Tightening our belts.

So this went up on the fridge today:

photo (68)

The Brewmaster’s not going to be happy. I was not supposed to clutter up the new fridge.

He may not be too happy about the rest, either. This is the kind of stuff that goes through my head in yoga when I am simultaneously worrying about how I will have enough money to go visit Ballet Boy and why I look pudgy in the mirror.

This way, I figure, we can kill two birds with one stone.

Literally and figuratively tightening our belts.

Gateways and Goodbyes

When I was eight or nine, walking a quarter mile up our driveway to the stone gateway that marked our family cabin property seemed like a huge adventure. I’d climb on the wall, pretending it was a castle or part of a world as different as Tolkien’s stories that my father read out loud to us. The gateway was mine; safe from my brothers and my little sister for about an hour each day. It took all the courage I could muster to climb it on my own as I had seen my older brothers do. I’ve always been afraid of heights.

The gateway and drive to our cabin in Minnesota

The gateway and drive to our cabin in Minnesota

I knew not to go beyond the gate to the road, where cars came barreling around the bend and might not see a small child. The gate marked the beginning of our summer vacation, with no tv, no modern conveniences and lots of family interactions. Leaving it behind at the end of the summer was always sad, but I knew I would be back.

As an adult, I’ve crossed that barrier many times. Now I walk, bike or run on the road without fear. The ownership of the house that we share the driveway has changed, and although they own the property the gate was built on in the early 1900s, they allow us to share the access so that we won’t have to cut down trees and create our own driveway.

In the forty years since I first explored that wall, I have spread my wings and flown through many portals. I’ve lived in England, France, Iowa and Marseille. I’ve crossed many gateways and breached new boundaries. Sometimes walking through a doorway has seemed easy, and sometimes it has been as shocking or surprising as the children in Narnia discovering a new world after entering an old wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful stories.

Rose is not afraid to venture outside of the walls of the gate/fortress

Rose is not afraid to venture outside of the gate!

When I left for college, I thought I was very ready for a new world. Iowa was the most boring corner of the universe and I was ready to meet the intellectual elite at a small private college with an excellent music conservatory, Oberlin College, where I double majored in French and Cello Performance.

Leaving for college meant starting a new life and my first independent adventure as a young adult. It also meant saying farewell to my home and my parents. An image from the day of my departure from home remains branded in my memory. All of my belongings were sitting in the driveway waiting to be loaded into my grandparents’ Suburban. They drove me to college because my father was extremely ill with terminal mouth cancer, at the height of his career as a glaucoma specialist and the chair of the University of Iowa Ophthalmology department.

My vinyl disc collection was in crates next to my then state of the art Sony turntable and receiver. When I came out with another load of stuff, my dad was going through my records. He pulled out the double record of Brahm’s German Requiem and angrily gestured that it was his. My father had been subjected to a tracheotomy and couldn’t speak, so we communicated by scribbles on a yellow legal pad. I sheepishly gave it back to him, feeling bad, but also puzzled that he wouldn’t be happy that I loved classical music as much as him.

Saying goodbye to my father was the most impossible task I have ever had to do. As excited as I was about my new adventure, I knew it was really goodbye. No child or parent should have to go through the charade of trying to sum up everything that that word englobes. Goodbye should be a temporary state.

When my grandparents left me at Oberlin College and returned to Iowa, I remember feeling distinctly lonely. That is when I realized I really had to be brave and pave my own way.

On my 18th birthday, two weeks into my first year of college,  I got the record in the mail along with a sad letter from my father. He had realized that he was not going to be around much longer, and that he was truly happy that I loved Brahms music as much as he did. Two days later he passed away, on September 13, 1985.

From that moment on, it was as if I’d walked through a portal to a new world. It looked and felt a lot like my old world, but it was without my father. My father who had read books to me, played piano every night while I was falling asleep, sung songs to us accompanied by his guitar at every family dinner, had come to every cello lesson, was gone. Forever. There are no words to describe the loss and emptiness that you feel for years. That I still feel.

Ballet Boy leaves tomorrow for Houston Ballet Academy. This is not a final parting. This is yet another gateway to a new, yet similar world. I see big things in his future. When he leaves me tomorrow in a remote O’Hare airport terminal and takes the walkway to his plane, he will be not only facing some of the most amazing years of growth as a dancer, but also all the challenges I faced at 18 when I started college. He will cook for himself, live in a dorm space with 16 other students and be on his own to pace his school work.

He is so ready for this at age 15.

I am not as a 47 year old mother. At the same time my rational mind tells me that this is going to be an amazing future for him, full of fruitful encounters and friendships, the mom in me is screaming, “NOT YET!THIS IS NOT HOW LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.” But life with a gifted artist, or athlete, or being, is different. It is unique, beautiful and precocious. I am wary that I can’t let my sadness at missing the next few years of my son’s development and daily events affect him; he needs to face the hard work he has ahead with confidence and bravery.

Like climbing a rock wall that I found daunting at age 8, like when I boarded a plane for France after college without even a clue as to who I would study cello with, his courage to go out on his own and pass into a new world will open countless doors for him.  That sole act of courage for me in my 20’s opened so many gateways; I got to visit London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Brussels, Amsterdam…and countless little villages with quaint Medieval or even Roman gateways and portals.

St. Remy de Provence, France

St. Remy de Provence, France

Without my bravery, Ballet Boy quite simply wouldn’t be. The world would be duller, less full of song and movement and laughter.

Ballet Boy and I enjoying some well-deserved rest in the hammock at our cabin

Ballet Boy and I enjoying some well-deserved rest in the hammock at our cabin

So tonight I know I will cry myself to sleep again (I have all week), but I also will think of ways to recreate my next chapter in life to be a different kind of mom and woman. I need personal goals to keep me going, and I need to be strong for Ballet Boy as he embarks on such an exciting period in his life.

My fallbacks will be yoga, running, cycling, swimming, dog love, Brewmaster love, baking and blogging. Will you come through the next portal with me and see what’s on the other side?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

THE GOOD

The Brewmaster and I just made the long trek by car from Iowa City, IA to Houston, TX to see Ballet Boy’s final performances with the Houston Ballet Academy and bring him home for less than three weeks before he returns full-time.

It was an epic trip. We learned a few things:

  1. My car GPS is not trustworthy. It takes us way out of our way. Not cool on a super-long trip.
  2. Our phone GPS isn’t much better. Remember the days when we just used maps?
  3. Arkansas is not a butt-ugly wasteland. It is gorgeous, full of bluffs, foothills, forest and greenery. It was worth the 1.5 hour detour on our way down through the Ozarks.

We did okay. No fights, probably because I just let the Brewmaster do most of the driving because that is what he likes to do when he gets in a car.

Houston, Texas, was full of surprises. The Center for Dance is located in an artsy, cosmopolitan neighborhood near an art museum and the home of the Houston Symphony. On a friend’s recommendation, we visited Specs, a wine and booze shop. The wine specialist there had connections to the ballet, loved opera and knew of my aunt who is kind of a BIG DEAL in Napa Valley. He may of sucked us into buying more than we needed.

I left Houston feeling like that was exactly where Ballet Boy needs to be to grow. We saw some amazing upper level dancers who were 15-18. My heart swelled with the knowledge that by next summer my son would be as good as anyone in that group. The teachers all seem wonderful, the building is very new and full of sunny, tall windows, and my son will live on the top floor in their dormitory with 16 other young dancers. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Houston Ballet Center for Dance

Houston Ballet Center for Dance

In Houston, I also met a great group of moms. They are all part of a Facebook group that stems from a blog called “My Son Can Dance.” After chatting with them all summer, it was great to meet in person, exchange stories about how our sons got into dance, and enjoy the common ground of being a proud parent. One woman in particular seemed like a southern sister soul; she loves cooking and is health-conscious, and the Brewmaster and I had fun helping her prep a dinner for all the moms and dads. I know she will have Ballet Boy’s back and invite him over for a few real meals.

Ballet Boy is also reassured by the news that some good friends are relocating to Houston to work at Baylor Children’s hospital and Rice University. BB was close to their daughter in grade school. They even put on a full production of River Dance in the back yard as a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital. The kids were equally bossy and I remember sometimes having a double-whisky after the play- dates/rehearsals. But mostly we have very happy memories of dinners and parties with them, and it is wonderful that they will be nearby.

So what is the Bad?

Ballet Boy is leaving home. At age 15. Sometimes this is more than I can bear.

Inspite of a really amazing merit scholarship that will cover his tuition, the dorms are expensive. I will be basically doubling our mortgage payment, when that has always been a stretch. My amazing mom is helping with the first few payments since she knows this is a hard time of the year for me.

Ballet Boy will be doing online school. My efforts to enroll him in local, free programs that my Iowa taxes pay for did not work out. The most reasonable online school that I have found is the Brigham Young Online High School Transcript Program. They have incentives for students who do well (free classes) and some financial aid. We are still scrambling to get BB enrolled and still don’t know what classes he will take. I’m concerned about not overloading him when he is dancing 9-4:30 all day, so it will be a part-time load.

THE UGLY

Summer, as mentioned above, is not a good time in the life of a free-lance musician and adjunct teacher. Students come and go, between vacations and last-minute plans. My orchestra salaries and teaching salary won’t resume until the end of September. Fortunately the brewery is beginning to take off and soon not all the earnings will have to go back into the business.

And we only have 15 days with Ballet Boy. This is still surreal to me. We are working on cooking plans and shopping together as he will be on his own for his meal plan. Mostly he is resting up, trying to catch up with friends and processing his own journey and fears.

THE END

There will be no end. This is a journey that will be on together. It is worth every fear, panic, scrimping and scraping that we will do as a family to make it work. Success in the arts is an amazing gift. When hours of hard work and pain lead to the creating and sharing of works of art, everything becomes worth every sacrifice that has been made along the way.

The Brewmaster and I, my mom and others who have witnessed my son’s work couldn’t be prouder. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ballet Boy being amazing at age 15

Ballet Boy being amazing at age 15

Better not Bitter

Ballet Boy did it.

After years of hard work, sweat, injuries, and sometimes tears, he has made it to the big league. Houston Ballet Academy has invited him to stay year round in their very select training program. Not only was he accepted into their elite program; he received a half-tuition merit scholarship. There will only be about 20 boys in the levels 7 and 8 of the academy program he has been accepted into.

And yet, today I got a frustrated text from him after a hard morning at the Houston Ballet summer intensive. Other kids could do more turns. Freakishly well. He was feeling mediocre even though he was executing his pirouettes with clean, decent technique. Today he felt like others were getting applauded for their abilities, whether done well or not, and he was not standing out.

My first reaction was almost “suck it up, buttercup.” But a 15 year old needs a little affirmation that it burns when you’re really trying and not getting noticed. We all like a little positive reinforcement, and usually this is not a whiny kid, so I listened.competition

His teacher from his home studio nailed it: he’s now in a place where EVERYbody is good. Really good. And the teachers are going to spend more time telling you what is not working than what is working. More than ever, Ballet Boy needs to focus on his own work, not others.

We’ve all been there. It might not necessarily be in a sporting event. It might be that we are waiting for someone to notice that we have lost weight, or made a kick ass presentation at work. In my experience,  it’s hard not to feel the burn in a running race when I get passed by a ten year old. Or a 70 year old. I do know that when I was 40, I couldn’t run one mile. Now I can run 3, and I have run 10k and a half-marathon. I don’t know what my body will let me do in the future, but I will never give up on its potential.

I am not the elite. I am kind of happy with my mediocre abilities to set small goals and plow through them. But I do know a few things about negativity and how that can poison progress.

What words of wisdom did I impart as a parent? Never compare yourself to others, only to where you were yesterday. Push yourself even beyond where you think you can go. Be patient, good technique will someday pay off. You may not feel the progress now, but in the long run someone will notice it. But don’t wait for that. Keep at it.

Finally, the only one that will tell you every day how wonderful you are and how amazing you will be is your mom. That’s what I am here for, and I will continue to say it. I will think of you every time I walk by your empty room and wish that I could hear you singing Broadway tunes at the top of your voice. I will think of it as I drive by the big Nolte Dance Academy sign on the Coralville strip and miss dropping you off there. I will think of it as I wait for another text or small message on my phone, letting me know that you are doing ok, even on a hard day. I will think of it every minute, every day and every holiday that I have to spend away from you to make this happen. Sometimes through a curtain of tears, but often with a smile on my face as I think of your infectious energy and humor.

Ballet Boy in Houston, TX

Ballet Boy in Houston, TX

You are truly impressive, Ballet Boy. Now get out there and work your booty off.

The Damn Diet

Four months into the autoimmune protocol diet and all I can think is “this damned diet.” Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I do feel better. Less bloating, fewer headaches, no sugar cravings or really food cravings, less brain fog. Even the Brewmaster admits I search less for my keys and my phone.

But what a pain in the ass! We just came home from a bar “soft” opening. Three Van Houzen beers will be on tap there, and the Brewmaster is happy to be a part of a small, family owned joint called “The Barbershop” in Coralville, Iowa. They have a small, simple menu of bar food which they were sampling today. None of which I could eat. The owner, Daniel, kindly tried to feed me this afternoon. He felt terrible that I couldn’t have their burgers, which are infused with delicious, melting cheese. The chips and pico de gallo they make are made with flour tortillas, so that was out. Forget the family recipe of pasta salad, the veggie burger that had sweet potatoes as a binder, the tortilla soup, and so on. It became uncomfortable for me as I tried to explain to them that there was NO WAY they could cater to my weird food needs.

Alien. As in, I started to feel like one. Add explaining to them that I’m deeply in love with someone who makes amazing beer that I can’t consume…ridiculous.

Yesterday I re-posted a funny blog on Facebook that slammed paleo baking. Having had more recipes fail than succeed, I was right there with the author. Almond and coconut flour absorb all the liquids, and it just makes for crumbly, weird textures. For a laugh, complete with images, see the post here:

http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Paleo-Diet-Experience-37631676

Basically, I have had to lower my expectations even below where they were for gluten free baking, which says a lot. For several years I have not expected a bagel to taste like a bagel. I’ve grown accustomed to bread with holes in it that falls apart as soon as you put anything moist on it. Dry cake, healthy tasting pancakes. But Paleo baking has taken things to a new level.

I have added eggs completely back in, deciding that the headache I thought I might have gotten from egg whites was a fluke. Paleo baking without eggs in general is completely dismal. I’ve also added cashews, almonds and tomatoes back into my life with success.

Friday night the Brewmaster and I finally had a movie night, at home, watching “Wild” which I had enjoyed reading last summer. We gorged on sweet cherries during the movie. It seemed healthy enough, but I do remember saying, “We are going to pay for this on the john tomorrow.” I had no idea. Apparently I really can’t do cherries, and have been ill for two days. Massive stomach cramps, nausea and general “wanting to crawl under a rock and hide” feelings. Now I am paying attention to Fodmaps, which Paleo Mom explains much better than I could ever hope to here:

http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/08/modifying-paleo-for-fodmap-intolerance.html

Cherries

I could beat myself over the head and wonder why my body is so reactive. I had a similar moment when we were invited to friends’ and I felt bad that I couldn’t each much, and decided to just go for an ear of sweet corn. I paid for that the next day. I could hate myself. I could hate life.

But something someone commented on the funny paleo post on Facebook resonates. “There has to be something other than food.” Food is not my life. Sure, it has given me a lot of pleasure and I have innate memories, especially from living in France, of food and social events. But I have other things to feed my soul: a dog walk, being held by the Brewmaster, chatting with my son about his Houston Ballet Academy experiences, or watching Ballet Boy perform. Playing Bach or Brahms on my cello. There is so much more to life than food.

Tomorrow I see my functional medicine doctor. I will talk to her about adding some grains back in. I’ve read about cross-sensitivities and I’m concerned that my Hashimoto’s antibody levels haven’t improved. In the best case scenario, the Hashimoto’s disease may still be destroying my thyroid, in the worst case, it could be attacking my brain and causing early dementia or Alzheimer’s. The damn diet may cause discomfort around others, but it has become a very comfortable routine at home.

I have much to learn about my body, but I am now listening. Hopefully it is not too late and I can reverse some of the damage that having a highly inflammatory immune system has caused. After a busy week, I can’t wait to get back into a yoga routine, do some running, and feel better. In the meantime, nap anyone?

Ready or not…

Today a new refrigerator was delivered to our house. Our old one came with the house when I bought it thirteen years ago, and it had done it’s time. We are all closer to 6 feet tall in this household than to the floor, and crouching down to find the vegetable drawer was taking its toll. The old fridge had begun to feel like the wardrobe in Narnia; so many things would disappear or spoil and we never seemed to find them in the back caverns of that old GE model.

Two days ago I began to remove all the photos, magnets, and clippings that were on on the old fridge when all of a sudden I was overcome by sadness at the passing of time. A magnet or a photo would remind me of a certain time in Ballet Boy’s childhood, and tears began to stream down my face as I thought about what the next few years might bring. Pretty soon I was sitting on the floor of my kitchen, having a complete meltdown.

None of this was rational. I am beyond happy to have a new fridge that is clean and bright in my kitchen with the freezer on the bottom and a water maker that actually produces water unlike the old one.

I’m also thrilled for what the future holds for Ballet Boy. He has been accepted into a six week program with the Houston Ballet on merit scholarship and will be leaving June 20. San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Harid Conservatory all gave him full tuition scholarships. Harid threw in room and board, too, and named him a finalist for the Marcelo Gomez scholarship that would pay for half of his expenses if he decided to attend year-round. We chose Houston because they have a company, a training company for younger dancers called Houston Ballet II, and dorms for some of the kids attending year-round. Ballet Boy will audition this summer to go away in the fall to dance intensively while finishing high school online. ballet-glass-close

This is why I was bawling my eyes out the other day. Many people have asked me if I’m ready to send Ballet Boy away. How can you be ready to send your 15 year old off to a private school? These are fragile years, where my son is beginning to express his own character more, sometimes by becoming very critical of his father and I, sometimes just by shining. Although the criticism and negativity can be hard to stomach, it is necessary for him to mature and become autonomous. The shining, well, I still want to be a part of that.

This weekend he had his final dance recital with his dance school, the Nolte Academy. They always include a daughter-daddy dance, which he talked me into doing last year. I accepted more public humiliation this year. I mean, it’s kind of cute or funny to watch middle aged men dance with their daughters, but I just feel awkward as a woman.  I fully admit to watching everyone else and being about a beat behind on all of the steps. The dads in my son’s age group all wore goofy wigs and even pink leopard mini skirts for some of the dances. I stuck to the black tie that they told us to wear, thinking I can’t really pull of the clown thing.

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at the Staples Center - Performance Featuring: Beyonce Where: Los Angeles, California, United States When: 26 Jan 2014 Credit: MediaPunch/WENN.com **Available for publication in UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Australia**

For the final dance, I turned around and was surprised to see Ballet Boy in a Beyonce-worthy outfit: black sheer leotard and tights. We couldn’t stop laughing the whole dance. He was able to shine, feeling safe enough in that environment and with me to express his love for Beyonce.

I tell myself that we will still have these moments when he is miles away. We can Skype, talk, text and I will visit as often as I can.

Ready or not, I will let him go. This kid is going to go far; Houston Ballet is the big time. After all the hard work and sweat he has put into dancing, I’m not going to let a little nostalgia hold him back. He has one more hoop to jump through to be accepted, and then if we can afford it, off he will go. In the meantime, there will be lots of hugs as I enjoy the next few weeks with him around the house a little more now that school is out.

Ballet Boy and I post recital. And yes, he is wearing more make-up than I am!

Ballet Boy and I post recital. And yes, he is wearing more make-up than I am!

Now I’m Listening…

“Listen to your body. If you don’t like a pose, get out of it. Inhale acceptance of who you are and where you are today…” Each yoga class my instructor starts with this mantra. Each class I struggle to accept the fact that I still can’t hold a pose, or that I feel dizzy when we do balance exercises. But I’m finally listening to my body. This has taken years. And a lot of wear and tear to the skin, bones, muscles and vital organs and fluids that make me who I am. In my twenties my doctor in France told me that I was “just one of those people who let everything go to their stomach.” They sent me off with brewer’s yeast and told me not to eat raw fruit. My acupuncturist told me that I was eating all the wrong combinations of foods, and that that was why I was “so tall.” I was confused by his French-Vietnamese expression and thought maybe he meant I was “big” by French standards. The French can be brutally honest. American medicine seems to ignore the essential sometimes, however. We will only treat you if your symptoms fit a pretty dire prognosis, i.e. out of the normal range.

This is why I thought that recent tests ordered by my functional medicine doctor were fine. I had no yellow highlighting on my results; everything seemed hunky-dory. After a month on a natural thyroid pill, Westhroid, my TSH levels were finally much lower and where they should be. But I’ve felt awful. Drugged. Unable to get through a day without going back to sleep. When I sleep all morning, I feel guilty and unproductive, thus my stress levels go up. My doctor decided to test my cortisol levels and DHEA to see if I might be suffering from something called “adrenal fatigue” which often accompanies Hashimoto’s. And apparently my tests aren’t normal. Both my cortisol in the morning and my DHEA were very low in the functional range, indicating that I am in the last stages of adrenal fatigue. I need to listen. Adrenal fatigue is a result of hypothyroidism, but also accumulated stress. Two divorces, the early death of my father, constant financial worries have compounded and driven me to the ground. I’m not invincible and now my body has my full attention.adrenal-fatigue-causes

I’ve been steadfast on my autoimmune elimination diet. Still no sugar and no grains, as my stomach feels much better with these choices. Nuts and some spices have been successfully added back in. I’m giving up on eggless/grainless pancakes as they have been a hot mess (literally) every attempt. We bought a quarter of a grass-fed cow from an Amish farmer. Not cheap, but much cheaper than buying it piece by piece from the local Co-Op. We are excited about squeezing 150 pounds of organic meat into our deep freezer this week. I got a little sad driving by the farm a few weeks ago as there was a lone cow outside. I started wondering if she had a name. And if she was ours. But she’s had a much better life in an Iowa pasture than a lot of animals, and we will be honored to have her help me on my journey towards better eating.amish farm

Besides the dietary choices I am already making, the ways of treating adrenal fatigue are simple, yet not easy to always find time for in my busy days: relaxation techniques like yoga, laughter, meditation, skin-to-skin contact with a loved one (the Brewmaster and Ballet Boy and I all had a good laugh over this yesterday), and sleep. LOTS of sleep. Going to bed between 8 and 10 at night and getting minimum 8 hours of sleep. Musicians work at night! This is not easy. I’ve been getting up with Ballet Boy before school because otherwise I don’t see him with his hectic dance schedule. We all decided that I can set my alarm at 7 a.m. and still see him a bit before he goes. My Fitbit shows that I am now getting about 8.5 hours a night by just crashing before the rest of the family at night when I can. I am feeling slightly better.

Endurance sports are not recommended for adrenal fatigue. Gentle jogging is. Lucky for me I’m still in running rehab and not going faster than 5.5 mph. I’ll just keep it that way and not sign up for any long races any time soon. This has been a crazy year, yet a very fun one. With the Brewmaster at my side, I really do feel less stressed as he helps with daily chores and driving Ballet Boy to and fro. I got to perform on stage with Yo-Yo Ma last week with the Quad Cities symphony, and he let the entire cello section try his Stradivarius during our break. Mr. Ma is a delightful, generous human being and that was an unforgettable experience.

The motto “Keep Calm and Carry On” is no longer a joke. I need to relax. This summer will be dedicated to healing, tending my garden, playing cello and some easy runs, swims and bike rides. No race plans until my body says it is okay. My brain is not okay with that, but hopefully it will begin to forgive and accept where I am today and all the beautiful, happy life events that I can enjoy.

A blurry picture of Yo-Yo and I. Another cellist taking the photo was a little star-struck!

Playing Yo-Yo's Davidoff Strad, formerly belonging to Jacqueline du Pre

Playing Yo-Yo’s Davidoff Strad, formerly belonging to Jacqueline du Pre

Chatting with Yo-Yo about when I saw him perform in the Monte Carlo Casino of James Bond fame.

Chatting with Yo-Yo about when I saw him perform in the Monte Carlo Casino of James Bond fame.