Thursday, September 30, 2010

Saying Good Riddance to September and HUZZAH! to October

To be perfectly honest, the last few months in my world have been arduous, a marathon of one challenge after an other. I tried to withstand them with the grace my name suggests, but I failed quite a bit. I even found myself in the childish thought-circle of "why me?" and "what have I done to deserve this?" It is only natural, only human, for us to seek order and reason during Samsara (cycle of earthly suffering), as if understanding the designs of our suffering would lessen the pain (hint: it doesn't.). The two most serious crises recently were health-related, reminding me the importance of caring for my body in times of bounty so the reserves can carry my mind through in times of famine.

At the very beginning of July, I tore a major muscle in my lower back. I was hoping it was only a bad strain and pushed myself to do my regular yoga practice, which had me in tears on the floor. By pushing to do my yoga instead of listening my body and resting, I further inflamed the injury and was functionally immobilized, in agony, for two months. All I could do was wait for the muscle to repair itself and do the most basic stretches when I could manage them. The muscle healed very well, but I lost a lot of strength and I am now slowly building up to 100%. I went two months without Asana (yoga postures), the longest I've ever been without it in the 13 years I've practiced. Suffice to say, it was extremely depressing and my joints still ache from the long Asana drought.

Just as I was regaining the use of my back, my husband was beset by a flare-up of the disease he suffers from, but rears its nasty head rarely, every 1.5 years or so. He suffers from cluster headaches, the grand poobah of all migraines. They are extremely rare and very little is understood about them, besides the expert belief that it may very well be, without exaggeration, the most painful condition known to medical science. When Ben gets them, he is knocked out of life for 4-6 weeks. No work, no friends, no loud noises, no lights, no conversation. Imagine living in dark, boring agony with nothing to distract from mind-breaking pain for a month at a time. I can only speak from my perspective, but as a care-giving wife during "headache season," it's frightening, lonely and sleepless. A deep helplessness and rage grows in me that does not happen when it's just me suffering. Cluster headaches are so strange and mysterious, causing so much terror with no explanation, and there is nothing I can do to make the demon go away. I can only hold his hand, hold down the fort and wait. As is always the case though, just as we both begin to fear that maybe this time the headache won't go away, it does. Tuesday, just as quickly as it came, the headache is gone and my husband is back. Tuesday was also his birthday, so we have many things to celebrate in the following weeks.

All is well and all will be well. I am full to overflowing with gratitude for an end to this particular season of suffering and gratitude also for the lessons taught by pain, like grace, endurance, selflessness and appreciation for victories great and small. In that joy, I feel comfortable setting real goals for October, goals mostly involving a return to joyful normalcy.

For October:
  1. Try ecstatic dance and if I like it, make it a weekly habit
  2. Work back up to an hour a day of Asana
  3. Re-establish a weekly date night with my husband
  4. Work back up to going to the gym 4 days a week
  5. Invest time in my friendships
  6. Become a morning person
Yes, those are a lot of goals, but I'm hungry for health, success and love.

What are your goals for October?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Photo of the Week- Vietnamese Mother

It's been far too warm where I live to write a real post yet this week (though I do have one brewing), so I give you the photo of the week.

(click photo to enlarge)
This is picture shows an impoverished Vietnamese mother speaking about her daughter's fight against Leukemia and her own struggle with untreated Hepatitis. After meeting her, 100 Friends decided to assist her in paying for cancer treatment for her daughter and Hepatitis treatment for herself, neither of which she could have afforded on her own. I am so proud to be a part of this organization. If you feel moved to donate to our life-saving efforts in Southeast Asia, please click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grace's Kickass Cauliflower Soup, a redux

Since many people in my life, myself included, are currently down for the count with colds, I feel like it's a good time to re-post my favorite medicinal food recipe. The change of seasons is hard on the body. The stress of dealing with weather changes, less sunshine and upcoming holiday obligations can weaken the immune system and leave us open to viral and bacterial onslaught. Give your body the upper hand by getting plenty of sleep, drinking enough water and tea (easy to forget when you're not sweating as much), utilizing a sun lamp to regulate your circadian rhythms and ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder, doing yoga and getting cardio daily, and, most importantly, feeding the body tasty, healthy food with medicinal benefits.


It is vegan, gluten-free and full of immune-boosting vitamins and cardio-pumping spices to kick the pants off whatever ails you. It takes about 45 minutes including prep time.

3 or 4 Tbls olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 pound cauliflower florets
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp cumin or garam marsala
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 pinches of cayenne
5 cups veggie broth

Saute onions, garlic, ginger and olive oil in the bottom of a big soup pot until lightly browned. Add the spices and let them bubble together for a minute or two. Add broth, cauliflower and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender (about 12 minutes). You can either eat it right away or let it sit for a while. It gets tastier and thicker the longer the spices are allowed to sink in.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photo of the Week- Young Monk Between Rain Showers

Some days I miss working in print media and being a professional, mainstream photojournalist, but today I am very happy to have an outlet to publish whatever the heck I want. In that spirit, I think I have decided that each week I will choose a photo of mine I am particularly fond of and showcase it here. Please feel free to comment and critique.

(click photo to enlarge)
A young monk strolls behind a pagoda between rain showers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
June, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

And Then He Died

I've been uncharacteristically silent this summer, both in my blog life and my personal life. I went to Southeast Asia for a month between May and June and it was such a deep, life-changing experience that, since then, I've had a hard time finding a voice to articulate this new space in which I have found myself. I wasn't expecting it to change me much. I was expecting an awesome, new experience where I would have the opportunity to see different countries and help some folks. I was expecting to try new food, be challenged in new ways, learn some languages and see exotic plants and animals. I was expecting to become maybe a little more compassionate and less afraid in the world, more comfortable in my own skin, but not much more. I wasn't expecting to have my heart wrenched open to feel so much so fast. I didn't know I could love and trust strangers implicitly. I didn't know I could cry with a grieving mother, with whom I shared no spoken language. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me first introduce you to Kien.

I am not generally a hugger. The reason for this is two-fold. On a superficial level, I am a bit of a germaphobe. I am extremely clean, and when I get too involved with myself, I avoid touching people, because I am afraid of their germs. How silly! On a deeper level though, I avoid physical closeness, because it suggests an intimacy I'm uncomfortable with. With intimacy comes attachment, and that attachment brings inevitable loss.

Before my trip to Southeast Asia, I recognized that my self-imposed isolation hurts myself and deprives the world of love that I do have the power to give. I felt like I was shaken out of a long slumber in February when someone I did not know well hugged me out of the pure joy of living. His heart is so overwhelmed by love of humanity that he hugged me upon meeting me, and it was infectious. Such an unexpected, genuine display of love felt really good and it surprised me. Very simply, it was so good to feel that way, I wanted to make other people feel like that, too. I also knew that much of my travels would be visiting sick and/or orphaned children who desperately need and deserve love. I made a decision the night before I left that during my travels I would hug any person who wanted it, no matter what their state. Jesus was on to something with that whole hugging the lepers business. That decision to reach outside myself and hug turned out to be one of the most transformational, sweet and painful things I've ever done.

My first real taste of touch and compassion came early in my trip while in Vietnam. There, the 100 Friends Project works with a few very impressive organizations and together, we do many great things, not the least of which is sponsoring medical care for children of impoverished families. My boss, our friends and I loaded a taxi van with five giant trash bags worth of stuffed animals, toy cars, and bean cakes and headed down to the children's hospital in Hanoi to visit the children we were sponsoring in the orthopedic surgery ward. It was happy a scene. These kids were all getting their desperately needed surgeries, so there were lots of happy families, lots of smiles, a joyful environment, because these kids they have a really good chance of being totally fine.

My boss meeting a happy dad in the orthopedic surgery ward

Then we went to the pediatric oncology ward, not such a happy place. Every kid was so sweet and every parent was happy to see us and happy to see their kids get toys. Some of them had good prognosises, but most of the cases were not so optimistic. I tried to remain detached, smiling at the babies, fluttering around at a distance with my camera. But then there was one little boy, Kien, who I really connected with and who stole and broke my heart. He was 2 years old with advanced brain cancer. He was a sweet, curious, active and an otherwise normal little kid, good natured and bright. He was in no obvious pain and completely oblivious to his plight. He sat on my lap for at least a half an hour, intensely interested in my camera, and he was tickled to push the big silver button and seeing the pictures appear on the back. That same day, his parents were told that there was nothing more the doctors could do for his cancer, and he was going to die within the month. We all took turns holding him and playing with him, indulging his every whim, kissing his downy hair and crying, because this sweet baby was not going to have many more chances to take pictures or play. It seemed like he could tell everyone was sad and he was actively trying to cheer us up with his silly toddler antics. As he sat on my lap, giggling and babbling away as toddlers do the world over, he entwined his soft little fingers around my hands, fearlessly exploring his world, fully accepting my existence as an entertaining stranger. His poor mother was the same age as me, possibly younger, and I sat with her for a long time, holding her and crying with her. She spoke no English and I speak no Vietnamese, but she held onto me and sobbed. In that moment, there was nothing anyone in the world could do for her but hug her and be kind to her son. I was blessed to be there for her in that moment and be taught the healing power of touch, in territory where language was superfluous.

Kien and his mother

A month or so later, soon after I arrived back in the Bay Area, I received an e-mail from our friends in Hanoi and they told us that yes, Kien had died. There were pictures of him attached to the e-mail documenting how bad the cancer was at the end, but I could never bring myself to look, because I want to always remember the happy little oblivious boy who played with my camera. I still cry every time I think of him, of the unfairness of life, our helplessness in the situation, and how the world is now missing the light of that sweet little boy. But I also cry from comfort in that my life was so blessed by that little guy, even for the extremely brief time I knew him. He changed me. I showered him with what love and affection I could in that moment, even knowing it was going to hurt to leave him. It was the right decision.

Kien and me

I am a quieter person now, a kinder, more understanding person. Part of that was from the experience with Kien (and other experiences on that trip I'll tell you about later). It's very hard, nee impossible, to close my heart again now that it's open. I joke with my husband that, to quote "Anchorman," "I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!" but it's true. I have all these feelings now, these warm feelings for my fellow humans (especially little humans), and I am often struck mute while dealing with them. As I work things out, I will share more of my heart with you, because I like you, and I hope my experiences are interesting to you, too.

Where I've Been!