Monday, July 8, 2019

Healing in Hawaii

Last night we were sitting on a lanai with more than a dozen other people who were singing and playing guitars, a bass, keyboards, harmonica, percussion, a banjo and the humble ukulele (me). It was a gentle, rainy Hawaii evening. Dave and I gave each other that look--you know, the one that says "wow, this is a great moment."

This moment is pretty special, too. I'm writing in the living room. Dave is reading a book, and the dog, Snickers, is snoozing. Out the window I see bright green lawn, trees shimmying in the breeze, and a gray-blue sea rimmed by a line of white foam.

View from our home for 4 months.
Each moment matters. I'm especially feeling that these days, having come out of a dark place in my mind. When I was told I don't have cancer--after having been told I did--I was ecstatic, of course. But dealing with the after-effects of thyroid surgery was rough. For weeks, it felt like someone was strangling me and rocks were lodged in my throat. I couldn't project my voice or sing. Strange numb and tingly sensations erupted in my feet and thighs.

I didn't know if my body was merely healing and adjusting to synthetic hormone replacement or if something was going wrong. My mind kept weaving stories: Your voice will never return. You might have to have another surgery if your scar is affixing. Your throat will never feel normal again.

I was also struggling with the idea that I'd have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. But soon I realized it was my ego that was pissed off. It didn't want to identify as a person reliant on a pharmaceutical. My identity as independent and free and not a pawn to Big Pharma was threatened.

I had to laugh. Okay, universe, another lesson about not freaking out about change, I get it. And that lesson was hammered home when we arrived in Hawaii for our four-month houessit. The homeowner, the woman who picked us up at the airport (and along with her husband, draped fragrant leis around our necks) had the telltale throat scar. So small she had to point it out. Her cancerous thyroid had been removed years ago. She is one among several people I know who've taken this tiny pill for decades.

The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly...
a friend gave me this gorgeous scarf before my surgery.
Also, I was able to connect with a number of women who've undergone this surgery and learned that my physical sensations were pretty normal. These conversations helped put things in perspective. I was lucky to avoid cancer treatments that sometimes resulted in an array of troubling side-effects.

My ego had let go of the pill thing but was now clinging to the idea that I was supposed to be a fast healer. When I really listened to my body, it was telling me to take long baths and naps, massage the scar lightly, breathe deeply, stretch a little, take gentle walks, read good books, and watch funny videos. And now two months out from surgery, my throat is slowly improving.

Our bodies teach us a lot.

In the past year or two, my body has been telling me--shouting at me--to nourish it well. I wasn't listening. After finding a golf-ball sized mass on my thyroid, my doctor told me to stop eating dairy. I have always loved all things milky and cheesy--but the minute he said it, something clicked in me. My intuition told me he was right. When I got home, I pulled the half-and-half and cheese from the fridge and gave it to a neighbor.

Three months later, I have done a lot of research (like this book and this book and this book and this film and this film and this website).

It's fun to cook again! 
There is ample evidence that eating primarily plant-based whole food bolsters immunity--and helps us avoid (and sometimes cure) many chronic illnesses. And damn, it sure makes me feel great! In just a few months of eating this way (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, no oil, few processed foods) Dave and I have noticed some incredible things going on with our bodies:

* More cardiovascular endurance
* Weight loss
* Waking up feeling alert and well-rested
* Bowel regularity (and then some!)
* Significant reduction in heartburn/acid reflux 
* Fewer aches and pains/less joint stiffness
* Clearer skin
* Less plaque build-up on our teeth and better breath
* More evenness/emotional balance--less likely to be "hangry"
* Fewer food cravings
* Sharper sense of smell and taste
* Dave's sinuses are clearer, and his persistent toe fungus is healing

We had thought that getting weaker and gaining a few pounds was an inevitable part of growing older, and while that may be true to some degree, clearly nutrition is significant. We both breathe more easily while exercising--and on our recent walks we have been jogging a bit. I used to love running but assumed I just couldn't do it anymore in my fifties. I am already dreaming about doing 5Ks and 10Ks again. Even though I am still recovering from surgery, I feel stronger than I have in years.

blueberry torte: no oil, flour, processed sugar...pure delish
Another benefit is that I am enjoying cooking! At times it used to feel like a chore. I was stuck in a food rut, bored with my eating habits. Now we are enjoying more tasty variety. When I'm cooking I feel I'm channeling my inner curandera who heals through food, herbs, and spices. Food is supposed to make you feel good. And it's nice when the process of making it does, too.

Bananas galore
Just as we are focusing on eating primarily whole fresh fruits and vegetables, we are plopped into this housesit on a property where we can pick papayas, mangoes, pineapples and bananas and pull veggies from a thriving garden.

salad days
We are also exploring. While we've spent time on the big island of Hawaii in the past, we'd not seen much of this southern area. It's beautiful, peaceful, and isolated.

Volcano National Park

At the southernmost tip of the U.S. with Snickers, our roomie.

King Kamehameha festivities in Hilo

green sea turtle at the black sand beach
We are just one month into this four-month houessit. It's sweet to settle into the domestic rhythms of cooking, gardening and animal care--and to enjoy the musical neighbors. I'm grateful to have the time to focus on healing and writing. To soak in each moment I am given. Life has given me a lot of material. It's time to weave a book.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Holiday Living

Playa de San Pedrito, my favorite walking spot

We have landed back at our casita in Baja California Sur, Mexico after six months away. Friends here ask, "How was your vacation?" They see us as having come back home. It feels more and more that way to me, too.

Yet "vacation" is such an odd word. We don't vacation, we live a traveling life. Life-as-vacation has a nice ring to it. If life is short, why not make it a holiday? The word "holiday" comes from "holy day." So perhaps living with a vacation mindset--alive, fresh, and new--makes every day holy.

I started thinking about life in this way years ago, when I was still teaching. My New Year's resolution seven years ago was to do something new every day. New route, new conversation, new food, new book, new teaching approach...anything big or small, didn't matter. When you travel, everything is new. So living that way in my own town made me feel like I was on vacation. I now see that experiment as a seed planted that blossomed into this very life Dave and I live today.

Not to say it's all-paradise-all-the-time. No matter how you live life, there are bumps in the road. But when you're living how you really want to, the bumps can be easier to navigate. We had both been struggling a bit our last few weeks in Australia--getting over colds and dealing with bizarre weather like hot wind that set my skin on edge--that landing in California felt extra sweet.

Each time we come through California we face an ever-dwindling but persistent pile of things at our friend Mark's house. Dave decided it was finally the moment to divest himself of all of his Silicon Valley work clothes. He donated them to a men's shelter, which will use them when they send men out on job interviews. One man's ending, another's beginning. 

And then there were our beloved bikes that we'd ridden many miles along the ocean cliffs in Santa Cruz, and taken on a ski lift in Big Bear to ride down the fire roads, and ridden up a mountain in Zion National Park to watch the sunrise, and cruised around Portland. These were not the right bikes for what to do with them? That thought was on our mind when we went to visit our friends Debbianne and Tony, who happened to mention they wanted to buy bikes for the great trails of their new hometown. Dave and I looked at each other and blurted out, "We have bikes for you!" I love knowing our lives are entwined through those bikes.

Hanging out with Debbie and Tony in Monterey
This was part of a flow of giving and receiving: When a friend discovered we were renting a car, she loaned us her extra one. We gave our snow tires to a stranger. An old friend gave us free passes to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I gave a friend feedback on his poems. And another invited me to a concert because she had an extra ticket. This movement feels like breathing, like waves. It seems related to all the strangers who let us stay in their beautiful homes in exchange for caring for their pets. In fact, we did a housesit in the Bay Area, in Walnut Creek where we enjoyed a darling golden retriever (and I got a lot of editing work done).

Button and Jasper
Turned out, around this time our first great-niece was being christened, so we were able to meet her and hang out with Dave's family. 

Dave, brother Milt, Milt's son James (holding Madeline), sister Sue
And then, at the housesit, we found a book about the history of the area. We opened it up to a page that featured Dave's great-grandfather! 

For years Dave had told me that his ancestors co-founded a Bay Area town, which by toss of a coin was named Clayton rather than Rhinesville. So we drove over there and walked into the museum. The place was filled with people chatting, holding tea cups, and snacking on cookies. Turned out an event was going on called the Camelia Tea. When Dave revealed his last name, people went crazy like he was a celebrity. The beautiful old home is filled with pictures and artifacts of his ancestors. It's mind-blowing to think how his family coming from Germany (among the first Jewish settlers in the area) led to a moment where we held his great-niece in our arms.

We also spent time with my family and were able to celebrate my niece Hailey's 18th birthday at a restaurant in Pleasanton. After our meal, she hopped onto a red-eye to NYC, where she hung out with friends she'd met last summer in Bali (where she'd traveled and done community service). Yes, my niece has a desire to see the world, too, and I couldn't be prouder of what a wonderful human being she is.
Evan (20), sister Crystal, Hailey (18), auntie Kate, Jenna  (16)
And lucky us, we got to care for a furry family member, my sister's dog Coco, for a week. I mean, really, she's as adorable as they get. 

Coco came with me to visit my friend Candice and her dog Darcy.
And then there are friends that feel like family...many of whom we were blessed to see.

Tung, Luc & Daisy. 

Mark, Jackie & Todd

Paul, in town for work, came by.

I also got some power-women time, including a hike, concert, dancing, meals, and attending my friend Laurie's spiritual center to listen to her sing in the choir.

In Santa Cruz with Stacey & Laurie & Junebug
That's another thing about this lifestyle: We don't stay in one place so we can't take for granted our time there. Our connections with people, our explorations, are all imbued with a sense of the reality of passing time. The holiday of life.

Yes, these are holy days.