Monday, October 26, 2009


Epilepsy is a disease that is close to my heart. I did a fundraiser for Epilepsy research when I was 16, my father has been researching it my whole life (and most of his), my grandfather had it after his stroke, and my mother might have a very mild form of it after living with a cyst in her brain.

More people have epilepsy than Parkinson's, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis COMBINED! That's about 3 million Americans, and one third of those people don't respond to treatment - that is ONE MILLION people living with seizures and brain damage!!! SCARY STUFF!

Epilepsy has been around forever, yet research on it has been slow. This is mainly because up until the last century people with epilepsy were viewed as being "possessed." It's a scary thing to watch someone have a seizure, so a lot of people are unaware of what epilepsy really is. As far as understanding the body, the brain is considered the last frontier. My dad is one smart dude- and all his buddies are pretty smart too. Yet I can see, in dealing with my mother's health issues, that there is still a lot they don't know. The brain is a tricky thing, composed of dendrites, axons, and synapses... how that translates into memories of chocolate cake or a brain disorder like epilepsy people don't really know for sure (although people like my dad have a pretty good idea- GO DAD!).

David Axelrod- Obama's senior advisor and right hand man - described Epilepsy as "terrorism of the brain" in yesterday's 60 Minutes episode. The Axelrods and one of my dad's colleagues from Harvard Med School appeared on the program yesterday to discuss Epilepsy. Check it out HERE.

Please take the time to watch it! (And for an interesting book on Temporal Lobe Epilepsy read Seized by Eve Laplant - read about that book in my earlier blog post about respecting the brain!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Learning... oh what a joy.

Those that have heard me complain about school for the last few months probably assume that I say learning is a joy sarcastically... but I'm not. I'm actually really enjoying all that I am learning in my life right now (about the world and about myself). I think it is more the sudden switch to the sedentary life style that I'm not enjoying (stimulating lectures= fun, sitting on my couch alone studying= not so fun).

I realized after my trip to Ghana that I want to leave this world a better place than it was when I entered it. I love dance, and I firmly believe that the arts make the world a MUCH better place - no one can deny this. BUT, you have to be a really good artist to make a difference in the world. I'm a really good dancer, but am I a really good artist? Not so much. You can't be a good artist without having some knowledge of the world - and how much can one really learn about the world from inside the dance studio? You see where I am going with this... There are a few things that I have been doing lately (that all oddly seem to correlate) that are giving me a greater understanding of the world.

1 - I am going to class. (Good college student- actually making it to lecture! That is me) The classes that I am going to now, while boring at times, have all had at least a little something this year that has me completely intrigued. In my last blog I mentioned how interesting it has been to learn about identity in my Growth and Development class... next week we learn about the adjustments of young adulthood... I'm sure I will have many thoughts on that... Nutrition has also kept me much more intrigued than I had expected. Rather than simply learning about how many carbs/proteins/fats you should get, my teacher has done a great job of integrating into the class why nutrition is so important. The most interesting segments have been learning about Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies in developing countries and how those contribute to the growth of poverty. Physiology, although incredibly hard, has been sooooo intriguing! I love calling up both my younger sister and my dad and having physiology discussions with them. I always knew those two were smart, but I have been increasingly blown away by all that they know, and all the time they are willing to devote to our discussions to help me succeed (unlike them, science is not my forte). The most interesting lectures thus far have been those on the brain. My mother had brain surgery last year- and there are still some lasting problems with her processing center that no one can really put their finger on. Thinking about her symptoms and my attempts to diagnose her have been quite entertaining for me... probably not so much for her, but she puts up with my phone calls anyway.

2. I have been reading. A LOT. Much more than I ever have in my life- and I am learning so much. Right now I'm about 50 pages into Mountains Beyond Mountains a story about how one doctor has been able to change the world by treating people in Haiti for free. I'm completely captivated. It is so good to learn about the health conditions in Haiti- I already learned about its environmental conditions after reading Collapse. It is also interesting to think about how the lack of healthcare is mostly because of the extreme poverty level, but also CONTRIBUTES to the poverty level since people can't work when they are sick. This was a point that was highly emphasized in the book The End of Poverty. That book (along with my stay with my mom in the hospital) has really gotten me excited about this new path I have chosen in my life. The End of Poverty also captivated me because it discusses the economic situation of Ghana- a place I have been and love dearly because my short trip managed to change me so much. I have also been reading books about the brain, which of course relate back to my mother's health, my father's research, and my physiology class. The knowledge I have been gaining in this subject lets me feel like I am much more involved and supportive in their lives- which is only fair since they have been so supportive of mine.

3. I'm listening to the podcast, Stuff You Should Know (thanks to Emily for the recommendation). I would say it is my guilty pleasure, but really how guilty can you feel when you are learning stuff at the same time? It's pretty darn awesome. This is a recent addiction, so I haven't listened to that many, but those I have listened to continue to relate to my life. I listened intently for a good half hour as Josh and Chuck explained how a hangover works. I giggled throughout and was actually able to follow every single bit of what they shared - thank you, physiology class!!! I also sat for just as long with my face slightly twisted as they explained parasites. My sister LOVES parasites (she said she doesn't want to ever go to Africa because she knows too much about them... sad day). I'll have to get her opinion on their accuracy. Also, for a brief while, my own mother was being tested for parasites!!! Did you know that one can be living inside you for 30 years or more and you might never have a symptom!?!? (My mother spent her early twenties doing field work in Mexico... parasite? quite possibly.) Parasites have also been know to cause brain cysts... and since my mother had a cyst the size of a baseball in her frontal lobe, one does start to wonder. They also talked about a parasite that only exists in one country now days... Ghana. Glad I didn't know that, and that my sister didn't tell me, before I went. But this podcast isn't just science stuff - they also have several podcasts devoted to healthcare reform- a topic also highly relevant in my life. Plans for the weekend? Listening to podcasts and reading - no lie.

To close, there is some post college advice that I got that keeps me motivated it goes,
"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded, but trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked." Trying my best the enjoy the power and beauty I have now! Off to the library to read up on some Pub-Med. Learning... oh what a joy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am a dancer? Identity continued...

So... long day... filled with thinking. (My brain is a bit tired...) 1 hour of yoga - best part of the day, 3 hours of cramming for an exam, 3 hours of growth and development class, 2 hours of nutrition class, 2 hour long absolutely KILLER exam, and then 3 hours of rehearsal... I'm glad to be home and done with the day. Now that my brain is no longer completely occupied with Physiology (yay for test being over) my thoughts have returned to my identity crisis... which is not so much a crisis as an investigation.

In a weird coincidence we spent a very long time talking about identity in both my development class AND dance rehearsal... very fitting. We were talking about teens and how they struggle to find an identity. There are three things that can happen. First, there is identity foreclosure, where people don't ever really learn to think for themselves, simply adopting the same views of the world that their parents have. I can thank my time in the IB program for never having this as my identity. Yes, my religious and political views are basically the same as my parents, but I've reached those conclusions myself through understanding... yay. The second thing that can happen is identity diffusion, where you don't really care about the person you become or the things you do with your life. I can thank my time as a dancer for that- always keeping me focused on goals and caring about people and my role in the world. The final and most beneficial approach to finding an identity is identity moratorium. This is where you take time to explore all the possibilities in the world, remain goal focused, but are able to welcome change in your life (also known as going to college). I'm glad to hear this is the most healthy because it is what I am going through right now. There have been many times this semester that I have worried my decision to take a break from dance has been a mistake because it has been such a significant part of my life and so completely shaped who I have become. As I mentioned in my last blog, being a dancer has been my identity. Now I'm exploring what else is out there, and even though I complain about studying and I miss dance class a lot... I'm really happy. I'm doing stuff that I never had time to do before - like yoga - and I love it!

We also discussed this in rehearsal. I'm performing the week before Thanksgiving in a friend's masters thesis dance. She just showed the piece to the faculty. Overall, they like the movement, but want more from it. Shannon has given us the assignment of trying to find our identity within the movement- and what it means to us. So yes, I have a lot of identities to find and a lot of soul searching to do. And getting there is all the fun.

The rest of my soul searching will be saved for another day. For now I'm happy watching Family Guy and drinking a Fat Tire (before I work all day tomorrow on my nutrition project that I've procrastinated...) Long day finished and it feels so good.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I am a dancer!

SO... now that I am done with the dance program, I am having a bit of an identity crisis. I have been dancing since I was 4 - so since I was 4 I have always said I am a dancer. 18 years later - I'm not dancing for the first time in my life- so can I still call myself a dancer?

I went out in Denver this weekend with my good friends from high school. What an awesome night in downtown Denver! I met a lot of fabulous new people. Of course at the bar I couldn't help but bop to the music - even if I was the only one doing it... A new friend looked to me and said, "I like you, you're a dancer!" She said this without even knowing I've spent the last 18 years of my life dancing, with the last 4 being devoted to my BFA. It was comforting to have her identify me as a dancer without even knowing how true that statement is. YAY - I am a dancer- always have been, always will be. It's always good to be reminded!

Monday, October 12, 2009

5 Weddings Down- YES, FIVE!

Yes, this year I have had 5 very dear friends get married. Diana called me the other day to say she was watching the movie 27 Dresses and thought of me. This weekend it was Rachel and Nate (Nachel) and Gina and Teauger. Sadly- they were on the same day and in different states. Had they been in the same city- I probably would have pulled the same move as Katherine Heigl and paid a cab driver to take me back and forth...

So anyway- I went to Washington for the weekend and played the roll of photographer's assistant (allowing me to get some awesome pics myself) and witness on the marriage license for Rachel and Nate. The wedding was held in the backyard of their friend Anthony in the midst of a beautiful Washington forrest in Gig Harbor. Sarah (Rachel's sister) and I spent the morning helping Rachel get ready - lots of hair curling, make up doing, etc. Once ready, they took some beautiful pictures in the beautiful backyard.

Their wedding ceremony was very small- no more than 30 people. And there was no sitting or marching in... we all stood in a circle around Rachel and Nate. There was a great circle theme throughout the wedding - the rings, donuts instead of cake (YUM)... etc. The ceremony was performed by their good friend Mike - who did a beautiful job and even included some Dr. Seuss - like wedding vows. (I will love you for richer or poorer, quiet or snorer - haha- you get the idea.) AND ultimately the best part of the wedding was how fabulously I watched two families come together, and even though I technically wasn't a part of either- I now feel like I am. I was treated with such kindness, I couldn't even believe it. Really a truly fantastic wedding!

Also on this trip I realized how much I really love Washington. I have only spent two long weekends there (the last one being my sophomore year of high school). But some places just feel like they fit- and Washington is one of them. I was absolutely obsessed with catching the perfect picture of Mt. Rainier while I was there. Before I saw the mountain I naively made the comment that it wouldn't be that impressive since I grew up surrounded by the 14ers of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I was wrong- when I looked out my posh hotel room of the Hotel Murano and really caught a glimpse for the first time I was completely amazed! So amazingly beautiful... and I woke up to a view of it each morning I was there! Rachel is trying to convince me to move, and I have to admit it is something I would definitely consider doing once school is over!

Congrats Rachel and Nate and Gina and Teauger! Much Love!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A mother-daughter story

My New Year's resolution for 2009 was to read more- and for the first time in my life I have actually kept a New Year's resolution and I am hooked. I just finished reading the book Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor - and I started it less than 24 hours ago... I originally started this blog as a means of documenting my travels (because as Sue brilliantly states at the end, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection"), but it has also become a blog about my retrospection of the amazing books I have been reading. Amazon recommended this novel to me saying, "In this intimate dual memoir, Sue and her daughter Ann, offer distinct perspectives as a fifty-something and a twenty-something each on a quest to redefine herself and to rediscover each other as they travel through Greece and France." I was immediately intrigued. First- I love reading about people who have also been places I have been. Having just returned from Greece myself, I was curious. Second - I am a twenty- something, my mother is a fifty- something - my life seemed oddly paralleled with the contents of this book so I ordered it and decided to give it a try.

Oddly paralleled is putting it mildly- I feel as though I am living this book. Ann travels to Greece multiple times (3 times by the book's end) because she is so completely captivated by it. In the last 4 years, I have made it to Greece TWICE and would never turn down a chance to go again - like Ann - I feel a strong connection to Greece's history, mythology, and breath taking beauty. It is impossible to be in Greece and not feel like you are right with everything in the world. Ann and I also did many similar things on our trips. I too hiked to the oracle at Delphi- the navel of the world - and reflected on those infamous lines from Oedipus Rex where he too made the trek. I too ran a race in the stadium of Olympia - breathing the same air and inhabiting the same space as the athletes of ancient times. I too traveled through the Plaka market enjoying lunch outside at a beautiful Taverna. I too marveled at the beauty of the Greek Orthodox church near Syntagma Square and watched the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament Building. I have enjoyed the sunset over Athens from a hotel rooftop while admiring the Acropolis, and I have joined a handsome Greek gentleman, at a lively dinner, after being asked to dance with him in his foustanella with 400 pleats. I have hiked in the winds of Mykonos and stood breath taken in front of Ephesus in Turkey - one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. I love reading about someone who has shared these experiences.

Sue, the mother, is in her fifties and trying to relate to her now grown daughter. She struggles with her feelings of herself as a mother- comparing herself to her own mother. She fears she has been too involved in her writing career and not enough of a home maker. I wonder if my own mother ever has these fears. If she does- I would tell her she is the perfect combination of both. She managed to stay up all night sewing my old ice skating dresses while also getting her PhD and continually proving to me she is the most intelligent woman I know. She has been a brilliant role model and a system of constant support. Sue also is trying to resolve her feelings of getting older, fearing death, and maintaining her health as she ages (having to take a blood pressure machine with her on travels for her hypertension). These are feelings I know my own mother has because we have talked about them. My mom is at this moment trying to find a time to visit her doctors in Utah (and me) to have her most recent round of MRI's, EEG's, endless doctors visits, and an ambulatory blood pressure test. Sue eventually recovers from her hypertension, and I can only hope that my mother recovers from her own ailments SOON!!! I miss having an active mother that will go on Grecian adventures with me and I want her to feel better - I don't feel like I am old enough to have a mother with severe health issues and I know my mom doesn't feel old enough to be bothered by severe health issues... Sue also wonders how her work has a place in the world and how it will make the world better. I think my mom is probably too preoccupied with her health to be too concerned by that issue at the moment- but I know, after traveling to Ghana, that this is an issue that I hope to address in my own life.

Ann, the daughter, has recently graduated from college and is struggling with what to do with her life. She is torn between her more creative side (writing) and a life's work that will also pay the bills. In her post college life she begins to doubt all that she is capable of, even though she is clearly a girl of many talents. She is a shy introvert who is smart, but not brilliant, who is known for her kindness and occasionally quotes the modern dance great Isadora Duncan. (Um yeah, hi! Ann - Sara, Sara- Ann... we are pretty much the same person!)

The only difference between me and Ann is that I have never struggled with telling my mother anything about my life. In fact- she is usually the first person I will tell. My own mother and I have always been very close, but I feel like we have become even closer over the last year. I have been struggling with the "what will I do with my life?" question for a good long while now, and it occasionally gets me down- my mother is always the perfect person to share my worries with. I know my mother has also been having a very difficult year ever since her brain surgery almost 10 months ago (jeez- time flies!). I hope that she feels she can turn to me in the same ways I know I can turn to her. We have both had a year of worries. I worry about my life, but I also worry so so so much about my mom- and I know that she spends a lot of her time worrying about me. We have really been there for each other this year - from late night phone calls about senior concert, to hand holding at doctors visits, graduation from college, getting all of her hair chopped off, my bad breakups, and a Christmas occupied with movie marathon sleep overs and watching the snow fall from the windows of University Hospital - I know I wouldn't have made it through this year without her and I hope she feels the same way about me.

Ann recounts a story from when they were in France saying, "I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth?... I'm filled with a love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough... Then after a few moments of wondering, I come out and ask her, 'What did you pray for back there on the kneeler?' 'You,' she answers." ... Sue later tells Ann in a bit of advice, "You deserve to love yourself." I can picture this situation, with these exact words coming out of my own mother's mouth. I have so realized, this year especially, how lucky I am to have her in my life.

The book ends well - they both find happiness and self acceptance and acceptance of one another and all that love and greatness... It is good to see that light at the end of the tunnel, because right now as I study endlessly for physiology while missing dance and my mother keeps feeling worse and worse... it is good to know that that light will one day be reached. Sue and Ann learn so much about one another while in Greece... when my mother's health returns - we are going. No doubt in my mind!