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Cameras and Cruisin

Cameras and Cruisin

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In the spirit of what you do most days matters more than what you do once in a while, I’m deciding again to write. That and the giant bowl of popcorn I devoured is now empty and the tv remote requires getting up to reach.

Tonight was a PraiseKidz concert at church and like the paparazzi I lugged my big camera to photograph my niece. What do we do with these photos anyways? I think I have only ever seen two, maybe three, photos from my childhood concerts. One year my sister was a giant blue Psalty songbook and I would give anything for photographic evidence of that today.

One hyper-invested mother positioned herself squarely in the front row and then proceeded to raise her iPhone up, arms extended, during the entire concert to master what I can only assume she believed to be an aerial shot. Meanwhile, her arms cut right across my niece’s face. My only recourse was to extend the zoom on my lens and sniper in, just shy of the ear of the lady in the pew in front of me.

Spiritual warfare takes many forms.

The family booked a cruise.

It’s amazing how a simple getaway can do wonders for your soul. I’m a homebody at heart but knowing I can have food DELIVERED TO ME 24 HOURS A DAY is like someone just handed me the moon. I’ve never understood that phrase. What would I do with the moon? But I digress.

A getaway. With a balcony, coffee, yummy big ship drinks, and books. And my $$$ noise canceling headphones (because big ship, all the people, and homebody). I’m going to lose them over the balcony, I just know it.

I hope this isn’t terrible foreshadowing, but after I stopped having the dreams where I was being shot (yes, gun to my head and bang), I had this one dream where I was going on a cruise but I forgot to pack and forgot my passport and my entire family left me and waved from the ship.

And Cooper Makes Three

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I got a dog. Another dog. He’s cute and white and cuddly and he can see which is a remarkably defining difference for my canine experience. Three and a half years ago I got Kellen — my blind, rescue Poodle (his name stands for Hellen Keller).

By sheer act of my sister basically dropping this dog off at my house (a much happier rescue situation), I became the dog lady of Windermere. They now outnumber me, which breaks the first rule of parenting, but it was a perfect excuse to buy new matching leashes and puppy dog bowls. I am in love.


Oh those eyes!

Yes, it’s a bow-tie. My boys will be gentlemen.

Cooper is a 3 year old Pomeranian blend. Maybe part Papillon (Paperanian) or part small husky (Pomsky). Who can know. He’s twice the size of Kellen (not hard) and Kellen bounces off him like a pinball during our walks.

I call him Coopie because you can’t help but smile when you say that name (try it) and he is SO EXCITED to do EVERYTHING. A walk! Food! Laundry! A walk!

He is scared of: basketballs, air blowers, vacuum cleaners, all forms of hoses, hooded sweatshirts, air conditioners, and toenail polish.

Welcome to the family, Coopie!

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

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I read an excerpt of When Breath Becomes Air in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago and immediately contacted my local library and requested a copy. It was not even published yet. When the fresh copy arrived at my doorstep, I knew I was the first person to have my hands on it. The skies opened and the angels sang their hallelujahs.

This is the story of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36.

My age.

On the one hand, the story is interesting simply because of the reversal. The physician becomes the patient. A life brimming with opportunity. A man whose job it is to save lives, can’t save his own.

Makes for a good movie but when it’s real life, it’s sobering.

Kalanithi wrestles with the question that faces all of us when we (or our loved ones) are given a terminal diagnosis: How long do I have left? Last January, my mom was given a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. It’s a question that washes over every day like a watercolor painting. When you don’t know how long you have, your focus sharpens to what matters most.

Would he continue practicing surgery? Should he travel? Will he accept the dream job he worked so hard to earn? Should he and his wife start a family, knowing his child would grow up fatherless?

These questions cut to the core. What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to have a quality of life?

We have certainly wrestled with our own versions of these questions with my mom. I truly believe she is a shining example of what it means to live without being defined by your circumstances. She is not — nor will ever be — a cancer patient. She is Judi. And she has cancer. She is brave. And she is strong.

The same was true of Dr. Kalanithi.

I just wrote “The same is true” and changed it to “was.” That’s the nature of death. You wrestle with it. You never know exactly which side of the verb tense you are on.  He wrestled with it too. “I was a neurosurgeon” versus “I am a neurosurgeon.”

My mom is an artist and a teacher. My dad was a firefighter and a chief. Each careers of purpose and meaning. Of work that goes beyond themselves. Even saving lives.

I’ve thought about how I would answer those questions if it was me with the terminal diagnosis at 36. It hardly took any time at all for me to know my answer.

I would quit my job. I would write. I would invest in my niece and nephew until they couldn’t take it anymore. I would be present.

This little blog is my way of starting today. I’ve long had a dream of being a published author. Growing up in the library, I wanted to see my name on the spine of a book. It’s selfish, I know. If I wanted to cure cancer, that would be noble. But there’s a part of me that has always wanted to bring someone else the same joy I have when I get my hands on a new book. I love the discovery and learning and imagination and simple pleasure that is derived from reading a good book. Of course, I have no idea what I would write about, let alone who would publish me. But I know that the first step in being a writer, is writing. So this blog will probably be a little haphazard for a while until I gain some clarity and focus. I hope you stick with me! And if you have any thoughts on the matter, please leave a comment.

And if you are feeling reflective, I’m curious to know — what would you do if you had a terminal diagnosis at 36?

My Manifesto

My Manifesto

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I have been thinking about intentionality these days. Maybe the better phrase is mindfulness, which leads to intentionality. The notion of paying attention. Attuned to what I eat. To how my body feels. To where I spend my time, money, energy. Even to how I decorate.

The New Year is good for this type of motivation.

That’s mostly why I’m writing again.

Last October, I found myself leaving the doctor’s office with a script for a brain MRI. I was suffering from intense daily headaches for months on end. Scratch that. I’m still suffering.

It’s stress. All stress.

And stress will kill you. Literally. Maybe not today, but little by little, all the creativity and energy and dreams get replaced by simply surviving. It’s a different kind of death. Long. Drawn-out. Your light goes out.

But today, I’m putting a stake in the ground. Stress will never go away. In fact, it’s intensifying. The headaches are still here. But I can choose how I will live in the midst of those ever-present realities.

My Manifesto

I will run — even though I am slow and keep re-starting my Couch to 5k plan — I will run.
I will write — because writing is my creative expression — I will write.
I will eat butter popcorn — because I gave it up for a week and know true misery. Life is too short. — I will eat butter popcorn.
I will prioritize my family — because it’s easy to forget that living next door and around the corner is a gift that many would trade their circumstances for in an instant — I will prioritize my family.
I will read — because the world is far too interesting to fill my curiosity — I will read.

Have you ever made a personal manifesto? Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying New Year’s Resolutions. Either way, I would love to hear what you intentionally choose to keep in your life when stress, illness, or the like presses in and eeks away at your soul. Leave a comment.

My Home Tour

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“Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.” —HENRI MATISSE

When you don’t have much, you are forced to be creative. This is true in cooking. This is true in finances. This is true for small teams and startups. What I have forgotten is that this is also true for our homes.

I joke that I live in a hallway next to my mother.

It’s not exactly true. But it’s close.

After my dad died suddenly almost two years ago, I immediately moved home to be with my family. February 9, 2014 was the last night I ever spent in the condo I owned and loved. It had quirks, was nestled in the heart of what should have officially been deemed a retirement community, but it was mine.

Fast forward a few months and God provided a little studio unit right next door to my mom and around the corner from my sister’s family. I sold my condo and could finally settle back into the home I have always had in my heart: Windermere.

I’ve struggled to make this home feel like me.

It’s all tile, so I quickly bought the largest, softest piece of remnant carpet from the discount pile I could find. You already know about my big fat couch. Finally in November I painted one wall a beautiful steel grey because I couldn’t take the white prison walls any longer.

No really, they are prison walls. As in, cement.

But it’s time to stop seeing what is and start seeing what could be.

My Living Room / Kitchen / 95% of my house and the BIG FAT COUCH

Here she is. Fat couch and all. This is my living room, my kitchen, my office. And it’s not staged. This is how it looks roughly 90% of the time. (I told you I’m a minimalist who is fairly clean, if not boring).

If you look closely, you can see the Christmas wreath I overlooked when packing Christmas away. Out the window is my mom’s house. The fruit stand is on the stove because I don’t know what to do with it. White on cream countertops is meh, so I chose the contrast of white on a black stovetop. Of course, I have to move it when I cook (Yes! I cook! That’s a post for another day).

Kitchen view of the Living Room / Office
I love the wall. I love the desk and chair. But I often joke that my house is a midget house. Seated, everything is eye level. But I’m 5’8” and when I stand up, it’s back to federal prison.
Find the Puppy
This view is because Puppy! Yes, he has two dog beds roughly five feet apart. Yes, he sleeps with a stuffed animal larger than he is. The photos are too small for the space and the frames fade into the background. The three baskets hold DVDs. I do not own a DVD player. The remotes live on a dinner plate. I actually love that. And yes, a heated blanket. Because Florida girls are WEAK IN THE COLD.
My “Kitchen Table”

This used to be my office desk. I didn’t want to get rid of it because I love the shape and the fact that it was my desk growing up and my mom’s desk growing up and I’m fairly certain my aunts and uncle used it. I have vague memories that it was army green once? At any rate, I may want to be cut up and buried in this desk because I love it that much. (And suddenly we just took a terrible turn). But I could not handle looking at it as the centerpiece of the house because of ALL THE BROWN EVERYWHERE. So I got rid of my kitchen table, made room for the desk, and my poor mother built me an IKEA desk (I have this one) because those things are not for philosophy majors, I assure you.

And I just noticed the desk isn’t centered under the window.

The crosses on the wall are from Ethiopia. The center plate is from Turkey. I used to have a frame from Pakistan around the tiny cross (so it actually looked complete on the wall) but then it broke because federal prison. The middle frame is supposed to be my name in Arabic but with my luck it says “Hey ISIS, she lives here.”


Close-up of my desk

In true tidying up fashion, I really do surround myself with things that bring me joy. My sister made that Anthropologie-esque book for me for Christmas. I love the texture and the visual interest. And yes, I get the newspaper.

So there you have it. My little home tour. I think my number one task is to heighten the room with visual interest. Sound easy enough, but I don’t actually know where to begin. I read this amazing book called The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to be Beautiful and she encourages you to “quiet your room” by taking out all that is unnecessary so you see the bones of the room. This little exercise in photographing and talking about it has helped me see the opportunity.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts! Any tips for hard-to-decorate walls? Would a white slipcover on the big fat couch just look frumpy? Have you read The Nesting Place? Leave a comment. (P.S. Are you guys getting my replies? I write you back, but I’m not sure if it’s sending you an email or not).