The pain was sudden, intense, and sharp. I yelled as an electric shock ran down the back of my leg, causing my knee to buckle instantly. I didn’t have time to react as my left leg gave out underneath me. I was practically to the floor before I was even aware that I was falling. Luckily, my husband caught me, stopping me from hitting the concrete.

“What just happened?” The surprise was quickly morphing into concern as he looked at me.

“I don’t know. I was just standing up, and it’s like someone stuck a cattle prod on my left butt cheek. It felt like I was electrocuted!”

The next day, I saw my primary care doctor, who is a specialist in sports medicine. After an X-ray and physical examination, she stood back. “Well, it looks like you are having a combination of issues. I’d say you probably have some bursitis in your left hip, some IT band inflammation in your left knee, and you have what’s called ‘piriformis syndrome’ in your left hip and buttock. Basically, you have some big inflammation all down your left leg, and part of that inflammation is squeezing your sciatic nerve, which is what created that electricity feeling and caused you to fall. It’s serious, but totally something we can take care of with anti-inflammatories and physical therapy.”

But physical therapy just wasn’t a viable possibility for me. In order to come in two to three times a week, I’d have to find a sitter for the girls—spending quite a large sum of money, taking quite a large chunk of time—and results could only be promised insofar as I was able to continue the exercises at home (if my issues responded to them at all). My doctor understood my concerns, and she suggested that I learn a few stretches to do at home. “You could also look up some good stretching videos online. Like yoga.”

Immediately after leaving my doctor (a prescription for powerful anti-inflammatories in my fist), I texted my friend, Sara, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for 7 years.

Three days later, I had my first yoga lesson. I spent a good five minutes, just trying to stand in Samasthitih (saam-i-sittee)—the neutral standing “pose” that is seriously just standing with your weight equally dispersed between your feet, and your arms at your sides. I realized that my weight was primarily on my right leg. (I was naturally trying to spare my injured left leg by taking my weight off of it.) I was amazed that I had never noticed before just how off-balance my body had been feeling. Finally, I found my center, and learned Sun Salutation A, and the first couple of standing poses in the Primary Series (the sequence that all practitioners learn when they first start Ashtanga yoga).

It has been three months since I first started Ashtanga (for clarity, most people know it as “Power Yoga,” but that’s really a misnomer). After three days, I stopped taking the anti-inflammatories. They just weren’t necessary anymore. After two months, I ran a 5k with no prior training other than yoga. I haven’t experienced any recurring pain from my injuries (though my left hip is definitely tighter than my right, and requires a little more caution when manipulating certain poses), and my overall strength and endurance have skyrocketed. While I’m not “back” at running yet (the 5k was for a charity and put on by my cousin. I try to do it every year), I have started walking again, and the paces that I can now maintain just astonish me. Whereas walking a 15-minute mile prior to beginning my practice (that’s what you call a daily yoga exercise. A practice) would have left me sweaty and breathing heavily, even when I was running the most, now, I find myself barely perspiring. I often will have to remind myself that my walks are not for leisure, but exercise, and that I should be pushing myself more to get my heart rate up.

Sara, my yoga instructor, told me that a regular practice would change me. I secretly scoffed at the strange, New Agey idea that an hour a day of bends, lifts, concentrated breathing, and asanas (poses) would really “change” anything. I mean, physically? Of course! But mentally? Spiritually? Besides the pleasant release of endorphins that I expect from any exercise, I just didn’t see how that was going to happen. After all, I was a ballet minor in college. I’ve been dancing since I was four. I’ve been a runner for six years. Surely, if I was going to change from a physical activity, it would have happened by now.

Then, just this week, I met with Sara for my weekly lesson. I had had a frustrating week. Sara challenged me with trying headstands for the first time, and I could barely bring myself into the pose that you take before you actually do the headstand. I was stuck in that position, trying to breathe deeply, but just gasping, while the sweat dripped down into my eyes and nostrils. I wasn’t completing a headstand so much as I was thinking about maybe, one day, building up the strength to try one. But, what was even worse, I was feeling particularly frustrated with something called my “vinyasa.” A vinyasa is a transition. It moves you from one asana (pose) to the next. It’s the movement that comes in between the actual movements you have to achieve. And it’s hard.

Basically, when you “take your vinyasa” or “flow through your vinyasa” in the Primary Series of Ashtanga, you are trying to move your legs from being straight out in front of you in a seated pose, to being straight out behind you in a plank (chaturanga) position. You do this by bringing your legs up to your chest, lifting your butt off the floor with your hands, and then tucking your legs between your arms (while you are still suspended) before jumping or stepping your feet back to chaturanga. Here’s a video of it, since it’s kind of hard to describe:

I’ve spent weeks struggling with my vinyasa. I could feel my body lifting internally, but nothing seemed to be budging on the outside. It was as though my bones were lifting up, but all of the non-solid stuff—the fat, the skin, the stretch marks, the ingrown hairs, all of what I perceived as my “ugliness”—refused to move off the floor. I would “take my vinyasa” by grunting, gasping, pushing with all of my might against the floor, only to remain exactly where I was, until I was forced to take another breath, and just walk my legs behind me to get into chaturanga.

I opened my lesson with a diatribe against vinyasa. Feeling unable to do a headstand felt justified. After all, I knew people whose lifelong fitness goal was to “do the headstand in yoga.” But the vinyasa? The transition? The thing that is just supposed to take you from one place to the next? Why did that have to be so hard??

I began my practice, with Sara watching me, breathing with me, and adjusting me as needed. When the sweat began spilling from my face, she quietly placed a towel by my side, and gave me a breath or two to wipe down my slippery hands and feet. When I would bend forward, she’d appear behind me, firmly yet gently pushing down on my back, lengthening it until my forehead suddenly touched down on my ankles. Sara’s quiet, steady strength is inspiring, to say the least. Then, when it came time to take my vinyasa, she just said, quietly, almost in a murmur, “Take an extra exhale to just set the bandhas (your lower pelvic region and core), and then lengthen your arms on the inhale.”

I exhaled, feeling my fingers spread and my palms flatten. Feeling the texture of the mat, and thinking about keeping my entire palm flat on the floor. Thinking about using my fingers to help with the push. I inhaled.

And lifted.

There is a similar pose in Ashtanga called “utpluthih” (oot-ploot-teehee). Translated from the Sanskrit, it means “uprooting.” You sit in lotus position, put your hands down at your sides, and push up. Having pulled bushes, trees, and about twelve incredibly deep and stubborn rose bushes out of my yard, I was already very aware of how difficult “uprooting” can be.

utpluthih

Utpluthih

But I realized in that moment, that second of lifting up, that I wasn’t really uprooting myself. I was re-rooting. I was still attached to the ground. Just finding a new way of connecting to it. I couldn’t get my legs to swing back without touching the ground, but I was able to pivot my body forward, walking my legs between my arms on my tiptoes, and as I swung my legs through, I felt the gentle twist of my muscles. Wrapping around my arms from my shoulder blades, around the tops of my shoulders, wrapping back around my triceps, around and around, until the muscles spread into my fingertips. And in that moment, as I was feeling the spiral of my own strength going down into the ground, I thought about the apple trees on my parents’ orchard, growing over the years and decades and generations in a slow twist, spiraling out of the ground and spreading up, turning to find the sun, the wind, the rain, the moonlight. So slow and steady, and so trusting of time, that the only evidence of their continuous twist towards the sun is in the steady wrap of bark around their trunks.

It was a second and a half, but I felt all of those things. That I was like the inverted apple tree, spinning, slowing screwing myself down into the ground. That I wasn’t uprooted, but re-rooted. Flipped. Upside down, but still upright. That strength is different from power. That I realized that wanting power (and calling it “power” yoga) is an exercise in ego, and that ego has no place in my practice. That the tree is powerful. It does not have power. That those two things are very, very different. It was the most incredible, meditative moment of my life thus far.

I collapsed in chaturanga, laughing. “My arms are trees,” I gasped. “My arms are trees!”

I can’t say where my yoga practice will take me. I can’t even say that I will maintain it, or pursue it into more complicated series (there are 5 after the Primary Series, and after 3 months, I’m still only at the halfway point in the Primary). But I can say that it has, in fact, changed me. I’m liking the change. I’m liking the re-rooting. The rerouting as it were. I like that it’s forcing me (quite literally) to look at my world from different perspectives. Ashtanga is here for me at exactly the time it needed to be. It’s healed me. It continues to heal me. And that’s some crazy, New Agey shit for sure. But I like it.

Alert: Major spoilers ahead!

My girls’ latest obsession has been Disney’s newest princess film Moana. And for good reason. Moana is full of humor, action, self-discovery, and is set in the incredible backdrop of the Pacific Ocean (which becomes its own mischievous character and Moana’s friend). It makes history as the first “princess” movie from Disney that does not include a love story, or even the hint of a love story. The titular character actually fervently denies being a princess at one point, explaining to her Demigod partner, Maui, that she’s “the daughter of the chief,” to which he shrugs, “Same difference . . . If you’re wearing a dress and have an animal sidekick, you are a princess.” Furthermore, it is the first of the Disney canon to feature a non-white princess for whom her race and social status is not in any way an issue. She (and everyone around her) just is. A fantastic comment on equality, by making no comment on it at all.

In many ways, it is not your typical princess film (both of her parents live!), and that is welcome news for a modern audience with distinct Pink Fatigue.

So, why does Moana give me that sick, familiar feeling again? That cross between fear, shame, worry, anxiety, and sadness that I’ve known for fifteen years now. Why can’t I watch it with enjoyment, but ambivalence? Why does the refrain “know who you are” cut so, so deeply?

The revelation hit me like a slap in the face. Like a sharp pain, deep down, in my most intimate, private places, places that I alone can feel. I suddenly knew.

Moana is about rape.

Maui rapes Te Fiti, the Mother Island, and the movie is, ultimately, about Moana helping Te Fiti to heal from her assault, but only after she helps Maui heal from his toxic masculinity and learn humility.

maui

The premise of Moana is that the demigod, Maui (played to perfection by Dwayne Johnson), travels to Te Fiti and steals her “heart.” Te Fiti, the Mother Goddess, has the power to create life, and Maui is convinced that her heart will give him that same power. Using his giant fish hook (a clear metaphor for his masculinity/phallus), Maui violently pries Te Fiti’s “heart” from the middle of her “spiral” located at the center of the Mother Island. However, once Maui takes the heart (a small, smooth stone that is intricately carved with a spiral, swirled pattern), he discovers that it has lost all power, that it is “just a rock.” The Mother Island starts to spread death around to every island, and what is more, the stolen heart is now seen as a prized artifact for a whole ocean full of monsters, but mostly for the fearsome Ta Ka, a demon of fire and lava. Ta Ka rises once Maui steals the heart, and she is powerful enough to actually knock the fleeing Maui out of the sky, and separate him from his magical fish hook, dooming him to a thousand years of emasculated, non-magical solitude on a desert island.

It is easy to see how Moana becomes a metaphor for sexual assault. The smooth, round “heart” that is taken from Te Fiti without her consent is a magical object capable of creating “life,” a clear stand-in for her womb/vagina/womanhood. But, importantly, it is a thing that becomes worthless when it is removed from the Goddess from whence it originated. Maui’s fish hook, even if it weren’t enormously phallus in its mere size and shape, becomes the representation of his masculinity, the thing that makes him “awesome again,” the source of all of his power. Yet, siginificantly, it is Moana who sees that Maui is not, in fact, defined by his hook, and that the hook itself does not possess the power he needs to become a hero “to all.” He attempts to use his hook to fight off Ta Ka in order to replace the heart, but is defeated—multiple times—and his hook is eventually destroyed in the process. This is when the audience discovers that an act of violence cannot undo a violent act. Only an act of love and compassion.

Moana, in an attempt to return the heart herself, discovers that Te Fiti, the Mother Island, has sunk into the sea, and reemerged as the demon Ta Ka herself. Te Fiti’s anger, sadness, and fear that resulted from Maui’s attack transformed her into a monster of fire and lava, a beacon of death instead of a thing that creates life. Maui did not remove her powers to create life. Instead, his attack left her no choice but to deny her life-giving powers. To coat her heart in fire and ash, so that no creature could come close to her. Could hurt her again. Once Moana sees that Ta Ka and Te Fiti are one and the same, she turns to the monster with compassion. With love. The climactic moment when Moana restores Te Fiti is one of incredible beauty, but also incredible sadness, as any act of hard-won forgiveness must be.

Translated from the Polynesian language Tuvalu, the choral lyrics read:

Let the tears fall down.

My heart is filled with sorrow

For we have lost

Many loved ones

For we have lost.

Moana is truly a powerful character, as she explains to Ta Ka, “They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you / This is not who you are. / You know who you are.” For Ta Ka/Te Fiti, seeing and hearing Moana acknowledge her long-lingering pain—hearing that it is not merely Te Fiti who feels sorrow, but all of us who have “lost,” without any conclusion or end or resolution—binds Moana and Ta Ka in a community that the far-distant, long-dead island was desperate to discover. (Indeed, the entire film could be considered an extended argument in connectivity, in equality, and the potential dangers of isolationism.) Further, Moana reassures Ta Ka/Te Fiti that her heart “does not define you,” that it is not “who you are.” Te Fiti’s loss, and the terror of the memory of her violation consumed her (just as her protective lava spread and consumed all that she had created), and for a thousand years, alone and frightened, Te Fiti was unable to consider herself anything other than that which used to contain the heart. Used to contain that which supported life. Used to be the vessel of creation. It is Moana who sees beyond the significance of the physical heart, to Te Fiti’s figurative “heart,” her soul, her being, her power in an of herself, separate from the stone itself. Moana sees Te Fiti as whole and complete, even without the physical piece that had been taken so violently from her. She sees the victim, not as broken, but as whole, and this creates true healing.

Maui, meanwhile, must prove that he is worthy of forgiveness for his sexualized act of aggression against Te Fiti. So long as his personality and ego remains inextricable from his fish hook, he is irredeemable. Being separated from his hook for a thousand years, as he in the film’s beginning, has done nothing to diminish the centrality of his hook in his definition of himself. It has only solidified it. Meeting Moana, he only agrees to assist her in her quest to return Te Fiti’s heart under the condition of them also journeying to retrieve his hook from another monster, Tamatoa (a truly GREAT character, by the way). The film does an excellent job demonstrating the fragility of hypermasculinity such as Maui’s, though, as it shows the roller coaster of emotions the demigod rides even after his is reunited with his precious hook. Maui’s happiness is not, in fact, connected to his fish hook: it is more a source of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and doubt (as all hypermasculinity must be, since it is defined and walled by rigid, impossible standards of masculine perfection that are at once perceived as concrete and ever-changing). First, he must relearn how to correctly use his hook, and instead of shrugging off his rusty magic as simply the result of a millennia without it, Maui flops to the ground, groans repeatedly, and then softly sings, “Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay. We’re dead soon!” His very life is over because his hook/phallus won’t submit to his will immediately. Secondly, even after he learns how to once again wield the hook, his first attack against Ta Ka results in his hook being damaged and cracked. Instead of depression, now though, Maui is angry and fearful. His hook could be destroyed. Permanently. So, he reacts against the woman who “forced” him to risk his hook in the first place: Moana. “We’re here because the ocean told you you were someone special, and you’re not!” He calls Moana a “girl” and a “princess.” Words that are clearly meant as insults. Then, he uses his hook one last time, to transform into a giant hawk that will take him across the waters, far away from Moana.

The audience does not see Maui’s eventual emotional turn. He merely reappears after Moana has decided to return the heart to Te Fiti herself. We can only assume that it is the love and, yes, respect he feels for Moana that inspires his return. He feels protective of Moana, but not because he sees her as a weak “princess” but as a fellow warrior against the death and darkness. Now, instead of girl or child, he calls her “Moana,” and voluntarily decides to help her against Ta Ka, even if his actions could result in the permanent destruction of his hook/phallus. For Maui, Moana’s faith gives him the confidence to believe that he is more than merely the wielder of his fish hook. She empowers him with the knowledge “Hook. No hook. I’m Maui.” By the end of the film, his masculinity is not exclusively connected to the “magic” of his phallus, but to the extent of his loyalty, and his selfless acts. When his hook does indeed get destroyed, instead of running, or lashing out angrily, or falling to the ground, Maui stands and faces Ta Ka. He performs a “haka” dance, a traditional Maori warrior dance meant to instill fear and elicit a challenge to enemies. Maui’s dance is the moment of his true growth. Even without his phallus, he knows how to perform his masculinity in a way that is distinct to him, while also connecting him to the human community he was born into, and to his sense of self that is whole and complete, without the physical representation that is his hook. Both Te Fiti and Maui, then, discover that they are complete, whole, and connected to a wider world without those physical things that are the representations of their respective genders.

Of course, the lingering, troubling, painful moment for me(and for so many others who are also triggered by the themes running throughout this film), is the moment of forgiveness. The moment when Te Fiti, newly restored into the Mother Island/Goddess by Moana’s act of loving bravery, creates a new fish hook for Maui, gives him is masculinity once again, and forgives his past transgressions. Maui, genuinely humbled, apologizes to Te Fiti, and admits, “What I did was wrong. I have no excuse.” To which Te Fiti responds with a new hook. Significantly, Maui does not touch the new hook until Moana gives him permission to do so, because he is uncertain how to respond to this (undoubtedly not-entirely-earned) gift. Then, Maui thanks Te Fiti. For the first time in the entire movie, this character, who is known for singing “You’re welcome!” over and over to what he has assumed were the grateful and prostrate masses, says a sincere “Thank you” to the Goddess he has wronged, and who has carried the pain of that wrong for a thousand years.

Te_Fiti

Perhaps it is a sign of my own mortality that I cannot forgive as readily as a Goddess. Perhaps it is petty and bitter of me to think with anger about Maui’s overall likability. His humor. His large smile and witty retorts. Perhaps I focus too much on the silent, smiling Mother, and allow myself to feel too strongly the injustice of her stagnant-yet-beautiful form in the water compared to this lovable rogue who is free to fly across the oceans. Perhaps I see my own silence too much. Perhaps my own isolation. Perhaps my own fears that the one who hurt me, so long ago, sees me not as a woman who for too long has been consumed by the terrible question of “Where is my worth, my self, my power centered?” but as an artifact to be treasured and coveted, owned and displayed.

Perhaps I’m not ready yet.

Perhaps I’ve been ready for too long.

But nobody has traveled the oceans yet to heal me.

So, I watch Moana with joy, and with laughter. And with tears and dread.

It is a wonderful film. But it is one that I don’t think I will ever be able to watch without that feeling. That pain.

A pain that, I’m sure, even if I were to live a thousand years, would never truly subside.

Tomorrow, I’m going home to Michigan. To a place I love dearly. “Camp Quinn.” Every summer, when my older sister went to sleep-away camp, I was sent to Terry and Mary Quinn’s house. Mary taught me how to make rag rugs. Terry would let me sit in the front of his pontoon boat and dangle my toes in the water while we puttered around the lake in the back of their house. We’d talk about books. We’d try (and fail) to catch fish. We’d bake pies.

Terry died last Friday night. After a nearly 20-year struggle with emphysema. His funeral is tomorrow. And I finally cried tonight.

There are times when it seems the universe conspires to make you cry.

When you drive home, alone, and hear an unfamiliar song on the radio.

And, half-listening, you catch a lyric about smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

About being a child.

About being an adult.

About watching a sunset with someone.

With you. With You.

And you think about the unexpected text you received, not ten minutes ago, from a far-distant friend, talking about the pain of missing. About the emptiness that is left behind. The You-shaped hole inside. Talking about how missing is a physical ache. A psychological torture.

And you glance, out of habit, into your backseat, to check on the children. But they’re not there. You’ve dropped them off for the night, or the afternoon, or the hour, or the weekend. And you know that you’re alone. But something in your brain—or your heart—still insists upon checking. Upon looking back.

Back when I was a dancer, we used to have entire classes devoted just to stretching. Long, slow, arduous stretches that made you gasp and sweat with exertion. You’d strain your body, trying to reach as far as you can, your muscles and body and brain screaming in unison, asking you to stop. Telling you it was useless. That you were held as far as you can. That there was nothing left for your body to give. Long, long minutes would be spent in that tight, strained agony. Then, suddenly, it would happen. A desperate gasp of air would finally float, find its way down to your muscles, filling them with breath. And something would release. Without feeling anything in particular—doing anything in particular—your body would simply stop fighting. And let you reach further.

And there, sitting in your car, driving down the familiar roads towards your home, you feel that breath reach down into your chest. Into that tight spot you’ve been carrying around. Filling it with the air that hasn’t been able to reach it for days. And without doing anything at all—doing anything in particular—your body, your brain, your heart simply stops fighting.

And now the road is a fog that you can’t see through the tears that have collected on your eyelashes.

Five minutes.

Five violent minutes.

You sob.

You choke.

Every breath shakes your body.

You park in your driveway and sit, engine running, with your forehead pressed against the steering wheel.

And between your gasps and sobs, you say it. Out loud. Louder than you should. Louder than you were expecting.

“Goddammit.”

“Goddammit, Terry.”

Because you remember the sunsets. And the boat rides. And watching him roll those cigarettes. One after another. Every evening. With the big, white dog sitting at his feet. Back before he knew what they were doing to him. Before the air started to leave, slowly. Before it squeezed out of his lungs. A bit, a bit at a time. Before he knew that he would never be able to bring that air down into the tight places in his chest again. Before he knew.

Or maybe he did know then.

And you know now.

You only know it now.

He helped raise you.

He helped shape you.

He helped you become who you are.

And you never told him.

Goddammit, Terry. Goddammit, cigarettes. Goddammit, me.

You finally exit your car, and walk into your house. Not quite a run. But faster than usual. You dread seeing a neighbor.

You take a tissue, and dry your face. Your neck. Your chest. The collar of your shirt is wet.

But your eyes are dry.

After five violent minutes.

And you are ashamed, but relieved, but ashamed to be relieved, that it only took five minutes.

The storm was furious.

But it was blessedly short.

And now you can breathe.

Without seeming to do anything, something released. Something let go.

The air finally reached your muscles. Your brain. Your chest. Your heart.

And you see the gift that he has given you.

The gift of the sunsets.

The gift of the white dog’s thick, thick fur.

The gift of those damn cigarettes. Hand rolled. One after another. After another.

And the gift.

The gift of this breath.

Goodbye, dear, dear friend. I know that you read everything I ever wrote. I hope some part of you can see this too. It’s for you.

Making gifts for people is nerve-wracking. Handmade gifts aren’t just made of yarn, or dough, or paint. They include a huge chunk of yourself. Your aesthetic. Your sense of style. Your time. Your hand cramps. Your complete neglect of your children. Your sweat. Your love.

If you give a handmade gift to a person, and they don’t like it? It feels like a rejection of you. It hurts. And it’s not anybody’s fault, all that pain. Sometimes, things just aren’t a right “fit.” But knowing that in your logical, rational brain doesn’t make the rejection hurt any less. Really, those who make pieces to give to others are the bravest souls in the world.

Or the stupidest.

Let’s go with brave.

Either way, I put myself out there like crazy this year! Back in September, I decided to re-learn how to crochet (something my mother taught me how to do about 20 years ago, that I hadn’t pursued in years).

After stitching up just a few (really, very wonky) samples, I dove in, mostly making hats.

I crocheted 3 for my daughters’ preschool’s annual fundraiser. (They sold for a whopping $5 each! Woo!)

Then, I started on hats for gifts. One for myself (really, it was was sample. But a cute one!–Mine is the orange). One for my mother, and one for my sister. I used really nice merino wool, and made us all variations on the same pattern.

Once the hats were finished for the ladies, I then decided to whip up some beanies for the men in my life as well. My brother, father, and brother-in-law (my husband doesn’t wear hats). So, again, I used a wool yarn, and made a slight variation on a single, simple pattern.

Impressed? Well, don’t be. Honestly, I never would have made all of these hats had it not been for terrible luck on my part. Back in October, I tore my left trapezius muscle, and wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 20 lbs. for two weeks. So, I mostly sat on my couch, doing nothing, with a sore shoulder/back. Then, exactly two weeks after that diagnosis, I went back to the same doctor (“Didn’t I just see you?” Yes. Yes you did.) only to be diagnosed with shingles. Two MORE weeks of sitting on my couch. Finally, I came down with a cold. A bad cold. And it didn’t get better. Right before Thanksgiving, I found out I had pneumonia. Guess what I had to do? You got it! Even MORE couch sitting. Even more crocheting. These gifts wouldn’t have been possible without me being miserable for about two solid months. So, silver linings, I suppose?

For a brief period in November (between the shingles and pneumonia), I decreed that it was the “Month of Scarves.” My wonderful husband bought me a new, Ashford 16″ rigid heddle loom for my November birthday, and I got to work, whipping up scarves for some very important people in my life.

The first was for my mother. I wove it using a beautiful Yak down/bamboo blend yarn, then used the leftover yarn to crochet her another scarf, in a pretty “seashell” pattern.

Then, I wove a scarf for my longtime friend, Emilee. The denim colors and simple pattern seemed like the perfect fit for her!

Using leftover acrylic yarn, I made three (so far) scarves for longtime friends who asked for something handwoven. These haven’t been shipped out yet, but I promise they’ll be on their way soon, girls!

The greatest joy my family experienced in 2016, by far, was the birth of my nephew, Lucas. Continuing in the family tradition, then, I wove him a baby blanket out of soft, washable acrylic. As you can see, I’ve been having a ton of fun with my new pick-up sticks too! New, interesting patterns and textures have been amazing to explore, and have broadened my experiences on my rigid heddle looms!

Finally, Lucas, his big brother Cooper, and my niece Olivia all got something designed and stitched up by their Aunt Rachel. These small cross-stitch patterns are part of my “Boss Alphabet” series that I’m designing and will hopefully have available for sale via Etsy soon. They’re only about 3 x 3.5″, and I was able to frame them up in standard 4 x 6″ photo frames. I probably shouldn’t think about all of the hours these small pieces took to design and make. But they were so fun, and look how cute!

All in all, in spite of the terrible health problems I had in the last two months, I’d say that the last quarter of 2016 was a success. At least from a crafting point of view (I’ll say nothing of the dumpster fire that is current American politics). This seems like a lot, but I’m already looking forward to even more crafty goodness in 2017!

(Also, if you received any of these gifts and you DON’T like them? Please, just lie and tell me that you love it. My self-esteem can’t handle the collective rejection espoused by ALL of these gifts!)

Dear Uterus,

Dude, get your shit together! I can’t keep doing this. Every single month, you announce the release of your egg with about as much restraint as Kanye plugging his next terrible album. And in the meantime, you make me go on just about as many nonsensical rants.

Look, I get it. Babies, man. BABIES. They’re amazing. (Well, mine are. I’m not sure about anyone else’s, ammirit, Uterus? Heh, yeah. You know I am.) They’re soft. They’re warm. They have that crazy strong grip. You know the one? When they grab your finger, and it’s like all of the strength in their tiny little bodies is just concentrated in one chubby fist. Just holding on to you with everything they have. Nobody else can do that. Nobody needs you that badly. Only babies. They only want you. They only need you.

And then the smell.

Oh, sweet tap-dancin’ Christ, the smell!!

It’s the smell of angels.

Kids smell like a fart inside of an old egg, dipped in rotten chicken trimmings, but babies? Damn. If they ever figure out how to bottle that stuff, I swear I’m going to buy it, then just sit on my couch, sobbing and lactating.

So, see? I get it. I know how excited you get. I understand it. Really, I do.

But, seriously. We can’t keep doing this dance.

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See? How perfect are we!

I mean, my family is perfect. The girls are incredible. They’re doing new stuff all the time. Sophie is getting so responsible. Do you know she actually put herself to bed the other day? Just looked at me, said, “I’m tired,” then walked up to her room and went to bed! And she knows how to make her own toast. I never have to worry about her burning herself, or putting a fork in the toaster or anything. She just tells me she’s going to make some toast, then, boom. Toast. She amazes me every day.

And Maddie? She’s a riot! She’s still obstinate, and cantankerous, and will never listen to anything I have to say, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get away with it. Because she knows that if she can get me laughing, I’ll forgive anything. She’s only three, but she’s seriously one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known.

So, see? We’re good. We’re only having to budget for two sets of Christmas presents. Two college tuitions (Though, really, our girls are such geniuses, you know they’re going to be rocking those full rides, ammirit, Uterus? Ha! Up top, Uterus!). Finding babysitters for two kids is way easier than three. I get to have a craft room. Nobody has to share a room. Nobody has to sacrifice. We got to plant a garden this past summer, for cryin’ out loud!

Dear Uterus, we have to be done. Really.

Because pregnancy sucked. Well, okay, not all of it. Those stretchy pants were pretty awesome. And the feeling of that firm, round belly? Man. Nothing like it. My nails were pretty sick too.

But that’s it!

Well, except for those wiggles. And jabs. Remember how excited the girls would get after dinner? We’d just sit there and watch my belly contort. I always tried to film it. But those things never really turn out. You can’t capture that movement. Not really.

Oh, and do you remember Maddie at the ultrasound? The tech set that wand down, and, BOOM! Maddie’s flipped herself over and is showing everybody that–yup!–there’s a girl in there! The technician was so freaked out. She jerked back, “Woah! Uhhhh. You did want to know the sex, right?”

Oh, dear Uterus. We did have some good times.

And, really, I have to admit that I think about it too. All the time. (Not just when you remind me every 28 days.) I think about how Sophie would love to help. How she would want to feed the baby. And wash the baby. And grab me a million little diapers for the baby. I think about how Maddie, in spite of how crazy she can act sometimes, is so so gentle around anyone smaller than her. How she loves to stroke her cousins’ soft, round cheeks. How, like a wild animal, she just knows–just knows–that these tiny people are things that need her love, her protection. I think about what great big sisters they’d be.

And I think about us. About how scared we were both times. About how he would over think it. Go over every possible scenario. He researched all kinds of potential outcomes, good and bad. We could never be sure that you knew what you were doing, Uterus, so we worried. (Guess we shouldn’t have. You had it all on lock down, didn’t you?) Now, when I talk to him about it–about the maybe–I think that the only things he can remember are the bad scenarios.

And, it’s true. Billions and billions of possible genetic combinations. The odds are good that something could go wrong. I mean, you’re good Uterus, but you’re not perfect. You kicked that last one out a bit too early, right? I mean, you didn’t really bother giving her lungs enough time to develop. Just started to push her out. That was definitely a mistake. And I can’t go back there. Not to the NICU. Not again. I can’t.

But, then again, we’ve already walked through that Hell. We’ve been through it. And we made it. We made it. A little war-weary. But whole.

We keep on making it.

It’s funny, Uterus. Just when you think that you can’t possibly have any more.

Any more patience.

Any more money.

Any more time.

Any more love.

You find a way. You scrape, and weep, and gnash your teeth. But you find it.

And then you find some more.

I do have more.

I do.

I have more.

I just need to find someone to give it to.

Oh, dear, Uterus.

Is someone missing? From you? From me? From us?

After three years, isn’t this feeling supposed to go away? Shouldn’t I know by now? Shouldn’t there be an answer? Or am I calling out to someone who doesn’t exist? Who can’t answer me back?

Oh, dear Uterus. This was going to be our breakup letter. My way of removing myself from your constant guilt and reminders of what could be.

But now? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s not you. Maybe. It’s me.

Signed, Rachel.

The other day, I sent my four-year-old to find a pacifier for my three-year-old.

“There are a few in her room. I remember seeing them. Can you go grab one for me?”

She helpfully and eagerly bounded up the stairs, only to return a while later, with no pacifiers.

“I looked on the bed. I looked behind the bed (Did you know I’m big enough to move her bed??). I looked all over. There are NO pacis in her room!”

Flustered, I walked upstairs, entered my youngest daughter’s room, and looked down at the floor, where no fewer than THREE pacifiers lay, scattered on the grey carpet.

Exasperated, I yelled, “Sophie! You’re so terrible at looking for things! Didn’t you see these? How could you not see these?!”

It’s amazing what kids just don’t see.

They don’t see mess.

They don’t see toys.

They don’t see the mud puddle.

They don’t see cars, or waiters, or busboys carrying precariously tall stacks of dishes.

They don’t see clean underwear or socks.

They don’t see the water drops on the sink. Or around the bathtub.

A lot of times, I think they don’t even see the toilet.

They also don’t see those five (or ten, or fifty) extra pounds you’ve been dieting over, or stressing over, or grabbing in hateful fistfuls and wishing, screaming, cursing over.

They don’t see the dark circles. Or the worry lines.

They don’t see the rough hands. The short, chewed nails.

They don’t see that zit on your forehead.

They don’t see the dirty dishes that have been piling up.

They don’t see the stack of mail cluttering up the kitchen table.

They don’t see the mismatched plates. Or the chipped paint. Or that really loud, squeaky spot on the floor.

They don’t see the failing.

Or the flailing.

They don’t see the tears.

They don’t see what you see.

They don’t see it.

Instead, they see that, even though you’ve served them cereal for dinner—again—tonight, you remembered to shake the bag before pouring their bowl, bringing all of the marshmallows up to the top. Just for them.

They see that you’ve still managed to shove aside the clutter on the table to make a space. Just for them.

They see, in the dirt that has built up on their faces and in their hair, all of the hours that you have let them play. And explore. And investigate. And given over to the grime of childhood. Just for them.

They see that you know exactly what their favorite shows, their favorite songs, their favorite apps are, and you can and will summon those things for them. Just for them.

They see that you are magic. Just for them.

They see the splashing game they played together in the bathtub, which you filled with perfectly warm, soothing water. Just for them.

They see a pile of clothes, still dryer-warm, perfect for a cannonball, that you have washed and left in the basket. Just for them.

They see unmade beds perfect for jumping.

They see round, soft bellies for story-time snuggles.

They see sleepy, bloodshot eyes that crinkle in the corners when you smile.

They see you kiss them goodbye early every morning.

They see you come back to them. Every night. And smile.

They don’t see anything that happens in between.

And what they don’t see? What they don’t see is all the stuff you are not.

They see you.

They know you.

And they love you for it.

Because they see it all.

 

November 1st: Today, I am thankful for my daughters. Every day, they teach me a little bit more about how to see myself, my home, and the world the way they do.

This is late. And for that I’m sorry, little girl. It doesn’t mean I adore you any less.

 

You are small.

You are strong. Stronger than anyone expects you to be.

Your eyes are a mystery. Brown from a distance, they transform when you look, unabashed, at me. Now green. Now hazel. Now a mosaic of moss clinging to a tree, a beautiful intruder who withstands, who endures, who protects.

Your hair is as untamed as your spirit, constantly finding its way into your eyes, your mouth. Constantly being pushed aside by a sticky, impatient hand. You still refuse any attempts I make to tame it.

You’d rather endure the annoyance of freedom than suffer the convenience of control.

You love books.

You love stories.

You love music more.

Your smile inspires.

Your smile captivates.

Your smile must be earned. It is not given away.

Your smile will one day drive your lovers to desperation, I fear. Chasing that elusive, hard-earned, mysterious smile, I chuckle and cringe to think what they will one day do for you.

Your sister is our sunshine.

You, my dear, are our moonlight.

Changing. Alterable. Seen only through a glass darkly. You wax and wan, but still possess the power to control the tides.

You bend the very oceans to your will.

Yours is not a naturally generous nature.

But your instincts are impeccable.

I promise to always trust them.

You turn every surface of our house into a drum kit. Into a guitar.

And you play your music for hours while dressed as a princess.

You clap with delight when you see an animal.

You stop and pet every dog.

You believe in dragons.

(So do I.)

You are happiest at home, playing by yourself.

You prefer to be by yourself.

And I try to understand.

Even at school (which you merely tolerate on the best days), you gravitate towards the solitary activities. Painting, drawing, wandering outside, chasing bubbles, listening to music. (Always, the music.)

You rarely speak to the other children.

You seldom acknowledge them.

You give your attention begrudgingly, and not without a fight.

Yet, when they see you, your classmates still squeal with delight. Still grip my hand and look up at me with eyes full of hope, “Is she here today? Is she? Is she?”

A part of me doesn’t understand why your poor, neglected friends love you so much.

A much bigger part of me will always understand.

You are attracted to small spaces. To cubbies, and tents, and forts, and corners.

Yet, you always invite Daddy to hide with you, giggling, under the table.

You are unafraid of the large machines Papaw drives, and look directly at the roaring engines and rapidly spinning propellers, even as they lurch towards you.

But you still cry when he tries to take you for a ride.

You love exploring the outdoors, and always want to walk faster, farther. I push you in your stroller, and hear you cry, “Adventure, mommy! Go, go! Adventure!”

You make me go farther than I think I can. For you.

You don’t need me.

Until you do.

And I will stop the Earth’s spinning if it means I can be there with you. For you.

Because when you do finally run up to me. When you do finally stretch your strong, strong arms as high as they can go, reaching for me, for one who loves you even while she’s struggling to understand the mystery that is you, I have no choice.

I will always reach back.

I have to.

Because I, too, can’t stop trying to define those moss-brown-green eyes.

I, too, crave that elusive, puckish smile.

(The things I have done just to win that smile. Oh, I pity, pity the fools who will love you. Because I am one of them.)

I, too, want to tame you.

And, when you finally snuggle your head down in the deepest crook of my shoulder? When you let your arms dangle down my back, or lazily play with my hair or earrings? When you command me, without saying a word, to sit with you for hours, or for minutes, or just a flash—a precious millisecond of sweetness and light—and I am grateful for gift of your still, powerful touch? That’s when I know that I will never tame you.

You can never be tamed.

Instead, you will tame the world.

You will.

And I know it.

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Happy third birthday, my Maddie.

My Madilicious.

My Madster.

My Moonlight Princess.

My Rocker.

My Madeline.

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Recently, a dear friend of ours, Alice, passed away. Though, really, Alice left us seven years ago, after being hit by a truck while riding her bicycle. She slipped into a non-responsive coma, and had been progressing deeper and deeper into vegetation before her body finally gave up and released her spirit on July 28, 2016. Her death (but, more importantly, her life) has been inspirational for me today, as I prepare to attend her final service and say my goodbyes.

Whenever someone young passes (especially someone as remarkable, as talented, as intelligent, as giving as Alice), there is a tendency for many well-intentioned individuals to grieve for the “tragedy” of lost or failed “potential.” To mourn the person who could have been. The life that was never lived. The plans never brought to fruition. Though these sentiments come from genuine places, and are a natural reaction to such a shocking and early loss, they often (unintentionally, I think) draw attention away from all of the wonderful accomplishments the individual did in fact achieve in their lives. All of the things our loved one completed, pursued, attempted, created, and adored in their short lives. All of the passion that drove and guided the person throughout their lives.

Alice’s life was short, but it was not one of failures or tragedies. Hers was a life full of potential, it’s true. And she lived that potential every day. She saw it through.

I know that no one asked me, but I’m going to share with you now what I believe is life’s purpose. What I believe makes life meaningful, and full, and ensures a life well lived. Ensures a life without regrets. And, like most things that I believe are True, it’s very simple.

Leave something behind.

Music. A family. A beautiful garden. Long, rambling journal entries. Well-fed, lazy cats. A business. Meticulous research. Fantastic friendships. A fat bank account. An advanced degree. Any degree. A vintage motorcycle that you rebuilt by hand in your garage. The long, lingering memory of your gentle touch when you volunteered at the nursing home. A library. A W3C approved website. A painting. A dream. Joy.

Something. Anything.

Something that bears the indelible, unerasable, unmistakable imprint of you.

Do you want your life to be worthwhile? Find your something. (That’s the hard part.) Then, work as hard as you can to create your something. (That’s the harder part.) At least try. Finishing isn’t part of the equation. It really isn’t. I think that’s where the confusion sets in. We have a tendency to measure success and accomplishment only in that which has been completed, that which is done. A life becomes more easily quantifiable when looking at projects that are finished and goals that have been achieved. But life is not about check marks tallied in some cosmic To Do list.

It’s about passion.

It’s about love.

In whatever—whatever—form that love takes.

Alice was a brilliant individual. But, beyond that, she was a passionate individual. She was a community organizer, and a supporter of the Arts. Because she wanted to make sure that everyone had a home. A place of belonging. A space where they could feel accepted and appreciated. Virginia Woolf once dreamed of a “Society of Outsiders” where artists, misfits, and outcasts could collect together without judgment, without fear, and without censorship. Alice created that. Alice accomplished that. Not because of her job (which she loved), or because of the festivals she helped organize (which she did), but because of her. Because of her optimism. Because of her glowing acceptance of everyone. Because of her genuine smile and sparkling eyes that searched your face as you spoke, never blinking away, even as you confessed (as you always would. Alice inspired confession in everyone) your most fearful, precious dreams and silly hopes to her. Because of the excitement that rippled through her whole body as she encouraged you to pursue even your craziest, most ill-advised desires and wishes. Alice lived her passion. She lived her potential. She was a home for so many people, and gathered a community around her, joined together by her acceptance. Her delight. Her joy. Hers is not a story of lost opportunities. But fully realized passion. Fully realized personhood. Fully Alice.

I’m anticipating walking into a packed church later today, filled to the brim with family, friends, classmates, well-wishers, hospital staff, artists, professors. I’m anticipating an enormous room full of dozens of different stories. Dozens of passions. Dozens of loves. Dozens of wistful smiles, inspired by the  remembrance their own, unique “Alice” story. Dozens of individuals, brought together because of one small, remarkable woman.

We will be the misfits.

The weirdos.

The outcasts.

The outsiders.

And we will be there together. We will belong. We will mourn. As a community. As a family.

United by what Alice has left behind.

Her joy.

Her passion.

It will be our home today.

Look at all you have done. Look at all you did. Smile that incredible, dimple-filled smile, and know that you lived as we all hope to live. (As I hope to one day live)

You are a loss, but never a failure. Never a tragedy.

Rest easy, dear friend.

Dear, dear Alice.

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We all could use some levity this week. And I’m on my period! So, let’s talk about all the little ways that time of the month totally fucks you up.

Food. Last year, I had some severe inflammation in my right ear, and everything sounded like I was in a pool for a month. My doctor prescribed me some Prednisone (read: steroids) for a week to get it under control. For that week, food was a euphoric paradise. Everything tasted amazing. Everything. I remember standing in my kitchen, staring at a single Nacho Cheese Dorito, and marveling at the complex science that went in to making what was surely the snack food of the Gods. Was that chemically-produced artificial cheese dust coating my fingertips, or LSD-laced fairy dust from a Day-Glo sprite? It didn’t matter. It was divine.

Being on your period is kind of like that. For one whole week, food is the cause of and answer to all of your problems. And you Never. Get. Full. This last week, I ate so many Tostitos I actually created a sore on the roof of my mouth from the salt. Then, I ate a bag of Gardettos. Because salt, motherfuckers. 

Yesterday, my husband texted me, “I just got a notice for a free Bloomin’ Onion from Outback! Want to go?” My immediate response was, “I’d eat your face right now if they deep-fried it and served it with that Bloomin’ Onion sauce.”

“So… Yes?”

Clothing. “Why do you have so many pairs of jeans?? Who could possibly need all of these jeans??”

Women can fluctuate 5-10 pounds while they’re on their periods. This means some shit won’t fit. It won’t. And, yet, walking around naked with just a tampon string hanging out continues to be frowned upon. So we need to make sure we have other shit that will fit on hand. Which means we have to have a lot of shit. In various sizes. It’s a neccessity. Back on off me. And bring me another bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips.

Dogs. Every single dog that I come into contact with (which is quite a few, as we have a very family-friendly neighborhood, and I have two children who are dog magnets) immediately shoves his/her nose directly up my crotch. And they keep it there.

They never covered that in sex ed.

And I get it. Dogs have incredibly olfactory senses, so they probably freak the hell out, thinking they smell a goddamn t-bone in there. It must be exciting.

But here’s what the nose-all-up-in-my-hootenanny seems to say to me: HEY! HEY, OWNER PERSON! GUESS WHAT? I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING IN THIS LADY’S COIN PURSE! YEAH. YEAH, THINGS ARE *INSANE* UP IN THERE. OH, GOD, IT’S ALL OVER THE PLACE! HOLD ON. I’LL TAKE ANOTHER GOOD SNIFF JUST TO CHECK ON HER! OH, GOD, SHE MIGHT BE DYING! HEY, LADY, ARE YOU DYING? HEY! DON’T PUSH ME AWAY. I’M JUST TRYING TO HELP! OWNER PERSON, I’M WORRIED THAT SHE MIGHT BE GETTING LIGHT HEADED FROM THE BLOOD LOSS. I’D BETTER SHOVE MY NOSE FURTHER UP HER COOTCH TO HELP PROP HER UP! I’M HELPING!

Smell. Dogs aside, I will say for the record that I’ve never actually smelled another woman on her period. At least, not consciously. But my close girlfriends and I have all confessed to one another that we have all noticed a distinct change in our personal aromas around that time of the month. This period side-effect has me feeling a little ambivalent, actually. I’m more fascinated and intrigued than disgusted by my own personal egg-dropping bouquet. My bathroom trashcan smells like plague-riddled death, but me? Is that a hint of musk I detect? Fascinating choice this month, hormones. I’m like a little science experiment! Yay for me!

Horniness. I know some women who get crazy horny during their periods. Which is fine. We’re all adults, with small children, and we have to take sexy time whenever we can get it, so period sex is not really as gross as we all feared it would be back in high school. It’s the horniness factor that I can’t seem to control. My period puts me on two different settings: Mother Theresa, or Samantha from Sex in the City. I will either melt your clothes off you with the passionate heat of a thousand horny suns. Or I’ll turn on Parks and Rec and remind you to bring up a glass of milk to go with the bag of Oreos I’ve stashed in my sock drawer. 

It’s called balance.

No. No, it’s not. It’s called imbalance. Schizophrenia. Uncertainty. Annoyance. 

Period.

Well, dear friends, I did it. Yesterday, I saw a Nurse Practitioner to discuss my recent GI troubles.

Because you all scared me enough to finally do it.

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I explained everything to her. The changes in stools, the bloating, the cramping, the fears that I had about long term damage (I have just enough knowledge about the large intestine to be terrified by what had been happening to me), and she began her exam.

“Deep breaths now, Rachel,” she said as she held a stethoscope to my back.

That was when I realized just how nervous I was. I tried to breathe deeply, only to find the air wouldn’t fill me. I couldn’t push it down into my stomach, couldn’t quite fill my lungs. She was very quiet. Very gentle.

“Are you nervous?”

I tried to laugh, but I nodded. “I’ve watched my husband struggle with Ulcerative Colitis for ten years now. It’s so awful. I’m going to be so pissed if I’m the one who ends up having to use a colostomy bag!”

It was supposed to be funny. But suddenly, sitting naked in that oversized gown on a sheet of paper, it didn’t feel funny at all.

She had me lay down, and she listened to my gut. Immediately, she brightened. “I can tell you right now, with quite a bit of certainty, that you do not have any obstructions or obvious growths in your colon. I can hear all of your gut noises, and they sound great. There’s clearly nothing blocking your system.”

I felt the relief immediately. No obvious signs of cancer. That was one major worry immediately taken off my list. Then, she began pressing on my belly.

“Oooh! Ow!” I physically winced as she pushed just underneath my right rib.

She stopped. “That was tender?”

“Yeah, really tender. What was that?”

“Your stomach,” she thought for awhile. “Here, let me know if any of this hurts.” She began pushing and kneading my left side. My colon made a funny groan from the pressure, and we both chuckled, but there was no pain.

“Anything?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

She helped me sit back up. “Well, here’s what I think,” she looked straight at me and smiled. “You’re very healthy. I want to send you to the lab and get some bloodwork done. I do want to check for anemia, since you’ve been so tired, and I’ll run a bunch of other tests–thyroid, liver, kidneys, inflammation levels–just to be sure. But if I had to guess right now, you know what I think it is?” She looked almost excited at the prospect. “You caught a bug. Perhaps salmonella.”

Salmonella?

She nodded. “If it was diverticulitis, you would have a fever and pain on your side. If it was e. coli, you’d probably be vomiting too. I’m actually very interested to see what your bloodwork reveals, because right now salmonella is my best guess. I’ll call in a prescription for an antibiotic for you. If your bloodwork shows that it’s not a bug, then at least it won’t do you any harm, but if it does, you’ll feel better almost right away.”

I could have cried. I almost did cry. “And running? When do you think I could run again?”

She grinned, “Finish out the ten day cycle of antibiotics, just to see how you respond to them. Then, I’d say you can start right back up!”

Suddenly, I could breathe again. I (very likely) had a bug. It was treatable. I could run again. I wouldn’t feel this way forever. This wasn’t a new normal I had to learn how to adapt to. I was okay. I was going to run that race in November after all!

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I’m still waiting to hear back about my lab tests. But I just took my first day’s antibiotics. I’m taking deep breaths, trying to let my body recover, resting it and feeding it well, and just hoping. Just waiting. Just happy that soon–very, very soon–I could lace up my shoes, take a deep breath,

And run.