Of Mammograms and a Rising Star

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I am trying to figure out how to open this post with something snappy that will make everyone click through, and I’m coming up blank. There are weeks when all you can do is put your head down and charge through. But I realize it’s pretty whiny to call what I experienced the past seven days “intense.” After all, the tests came back negative, and my book won a contest!

But still.

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I knew last week was going to be bad going in. And by “bad,” I don’t mean “I hate my life,” I mean, “My life is so crammed with richness this week, I don’t have time to work, exercise, do dishes, or sleep.” Of course, it didn’t help that I started the week with the last two weeks’ worth of laundry to fold, plus a child home sick, and already four days behind from a trip to southern Illinois.

k-presentation_optI launched into Tuesday still playing catchup, and tacked on eight more PT sessions for Julianna to the list of Places To Go And Things To Do in the coming weeks. But the day went as smoothly as it possibly could have, and that night I got to talk about writing for forty-five minutes to people who actually wanted to hear about it! (Gasp!)

I also begged for clemency from the teachers at school for one of the Thursday events, so by Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., when I was at last sitting at the kitchen counter in an empty house working on my new novel, I thought I was all done with “My Life is Madness” and had reached smoother waters.

And then the phone rang. It was the hospital. I thought, Huh. This must be about Julianna’s PT.

Until the friendly lady on the other line mentioned the cancer center. And I thought, Oh, right, I had a mammogram last week.

And then she said, “Do you have a minute to talk?”

And I thought,

Oh, crap.

Because we all know good news involves a breezy twelve-second script and a hasty hangup. Never, ever, ever “a minute to talk.”

As we discussed 3D mammography and ultrasounds and what to do with my preschooler while I had the followup screening the next morning (doctors in a hurry: also a scary sign), I shoved a rogue hairband around the floor with my toe and tried to emotionally dissociate. I carefully reminded myself of the controversy about whether it’s really even useful for women my age to have the test, because the false positive rate is so high. Keep it together, I told myself.

“Do you have any questions?” she said at length.

“Many,” I answered, “but I’m pretty sure you’re not the one I need to ask them of.”

I was pretty emotional for a while. I resisted the urge to go public, knowing it was likely nothing and would trade a few hours’ worth of lonely terror for a whole lot of messy, public cleanup on the back side if everything turned out fine.

Which it did, by the way. Turn out fine, I mean.

But as you might imagine, by the time Friday night rolled around, and I knew the announcement of the Rising Star winners was imminent, I was emotionally exhausted. And then, just when I thought it was too late at night to hope for good news, the Facebook messages started pouring in from my friends gathered in Albuquerque, and the contest coordinator called.

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How does one react to such an honor? Amazed, honored, overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support of my online community of writers…and a little too stunned by everything else to properly process it. (I still am.)

And how does one decompress after such a week?

Like this.

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Age, Wisdom, and The Tradeoff

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Good Health

Climbing inside the roof of the St. Louis City Museum, 2014

Even in high school, I thought people were insane when they said, “These are the best days of your life.” If this is as good as it gets, I thought, I might as well just give up right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Three of four years of high school I enjoyed very much. But college was much better, the immersion in music and in a community of people who were as music-geeky as I was. And then I met Christian and discovered my calling in liturgical music, and found another community of people, even more in tune with my outlook on the world. (I get to go hang out with all of them in a few weeks.) Even grad school, for all the emotional turmoil I experienced those two years, was a deeply enriching experience as I got to discover a new and exquisitely beautiful locale and meet people who remain near and dear to my heart to this day.

Factor in marriage, and children, and, well, life is way, way better at forty than it was at sixteen. I always say you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, with more self-confidence than I ever thought I’d develop.

But man, the body.

I know I have readers older than me, so to say things like what I want to say today is inviting trouble. But the fact is, I can really feel the effects of age.

I had a sweet spot that lasted about eighteen months, where I was regularly active and on my way to/holding on to a healthy weight for the first time in my life. (See, in high school I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping to walk in the middle.) I’ve discovered that I really love being active. It feels good. And equally important, I love to eat, so I need to be active. Very active.

But in October my feet started to hurt. The doctor called it plantar fasciitis. My massage therapist, who is fast becoming my go-to person for all physical problems, said it’s a mimic condition but not the same thing. He dug into my calves at incredible discomfort…and after about six weeks, the pain receded. Soon to be replaced by pain in my knees, caused by tension in my quads. I was just beginning to recover from that when the sun screen fell off the camera while I was running to capture a photo, and landed just right under my right ankle, causing me to sprain it.

And now, before the sprain is even fully recovered, the knees are back in play.

My one real regret is the fact that I squandered so much of my body’s prime active years insisting I was not cut out for exercise, that I was incapable of losing weight, and generally not recognizing my own laziness and how much I was giving up in order to hang onto it. I’m gradually coming to terms–not a sense of peace, yet, but ground level acceptance–with the realization that for the rest of my life I will have to pay close attention to knees, ankles, shoulders, feet, to stretch and massage and rub Tiger Balm into myself, not to feel better, but simply to be able to keep moving at all. And knowing that at forty, I’m still close to the top of that hill, that there’s really only one direction to go from here, and it’s not the direction I want to go.

I guess the reality is that you need all the wisdom of increasing age to deal with the physicality of increasing age. Can I get an amen?

Why I Love Jazzercise

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I have never understood the concept of paying a membership in order to exercise. I’ve always thought people need to abandon the noisy machines, the TVs and the general dissociation from nature that comes with a gym. People need to get outside more. Walk, bike, hike, climb, run, do something that brings you at least marginally into contact with nature. Ditch the stupid headphones and take time to quiet your mind, or (gasp!) even pray. Why spend the money when you can exercise outside?

(btw, we don’t have that many people in any of the classes I attend. I think we’d all run into each other. 🙂 )

I still think that’s all true, but I’ve been doing Jazzercise the last few months, and I really enjoy it, for a lot of reasons:

Variety. I think what I’ve always hated most about exercise is the mind-numbing repetition. Running, Nordic Track, sit-ups, you name it, it just goes on and on, the same thing over and over and over and over and…well, anyway. Jazzercise is choreographed to music, and the patterns change between verse and refrain–and the song changes every three or four minutes. So there’s never more than thirty or forty seconds of doing the same thing.

It’s dance. Because I was a band girl, I never got to be in a musical, and I’ve always wanted to. Once I learned the moves and my head stopped feeling like it was going to explode, I started having fun with the dance. It gives me a chance to imagine I’m on stage in a chorus line. (I hate playing, but anyone who aspires to write fiction has to enjoy imagining out scenes and scenarios.)

It works the whole body. Running is good for legs, Pilates for core, and so on. But in an hour of Jazzercise we do both aerobic and strength training, plus some targeted work within the core for toning.

Even though it’s an hour long, and it’s working the whole body, it doesn’t kill me. I’ve never been good at running, for instance, because it hurts too darned much. Since I’ve been doing Jazzercise I can feel my body stronger than it was, particularly in the core, which I’ve been focused on since I realized what all those C sections were doing to me.

I’m learning things about the body I didn’t know before, like: it’s the up and down that really gets the heart going and makes exercise most effective, or flexing certain muscle groups protects others from injury.

It burns a lot of calories. It’s advertised to burn “up to 600,” but I have trouble imagining many people actually hitting that number; nonetheless, it’s a lot. According to my brand-new heart rate monitor set, I’m averaging about 275 calories burned in an hour. That’s equivalent to a grilled cheese sandwich, or a bowl of ice cream (although not a Chocolate Extreme Blizzard, for which I really would need the whole 600!).

So I am now a Jazzercise junkie, membership and all. (Thanks again for that, Kelley.) It will never replace getting outside and finding a quiet place to walk, but let’s be honest, the walking is just to get me to a place where I can sit and be still, anyway.

What keeps you motivated to move?

Body Image, Body and Soul

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private insight

private insight (Photo credit: contagiousmemes)

There seems to be an inevitable progression women follow in the childbearing years. Your body expands, its imperfections get pushed around by little ones, and when it’s all over you never quite look or feel the same as you did before. You gnash your teeth, you adjust your eating habits, you lose some or none or most of the baby weight, and then you do it all again. Eventually one day you look in the closet and realize you hate all your clothes because when you wear them, you see all the imperfections. You look in the mirror and curl your lip, and then you have to decide what to do about it.

You adjust your eating and exercise habits some more, but the constraints of family life prevent you from doing everything you’d like to do. At this point, you have several choices. You can resort to an unhealthy pattern of unsustainable diet and weight gain. You can do the best you can without dieting and make peace with a body whose shape you don’t really like. You can say “forget it, I am who I am, and who I am is someone who doesn’t like exercise and does like brownies and ice cream and pasta and…”

Or you can knuckle down and undertake the long-term discipline to make a permanent change.

As a teacher of natural family planning, everything I believe is tied up in the fact that body and soul are inseparably connected, two facets of the same jewel. The way I treat and use my body matters. So for me, throwing in the towel isn’t on the table–this is an issue of holy living. If my body has this innate dignity, I have to treat it as such, keep it at a healthy weight and strength, treat the problems incurred by multiple pregnancies and C sections.

That also means I can’t succumb to the rollercoaster of diet and weight gain. I’ve seen that play out, and the long-term effects are not pretty, for either body or soul.

When I started counting calories two weeks ago, I was pretty suspicious. The last thing I wanted was to hop on that roller coaster, and to me, that’s what calorie counting has always represented. But it turns out that all the protein and carbohydrate counting I’ve lived with for the last six years, for PCO and “silent” gestational diabetes, has taught me how to balance. The calorie count is the bottom line, but all paths to the same calorie count are not equal. And although I have to learn to approach cheese and eggs with a new restraint, in general my outlook on “good” food versus “food-to-be-careful about” holds up under this new system.

I’m finding new motivation and learning new levels of self-discipline. If I keep to half a stuffed chicken breast, I can have a 2×2 square of brownie and still hold the line. I can’t have a 4×4 square like I would have before, and I certainly can’t have ice cream with it (at least, not without shifting the whole day), but I’m not required to give up all enjoyable things. I like how my body feels in my clothes. I like what I see in the mirror.

What’s more, the way I feel is changing. I’m not dragging so much. I’m sleeping better, I’m finding motivation to be active every day (because it impacts how much I’m allowed to eat!), and my head is clearing. I’m seeing pathways out of the quicksand of imbalance in areas of my life besides food.

I’m only two weeks in. It’s entirely possible that down the line I’ll fall off the wagon or decide there’s something better. But at the moment this works. It works without requiring me to eat something other than what my family eats. It works without being draconian, now that I’ve added some calories back in to account for the remnants of breastfeeding. It works because the accountability of online recordkeeping keeps me honest.

It’s working for body and soul, and in the end, that’s the most important part.

Time To Take Care of Myself

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Photo by elycefeliz, via Flickr

Monday of last week, I hired a babysitter and ate my lunch on top of the bluff, then trekked down into a creekbed to sit and be still for a couple of hours. At the end of that time I landed in a chair at the office of my massage therapist, who greeted me with, “And what can I do for you today?”

“I want my body back,” I said. I pointed to the spot on my back where I wince every time my foot slips; I told him about the stiffness, the certainty of postpartum pelvic tip. I told him about the knee that went out from under me and hasn’t been right since, the ankle I sprained in June and still caused pain. He asked questions to narrow down muscle groups, connecting in problems I hadn’t told him about but he knew had to be there based on my other symptoms (he’s just that good), and then we went to work.

It has been a difficult summer for staying active. The ankle never returned to normal after I turned around on the bottom stair in June and landed on the floor moaning while all four of my children gathered around in worry, and Alex asked, “Do I need to call 9-1-1?” I got back to running, but it always felt like it could go out from under me at any moment. Then came the knee, and I couldn’t even do my Pilates machine. Keeping up with 4 kids is very physical–so physical I’m weary bone-deep every night by the time they go to bed. It seems the height of injustice that as physical as my days are, and as tired as I am every night, I don’t see any impact on weight. (As an aside, Michael now weighs virtually the same as his cousin twice his age. Imagine carrying that up and down stairs ten times a day. And he never stops moving–holding or carrying him is like a nonstop wrestling match. I call him moto perpetuo.)

For weeks, I kept thinking over and over, I’m too young for this!

And then I realized: it’s not going to get any better on its own. If I don’t take care of this, I will not be the salt-of-the-earth active old lady I want to be–I will be bedridden.

“I want my body back,” I told Christian. “We just have to grit our teeth and spend the money to make it happen.” Bless him, he agreed. So I started PT, and I called the massage therapist. The PT couldn’t find anything actually wrong with the knee. Turns out it’s because it’s not the knee, it’s the rest of the body. The massage therapist connected the dots, showed me where my legs at rest are pointing out at duck-foot angles when they should be vertical, and how the abnormal tension in one group of leg muscles puts stress on everything else.

There’s too much to do–I don’t have time to do daily stretches in sets of sixty and massages over the course of months (hiring babysitters every time) to put myself back in healthy order. But you know what? The alternative is worse. Four big-baby pregnancies and four C sections on top of the musculo-skeletal problems I’ve always battled ensure that if I don’t take care of myself now, the active lifestyle I value so highly will be taken from me. So this is my reality now, and you know what? It feels good. I’m taking care of myself, making investments on my future by showing respect for the body God gave me to use on this earth. It feels right and proper. Even holy. And full of hope.

A Holistic, Natural Life

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I’m posting today on a subject very close to my heart. I know that probably half of my readers think this topic has nothing to do with you, but I would like to invite each of you to take time to read it, even though it’s aimed at natural family planning users, because the point I’m making in the post is that the birth control-natural methods debate is not just about religion–that there are many, many reasons why reasoning, thinking people think natural methods of family planning are way better than artificial ones. And you might be surprised to see that those reasons echo concerns that are felt across our society, by religious and non-religious alike. At the least, I hope you’ll read in order to get a different perspective on this than what you may have heard of before.

7QT

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Hospital

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You know you are a confirmed scrapaholic who has been in the hospital wwwwayyyyy too many times when the doctor calls an ambulance to transport your child to the hospital, and your first thought is: Man! I don’t have the camera!

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Yes, Michael and I in the hospital…again. He took the cold we’ve been passing around and added a few degrees of drama to it. However, we are not in the ICU. And it’s a very different thing to simply be in the hospital, rather than in the ICU. For one thing, I’m expected to change my own baby’s diapers. (Boo.)

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I actually feel better now that we’re in the hospital. After the week of Sick

, in which I commented that we have entered some Bermuda Triangle that sucks up both good health and rest, I didn’t know whether to trust my skyrocketing anxiety level. Was it mother’s instinct talking or lack of sleep? Michael perked up and began eating, at least a bit, as soon as he got some oxygen in him. And this morning he’s not on oxygen at all and is doing much better. So I am reassured in my instincts.

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But I also question this crazy lack of health in our family. We are generally really healthy people. Did we really have these kids too close together? Is that why we have such a poor record of health, so ridiculously many hospital stays? Or am I overreacting? After all, most of the hospital stays have been Julianna’s. But really, we’ve had illness after illness upon illness for two full months. Looking at the state of my kitchen this week I’d blame my housekeeping for the germ breeding ground, but the fact is that the dishes didn’t get done this week because I had to hold the baby so much, and when I wasn’t holding him I was trying to make up lost sleep. Nonetheless, all you people who say “dust bunnies can wait, enjoy the kids”–our experience makes clear that cleanliness cannot be sacrificed entirely!

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Escalating the Month of Sick to hospital levels adds marital stress that we didn’t need. Nothing can make you feel quite so disconnected, and breed so much conflict, as being on call 24-7 and being forced to devote every second of couple interaction to the business of co-parenting. We had to cancel a date last weekend and reschedule for this, and now I’d say we’ve lost it this weekend, too. But at least this time we’re local, and I can actually leave for a couple hours and help get kids up (as I am doing this morning, which is why I have internet access).

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This week, as I wrangled a very sick baby and a recovering toddler, it occurred to me how creative we moms of young’uns become. For instance, how many of you, like me, use your mouths as an extra appendage?

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And last but not least: Here’s a video of an interview I gave about Bring Lent to Life. I look at myself, hugely pregnant, and I wince. It’s amazing how much the human body can stretch. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a signed copy!

UPDATE: Should’ve done this much earlier, but Michael came home on Friday afternoon–he just needed some oxygen & fluids to help him over the hump.

7QT is over at Hallie Lord’s today.