This is My Beach Body

IMG_8012Like so many newlywed brides (and husbands, too), I got married, and then I gained weight. “Happy fat,” I’ve often heard those extra pounds called. I prefer “change chub.” Not because I’m not happy; I am! But I think the weight gain is less a result of the sudden onset of matrimonial bliss than it is the multitude of changes in daily routines that come with combining two adults’ lives: new foods and meal times, different sleep and waking routines, shifts in exercise habits.

Whatever the cause, I gained somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds those first 8 months of marriage. Not enough to qualify as “obese,” maybe not even “heavy,” but I’ve disliked feeling stiff and sedentary, not like myself, certainly not like the self that a few years ago was working out and running 5Ks.

IMG_8513 (Edited)I’m embarrassed to admit to being even more bothered by the appearance of my expanding silhouette in the mirror and the fact my clothes don’t fit right. I got so self-conscious about my newly rounded belly, which pudged out no matter how much I sucked it in, I was almost relieved when a day with friends at the lake was cancelled. Maybe I’ll have time to get back in shape before I go public in a bathing suit! I thought. I signed up for yoga and a running program and hit the Y a few times, my motivation definitely less health, more vanity. With a beach trip fast approaching, I began to worry over other perceived faults, like my winter white legs: all the better to show off the emerging spider veins, my dear. I contemplated scheduling a spray tan and went online to buy a couple new tankini tops to disguise my belly roll.

Then, a few weeks before our scheduled vacation, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

IMG_8261It was a surprise; perhaps such things always are. I went in for an annual mammogram and was given a clean bill of health. I returned ten days later to have a couple fluid-filled cysts drained—routine for me, as I’ve had benign cysts since my thirties. Whenever they grow large enough to be annoying or painful, I have them aspirated. The doctor used, per usual, the ultrasound to locate the cysts. As he rolled the wand over my left breast, I noticed something odd on the monitor. There was a dark mass, but it was missing a key characteristic of the manifold cysts I’d seen on the screen over the years.

“That doesn’t have the defined outline that a cyst usually does,” I said.

The doctor kept rolling the wand back and forth, back and forth. “No, that doesn’t look like a cyst,” he said quietly. “I think we’re going to need to turn this into a biopsy.”

~

IMG_8493 (Edited)I would say the timing, as a newlywed, is awful, but when would it ever be good?

The cancer is treatable, survivable, thank god, though it’s going to be a long haul and an intense trip: 8 treatments over 16 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, then radiation.

Suddenly, it seemed pretty silly to worry over white legs and blue veins, or a few extra inches on my belly and hips.

My body is about to undergo a radical transformation. Chemotherapy will bring fatigue, and I will lose my hair. I may lose or gain weight, depending on how I respond to treatment. Surgery is a given, most likely a full mastectomy of one breast, possibly both. Mastectomy most always takes the nipple, and though reconstruction is a marvel these days, there will be scars. I have two small new ones already, from the biopsy and the port. And if my new breast or breasts are rebuilt from my own tissue, as my surgeon has recommended, harvesting it from my belly or back will make additional scars. (But, hey, maybe that “happy fat” will be useful!) Chemo can have permanent side effects as well, including early onset menopause. Pudgy belly and jiggly thighs notwithstanding, my current body may well be the closest it ever will be again to fitting the stringent beauty standards of smooth lines and seamless symmetry we too often impose on women.IMG_8238

As I pulled my slenderizing tankini top out of its package, I thought: WTF with these oppressive standards? Why have I—quite literally—bought into them?

A few extra fat cells, a few scars: they aren’t a threat to anything but vanity, a challenge to the ridiculously narrow and damaging ideas about beauty and the female body that women have had pounded into us for so many years. I would gladly accept living the rest of my life with a dimpled booty if I could trade it for my health, trade those fat cells for the cancerous ones growing in my breast that threaten my well-being, my very life.

But since I can’t do that, here’s what I’m going to do.

I am going to wear a bikini with pride. Now, and whenever I feel like it in the future.IMG_8444

I’m going to walk on the beach and search for shells. I’m going to go stand-up paddle-boarding. I’m going to read. Watch the sunrise. Hold my husband’s hand.

I’m going to embrace my body. It is strong, and it is vulnerable. It is normal, and it is exceptional. I will need to adapt, to gentle my body, in the coming months, because what my body, what every body, can do changes, contracts and expands over time. But whatever it can do is what matters. What it can think. What it can feel. It won’t always (ever?) be easy, practicing acceptance. But I am going to celebrate my body, for whatever it allows me to see or hear or feel or experience.

This is the only body I’ve got, and frankly, it’s on loan. Every body is. So right now, while I can, I’m going to watch the pelicans soar and dive. I’m going to frolic in the waves. I’m going to laugh as often as I can and cry when I need to. I’m going to fight, and I’m going to lean on my family and friends.

I’m a lucky woman: My body can still love. It can still know joy. It can delight, despair, heal. It, I, can still chase dreams.

It’s still life, just, for now, with cancer. And I will live it one glorious, difficult, deliberate day at a time.

IMG_8050


In the coming weeks I will be debuting a new blog that is currently under construction: Still Life, With Cancer. Once it’s up and running, I will link it back to FsFTB. I may still post occasionally in this space, but I hope you’ll join me on the new site to follow my story there. Until then, thank you and be well. 

Woven Whimsy (more thoughts on nesting)

Woven Whimsy: Stickworks by Patrick Dougherty, Atlanta Botanical Garden - Gainesville

View of Woven Whimsy: Stickworks by Patrick Dougherty, currently on display at the Atlanta Botanical Garden – Gainesville

Woven:

Late 15th century, past participle form of weave: from the Old English wefan, meaning “to weave, form by interlacing yarn.” Cognates of weave include the Sanskrit ubhnati, “he laces together” and the Greek hyphe or hyphos, “web.” In the late 14th century weave took on the extended sense of “combine into a whole.”

Whimsy:

Circa 1600, probably related to whimwham, meaning “fanciful object” and whim, as recorded in the 1690s, meaning “caprice, fancy, sudden turn or inclination of the mind.”

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Patrick Dougherty’s “Woven Whimsy: Stickworks” at the Atlanta Botanical Garden – Gainesville. I was intrigued in part by the name of the exhibition; I am, after all, the bride who declared her wedding decor style “vintage whimsical.”

Artist Dougherty was in residence from late March until early April and created the unplanned sculpture onsite from locally harvested wood, branches, and twigs. He’s completed over 250 such sculptures and has said about working with sticks that it is “something that stirs the sense of simple shelter.” Walking inside them stirred in me the same dizzying mix of wonder, comfort, and occasional chaos that is marriage.

The sculpture creates a sense of both enclosure and openness, the whirling weave of the sticks suggesting at once movement and stillness. The outsize scale and organic simplicity places the experience somewhere between wandering beneath towering skyscrapers and exploring a cluster of fairytale cottages.

From afar, they look almost like baskets, and like all art, they hold more than the substance of their making. They feel, inside, like giant sheltering nests, if nests had doors and windows.

Nest:

Old English nest. Noun, “bird’s nest, snug retreat.” Cognates include the Sanskrit nidah, “resting place, nest.”

Nesting:

Adjective, 1650s, “making or using a nest.” Also refers to objects “fitted into one another.”

WovenWhimsy8

Where there is art, there is life. Long live whimsy!

 


All definitions adapted from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Nesting: A Parable (of sorts)

imageOn hubby Steve’s and my first foray to what has since become our favorite local farm-to-table market, I was charmed by a set of three metal flower pots nested on a small oval tray. Enameled in graduated shades of dark-to-light, creating an ombré effect, the three pots’ Caribbean-sea hues recalled our wedding colors and provided a welcome contrast to the grim gray January sky. They were the also the perfect size for a small kitchen herb garden.

A large plastic pot in a similar turquoise caught my eye, too, along with a healthy aloe plant that reminded me of the one my mother had used to sooth our childhood sunburns. One small container each of thyme and oregano and a packet of basil seeds later, I was ready to warm up our winter kitchen with flora and flavor.

imageWe stashed the empty pots on the radiator by the front door as we unloaded groceries, where they stayed, as did the plants on the kitchen counter, for several weeks. One day I asked Steve to bring a bag of potting soil from the garage to the back porch for easy access, and he obliged. It rested there, undisturbed. Another week passed. I brought the pots into the kitchen. By then I’d realized we didn’t have a good spot for plants where they wouldn’t be knocked over or gnawed on by cats. We measured a window for a shelf and brackets, but another few weeks went by before we could get to the hardware store.

imageFinally, one afternoon during spring break, Steve gathered a level, screws, and drill and cut the shelf, while I re-potted the aloe and the herbs and rescued a rapidly wilting poinsettia and some ailing succulents. I painted the shelf ends, he installed it, and we arranged the plants on the shelf with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

After all, it had only taken us seven weeks from start to finish.

March 11th marked seven months to the day since Steve and I took up full-time residence together in our new old house. We’d held our wedding one month after move-in, taking a week away from academia for our celebration and a brief honeymoon. Then it was back to full-time teaching and administrating. Since then we’ve amassed, between the two of us, a total of eight work trips plus four visits with family, and we’re looking ahead to a similar travel schedule between now and June.

It’s hardly surprising we still have boxes stacked down the hallway and in the living room, or that we’ve only managed to paint one room of the house. I’d be astonished if we had managed to settle in fully. I don’t feel surprise at our lack of progress. I feel…thwarted.

imageSeven weeks of combined efforts, sandwiched betwixt and amongst the myriad other demands and desires of our rich (and wonderful!) lives—for one simple shelf and a few sprouts. We’re in it, in more ways than one, for the long haul.

I’ve been a little quiet recently because I’ve been overwhelmed. By work. By the news. By losses I’ve witnessed, near and far. Even, forgive me, by the abundance of my blessings.

In other words, by life.

That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. I honestly believe if we don’t feel overwhelmed, at least on occasion, by this world we inhabit, we aren’t fully inhabiting our humanity. I’ve also found that when I feel that way, it’s helpful to step back and take time to notice the good. To squeeze someone’s hand and tell them they matter. To say “I love you,” and “Thank you.” To find beauty in the smallest flower, feel success in the smallest accomplishment.


imageI paint turquoise polka dots on the poinsettia pot’s nondescript brown rim. Add a little sparkle with a glittery bluebird pick in the pot of the heart-shaped cactus known as the “Sweetheart Cactus,” the “Lucky Heart.”

Each morning, I smile at our shelf of growing greens. Each evening, as Steve and I make dinner together, we watch the sun set through the window that frames the ocean-sky blues of the pots that hold the seeds we’ve planted, the seeds that slowly, resolutely sprout, grow, exceed.

For now, for this day: it is enough.

bird and heart

 

Fall, in Love

golden leavesLast year around this time, as we scuffled through the fallen leaves covering a local park trail, my now-husband Steve recalled an article he’d seen about the process by which leaves change colors. The brilliant orange and yellow and red hues of autumn are always present in the leaves, the article asserted, though we see them only in the fall. In spring and summer they are masked by chlorophyll’s green. As the production of chlorophyll wanes, the bright, varied colors that were always underneath emerge to glow against the steel grays and robin’s egg blues of an October sky. The writer likened this process to the presence of God in everyone, using it as a metaphor for a kind of true spiritual beauty that all possess, even when it’s not readily apparent.

That’s a lovely idea, and the writer mostly got the science correct: carotenoids, the pigments that produce yellow, orange, and brown, are present in leaves year-round and revealed in autumn; the compounds called anthocyanins that make leaves turn red, however, are manufactured in the fall in response to a combination of light and an abundance of sugars. In any case, the process put me in mind of a slightly different metaphor. Continue reading

Ripples and Reflections

Wading in Great Salt Lake

brine shrimp lay eggsIMG_5995

that lie dormant through drought

ten years suspended—

a few drops of water,

and they hatch

without a hitch

­

no wonder they dance

in whole body jazz hands

sometimes the wait

is worth the miracle

~~~

Travel to a conference in Utah this week re-set my posting schedule along with my alarm clock. Faced with a decision between staying in and writing or seizing a new adventure, well: sometimes it’s necessary to stop and breathe the brine. My visit to this natural wonder was only too brief, maybe half an hour. But for those minutes of walking an ethereal landscape, my sense of being so baldly exposed and sized to scale left me feeling both insignificant and strangely empowered. I am small, but I am seen.

For those spending the weekend in Southwest Virginia parts, I want to give a shout out to the OneLove Wedding Expo set for today, Sunday, November 8th, at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel and Conference Center. Readers might recall my April post on the Weddings for Equality Vendor Showcase. The OneLove Expo is organized by the same great folks, and it promises to be a fun day and an excellent resource to find gay-friendly wedding vendors.

marina 2For love’s arrival, for its acceptance: so glad, for so many of us, that the wait is finally over.

Via bridebook: What If It Rains?

So, it’s been pouring rain here in Southwest Virginia, going on four days now. The rivers are roiling and cresting, basements are seeping and leaking, and the sky has held the same deep grey for so many hours I can no longer tell, without a clock, whether it’s early morning, late evening, or some time in between.

It seems a good time to share a link to my most recent bridebook post, which was published the week before our wedding, a post in which I wondered, “What if it rains?” It didn’t rain on our ceremony or reception, though showers early in the day made us cross fingers and toes. But it rained all last weekend, when I’m sure many lovely couples tied the knot, and it’s sure raining now, and the rain is predicted to keep right on falling.

So this one is for all those folks whose weddings have been and will be wet. Take heart and carry a big umbrella. As my wise brother said, “The wet won’t stay. The married will.”

The skies looked ominous enough! Photo, Noah Magnifico

The skies looked ominous enough!
Photo, Noah Magnifico

FsFTB in bridebook: What If It Rains?


Dear readers, FsFTB is moving to a once-a-week posting format. New posts will now appear on Fridays. Thanks to all who’ve followed our love story this far, and all who keep on reading!

BlogHer 2015: FsFTB in the Big Apple

I’m taking the weekend off from wedding planning and spending it at my first ever blog conference, BlogHer 2015 in NYC, which has been inspiring. I was surprised to find they’d chosen my wedding colors as the conference palette.  🙂

It’s a conference packed with smart, engaged, and vibrant women, and I’ve been moved to tears by excellent writing and powerful commitment more than once. And don’t tell Steve, but I met some nice fellas at the Expo…

It’s a bit overwhelming—so many people to meet, so much to learn, so much swag. It was kind of cool at the Stylecaster community party to get to personalize my own conference bag with a screen print of a leafy plant wearing glasses.  I’m a nature nerd, okay?

I’m still trying to figure out Twitter, as I feel a bit old-fashioned without more social media savvy in this context.

I was most impressed by a keynote featuring Girl Scout CEO Ana Maria Chavez and two Girl Scouts.  One young woman, Monique, a former Girl Scout who is now a junior in college, really impressed me with her confidence and no-nonsense advice.

“Your voice is free,” she said. “Use it.”

Amen, sister.

 


Steve and I also wandered a bit in the city, particularly enjoying the High Line, a park created on what’s left of a former el-train that once ran through the city.  It was a weirdly beautiful day for July in the city–sunny, with a light breeze, and low humidity. The park was unique and impressive—great views, innovative architecture, and attention to local plantings.

And it’s funny how there always seem to be reminders of love anywhere we go, even in schoolyard artwork and a community Lego build….

What can I say? Love is the answer, and I ♥ NY!