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 ;).