a miracle beyond explaining

Remember Beatrix the Back Brace?

You might have read somewhere that I have this back problem.

Over the last four years, varying degrees of pain from excruciating to consistently annoying didn’t always limit my activity (two marathons, multiple 4-inch heels) but it does tend to mess significantly with my sleep. It isn’t that I don’t have those nights were I zonk out into a deep and dreamless sleep (well, the dreamless part rarely happens). But chalk it up to a high tolerance for pain, a general acceptance of the situation even after so-called “surgery” to repair my torn disc earlier this year, or maybe a little avoidance too, on most days I don’t let it bother me and you wouldn’t necessarily see me after a rough night of sleep and know I’m running on fumes. (Or maybe you do and you are too polite to mention it.)

The latest diagnosis for those who haven’t been following my progress is that the disc is repaired (so I didn’t wear Beatrix for nothing) but I have arthritis in the lumbar joints around where the damaged disc resided. This realization was good news to my physical therapist – because the pain is manageable – even if admitting I have arthritis feels aging to me.

Under the watchful eye of my PT, for the last three weeks, I have stepped up my fitness routine. The positive aspect to be pain being as a result of arthritis is that activity helps reduce the pain. That is, while I was restricted with the torn disc, with arthritis I’m encouraged to be active. With that in mind, I signed up for a package of personal training sessions at Fitness Together, a gym that exclusively offers individual workouts. I have taken a number (okay, three, but the results are amazing so it feels like more) of ballet barre classes at Red Bow Studio. Back in my weekly PT visits, my suite of exercises has increased in pace and difficulty, and each sessions concludes with an extended period of “body work” (code for deep massage) followed by 15 minutes of electro-stimulation therapy under a heating pad. All that and I’m still taking a killer amount of Naproxen, which is an improvement over the muscle relaxants and narcotics my doctor prescribed the last time I saw him.

As I mentioned, collectively we have been plugging along with this routine for about three weeks. Then on Christmas Eve, I woke up groggily, feeling rather puffy-eyed from my melancholy of the night before. As I lie in bed getting my bearings, I suddenly was struck by a sensation I barely recognized.

For the first time in four years I was waking up to zero pain. Zero. Not an ounce of stiffness, not any low-level lingering discomfort. On the zero-to-ten-zero-is-no-pain-ten-is-the-worst scale I was a zero.

On Christmas day, same deal. This morning, maybe just a hint of stiffness, but otherwise, no pain. I don’t know how to explain how I went from waking up – on average – as a seven on said scale to waking up a zero, but for now I am attributing it to this new increased level of fitness training and activity.

I still miss running. I still feel pangs of jealousy when I see runners on the road on my perfect weather days. Today I am going to pack up all the winter weather gear and clear drawer space for the new indoor workout clothes I got for my birthday. But for now, I’m going to savor these pain-free days and nights. I hope beyond hope they continue.


why I love Lillybee

The shoes that started it all
The shoes that started it all

I remember as clear as day the first time I heard of Lillybee, Simply Soles founder and owner Kassie Rempel’s self-designed shoe line. I was a busy Hill staffer, on my feet all day long, which meant that when I wasn’t focused on policy, I was focused on how my feet felt. (Although on some days, how my feet felt definitely distracted me from focusing on policy.) At the time, I was working full time on one issue (a luxury, even for a Senate staffer) and I worked on that one issue (climate change, if you must know) with an office that could not have been farther located from my boss’s office in the Senate complex. That meant a lot of shuffling (sometimes running) between our respective suites, always clad in three-inch heels.

One night, after such a long day of back-and-forth meetings, home, feet up on the coffee table, catching up with personal emails, I read with interest that week’s Daily Candy Deal: a discount for readers on any pair of Lillybee shoes. I had never heard of Lillybee but immediately clicked on the link to the Simply Soles webiste where there was a small but gorgeous new collection of shoes called Lillybee, designed by Kassie Rempel, a local woman (I call her Goddess) who also owned a shoe store (I call it empire).  I knew I would have to own at least one pair of these shoes. Where had Lillybee been all my life?

After designing mental outfits with each shoe Lillybee had to offer, I bought the Hilary, a vibrant blue patent leather pump with a chunky heel that would help soften the blow as I stomped through the marble halls of Congress. But weeks later, I couldn’t get the Angelina out of my head. A little black dress in shoe form, I just knew that I had to make it part of my collection as well. (I did.) I also coveted the Gwyneth, a silver pointy-toed wedge, but sadly it didn’t come in my size, leading me to a desperate step-sisters of Cinderella moment when I contemplated what measures I was willing to take to squeeze my size 8 feet into the available size 7s. (I now own two pairs of Gwyneths, appropriately sized.) All the shoes in the 2008 collection, the Jessica, the Halle, even the vegan Natalie (Kassie is probably scared that I remember the names of her Lillybees like they are children) would not only have coordinated well in my wardrobe but would have kept my feet stylishly happy.

What sets Lillybee apart for me is not just that the line offers shoes that are unique, affordable, comfortable, and fashion forward, though all those qualities are certainly reason(s) enough to love a brand. I love Lillybee because through this shoe obsession of mine, I grew to know Kassie, who has quickly become a “sole sister” to me.  Today, when I need (or want, which in my book can be the same as need) a new pair of shoes, I immediately consult Kassie. I know that her advice is going to be honest. She has stopped me from buying shoes that she didn’t think looked right. She has introduced me to designers I now can’t live without, including Lillybee. She kept me upbeat during the Beatrix days. Her opinion means the world to me. But mostly, it’s her friendship that I value.

That I might get to help create a new Lillybee is just extra heel on the shoe.


photo courtesy of Tom Lawler

All last week, those of us living and working in the nation’s capital and some beyond waited with some combination of dread, fear and anticipation to see if our nation was headed toward a federal government shutdown. Not to make light of the very serious implications of a shutdown, but in the spirit of how I approached my confinement with Beatrix, I was preparing a post on “shutdown chic.” Some offices had pools on how long the shutdown would last. I even saw that local eating and drinking establishments were offering shutdown specials. Of course, others were taking more serious measures, like trying to figure out how they were going to support their families if the furlough lasted for any extensive period of time. We jested, but not really.

While most cheered, some actually groaned when The Powers That Be, running the shot clock to the very last second, reached agreement (for now) and averted shutdown. During this preceding week of uncertainty, my first real shutdown threat since I moved to Washington in 1997, I myself took some time to reflect on the services the federal government provides, those things that are just expected and which most people probably don’t realize cease to be performed under shutdown conditions.

I mean, everyone thinks they hate the government, right? But aren’t they just confusing the government as a whole with the government’s role as tax collector? I have never heard someone say, “you know, I just don’t pay enough taxes.” But on the other hand, I’ve never heard anyone say “wow, I am so thankful for a national defense.” The bottom line is that those taxes we pay fund the operation of so much we take for granted in our daily lives. Our federal government might not be totally efficient. There is definitely waste. But given the size (and I’m sorry, it isn’t going to get smaller folks) and scope of what is provided, I think we get a pretty good bang for our buck.

Let’s take, for instance, something that my own children were concerned about regarding the shutdown threat: the Smithsonian Museums. You know, the ones you get to go to for free when you visit Washington, DC, or if you live here, where you go on a bad (too hot or too cold) weather day? There are nineteen Smithsonian museums (which is why it’s funny when one is approached by a tourist with the question, “where’s the Smithsonian?”). In addition, there are nine Smithsonian research centers and the National Zoo. Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to pay San Diego Zoo-style admission prices to get into the Zoo in DC? Well, it’s a federally funded institution, supplemented in great part by private donations. And in the event of a government shutdown, the entire Smithsonian system in closed. If you planned your vacation to see you favorite mega-fauna frolic in the bamboo and there happened to be a shutdown, no admission. Your child has been dying to visit the Air and Space Museum? In a shutdown, it’s closed. There was even some question as to whether there would have been a Cherry Blossom parade this weekend if the government had shut down. All those high school bands from across the country that practiced and fund-raised all year to come here and march would have been sorely disappointed.

My kids, of course, were concerned as to whether someone would be there to feed the Zoo animals. It seems this type of worker is what we call “essential.” But I don’t see how you choose. At the risk of coming off too existential, can’t you make a case that everyone is essential?

Let’s take something that is a little less warm and fuzzy. Literally. I know border protection is important to many people. Being first generation American on my mom’s side of the family, I have to admit to having a soft spot for those foreigners wanting their own taste of the American dream (and now that I have put that in writing in a public domain, I guess I can never run for elected office). Many of the functions of the Department of Homeland Security (such as border control) would have continued as usual under a shutdown, but I highlight it here because I wonder how many people actually realize that this is one of the many services that mainstream America considers important that are paid for out of the federal coffers your tax dollars fund.

How about the National Institutes of Health? Would they be able to accept new patients? In a shutdown, would passport applications or renewals be processed? How about Federal Housing Authority loans? Would tax refund checks be sent?

I don’t mean to sound all DC-preachy, I just think that the federal government could use a little more love thrown its way because for all that it does that you hate (like collect taxes) it actually performs a lot of services that you just may like. And use.

I won’t say we are out of the shutdown waters forever. There may still be a discussion on shutdown chic. But at least for now, on Monday morning, federal workers will be riding the Metro and driving on our federal highway system, making their way to work. I am happy that the Giant Pandas will be fed, and of course, that at the U.S Capitol, it will be business as usual. If only business as usual included a little less partisan bickering. I think that is a style we can all agree needs to be shut down.