Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Finding my way back

Today was an anxiety day. I knew it was coming. I haven't been able to sit still with myself for a couple of weeks... but I didn't notice right away. I dedicated every moment to cleaning or reading or cooking or planning or some activity. And last night, something caught inside of me and I paused for a second.

That second was terrifying. The silence was too loud, the weeks' (maybe months'?) worth of thoughts came flooding as the dam sprung a leak. I committed to go to bed and pray about what was scaring me about being alone and being still.

Then I fell asleep.

This morning I woke up and went to work without pausing. I ate too much too many times and when Caleb was not ready to leave at 4:30, but instead at 4:40, I fell apart.

It's at moments like these that I have great empathy for toddlers.

This evening has been a time of being quiet, first with Caleb (it helps to have someone help you find true north if you've been wandering for a while) and next, the more daunting task, with myself. It's going to take a little practice, but I think we're going to find our way again. We always do. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Empty boxes

Today, I cut up all the boxes that my chicks have lived in since April. On Monday, all five chickens miraculously became best friends. After a month of careful introducing and monitoring, something finally clicked (clucked?), and they have been peaceably living together outside ever since.

And we were left with empty boxes inside.

I have been over the moon that they are happy living outside, free ranging, with the space to fly and run. And for Sadie - our sweet first chicken - to finally have a flock and friends to cuddle with and cluck at.

I realized today, five days after they last came inside, that I didn't realize how temporary the arrangement of the past four months had been. It seemed like we would always have chicks in the living room, or in the back bedroom, or in the basement. We developed a system for quickly cleaning up and sanitizing if they pooped when we were holding them. We checked on them before we left for work and immediately when we got home. (Actually, that hasn't changed. It's just that now they are in the yard.)

But now, as long as they all stay healthy, we probably won't have chickens in the house for years. We are at our limit with five, so we won't be getting new chicks every spring.

It made me think of life stages that I have yet to experience. Friends with infants and toddlers who are just sort of getting by, longingly remembering when they picked up a room and it stayed clean for days, or when they could drink their coffee while it was hot. My parents dropping me off at college with tears in their eyes as they got into the car, three instead of four. The video I saw of the woman who lives in a nursing home that also houses a preschool: she looked at the little ones running around and said to no one in particular, "It just goes by so fast."

Days pass and feel long and ordinary, but then a moment happens, a moment that feels surprising, but really you have been slowly coming upon it for a long time, hour by hour, day by day. I think these moments are a particular kind of gift. They illuminate how far we have come or not come and suddenly we have the rare insight of perspective. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

To my mom, on Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

I saw this quote this morning on Facebook and it expressed something that I've felt for a long time. And when I learned that the daughter of the mother-daughter duo who founded Mother's day thought it was very silly for children to sign their name to a card with someone else's sentiments, I knew that I wanted to write this for you, to tell you about this.

When I am rolling out pie or cookie dough, it is as if I am rolling the dough, but behind me is you, and your hands are also rolling out the dough. And behind you is Grandma, and her hands are also rolling out the dough, and behind her is Grandma King, and her hands are also reaching through time and we are all rolling out the dough together.

But it's not just the rolling pin. It happens when I am cutting rhubarb in your yard that came from Grandma's house and before that was planted at Great-Grandma King's house, or when I am folding napkins for a dinner party, or when I am cutting flowers from my yard.

And when our car pulled over on the side of a winding mountain road in the Dominican Republic at a roadside flower stand, you were there, in me, as I identified hydrangeas, petunias, snowball bushes and more. Or when I was in the hotel in Nairobi, and they had a fuchsia bush-lined path to the patio, our feet walked it together.

The first time my friend came over and was upset about something so far outside of the scope of my experience, we all sat together; and I watched you. I learned one of the most valuable lessons: how to be with someone who is suffering when you don't have any answers.

I think that intuition, or mom-tuition as we call it, is innate, but it's also cultivated. And you've passed on from your mom what she received from her mom, what she received from her mom, and back so many generations of strong and wise women that it's almost dizzying to think about.

Earlier today, you had climbed up on a high ladder to look at a light bulb. You said,"You guys make me feel brave and strong and safe." It was funny to me, because that's how you make us feel too.

I was going to write in you card, but I just didn't have enough room. I know we usually keep things funny when we give cards in this family, so let me also share that when I am about to "Wicks" someone, you are also there, in the pranking. (Even when it's you who are getting pranked.) Or when I am somewhere and I realize that it is a special and spectacular moment, and no one is photographing it, so I step up. Or when I realize that I really need to eat a bowl of cereal for lunch.

Maybe sometime we can print this, and stick it in the card. Until then. happy mother's day, and let's go throw an egg at Ralph. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I had an eating disorder. (And how I found the psychologist who helped me.)

Let me start here: I think it's probably close to impossible to make it to adulthood with a healthy relationship with food. As far as I always knew, the conversation around eating disorders revolves around two main disorders: anorexia and bulimia.

But about 5 years ago, I knew there was something wrong with me. I had gone from being someone who never worried about her weight or really thought too much about food, to the opposite of this. It started while I was living in Spain, with few close friends and a lot of alone time. I frequently would eat until I felt sick. I would secretly buy food and hide it in my room or in the back of the pantry so that no one knew how much I was eating. I called my mom and would cry to her about how painfully full I was, and how lonely and just generally anxious.

Because binging alone was never something I'd learned about as an eating disorder, I figured I didn't need to seek help unless I made myself throw up. (Word of advice - if you think you might need help, get it, even if it doesn't quite fit your expectations of a condition.)

I moved back home at the end of the school year and moved back in with my family. I reconnected with lots of friends, and found a job that I loved. I was no longer lonely, and a lot of the stresses from the year before faded away. But I still continued to binge. I tried going on a diet plan, which helped some, but not a lot. Being around people helped... but as soon as I was alone, I went straight for the fridge.

[A note about weight - I am a genetically small-framed person and I was exercising a lot. So, though I did gain weight, I was still well within a healthy weight for my height.]

 So finally one day in the spring of 2011, I found a self-screening test online. I resonated with a part that said, "Underneath obsessive dieting, disordered eating and body image disturbance, there is a lack of self worth." I cried, and then I wrote an email to two wise women from my church. The subject was "not really sure who to email..." I began like this:

"I'm not really sure how to begin. This is a very strange email for me to write. Getting straight to the point, I think I have an eating disorder and I think I need help dealing with it and I don't know where to go next. For over a year now, I have struggled to manage my emotions in a way that doesn't involve cramming food into my mouth...."

Both women responded within a few days. I got connected with another woman who had also experienced this. [Shout out - if you're struggling with this and you need someone to talk about it with, I would love to be that person.] Everyone encouraged me to seek professional counseling. I got a few names, and also did my own research using this site. I called them and interviewed them. I left messages and noted their response times. If they were a "Christian counselor", I asked them what that meant - I had a lot of friends who prayed for me, I wanted someone who was going to do a lot more that that. I asked what a typical session would be like with them.  I asked about their hours. I asked them if they had experience working with someone with an eating disorder and how those people had faired. Because I was still within a year of completing a capstone psychology class, I nerdily asked them what modalities they used. I asked if they took my insurance. But more than anything, I used these questions to feel out if I would be comfortable talking to them about what felt like my deepest, darkest secrets.

And that's how I met Marilyn. There was something about our conversation that reminded me of other mentors I'd had... Plus she took insurance and could see me at 4pm. (the only weekday time I was available.) So I booked an appointment, and began seeing her weekly for the next... well to be honest, I don't really remember how long I saw her. It might have been a year, it might have only been six months. We started easily, talking about what my world was like - with me telling her about some basic information - my job, my family, where I lived, my friendships, then moved on to talk about eating. But it turns out that my eating disorder was really just the way I coped with anxiety... and I had a lot of anxiety. So we talked about that. I cried, I laughed, I had profound realizations.  

Toward the end of our weekly sessions, I asked, "How do I know when I'm done?" She answered, "Well, you don't ever have to be 'done'. Maybe you'll want to change to every 4-6 weeks. Or maybe you'll feel like you don't have anything else you need to talk about with me. But you can always call me and come back in."

And so I do. I've seen her a couple of times over the past few years to talk about things when I start to feel overwhelmed and find that I don't have resources to handle it on my own. I saw her this last week. I had a list of things I wanted to talk to her about, and we covered them in the first half hour. 

The thing is, we all have stuff that we can't handle. And sometimes, our people who love us also don't know how to help us handle it. And for me, that's where seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker can help. And there's no shame in it. Life is beautiful and life is hard. 

I want to say one more thing - after I started to set up these supports - the woman who had also experienced it and meeting regularly with one of the people I first initially emailed, I also got real with my friends. Caleb and I weren't dating yet, but I called him up and told him about it. I told several other friends as well. And naming it and telling people... it helped. It made it feel less scary and less shameful. It let all those people who cared about me ask questions that were actually helpful. Culturally, I'll always need to be practicing and re-learning healthy, balanced eating, because we get a lot of mixed messages about it. But I will also ever advocate for counseling if you get too far off track.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Conversations in the jasmine

I saw a picture of a friend today while I was scrolling through Faceboook. She was with her husband and they were celebrating a birthday.

I remember having long talks with this friend almost ten years ago. My heart was freshly broken; hers was broken, but healing. We talked about love, God, relationships, friendships, trusting. She was talking about this friend who was starting to become more than a friend, and it was scary and new and she was and wasn't ready for it.

Meanwhile, I was trying to find hope in the face of all my plans falling apart. She'd been through it, so we talked about it, as we walked through evergreen labyrinths, surrounded by pomegranate trees and fragrant jasmine. I wished I could fast forward, to know if things would be okay, to know how things would work out.

Because that's always the question, when things fall apart. Will I ever be okay again?

Even if we know the answer is yes, the uncertainty looms over us when our bodies aren't cooperating,  when the finances fall apart, when we find out we have to move away from loved ones, or any of those times when the work to get to yes seems insurmountable.

But because this is a reflection, we can fast forward. My friend married that guy who was starting to become more than a friend. And even though it took a while, I was okay again. And the things I really wanted to work out... they didn't happen. But that's okay because that made space for what actually happened to happen. And what actually happened was pretty darn wonderful. And more importantly, I grew. Growing doesn't always feel good, but it's beautiful.

So as I scrolled past that photo of my friend this morning, and gave it a "like", I was grateful. Grateful because those conversations in the park seem so long ago. And grateful because I am still learning all of those things: love, God, relationships, friendships, trusting - and still having conversations about them.

Maybe I need to plant some jasmine... 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

easy and light

It's the quiet moment of the morning, where the hazy light peeks through the windows and no one is awake except Sadie and me. (And that's only because I woke her up.)

I didn't sleep super well last night... I woke up sometime in the wee hours of the morning with anxiety, which feels like caffeine jitters in my body (Eyes wide open, energy pulsing, though not the kind of energy I'd like to have.) I couldn't really put a name on why I was anxious, so I just did the things that I do to try calm my body... praying, counting the inhales and exhales, snuggling up to Caleb, getting up and walking around. I think because of all of that, I have the beginnings of what might be a headache; though I did fall back asleep for a bit.

Despite all that, this still morning is leading me towards gratitude. Why? There are a lot of possible explanations, like "I have a lot to be thankful for", which is true.

But really, I want to be thankful, because why not? It's like another practice I've been trying on with people in my life, thanks to some good advice. Assume everyone has the best intentions. It's really a lot harder than it sounds, because we tell ourselves stories about everyone from the guy who cut us off in traffic, to our neighbor who hasn't trimmed her yard in weeks*. But, if you can honestly assume that all these people have the best intentions, the posture that this puts you in is easier and lighter on the soul. And if you need to confront someone, doing it from this place will keep both of you from being on the defensive.

So that's why I'm going to keep practicing (and it really is practicing because I am a very beginner) these two things.

*Obviously, if you are in a situation where you fear for your safety, you should follow that instinct. I'm just talking about regular stressors. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

FAQs about our chicken Sadie

We got a lil chicken named Sadie! Actually her full name is Sadie Luz, but not many people ask us that.

Here are some questions that we have been asked a lot:

1. Where did you get Sadie?
Our neighbor has had chickens for a while... actually he's had one chicken for a year. Last year, he bought two, but pecking order is real, and one killed the other. This year, he got ten new chicks... nine were the same variety, and Sadie is a "chicken mutt". All the other chicks picked on her, and he was worried. When he found out Caleb and I had been thinking about getting chickens, he decided to just give her to us.

2, Is it a chicken or a rooster? Also, don't you live in the city?
We can't have roosters where we live but chickens are ok! Our neighbor bought only females.

3. What are you going to do with her?
Besides just being adorable and a delight to have around (hence her middle name, which means "light" in Spanish), she is going to lay eggs and we will eat the eggs. The eggs will not turn into chicks because we don't have a rooster. Also, chickens apparently love eating mice. Win!

4. Are you going to eat her?
Well, I'm a vegetarian (and not that I ate meat before, but I feel even more committed to it now), so this question is a little weird to me, especially from people who know that I'm a vegetarian. At this time, Caleb does not have plans to eat her. Chickens usually lay eggs fairly regularly for 2 years, so we'll have to see what her life looks like after that.

5. Where does she live?
She's still a little baby, we think she's only about 3 weeks old, so she lives in a box in our living room with a light to keep her warm; but we take her out and play with her a lot, because chickens are social animals. Caleb's building her a coop, and then she'll live in our backyard.

6. Only one chicken?
We want to get three more! Our coop will have 4 laying boxes, so we could have even more than four if we wanted. However, since we don't know much about Sadie or our neighbor's chickens, she needs to be isolated from other chickens for at least 30 days to make sure she doesn't have a chicken disease. Any new chicks we get, unless they're from a hatchery, would also need to be isolated for 30 days in different air space.

7. What does she eat?
She mostly eats chicken feed, but also eats bugs, grass, clover, weeds, and anything that's in our yard. (We're all "Where did all this tiny bite-size trash come from?!")

Here are some things I didn't know about chickens but do know now:
- They sneeze.
- Their feet look like dinosaurs and are really warm and also have toenails.
- They like to cuddle (at least Sadie does), but only on their own terms!
- They don't have teeth and have to eat grit to help them digest stuff.
 - They can be house-trained. (I haven't done this, but have watched Sadie enough to think it would be pretty easy.)
- They like to sleep while roosting (sitting on a branch).
- They take dirt. dust baths to get the oil out of their feathers and it's so relaxing that they looked stoned afterwards.
- They make super cute peeping noises.
- I don't know if this is all chickens, but Sadie likes to lay on her side and it's really awkward and adorable.
She will sometimes put her head down and spread the top wing. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I've been insanely in love for almost five years.

And there is not a day that goes by that I'm not incredibly grateful.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

#Blessed part 2

//Quick side note - this is my 200th blog post on this blog! Yay! //

About a year ago, I wrote this blog post about the word "blessed".

I have to tell you - I still think about this all the time. I hear people using this word, or see it on social media, and I cringe. Blessed is not a synonym for lucky.

"[B]lessed does not mean pleased. Blessed does not mean happyBlessed does not mean fulfilled. It doesn't even mean fed or clothed or housed or healthy...

What it really means is that you are not alone, for God is with you." 

When I am thinking about blessing, I think about when I receive the blessing or benediction at the end of a church service. I usually try to prepare myself, because it's a weighty thing to receive a blessing. 

Alternatively, I think of this verse: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." Matt. 5:3 

When I think about this in my life, I think about and appreciate how backwards it is. I actually think many of the things that we've received and counted as blessings actually make it a little bit harder for us to see God. Here's an example: We live in a house that we bought. We can use this house to show love and hospitality to others. We can recognize and appreciate that we are now responsible for taking care of the little patch of earth it's on, or how it makes our lives a little bit easier, how stability is good for us humans. 

But Jesus never really tells us to go out and buy houses and get a stable life in place. Quite the opposite. He says over and over how much easier it is for the poor to "get it", to see and live into the heaven on earth. 

Where is the blessing in life? I think it's when your body falls apart on you. I think it's when you are up late because you can't sleep thinking about everything you have to do, or any time you glimpse the fragility of life. When all your plans and hopes and dreams fall apart, that's when you're blessed. Because that's when we can start to glimpse a more complete picture of God. 

And that's why, if you happen to be fortunate enough to have stability, to have a home, to have a job, to have dear and close friends, family close by (all of that? I wouldn't call it blessing. I'd call it grace.), it's so important to be in contact with people who do not have these things. We need them. We need them to remind us what God looks like. We need them to teach us the things they are learning and to share their wisdom with us. 

Isn't it wonderful that we all need each other? Inconvenient yes. But also... #blessed. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On staying

This May, I have an anniversary. Well, actually, I have a couple of anniversaries, including Caleb's and my dating anniversary.) But today I want to talk about a ten year anniversary... with my church.  

In 2006, I took a class in college called "Music of the church". The class was fabulous. We talked about church history, and listened to old recordings. Toward the end of the semester, we talked about the "Emergent Church" movement. These were churches that wanted to keep the best of the ancient practices, while also maintaining the freedom to do new things. As someone who had grown up with liturgy, but at the time wasn't finding it particularly compelling, I was fascinated. It turns out there was one in my home city. 

After the semester was over, I headed to the church the first weekend I was home, with my dad. I felt like I had come home. I took pages of notes from the sermon, from the song lyrics. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, but there was a feeling of authenticity that I hadn't felt in a church in a long time, maybe ever. 

The church was a bit far from my parents' house (about 40 minutes) so I didn't go every week. I went when I could, when I was home from college. I was hooked by the authenticity, the words they used to talk about things, the fact that some of my favorite authors visited (over the years Lauren Winner, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, William Young, and more), the music - most of which was written by people within the congregation, and some of the ancient rhythms incorporated into life. The church went on a pilgrimage together for a weekend each year, over the summers, I participated in groups that biked, practiced lectio divina, or just gathered once a week for Compline. 

Over the years, though I did not attend regularly, I made a few friends, met them for coffee or dinner. I even went on a few dates, discovered music, borrowed books I never returned. (If you're out there, I still have your books and I'd like to give them back!) I attended the church pilgrimage, and had conversations with a variety of people. 

The second year I went to the Pilgrimage, my life path was altered. That year, they had a Friday night 70s dance party. The costumes were unbelievable, but not very many people were dancing. I happened to love dancing, and so I decided to just go for it. On the dance floor, I ended up in one of those little mini circle things that happens. After the three of us had been jamming for a while, one of the guys stuck out his hand and said over the music, "I'm Jon." "Ellen" I yelled back, next shaking hands with Eric. And that was the start to how I met a group of people - including one that I would eventually marry - that I would meet with over the next several years, until the group organically came to an end. 

This is actually the Pilgrimage dance party one year after that original dance party, but we danced together again, This one was 80s themed.  
Can you spot Caleb?
Caleb and I started dating in the church parking lot, he proposed to me in the church basement. Our story is inextricably tied to this church. And I love that. 

This used to be where we always sat... until I started to only feel comfortable sitting in the back, for reasons described below. 

But somewhere along the way, things started to change. I went through several life and career shifts. The church went through a time of transition. Staff came and left. Suddenly, I found myself mostly irritated by the loss of practices that had been meaningful to me and a few other changes that seemed to be replacing them. My journey didn't seem parallel the church's journey. And it hurt. Even the music seemed louder. I mentioned it several times to several people until a pastor told me that I should just get some earplugs and recommended a brand. 

The earplugs I wear every week at church
I was in a new job, one that had me constantly questioning and tracing out power dynamics, then trying to advocate for the side of the least powerful. I heard terrible, tragic stories, and would sob through many church services, frustrated by how irrelevant they seemed to me and the brokenness of the world. Ferguson happened. Trayvon Martin happened. Racial tensions blew up, and I followed the stories with my power dynamic lens. I ached for hymns and lectionary, and the authenticity that had originally drawn me in. Nothing felt genuine anymore, and I couldn't tell if it was because of me and my struggles, or just that the church was growing and changing. 

We talked about leaving, going somewhere else. I wanted to find solace in liturgy the same way I'd found it back in college. And yet, somewhere deep down, I also wanted to stay.  I wanted to see if I could ride out the season. I wanted to not be a consumer of churches, leaving when it didn't suit my needs anymore. We committed to a new small group, I committed internally to keep trying. 

Last fall, we did a burst of sermons on justice, and my heart sang. I felt like the season had lifted. And maybe it did. But since that ended, I've continued to be in this hard place, continuing to commit, continuing to try, waiting, waiting, waiting and hoping, hoping, hoping. 

Some days I'm frustrated. But some days, a little sliver of God pokes through the clouds and reaches me, and I press on. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The day my sacrum seceded from the union

Today my body stopped working, though by the time I finish this post, it will be yesterday, a day I am mighty glad to put behind me. 

As I mentioned previously, my back flared up big. But previously, I had no idea how big. 

Today, I started my new usual rhythm: lay around for a few hours, get up and walk around for a few hours. And of course, I chose to take my walk out in our backyard. I walked out and leaned against a light pole to remove my socks and tuck them in my pocket. Then I stepped out of my shoes and slowly began padding around the yard. When I got to the farthest corner, I realized something was very, very wrong. The pain was increasing; and I had to do something to make it stop. I wished I had a walking stick, or had put my cell phone in my pocket, or could spot any neighbors. I dropped to my knees - a move that, for some reason, doesn't hurt me - and then moved to my side and I lied down. (Note: I have totally forgotten the difference between lie and lay, so sorry about that.)

I stayed there for a bit, tried to remain calm, and eventually made my way to my feet, lasting only a couple of steps before I had to make my way back down. This time, I noticed a large stick in my yard. My eyes lit up and I crawled toward it, reached and.... got it! I lay back down, resting in the clover, breathing, willing Caleb to come outside, willing myself not to panic that I was suddenly in a situation I hadn't ever expected to be in, or at least not for several decades. I slowly made it to the back door, with much pain, and realized I couldn't make it over the six inch stair (or step back into my shoes). I opened the door and called for Caleb, who got me to the couch and agreed to take me to the ER. Then the panic and tears came from being stuck, from the pain, from the whole situation. 

Almost two hours after arriving at our local hospital, I was still writhing around uncomfortable as heck, sitting in the wheelchair. Caleb got me a blanket and I laid down on the floor. Bliss.... sort of. 

Then came seven more hours once we got into a room - doctors, nurses, MRIs, blood work, Caleb having to help me any time I wanted to move because I was in so much pain. After some IV pain meds, we finally were able to pin down that the pain was triangular - radiating from the two dimples on my back across the spine, and down the sacrum. It was then that I knew that my sacrum was trying to abdicate, leave it's job. 

We're so glad to be back at home, with various prescriptions for muscle relaxants, steroids, prescription strength naproxen. Tomorrow (today?) the adventure continues, with early morning calls to be made to two of my doctors, looking for answers, looking for the independence to dress myself again. 


The other day, I was filling out a questionairre or a form for something or other and I got to the question that asks "What are your hobbies?" 

First of all, I would like to know how you all answer this question. Because though spending time catching up with people on Facebook is something that I do a lot of during my free time (especially because it's a back-safe activity), it's not something I like to put down as a hobby. Feel free to share these hobbies in a comment. (Tip: you can use "anonymous" and then just put your name in the comment box if you don't want to sign in.)

But for once, I knew that I had hobbies! I had two things I'd been doing lately that had been interesting, engaging, something totally other than what I do normally. Are you ready to hear them? This is what I've been doing for fun:

Building fires and walking around my yard looking at stuff. 

Now. Perhaps these don't sound particularly engaging. We live in an urban lot that's not particularly large. The fires are built in our fireplace. But at someone who never learned how to build a fire until very recently, I find it totally fascinating, calming, and functional. And SO different from my normal work tasks that are long-term and digital. 

We haven't lived here very long, not even a full year - and so walking around my yard during spring time is like opening a surprise box every single day. Daffodils that we planted... they survived! Daffodils that we didn't plant! Lilies! Tulips that we planted... the squirrels didn't eat them! Lilac bush! Mysterious beautiful white flowering vine! Rose bushes! Violets! Purple flowering ground cover! (Vinca?) Copious amounts of clover! Moss! Redbud tree! Forsythia! Dandelions! Onions that we planted last fall survived winter! Mysterious green bush! Mulberry tree! 

It's a good life people. Don't let anyone tell you that puttering around your yard doesn't count as a hobby. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

You can't rush your healing*

The days after I herniated the disc in my back were pretty awful... Actually the day it happened was ok... but the next day, I hobbled down the hall of the hotel as fast as I could, making it to my room just in time to break my puke-free since childhood record. And then I spent the night hobbling to the toilet to throw up (My doctor would later call it "Montezuma's revenge", but I just call it bad water), and then laying back in my bed on my side, the only comfortable position available.

The next day, Saturday, I spent in my hotel room, crying to my parents over Skype, hobbling around my room, eating tiny bites of green protein bar every couple of hours, grateful to have a large supply of clean water available.

This was a while ago, but I've been remembering a lot of it lately. On Wednesday this week, I met with my neurosurgeon to review my latest MRI. She was amazed by how much improvement I showed in the scan:"Your back was so bad that ten out of ten neurosurgeons would have operated on you... but you said no, which isn't necessarily the wrong response. Studies show that two years post injury, patients with or without surgery are in the same place."

So we agreed on physical therapy to help rebuild my muscles after sitting and resting for so long, and I started the somewhat complicated process of scheduling an appointment. Then I went out and worked in my yard, trimming vines, taking photos, cleaning my house. But pain memory and muscle loss is real. After so much activity, I spent all of Friday evening and today laying in bed because sitting is too painful. My back is still trying to teach me something. I haven't been in this much pain since I hurt my back, and I could not be more grateful to be learning it here, in my house, on my couch, with a dear friend stopping by to bring me straws to sip water, and Caleb and my brother around to make jokes. Every few hours, I get up and walk around slowly in my yard, rooting my feet to this place, helping my nerves to understand that I am okay, that we're in this together, that they aren't being pressed by misplaced disc any more.

I walk out and look at my daffodils from time to time.
I have books and snacks, and a yoga bolster (think very firm, long pillow) to put between my legs. I have warm clover outside in my yard that feels so good on my toes. I have medicine, I have supplements, I have good digestion. (If you can avoid violent digestive illness and severe back injury at the same time, I recommend it.) And so, even though I wanted to do so many other things today, I rest and I wait and I listen.

*Title of post based on this song:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I grew up going to a Lutheran church and a Lutheran school (one of each branch of "Lutheranism"). Our service on Sunday involved singing out and reading out of green hymnals. Kids always attended the services and Sunday school was a separate time, sandwiched between the two morning services. We followed the liturgy - a modified version of the texts and prayers spoken or sung in church services for hundreds if not thousands of years. 

In high school and college, I fell out of love with liturgy, feeling that it was just ritual and therefore not meaningful, opting instead to attend a very conservative church with electric guitars that did not observe church year seasons like Advent, Lent, Epiphany, Pentecost. 

Later in college, I went through a hard semester. And then an even harder one. And during that time, I found my way home to liturgy, this time in an Episcopalian church. While living in Spain, I moonlighted as a Catholic, attending Mass most weeks (consequently, I know a lot of the Mass liturgy in Spanish, but not in English). My church now is not particularly liturgical, though it does observe the seasons of the church year. 

I write about this to introduce a liturgical tradition that I love. Most people are familiar with Lent, the 40 days + Sundays leading up to Easter. Many people associate this as a time of fasting. But, did you know that there is also a word that drops from the church liturgy during this season? 

During Lent, we bury the Alleluia's and the Hallelujah's. Without these praise words, the liturgy takes a more solemn turn during a more solemn season. (I actually feel a little heretical just typing it during Lent!)

It's for this reason that on Easter and for the seven weeks after that it's celebrated, the liturgy is JAM PACKED with Allelulia's:

Note the additional Alleluias. Yes, I do own my own Book of Common Prayer and my own hymnal. Don't worry about it.
My church now does not observe this particular tradition, which makes me sad (more about that in a future post) and also makes me feel a little obstinate when I refuse to sing the songs that have it during Lent. So, on Palm Sunday - better late than never - I decided to literally bury the "Hallelujah": 

And because I believe that dirt is a spiritual experience and because I believe that gardening is a theologically relevant thing to do around Easter, I added a surprising (Pintrest-y) twist: I used the leftover seed paper from our wedding invitations to make the letters. They may not sprout, since they are a bit older... but if they do, I will be sure to let you all know. 

Additional Holy Week reflections from past years:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

to my love

With Caleb's permission, today I'd like to share with you a letter I wrote in 2011 to him while he was full-time taking care of his grandpa, who was on hospice. And for fun, I thought I'd share this photo of Caleb and I, from 2011:

to my love:

Ever since that one time we were eating gelato and ran into my coworker Susan and she asked what you did and you said "not a whole lot right now" I started thinking about what you are doing. And why it is valuable.
That day that we snuggled in the hammock and read The Singer stands out in my mind. I remember coming in and you and your grandpa were eating lunch. (At 3:30, of course.) I felt like I do sometimes when I've had a busy day - I came breezing in carrying the whole weight of my day. During most of the day, I had been an individual. I spent time in my windowless, basement office, taught, chatted with my coworker about various students (she didn't have good things to say). I drove my own car alone halfway across the city and wound up walking through your front door and petting Lola, all of this fresh on my mind.
As I sat down with you both at the kitchen table, I felt the pace of the world slow down in a way I don't usually experience. I realized that all of my rushing was simply what the day had required of me, not who I am. I felt like I had a glimpse into your world. You sit with an old man and slowly eat lunch at 3:30 while most of the world is rushing around outside the four walls of your house. While some people are career planning and stressing and making phone calls and taking life at a frenetic pace, you are watching the History Channel with your grandpa. The little things you do every single day like getting breakfast and making sure he is not too cold or has the remote and helping him use the bathroom or slowly move from his wheelchair to the table may seem like little things; but I think they are shaping you in more ways than you realize. I think they are shaping me in more ways than I realize, simply from watching you interact with him.
That day we went four-leaf clover hunting and your grandpa came home from the nursing home, I remember watching you go to him and cut off his hospital bracelet. I had never seen you be that caring and gentle before. It was beautiful.
There are oh-so-many things I love about you, Caleb, but one of them is definitely that you are taking care of your grandpa. I'm sure it doesn't always feel beautiful or like you are being shaped. Even if it feels boring or like nothing, I think that's how growth is. And I want you to know that I think you are doing one of the most valuable, selfless jobs you could be doing. So thanks.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Resolutions all year long

[sometimes I find posts that I meant to post before. This one's from January 2015, but I updated it!]
Someone asked me recently if I had any New Year's intentions. I said no, because I tend to set intentions whenever I feel the need. That being said, I am working on several things this year that are continuing from last year. I thought it would be fun to share them with you all.

(Besides, it was between this and telling you about how Caleb and I have been sick for days and binge-watching Gilmore Girls, and I thought this was more compelling.)

Resolution: To complete my yoga teacher training
Started: April, 2014
Status: I hope to finish this by May of this year. I'm pretty close. I don't really know "what I want to do with it", but I think that will come when the moment is right.
2016 Status: Well, see what I didn't know when I wrote this is that I had a major back problem. I did do some of my training in May, but I'm actually finishing it this week! (Assuming that I am not still doing jury duty.)

Resolution: Learn French
Started: November 2014
Status: I started taking a French class in December. It's kind of hard to find time to do homework, even though I love it. I am in a little over my head, because I'm in the intermediate level, but it's good.
2016 Status: I would rate my French level as still at the same level as about a year ago. But I am still trying to use it, and am at a survivable level. 

Resolution: Love my job
Started: Eeehhh hard to say when it started. But Caleb and I had a really good conversation about it in July 2014 which prompted some action.
Status: Complete! I am not taking this for granted. I will be traveling a lot this year, more than ever in my life, and I am pumped. Not just for the travel, but for the reason behind the travel and the way it will inform my daily tasks (which I also enjoy) when I am not traveling. And let's be honest, not traveling is pretty great too. Caleb is pretty fun.
2016 Status: Nothing new on this front!

Resolution: Get my back healthy!
Started: basically as soon as I knew my back was hurt, which was March 2015
Status: Got a new MRI and am seeing the doctor in two weeks! 

Resolution: Swim more
Started: November 2015
Status: Need to get back on this. I've traveled a lot this year and haven't been able to do it due to my back being inflamed and then being sick. Starting this weekend, I am finally okay to do it! I just need to re-work it into my schedule. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Photo post: Goliath

Yesterday I posted about my first dog. Today I want to post about my second dog, my wittle bebe Goliath. Goliath died in July 2014. It was very unexpected and very sad. But if any dog lived his years to the max, it was Goliath "Armpit". He would eat his food and some of the other two dogs'. He would viciously fight off anyone he perceived as an attacker... and yet he could also be the sweetest, rag-doll-iest cutest dog ever. There's really no way I could do him justice with words alone, so here are some photos of him. 

So snuggly!

Seriously, this dog loved to cuddle - on his own terms

Look at his fuzzy little head!
On his last Christmas, Caleb lulled him into a state of relaxation so transcendent that not even having candy placed on top of him could wake him. You guys. Caleb is so good with dogs. 

He was very fierce - the only one of three dogs to ever kill something (bugs and maaaaybe a mouse?) Also the only dog to bite a visitor on the ankle.

He pretty much always had his tongue sticking out. We're sure it was just too long for his mouth. He is mostly hair in this photo.

Hard to capture, but he loved to be held. Hence his middle name "armpit" (because he rode around tucked under people's arms... and sometimes smelled accordingly!)
Just look at his face!
Oh Goliath. You really did have nine lives. Thank you for surviving that time you ate an entire dark chocolate bar right before my wedding. You were the snuggliest, weirdest, feistiest dog ever. We miss you pretty much always because we weren't ready for you to go, but I have to tell you, Lola is sure living it up now that you aren't there to boss her around... May you be always finding snacks and adventures in heaven.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

To my first dog

We got Scout during a very momentous summer. We had moved away from my childhood friends. I was about to start high school. Shortly after getting him, Michael, my brother got really sick and had to be hospitalized for what seemed like months (but was actually much less time). Scout was born in July, and we picked him up at the end of August. He was a dark little puppy.

It was my grandpa, the agronomist, who named him. We got Scout in hopes that he would help keep snakes and other unwanted critters away from our house. (Looking back, I am not sure he succeeded. The second [tiny] dog we got just a few month later was much better at killing things.) Scout was a wheaten terrier. My grandpa suggested the name Scout, a variety of wheat, but also hopefully a christening of his dog duty to scout out the yard. 

Scout and I bonded. I would crawl into his kennel at night or try to get him to sleep in my bed. My mom and I took him to obedience classes once a week. He liked it, liked learning and meeting new pooches, and would sleep happily on the way home.
Taking the dogs out, B.F (before fence) My dad is like a classy secret agent in a trench coat.
Unfortunately, when Michael got back from the hospital, we learned that Scout had a problem with dominance. He seemed to not like Michael, and it quickly became mutual. When we got Goliath, a tiny yorkie maltese with a big personality and zest for life, in February, he helped calm Scout's angst.... partially by chasing him around and chewing on him.

Michael eventually grew up to be much bigger than Scout and developed ways to play with him that were... unique. 

My parents went on to get a third dog, Lola. I loved Goliath and I loved Lola, but I was always very careful to to give Scout special snuggles. He was the oldest, like me, and we shared a special connection. I never wanted him to feel like he had been replaced or overlooked, and to remind him that I remembered our special bond from the beginning. The two little dogs would chase each other around endlessly, and Scout would mostly just let it happen, the quiet observer.

The little dog family that eventually came to be at my parents' house. Lola, Goliath, Scout
 Scout loved going for rides - sometimes we would just put him in the car on a cool day and he would happily sit in the front seat for an hour looking out the window at the driveway. He loved going to the vet and visiting the kennel. He had his share of at-home adventures too... like the time he ran away down to the pond and fell in the ice. Fortunately he was near the edge and just climbed right out. I tried to get him to go swimming at a friend's pool once, but though he loved exploring ponds, he wanted no part of the pool, and I ended up with a lot of scratches on my stomach.

Scout had many nicknames including Oo-tar and Mr. Fluffers, and Wooly-face. 
For years, one of our family's favorite dog activities was to rile up Scout until he wanted to sprint up and down the hallway. Then one by one, we'd lay down in a little ball for him to jump over us. When Goliath came along, we'd get on hands and knees. Scout would leap over up to three people and Goliath would run underneath us.

The past few years, Scout became what we lovingly referred to as a "crotchety old man dog". He loved to go for walks, or stand outside and smell things, but his memory was foggy, and he sometimes couldn't be bothered to get up when the doorbell rang. 

And when he passed away last July, it was sad because it's always sad to be parted from a creature you loved. Especially your first dog. But it was also his time. I was in Kenya then; but I had hugged him a little tighter every time I'd left him for the past 18 months. 

To my Scoutie: The years between 14 and 28 were long and full of innumerable life changes, though we both know I didn't get any taller. You were the best. Remember when I tried to take you on a long run back when I ran, and ended up carrying your 50 lbs self at least half a mile home? I'm glad we did that. I loved snuggling up with you in your kennel and trying to make you sleep in my bed. I even loved when you got old and stinky. I'm so glad Caleb was there for you at the end, since I couldn't be. I hope you are playing with Goliath in some big field where you can eat all the snacks and lick all the salty things. 

Friday, March 18, 2016


Summer was a busy time, we bought a house, moved, started settling in. Fall came, and we burrowed in, filling cracks, cutting back the overgrowth, painting. 

Winter came and we cozied up inside. We installed overhead lights, made decadent food, celebrated. I traveled and traveled and came home and nested. 

I started noticing a flame flickering deep within my soul. It was way in there, under the brambles and sticks from last summer that had died over winter. The snow and ice fell on them, but they shielded the little spark, became a cocoon for it. I don't really know where this little flame might lead, what it's trying to burn away, what it's trying to cook, what it's trying to thaw out inside my heart. 

But these are the kinds of things you have to follow. You have to listen because you know there are bits and pieces of yourself that lie forgotten in the frosty forest of your soul, and they need to be warmed up. 

We can't be on fire all the time. This winter, I learned how to build a fire in our fireplace, and I am amazed at how much wood a small fireplace can burn when the fire is blazing. Once I even cried out, "This fire's on fire!" But we don't have unlimited wood in the world or unlimited wood in general. For a fire to last all day, sometimes you have to let it die down a bit so that it burns slower. 

And this is adulthood, right? Or maybe I should speak for the only decade of adulthood that I've experienced: my twenties. There's a lot of ways I could view my twenties, but when I think about that internal spark, it seems that it was fanned into a flame really quickly, consuming new ideas, new experiences. Then it had to die down for a bit, re-find itself in the steady embers. 

Me jumping over a bonfire once in during college. I cannot believe I did this.
If you'll allow me to mix my metaphors, the foliage of life cocooned around those embers. I always knew they were there, but I wondered if they might burn again the way they burned before. 

I believe they will. But I have to keep trying new things, because fires need fresh air. So little by little, I'm fanning the flames. The spark cocooned inside me is not dramatically unfolding yet, but it's kicking and wriggling and moving. 

Wriggle on my friends. Fan your flames. Spring is coming.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

the pits

[This post is originally from 3/23/15]

It's Monday at 5:47pm.

Know where I usually am at this time?

Yoga. Not sitting on my couch. Not looking at a screen.

As previously discussed, I love my couch.

But right now, I want to be doing cartwheels and handstands, and general frolicking.

But I'm sitting here, on my couch.

Stupid back.  

birthday reflections

[This post is from May 2015]

Fifteen years ago, I turned thirteen. I was in seventh grade, the first year of school I was allowed to shave my legs. For my birthday, my parents bought me stilts. Not just any stilts - drywall stilts. They let me walk around their house in them and I balanced myself on the ceiling.

I remember ten years ago, when I turned eighteen. Eighteen felt so old. So grown-up. Anyone else remember feeling like that when you turned eighteen? I remember that my then-boyfriend came over early in the morning to surprise me.

Unfortunately, I am a difficult person to surprise at the average level. You see, in my family, we have a tradition of really good April Fool's jokes, and not just on April 1. [this year, I actually avoided talking to any of my family all day on 4/1, since I hadn't prepared anything and my dad had just had surgery.] For survival, I have developed a sort of sixth sense that I call the surprise sense. Sometimes this gets in my way because I love surprises.

So I got up even earlier, brushed my teeth and my hair, put on chapstick and the cute pajamas and tried to look peaceful. After he had "woken" me, I got the sense that he was trying to keep me from looking outside. Obviously, I then worked my way to a different window and saw one of my friend's cars. We went downstairs for a surprise breakfast. The most surprising thing was that they had filled my car with balloons. I recommend this as a very fun surprise.

Five years ago, I turned twenty-three. All of college behind me, I was finishing up my year of living in Spain and threw myself a party. I baked ALL my favorite American sweets - a huge layer cake, cookies, apple pie, and more. I invited everyone I knew. They sang me happy birthday in Spanish then in English. I loved it. It was beautiful. Even though I had specified on the invitation that the only gift I wanted was for no one to smoke, everyone still brought gifts - a Juanes CD, a coffee table book of pictures of Spain, jewelry from Galicia and from Jerez, scarves, and more. It was one of the most beautiful moments for me, to see all these people there, the life I had made in Spain.

And this year, on the eve of my birthday, I picked up my husband at the airport. He'd been in Central America all week, and I was so excited to see him. I couldn't stop smiling on my way to the airport, and  walked very quickly to get to his gate to be there in time to meet him - my ankles and hips burned. We got home and soon it was 12:04 am. My birthday!

We celebrated the next day by sharing stories from our week, swimming, and having dinner and cake with my parents and dear friend Carolyn. Though not a big celebration, it was just perfect.  

Digestion, bacteria, and the tornado

***This post contains descriptions of digestive upset. If you don't want to read about it, don't!***

"Isn't it basically like being on vacation all the time?"

Once I started my current position at work, which involves traveling, someone said this to me. Let me say this: I LOVE my job. I love traveling to other countries, I love building cross-cultural relationships, I love visiting the families we work with. However - it is not at all like being on vacation. It's kind of like... going to summer camp, except for that you take your laptop and work all the time. But you're far away from your family and friends and normal activities, and so it's not a big deal to work from 8 am- 7pm or even longer. Because that's what you're there for. And like I said - I love my job. But vacation it is not.

Since January 2015, I have taken six trips to six countries. Today I would like to talk about something I experienced on 50% of those trips - getting sick from something I ate. It's happened in three different countries from three different things, but the symptoms for me are always the same.

1. Start to feel a little carsick, but all the time. This is when the bacteria is in the top half of your digestive system. Some people get a little feverish or throw-up during this stage. I only threw up once during the three bacteria attacks.... could we call them bac-attacks?!?! I have a couple of photos of myself in this stage, but decided not to post them due to the yellow/ green color of my face + sweat.
2. Feel like your intestines are full of cold gel. (It's that creepy blue-raspberry color too, which sure doesn't help. Such an unnatural shade of blue for a food - and raspberries are red!) Sometimes you can put off entering this stage for a while by not eating very much... which if you are feeling carsick and nauseous all the time might happen naturally.

Here's me on a trip right before stage 3. Please note the skirt which is extremely stretchy and lose on the abdomen. When I got dressed that morning, I knew that pants were not going to work. 
3. Picture a tornado. Now imagine looking at it from on top. Now imagine that the point of the funnel is on your belly button. This is what stage three feels like and sounds like, complete with tornado-y rumble sounds from your belly. This is the best of the three stages so far because it means that your body is working to get rid of the bacteria. 
4. This is the stage where you can be certain that you had a bac attack: elimination. Eventually, you will start pooing liquid if you don't have an antibiotic. This can be a weird experience the first time it happens, but major props to your body for doing work to get the stuff out. Stay hydrated. 

And there you have it! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

international travel and coming home

I love traveling, but I also love coming home.

I love feeling the energy of another place, another country. It helped that on my most recent trip, I didn't get sick, and it was safe enough for me to walk around by myself. The country was beautiful, and there was enough infrastructure that we could get ourselves from the airport to the hotel. I read a lot on the way there, and had a lot of really good discussions with my co-travelers about everything you can imagine. I laughed until I cried twice.

The days were long - sometimes we were out working for 12 or 13 hours. We'd come back, grab a late dinner, and tumble into bed exhausted, but usually not before checking emails. One day, my mom had sent me a long email. I read it all and responded something like, "I read this. I loved it. Too tired to write more." (But really, isn't it better to respond this than to not respond at all?) On days where we were out and about less, we'd meet and plan the next day, figure out what things we needed to prioritize.

We made ourselves slow down a couple of times - a few hours on a Sunday, for Saturday night dinner, before we caught our bus to the airport on Tuesday afternoon. Those are the moments that you see photos of on social media. Like most social media, it paints an incomplete picture. I didn't photograph the time I stayed up till almost 1 am answering work emails, or the time I chose to go to bed instead of staying up to answer them (balance!). I didn't photograph our late night meetings. I did photograph myself when I found out my flight home was delayed yet another hour; but I won't be sharing that one. You can just imagine it.

I met some amazing people - international coworkers, hotel staff, sponsored families. I heard painful stories and stories of determination to get to where they are now. I had to write them down late at night because I want to remember them and I want them to shape me.

I believe that the amount to which we can experience and hold pain is also the extent to which we can experience joy. For me, traveling is a mixture of both. It's not just the wear and tear of travel - it's seeing the lack of opportunities or the corrupt power systems. But it's also seeing the spark that families carry inside them. To focus on only the positive things is easier - but just like in art, the negative space brings perspective, clarity.

I love traveling, but I also love coming home. Coming home gives me space to process the trip. And when I travel, I miss parts of being home, especially Caleb. But leaving makes it sweeter. I came home to a clean house, homemade lentil soup (per my request), flowers and a welcome sign, a fire in the fireplace, and taps on the maple tree to make homemade syrup. I spent a few days remembering what it means to slow down, rediscovering my own rhythms and waves.

I love traveling, but I also love coming home. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why I'm not a great client for hair salons

Today, I got my first non-spontaneous haircut in 5 years. I cut my own hair for most of that time, but was not brave enough to give myself a bob last fall, and called places until there was one that could get me in IMMEDIATELY. I told no one, not even Caleb, and then happily paid them to lop a lot of my hair off and it was awesome.

I made an appointment at that same place a few weeks ago for today, to get the exact same haircut. And I did, and it was awesome. I'd be happy to refer you, then we both get $10 off our next visit. I'm great at referring. This is not why I am not a great client for hair salons.

Here is what I have realized - when I had long hair, I had split ends all the time. All the time. And most of the time, it wasn't really that noticeable*. When it got noticeable, I would cut them off. When I got short hair five months ago, it was the best. I stopped using conditioner. Some days I would forget to brush it before leaving the house. I really enjoyed how it looked all the time. Once I even went to bed with wet hair, and woke up, and it still looked awesome*.

So, when I got my hair cut today, they commented about how I hadn't been in for a while, and wouldn't I like to schedule for a trim in 8-10 weeks? Nope. 

Well then, surely I would like to buy the product** that keeps my ends from splitting as they do when one prefers to wait a minimum 5 months between appointments? Nope. Wait, I had split ends? Oh yeah.

But here is what I realized. Split ends do not cause any serious damage. They are not giving me arthritis down the road, and they are not causing indigestion, and they are not making my hair fall out or my skin turn purple. And suddenly, I felt liberated. Like I will never again buy the argument that finding a split end means you urgently need to get a haircut. FREEDOM!

What a good day. Sorry to the hair salon people. But thanks to them for still always treating me as if I were a great client who faithfully came in every 8 weeks and bought all the products.

*Ahem. To me anyway. And that's all that matters.
** I know they have to do this, cause of their deals with the product companies, etc. etc.