Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-05-17

The Life-Altering Power of Changing Your Mind

On Friday, Dara and I flew up to Seattle to visit my mom for Mother’s Day. The whole flight was a huge comedy of errors and a GREAT opportunity for both of us to practice the life-altering power of changing your mind.

This was a hard trip for me to plan, since it’s just three months after we lost Grandmother and the first time we were leaving Macy and Biscuit Reynolds after our last pet sitters left them alone after an emergency. Even the thought of booking our flights was hard for me, so Dara sweetly took over logistics. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get us seats together for our flight.

There was once a time I believed I did not look good in red so I never wore it. What a great thing I changed my mind about! Photo by Dara.

Since we each had a window and an aisle, Dara figured we would easily convince the person in the middle switching for Dara’s aisle seat. However, when we arrived at my row the woman declined as she was traveling with her son. Dara and I said our goodbyes and proceeded to have individual opportunities to adjust our thinking on our flight.

Flying while fat is rough and one of the best benefits of being in a mixed-size relationship is being able to sit next to each other with an arm rest up. The first thing that woman did was make sure her arm rest went down–I can always tell when someone is trying to mark their territory on a plane.

This was my first opportunity to change my mind. I didn’t dwell on it, I just let that armrest go down and moved on to my next thought. Earlier in my life, I would have spent the whole flight stressed about squishing as far away as I could from that woman and assuming I was constantly in her way. My ability to obsess about other people’s perceptions of myself and my size was unparalleled and it made me miserable. Now I shift my focus to my own life, my art, my work in the world and focusing on my own comfort during a flight.

Next up was the wailing baby. It was clearly several rows behind me but its discomfort was loud. I put in headphones and turned up 9 to 5 so I could continue conceiving of aerobics choreography. I almost always stop myself from feeling annoyed at kid noises to change my thought pattern to compassion. As uncomfortable as it is to be a passenger on a flight with a wailing baby, it’s way more uncomfortable to be a parent dealing with a wailing baby. I prayed for the baby that it would find comfort and moved my thoughts away from it.

Our flight was delayed by a half hour, which gave me a head start on free movie watching. I absolutely love when flights have on demand movies available, I consider it a $5.99 bonus. I started that Will Smith movie about grief, “Collateral Beauty,” from a totally analytical place. I’m cooking up a grief book idea to help me through my grief about Grandmother and I want to consume as much as I can about grief theories. I did not think about the trigger truck that I was inviting into Row 21 of this Delta flight. The beverage service didn’t happen until I was at the emotional climax of the movie.

Suddenly, the woman next to me knocked over her fresh hot cup of tea and it landed all down my thigh, my leg and in my boot. It scalded at first and I blurted, “Ow, ow, ow!” The woman was very sorry and apologized a bunch of times. I was gracious, telling her it was okay, but still needed to advocate for my needs with the flight attendant. It’s hard to ride that line of being generous in spirit but also making sure that your needs get met, I certainly wasn’t going to sit there with a sopping wet leg and no napkins to soak it up, but punnishing her in any way for something that was a mistake isn’t appropriate. Punnishing people for mistakes creates a psychologically unsafe environment and I believe really strongly in creating a life/workplace/home environment where mistakes and accidents are just part of getting to a good experience/output/joy. Dara’s consulting business focuses on this a lot.

I did what I could but that scalding hot water turned cold really quickly. I could have sat in misery but I just kept turning my attention back to the movie and trying so hard not to ugly cry. I didn’t want that woman to think her spill was making me cry but the jarring hot water when I was being really touched by grief was difficult. I was so thankful that the flight attendant checked on me again and I asked for a blanket–it really saved the rest of the flight for me.

I had to do a lot of changing my mind in order to be ready for this wonderful relationship with Dara. I had to humble myself that I didn’t know everything and learn how to do relationships, dating and communication differently. Totally worth it in every way. Photo by Rick Sorkin.

During all of this was epic turbulence. At least twice the plane dipped very quickly. Both times my first thought was, “Well, I guess this is it.” I don’t really have a fear of dying, I think when you’re destined to go that’s your moment. But I shifted my thoughts to visualizing our smooth landing in Seattle so that I wasn’t sitting there in fear of my impending death.

Dara’s experience of the flight was similarly bumpy. She was one row in front of the crying baby and even worse was the father, caring for the child alone, was *yelling* at it. She was having total empath feels for this poor baby who wasn’t even being soothed. The first sudden drop on the flight happened when she was in the bathroom alone! She thought the plane was going down, too, and considered running down the aisle to me so that we wouldn’t die separately.

The person across from the aisle from her started barfing, the sounds and smell were awful for her (chemo was really, really hard for Dara). When the second intense plane drop happened the woman next to Dara started crying and freaking out, which didn’t help Dara.

I asked Dara how she dealt with all of it and she said she would take a deep breath (nose closed during the barfing) and put her focus back on her work. Taking her focus away from the things disturbing her/grossing her out/freaking her out helped to take the power away from those external influences.

When we got off the flight we arrived at the shuttle bus terminal to go to the deep woods where my mom lives on the Olympic Peninsula only to find out that it was sold out. By then I was hangry and overwhelmed and had to carry all our luggage because Dara’s still in post hysterectomy no carrying more than 5 pounds mode.

My problem solving skills were weakening, but after fifteen minutes of trying I figured out how to take a Lyft not at surge pricing to the Seattle Ferry Terminal. They Lyft ride plus the ferry was a little bit cheaper than the shuttle for both of us and it was a negligible difference in how far mom had to drive to pick us up. However, we arrived at the Ferry ticket booth thirty seconds after they announced that they had final boarding on the ferry we were trying to make and had to wait another hour.

When I first heard about EVERYBODY, the body positive gender affirming gym opening in LA, I didn’t know how I was going to participate. By changing my mind about my capacities, I realized I could take all the work I had been doing as a body positive warrior for self love all these years and channel them into dance aerobics. If Richard Simmons could do it, I could to! I’m building up my following and would love to have you join me on Thursday nights!

As luck would have it, the waiting area has a gorgeous view of the Seattle waterfront, the Commuter Cafe at the Ferry terminal had these incredible salads that are hella cheap (take that, $15 tasteless LAX breakfast burrito!) and we were able to just sit and enjoy ourselves and finally debrief our wild flight.

One of the skills I’m most grateful for every day is the ability to interrupt my thought patterns. I can sit pretty steadily in a hell of my own creation if I don’t do this because once I go down that spiral it picks up steam.

I was really taken by how both Dara and I survived what could have been a completely miserable experience by choosing to change the directions of our thoughts and focus on something else. I find gratitude lists are a helpful way to change thought direction, I use the Serenity Prayer sometimes, I take a macro look at the situation from lens of an outside perspective. I use the six month rule–will this matter in six months?

Mom got stuck behind a draw bridge on the way to pick us up (things are slow out on the Olympic Penninsula) and she arrived five minutes before we did on Bainbridge Island to pick us up. The timing worked out perfectly, even if not as planned.

I was always a cat person and it took changing my mind about dogs in order to be open to Macy in my life!! She’s changed everything for the better!

2016-03-18

LA Week 7: Femme Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Week seven was pretty sweet. Our weekaversary in our LA home is on Saturday, and that Saturday we put up all of our hard work on the house and went to a pool party! It’s definitely too cold for summertime style pool parties out here. But when your friends heat their saltwater pool to 95 degrees you drop everything and show up with flowers, red vines and a beverage.

Here are some things I didn’t know about pools until recently. The unheated pool temperature will be an average of the daytime and nighttime temp. So even if temps soar into the 80s, if they’re dropping to 50s at night (which is possible here, and lately we’ve been more early 70s and sometimes 40s at night) that means the pool is way too cold to swim in during the day at about the 60s. Brrr. Heating a pool is mad expensive if you do it all the time, so most folks do it on special occasions. My grandmother has a pool and even though she’s been in her house in Rancho Mirage (by Palm Springs) for 15 years I’ve literally been in the pool twice.

taylorglendaleGot to hang with my friend Taylor Black last week!

So back to the pool party. How lucky I feel to have gotten to hang so much with Barb since we moved to LA! She’s buying a house here and keeps visiting from Fresno, about 5 hours North in Central CA. Barb has been staying with Tristan and Colten, and Anne and Susanna were in town and so were some other friends I didn’t know from NY. So it became a party, my very favorite kind where I know 50% of the people in attendance.

annebarbsusannaBarb, Susanna and Anne drinking prosecco from the Red Vines I brought. Red Vines are the licorice of my youth and I don’t like Twizzlers. They’re decidedly West Coast.

I know most people perceive me as an extrovert and totally socially confident but there’s a reason I love to throw parties and have something to do! I love people and I love talking but I was an only child and get super socially awkward and nervous in un-facilitated interactions. So when I have a “job” I feel better. Pro-tip: I’ve found volunteering at parties a great way to take my anxiety down a notch and an easier way to meet new people. Once I know more than 30% of the people at a party it is way easier for me. All interactions become kind of facilitated because you already know and are comfortable with people!

We had been working hard on our attic the previous two days so getting to soak in a 95 degree pool was perfect. It was like taking a luxurious bath with a bunch of awesome people.

I dropped Dara off at the airport that night to go to NYC on business again. She’ll be going once a month for the foreseeable future because one of her biggest clients is out there. It’s interesting having moved with a partner. I’ve never had that experience. I’m usually Captain Solo, Queen Independent and can do quite well on my own. In Brooklyn, when we would spend time apart at our different houses (this house in LA is the first time we’ve ever lived together for real) I was great. All those years I spent single I really cultivated a way of being with myself and being fully present and excited in my life.

Sometimes if we were apart I would stay up super late just… fucking around? Just like watching bullshit TV or reading or doing tarot cards. (Even now, sometimes I stay up later than Dara because I just like to do those things solo.) I was so good at being independent that it would actually be hard for me when we hung out again to let down my guard and do that couple comfort mesh thing that happens.

poolpartybevindaraThis fatkini is from Modcloth and I love it. Also, when you’re in a 95 degree salt water pool and you get out steam comes off your body. Also also I was stung by a bee and Colten gave me excellent poolside nursing care and it was itchy and hurt for days after but was totally worth it for the magic of that pool party.

It was interesting when I dropped her off and was alone again because I didn’t experience the joy of independence again. Just like her first trip to NYC I was left alone feeling my feelings. It was hard and lonely without her and it was because I have all this discomfort with new things happening. Having a partner comes with benefits and drawbacks. A huge benefit is a support system that makes you feel good and hopefully mitigates discomfort. An all the time social safety net. I’ve never really noticed needing that before (Queen Independent) but noticing that I felt it missing made me feel vulnerable and it was hard.

I think that’s a warning sign to me that my self care game is off. I mean, I already knew that, but if I am with someone and not feeling my feelings that means I’m not setting aside enough time to work through stuff while we’re together. I know I could be journaling more, setting aside more time for reflection and going to more Al-Anon meetings. In NYC I had a great therapist and that was an hour each week I had to ]let off my steam pipe of feelings, plus I did Al-Anon weekly and so many other things to work through my feelings.

To my credit I’ve been meditating and now that my kitchen is at 90% capacity I am cooking nutritious food. And having only been in the house seven weeks that’s good.

joyI painted a lot of intentions into the attic. Casual woo.

Setting up a sanctuary is hard work. My friend Morgan said on instagram “Femme Rome wasn’t built in a day” and she is totally right. You might remember Morgan as the gorgeous Femme who baked gourmet cupcakes for Rebel Cupcake when I was hosting it in Brooklyn.

131170_4067480605562_1576758754_oPhoto by Kelsey Dickey for Rebel Cupcake.

It’s a nice thing to remind yourself when you are frustrated with things not going at the pace you would like them to go. Having this deadline of getting the house together is actually not as nice as I said in my last post. It’s actually creating a lot of stress and time pressure.

My mom was visiting my Grandmother in Palm Springs that weekend of Dara leaving town. Because Dara’s flight was right in the middle of the visit I couldn’t make it work to go out there (I also thought my mom was leaving on Sunday, not Monday as it turned out). I had plans with my Aunt Shari to watch the finale of Downton Abbey Sunday night. I knew I wanted to watch with Aunt Shari because she loved the show so much she deeply spoilered it for me even after I said I was really behind on this season because of our travels. Mom surprised me by asking if she could join me and Aunt Shari in spite of the six hour round trip it would take to go do that.

So I went with the choice of fostering intimacy over perfectionism and asked mom if she and Grandmother wanted to come see the house in it’s totally not “mom clean” or finished state on their way to my Aunt’s house. (I am 50 minutes to Aunt Shari’s and 2 hours to Grandmother’s.) Later that night our impromptu hat party for the Downton finale (with a special cameo from two of my cousins) was a fabulous memory!

downtonfinalehatpartyI haven’t 100% come out to all of my family about my blog but I’m getting there. They know I’ve been in the New Yorker and stuff like that but I don’t think any of them read it except my mom.

I spent the better part of Wednesday last week working on buying packaging for my Reiki tea pre-sale. It started with physically measuring out 20 servings of two types of tea (the herbal blends take up more room than the tea blends) and then using a tape measure to see what kind of capacity I need.

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Buying tins and packaging is not as straightforward as one would believe and I’m definitely not at “scale” yet for cheaper prices. I need to be buying about 300 tins per order to get even a small discount. But the tins were important to me and my vision (they are truly the very best way to store tea for longevity). I also bought all the herbs and tea I needed to get the blends going. They just arrived, I’m really excited to get my hands herby!

B-School has been going slowly. I’m glad they give you a pretty generous time module for it (it is go at your own pace). Just like in my AP classes in high school with their over the summer homework and reading lists you need to do before school starts, B-School had a whole pre-course module for follow-through success AND an e-book for “Starting the Right Business.” The book itself has lots of homework so I’m doing all this very necessary guided research (it’s a pretty brilliant method, but I wish it had just a touch more guidance and samples) to identify who I admire who does something similar to what I do and what and how they did it. So if you know of a tea company, woo modality company or other small product based company you like let me know in the comments because I’m deeply researching what makes them successful!

Thursday and Friday of last week I really buckled down and finished the painting upstairs. We had Dari and Jen come over again on Saturday and they helped so much with the final touches in the attic. Installing my closet rods and shelving while Dara mopped the hundred year old dust a shop vac, many many sweeps didn’t get, and I used my staple gun and 80 yards of gold glitter tulle to fill in the gaps in the wood so stuff doesn’t fly into an unreachable space.

closetinstall

I definitely had the place okay enough to have someone stay for tea. But we still have a lot to do in order to get things together to host Dara’s mom overnight tomorrow night and meet our artificial deadline of having the place in order enough to host Seder. The hustle is real in these parts right now.

“Optimism expresses itself in the persistence and resilience of living things.” I found that quote once more while unpacking and it is a good one I am pondering. Even though my self care game is kind of a flat tire right now, even though I’m stressed and I know stress is an optional emotion, I know that I can get back to feeling serenity and joy. And I know the power of six months means that in six months, this period of trying to get stuff together for the house will be just a memory.

2016-02-29

5 Strategies We Used To Fight Less (and Cuddle More) During Our Cross Country Move

Moving is hands-down one of the most stressful things you can do. It’s right up there on the list of life stressors with losing a job, divorce and death. Disrupting routine is really draining, so is the discomfort of living amidst boxes on an air mattress.

There’s a lot I did to mitigate the stress of moving before we left Brooklyn for LA that did not work. For example, only moving things that spark joy was a great idea, but I ended up having to replace things I got rid of with stuff from the dollar store that would not have made a dent in our moving inventory.

I am really happy to report that the work that Dara and I employed to mitigate the stress on our relationship has been wildly successful. Every step of the way we have been having fun together and able to feel completely supported. Even when we both have mini-breakdowns under the stress of the transition. Even when we sometimes get snippy with each other.

Dara and I have a history of hard communication and fights. We have gone to couple’s therapy and read relationship books to work on our communication and managing conflict.

virginiabevindaraOn our road trip at the Welcome Center in Virginia.

These strategies help us recenter and refocus on what is important (our relationship, supporting our love) and what we can let go of (pretty much everything else). I also think these strategies are totally relevant for relationships regardless of whether or not you have an impending move!

Here are the five best strategies we used:

1. Generosity of Spirit

This is something that is a choice to make that influences everything in your relationship. In fact, I think it is the best tool for relationship success period. Having a generosity of spirit means being open to doing things to make your partner feel good, even when they’re a hassle or they are grumpy. It’s giving more than is expected and being compassionate and kind as a resting state.

It’s like applying mindfulness to a new level, how can I be generous in this moment to my partner?

Ways in which we are generous in spirit: Making tea for one another (Dara and I do this all day long, since we both work from home). When someone is crying from being so tired, helping them get what they need to get into bed as fast as possible is really nice. Thinking of them and doing nice things, and letting annoyances and frustrations go really quickly.

It also means assuming best intentions and working hard not to hold grudges. (I know Dara did not mean to interrupt my meditation by playing basketball just outside the meditation room today.)


2. Three Step Daily Relationship Makeover Tool

This tool I got from my friend Christine, the Lesbian Love Guru and fabulous relationship coach for folks of all genders, sexualities in couples, singles, triads+. It’s SO SIMPLE. It is a daily check-in that takes less than a minute and allows you to recenter and cleanse from the day, week or month prior. Here’s Christine sharing the tool on a video:

If you can’t watch a video, here’s the idea: Look each other in the eye. Each take turns saying the following: 1. I’m sorry for anything I did that hurt you or made you feel less than awesome. 2. I forgive you for anything you did that hurt me or made me feel less than awesome. 3. I am so grateful for you for [insert reason] or just I’m so grateful for our relationship.

Dara and I sometimes do it as Christine suggests, when going to bed, but sometimes we just do it as it occurs to us. It really does make things feel better and helps us remember our generosity of spirit and our priority–a happy, healthy and fun relationship!

It felt really cheesy the first couple of times we did it, but now as we continue to do it I think the shorthand meaning for us is that we value one another and our relationship.

tusconbevindaraIn Tuscon, outside of our friend Cris’ house.

3. Strengths-Based Check-Ins

We started this ramping up to our move in order to focus on the good things in our relationship and not highlight things that don’t work. The idea is rather than having check-ins that focus on areas for growth, we instead simply focus on what is working for us.

For example, our check-in this week I am going to thank Dara for being so careful with her language around our budget when she emails me. I can tell she puts a lot of thought into being as gentle as possible with a topic (money) she knows is scary and triggering for me. Acknowledging the things that we do that work helps us continue to do them.

The check-ins feel really good and help us stay in a positive mind-set, with team spirit and resilience.

bevindarapasaden

4. Written Agreement

The whole reason I was able to move to California was because Dara had enough savings to finance the physical move and pay for much of our living expenses for the first few months in LA. I had worked for years to build a law practice and was going to have to leave it in order to move.

I realized about three months prior to the move we weren’t clear on which living expenses were going to be covered and what the expectations were around that. I was scared shitless of being moved out West and abandoned. I’m living off some savings, but not enough to secure me if I have to suddenly find a new home.

We decided to create a written agreement detailing what our projected budget was, what Dara was paying for, what her expectations were for me during the transition.

The process of writing it all out wasn’t smooth but it was important. It helped me feel secure knowing I wasn’t going to be abandoned, and having written agreements forces you to have tough conversations! (This is also why I HIGHLY suggest pre-nups because I think they strengthen impending marriages.)

Did I trust Dara? Absolutely. Do I trust her more now for being willing to put things in writing? Yes. We’ve decided together what happens if either of us doesn’t meet our obligations and that helps us feel more secure and happy going into a super unknown situation.

5. Safe Word Out of Arguments

Dara and I are very different people who have had to work hard to live in harmony with one another. We communicate differently and often get very frustrated with one another because we don’t feel understood. We are constantly working to improve our communication.

Sometimes we do get into fights, but when we do we have a safe word. (Waffle.) We can waffle out of an argument simply by saying it. Neither of us likes to fight, it’s often a relief to have someone else Waffle. Fighting energy is draining and hard and I don’t want to have relationship conflict on top of all the other stuff I’m dealing with.

Anytime we’ve ever waffled out of a fight, it eventually gets resolved. We are so much more productive at creating solutions when we are in a positive space and fighting doesn’t solve things for us.

Do you have a creative tool you’ve used to mitigate relationship stress? I would love to hear it, please leave it in the comments!

neworleansnyebevindaraIn New Orleans on New Year’s Eve!

2015-03-16

Florida Keys: Curating the Sunset

My second favorite thing we did on our trip to the Florida Keys was curating the sunset. I absolutely love doing this. By curating the sunset I mean, finding out when the sunset is going to start and finish in my vicinity and setting aside the time and effort to go enjoy it. This means not just noticing that the sunset is happening but finding the exact right place to watch it happen.

I call things like sunsets “God TV.” If it’s something naturally occurring that is interesting to watch, I call it “God TV.” I like watching the sky turn all the different colors, notice the changing shadows around me and finding a spot to watch it that affords a lot of great ambiance.

The Keys are ALL ABOUT THIS. Most notably there is a sunset ritual every single night in Key West. My pal Maura in a super helpful email to me about my impending visit to the Keys that watching the sunset from the Mallory Square sunset celebration was very Lez and woo in a satisfying way. I could not agree more.

16766270835_edcd34fe77_zStreet vendors and performers line the square. The sunset celebration is free, but Dara decided to jazz it up by buying this non-alcoholic frozen pineapple coconut juice concoction. Beautiful and delicious!

16558999917_1633abaf18_zHere you can see the big crowd just in front of us, it was pretty thick the length of Mallory Square by the time we got there.

I have not been in such a diverse crowd of collective rapt attention on something spiritual since I attended my Uncle’s ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church (it was a very long ceremony in a HUGE cathedral). Sure, lots of them probably just thought the sunset was pretty, but there was a significant payment of attention to something I felt very reverent about. It was churchy, even if it wasn’t a brick and mortar institution. No religion or belief necessary, just payment of attention. Crowded but not loud, at least during the 2 minutes or so the sun was really sinking.

4731417391_0f4900890d_zMy cousin Sooz (yes, I have a queer cousin, it rules) at her dad’s/my uncle’s ordination.

16765201512_95c905e4c0_zWe creeped up through the crowd to get a better view.

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16559009917_cb5388b3f9_zI was obsessed with all the creatures we met, and the different kinds of pelicans were a highlight.

Outside of Key West I found it pretty easy to pinpoint a good sunset spot. A quick yelp search of “Islamorada sunset” in the restaurant category got me to Lorelei’s Cantina, a spot on our road trip back up to the mainland to catch our flight home. It’s this huge outdoor bar and restaurant where you don’t even have to order anything, you can just grab a plastic chair and chillax watching the sunset while listening to live music. It was so beautiful and such a disappointment when the sunset was shrouded in a rain cloud.

16644041818_5ff227d273_zThis is the big mermaid that looks out on Southbound Interstate 1, the two lane Overseas Highway that connects all of the Keys. The parking lot was VERY crowded so this Escalade just decided to park blocking the sign.

16145663324_4eb599f559_zThe view was spectacular but sadly the clouds did not cooperate.

16560705517_461654b905_zI swear to the Goddess that while we were sitting watching the clouds covering the sunset the dude-fronted Jimmy Buffet style jam band that was playing did a Dolly Parton cover. I realized I knew all the words.

The same thing happened with bad weather luck when we went to see the sunset at a beach in Key West the night we had a hotel room in town. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, which is just off of old town Key West (the neighborhood with all the cutie pie wooden buildings). It was $2.50 for each of us because we came in on bicycle not car. We sat on the beach, I was so regretful I didn’t wear my bathing suit, the one day I didn’t just have it on under my dress, and I wished I could have gone swimming in the gorgeous clear blue water.

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We didn’t spend enough time at the beach during our vacation overall, which was my own fault. There were just so many fun things to do in the Keys that sitting still for a few hours a day was not a priority. We did a great amount of taking it easy and letting things flow in terms of planning so I never felt stressed, I just was so absorbed by my surroundings at all times that I didn’t ever crack that copy of Southern Living magazine I dragged all over the Keys.

But I got to the beach twice, both for sunsets. The time the sunset was a bust at Fort Taylor I still saw a couple of tiny schools of fish from my ankle-deep vantage point, and we watched an entire flock of seagulls leave their rock to go fish for dinner. Hundreds of birds taking off at once is a breathtaking vision you only get to see when you watch God TV or as intro cutaways on one of the coastal Real Housewives franchises.

16144219244_cd4c9d5459_zWater so clear I felt totally fine swimming in it. I get the creeps when I can’t see the bottom, even in the deep end of a dark pool.

The best sunset we saw was our first night in the Keys. It was about 10 minutes from our cabin on Big Pine Key, about 2 keys North of BPK. (Do they abbreviate in the Keys? I hope so.) Bahia Honda State Park has been voted one of the top 10 continental US beaches for several years. I heard this from a few sources. I’m not sure what this list is, or if we just happened to see it at a particularly sea grassy moment, but it wasn’t super amazing. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of had big expectations for the beach.

16757039142_39611c34b5_zI saw this on the beach and because of the intense blue and plastic looking filmy bubble I thought surely this was manmade, like a condom or a plastic bag. I am the kind of person who appreciates nature AND picks up litter. (I was a Girl Scout for so many years this kind of habit never dies.) So to find out if it was litter to be picked up with a stick for the garbage can… I popped it. It was clear it was organic matter and I left it alone. Found a couple more on our beach walk. Thank Goddess I popped it with a stick because a later google search told me this is a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and I could have gotten stung and gone to the hospital! The Wikipedia says that sometimes whole beaches close down when these appear on shore.

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We got there and the first place we went was SO seagrassy we didn’t want to sit in it, so we kept walking. Then we bailed on that beach and crossed the parking lot into the info center, who told us that they beach they’re known for is on a different part of the key. Which meant that to see the good sunset view (pointed East) we would not get to be on that super cute part of the beach. We did check out that super cute beach on the way out after sunset and it was quite pretty. We would like to go lay around on it on a later trip to the Keys.

Undeterred, I went out to a third beach of theirs, this one was Gulf Side (to think I walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in just the span of minutes) and started following the shoreline. Dara followed dutifully along as I searched for something I couldn’t even fully articulate to her. “I want to watch the sunset,” I told her, not even sure myself what I was looking for but knowing that once I saw it I would realize what I was looking for.

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We walked the length of the beach and I took off through some palm trees up a nature trail that went under the abandoned railroad bridge. Dara had suggested a few spots on the beach that might be a little less crowded but gave up when she saw I was on a mission. I climbed under the railroad tracks, went to the chain link fence under the bridge to take a couple of photos, retraced my steps and went to the other side of the train tracks, back to the Atlantic but much further down than we could see from our original vantage point in the thicket of washed up sea grass.

16138168973_200ebb52d4_zThat road in the background is the Overseas Highway I’ve mentioned.

16135808124_de577ca163_zUnder the train track bridge.

I found an inlet of trees that looked like a great make-out spot, then went down a rock “scramble” onto a patch of nearly empty beach. With a perfect view of the sun, just about to start lowering. We took some photos and cute video in the surf and laid down to watch the sun take its journey. We soaked this in for a good thirty minutes before the incoming tide convinced us to move down the beach a bit. We did some yoga while watching the sun’s descent. It was so profoundly beautiful. Worth every bit of work to find the just right place to watch it. The curation of the moment was almost as fun as the moment itself.

16138173863_ae0ddc6128_zAs a fat person I’m used to being the one who is being coaxed down rock scrambles. But I have a lot more bravery for nature because of my scouting past, so I lead Dara in these matters. It’s a really interesting to have the table flipped and me being the brave one offering a hand to the person behind me. But I’d like to think knowing how uncertain a rock scramble can make me feel helps me be a more supportive partner when I lend the hand.

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16570745720_1560559ce6_zDara is such a wonderful partner in crime for adventure. I have so much fun with her. She’s instagramming now after this trip, @daremedara if you’re instagrammy.

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16550904177_52dd24bcf9_zThe moon rise on the other side of the beach was so pretty.

16572055289_1319b04a29_zMoney shot.

I rarely, if ever, curate a sunset in Brooklyn. There are so many variables here–it takes me 30 minutes to drive to a spot to get a good, clear view of a sunset, only if that’s the direction of the sun that time of year. Buildings that are in the way sometimes are not in the way other times. Weather is a huge variable. It is often cloudy. I make it a point in NYC that when I see the sunset colors in the sky I take a pause and notice them.

Out of town I make it my unspoken priority to ensure that we are exactly where we need to be to enjoy the best sunset possible. I love organizing my day around this. It feels so natural and cleansing and really meaningful. I came back from the Keys and I know, as I start working towards the next phase of my life, I want to make it a priority to have abundant access to beautiful sunset viewing options. I can see this ritual becoming a big part of my self care.

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2014-05-23

Dara’s Experience During Diagnosis and Surgery for Breast Cancer

12145725274_01512028c1_zThis is us after Dara’s second surgery. Outings had to be pretty short because she was so tired, I remember we had thought we might go to a second party after this wedding dinner but we couldn’t do it.

As a follow-up to my post about Dara’s experience with chemo I thought it might also be helpful, and provide some background for other posts around my care taking lessons learned, to talk about the process of her diagnosis and the surgery prior to chemo for her breast cancer. This is also another information dump sort of post—it’ll be interesting for someone who might be going through this process or having someone they know going through it to read a detailed experience.

Dara had a dream last summer where she was told by a friend who had passed away to get really good health insurance. She shopped for a policy and upgraded from her existing emergency room only policy. (This was before Obamacare came into effect last Fall.)

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Because of this new insurance, when she was in NYC for a conference in October, she made an appointment at her GYN for a check-up. It had been 2-3 years since her last check-up. She loves her GYN and when her doctor found a lump on her breast she was really surprised. Dara wasn’t in the habit of doing breast self-exams, other than once every few years after seeing a really dramatic commercial.

Within a couple of days of finding the lump, Dara went in for a mammogram of her left breast and biopsy at Brooklyn Hospital, the hospital associated with her GYN. She and I weren’t dating at the time so she went with a friend because she was scared. (We were in the process of becoming “Benefits without Friends” as I put it and she didn’t want to ruin our vibe by telling me what was going on until she got the diagnosis.)

While waiting for the results of her biopsy, she felt pretty sure she would be diagnosed breast cancer, given the dream she had last summer. Her intuition was setting off five alarm bells.

She made an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering with a breast surgeon about a month after the biopsy. She knew she wanted to be treated at MSK because her dad had received such world class treatment with his stomach cancer and the compassionate care that their staff, doctors and nurses offered was second to none. The appointment wasn’t for another month so she headed back to LA, where she had left her car on her six month cross-country-sell-all-her-stuff-and-wander-around-the-country-staying-with-friends trip.

She had an initial consultation with the surgeon in November after she drove back. Her mom, her ex from before me and one of the girls she was seeing this summer went with her. That appointment was an hour and a half. She had to go to another mammogram (this time she went by herself) at the direction of the surgeon.

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At this point, she still didn’t know what stage she was at (they wouldn’t know until after her surgery) and she needed to be tested for the BRCA gene to find out how likely a recurrence of breast cancer was. She went alone for the BRCA gene test and there was a lot of information given and she thought it would have been nice to have a second person there for it. Knowing her family history was important for this appointment and Dara wished she’d tapped her mom for more information (or had her along for the appointment). The results from this test took forever—like three weeks.

Her surgery took awhile to schedule. First she had to decide whether to get a lumpectomy (recommended by her surgeon) or a double mastectomy. According to her breast cancer surgeon and oncologist, they consider a lumpectomy and radiation to be as effective at preventing a reoccurrence of the cancer as a mastectomy. Dara’s decision was heavily influenced by whether or not she had the BRCA gene and the fact that she has an ambivalent relationship with having boobs. She talked about that (and her low hanging boobs) in her vlog.

Ultimately, she relied again on her intuition. She felt the inclination to just get a lumpectomy, even though she had lots of intellectual reasons to get her boobs chopped off.

Once she scheduled the surgery her insurance became a whole (thankfully brief) nightmare about not covering the medical procedures. Dara had to prove that breast cancer was not a pre-existing condition. Though her diagnosis was after she had changed to the new insurance, they needed proof.

We were more or less back together at that point and I spent a lot of time supporting her through the bureaucracy and my home office became a great asset for signing documents, scanning forms and overnighting. I can imagine if one didn’t have access to that technology the schlep to a copy place to take care of it would be icing on a gross cake. The whole insurance thing was stressful and stress is something she is trying to avoid. She believes stress is what caused her cancer.

The surgery had to be pushed back a couple of days because of the insurance pre-approval, but luckily Dara was able to get it done before the holidays.

She finally got the BRCA results back a week before surgery and they were negative so she felt like she had made a sound choice based on her intuition.

11408806393_91828085b0_zI genuinely love the waiting room beverage situation at MSK.

It was weird during the lump time. I could totally feel it on her boob. I started going to the doctors appointments with her at this point. She had a meeting with her surgeon at the main campus, with lots of questions. She went into that one alone and I realized after the appointment when I had to drag the information out of her that it would be way easier if I went in and met with the doctors with her. (This was before we identified me as her primary caregiver because we were still feeling out whether and how much to get involved with each other again.) She’s a very “in the moment” kind of person and I like to feel like I have a full understanding of everything so it became easier if I could go meet the doctors and release my litany of questions directly.

Right after she saw the surgeon we went to a different building at Memorial Sloan Kettering about ten blocks away for pre-surgery testing. There was a blood draw, she saw a member of the anesthesia team and an xray tech. We had a lot of fun at that doctor’s appointment. I took silly photos encouraging her to ham it up, playing with the tools in the exam rooms when left alone.

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I think that was the moment I realized consciously how different our relationship was from the first time we dated. I was still in love with her, that hadn’t gone away, which is why I had wanted to be part of her support team. This time around things seemed really different, though. Everything was more joyful, playful and our chemistry had opened up to this new place where even going to something as potentially scary and difficult as a hospital was fun for us. I knew we were starting something bigger than we had before.

Her parents flew in from Vegas for her actual surgery, an out patient procedure that was at yet another MSK building. She had to fast the night before and bathe using Hibiclens (a super sanitizing wash you can buy at the drug store) the night before and the morning of surgey. (By the way, my cat ALF had an emergency the morning before surgery and had to be put to sleep, for a little while it was like trading crises between the two of us.)

14059352638_4502b9dfaf_zALF’s last nap with Dara and Macy on my bed.

It’s kind of weird meeting someone’s parents for the first time anyway, and especially right before surgery. They are lovely people, but it’s kind of a stressful situation. I was not prepared for how scary waiting for her was going to be, even though the actual procedure was pretty short. It’s not easy having a loved one go under the knife. I remember telling Dara’s mom, “I don’t know how you did this six times with Dara’s dad,” because that’s how many surgeries his stomach cancer required.

They gave us a clear timeline expectation going into the procedure. She got wheeled out of the prep room, after about an hour the surgeon called us in (as they had said she would) to report back that everything went great, then we had to wait another 90 minutes or so for Dara to start waking up from the anasthesia. We could only go back to her recovery room two at a time so we traded off. The resident spent a lot of time with us fixing Dara’s steri strips. Then we went out for sushi since Dara was really hungry, and she went back to her parents’ hotel.

While we were in the prep room Dara was told by one of the nurses she would have to remove her bracelet. It is a string bracelet, similar to a friendship bracelet, that she had woven in everything she loved into it. It should have fallen off already by her surgery and it meant something special to her spiritually that it hung on. She asked the nurse if she could keep it, if they could possibly use her other arm. She also asked the nurse to say positive things to her while she was under the anasthesia.

When she awoke in the recovery room she saw that the bracelet was no longer on her left arm. She was sad until she noticed it was now on her right arm. While she was under someone (we think the nurse) had moved it and sewn it on her other arm, where it is still intact four months later. It was such a sweet thing that the nurse went out of her way to do. We’re certain she also was saying nice things to Dara during the procedure as we’d asked.

Dara came to stay with me the next day. It was hard for her to move around mostly because she was really sore, tired and had to ice her wounds a lot. She was also really grumpy from the meds. She had a difficult time sleeping. Mostly she just needed to stay in one place and sleep a lot and have food and ice packs replaced.

The surgeon also took out a couple of lymph nodes (sentinal nodes) to test to see if the cancer had metastisized. The wounds in her armpit from that were a lot more sore than the boob wound.

Her surgeon told her to start wearing sports bras only during the recovery process.

I was really impressed with the incision. It’s like this perfect semi-circle around her areola. I told the surgeon during her follow-up appointment that it was an impeccable job and I saw the normally pretty stoic business-y woman crack a smile. I mean, as a lesbian I feel like I am somewhat of an expert about what great boobs look like and Dr. Morrow did an incredible job maintaining the aesthetic.

It took her about two to three weeks to feel close to “normal” after surgery. Sadly, we were told she had to go back under the knife once the labs came back (a little over two weeks after surgery, they were delayed due to Christmas and New Year’s) because they found pre-cancerous cells in the margins of the lump, meaning they didn’t get everything they wanted. It sucked. Dara was really bummed that we had to start at square one, she was hoping to have some time feeling “normal” again especially because I’d been doing so much care taking for her.

During this time her lump was off in California at a fancy lab getting tested for what kind of receptors it has and all the yadda yaddas that tell the doctors whether it will be receptive to chemotherapy. I’m not sure if her lump got a chance to go visit the Redwood forest but I really hope so.

The second surgery was the same as the first time, only I was alone and it was later in the afternoon so her fast was much harder. I goaded her into filming this hilarious video of eating things in the waiting room.

Leo came by to visit for about a half hour, which was really nice, and I wish I had brought a buddy to hang with the whole time.

During the follow-up for the second surgery we got the results from the California Lump Resort and she needed chemotherapy. Basically, her lump was just at the point where she could maybe have not had chemo because the cancer had not matestizied. But because of her age and the type of cancer she had an 18% chance of reoccurence. Dr. Morrow explained to us that chemo was a good choice because she would knock that chance down to the single digits.

We were a little dubious, and went in to see Dr. Lake, her oncologist. During our initial appointment with her she explained everything really clearly by writing notes out for us—it included drawings and symbols. Kind of like being at class and looking at a professor making clear notes on an overhead projector (do teachers still use those?) but we got to take them home. Dr. Lake’s characterization of the type of care was what sent Dara over the edge to pro-chemo. “At this point we’re calling this curative care. If you get cancer again, it will be considered paleative.” Meaning, they could cure it this time around. If we waited, they wouldn’t be able to.

So we went for it. You can read all about her experience with chemo in this blog post.

Next up after chemo is radiation, with Dr. McCormick, another woman breast cancer specialist. It’s going to be a five days a week for five weeks, one hour per day, plus one day with another couple hours to see the doctor.

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