Category Archives: recovery

delicious ambulando

how many tattoos do you have?

i kind of have 9, but 5 of them really go together to make 1. so 5 total? as of a few weeks ago, i have 11. or 10. or 6. or 7.

for a while i’ve been putting together plans for new tattoos – 2 that make up 1. on april 3rd, i brought it all to denise, my friend and tattoo artist, and she made them happen.

i’ll explain.

in middle school, my buddy robyn and i got pretty obsessed with the early days of saturday night live. we loved dan aykroyd, jane curtin, steve martin, buck henry, candice bergen, bill murray, andy kaufman.

and gilda radner. come one. i wanted to be gilda radner. she was funny and bold and adorable all at the same time.


soon after we discovered gilda, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. i watched her continue to live her life as funny and bold and adorable. she died on may 20th, 1989. i carried her obituary in my wallet for years.

robynlee and kristelee. on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

robynlee and kristelee. women on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

after my own medical drama i came upon a quote from her autobiography. “now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. delicious ambiguity.” with that, gilda explained to me how to continue to live my life after it was radically changed by my brain tumor. my recovery wouldn’t have been the same without her.

so for years I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo of that phrase, “delicious ambiguity.” my tattoos are all symmetrical along my midline – balance is a big problem for me in my body, so i guess i’m trying to not make it worse. i thought about where was left for a “delicious ambiguity” tattoo. below my clavicle was a spot that appealed to me. so while i googled clavicle tattoo images, i thought about what could go on the other side.

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a few years back, i came upon the term “solvitur ambulando.” it’s latin for “it is solved by walking.” which made me think about the shift in how i think about walking. before my medical drama, i didn’t really walk. i grew up in southern california, so my instinct was to drive everywhere. i spent a lot of time in my car. then in 2009 i lost my ability to walk (and also drive). relearning how to walk took several years, a few great teachers, and a lot of practice.

dennis was my physical therapist during my stay in a phoenix nursing home. he spent a lot of time holding me up by a gait belt, making me look at myself in a mirror to convince my brain that, even though i felt like i was leaning way over to the right, i was in fact standing straight up.

the therapy folks at capri (that's dennis on the right) - they had never seen me stand up on my own

the therapy folks at capri (that’s dennis in the middle) – this was the first time they’d seen me stand up with a walker

anne was my home health physical therapist when i got back to corvallis. she taught me how to get in and out of my wheelchair, crawl around on the floor, and walk around my parents’ pool table as i held on for dear life. she got me back on my feet with a walker, but walking was hard and scary (i envisioned falling through the windows of shops as i walked by).

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

next was brian, the second brian to appear in my life at the exact moment when i desperately needed him.

the first brian

the first brian

brian wilson became my physical therapist after anne. i liked him right away – we laughed a lot (mainly at me) and i had a good time during my appointments. he started me walking with a cane right away – fyi, it’s terrifying to go from two-handed walking to one-handed. after i stopped seeing him in the clinic, we got together a few times for “therapy in the wild.” once we met up on a playground – he had always wanted to put me on a tire swing and turn me the opposite way from my vertigo to see if it would unwind my dizziness. it didn’t – but i was able to get on and off the swing without wiping out, so that was big progress. we played a little wallball with brian’s wife, brittany, and then he put me on a bike and ran around the playground pushing me like he was my dad.

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

to practice walking with a cane, every day i’d try to go for a walk that was a little longer than the day before – the “feeling stronger every day” plan. i remember exactly where i was when i realized that walking had gone from something that scared me to something i enjoyed. at the time, there wasn’t a lot that i enjoyed – generally, the things i did during the day were difficult and required a lot of concentration. but thanks to dennis and anne and brian, i had an outlet. walking became something that i did for fun, and when i had something on my mind. it was free, it didn’t require help, and i could do it wherever i was. i started exploring, and that was a huge part of my psychological return to the world.

b & b at t

brian and brittany at tumorfest

brian and brittany decided to move to montana, and i had dinner with them the night before they left. i was still carrying a cane but not using it – it was a marker that let people know that they needed to be careful around me, and brian really wanted me to stop. it was raining that evening, and since my left arm is too wonky to hold an umbrella, i had a choice to make – cane or umbrella. when i walked through the restaurant door, brian noticed right away that i didn’t have my cane, and he made a big deal about it. he realized that i had done a scary thing – his faith in me was the reason that i kept trying new things, kept trying to get rid of things that restricted me. he was the first friend i made who hadn’t known me before my medical drama, which made his faith in me matter even more – he was basing that faith in who i was after, which made me have more faith in myself. i really can’t describe how important he has been in my life.

so instead of trying to describe it, i asked him to write “solvitur ambulando” for my tattoo. it was an opportunity to take my unending gratitude and make it visible.

brian and robyn's drafts for my tattoo

brian and robyn’s drafts for my tattoo

when my buddy emily and i went to the bay area a few years back, i bought lovely california poppies letter-pressed notecards. i love my home state’s flower, and when i thought about these clavicle tattoos, i envisioned the poppies on one side. robyn’s side, since we grew up in california.

letterheadfor the other side, i wanted sweet peas (my favorite flower) in a similar craftsman style. i decided to put brian & the sweet peas under my left clavicle because my left side is the wonky one from my stroke.

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i gave some thought to the color of the flowers, and since i love the orange of the poppies, i wanted the sweet peas to also be bright and vivid. i found this picture and knew that it was what i wanted the sweet peas to look like.


i brought all of these ingredients to denise and she combined them and improved them. getting the tattoos took a few hours, but mainly because we were chatting a lot. denise has been and continues to be a big player in my recovery. my tattoos are lovely – exactly what i wanted but so much more beautiful than that. they’re easily concealed, but they also reveal themselves differently depending on the neckline of the shirt i’m wearing. the way denise worked the words in is exquisite (robyn’s response).

morning after

this evening denise is going to touch up some leaves and darken the poppies.

my new tattoos are funny and bold and adorable. and i’m grateful for the people who are all woven together in them.






creative nonfiction

the pharmacy building is my favorite on the osu campus. i don’t know why. this is my view as i head back home from the coffee shop in the basement of the library.

i’m loving grad school – wonderfully busy. here’s the essay that was due today in my creative nonfiction class. the assignment was to write 1200-1500 words, with an episodic element.

If I Had a Million Dollars

“If I had a million dollars,

If I had a million dollars,

I’d buy you a house,

I would buy you a house.

If I had a million dollars,

If I had a million dollars,

I’d buy you furniture for your house,

Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman.”

~ Barenaked Ladies

When the quick phone conversation with Dr. Benton ended, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was about four in the afternoon, and he had just told me that the MRI I’d had at noon to rule out a brain tumor as the cause of my hearing loss had in fact revealed a very large tumor on the nerve connecting my ear to my brain. He suggested that I speak with a neurosurgeon within the next day or two. Conveniently, I already had one of those – my uncle Yancey. But before I called him, or called my parents, I felt like there was something else I should do next. Unfortunately, sorting through the things I’d learned so far in my thirty-six years of life revealed that I had never been told what you should do when you find out that you have a one-in-a-million brain tumor.

So I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I walked out my front door, across the street, and into 7-Eleven, where I bought myself a slurpee and a lottery ticket.

When I was a kid, my parents and I spent many weekends in a cabin two hours east of our home in a Los Angeles suburb. The cabin had no phone, no TV. It had a swing and decks of cards and bird feeders and trails in the “wilderness” down the driveway. In the nearby town of Big Bear, across the street from the Italian restaurant where about once a month we ate a 5-course meal with cheese and apples for dessert, there was an arcade. I traded in my allowance for tokens, passed by Ms. Pac Man and shooting games and the contraption that would flatten your penny and give it back to you with a bear where Lincoln had just been, and spent all my money on Skeeball. I waited all month to hear the sound of the wooden balls rolling down the chute after I put in my token and pulled the lever. The scuffed balls were the perfect fit for my hands, still a little sticky from garlic bread.

I didn’t play Skeeball for the blue tickets that folded out of the machine at my feet. I played for the thrill of watching the ball move away from me at just the right speed, just the right angle, to jump the concentric circles and disappear down the hole marked 50.

It is true that, in each house I’ve lived in since those days, I’ve set aside some space in my mental floorplan for the happy day when I become the owner of my very own Skeeball machine.

Since I sold my car a few years ago, I’ve become a frequent bus rider. The stop down the block from my old house has a shelter, and now I live a short walk from the Transit Center, where each bus line begins and ends with its own refuge from the rain. But this being the Pacific Northwest, in other parts of town I’m often soggy when the bus arrives. While riding bus 6 through my old neighborhood I’ve often admired a wooden shelter, clearly build by someone on the block. A few times I’ve gotten off at that stop just to spend thirty minutes sitting there in that safe haven until the next bus comes by and stops for me.

As I’m carried around town, with the freedom to gaze out the window that I didn’t had during my two decades as a driver, I imagine organizing residents and business owners to build shrines to public transportation at each stop along each route. In my mind I can see these sanctuaries most clearly when it’s raining.

My walk to the other side of downtown often leads me through my neighborhood used book store, usually in search of titles in the trashy paperback series I read to clear my literary palate. This summer I repeatedly found myself drawn to a hardback book with a book jacket the perfect shade of yellow, which I put back on the shelf because I couldn’t justify spending close to thirty dollars on a book when I had a bookcase at home filled with titles I’d yet to read.

The day before I headed out of town on an end of summer adventure with a friend, leaving behind a season of strained family relations and ushering in my triumphant return to a college campus, there I was back in the bookstore with the yellow book in my hands. I decided that this was the time to give in to temptation, so I bought it.

In my rhetoric class, I’ve learned that they call what happened kairos – the right place at the right time. My agnostic friend Jesse calls it synchronicity – paying attention to things that seem to happen for a reason without giving them any kind of divine meaning. This is How, by Augusten Burroughs, turned out to be exactly the book I needed to read on that very day. I never had to use the flap of the jacket as a bookmark because I read it straight through; I inhaled it. I immediately re-read it, loving its weight in my hands, thinking that it wouldn’t have meant quite as much without the security of its thick cover. On a trip that included time on three boats, it was just the anchor I needed.

I grew up in the suburbs – it was a steep walk to the black metal mailbox that tilted on a stand with four others at the end of my driveway. When I’d go with my parents to the post office to buy stamps, I was captivated by the orderly rows of tiny doors, each with their own small lock. I grew up to become an habitual letter-writer, and I still find myself fantasizing about adding a tiny key to my keychain, blithely filling out change-of-address forms in my imagination.

One of my pen pals, Meghan, is a friend from a summer I spent as an exchange student. Meghan lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where she minds a lighthouse and her two spirited sons, not to mention her recent reanimation of the tiny schoolhouse in her village. Just what I would expect from a woman with a 2-digit post-office box number.

Each autumn I send out dozens of Thanksgiving cards, with gratitude for the people who bring good into my life. In the last year I’ve become friends with Jessica, who lives in my same city. I asked her for her address, and when she responded with a two-digit PO Box number, I decided that the time had come for me to channel my envy into figuring out how to get one of my own. Maybe Jessica and Meghan can write letters of recommendation for my application.

I buy exactly two lottery tickets each year, and always on the anniversary of that cardinal MRI (my ‘Scanniversary’). One I include in a letter I write to Dr. Benton, with gratitude for saving my life. The other I allow myself to slowly scratch with a penny from my pocket, like Charlie peeling away the wrapper on his precious bar of chocolate.  He opened three Wonka bars before he found the golden ticket  – maybe I’ll allow myself two more lottery tickets next year.

oh man, i love this book.


my trip to southern california has me thinking about community.

it’s been a while since my last big train trip, so when the opportunity presented itself (more on that in a bit), i used my 15% discount as a person with a disability and got myself a ticket to head down south. my mom took me to the train station the next town over.

i spent a good part of the trip in the lounge car, enjoying the views and reading the book (“awol on the appalachian trail” by david miller) that my skype book group decided to read this month.

my itinerary was packed. it centered around the forum on acquired disability that the national council on disability was holding at UCLA on june 8th. since it costs the same, i added about a week in the LA area before the forum and about a week in the san diego area after.

this trip has me thinking a lot about community – the communities to which i belong, how a sense of community is created, how community helps recovery. those kinds of things.

community by skype

i was picked up at union station is los angeles by molly and her boyfriend dan. molly and i went to high school together for about two years. we were friendly back then, but i wouldn’t say that we were friends. we reconnected via facebook, and when she suggested that we start a skype book group, i jumped at the idea. she brought in her friend theresa, and i brought in my friends susannah and kristin. kristin and i went to elementary school together. susannah and i went to middle school together. but molly, kristin, and susannah had never met. our book group (the conejo grade literary society) really started picking up steam at our meeting last month when we discussed “wild” by cheryl strayed. the author was a storyteller at an event in portland soon after that meeting, and theresa and i went to the festival together – it was the first time we’d met in person, although we both live in oregon. the other ladies all live in southern california, and we decided to get together for a meal and some drinks when i was in the area. when we did, it was so fun for me to see these ladies at the same table with me, and i was honestly amazed by how much they really knew each other through our skype meetings and the interactions that go on in facebookland.

the conejitas (minus theresa)

each of the women in my book group welcomed me into her home at some point during my stay. these women have become my treasured friends, and i’m glad to be able to build connections with them even though we live far away from each other.

community by facebook, texting, and blogging

almost exactly a year ago, i got a message from laura morris, a woman i’d gone to high school with and who knew about my medical drama because of facebook. she said that her cousin, angelica, had just had a stroke (she was in her thirties), and asked if i would get in touch with her. she also said that she’d passed along the address of my blog, and when i connected with angelica it was clear that she’d read it. in the last year angelica and i have celebrated our accomplishments, shared our fears, read each others blogs (angelica started blogging while she was still in her hospital bed) – generally were there for each other. it took a year until we were there for each other in the same physical space, and when we finally met in person last week it was almost anticlimactic.

anticlimactic in the raddest possible way.

community by geography

i’m writing this at the home of my beloved childhood neighbors, the charnows. they’re responsible for this leg of the kriste relay. they lived across the street from me when i was in elementary school. madalaine and michael are the elders of the family. jesse, their oldest son, was born when we were neighbors. he’s 30 now – which doesn’t seem mathematically possible. daughter erin was also born when we were neighbors. she and her husband sam live here at the charnow compound, along with their toddler daughter, thyme. son noah was born after they moved to encinitas – he’s in art school in san francisco. matriarch madalaine flew to phoenix to help my mom drive back to oregon when i was released from my nursing home. michael has always been “mikey-dad” to me.

these folks set the neighbor bar pretty damn high. they’ve had one really memorable set of neighbors since our time together on henrietta avenue. while i’ve been here i’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how great my current neighbors are, reminding myself how fortunate i am to be in my current living situation.

having the charnows as neighbors changed the course of my life. every single person in the family has had an impact on me. i think that having them across the street at such an impressionable age really made me believe that the universe is friendly and on my side. it encouraged me to reach out and look to build community around me – in my neighborhood, in the classrooms and schools where i taught, in my living room watching the bachelor with friends.

me and thyme, the littlest member of the charnow clan

community by chance

about a month ago, i had a call from the vice-chair of the national council on disability (the council advises the president on disability-related issues). the NCD was holding a forum on acquired disability, and the vice-chair wanted to know if i’d be on a panel at the forum. this was the first time since i became disabled almost 3 years ago that i ever really stopped to think about the elements of my disability which are different from someone who was born with their disability. and the first time that i ever noticed that i have similarities with veterans – vets make up the majority of adults who become disabled.

my role on the panel was to address the issue of how an adult can come to terms with his or her new life after acquiring a disability. i can see why my friend sara (a member of the NCD) suggested me for the panel – i feel like i’ve successfully, and happily, moved my life forward after becoming disabled. this is something that i think about – how did that happen? the members of the panel had a conference call and we emailed in the weeks before the forum to make sure that we were on the same page when it came to the desired outcomes of our panel. i did a lot of thinking about what was the most valuable information that i could share with that group of people – lots of folks from various agencies serving adults with disabilities. by the time the day of the forum arrived, i knew what i wanted to say.

each person on the panel was given a few minutes to speak. i was first, and i told this story – when i got back to corvallis after 2 months in the hospital and nursing home, a friend kept saying, “we can’t wait to have the old kriste back.” it was making me really mad, but i couldn’t put my finger on why. i told my friend noah, twentysomething year-old charnow, and he said the sentence that would change my life. “you’re not the old kriste, you’re kriste 2.0.” aha! i still had many of the qualities of the old kriste, but now i had some brand-new features. that really seemed to resonate with the forum attendees. in fact, it was referenced a time or two at other points during the forum.

there was some talk about how to find newly disabled folks to include them in a supportive community. i brought up facebook – these veterans who are becoming disabled are most likely very familiar and comfortable with facebook. i’m a member of a facebook support group for stroke survivors, as well as one for people dealing with the specific kind of tumor i have – in both groups i get to see myself within a range as opposed to being the outlier among the people i spend time with day-to-day. i also said that because of facebook, i think that my little virtual corner of the world has greater empathy for people who are disabled. i’m very “out” as a disabled person and i have a really diverse group of friends (including teachers of mine from high school, people i went to high school with, and 4th graders i taught who are now young adults) who now pay attention to curb cuts and other accessibility issues.

towards the end of the forum, i was stopped by i. king jordan, who was on a panel after mine. he became deaf in an accident in his early twenties, and went on to become the first deaf president of gallaudet university, a college specifically designed for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. he’s also famous for saying, “deaf people can do anything but hear.” he told me that he admired what i said in my panel, and that he would use the idea of 2.0 from then on. i wanted the forum to go on and on – i loved listening to the stories and mulling over things i’d never thought about before. i look forward to the next opportunity to interact with folks from the acquired disabilities community – they made me proud to call myself a member.

kriste 4.0 at the getty the day before the forum

merriam-webster defines community as, “a unified body of individuals.” when i taught elementary school, i came to see that community is also created by shared experiences – this trip has reminded me of the many different ways that experiences can be shared. i spend a fair amount of time feeling grateful for the individuals in my life who are on the roster of “team kriste” – these folks make a huge difference in my life. but my time in southern california has really caused me to notice the many communities to which i belong. before my medical drama, i referred to myself as the little red hen. but now i see myself at the center of a venn diagram where circles of communities overlap. and 3 years out from the events of the summer of 2009, i’m still surprised to find other circles i hadn’t realized were there.

all this talk about community has placed that word at the top of my list of theme words for year 4.

in the very merry month of may

so here we are on the last day of may. looking back, i’ve had a pretty incredible month. some real sadness (i’m still really not over adam yauch’s death. several friends had bad health news. other friends had some difficult life events.), but all of that puts into perspective how truly fortunate i am.

the month of may began with me in durham, north carolina. i had never spent time in that part of the country before, and i hadn’t seen my hostess, jamie, since soon after we graduated from high school way back when. that added up to a fabulous time and many new experiences – my word for this year.

this was actually on april 30th. cut me some slack, truthniks. it was amazing.

on a sunny day early in may, i took myself out to the ballgame. the durham bulls’ (plural possessive, right?) stadium is a short walk from jamie’s apartment. it was day game on a weekday, which meant that the place was crawling with school groups. i enjoyed not having to supervise anybody – teachers don’t have a lot of fun on field trips.

a perfect day for a baseball game.

that weekend jamie and i went out to the coast to visit my friend meghan. meghan and i were exchange students together in high school. we’ve kept in touch since then, but hadn’t seen each other in person since our senior year.

that’s me in the pink shorts, meghan in the orange shirt.

jamie, kriste, meghan – about to successfully climb the currituck beach lighthouse.

while i was in corolla, i climbed the lighthouse, stood in the atlantic ocean, ate frickles (deep-fried pickle chips), hung out with the locals, bought a few books, watched a snapping turtle lay eggs in meghan’s yard, enjoyed two thunderstorms, and on the morning of my 39th birthday meghan’s sons helped me blow out the candles on my cake.

on my birthday, jamie and i drove back to durham, and she put me on the plane back to oregon the next day. i was sad to leave north carolina, and happy to be home. i like seeing different parts of the country, but i’m really content with where i choose to live.

this is about 40 yards out my back door. i didn’t do anything to the picture – it really is that beautiful.

the day after i got back, i decided to go caneless. i carried my cane all over north carolina, and only really needed it on the beach. for months i’ve only been using it as a way to warn people that they need to be careful around me. when i go caneless, i have to pay a lot more attention to my environment, because my environment is paying less attention to me. i feel like i’m undercover – i think that i look a little drunk the way i wobble around sometimes, but other than that you can’t really tell by looking at me that i’m disabled. i find that drivers don’t wave me through crosswalks as often, but pedestrians ask me for the time and directions more often. i haven’t picked up a cane since that day a few weeks ago. it feels like enormous progress.

going caneless means that today i could do this – walk from my apartment to the riverfront fountain and bring a cup of coffee with me.

i had my birthday dinner with my family when i got back. our tradition is that on your birthday, you chose the restaurant and we all go out to dinner. i chose my old neighbors, murphy’s. it was definitely strange not to have gflo there. but i reminded myself to be greatful for all of the meals at murphy’s that i shared with her.

blast from the past – gflo and my niece jessy at murphy’s

the day before mother’s day, my mom and i went on an outing to sisters – about a 2 hour drive east of corvallis. my mom’s buddy connie met us there. we had a mission, in addition to hanging out together in a great little town. sisters is known for its quilts, and my mom was looking for a cute bag to hold the box of gflo’s remains while she’s “in a better place” – the back of the guest bedroom closet in my parents’ house. when we picked up her remains from the fiendish-sounding neptune society, they were given to us in one of those reusable grocery totes. it didn’t seem right, so for mother’s day my mom wanted to shop with her daughter and her FOLD (friend of longest duration) and find a more suitable bag.

gflo was flashy sometimes, and we found a great bag that seemed like something she’d like and was the right size. we walked around town (all three of us were caneless – that was my outing away from my hometurf) and had lunch at a great cafe with tasty food and an outdoor patio.

a lovely bag for a lovely woman

the next weekend, my mom and i headed up the columbia gorge to visit gflo’s sister dorothy, who lives in walla walla, washington. on the way we happened upon the full sail brewery in hood river. lunch was delicious with a great view. we stopped there on our way back, too.

best quesadilla ever

it was whitman college’s graduation that weekend, so walla walla was jumpin’. after dinner my mom’s cousin bill took me out for a walk to see the campus.

see, i take pictures of things other than food.

the next day we went out to the town of dayton, where bill is a pastor. he and my mom golfed. i hung out with aunt dorothy for a while, then went on a stroll around downtown. i stopped for a latte, and the barista asked me if i wanted to drink it on the rooftop garden. my policy is to always answer in the affirmative when asked that question. and my new canefree existence means that i can walk up stairs (that have a railing) with a cup of coffee in my non-railing hand.

in addition to going caneless, may has brought other physical challenges. i’m taking 2 gentle yoga classes at the yoga center, a block away from my apartment. i had done some yoga before my medical drama, and for years i’ve wanted to take a class at this studio. my parents gave me a gift certificate for christmas, and i decided to hold onto it until i was feeling better (christmas was at the height of my shunt-malfunction/potential surgery uncertainty and discomfort). i still don’t think that i feel as well as i did before things went haywire, but i certainly have improved and felt ready to give the class a try. gentle yoga uses a lot of props – bolsters, blocks, straps – to help folks who might have frustration-level difficulty in a more traditional beginning yoga class. i’ve had class twice a week this spring, and i see so much improvement. it’s encouraging that i’m still recovering, but in more finely-tuned ways. i’m looking forward to the summer session.

the yoga center

this month i also had about 6 pilates sessions. it blew my mind what i could do. it also made me spend a lot of time thinking about my nursing home physical therapist, dennis, who started me on the path to being able to sit up on my own, and anne (my home health therapist when i got back to corvallis from phoenix), who taught me how to crawl and to walk with a walker. and my physical therapist brian, who really taught me how to walk. i remember holding onto the counter in my kitchen, doing the grapevine over and over while i worked on relearning how to transfer weight from one foot to the other. and i remember when i couldn’t be in a room with a ceiling fan, because it would send my vertigo out of control. my pilates teacher, lyssa, had me doing things that kriste2.0 would not believe. progress. even as i near the 3 year anniversary this summer.

about a week ago, i took the train to portland. emily picked me up and zari met us at potato champion for dinner. i’d been eating pb&j sandwiches for days as i waited to get my order of pb&j fries. they didn’t disappoint.

seriously. these are insanely good.

the three of us headed over to the mission theater for a back fence pdx storytelling event. one of the storytellers (cheryl strayed) that night is the author of the book my skype book group just read. i met one of the book clubbers, theresa, for the first time in person that night. after the show, i got to see the house that emily and her husband bought. in fact, i even got to spend the night there. the next morning, i met my friend bucko. he gave me a tour of his new apartment and his new neighborhood. he drove me back to corvallis, so we had lots of time to chat.

the view from bucko’s stoop

this weekend, zari took the bus down from portland. when she got here we immediately went to farmers’ market for zia burritos. we spent lots of time chatting, walking, drinking, cooking, watching queer eye – sometimes several of those things at once. i used to babysit for zari when she was a preschooler, and i’m grateful to have been a part of her life since she was a little kid. and it’s so much fun to get to be adults together.

my mom and i took zari for her first wine tasting experience. my friend marcia did the honors.

one evening i took zari to my current favorite downtown lounge, terminus. we enjoyed some drinks and the folks and the view and the food.

happy hour drinks at terminus

this month i’ve also started to really enjoy baking. i found a great book about cooking small pies in muffin tins. i’ve been making a lot of them – there’s dough in my fridge right now. i’m thinking about either salted caramel apple or lemon meringue this evening.

sweet potato pies – in honor of north carolina

i’ve also watched a lot of queer eye in may. my friend jessica mentioned that it’s on netflix instant, and it’s my current reality tv addiction. i spend a lot of time analyzing which of the fab 5 is my favorite, and what that might mean.

maybe i’ll get a doctorate in studying what is revealed by a person’s favorite queer eye guy, monkee, beatle, beastie boy, etc.

which reminds me. i forgot to mention my big may news – i’ll be starting a master’s degree at osu in the fall! more on that later.

and june isn’t looking too shabby either.

the parable of the el camino

i love to watch what i call “recovery porn” – hoarders, intervention, stuff like that. which brings me to obsessed. which brings me to the parable of the el camino.

obsessed is a documentary reality show that follows the treatment of people who have anxiety disorders. the folks on the show are treated using cognitive behavioral therapy. according to wikipedia, “the premise of CBT is that changing maladaptive thinking leads to change in affect and in behavior.” i’ve watched this particular episode of obsessed (“chad & nicole” if you want to watch it on netflix instant) twice recently with friends who are going through big changes in their lives.

chad is a guy who has obsessive-compulsive disorder. he has routines for brushing his teeth, setting things on tables, stuff like that. a lot of his “OCD brain” stuff is about avoiding bad luck – in his mind even directions can be bad luck (“northwest – good, very good.”). when he encounters potential bad luck, he compulses. he does a hand thing that to him wipes off the bad luck. he says that he’s done this for up to 10 hours in a day.

chad says, “everything that i do in my life right now is a sort of OCD ritual.” tops on his list of bad luck are his older brother and el caminos. dr. shana doronn treats chad with a series of “exposures” designed to prove to chad that his anxiety about things he considers to be bad luck will peak and eventually go down.

during the exposures, dr. shana asks chad to give her a number from one to ten, rating the level of his anxiety. after “sitting with” the object of his anxiety for a few minutes, she asks for a one to ten again, to reinforce that his anxiety goes down. these exposures include looking at pictures of el caminos, going to a used car lot and looking at an el camino, touching an el camino, and lying in the bed of an el camino. after several weeks of treatment, dr. shana arrives at chad’s apartment in an el camino, which he proceeds to drive to visit his brother.

so the parable of the el camino is that if you take a good look at something that causes you anxiety, it will eventually cause you less anxiety.

i gave a friend a framed picture of an el camino for a housewarming present (her life situation changed a lot and she moved into her own place after never having lived by herself). i carried a picture of an el camino in my purse and set it on the table during an uncomfortable situation to remind myself that the situation would eventually end. i brought that picture to north carolina with me a few weeks back and gave it to my friend, who kept it on the dashboard of her car. with all of this, the el camino has now become a symbol of good luck (there’s a lesson in there about the power of reframing things).

the elusive “double rainbow”

38 lessons from 38 years

my neurologist hipped me to this great blog called “zenhabits” and this post really spoke to me.  i’ve been 38 for a while now, and it got me thinking about what i’ve learned in those 38 years. i’ll be 39 in less than two weeks, so time to get crackin’.

it seems to me that my life falls into 4 sections, so i’ll break up the lessons that way.

kid –  birth to 17

1. fun is important

2. be as independent as possible

3. don’t let a kid win a game

growing up, we had a little cabin in the mountains east of los angeles. no tv. no phone. i played a lot of games with my parents. which means that i lost a lot of games to my parents. which also means that when i won a game, i really won it. when i was teaching, i loved to play wallball with kids during recess. i didn’t play to demolish them, but if i could get to the ball, i got to it. so they knew that when they beat me, they really did.

me with my folks in front of our cabin. 585 silvertip drive.

4. figure out how to be a good driver

5. neighbors matter

i first met the charnows when i moved across the street from them the summer before i started kindergarten. they’ve been my second family since then. in fact, i think that the definition of the word “charnow” is “noun: good neighbor” – look it up. i have fabulous neighbors where i live now. one of them is a two year-old who now bops into my apartment and makes herself at home. it feels really good.

young adult – 17-24

6. “cotton fields” by ccr is a great lullaby

7. it can be good to live someplace where nobody knows you

when i was 18 i moved from pasadena to arcata to go to humboldt state university. i didn’t know anyone there, and it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to change some things about myself. for instance, my sense of humor had a mean streak. but nobody expected that from me, so i was able to eliminate it.

the arcata plaza

8. larrupin sauce is delicious

9. raising arizona is an awesome movie

my college buddy hethir and i logged a lot of hours watching raising arizona. we ended up speaking a weird twin language based on dialogue from the movie. ah, the salad days…

we didn't even need to stop watching raising arizona to take this picture - self-timer off the top of the tv.

10. southern california is a super place to visit

teacher – 24-36

11. relationships are built on shared experiences

i remember a lot about my own elementary school experience. i remember which teachers liked me and liked being at school, and i remember the opposite. about 30 years after my time as a student at monte vista elementary school, it’s the moments of fun that we had in those classrooms that really stand out. i applied these memories to my own classrooms. i looked for opportunities for fun because those good times spent together are the way that you get through the hard times. looking back on the dozen years i spent teaching elementary school, i remember lots of good times. lots of laughs. and since former students find me on facebook, i know that they remember those times too.

a great thing about teaching is that you can pretty much play "i doubt it" whenever you want to.

12. you don’t have to like everybody (and they don’t have to like you), but you do have to get along with everybody

13. if you want to be a smartass you have to be smart or else you’re just an ass

14. elvis costello has a song for any mood you’re in

15. trying is everything

16. “i wrote it until it said ‘the end'”

you ask a stupid question… early in my teaching career i asked one of my students if his story was finished. that was his answer. he even pointed to the words “the end” clearly written at the bottom of his paper. he helped me improve my ability to talk with people about their writing, a skill that i still use to this day. so thank you, young man. you know who you are.

last day of school field trip to the beach

17. i learned a lot about how to be a good person from “to kill a mockingbird”

18. kids should know their teacher’s first name

19. bars can make great neighbors

20. a long commute isn’t bad if you use it well

21. the word “hamster” is always funny in a madlib

this fact was discovered when tyson used it as a plural noun in a madlib. it ended up saying, “tarzan was raised by hamsters.” this became a catchphrase in our classroom. and “hamster” was used in pretty much every madlib i’ve been a part of since then. go ahead and try to prove us wrong. i dare you.

"tyson is yelling at ms. york."

22. canvassing is fun

when i ventured out of my classroom, i got involved with the oregon bus project. i met a lot of great folks, and i discovered that i love canvassing – chatting with folks about what matters to them, checking out their yards, registering them to vote. i was once even given a popsicle on an especially hot day.

some really great people came into my life because of the bus project, including the gentleman in pink and his wonderful family.

stroke survivor – 36-38

23. people love to get mail

24. it’s amazing to still have people in your life who knew you when you were 5

i took this for granted, and through many conversations with friends i’ve realized how fortunate i am. i know some pretty cool people from way back when.

25. being alive is awesome

26. kindness matters

27. let people help you

28. thanksgiving is the best holiday

i’ve never been much of a holiday person, but man do i love thanksgiving now. and the plan is that this year i’ll host my first thanksgiving. we’ve been doing it at my parents’ house, and since my grandma florence was always a fixture of that meal, i thought that it was time to shake it up. we’ll be eating at the table that my grandma gave me, the anchor of my childhood thanksgivings. i was once invited to my friends ben and janet’s thanksgiving – they invited folks who couldn’t be with family for one reason or another. added card tables to their kitchen table, and did it as a potluck. it was such a good feeling to be a part of it – that’s how i’m going to do it this year. i have so much to be thankful for.

on the back of this picture, in my grandma's handwriting it says, "taken by mark thanksgiving 1979"

29. gratitude can save your life

30. jeff lynne is a genius

31. people who have grandparents are really lucky

for my entire childhood, i had 5 grandparents. incredible. my grandpa fred passed away about 10 years ago, and my grandma florence last month. my grandpa and step-grandma live in oklahoma, and my grandma betty lives here. i had breakfast with her on sunday. grandparents rock, and i’m a better person for having elders in my childhood and my adult life.

me and grandpa fred in what is now my chair

32. good nurses are the same kind of people as good teachers

33. oatmeal is delicious

34. getting tattooed (twice) with your mom is pretty cool

35. the universe is friendly and on my side

36. i took a lot for granted – things like walking carrying an umbrella, and buttering toast

37. what would elvis costello do?

through conversations with my friend bucko (a jimmy buffett fan) i’ve realized that one of the things i love about elvis is that he does what’s interesting to him. he doesn’t worry about what other people will say about it. for a while he got really into country. he did an album with burt bacharach. he’s in an american roots music phase right now. so what would elvis costello do? i think that he’d allow himself to pursue things that he finds interesting. and he’d encourage me to do the same. so that’s exactly what i’m doing. bucko is, too.

38. i will never enjoy wearing skirts/dresses

i’ve tried over the years, and i’m done. finished. and it’s a relief. i release myself.

i'm goofing off because i feel self-conscious

boy, i’ve learned a lot these last few years. this west coast woman will ring in 39 by dipping her feet in the atlantic ocean. seems like an excellent way to start my next trip around the sun.

my life was saved by patrick swayze

some lives are saved by rock & roll. mine was saved by patrick swayze.

i remember being in pre-op with my cousin mark and my mom, before what would become the first of four brain surgeries.

this is me about a month before i went to phoenix for surgery.

it gets foggy after that. i have flashes of memories – moments (my mom reading me a letter) to longer stretches of time (teaching bob dole to flip the bird). i remember being transported to a nursing home – my first time in an ambulance. i remember talking with the EMT about different ways to take a pulse – i’d experienced quite a few methods during the 5 weeks i spent in the hospital.

i was also doing some major hallucinating – the combination of a brain injury and some powerful drugs. i was seeing things lurking in the corners of my hospital room. i worried about a plot my mom and dr. spetzler had to cut my head off in an MRI machine. and perhaps the strangest was that i was being told that i’d been in the hospital for over a month, i could barely sit up without help, and my left arm seemed to have a mind of its own. so at the end of the day i didn’t know what was really happening and what was an hallucination.

when i arrived at the nursing home, i was moved into an empty room. in the middle of the night, there was a lot of noise and activity in the room. they were moving someone else in. i heard someone say, “dorkus? that’s a lovely name.” now with york for a last name, the word “dork” has played a pretty prominent role in my life. so hearing the word “dorkus” over and over wasn’t helping me to convince myself that i was living in reality. i remember hearing someone else say, “dorkus is an interesting name. where did you get it?” a gravelly voice befitting an elderly woman named dorkus replied, “it’s from the bible. my father gave me that name.” i managed to stop myself from saying, “was he illiterate?”

my friend emily has a much better knowledge of the bible than i do. she told me later that dorcas is indeed a name from the bible, and a quick look at wikipedia tells me that she’s mentioned in the book of acts, in the new testament. i also just this moment learned how to spell it correctly.

ok, ok. enough biblical trivia. bring on patrick swayze.

keanu and patrick - dream team?

the next morning, dorcas had the tv on at full blast. she was watching the local news. as i tried to get back to sleep, i couldn’t help but listen. they announced that patrick swayze had died. i remember thinking, “oh i am good, but i’m not that good.” but if patrick swayze really had died, then i was really living in a nursing home because of complications from my surgeries, and that wheelchair next to the bed was really for me. that morning i stopped hallucinating and started to wrap my mind around the new realities of my life. i also made myself a promise that 10 years later i would think back on everything  that had happen and be grateful that it did, that i’d managed to use those experiences to make my life better. and i can even put a date on that decision. patrick swayze died on september 14, 2009, so that must have been september 15th.

now maybe some of that was because i was being weaned off of the powerful drugs i was taking in the hospital. but some of it was also patrick swayze. probably 60/40.