After my ballet life fell apart, I felt close to God, but I was a little bit afraid. I was glad to have been shown that God would take me to and through measures to make me fully his that I would never pursue on my own, but I was afraid that if it happened again in such a shattering way that I might begin to doubt that he was good and really loved me. But, while I was losing that baby, my greatest source of comfort was knowing that God had my child in his plans and heart and that he loved all of us- me, Brendan, our baby, and my mom- more than anyone ever, ever could.

So, even though the feelings are difficult, still bitter, and mixed, remembering my graduation means much, much more to me than just a cap and gown. When I see people in that costume, I rejoice for them, and I mourn for my lost child (even more now that I see what beautiful, amazing people my children are) and for myself for having to go through such a painful, visceral experience rather than feeling the joy I see on other people's faces in their photos. I have a picture of me shaking my dean's hand. To others, it looks like a regular graduation photo, but I bought it because it is my memorial photo of me during our loss. It's a picture of me having graduated to the ranks of parenthood, to the state of loving someone more than I had ever thought possible- not for who he or she is or does for you, but purely, purely for the fact that he or she was made. And when I look at people in cap and gown, I pray that God would show them why they were made and that he loves them- just because he is a great, great parent.

Monday, June 9, 2014

U.Village: UNLOCKED!

Maybe it isn't very novel... Maybe it isn't very hipster... Maybe it isn't even very urban of me, but I. Love. University Village.

Yes. It is just a mall, but when I go there, I feel like I'm on a mini-vacation. And it never gets old. Now, U.Village is a great place to go with kids: day old cookie or pastry from Specialty's to go with your coffee, outdoor, covered, heated play area, froggy fountain to get soaked by in Summer, kids computers with games at the Apple Store, Kinect at the MS store, free crafts and events (with discount coupons for you) hosted by a different vendor every Tuesday, free Summer concert series with kids activities, free parking (and it's easy once you learn to just use the Crate and Barrel garage when it's busy), and even free childcare at the QFC grocery store while you shop (never used it but have friends who say it is awesome!). BUT, nothing beats a few hours at U.Village by yourself. I developed the following strategies as I struggled (at first) to know how on earth to spend my time when I first scheduled a few hours of mental-health/self-care babysitting per week. Now, don't get thinking that I have regular babysitting just so I can go to U.Village... but that's fine too! If you do not have the babysitting option, you could go there with a buddy and trade-off: one mom watches kids in play area for a while, then you trade, and the other watches kids eat sack lunches on benches by the fountains while the other goes off for a jaunt.

You can amend the following based on your interests and budget. I generally do about three items each time I go. Here is my IDEAL day at the UV:

1. EAT

Of course, you go for happy hour. My favorite place right now for happy hour is Liam's. Affiliated with classic Seattle cheesemongers, Beecher's, the food is excellent and has been every time. Their burger is phenomenal and the happy hour price is less than half of the dinner menu price. You do not have to purchase alcohol to get HH food.

My second runner up is Boom Noodle. I love their food too, and my favorite drink (when I'm with a friend... I just can't have a drink alone in public, but power to you if you can... responsibly) is the St. Germain Skydive. I'm very picky about cocktails at restaurants (because they are pricey, so they better be REALLY good). I LOVE this not too sweet, oh, so tangy, complex lemonadey drink for adults. I cannot make a perfect one at home... something we pride ourselves on around here.

I have never been a huge fan of Blue C Sushi, but I am a MUCH bigger fan now that I know they have a fun happy hour in the rarely busy bar that goes until 7pm!! Two of my BFFs and I went the other night and got completely stuffed on $3 food specials- including some nigiri, rolls, and fried yummies like generous plates of vegetable tempura. Again, you don't have to purchase alcohol to get the food deals, but they have a surprisingly fun cocktail menu (though I shouldn't be surprised since they are related to Boom whose drinks I like). Cocktails are $5 during HH. That's a great deal considering that they are well-thought and made with quality liquors and mixers. I had a very fun Yuzu Old Fashioned with Buffalo Trace (one of my fave bourbons).

Din Tai Fung is ALL it is cracked up to be.

For pizza, Delfino's. Elemental is cool, but Delfino's is cheaper and more filling. A quick story: my children are so beautiful (like all children) that the owner at Elemental once asked if they could film my kids playing with balls of pizza dough (passed out to all kids and baked when the kid has made the shape they like). If you ever see them in marketing materials, let me know! Why, oh, why am I not making money on said, potential marketing!?

I DID love the new place, Eureka, for their delicious, classic American bar food done well and knowledgable bartenders with decent whisky list, BUT I CAN'T STAND THEM NOW because they make the waitresses wear T-shirts that read "whisky makes me frisky." WHAT!? Come on, people.

Kind of the same with Joey Kitchen or whatever it's called. Great food, but they are using sex to sell in a blatant, blatant way that I choose not to support.

Please. OH, Please. Do NOT go to The RAM. It is just not good. I got full-on food poisoning there once, and have had many bad experiences. Not once had a decent meal.

If you don't want to sit down and eat, then Einstein Brothers Bagels is a good choice.


Sure. Comb those sales racks at Anthro all you want. Sometimes we all get lucky. Same at Banana and wherever else you like. I have discovered that I actually really like the clothes at Lucky, and I'm pretty sure I've noticed a pattern that all the sale stuff is 40% extra off on Thursdays... don't quote me on that. If you are at all interested in what is in style, the best thing to do is find a place you like and just use your eyes. Get a feel for what is du jour and how things are styled, and try on the looks that you like. I learned that I do not like how I look in maxi skirts. Ever. Then, you are ready when you finally hit a sale (or Goodwill) to identify what kind of looks work on you and are current.

This same system works for shopping for the home. Go peruse and make your list of what to find on sale, online, on Craigslist, at Goodwill, etc.

If you hate shopping, like I usually do, then skip this step all together!!! There is a Ravenna Goodwill branch a short walk outside of the Village.


You can get a facial, get a makeover, and get your hair done at U.Village for FREE. Here's what you do...
1. Skin. (just learned this one... I have always been intimidated before...) Go into Kiehl's or any of the other skincare places. Sometimes Aveda has free 20 minute facials! Just be kind and respectful to the salesperson. They understand people who don't have a zillion dollars to spend, so just be honest: "I am not very good at pampering myself, and I thought it would just be so fun to come in here and have someone like you show me the best way to care for my skin. I don't have much to spend, but if I found something that is really great I could save for it." Then, let them work their magic. They will do your face. Just let them! It is WAY more fun for them to do free facials on you then be shut down time and time again whenever they ask, "Can I help you?" ASK FOR SAMPLES! You will get hooked up! And, I saw Macklemore in there today. Just sayin'. There are confirmed reports of Sarah McLachlan and Russell Wilson sightings too, so if you care about celebrity sightings (I do not), that's your place.

I have never taken good care of my skin. I go to sleep in my make-up and if I don't take a shower, I just wipe under my eyes and wear the same make-up two days in a row! But, I saved up and bought some skin care products from Kiehl's recently, and I love them. If you want to splurge on a great, long-lasting, multi-tasker, get their BB Cream- a tinted sunscreen/moisturizer that is all the make-up you need. That and one coat of mascara will make you look awake.

2. Makeup. Use the same speech from above at Sephora or MAC. They will help you. It is free. You don't have to buy a thing, but you may want to... Be sure to finish yourself off with a spritz of perfume if you like it. If you don't want anyone to help you, just say "no, thank you; I like to play on my own, but I'll find you if I need to." Then, use the alcohol and swabs everywhere to sanitize things before you use them. I find the Sephora employees very friendly, and they make you feel good about yourself by saying over and over which of your facial features are just "so, so great." They can help you find new colors in high-end brands, and you can go to the Sephora brand section and get it cheap. Though, I'm a big fan of higher quality cosmetics. It's your face and your blood stream. (Though not at U.Village, I love Origins lipsticks. They have beautiful colors from bold to understated and feel like high-quality lip balm.)

*** Special Tip*** If you want to quickly revolutionize the way you do your make-up, have someone show you how to do your eyebrows! It makes a much bigger difference than you'd imagine! If you like lipstick- particularly the bold, fun colors that are in style, having your brows defined enables you to pull off those lips. It balances your face! I also recently fell in love with non-sparkly bronzer. I knew I liked it when my friend's first reaction to seeing it on me was, "You look healthy!" Have someone teach you how to apply it... it's not what you'd think. The Benefit section at Sephora is a great place to go for both of these lessons.

3. Sensing a pattern? Same speech at the Aveda Salon or Headlines (Bumble) with a twist: "I have really frizzy/flat/oily/thin/whatever hair. Can you show me some products that might help and how to use them in my hair?"


U.Village is practically a botanical gardens. Look around. Their landscaping is amazing. Look at the plants you like best. Are they in sun or shade? containers or beds? You can then go to Ravenna gardens and usually find the names of them. Bank the names away for checking clearance racks and hardware and garden stores or the prevalent Seattle plant sales that pop up. Ravenna Gardens is also a great place to get terrarium inspiration... I'm obsessed.

Fireworks and The Art Study are great places for me to steal jewelry design and art project ideas to try to complete on my own. I suppose that if you are into that stuff, Impress, Papyrus, and Paper Source are also great Inspiration Points.


This is the step I rarely skip. This is where I spend that five dollars: Fran's. Do not get coffee at Starbuck's. Get it at Fran's. You get a free piece of their dark chocolate with your drink. If you peruse the truffle bar long enough, you will be offered an additional free sample. They are delicious. I usually buy one truffle and a double, short, decaf Americano. My favorite truffles are the whisky (of course), espresso (duh), or orange, and I very much like the dark chocolate imperials which are like a truffle version of a molten chocolate cake. My 4 year old recommends the caramels.


Take your coffee, truffle, and book or magazine from your purse and go to the bathroom. Yes. The bathroom. Actually, I mean THE bathroom. The new bathroom on the west end of the latest south addition. It has a lovely, large sitting area that is separated from the toilet section. Your phone won't work well in there, but it is so peaceful. I have sat there and had many great conversations with friends.

Get a bra fitting. You can do it at Victoria's Secret, but there you will be bombarded by giant posters of naked ladies. At Zovo across from Blue C and Banana Republic area, you will have a quiet, boutique experience with knowledgable staff. They have excellent sales, and they will tell you when they are. They keep each type of inventory for a long time, so chances are you will be able to get it on sale. I have 3 bras from there now, and they are the most comfortable and longest lasting ones I have. I was very surprised to learn how wrong the size I'd been wearing was, and equally surprised by how much more comfortable I am now. Check the luxurious jammies on the sale rack too. Trust me. Some people will spend $$$ on a dress that they will wear once. Not me. I want dresses to be on major sale. Nightgowns, though, I'll spend a little more on. Why? Because I will wear it 3 out of 7 nights a week! My sleep is an essential part of my care for myself and wearing something super soft and comfortable that fits well helps me to sleep well. Nice jammies make me feel a little better on my frequent, frustrating sick days, and they are worth EVERY PENNY I'm willing to spend. Nicest thing is that no one (but maybe your partner) will ever have to see it, so you can get a LOT of wear out of them.

I know these things are luxuries. I know they are superfluous, maybe even silly things. I for one, though, enjoy them. I can be very, very thankful for them. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with guilt and think, "How can I waste time in a place like this when people around my city and world are struggling? How can I spend money on coffee and chocolate?" These are questions I do still struggle with often. Life can be very, very heavy for lots of people. I have found, though, many opportunities to lighten my own and the burdens of my friends by spending time like this together. Things like facials and chocolate are pleasures God made. We should thank him for them and pray for those who don't have them, always mindful. I consider my U.Village forays to be baby steps towards more advanced, energy-requiring forms of self-care. These are low-commitment, bang-for-your-buck refreshers, and when you are ready to test my tips, you call me ;).