The Art of Saving Your Brain: Julie Love's "Disrupted"


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July 27, 2014

I just finished Julie Anderson Love's book, "Disrupted: On Fighting Death & Keeping Faith".
Julie is a sweet mother of Claire, who was in the Stapleton Ballet Nutcracker with my son, Blake, several years in a row.  During Nutcracker Season, parents press their noses up against the large window on Greenfield Ave. at the end of dance practices, listening to Tchaikovsky  in the dark as we await our agile angels.  Sometimes, this is the only time we talk to other parents and get a glimpse at the joy our children have while dancing before the big production the first weekend of each December.  I can't remember how I first spoke to Julie, but I do remember that she had to tell me she was hard of hearing at least once.  From then on, I went into my careful attention mode, making sure I was looking at her while speaking and extra loud.  I always loved seeing Julie at those pick up times and thought that she was a wonderful person- maybe someone I could become friends with if I wasn't so busy with my twin boys.

Several years passed, and I got a phone call.  At first I thought it was a prank caller or maybe a very young and mentally challenged woman.  The voice was super sweet, but the words were spoken almost like baby talk and I agreed to help this woman, site unseen, care for her pets while she was away on vacation because Lisa, another friend who I trust and love, had referred me to this family to help pet sit.

As I continued talking to Julie on the phone, we exchanged emails... This is when I realized it was Claire's mom, Julie Love, from the ballet school.  "Oh, Julie!  I know who you are!  You are Claire's mom!" I said with enthusiasm into the phone.  I hoped she understood me.  I was happy to know it was Julie and even more excited to help her with her needs.  I love pet sitting and here was a nice way to help someone I admired.

I can't recall how I had learned about Julie having survived from a brain tumor that caused her hearing loss.  I know someone told me about her book she wrote, and then I had looked it up online.  I planned on reading it and even mentioned it to my friend Peggy, who writes a blog about successful women (and the chocolate that they love!).  I thought it would be a remarkable interview, to write about this incredible survivor; someone right in our own community who had lived through so much trauma and took the time to write about it in a book.  I know, I know... your immediate thought is "Why would I want to read about something so awful?"  Well, the book is not awful, nor is the story.  Julie is a remarkable person with a passion for writing and it comes out in this book.  I did not want to put it down, and I felt so much like I was right there with her in so many ways.

I think Peggy has taken a hiatus from interviews on her blog, being a busy mom of three children, two of them teenagers.  Life with teens sweeps you into many, emotional teaching moments.  It is not that you don't have time to work or be as good as you were before, but you some how find your self wanting to share what time you can with these young adults who you can't imagine making the right decisions and going to College in just six years.  Time compresses the instant they are preteens and they don't always want mom to be near them, yet mom wants to share with them before they are completely on their own.  We seem busier and perhaps more frazzled and drained as we focus all our energy on helping these young people grow up and find the things they love to do.  We let go some of our friends, our jobs, our blogs and even our passions to put our hearts into the kids' needs.  Their passions suddenly become our passions.  My son loves theater, but I was always a shy kid, afraid of public speaking.  Go figure...  He turned me into someone more passionate about both theater and ballet.... and ballet is how I first met Julie.

So, as a busy mom, I was happy to have a phone call from Julie, offering me a simple job with animals, taking care of their family pets for a few days.  What wonderful pets they were! 
"Monkey" the cat, grey and white with green eyes, was so loving, and always purring and rubbing up against my legs.  I tripped on him a couple times!  He really likes to stay close to you.  A new and tiny bunny they had was unbelievably cute and soft.  Long, golden hair around his face and neck, and just the sweetest face ever.  I found myself wanting to photograph all the animals.

The beta fish was a stunning royal blue, the color of painted doors in Greece, sparkling by the water in the sun, next to stark white buildings.  He was alone in his bowl and I felt a bit sad for each of these creatures.  The fish in such a confined space, and the mouse, also alone in his cage with just a wheel and a tiny house he liked to hide in.  Mouse would only come out when I put down a bowl of fresh food, and eat only the sunflower seeds.  He'd dig through the other grains and pull out the large, gem shaped seed in Victory!  Occasionally, mouse would show off on the wheel, looking out at me every time.  It was remarkable to meet each of these creatures on their own level and find what they enjoyed during my short stay.

Monkey was easy- food, pets and getting to venture in and out the door while I was there.
The bunny seemed to enjoy the outdoor pen, getting to "jump" or test out his powerful, rear limbs that could not be tested in the small, indoor cage.  He seemed the most curious, checking out a watering can, peeking inside, nibbling an old broom and running around the pen, several times, as if scared by his own shadow.  When I went into the pen, the bunny would come close to my legs, just like Monkey, the cat.  Perhaps I provided some sense of comfort and security.  Amazing how in just a day or two, these two animals could realize they needed me and that I was comforting to them.  How on earth anyone gets along with out this unconditional love from a pet is any one's guess; it is truly a gift.  Pets are truly a gift.

The unspoken love from an animal is probably one of the best comforts to the sick, sad and injured.  I imagine Julie must adore those sweet animals and relate to them in more ways than most.  having hearing loss and feeling more alone and different might be what our pets feel too.  They want our love but must communicate in very different ways.  They can't always do everything the rest of us do.  They can't understand everything we say, yet they need and rely on us none-the-less.  They still love us.  They come running when we enter the house.  They wag a tail against the floor when we enter a room  They get more excited in their cage as we approach, curious about our presence, our voices, our actions, what foods we are eating or toys we might have.  They do a lot of waiting.  They have a ton of patience, and they don't speak to us with words, which we somehow perceive as "kindness".

You have to wonder if they really are thinking about us or not... but instinct tells us they care about their people more than we can imagine.  It is a truly amazing bond, which I am deeply thankful for.  I hope Julie receives as much joy and love from these animals as I had in just a few days with them.

When Julie, Greg and Claire returned from their trip, Claire was on crutches.  She had broken her leg at summer camp and seemed upset the night I saw her.  I told Claire how wonderful her animals were.  I was sorry she'd broken her leg and hoped she would learn to appreciate her limbs after this trauma.  I think in life, many times, we really do not appreciate what we have until we lose it.  In that way, any injury is a gift, because it forces us to appreciate our health.  Injury makes us seek health in the future, and for most of us, avoid things that are dangerous or beyond our physical abilities.

But what about when we have an injury that keeps us from returning to a normal life?  In Julie's book, "Disrupted", Julie reveals the gradual loss of most of her hearing from chemical treatments to kill a rare brain tumor she had when she was only 30 years old.  She shares how she slowly lost a job, precious sounds and moments with family and friends she used to share easily.  How at first, her mother seemed concerned and learned to sign, but then got lazy about it.  Many things were very frustrating and Julie was not capable of participating in life the way she had known it before.

Yet, "Disrupted" is a remarkable book; it is not a tale of "woe is me", but a sharing of a journey to conquer this tumor in the right way for Julie, and to save her brain so she could share with us in one of the most beautiful, human ways possible- to write.  To write down this story and share it is Julie's gift to all of us for we not only learn to understand the pain and frustrations of the hearing impaired and the cancer patient, but we see them through the eyes of a well educated theologian and preacher.  Julie's gift of understanding what our faith in God means is profound and yet simply told.  It is human and a remarkable testament to the power of believing in ourselves, doctors, the other humans in our lives, an "letting go to God".  In this way, Buddhism and believing in God come together in the moment.  We choose to pray to God in the very moment we need help most.  We pray.  We meditate.  We give in to the present.  We yield to the present.  In this basic practice, two religions collide.  Christianity and Buddhism join together to let us focus on a moment in time and our power of believing to help heal or focus on that present moment.

Raised Catholic, but having attended dharma talks and meditations at Spirit Rock in Marin County, I attest to the power of group prayer and a preacher or spiritual educator being able to soothe us and help us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.  Prayer and meditation are truly quite similar when you think about it. Believing in both ways helps humans to deal with their lives, deaths, and all that we feel inside, each moment.  We are fortunate to feel so deeply and be able to share our feelings with others.  We are also fortunate to have our solitude; our ability to think on our own, alone and free.  Is this not what really unites us all, our ability to think, "alone"?  Our brain's unique ideas?

In this way, Julie Love's decision to "save her brain" regardless of the knowledge of potential hearing loss, and live to write and share her thoughts makes her more alive and special to me than many survivors.  It is a gift to us that she has been able to live and write and be herself.  She has a beautiful daughter now, Claire.  Kind, smart, funny and loving.  It is an uplifting story that I am so delighted to have become a small part of in my community.  Julie is currently a Reverend and parish associate at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo.

I look forward to Julie's second book as she is a writer!  Like her daughter, Julie is funny, deep, silly and smart.  I loved her book.  I plan to gift it to family and friends this year.  Thank you for your gift, Julie!  Maybe I will have to write my own story down.  You are so encouraging.

With Love,

Colleen

Velo Vino: Clif Bar Family Tasting Room, Coffee Bar & Destination for Bike Lovers

June 22, 2014

I stumbled upon an amazing treat in St. Helena, California after applying for a position at Clif Bar this past week.  As I was browsing the Clif Bar website to get a better feel for the company branding and their mission, I took a chance and bought a single ticket for their "Summer Solstice Concert".  It mentioned that the band was made up entirely of Clif Bar employees.  I thought, "What a great way to find out if I like these people and this culture".  So, I loaded my road bike into the car and ventured off to Napa Valley.  Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson really have created a special place of solace for cyclists with this spot.


From the moment I stepped into Velo Vino ("bike" in French + "wine" in Italian), located at 709 Main Street on Route 29 in St. Helena, I felt a sense of family, history and cycling.  Gary's bike "Fred", an Italian bike, shares the story of his life in pictures and display, where you can learn about Gary's cycling past in Italy.

Pictures and bikes are carefully displayed in each corner of the space, with attention to detail and layout.  Artfully displayed cycling books, cook books, jewelry, bike coloring books, and bike clothing are also available. Each item selected has a sense of quality; unique and special gift choices vs a "cycling shop feel".  The friendly staff in lime green t-shirts welcomed me when I approached them, shared info about the tasting room, and provided me with a free cycling map so I could go for a ride before the evening event.  There are group rides on weekend mornings that set off from VeloVino, where you can grab espresso drinks and load up on a full selection of Clif Bar products, including Kit's Organic Bars (my personal fav of late is the Lemon with Chia Seeds).

Having already looked at their well-designed and colorful bike map online, I knew I wanted to attempt to ride up to their actual vineyard location on Howell Mountain.  I only had 2 hours before the concert, so I set off. (I had no idea what I was getting into... but stay tuned to find out)

Crossing route 29 from their tasting room, the map takes you through a quaint neighborhood, over the old stone "Pope Street Bridge", and across Route 128 and on to Howell Mtn. Road.  Once on Howell Mountain Road, you just climb.  Climb, and climb, and climb... up through shady oaks, with views of vineyards in the distance.

At the 2 mile mark, you intersect a road with many colorful signs.  Another mile up or so, you pass a stone wall with a metal pig sculpture.

The best part about this route is the shade and relative lack of traffic.  I saw maybe two cars and a single bike the entire time I was on the road.  It was a perfect workout and test of my road bike. 

I made it up to the 2,900 ft. intersection of Howell Mtn. Road/Deer Park Rd/White Cottage Rd.  The vineyard was further up the road another 4 miles, but I'd run out of time.  So, it was time to head back downhill to the concert. No complaints here.  The decent was FAST!  Like skiing.  I loved it.  I lowered my seat and learned how to take it easy on my breaks... It was really, really fun.

Back at VeloVino, I was super excited for dinner.  The tasting room has two HUGE bathrooms that are modern, clean and were perfect for freshening up and changing out of my bike clothes.  For this event, a $10. food ticket provided many food choices and plenty of vegetarian options, as well as pork, chicken and fish at outdoor tents and a gourmet food truck near the music.  Water and tables with fresh summer flowers were arranged right outside the tasting room in the back where the stage was set up for the band.  There are some nice photos of the event on the Clif Family Instagram page.

I decided on a plate of 1/4 Wood Oven Chicken with Lemon-Basil Aioli, Heirloom Beans and Arugula.  A wine glass was provided to each guest when we arrived in order for you to taste a variety of wines.  I tried the perfectly cold 2012 Reisling, which was dry, but very refreshing, as well as a 2011 Petite Sirah.

What I hadn't prepared for was meeting Kit Crawford and watching Gary Erickson right up on stage, belting out jazz trumpet like a true professional.  All the players and singers were really talented.

The couple looked just as the video of Velo Vino had portrayed them,  and I told Kit how impressed I was with this event, and how welcome I felt.  It really did feel like a family event that I had just stepped into as an invited guest.  Every employee was helpful and kind, and we all danced together en masse to tunes provided by the Clif Bar Company Band until 10pm.  

At one point, the band announced that a woman down front had a Birthday- She had been dancing up a storm and I had noticed her artsy outfit; a black tunic with three brightly colored shapes at the bottom, and hot pink socks with black, Mary Jane-style shoes.  She looked like a hip artist, but I never would have guessed she was turning 70!  This goes to show what youthful attitude, Clif Family mission and exercise can do for you.  I wondered if she was a Clif Bar employee.  She was clearly awesome.

In fact, I came away from this entire evening with a phenomenal feeling of wellness.  Kind, creative, passionate people with fantastic taste in food, display of product and marketing of brand.  It wasn't at all forced or packaged.  Because Kit and Gary were there, it really was their family business and "home", much like the feeling I have in Marin when visiting a family farm and meeting Mickey Murch and his family at Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas, or Liz Daniels and her husband out at Cow Track Ranch in Nicasio.  Kit and Gary have created something intimate with this spot.

Like these local, Marin Organic producers, Kit and Gary now have a Farm and CSA Program for organic and local produce.  Their farm, just 7 miles further up Howell Mt. road from where I biked, has certified organic fruits, herbs, and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash, apples, plums, garlic, potatoes, broccoli, kale, chard, greens, onions and more.  CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Members may pick up their weekly box at Velo Vino every Tuesday, May through October.  CSA members also receive 20% off wine and food in the tasting room.
When it was time to go, I didn't really want to leave.  I bought lots of gifts to bring home, including a cycling necklace and Bicycle Coloring Book with art by Taliah Lempert.


A very nice woman invited me to someone's house to continue the evening fun, but I declined, realizing I had a fairly long drive back to Marin.  Kit was very kind to offer me coffee when I mentioned that I had to drive.  Again, the sense that they are local producers and not a corporation came through with her kind offer.  I left feeling really happy, positive and believing in these wonderful people.  Yes, I would love to work for Clif Bar, now so more than ever, and.... I can't wait to bring some friends out to Napa and share a ride and this cyclist's respite with them.

Grazie, Velo Vino!  Until we ride again.

My 1st Experience with BikeShare in San Francisco


At my lunch break today, I was determined to try out a BikeShare bike at the corner of Howard and 2nd.  I brought my helmet and was prepared to ride down Howard, turn on 6th and end up at Blue Bottle Coffee in Mint Plaza... I did not find Mint Plaza, but I saw it later from 5th Street. 

What I realized as a newbie to riding in this part of the city, is that I felt like I was in "survival mode", just making sure I did not get doored or squished by a bus on Market Street.  It's not as easy as it looks to do this happy blue bike thing.


Here is what I learned.

"It's not as easy as it seems to get a bike."

- The user interface asks you to press a   > button on the left of the screen to continue... it should be a more intuitive interface... a green button that says "Next" on the right side of the screen.


- Once you pay, it is hard to find where you put your code in to get the bike out.  It is down low, on the left side, under the left handle-bar.  Once you punch the code in, the bike is "Open" to take, but I tried to pull it out and nothing happened.  Then my green light turned yellow and I had to call the number to get help.


-I called the number and they explained that I had to swipe my credit card again and then it would show "Request a New Ride Code" on the lower left corner(the smaller white button under the button that says "Rent a Bike". This gave me a new code.

Once you punch the code in and get a green light...
- You have to PULL REALLY HARD to get the bike out of the rack.

- Adjust your seat before you try to ride in traffic.

-Be prepared to go on the sidewalk.  It's scary out there.


My Ride

Howard Street was pretty good because they have Bike lanes all away down to 6th.  However, at every large intersection, buses and cars turn right and take up the bike lane by packing 4 or 5 cars down from the intersection crossing over the bike lane.  This is when I didn't feel comfortable and started pulling my bike up on the sidewalk and crossing at the light on foot, pushing the bike with pedestrians.  Then I would re-enter the bike lane after the crosswalk.  

On sixth, you're basically riding between parked cars and other cars moving next to you, and there is no dedicated Bike lane there.  On Market, although there are green Bike lanes now, the buses pull right through them to pull over to the bus stops and block the bike lanes.  This is where I pulled up onto the large, wide brick sidewalks on Market and just rode on the sidewalk to get around the buses. Then I would pull back into the bike lane off the sidewalk when it seemed safer.

The experience for me was actually okay because I ride fairly regularly, but I could never see my parents doing this or anyone who is not comfortable on a bike.  It is definitely not easy, but it's certainly faster than walking.

It takes some understanding of how to use the machines to return the bike and get another one out.  What they want you to do if you rent a 24 hour bike, is to ride it to another station within 30 minutes and then return that bike and pull out another one.  The point of this is actually that the bike is locked at the new station that you stop at.  

So if you ride to get lunch, you would pull into the bike station on Market, lock it into the machine, get your lunch, return to the card swipe machine and swipe your card, then punch the "Request a New Bike" code button again.  Then you would pick any bike at the station, punch in your code, and pull that new bike out and return to the next station. (it might be the same bike you took out before, if no one else has taken... Or it could be a different one.)

I rode the Howard - 6th - Market -2nd and Howard rectangle that took me 45 minutes, including standing in line for coffee.  There are no coffee or beverage holders on these bikes, but a platform with a bungee.

I got some exercise and adrenaline from being in "fight or flight mode" so I didn't really need coffee after my ride.

I wish San Francisco would divide all bike lanes from bus lanes with a median and/or put bike lanes on the sidewalks on Market around all the bus stops.  It was fun, but the difficulty is fairly high at the moment.

Update

To be fair, there are lots of places in SF that are very bike friendly, but this section I was in today where I tested BikeShare is probably one of the busiest downtown areas. My opinion is they should create a totally separate bus route and a totally separate bike route so the bikes and the buses never have to cross paths at all.

The bike ride from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina through Fort Mason and around the Embarcadero to AT&T Park is a lovely and much safer ride.  I have done that many times and never felt stressed out.

Also, biking in Golden Gate Park and around the museums is also a lovely and safe place to ride.

Art on Starbuck's Reusable Coffee Cups and The History of the Clenched Fist in Graphic Design

When I was working as a Production Artist for Pearson in Mill Valley, I would walk down the hill to get lunch. I noticed Starbucks had a one dollar reusable coffee cup that would give you $.10 off a cup of coffee when you used it. I had already made it a resolution of mine to use my own cups at coffee shops for the year, so I was happy to see that Starbucks in Mill Valley was doing this promotion.

The cups were very plain and white just like their paper cups. This gave me the idea to draw on the cup. I used sharpies to decorate a couple cups with spontaneous, free draws... Doodles, really.  Nothing was planned except that I wanted to use a bike theme and I needed to you incorporate the Starbucks logo into the design.  The first two cups were all about mountain biking:


A local friend of mine, Lydia, noticed these coffee cups on Facebook. She was doing a fundraiser for her friend Claire, who had breast cancer, and she said she would love a cup created for the SF Avon breast Cancer Walk.  It took me a while to get started on this project. In the meantime, my friend Lydia broke her arm while training for the SF Breast Cancer walk.  She actually got a pink cast, in honor of the event!

Lydia's pink cast gave me the idea of the arm up in the air for strength and power and all of the posters we've seen from 1960s on with the clenched fist raised showing power to the people.  Here is a great brief history of the art of the clenched fist .

So, I made a pink fist for Lydia's cup.



I added lots of pink breast cancer ribbons...

I changed the Starbuck's gal to "Queen Lydia" with shorter hair and pink arms raised in strength.


Today I learned that Claire's cancer is in remission, but she is still undergoing her final rounds of chemotherapy.  I couldn't be more delighted with this news.  If you would like to contribute to "Team Claire" in the SF Breast Cancer Walk, you may do so by clicking here.