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That one time I tried a mohawk…

When I first learned I had cancer, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  There was an element of disbelief, of shock, and of grief.  Ironically, I was not scared, not for my life, not for my health or my future.   I knew it would change things, being uneventfully healthy for so many years, one expects to live a very long time.  What would be a reasonable expectation for that now?  Would I get 10 years?  20 years? Most likely not the 50+ I was expecting.  Would I lose my breasts? My hair? My eyebrows?  Would I be less of a woman? These questions were fueled by conversations with friends and from my daughters, they were things I never thought to ask myself.  I was unprepared, rarely venturing into self questioning of my mortal limitations.  Young people tend to be invincible in life, maybe some people dare to ask the scary what if’s… I was just trying to figure out how to live now.  Some of those questions are not for me to know the answers to yet, and I realized I am not willing to negotiate with God on such matters, HIS plan for me is sovereign.  

I have a great oncologist, she told me flat out that I would lose my hair.  As I talked with others they tried to soften the blow and comfort me with well-intended stories. I heard over and over, “some people don’t lose their hair.”  Their encouragement was sweet but left me questioning if I would be one of the lucky ones?  Growing up, I remember my Grandma tweezed her eyebrows right off and used thick liner to draw on her eyebrows.  I am not sure if that’s where it stems from but I have a fear of losing mine…  I have caught my youngest daughter praying at night that mine would stay put.

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My oncologist suggested I try a “transition cut,” something shorter and with bangs. This was so that should I want to wear a wig, it would be a more natural transition. I looked up the closest Aveda salon and booked an appointment, first for my girls, then I picked a stylist for mine.  Annie, was quiet with long wavy hair and streaks of fun color.  She did a great job.  I haven’t had bangs since grade school.  When I looked in the mirror, I was surprised at how much I looked like my oldest sister. 

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This was also a turning point for me, does losing your hair have to be sad?  It actually was freeing to try a new hairstyle with such a low commitment.  Two weeks later, on a Wednesday before my second chemotherapy round, I went to see the oncologist. She was surprised my hair was still looking as full and radiant as ever… then she told me “sorry, but you’ll lose it this week.”  Sure enough, the next day strands of hair began to fall like light drizzle before a storm.  I have heard people say their head is itchy and when they scratch the hair falls out.  Mine felt much more like the soreness of being in a tight pony tail, and when you brush your hair, or run your hand though it collects between your fingers.  By Friday, the strands turned to clumps, and for as long as I ran my hand through the hair, the clumps would continue to fall out.  My hair was noticeably thinner but not patchy.  I filled several small garbage bins in my room and bathroom with mounds of hair.  It became inevitable to me that I could not do this much longer, it was impossible to shower. 

I called the stylist who gave me the transition cut, her first opening was Monday night.  So Saturday and Sunday,  I left my hair secured in a pony tail, to slow the shedding.   In high-school I kept my hair long, even on the swim team.  I would coil it up under a swim cap to keep it out of the way.  It was during this time that I began donating my hair to locks of love.   I loved the shock value of it, rarely would I tell my friends before I went to get the required 10+ inches off.  Normally I just go by myself to get my hair done but this felt very different, I was the one affected by shock.  This wasn’t a trim by choice, but a forcing of giving up control.

I thought of what I wanted this hair raising event to look like.  I looked online a bit to see what other chemo fighters have done but found few positive personal stories. Was there some empowering moment to  shaving your head?  Some girl power – breast cancer – maiden voyage, right of passage celebration, that I should be willing to share with others?  Who would be comforting for me to have with me?  I decided I wanted to share it with my sisters.  Could we have a little fun with this so it was not all emotional? 

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Thankful that I had at least met my stylist once before and had shared a little of my story, I didn’t need to explain, or send her searching for clippers.  She offered me a little glass of wine, I took it knowing I could only take a few sips, perhaps it would put my nerves at ease. I sat down in her chair, and then I asked for a Mohawk.

I saw a slight smile on her face as she started to take the fastened pony tail out that was literally holding the hair on my head.  As she trimmed away, I heard her say, “I have to throw out everything I know and just respond to your hair.”  My hair was falling out so quickly now, every time she teased out the hair to trim with the scissors, it dropped from the root.  My oldest sister took a swipe with the clippers then retreated around the corner, I don’t think she wanted me to see her tears.  

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We managed to cut and shave off the sides, leaving a row of hair down the top of my scalp.  The product she used worked double-time as she styled the row upward and effectively glued it in place for a photo-op.  Being around artists (and high-schoolers), I am accustomed to others expressing themselves through radical hairstyles, clothing choices, tattoos, and piercings.  I have always maintained a more traditional look, even though I house some of the same unique personality quirks and radical thoughts on the inside. I am not sure if I would have ever had the guts to shave my head or try Mohawk on my own.  I am glad I did it, who knows next time it may keep a little longer!

After the Mohawk I asked Annie to shave off the back just leaving the elevated patch where my bangs would be.  This I chose to shave off myself. 

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Looking in the mirror for the first time was a bit shocking.  I could clearly see my face without the framing of my hair.  I was relieved that my facial features and ears were symmetrical, something I teach often to students in art class.  I am so thankful my ears aren’t off kilter.

DSC_0429What now?  How do you end a little session like that? Reality set in and little tears began to form in the corners of my eyes,  my hair was really gone (or so I thought in that moment.)  They all sensed my emotion, and in my best defense to lighten the mood,  I turned to Annie speaking sarcastically  “This is the worst haircut I have ever gotten, it is way too short, I demand to speak with your manager!”  We all burst out laughing.  Annie, told me later that was one of her favorite parts of the night.

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My other sister who had been quietly watching, exclaimed that the baby inside of her was kicking and moving around.  Then I realized this event of losing or lessening became a moment of embracing and celebrating.  There is something beautiful about going with life, if I would have fought it, feared it, raged against it, I would have missed the sweet moments, the tears, and the laughter.   It’s not hair that makes you beautiful, it’s loving others from a deep place in your heart.  It’s about sharing life moments with each other, not getting all caught up in how they’re played out.  It’s about making memories and recording them. It’s about responding joyfully and mostly it’s about new life.

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“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

 

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When you take the leap, and the ground gives way…

9I have been trying to write this post for weeks… at first I was anticipating posting a picture of a shiny new RV that would carry our family to neat places around the country.  We planned an epic adventure, a family sabbatical, one of trusting God and waiting on his timing to reveal what was next for us.  We looked forward to reconnecting as a family, investing in our girls who are rapidly approaching tween years, exploring the beautiful land of the free, and living in the space between.  But in the last few months our plans have taken a drastic change, an unbelievable turning of events.

After we were finished at camp,

after I gave my two weeks notice to the school,

after I communicated the plan for our family sabbatical,

after we found the perfect RV and researched our route,

after I packed half our house,

after I thought the change was enough, I went to the doctor…

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If you want to swim, you have to get wet. Life lessons from the community pool.

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Yesterday morning I went swimming at SpringHill for the last time…

At the end of the summer my husband and I made the tough decision to move from this place we’ve called home for the last ten years.  As I struggle for a way to say goodbye and inform all the different circles of people we know here, my heart is overwhelmed.  So I turned back to a passion and comfort, the pool, to paint an analogy of my time here.  What has made this place different?  What have I learned  about “community” living in a small rural town?

My whole life I have been a competitive swimmer.  Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, I spent hours upon hours swimming laps in pools.  These practices were contained in neat rows that classified you based on your speed and ability.  You knew where you stood on the team based on the lane the coach put you in.  The lane markers in the pool kept you not only swimming in a straight line, but served as breakers minimizing your wake, so not to interfere with anyone else’s workout.  We were trained to focus only on our stokes, our time, and our race. Our best individual performance was what helped the team.

For the last 10 years I have been swimming with the community lap swimmers at the camp pool.   Typically I am the youngest in the pool by 20-30 years (sorry ladies:). There are no coaches, no starting blocks, no flags, and there are no such lane markers, nor is there a “fast lane.”  Admittedly, it took me a while to get used to this arrangement, wondering if I could “succeed” in such an environment.  It wasn’t the perfect set up but it was what was available, eventually my love for swimming won out over my need to create an ideal practice environment.  Some days there were few people in the pool, other days it felt crowded, swimmers always gracefully shifted. Over time I realized there was a space for everyone, including me.  Community is about lessening your expectations and embracing what’s in front of you, God grants purpose wherever he places you.

I was greeted each Tuesday and Thursday with waves and smiles from patrons, eventually I learned their stories and they would regularly give me updates.  I fell in love with their characters, I celebrated and cried with them. We became cheerleaders for each other’s weight-loss goals, physical pain and recovery, and intentional journey to be healthy.  We learned who preferred which spot due to their special need, and when someone missed a day, the pool seemed empty.  I always looked forward to the return of the snow birds, who would come back in the summer with stories of their swimming adventures in other locations.  I have swam through many seasons, through pregnancy, after babies, I have slowed down my pace and fought for the right to go during busy times. This last year I had to give up swimming with this group in order to go back into teaching, it was one of the things I missed most.  I still swam at other times but I grieved their presence in the pool; it’s not the place, it’s the people.   To be in community you have to show up and make a routine of it, God desires us to be fully present.

For a long time I felt myself holding back on my workouts… would I look like a show off if I swam the entire set or splashed during my flip turns.  What if someone veered in my spot as I swam, do I slow down?  Go around? What are the unwritten rules to truly fit in here?  I found myself constantly surveying the area around me when I swam, to make sure my strokes didn’t overtake the next persons.  Even so, I grew confident in showing my ability, and allowed myself to push forward, as I grew in my mindfulness of those around me.  We drafted off each others wake and I felt myself pausing as others passed.  My movements affected theirs, and theirs affected mine.   Even though many were not fast, I found myself amazed at their endurance and dedication. They accepted me into their group even with my splashes and wild flip turns.  To become a part of community you have to be vulnerable allowing others to accept both your weaknesses and strengths.

Yesterday I sat on the edge of the pool,  observing the water aerobics ladies who enter just after lap swim and my heart already grieves as I leave.  I loved seeing them around town,  in the public library, the grocery store, at church.  The overlap in a small town is one of the greatest blessings,  it is also one of the things that makes it so hard to leave.  I will always remember running into a lady from lap-swim in the high-school office where I taught, with students all around she publicly declared “Oh Kate, I almost didn’t recognize you with clothes on!”  While the students got a chuckle at it, I felt proud of her comfort level and willingness to accept me and treat me no differently, no matter the situation we were in.  The magnitude of community goes beyond the pool, beyond school, beyond camp, beyond church, beyond town functions, it dwells deeply in the heart.  Living in a place where the “markers” are removed allows for true community to form. The community is the team, together we perform our best.

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some”bunny”

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We saw this little guy around all winter.  He has a whole slew of friends, bunnies, birds and deer.  I couldn’t keep from carving such a cute model onto a little print block.  The snow has since melted, I will miss seeing the little tracks, but now I can capture him on some of my new art work…

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same thing

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Living in a small town surrounded by woods, I would never call myself a fashionista…   Not that people don’t care about how they look, heels just aren’t practical on dirt roads.  I didn’t grow up here, so somewhere deep down there’s a little part of me that still likes clothes and dressing up. This desire just usually gives way to chaco sandals and yoga pants…   I am super thankful my whole life isn’t dictated by style and my budget is super thankful too.  Yet every-once in a while I get sucked in and this is how my brain thinks…

a conversation with my husband.
me:  “I really like this blouse” (looking at sites online – of course)
a:    “yeah, that’s cool” (not really paying attention)
me: “It looks like this ceramic artist’s work that I have been spotting on pinterest. ”    
         (now looking on pinterest for said picture)
a:  (looking over trying to catch up and connect what I just said to the photos now in front of him.)
       “I don’t think I could ever buy you clothes.” 
 
What?  Can’t you see they’re the same thing!
 
So I have no idea when I will wear it or where to but
 
I bought it for myself… and a new pair of heels.

walking with warhol

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Whew… I just finished 13 weeks teaching for our local art teacher who was on maternity leave.  Truthfully it was a divine appointment.  I needed a season of waking up – GETTING DRESSED – getting out the door – TEACHING – meeting new people – INTERACTING.  I loved it, it was like riding a bike, being back in the classroom.  I accomplished nothing of my own artwork except “examples” but sometimes you just need a season to break away and heal (literally, I also broke my arm the first week.)

I got to make my own lesson plans at the highschool which was a fun creative jog for me.  I pretty much had free reign… except the perimeter to stay in POP art.  This project was based off of Andy Warhol’s artwork – I wanted to steer clear of multicolored portraits and soup cans.  After putting a slideshow together of his work,  I realized that he began his career making shoe illustrations and ended it with these wild designer camouflage prints.  We decided to combine the two for this acrylic painting project.  Shoes are so personal and tell so much about a person – It really did help me to get to know the students better.  They also used design-seeds (I love this site)  to pick color schemes and learned to mix paint to match.  These are all students work,  they did such a great job!

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thin mint ice cream…

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It’s been a while since I posted an ice cream recipe… but its Girl Scout cookie season.  We have a ridiculous amount of cookies around the house.  Apparently I did NOT plan this well, as I had challenged myself with the daniel fast (vegan) at the beginning of the lenten season.  So no meat, dairy, caffeine, bread with yeast, sugar… chocolate…  ice cream… girl scout cookies.  I gave in and took a bite – it was like manna.

2 cups whipping cream

1 cup vanilla almond milk

1 egg, beaten

2/3 cup sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp peppermint extract

6 precious GS thin mint cookies, crushed

Whip the eggs and sugar together, add the cocoa powder, blending well.  Whisk in the cream, milk and extract.  Pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to directions.  Mine takes about 20 minutes.  Add the chopped/crushed cookies the last 3 minutes of mixing.  Transfer to freezer safe container.


broken

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I feel like I haven’t been very present on here this winter…  I have had my hands tied – literally!

I have two little girl scouts and we went to an ice skating event.   Now just to set the record – I am a decent/really good skater.  I am stunned that I  fell to begin with and heaping on my bruised pride, broke a bone.  How humbling to  “fail” at something you are good at.   Normally I would rest at home and heal but I had previously committed to a long term substitute teaching assignment for 12 weeks, and a baby was coming.  I remember thinking “Great, I knew I could teach, but now I have to do it with one arm behind my back.”

That first week my husband also left for Chicago for the week, and it snowed everyday…  were talking bitter cold -20, foot of snow on the ground.  Now someone said to me “I hope you broke it in the least possible way,”  which I truly believe was the case.

I haven’t been able to do any of my normal activities, swimming, skiing, cooking, pottery, but I can still teach!  I am thankful for an activity that keeps me from going stir crazy and uses my gifts. The kids have been super great at school and it helps me emphasize with a number of them that are “broken” as well.  It has been a huge blessing to see friends come forward to help in the smallest of ways – although coming over at 7AM to braid my girls hair for school  is a BIG deal!

( The photo above is the x-ray my daughter made for me). I  am in complete awe of how quickly the body heals.  It has now been about 5 weeks, and I have resumed using my arm.  It is not 100% back but it is so close.

 


two tangles

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I have been working on some zentangles.

A zentangle is a miniature abstract work of art.  It is created from a collection of patterns not meant to represent anything.  I think everything is supposed to represent something, unless someone is upset with me, in-which I reserve the right to say I didn’t mean anything…  They are designed to be made into tiles, each is a surprise that unfolds before the creator’s eyes, one stroke at a time.  The process teaches us to be comfortable letting our instincts be in control, so it does not matter what you add next.

So, I kind of took the “zen” out of it drawing recognizable images.  But this is what my first two looked like…  The one on the left is representative of my haunted shower.

And the right I was reading Matthew 13, can you spot all the parables about “The kingdom of Heaven?”  The sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast, the hidden treasure, the pearl, the net of fish and the owner of the house.


raising strong girls and the tooth fairy

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My daughter, age 7,  lost a tooth this week.  We are not particularly organized nor faithful about the “tooth fairy.”  Yet she is particularly motivated to earn money to buy her own mini ipad… So she promptly washed her tooth off, put it in a baggie and wrote a note.  “Can I have $20, please.”

I chuckled, “You think that the tooth fairy is going to give you twenty dollars… for a little tooth… that you have barely been faithful about brushing…”  I kind of couldn’t believe her note, although the “please” was nice.

How bold and courageous a child’ s request can be.  I was quick to dismiss her demand but then took pause, who am I to squelch the dreams of a child.  While it is not my responsibility to give her everything she wants or asks for,  it is my joy to give her what she needs.  It is also my intention to train her to be a strong young girl, who is full of faith and serves a BIG God.  It is HE who gives us good gifts, not to pacify our selfish desires but to benefit others and advance kingdom work.  It is also He who encourages us to ask in HIS name.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we lose our courage, we have heard “NO”  so many times that we don’t bother to ask anymore, dream anymore, or pray BIG anymore.   We learn to be content with the broken way of life, making God small,  living half of what he has planned.

I want to teach her that we serve a BIG God, who does BIG things, who makes a BIG difference.   If I truly believe that, do I live it?   Have I lost the courage to ask for BIG things from God?  Do I ask for only what seems reasonable, or safe or do I  trust the sovereign God to meet our needs and be our provider.

So if you are wondering, no she didn’t receive $20, and she was quite disappointed, but we ended up having a great conversation and a brainstorming session on how to earn some extra cash.  For my not particularly clean child, this could be a win win.