15 December 2014

Repeat the Sounding Joy

2014, in many ways, has been both the hardest and most beautiful of my life. I don't know if I've ever recognized the passing of time as much as I have these last twelve months. When you long for something, time is confusing; both fickle and precious.

This weekend was the first in months that felt the way a weekend ought to feel. It involved the holiday tents and ice skaters in Central Park. Long walks with cold puffs of air every time I opened my mouth. Hot chocolate to temper the chill. The aroma of gingerbread cookies fresh from the oven on Sunday morning. The indulgence of a single pink peony for $13. Naps, reading, slippers and pizza for dinner.

I haven't personally thanked everyone who's reached out the past several weeks. I hope you know how much I appreciate your kindness.

To you and everyone:

"For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything this goodness sends."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

P.S. A few things I'm loving lately:

This perfect gift for the pint-sized chef in your life;
My beautiful new watch (an early Christmas present from Tiho);
These stunning pour over coffee stands;
This important reminder;
Timely words about holiday traditions;

30 November 2014

A New England Thanksgiving

Just a few iPhone snapshots from our Thanksgiving holiday at home on Cape Cod. We feasted, we lounged, we strolled and we laughed. The laughter felt really, really good.

Items of note:

Touring the Gardens Aglow at Heritage Plantation;

Staying at the 1750 Inn Bed & Breakfast and basically becoming best friends with the innkeepers (Whuddup Jan & Charlie!);

Playing Heads Up! after dinner one night and falling over in hysterics (I totally peed my pants).

Photos: November 2014 // iPhone 5 
Follow along on instagram: @exquisitebanana

23 November 2014

Hope Is Grief's Best Music

It's a peculiar thing to share sad news on social media. A part of me just wants to disappear or post frivolity until I feel whole again, because that feels easiest. But, it doesn't feel honest, and I need to be honest in the acknowledgment of my own grief right now.

I don't know how else to broach the topic aside from the truth: we lost our baby.

We conceived mere days after I published this post, which feels ironic in itself.  I couldn't believe it when two pink lines showed up on the home pregnancy test (and then again, darker, on two more over the next several days). Once the shock subsided, elation set in. I scheduled my first prenatal appointment, ordered the pregnancy books I'd been bookmarking for nearly a year and quietly began sharing the happy news with our families and close friends. We were so thrilled.

Then, two Fridays ago, I started to feel mild cramping while teaching. I wasn't too concerned by it, because everything I read suggested it was normal, especially at six weeks, and that I only needed to worry if the cramping was accompanied by bleeding. By Saturday, I began spotting lightly. My worry increased, but I didn't want to let myself crumble into full-on anxiety unless I had a valid reason, so I moved my doctor's appointment up to earlier in the week to help alleviate my fears. I happened to have two photo shoots that day which kept me busy and distracted. Sunday passed uneventfully, but I still went to sleep feeling unsettled.

When I woke up on Monday morning, I knew from excruciating physical evidence and a hollow feeling deep in my gut that a miscarriage was underway. Two blood tests and one ultrasound later, my worst fear was confirmed: I wasn't pregnant anymore.

The emotional anguish is unlike anything I've ever experienced. My little world came to a screeching halt while the rest of the world continues to spin. It feels particularly unfair because of how long we waited for this baby. I experienced a dark moment right after it happened where I wished we hadn't ever found out we were expecting, because to be given a gift as sweet as that after months of praying for it--only to have it ripped away shortly thereafter--feels especially cruel. I also have this overwhelming sense of guilt that because this all unfolded in a matter of weeks, we didn't have the opportunity to tell everyone we were planning on telling, and now they're finding out about both the pregnancy and the miscarriage here. I know that worry seems insignificant and ridiculous, but it matters to me.

Due to the unfortunate physical repercussions of miscarriage, I was at home on doctor-ordered bed rest for a whole week. Now that I've been back at work for several days and am slowly catching up on answering client emails & editing photo sessions, I feel a little bit lost. Reinstating a "normal" routine is both restorative and heart-breaking.

I've found some solace in reading other people's stories about pregnancy loss while curled up in bed, although it makes me ache to know that so many women have these stories to share. 1 in 5. Twenty percent. That's a sobering statistic, and one that keeps flashing through my brain over and over again. 

How can something so common be so painful?

Do you believe in signs? I do. Some of you may remember that I lost my maternal grandmother on my birthday two years ago. She was a woman I resemble in a lot of eerily similar ways, and when I noted the date once it was confirmed we lost this baby, it didn't surprise me that it was her birthday: November 11th (11:11). I cried and cried and cried because of the significance. You see, my nana experienced two or three miscarriages in between the births of her three children. My sister, who rushed to meet me and Tiho after my initial doctor's appointment, tenderly pointed out that maybe the timing of this was nana conveying that she is here with me, holding my hand and letting me know that it is going to be okay. 

I wrestled for a while in deciding whether or not to post this. I considered waiting until we had happy news to share, but you know what? Sometimes life is sad and uncertain, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm human, you're human and we all go through tough shit. It's confusing, because while I certainly don't want this struggle to define me, it is a part of me now. I share because it's all I know how to do. I don't believe human beings are meant to suffer alone: by writing this down, I hope that somebody, somewhere, feels even the smallest sense of comfort, solidarity, connection or understanding.

I know we will heal and move forward from this and eventually conceive another baby. If there is any shred of goodness to be found in this experience, it is the knowledge that my body is capable of getting pregnant on its own. I strongly feel the presence of a tiny soul close by who is fighting hard to find us, too (maybe that makes me sound nutty, but so be it). I am equally excited and terrified by the prospect of trying again. In the end though, isn't that what parenthood is all about? Beauty and terror? Loving your child(ren) so fiercely that absolutely nothing trumps their wellbeing? Feeling your heart lurch outside of your body in the wake of their harm?

I came across these words in a children's book at exactly the right time. They perfectly convey my emotions surrounding this neverborn child: 

"I wanted you more than you ever will know...
So I sent love to follow wherever you go.
In the green of the grass...in the smell of the sea...
In the clouds floating by...at the top of a tree...
At the sound crickets make at the end of the day...
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved...they all say."

*Painting by Beth Allen. It makes me feel connected, and for that, I am grateful. Despite how profoundly sucky this whole situation has been, I am still grateful. Grateful for my ability to feel things intensely, grateful for unfettered trust in the universe, and, more than anything, grateful for hope.

P.S. Below, some additional reading if you're interested (it helps to know we aren't alone when navigating the complexity of this poignant heartbreak):

Suite 994 (I've followed this blog for years. I returned the other day and re-read her entire archive).

06 November 2014

At This Point In Early November

It's raining today and the trees outside the window are the richest hues of copper and gold. I feel more attuned right now, noticing the sound of my shoes crunching over the leaves on the street, or how my living room currently smells like the coziest combination of evergreen and cloves, or how the kiddos on the city sidewalks are pink-cheeked and wearing tiny wool hats.

I love this time of year; the transition of the harvest season towards the holidays. I love curling up under my cream-colored cable knit throw on the couch in the evenings and feeling sleepy only minutes after dinner and not caring if everything on my list gets accomplished each day. I love sipping hot soup from a mug and hatching plans to make a wreath from red berries & twisted eucalyptus and the way the late afternoon light bathes everything in the softest, warmest glow.

I love moments that make me startlingly aware that a memory is being made; for example, when Tiho picks me up and twirls me in the kitchen in the middle of chopping onions to put on our pizza.

At this point in early November, I am gratified by the bountiful gifts surrounding me and the unbridled appreciation I have for them. We, as humans, all too frequently forget these gifts; the gifts derived from nature, from kindness, from interconnectedness.

As the season of giving commences, let us all strive towards a little more intentionality.

03 November 2014

Sunday Routine

"It's not that we spend five days looking forward to just two. It's that most people do what they enjoy most on those two days. Imagine living a life where everyday are your Saturdays and Sundays.  Make everyday your weekend. Make everyday a play day." 
-James A. Murphy

6:54 AM: I lazily glance at my phone and wonder why on earth I feel awake and rested before 7 AM on a Sunday. I then realize that daylight savings happened during the wee hours of the morning, so my body feels like it is 8 AM.

7:25 AM: I decide I'm no longer sleepy, so I slide my feet into too-big-but-perfectly-broken-in slippers (Tiho's old pair) and pad into the kitchen to brew some coffee. While there, I spontaneously decide to bake something because I feel like I should take advantage of this extra hour. Fifteen minutes later, I slide pumpkin bread into the oven, turn on the dishwasher and wait for the kettle to whistle. 

8:10 AM: I sauté a bowl of spinach and fry some eggs to put on toast. Tiho sleepily wanders into the kitchen looking bewildered as to why his wife is awake before him (and already cooking!) on a weekend morning. 

8:30 AM: We eat breakfast together at the table listening to Frank Sinatra on Pandora because we are cliché. 

9:15 AM - 12:15 PM: I work on the computer for a while (edit photos, write a handful of student reports for parent/teacher conferences this week, etc.). I pause around 11 AM to snack on a slice of fresh pumpkin bread and a clementine.

12:30 PM: I get dressed, throw on a little make-up and try to tame the bed head. I have an afternoon photo session, so I gather camera equipment and pack up my bag.

1:30 PM: I eat a quick lunch and dig a wool hat out of the closet because the weather app (and the window) warn me that it's blustery and cold.

2:00 PM: I hop into the car and drive to the session location (a state park), about 35 minutes away.

3:00-4:30 PM: Happy to wear my photographer cap for a bit and catch up with clients during our session (we discover a sheep pasture!).

5:15 PM: I arrive back home and immediately change into sweats before unwinding for an hour on my laptop.

6:15 PM: Tiho presents dinner (honey glazed chicken wings, roasted squash & rice pilaf) and we eat it together on the couch while watching the Patriot's game.

7:00 - 9:00 PM: I finish up work (emails, conference reports, draft a to-do list for the upcoming week, etc.).

9:00 PM: Time for a quick shower and general nighttime routine. 

9:30 PM: I organize my desk,  choose tomorrow's outfit and check to make sure all of Monday's essentials are in my tote.

10:00 PM: I crawl into bed and spend a few minutes writing some thoughts in my journal.

10:30 PM: Good night! 

25 October 2014

October 2014 Self-Portrait: Catching Up

We're all just going to agree to forget that I failed to document August & September portraits, okay?

Life was a tad overwhelming these past few months, which meant sitting down to take a decent picture of myself was pretty much the last thing on my mind.

And, if I'm being totally forthright, this one technically isn't a self-portrait either. It was snapped by my 5-year-old "client" at the very end of our photo session in Central Park last week. He asked to take a picture of me, so I made one of my goofy weirdo faces that I constantly make while photographing kiddos in order to draw out natural smiles. He nailed the composition, don't you think?

Here are a few other things currently on my mind:

1). You were all so kind and supportive in your responses to this post. I don't really know what else to say besides 'thank you.' Your love and positive vibes are greatly appreciated.

2). Speaking of positivity, let's take a second to applaud a few delicious things I'm still allowed to eat while following ridiculous diet restrictions (because being gluten AND dairy free--while necessary right now--is most definitely ridiculous): french fries, tacos with guacamole, pad thai, roast chicken, eggs and bacon, fresh mango, macarons, falafel with hummus, pickles, potato chips, popcorn...hooray!

3). I just splurged and purchased this bag from Madewell. Best decision ever. I love it and let me tell you,  it fits everything plus the kitchen sink.

4). Anyone have tips on how to convince my husband that "operation: adopt a cat" is a totally necessary and a wonderful idea? "Operation: adopt a dog" will happen as soon as we move, hopefully this coming spring (our condo doesn't allow dogs, jeez), but in the meantime, I'd really love a cuddly kitten. However, Tiho is of the opinion that all cats are evil AND claims to be allergic. I'm very skeptical.

5). Let's discuss Halloween costumes, please. We're invited to a costume party this year on Halloween night, and while I'm tempted to order the mustard or m&m costume off amazon, I'll willingly entertain other ideas. Note of importance: I would really like to wear a cape.

5). I already shared this on facebook, but it needs to be shared here as well: this NY Times article sums up my philosophy of education perfectly. Teaching Pre-K is such a privilege.

That's all I have for you today. I just wrote this post instead of chipping away at the editing pile, so now I need to go pour myself a cup of something caffeinated and get down to business (pun intended!).

Here's a pretty yellow leaf, just because.

13 October 2014

Worth A Thousand Words

Weddings, engagements, newborns, kids, families...

This is but a handful of favorites from the past several weeks. Nothing really compares to photographing people, together, enjoying themselves.

(Please note: I am fully booked for the remainder of 2014. Currently accepting inquiries for 2015. Visit the rates page to view updated session info & pricing.)

01 October 2014

Let's Talk About...Fertility

I always figured that when we were ready to have a baby we could do so according to our own desired timeline.

That timeline passed several months ago.

I've wanted to write this post for a while now, but couldn't quite muster the full resolve. Putting things on the internet is permanent and makes me feel vulnerable. Discussing something as private as fertility issues on a forum as public as a blog scares the crap out of me.

But, here we are. Let me start from the beginning.

About a year ago, Tiho and I decided we were ready to bring a baby into the world. I have irregular cycles, so we assumed it would take at least a few months of trying. We agreed to casually try for six months in order to avoid putting too much pressure on ourselves or the process. During that time, I was charting my cycles to track ovulation. Come June, we still weren't pregnant and I'd only had three periods since December 2013 (that means I'd only ovulated three times in a seven-month timeframe, and therefore, only had three chances to conceive).

I knew something might be wrong but was secretly hoping that traveling to Europe after a busy school year would help me chill out and jumpstart my cycle (my body/cycles are majorly affected by stress). Moreover, many well-meaning people who knew we were trying to conceive kept telling me to "just relax and it will happen." Lo and behold, I got my period on our last day in Paris. According to my charts, I hadn't ovulated since my previous period, which meant it was an anovulatory cycle: essentially, the past two months of trying were in vain (I never had a chance to conceive because I had never ovulated). I cried hard at that realization. It was one of the first times in the process where I felt that something could be legitimately wrong. I resolved to make an appointment to get checked out upon our arrival back in New York.

In July, I sobbed in my OB's office when I informed her we were trying to have a baby and it wasn't working. I tearfully told her that after a lot of online research and careful tracking of my own symptoms, I was pretty certain I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, commonly referred to as PCOS. After several blood and hormone tests as well as a sonogram to check my ovaries, it was confirmed that I did indeed have PCOS.

So what is PCOS? It's tricky to explain because it manifests differently in different people but accounts for infertility issues in 1 out of every 10 women. A big part of the problem with PCOS is insulin resistance due to endocrine abnormalities. Resistance to insulin increases the body’s blood sugar (glucose) levels which effects normal ovulation by preventing the body from releasing an egg, or, limiting the maturation process of the released egg. This directly affects fertility and the ability to conceive. You can read more about PCOS here, here or here, but what I just explained is pretty much exactly what's happening in my body. The good news? It rarely results in untreatable infertility, meaning it is very likely I can get pregnant on my own without the assistance of fertility drugs: it just will take awhile (my doctor told me that for my specific case, it really all comes down to timing. If a "normal" couple typically conceives within six months, my timeline may be double or triple that).

What happens now? Since August, I've drastically changed my diet (cutting out gluten & refined sugar) to help regulate my blood sugar abnormalities. I also stopped eating dairy to decrease any inflammation in my digestive tract. My doctor put me on a low-dosage of a medication that controls the presence of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It is commonly prescribed to women with PCOS who present with insulin resistance like I do. Maintaining my stress levels goes hand in hand with all of this, which is why I've placed emphasis on regular yoga, meditation and a decreased workload. For me personally, over-scheduling and/or lack of sleep is a significant stress trigger. I just had my first acupuncture session this week to explore whether alternative medicine can play any part in treating my PCOS (I believe it can). I am not opposed to modern fertility drugs and will certainly embrace them if I'm unable to regulate my cycles and conceive naturally in the next few months.

I am doing my best to remain optimistic and enjoy life. 95% of the time, I'm at peace with everything and in a good mental place. Of course, there are bad days plagued by sadness or anxiety, something I'm sure anyone dealing with infertility or other medical issues will understand.

The thing is, I know in my heart that we will conceive: I've never for a moment doubted that. I now believe that this baby will come when he or she is meant to come. It's not going to be within our "perfect" timeline, but I'm learning that I need to be okay with that. I don't have ultimate control over anything: none of us do.

I choose to share all of this here because I've found tremendous support from people in my personal life who know what's going on. Keeping it all inside isn't healthy, and part of the journey for me is learning how to rid my body of toxins (both physically and emotionally). Especially now, I find it cathartic to talk about my own struggles openly instead of battling them privately.

Thank you, as always, for listening.

29 September 2014

Three Years

"For you wake one day, 
Look around and say, 
Somebody wonderful married me." 
-Fred Ebb

Happy three, my love. There are sunflowers on the table today in honor of us.

26 September 2014

Park Güell // Barcelona

Hands down, the most magical place in Barcelona we visited was Park Güell, designed by Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí. It feels silly for me to try and describe the beauty here, because truly, there aren't adequate words.

I revisited my folder containing over 1,000 images from the Barcelona portion of our trip and felt immediately drawn to this set when deciding what to share first. The reason I'm not looking at the camera in any of the above pictures is because it was approximately 900 degrees and oppressively sunny, which made looking directly upwards or outwards almost painful (I promise I was happy!). That's also why I have a scarf turban on my head--sunblock alone wasn't cutting it.

I couldn't stop zeroing in on the mosaic tile work located in the main terrace area of the park. I remember thinking, damn, there's no way I'm going to get any decent shots with the midday sun and hoards of people around (obviously less than ideal photo conditions), but I'm pretty thrilled with these.

Gaudí is that incredible.


P.S. Lots of Barcelona (and more Paris) coming soon.