Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Ahead

I am attending a wedding reception tonight in Des Moines, that of some dear friends. I will be sad to not have Brian to celebrate with us, or to kiss me at midnight and to ring in another year together. However, I also know I'll have a fun evening and that next year holds great things for me.

Here's to moving forward, emotional growth, wisdom, health, and happiness in 2011!

Happy Birthday to Me!

My 30th birthday went by relatively quietly and it was a good, productive day spent in beautiful Austin, Texas. I'll blog about my thoughts and a bit more about how I spent the day in another post, but wanted to let y'all (yeah, I'm going to incorporate that word into my spoken and written vocabulary immediately) know that it was a nice day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stop the Insanity!

One thing that is unique about those who are grieving is that it makes you question everything and sometimes a paranoia sets in. For example, I think things like, "I wonder if I don't think about Brian enough -- I don't seem to cry that much lately," or, "I have to look somewhat put together when I [see so-and-so/attend such-and-such function], so people know I'm not on the verge of a breakdown...but if I look too good, will they think I'm in denial or simply heartless?" Sometimes I worry about what people think when I smile and have a good time. Yet I want to hide my pain and anguish from everyone, or at least not allow it to affect others. I'm always aware of how I'm perceived, and I never know what is right, only that I walk this tightrope of perception vs. actual emotion on a daily basis. How often am I supposed to talk about Brian? Will people who never met him think I'm obsessed, will they think I'll never move on? Am I denying his existence if I don't at least tell everyone I meet that he existed and what happened? Do I really have to get into that with every acquaintance I make, in the first 10 minutes? Or how long do I wait?

I suspect this is something that everyone who is grieving struggles with, and I even struggle with this in the company of others who I know to be grieving the loss of their own loved ones. However, I also suspect this worry, this preoccupation is worse for those who are grieving the loss of a spouse. Normally, a husband or wife is there to lend an ear when you want to reminisce about the departed one for whom you grieve. Not so when the one who is gone is your husband. Normally, a husband or wife can see you break down and know that overall, you're doing okay. Or a husband or wife can see you have a blast and be silly, but know that doesn't mean you are heartless or over your loss, because your husband or wife would also be there when you have a breakdown and are rendered helpless by the pain. For me, no one has that complete a picture, so I worry that people base their perception of me and my mental state on the very small portion of my life they see.

I know, I know, I shouldn't worry about what people think. And I am getting better at this -- I've read enough grief books to know that no one else will ever know my journey and my burden, no one else can ever know my unique path through grief. That path was carved by the relationship Brian and I had, our ages, the manner in which he died, the support system that surrounds me, my personality and hobbies, my emotional and psychological tendencies, etc. I have had people question some of my decisions, and I've actually told those people that, with all due respect, I have to make the right choices for me, and that no one else can ever walk a mile in my shoes. I am still on good terms with those who have questioned me, as I know they were coming from a place of concern. Nevertheless, I know that people judge me and question me.

The impetus for this post is that I have started to second-guess myself about how I'm spending Christmas. Is it "cheating" or "running away" to spend the day with family down here in Texas instead of sucking it up and spending the day with Brian's parents and brother in Iowa? The latter would be harder for me, to be sure. Am I trying to short-cut my grief or run from my problems? Or am I just being sensible and refusing to be a glutton for punishment by being resolute in my decision to do what feels right to me? Grief does this -- it makes you question your motivation, makes you wonder what the right course of action is. It's just one more thing the loss of a loved one takes from you -- your confidence, your trust in yourself and your ability to make decisions.

This Christmas, I'm doing what feels right to me. I hope my instincts are right. I feel so strongly that I'm doing the right thing for me, but I wish I knew. I wish the grief didn't make me question myself.

So This is Christmas?

It's Christmas Eve, and I woke up to rain in Austin. This is different than any Christmas Eve I've had in over twenty years (perhaps I had a Christmas Eve like this when I was kid and I lived in Austin with my parents, though I think by this time we'd usually already at least be en route to Iowa). It's also my first Christmas without Brian since 1995. We started dating in January of 1996 and have celebrated Christmas together ever since. I remember that in 1996, I got Brian a Jewel CD. I don't remember what he got me, but some years do stick out -- a sapphire ring in 1997, a tanzanite ring in 1998, an autographed Bon Jovi CD a few years ago that he bought with his credit card points after we set a low price limit on our gifts because we had just bought something for the house, a mustard-colored leather purse last year (the last tangible gift he gave me). I've been carrying that purse this holiday season, a simple way of making me feel like he is with me and that I can carry his memory, his essence with me hanging on my shoulder.

It doesn't even feel like Christmas -- it is warm and raining, and I have no Christmas tree or decorations this year (aside from a pile of gifts my mom and Brian's mom sent down for me that is serving as a holiday centerpiece on my dining room table). I'm alone in an unfamiliar place, still getting used to the sounds of my new plumbing and heating/air conditioning systems, the placement of light switches, the way my bathroom lights gradually warm up to brightness. I am thrilled to be here and definitely excited for the good times that I know lie ahead, but it is not yet "home." I don't even have any living room furniture yet, and the TV in the living room is currently on the floor.

Still, I don't regret my decision to spend Christmas in Austin. I've traveled thousands of miles on multiple trips between Austin and Des Moines this month, and it seemed a little silly to make the trip back to Iowa again just because the date on the calendar for tomorrow is December 25. I've already celebrated Christmas with my entire family, and I have plans to do the same with Brian's extended family in January in Pocahontas, Iowa. So it's not as though anyone won't see me for Christmas, though it won't be on Christmas day. I do feel a bit guilty that I'm leaving my parents alone on Christmas (my sister will be at her boyfriend's house) and that I won't be spending the day with Brian's parents and his brother, and I worry that their celebration will seem small with just three present. But I needed to be in Austin this year.

Practically, I need to spend more than a few days in one place and need to do things like unpack, set up internet and cable, and pick out new living room furniture. Emotionally, I'm not sure I was ready for the traditional Christmas celebration in Iowa without Brian. I think if I was in Iowa this December 25, I'd feel his absence even more. Of course, I felt it and I hurt at my family celebrations that have already taken place -- hence the breakdown on the drive to Des Moines that followed. I think, though, that I'd feel it more intensely if I was to spend a quiet Christmas with just my parents, or just Brian's immediate family. I don't think I could handle that. When it is a larger gathering of extended family, there is the hustle and bustle of trying to talk to a multitude of adults, teenagers, and children about what has been going on since you last saw them; there are dozens of homemade goodies that have been brought and that must be tasted; there is a crowd of people in every room in the house; card or board games might be underway. I can get through that -- it's the prospect of a smaller gathering that is frighteningly daunting to me, and that I am glad to be avoiding this week. I will be thinking about Brian's family as they have such an experience this Christmas.

It is not as though I am going to sit here alone in my apartment with my cats, mind you. (Though if that was what I chose, or if I change my mind and do opt for that at this point, I hope people would respect that decision too.) I went to a happy hour with my friend Erin last night that turned into a last-minute shopping trip to Target for kids' Christmas gifts, then pizza and beer at my apartment. Erin & Chad ended up crashing in my guest bedroom, so it didn't take long for my place to feel like home in that way. It sounds silly, but I was happy to have them stay for that reason. Today, we are thinking of going out for lunch before they take off for Dallas to spend the night with family. I plan to go to a Christmas Eve party/open house at the house of some friends in south Austin tonight. Tomorrow, I'll head to Burnet, Texas (about an hour north of downtown Austin) to have Christmas dinner with Uncle Bruce, Aunt Kay, and their Boka clan. I'm happy to have family around, to be able to share in another large family gathering, something that feels like Christmas to me. I'm also looking forward to seeing Brian's cousin Jessi, who has been in London for a few months on work (her total assignment is 2 years overseas). I will also finally meet baby Thayer, the baby boy Brian's cousin Val and her husband Andy had this fall. I also look forward to seeing cousin Vanessa, her husband Eric, and their adorable daughters Taylor and Brooke.

In some ways, this Christmas is totally unlike any I've had in my life. In other ways, it will be very much the same. Different family members, different state and climate, but I'll still be surrounded by the love and warmth of family and friends. I think it will be as good as any Christmas without Brian can be. I think that by choosing to spend Christmas in a new place, with different faces, that it will help me get through the day that much easier. It's harder to miss someone in a place where they've never been, where I won't look at the spot he always sat at the table, or where I don't have to deal with the empty spot on the couch where he and all his presents should be. I feel the hole of his absence so strongly in my heart that I don't need to see it in front on me on the furniture too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

As my last post shows, I'm still struggling. A lot. I might appear to have it all together, to be doing well, to be happy. Some days, I feel that way. Some days, I am wreck. A sobbing, screaming, wreck of a person who feels like her broken heart is hanging halfway out of her chest. There are moments, hours, and sometimes whole days where the tears just won't stop, when I wonder how on earth I'll ever carry this weight, this pain, throughout the rest of my irretrievably damaged life. There are times I question myself -- am I only able to have good days because I am not thinking about Brian enough? I think about him all the time, though, and it is usually with happiness and gratitude for having known his so long and so well, for being the lucky woman with whom he chose to share his life.

I admit, I'm worried about what people will think of me. I generally do a pretty good job not worrying about this, but sometimes that thought creeps in. I especially worry about what Brian's friends and family think. Well, let me assure you -- even though I might not cry when you do, or break down in front of you, that doesn't mean I'm over him. That doesn't mean I don't still feel immense pain, anger, confusion, frustration, and sorrow. That doesn't mean I don't still ache to hear his voice, to tuck my head into the curve he had under his sternum (which perfectly coincided with the height of my head), to smell the cologne he would spray in that spot for me, to walk up behind him and wrap my arms around his body and hug with all my might, to hear new music he would find and share with me, to see him laugh so hard that he stops making any sound and tears run down his face.

I still miss Brian very much. I still cry for how much I miss him. I still don't understand why things happened like they did. I still get completely overwhelmed by sorrow at times and wonder how I'll ever get through this. I'm still not "okay." I'll never be okay. I'll never be "over" this.

I might look like I'm doing well, and I am excited about the next stage of my life, but that doesn't mean there isn't still immense sorrow over the chapters that have ended this year. I still miss Brian dearly, and I always will. I will always look back fondly at the life we had created together -- our house, our friends, our careers in Iowa. I will miss all of that. Just because I'm looking forward to some of the things that lie ahead, that doesn't mean I am not sad about what I'm leaving behind.

Running in Circles

It's December 20, and I take off from Des Moines to head to Austin again today. This will be my fourth trip this month. I've been back and forth by private plane, commercial flights, and moving truck. Today, I take my own vehicle down. I have one more trip back to Iowa at the end of the month. This isn't the easiest way to move, but it is actually the least stressful. I have had a lot of time to pick out the perfect apartment for me, to figure out exactly what will and will not make the cut to be moved across the country and find a place in my future life.

I've had so much going on that I've just been on auto-pilot. I managed to get through Brian's birthday and several family Christmas celebrations without any major breakdowns. Yesterday, I did have a breakdown, a bad day. The day started well, with my immediate family having our Christmas brunch and gift exchange. Then I stopped at my aunt Amanda's house to see her, my uncle Randy, and my cousin Max one more time. I'm very close to these three -- Mandy and I grew up like sisters, and she's only a couple years older than me. After that, I stopped at the Letts Cemetery to pay my respects to our friends Sam and Jackie one last time before my move. Sam would have been 32 tomorrow, just like Brian would have been 32 last week.

Leaving the cemetery, my anger and frustration took over. I'm only 29 years old -- why am I spending so much time at cemeteries?! I remembered times Brian and I spent with Sam and Jackie and I felt left out that they were all together now, while I was not. I was left behind...left out. It sounds crazy, but in some ways I was jealous that at least those two went together. I have to live through this hell, to feel the excruciating pain, guilt and loneliness that inevitably comes when one spouse dies and leaves another to live on.

I think another thing that shook me and lead to my bad day was that I dreamed about Brian Saturday night. It was vague, but I know we spoke to each other. In the dream, he was alive, but it was as though he had been in a coma and just woken up. I don't remember specifics, and that pains me. I hope that if he was trying to tell me something, he will keep trying until I can hear his message.

For whatever reason, yesterday was a tough day. I've been having more good days than bad days recently, and thought I was doing well. I guess I am still doing well, even if there was one day in which that wasn't the case. It's funny how one bad day can loom so large that it overwhelms the good days and makes them all but disappear in my mind. On a bad day, it's as though a big dark cloud rolls in that is so dark, heavy, and large, it's hard to remember that the sun ever shined or to believe that it ever will again. After a bad day like that, I know it will take a while for me to have another truly good day. The storm front takes time to roll through and away, off the horizon. I guess it makes sense -- a tornado doesn't last long, but the aftereffects are devastating and it takes serious time and effort to clean up the debris and rainwater and to restore things to their previous condition, if that is even possible.

In a way, it's like Hurricane Katrina hit me in January and since then, it is a series of lesser storms that just keep hitting. The storms get smaller and less frequent, but they are still devastating.

The fact that no storms -- no bad days -- hit while I was moving, on a birthday or during a family holiday is almost a miracle. I don't know whether I should attribute that to divine help from God, from Brian, from prayers and positive thoughts that I know others have been sending my way, or because I've just been too preoccupied and busy to think about anything but moving, traveling, packing, and logistics. I've been in survival mode, focusing on how to get through the next task at hand.

Today, I start to pick up after the storm that yesterday brought. Today, I head back to Austin again. Today, I focus once again on the next task, the next trip, at hand. Today will be a better day. Once again, I have to get back to living one day at a time. Today, I start picking up the pieces.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hard Days Ahead

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is my friend Joy's birthday and Thursday (the 16th) would have been Brian's 32nd birthday. Those two have been celebrating their birthdays together for years now. Joy and I are planning a day trip to Muscatine tomorrow to go to Greenwood Cemetary and to go out for lunch. I'm hoping the weather holds for wine club to meet in Des Moines tomorrow night.

On Friday the 17th, I'm flying the cats down to Austin and spending the night there. On Saturday the 18th, I have a family Christmas.

I know the next couple of days are going to hold some ups and downs, and I'm trying to brace myself. Please keep me and Brian's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

State of Transition

My house is sold, but the closing date is not until January. In the meantime, I've been setting up shop in Austin.

Last week, I started packing stuff that is making the cut for the 930-something-mile journey south to my new home. I rented a moving truck, and -- with the help of some great friends -- loaded it up Thursday and Friday. My family arrived to help out on Friday afternoon, then my dad and I took off for Austin on Friday night. He had an extremely busy and hard day, having woken up early to drive to Minnesota first to load up my sister's things (she is transferring to a private college in Iowa). He had two states, hundreds of miles, and half a move under his belt before he got to my house that night!

Dad drove the big truck all the way to Austin and back for me. I could have done it, but it was nice that he stepped in and did it, and it was great to have his help and his company most of all. The trip was uneventful, but slow, as the truck would not go above 70 mph and went through diesel fuel like Lindsay Lohan goes through coke (well, used to go through coke -- I don't want to get sued!). We drove to Oklahoma City Friday night, where we got a cheap motel room and slept from about 3-7 a.m. Saturday morning, we continued the trek. We stopped for lunch at Rudy's BBQ, which is now a moving-to-Austin tradition (Rudy's is what we ate when my friends Erin, and then her husband Chad, moved down this summer).

We arrived at my apartment around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. With help from a few friends, and some family, the unloading process went very quickly. Dad and I went out for dinner and beers at Doc's, a great little place just next door to my complex. We sat outside on Saturday night! There were space heaters, but was outside. It's so great to be able to eat outside at 8:00 p.m. in mid-December. We also decided we'd rent a car to tool around Austin for a couple days, and we'd get the car in the morning.

On Sunday, we discovered that there was no hot water. There was a mix-up at the complex regarding my apartment number, so my heat/gas/hot water weren't hooked up. Luckily, there was electricity! (I got that all sorted out later, and it was fine.) So we went over to Erin & Chad's apartment to shower and for brunch (the brunch had already been planned). Chad's cousin, who has lived in Austin for 3 years, was also at brunch. She is from Hampton, which is where my dad was born and a town in which many cousins and other family members still live and which is the hometown of a couple friends of mine from Des Moines. Sure enough, we knew many of the same people. The five of us enjoyed great conversation, food, and football. It's the kind of meal that gives you a "family" feeling, which I guess makes since because everyone there had a family member present.

After brunch, Dad drove me around and showed me the three places I lived with him and my mom when my family lived in Austin in 1985-1987. We also found the elementary school where I attended kindergarten, and the old and present locations of the company my dad used to work for. We went to The Oasis, a popular destination restaurant with many levels of decks overlooking Lake Travis (the larger of Austin's two most popular lakes). We had last visited The Oasis when we vacationed in Austin in 1999. We sat outside for a while in the sun. When the wind wasn't blowing, it was very nice outside. After a while, it was 3:15 and time for the Bears game. We went into the bar area to watch the game. Once it became clear that it was a drubbing (around halftime) by the Patriots, we left the Oasis and did a little more driving around to take in the sites and old stomping grounds. We went to The Mean-Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash theme bar (that happens to be next door to Erin & Chad's apartment building) for a couple drinks and had some good conversation with the bartender and an off-duty co-worker who was in as a customer that night. We then went to The County Line BBQ for dinner, and then called it a night pretty early.

On Monday, we got up somewhat early. Dad ran out to get coffee and breakfast, then put together the beds and dressers and moved some other furniture and boxes around to their respective places. I spent a good deal of time on the phone to fix the apartment number mix-up/heating situation, then unpacked my clothes and put those away. I really enjoy my walk-in closet already! It is small, but it is a still a walk-in (which I don't have at home now), and it makes it so much easier to see and appreciate your wardrobe. My clothes look great in there, sorted first by style and then by color (okay, I am a little obsessive about clothing organization). I have a lot of clothes, and I'm finally getting to the point that I love my wardrobe, so this was very exciting for me. My bedroom in the new place is big, so there's plenty of room for my bedroom furniture, which looks great in there! Also, Dad and I put a leaf in my dining room table and set up 6 chairs around it. I was thrilled last week when Ellie and I did some measurements and figured out that I could take the dining room set to Austin, and excited to put it into place in my dining room area. (Erin -- a wine club and game night regular around that table in my dining room in Des Moines -- teared up when she saw it while she and Chad were helping with the move-in.)

In case you can't tell, I LOVE my new place! In addition to having two bedrooms/bathrooms/walk-in closets, it has a nice sized- deck area that faces large trees and has a skyline view. The windows are so large the cats will be able to hop onto the window sill to enjoy the views the branches outside provide. I have a wood-burning fireplace. I identified two possible locations for the keg-a-rator I didn't think I'd have a place for, and I was able to bring my new washer and dryer and put them into a little laundry area that also has room to be a litter box. My bath tubs are huge. I felt like every few minutes, I'd figure out another thing I liked about the place. My wine fridge fits perfectly in one spot on the kitchen counter, and so on...

Anyway, after getting some more things unpacked, we took off in the rented moving truck to head back for Iowa. We left Austin around 1:30 p.m. on Monday and drove straight through to Des Moines. Due to an accident in heavy traffic in Ft. Worth, and our speed being limited to as low as 55 mph at times on account of strong headwinds, it was a longer trip. I napped a few times, and I started to feel like a trucker because we'd stop every few hours at a truck stop for gas/bathroom/food and drink breaks. We arrived at my house in Waukee at 5:00 a.m. today (Tuesday). 15 1/2 hours. Still, the trip seemed to go pretty quickly, I suppose due to good conversation. Dad told a lot of stories about when he and Mom made the trip with me in the backseat asleep in the mid-eighties, stories of car troubles and bad weather. We talked about my decision to move to Austin and how our moves were similar in some ways and different in others. I don't get one-on-one time with my dad very much, and it was really neat for me to get that. I enjoyed the trip an awful lot, and it felt as much like a weekend getaway trip as a move.

For the next few weeks, I'll be bouncing around from Austin to Des Moines a lot, and to other parts of the state of Iowa too. I'm hoping for good weather and uneventful travels. So far, so good...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Welcome to Fabulous Austin, Texas

Well, I sold my house and leased a place in Austin!

I just got back from four days in Texas. At the same time I was signing a lease for a great apartment, the people who would eventually buy my house were coming through for another look. I got the offer that night. The next morning, I awoke with The Avett Brothers' song "I and Love and You" in my head, plain as day, almost as if a radio was on in the next room. The starting lyrics speak to someone who is moving, though I'm going south to Austin instead of north to Brooklyn:
Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north

One foot in and one foot back
But it don't pay, to live like that
So i cut the ties and i jumped the tracks
For never to return

Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I'm in
My hands they shake my head it spins
Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
I thought that was interesting. I had a great sense of peace that morning, and I feel even better now that I've gotten back to Iowa and signed the paperwork for the sale of my house.

I probably won't write much in the near future -- I'm planning to do the big move this weekend (though I'll still be around the house in Iowa from time-to-time until January 21)!

My new apartment is great! It's on South Congress, which is the heart and funky soul of Austin, in my opinion. I'm just a couple miles south of the capitol building, maybe 1/2 mile from the Congress Avenue Bridge (home to Austin's battiest residents, who are actually bats) and Lady Bird Lake (the body of water and accompanying trail system with which I was obsessed this summer), and less than 10 minutes from my yoga studio, Whole Foods, Waterloo Records, and my friends Erin & Chad. I'm right across the street from a great coffee place (the place I saw one of the actors from Friday Night Lights in May), next door to a great outdoor bar/restaurant, and within easy walking distance of great shopping (some of my favorite tee shirt shops and clothing boutiques, not to mention antique stores and places to buy cowboy boots!), Southside Tattoo (where I got my ink), a sushi place, an ice cream shop, a lot full of food trailers, a pizza place, and a great Mexican restaurant (Guero's). Clearly, I'm stoked about the location. I'm also excited to report that I'll have a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom place and my apartment complex has a beautiful pool and hot tub area (so plan your visits, everyone!). Magnolia Cafe, which has the best avocado cheese omelet I've ever had, is maybe a mile down the road. Oh, and did I mention that South Congress is the street I would take everyone when they came to visit this summer? I took my friend from Dallas, my friends from Kansas City, and my family to South Congress. Now I live there.

Yeah, I live in a "vacation place" now. :) Well, I will soon. I guess I need to start packing for that to happen though!

The Music Man

I mentioned in my post about Thanksgiving that the song "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band started playing just as I sat down to the turkey dinner with my family. Well, that was only half the story. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I hosted a potluck dinner party with some friends, wanting to be sure I had one last dinner party at my dining room table before I move, and one last evening with a particular group of friends who really became like a family to me this year and whose company I have treasured more than they will ever know. At the dinner party were Kristine & Bobby, Jenny & Justin, and Anita & Matt (well, and me). I share many memories and experiences with this group, including: running marathons together, a trip to Mexico, happy hour gatherings, nights hanging out and watching TV, party buses, and a dodgeball league.

One of the best nights of my life was the weekend before Brian died. We had an entirely open weekend -- a rarity for us and especially appreciated because it was our first free weekend after a month-plus of holiday and birthday celebrations. We purposefully did not make plans, and Friday afternoon one of the group -- perhaps Kristine? -- suggested a happy hour downtown. Brian and I discussed it and decided we'd go for a bit, but not stay too long (we actually looked forward to a quiet Friday night and a low-key weekend!). We met the group at Hessen Haus, a German bar in Des Moines best known for serving beer from "Das Boot," a large glass boot that we have a replica of in our bar at home (where it is known as "Da Victory Boot" and is sometimes shared after a Bears victory). I digress...we had some drinks at Hessen Haus, and closed our tabs around 7:30 p.m. Right after we closed our tabs, we noticed some really cute tee shirts on sale for $5 or $10 each. Brian had enough cash on him for each of the girls to get one, so we did. (I was so happy to recently find that shirt, still rolled up with rubber bands, in the purse I carried that night and relive that memory.) From there, the eight of us headed to Kristine & Bobby's apartment, where the guys played Rock Band for hours. It was a random, last-minute night that ended with the girls talking in the kitchen and the boys playing video games, almost like a play date. There was nothing crazy or fancy about the night, just good friends enjoying each other's company. While no wild stories came out of that night, it stands out for the pure joy it brought. I remember thinking that night, "What a fun, blessed, full life we have."

Now, I was hosting this group for our own little Thanksgiving celebration on that Saturday night. Just as we sat down to dinner, that song came on again. "Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me..." sang that familiar voice. The funny thing is, I have DirecTV and the associated music stations on my satellite; my parents have Dish. So it's not even as though my dad and I listen to the same, selection-limited station or something. I was listening to "The 60s" and my dad listens to something called "The Bridge," whatever genre that describes. I wouldn't even say I got a chill. I paused for a sec to verify that was the song playing, and went, "Hm, that feels right." I wasn't even that surprised. I know that sounds crazy, but to me it was just reaffirming my suspicion that it was him sending me a message, announcing his presence with us -- with me -- over the holidays.

Another example of Brian announcing his presence with music happened on Black Friday. That evening, I went over to Smitty's house (a friend of Brian's from high school, who was a pallbearer and who shared Brian's musical taste and passion) to have some Templeton Rye (Brian's favorite whiskey) and watch a DVD of The Avett Brothers with Smitty and Hart. Soon after I arrived, we sat down for an informal whiskey taste-testing and Smitty turned on some background music. He set the music playlist to randomize his entire selection -- which is massive and covers many styles -- and the first song to come on was, "Kickdrum Heart" by The Avett Brothers. What's funny is that Smitty did not like that song much, but Brian would always try to tell him why it was, in fact, a good song. (I know that sounds weird, but that's how they were with music. It went both ways -- Smitty loves a song called "Banana Puddin'" that Brian never really could get into.) Smitty said, "This is your husband's way of messing with me." To me, it was him announcing that he was with us, and that he would control the music selection, thank you very much.

Finally, one more story about music. Instead of music serving as a message from Brian, though, this time music was a means for me to honor Brian by living one of the lessons I've learned since his death. This is a story about life coming full circle.

I've written about Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Mason Jennings before (, and I randomly thought while driving a couple weeks ago, "I feel like listening to some Mason Jennings." What I didn't mention is the way Mason Jennings became a part of our life. Brian and I had been back in Muscatine and he ran into a liquor store to pick up some beer -- sort of random, as we'd typically just stop at the grocery store or gas station. Somehow, he knew the guy working behind the counter and Brian said, "What song is this? I like it." The guy told us about Mason Jennings and gave Brian the burned CD, a collection of Mason Jennings songs (as opposed to burning one album in its entirety). Brian fell in love with that CD, and we started buying Mason's CDs and going to his shows whenever he was in the area.

I went to a party at a house on the north side of Des Moines a couple weeks ago, playing that disc on the way. At the party, I got into a discussion with a girl named Amy about music. I mentioned Mason Jennings, who I believe is one of the best songwriters out there. Suddenly, it hit me. I had to give her the disc. I realized that it was only from a random encounter and someone sharing that disc with us that we came to listen to that music on long road trips together and that we had a blast at Mason Jennings' concerts with our friends. Now, I don't know whether Amy will feel the same way, or it will have the same impact on her life. I'd be crazy to think it would. But you never know. In any event, I wanted to share something I loved with someone else, and hoped it would speak to her in some way, or that it might speak to a friend of hers who is a passenger in her car, or....who knows? All I know is I felt like I had to pay it forward. It only seemed right to share something that good.

One thing I've been trying to do more is to spread joy and share love in any way I can. That means sending a card encouraging someone who is down -- as opposed to just thinking about it and then never getting around to doing it. That means telling someone what they mean to me and how thankful I am for them -- as opposed to assuming they already know or thinking "I love you" expresses that enough. That means buying that perfect gift for someone for no reason -- as opposed to just commenting, "So-and-so would love that!" That means saying, "Here -- check out this CD; I think you'll like it" -- as opposed to saying, "You should look for him on YouTube."

In this case, it wasn't Brian speaking to me through least not directly. But in a way, he was acting through me with music.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

A quick update on how my Thanksgiving was...

I went home (Letts, IA) on Wednesday afternoon. Had a steak dinner with the fam (my dad is so good at grilling steak!). That night, some friends from high school and a friend from college & law school who is from the same area came over and hung out at my dad's bar. The friends from high school are actually guys who were friends of Brian (one of those guys, Smitty, has become friends with my dad in his own right and hangs out at Rick's Bar on a semi-regular basis). It was nice to have those guys there with me and my family; it was like having Brian there in a way. We told stories and spoke with one another in a way that only people with a certain familiarity can do. My dad even stayed up with those guys after I went to bed, which he would often do with Brian when we were home for holidays. Basically, Wednesday was normal and felt right, as much as it could.

On Thursday, my family and I went to Bokas' house for Thanksgiving brunch with some family friends, including the Ramer family. The Ramers lived near the Bokas years ago and became friends, partly because the two boys were similar ages to Brian and his brother. The Bokas and Ramers have been getting together for Thanksgiving brunch for several years now, and the Coopers (my family) are usually there too. Usually, brunch is at Ramers' house, but it was at Bokas' this year, and I think this change actually helped me feel better. It went really well.

After brunch, my parents hosted Thanksgiving dinner -- the traditional feast, but on steroids -- at about 1:00 p.m. My mom's side of the family came over, about 10 people in all. It was a good time. Right when we sat down to start eating, the song that came on was "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band. Brian loved that group, and that song. I didn't say anything to anyone, but I felt it was his way of sitting down at the table too.

After a fantastic dinner, I sat down with my aunts and my mom and started planning our Black Friday shopping outing (my sister was at her boyfriend's house; she joined in later). It is tradition -- as far back as I can remember -- that we all go out and shop together. We always have a great time together and get a good portion of our Christmas shopping done in one outing, regardless of whether any of the mega-doorbuster deals is something we're gunning for (but when they are, watch out!). So far, I didn't have any Christmas list ideas from anyone else, and I couldn't think of a thing I wanted myself. Frankly, I don't want Christmas to happen this year. I am dreading December. Also, I don't know where I'll be in the moving process or what festivities I'll be able to attend. So I'm not exactly in the Christmas spirit.

Sitting down to look through the ads, I tried to follow old patterns, looking through each ad (excluding Best Buy and Toys-R-Us, stores even we won't dare brave on Black Friday) and writing a list of the deals that would make good gifts for others. I prompted my mom and aunts to give me ideas for them or for my sister, and that helped somewhat. But my lack of enthusiasm and the less-than-stellar deals this year, coupled with the frustration that I couldn't look at TV or furniture deals without knowing my apartment layout, eventually caught up to me. I gave up on the planning before a plan was set and went into the living room to watch football with my cousin Max. My mom, then my aunt Mandy, came in to check on me, and I cried a little. I admitted to Mandy that I just didn't even want Christmas to happen this year -- something I haven't really told everyone. I'm glad I just admitted it. It felt better to have that out there.

Eventually, we had dessert and hashed out a game plan for Black Friday. Aunt Pam (who has the largest vehicle, an extended size Ford Expedition) would come to our house first, at 1:30 a.m. Then it would be to Mandy's house at 1:35 a.m. (she only lives a couple blocks away). We' pick Trish up at 2:00 a.m., then proceed to the Quad Cities to be in place before the doors opened at Kohl's at 3:00 a.m. And that is what we did.

Black Friday shopping was a blast. The only thing that wasn't normal was that my sister decided not to go. She woke up Friday and just thought it was too early, that she didn't get enough sleep, and that she'd rather sleep in a little and venture out to Muscatine with her boyfriend and our dad. I was disappointed that she opted not to go, and it wasn't the same without her. Regardless, it was a really fun time. We always have a code word or phrase we shout out across the store in case we get separated (yes, even after the advent of cell phones, we like this option). We always have a great game plan in place and get all the deals everyone is after. We are always done with the frantic shopping after about four hours, then break for lunch (around 10:00 a.m.!), then finish with a little more relaxed shopping for those good-but-not-frantic-sellout-great deals.

Despite feeling like I didn't have a game plan, the shopping went very well. I got gifts for my aunts, my sister, my parents, my nieces, and a couple friends. Doing that, and enjoying the silly fun that I always have with "the girls" of the family on this day, really brightened my outlook. After a successful trip (we got back to Letts around 1:00 p.m., so it was also a long trip at almost 12 hours!), I had dinner at Bokas' house.

Dinner at the Bokas was a smaller affair -- just Brian's parents, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and her two-year-old daughter, and me. Five adults and one child. I arrived about 1:15, just in time to help with a couple last-minute things and then to sit down to dinner. Dinner was delicious, as it always is. Afterward, I helped Brian's mom do dishes and make casseroles out of the leftovers to send home with everyone. We looked at a few photos from a trip Brian's dad and brother took to Florida to visit the Boka grandparents. Brian's brother and his party did not stay long after the meal.

After dinner, Brian's mom and I wrapped gifts together, something we frequently do on Black Friday evening. She doesn't really do the Black Friday thing, but she does start shopping early -- and often! -- so she always has a bunch to wrap too. It was nice to do that again, and also good that I had the time to visit with her. That was one thing I missed this year -- we would almost always stay at the Bokas house when we'd be home for the holidays, and that brings with it some relaxed time to visit. This year, all the Bokas were only together during mealtime; there just wasn't much downtime. I feel like I didn't even get to talk to his brother, which is too bad; I haven't seen him in a while and I was looking forward to catching up with him a bit more. Other than that, it was a really nice time at the Bokas.

Okay, I'm running out of time -- I need to get ready for my Austin trip today! -- so I can't go through the rest of the weekend in detail. But I want to share that on Saturday night, I had some friends over for dinner. Just as we were sitting down to the dining room table, the song "Up On Cripple Creek" by The Band came on.

Suffice it to say that I had a surprisingly pleasant Thanksgiving trip and weekend. It was capped off by a wonderful Sunday in which the Bears beat the Eagles to take a one-game lead atop the NFC North over the Packers, and my fantasy football team held on to eke out a 3-point victory and keep my playoff hopes alive.

I'm hoping this streak of luck continues this week in Austin....

Homeward Bound

I'm heading to my soon-to-be hometown of Austin, TX this afternoon. I'm spending this week (Monday-Friday) in Austin with the purpose of picking out an apartment. It will be strange in that I am deviating completely from what is familiar to me -- a house in the suburbs with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a bar downstairs -- and getting a smaller pad where location is king. However, I'm very excited about the lifestyle I hope to have in Austin. I am looking at places in Austin proper, not in any suburbs. I even have a specific part of Austin that I've honed in on -- southwest downtown and/or Lady Bird Lake (some of the lake is in East Austin, like the place I lived over the summer). I want to be next to trails and water, but minutes from some of my favorite restaurants and bars, Whole Foods, Black Swan Yoga (a studio I started going to over the summer and loved!), Waterloo Records, and live music venues.

I will blog all about my place when I pick it out.

Wow -- this Austin thing is getting real! I am stoked!!

Animal House

Previously, I posted about how I won naming rights to two litters of kittens at Animal Lifeline of Iowa. Well, two litters of kittens recently arrived and I have named them! I decided that a good way to honor Brian's involvement with the shelter is to name a litter (or two) for him each year.

Here is a link to the adoptable animals: The last 7 kittens listed are the ones I named. Those include:

Litter 1 (3 males):

Litter 2 (1 male, 3 females):
Avett (male)
Kat Stevens

The first litter is named after Chicago Bears legends; the second, musicians. Avett is for The Avett Brothers; Crosbie is for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (who Brian saw live at Red Rocks in Colorado several years ago); Taylor is for James Taylor; and Kat Stevens is for, ahem, Cat Stevens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Here's a Ring for Your Right Hand

(Note: Some of you might have picked up on my tendency to use song lyrics as blog entry titles. This line comes from "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" by Richard Thompson, covered by Reckless Kelly.)

It was eight years ago this week that Brian proposed to me. I think tomorrow is the actual anniversary, but I don't remember for sure. I just know it was the Monday before Thanksgiving. Here is that story:

We were on a trip with his parents, his brother and his fiance, and some Boka family friends. 8 of us in all. It was my first semester of law school, and Brian and I had just moved in together. His parents proposed this trip, and paid for a good portion of it as a Christmas gift. We spent 5 days at an all-inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. It was a big deal to me to miss multiple days of class, knowing that the time to start studying for finals was right around the corner. I also had to finish a big assignment for my research and writing class ahead of schedule, as the actual deadline would be while I was on the trip. Needless to say, I was stressed.

Brian and I shared luggage, but did not actually pack together. He had packed first, and gave me an admonition not to go through his stuff in the bag. That should have been a clue, but I totally bought his explanation that, "Sometimes my mom will go through my things to make sure I have everything and then things are out of place, and it's annoying." I responded, "Why would I check on that? You can pack for yourself. If you forgot socks, it's not my problem. You'll figure it out." I remember thinking, "Jesus, I hope he didn't grow up that way, because I'm not gonna look after him that much." And then I threw my things into the bag and off we went.

Apparently, the carry-on bag that held my engagement ring (hidden inside a sock) got picked to be searched at the security checkpoint and Jeremy claimed the bag was his, then discreetly told the security guard why it could not be searched immediately. I didn't notice any of this, head spinning from a crazy week at school and anxious about the trip.

Toward the end of the trip, all 8 of us had booked an excursion to visit some Mayan ruins, trek a jungle looking for wild animals, and see a Mayan village. One of the things we got to do was climb the highest peak at the Coba ruin site, the tallest on the Yucatan Peninsula. I had visited some Mayan ruin sites on a three-week trip to Merida, Mexico in college and had really enjoyed it, so I was very excited to see more and to have Brian experience history in that way too (I always wanted to go to Chichen Itza with him, in part so I could see it again, but mostly because it was such an amazing experience that I wanted him to have that too). Once we all climbed the peak at Coba, we were taking pictures from the top. When Brian and I stood against the backdrop of the jungle and turned to pose for pictures, Brian turned his body and dropped to one knee. I was so stunned -- I always thought I would see this coming! We had packed our bags together! -- that I actually said, "What are you doing?" I just couldn't believe it was happening!

Brian sort of hesitated, then said, "Will you marry me?" I was crying right away, and said, "YES!" He slipped the ring on my finger, and I sat on his knee and hugged him, crying into his shoulder. His mother also didn't know it was coming, and she was bawling. I had a hard time climbing down the mountain because I was shaking so much and I kept staring at my left hand! The cool thing is that we have pictures and video of the proposal, too.

Brian later told me that he knew he was going to propose on that trip, but he didn't know exactly when or how. He said he actually considered slipping the ring onto my hand overnight, after a long day of pina coladas and drinks at the nightclub, then pretending like he had proposed the night before and I didn't remember it. I actually thought that was kind of funny, but also knew I'd be a little pissed about it, and I'm definitely glad he went the romantic route instead of the prankster route.

My ring was a round solataire diamond on a thin, white gold band. It was pretty simple, but looks really good with the wedding band, a wrap with two contrasting sizes of diamonds to accentuate the center stone. Brian also got a white gold ring with diamonds. In fact, his wedding ring cost more than mine! I have to admit, though, I really pushed him to get something nice and with some diamonds. For one, I just think men's rings with gems look good if they are tasteful. For another thing, Brian had giant hands (I think his ring was a size 14?) and a plain band just looked too small and chintzy on him.

When Brian died, I knew what type of arrangements he would want, and really only had a few decisions were tough. Chief among them was where to bury him, and what to do with his wedding ring. I could not imagine not keeping it, nor could I imagine him not wearing it when he was buried. I had picked out what he would wear, and it seemed he should have his ring on. I was also told that people were typically buried with their rings, or at least I seem to remember someone telling me that. Whichever decision I made, I could only think of the problem with it, what that solution didn't give me. Finally, I decided to try to go back to the store where we had picked out our rings to see if I could just buy another one. Brian passed away on a Sunday morning, and I was in the jewelry store as soon as it was open on Monday to try to make this happen. Thanks to the amazing girls at the store, I was able to get another ring in Brian's size within 36 hours, in plenty of time for him to have it at the visitations and burial. I had decided that I wanted him to have the new ring, and I wanted the one he actually wore.

We didn't always wear our wedding rings, for different reasons. We NEVER made them a statement about the strength of our marriage, in any way. Just as we would never take it off to make a point after a fight or if things were bad, we never felt we had to wear them to prove ourselves. My weight fluctuated and my hands swell easily, so I couldn't/can't wear rings when I run, or when I spend all day on my feet, especially in the heat. He had sensitive skin and sometimes the ring would cause itching or redness.

In January, I started wearing Brian's ring on a chain around my neck. I tried my own ring on again -- damn, still a little tight from the holidays. I could do it, but it wasn't that comfortable. So sometimes my own ring would go on the chain too, and sometimes I would wear it on my hand. I think it is kind of good that we weren't the "I NEVER take off my ring!" type -- it made it a lot easier this year for me to think logically about what to do with my own wedding ring, allowed me to not feel guilty for not wearing it at times, etc.

I recently got both my own ring and Brian's sized for my right hand -- I wear my wedding ring on my ring finger, and Brian's on my thumb. I thought this was a way I could at least wear his ring every day. When I was wearing it around my neck, sometimes it wouldn't go with a neckline, and sometimes I felt it was too visible as a conversation piece -- not that I want to hide the past Brian and I shared, but I don't necessarily want to share it with every stranger who notices and comments or asks about my necklace. This also allows me to wear my wedding ring without worrying about the message it sends about my marital status, or worrying that someone will see it and say, "Where is your husband?" I'm sure some people will ask about my right hand rings, but not the way they do with left-handed ones, especially a diamond ring on that ever-significant left third finger.

Besides that, I like the way the rings look together on my right hand, too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

When Kristine & Bobby got married last fall, I was asked to do a reading at the ceremony. [Ed. Note -- I have done many readings at weddings, and I do hire out my services in that capacity.] Kristine & Bobby chose Love Sonnet 43 ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" -- link here: by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Kristine either thought I was wise and eloquent in the ways of love, or just wasn't interested in controlling every tiny detail of the wedding ceremony, because she told me that if I wanted to, I could say something about the reading first, or make some other introductory remarks. Those who know me know I'm not shy, and I always think I have something to say. So, of course, I spoke a bit about love before reading the poem.

(Left: Brian and me at Kristine & Bobby's wedding reception)

I said that the poem describes different aspects of love, and that the wonderful thing about marrying somebody and sharing your life with them is that you get to discover different ways in which you love them, different things they do and that you experience together that make you feel differently toward that person and love them even more. My eyes filled with tears of joy as I thought about that truth that life with Brian had taught me, and that my friends would now know. I knew that I loved Brian more and more the longer we were together, and I yearned for my friends to experience that in their own lives.

Lately, I have been thinking about the many proverbial "hats" Brian wore, the many roles he played in his life and how lucky I was to see him wear so many pieces of headwear. He was my husband; but he was also a son, brother, friend, boss, employee, classmate, uncle, volunteer, manager, cousin, brother-in-law, son-in-law, grandson, "daddy" to our cats, and so much more to so many others. I'm sure there are hats he wore that I never even saw in the closet -- I can't truly know what impact he had on whom in the workplace, for example, or to guys who lived on his floor while he was an RA in college. I have no doubt he wore each hat well though.

I loved Brian more and more as time passed and I got to see him in different lights. He came across as a brash, outspoken guy who was all about having a good time. Yes, he was those things. But he was so much more than that. When we got Picaboo, I got to see him in the role as pet owner (though we didn't care for the term "owner"). We would call each other "Mommy" and "Daddy" when we talked to her...and it wasn't me who started that! My jaw dropped the first time he said, "Picaboo, look at Mommy!" [Photo at left is "Peeks" and "Daddy"] When Ellie came along, she was totally a Daddy's girl, and he loved it. I think I loved it more though -- it was great to see him baby her and go out of his way to make her happy. It was the same way to see him with kids, especially his nieces. Though he didn't know much about babies (he was shocked to find out that babies were born with fingernails when we went to the hospital to meet our first niece, Lily!), he always had a way with kids. It was adorable to see this big man turn into a total softie, put on a baby voice, and make funny noises. It made me love him more.

As a friend, Brian was tops. He was loyal, he made time for his friends, and he made sure everyone had a good time. He truly cared about his friends and would go out of his way to help them. Though I didn't see it too much (because it is something that normally happens between friends without spectators), I know he gave good advice and had a knack for being able to have tough conversations with people when they needed to hear something. It takes incredible skill, confidence, and tact to do that; I loved him more because I saw those aspects of his personality.

I really learned a lot from Brian from the way he interacted with the world -- his family (both immediate and extended), friends, co-workers, subordinates, and his bosses. I was amazed at his visitation to hear people say things like, "I worked for Brian eight years ago." He had such an impact that people felt the need to pay their respects, and some of the people he touched in those seemingly mundane ways were truly saddened and affected by his death. One death makes so many people mourn for their loss, and the bigger the ripples one makes in the pond, the more people will feel them.

Because of Brian's death, his young nieces will never really know their Uncle Brian. This breaks my heart more than I can describe. While this affects the girls, and I am angry and sad for Brian that he didn't get to see them grow up, I am also sad for myself that I won't get to see him be an uncle. I loved watching him with those little girls, and I miss that about him. I'm sad I don't get to see that anymore.

Because of Brian's death, his childhood friends won't be able to say "We've been best friends for 50 years" like I know they would have been. He met Mike Hart in the first grade and was best friends with him until the day he died, at age 31. It is rare to meet a 31-year-old who has had the same best friend for 25 years. When we were in college, we had to fill out questionnaires about ourselves for a residence life trivia game. One of the questions was, "What was your favorite grade in school, and why?" I chose 9th grade because I was finally in high school and I started dating Brian. He chose 1st grade "because that was the year I met my best friend, Mike Hart." Those two relished their friendship; the quarter-century mark for them was noted and toasted, almost like an anniversary. They loved sitting around telling stories about what they did when they were younger, and I know Hart is crushed that he can't do that anymore, and that there are no more stories to be created and later re-told as wrinkly old men. I am also heartbroken that I don't get to sit there and hear them share those stories -- I always loved hearing tales of their hijinks and I looked forward to being an old woman and laughing with them as we recalled our young and crazy days.

There are so many other examples I could write, but you get the point. Just as much as he played a role in everyone else's lives, I loved that many aspects of his personality. Suddenly "How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways" has turned into "How Do I Miss Thee? Let Me Count the Ways."

The fortunate thing for me is that the connections Brian made in his life helped make my safety net a lot bigger and stronger this year. When I think about the good friends who have helped me get through this year, a lot of them came into my life because of him. This is not to say my family and my own friends haven't been awesome, because they have. I'm just saying that he brought a lot of great people into my life. He was able to do that because everywhere he went, he made an impact on people. He had friends from every stage of his life, and could befriend the most unlikely of people. Now, those bonds he made for us have been invaluable to me.

Ellie (human Ellie, who has been a superstar with home projects) knows me because her fiance worked with Brian. Joy (who watches the cats and is just a loyal friend who would do anything for you) was co-workers and friends with Brian when he worked at Sears, and then ING. My friend Erin (who lives in Austin and lived with me this summer) is another ING connection. I also think my friendship with Kristine was strengthened by the fact that her husband and Brian were friends and we did a lot together as couples. Of course, Brian's family in Texas has been a great support. I went to Bonnaroo with Hart and Wilson, and Wilson and I have had a good number of nice conversations this year (in person, on the phone, and by text) and he always makes me feel better. Brian's immediate family has been great to me and checked in on me so often when they probably needed checking on themselves. The list goes on and on...

I have been pretty down lately, thinking about how much I miss Brian in so many different ways. I need to remember, though, that I was lucky to know him in so many different ways, to love him in so many different ways, and to have so many people and so much love and support in my life because of him. I guess I need to look at it as "How Do I Thank Thee? Let Me Count the Ways" or "How Do I Remember Thee? Let Me Count the Ways."

After all, isn't thinking of him with gratitude, joy, and thankfulness a better way to love him and honor his memory than thinking of him with sorrow?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the Move

An update on my status as a semi-Iowan/semi-Texan:

I booked a trip to Austin for the week after Thanksgiving and plan to pick out an apartment on that trip. I will begin the moving process in December, and it is looking like I will be able to move the cats down to Austin in mid-December on a private flight to Austin at no cost to me (keep your fingers crossed for that to work out!). I am going to try to talk one of my Austin friends into living at my new pad and watching the cats until I can be there full-time.

At this point, my house has been on the market for over a month and I have yet to get an offer on it. I had planned to stay in Iowa until my house sold, but I also am done working at the firm here in Iowa and am looking forward to getting started with my new life in Austin, so I'm just going to go for it! Besides that, I was immensely concerned about how to best move three cats (two of whom don't travel well at ALL), and had the opportunity come up to be on a private flight next month, so I figured I need to take advantage of that.

It is looking like the month of December will be a transitional month for me, and I'll really get started on settling in after the first of the year (as far as a new job, etc. goes).

I will keep everyone posted!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something Old, Something New...

I've been to a couple of weddings in the past month, the first wedding(s) for me since Brian died. I actually did okay both times, and I think it helps that neither was a traditional church ceremony and neither was anything like Brian's and my wedding.

The first wedding I attended was that of my good friends Erin & Chad. Erin is the one who worked with Brian at ING, became close to us through Wine Club, and who moved to Austin in May (she lived with me for a month before Chad was able to make the move). Erin & Chad got married in a beautiful, intimate ceremony outdoors, overlooking the hills, town, and Pacific coastline that make up Santa Barbara, CA. I could really do an entire post (or more) on this trip! I don't the time right now, though, so I'll just share some thoughts.

I did a reading at Erin & Chad's wedding that was about asking someone to be your partner and to stand by your side as your "camerado" (I remember that word especially, since I had to ask how to pronounce it!) for the rest of your life. I admit that I had a hard time choking out some of the words, especially the "rest of our lives" part at the end. I had this overwhelming feeling of love for Brian; love and happiness for my friends that they had found each other as camerados; pride that Brian and I had, in fact, held true to our vows and had made it 'til death did us part; bitterness that it happened so soon; happiness and gratitude that our union and bond had only gotten stronger and better through the years; and hope that the same would be true for my friends.

After I sat down, I cried. I am sorry to say they weren't tears of joy. I cried for myself, for what I had lost, for what would not be, for the tragic ending that followed my own fairy tale day six years ago. Kristine, seated next to me, patted me on the back, and started to cry too. I had actually thought about what I would do if I broke down, and had planned to make a quiet escape if needed. However, I stuck it out. For one, there were only about 30 people in the audience, so there was no way I could be discreet. Secondly, I was at least able to keep from making any audible sobs, so it's not like I was going to distract anyone. Leaving would actually be more distracting. Also, we had been in California long enough to know pretty much everyone at the ceremony and I knew that my situation was well-known and I truly felt like I had the support and love of everyone there, so I wasn't self-conscious about letting anyone see me cry.

Finally, my sorrow wasn't so overwhelming that it consumed me. Quite simply, I knew I could cry for a minute or two and then continue to enjoy what was before me -- a beautiful scene with palm trees, flowers, perfect fluffy clouds; friends who were ecstatic to have found true love and to celebrate that with family and friends; being on a trip to California with my best friend. Despite my personal tragedy, life continues to bring good things. Life IS good. I don't enjoy every moment, but there are times when I do stop and think: Life is good. I was able to do that at Erin & Chad's wedding, even with my pain. It really was a healing experience.

Last weekend, I went to a wedding reception in Kansas City for a childhood friend who married his partner in Iowa. There was a small, lighthearted, "unofficial" ceremony at the reception, as the two had already been married in Iowa. Everyone sat at their round tables; it wasn't like people were among strangers in pews, which I think is a terrifying thought to me. (I worry that if I break down in that setting, strangers will think I'm rude, family will resent me for distracting from the ceremony, or people will ask what's wrong with me, then give me looks of pity or try to talk to me about it.) Luckily, none of that at this marriage celebration either. On top of it,
the reception was great -- trendy locale, good food, open bar, DJ, and friends from high school and college were there. I really enjoyed myself that evening, and without any tears at all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Run For Your Life

Kristine & me before the race

Nearly a month later, here is my post about the Des Moines Half Marathon....

The Des Moines Marathon/Half-Marathon was held Sunday, October 17. This was my first half-marathon and first big road race since Brian's death. On top of that, it immediately followed a busy weekend that included a family holiday celebration and a fundraiser for Animal Lifeline, Brian's pet cause (pun intended). On top of that, it was the 9 month anniversary of his death. Understandably, I had some apprehension and mixed feelings going into the race.

I had trained with my friends Kristine & Laura (who both ran a full marathon with me last summer), as well as Kristine's sister Jenny, her boyfriend Justin, and their bloodhound, LadyByrd. Training with my friends had made that part fun, and relatively easy. You'll recall that it was on a training run with Kristine & Laura that I found Mittons, my little orphan kitten.

The morning of the race, I picked up Kristine and we headed downtown. We were able to meet up with Jenny and Justin, who were running the full marathon. However, we never were able to find Laura. It is always a madhouse at the race start -- thousands of people crushed into the starting area, people jumping around to stay warm, checking bags of gear to retrieve post-race, waiting in 15-minute-lines for port-a-potties, etc. Kristine, Jenny, and I started the race together, between two pace groups that were the right speed for us. (FYI -- at most half- and full marathons, there are people who run while carrying a large sign that shows their approximate finish time; we lined up between the 2:15 and 2:30 pace groups.)

Kristine, Jenny, and I stayed together for about the first five miles, at which point the course split for those doing the full vs. the half. Jenny went on her way, and Kristine and I took the "short" course. We stayed together for all but about a mile, following a port-a-potty stop, and finished together. Kristine's husband, Bobby, and her mom, Sue, cheered us on and took pictures at multiple points along the race route. That was a nice thing to look forward to.

Kristine, Laura, and I had decided that we were going to dedicate each mile of the half-marathon to someone or something in our lives that had been an inspiration or that had helped us in running, in life, or both. Kristine and I had taped our "Gratitude Lists" to the back of our bibs (the number pinned to a runner's shirt). At each mile marker, we'd tell each other who that mile was for, and sometimes would talk about that person a little bit.

I am not going to share my whole gratitude list, but I will say that I felt blessed making it, because it was hard to choose just 13 people who meant so much to me. I will say I fudged it a little, as "Mom & Dad" got one mile, "Steve & Diane" (Brian's parents) also shared a mile, etc. One mile I dedicated to my law firm, Hopkins & Huebner, P.C. I told Kristine that without the support and understanding they have shown me, I think the entire trajectory of my life would be different and much worse. It was the freedom they gave me this year to take time off and figure out what is right for me that has: 1) given me the time to grieve and process, and 2) allowed me to take time to make decisions without caving to career pressures and worries.

My last two miles were for Kristine and then Brian. Those were hard emotional miles, and sometimes I didn't really think about those two people because I couldn't without tearing up. But I did make a point to think about them as much as I could. Kristine has been a rock this year -- she spent the night with me at times when I didn't want to be alone, she helped organize funeral arrangements, she came and ate lunch with me on a daily basis for a while, etc. I remember being out with some law school friends downtown one night in February or March, leaving the bar, and walking through the skywalk toward my car. I pulled out my cell phone...and realized I was getting it out to text Brian to tell him I was on my way home. It hurt so much to realize I had no one to check in with anymore, that I'd never have those communications with him again, that I was on my own. That night, I stopped at Kristine's and crawled into bed with her to cry. Beyond that, she's my running partner, and running has helped me so much this year. I welled up with tears of joy at the gratitude I have for her, this year more than ever. It was also fitting that Kristine's mile took place partly at Gray's Lake, which we've run countless laps around over the years.

At Gray's Lake -- about 2-3 miles left to go!

Then came the last 1.1 miles...Brian's mile (and a tenth). I felt really good, physically, and remembered how much harder this part of the race was the last time I ran it. It was a beautiful day, and I told Kristine that was Brian's way of helping out, that he pulled some strings for us to make that happen. Just then, a breeze kicked up and blew a bunch of dried leaves across our path. It was Brian cheering us on, I know. It was the only way he could make noise, and it was enough to get my attention! It was not a windy day, and I barely even noticed the wind, but the leaves scrambled over the road loudly and quickly. At one point in that mile, I saw a lone hawk flying above me.

I felt really good coming into the home stretch, once I saw the finish line. I felt better than I have at the end of any race in a long time, actually. I started looking for people I knew, as I had sent out a desperate plea via Facebook and e-mail to friends and family, hoping for support at the finish line. I knew I'd have a couple friends there, but didn't know if any family would make the trip. Then, I heard my mom call out my name. I saw her and my grandparents (Mommo & Poppo) cheering me on at the side of the road. I was elated, and so surprised!

As soon as I finished, my mom caught up to me and hugged me tightly and we cried and cried. It was amazing and I'm so grateful she was there, and Mommo & Poppo too. It meant so much to me. I also saw a couple of other friends, including a law school classmate, at the finish line. I got separated from Kristine, but met up with Joy (a dear friend of Brian's and of me, and "Aunt Joy" to our cats) and Pat (the former housesitter/roommate/co-worker and current good friend). My family, Joy, Pat, and I went out for lunch at Spaghetti Works. After that, Joy and I went back to the finish area and found Justin, who had finished the full marathon in 3:42:00 -- way to rock that first marathon, Justin Credible! (By the way, my time of 2:25:14 was not a PR, but it was a good time for me.) We then found Kristine, Bobby, and Sue, and we were all able to cheer Jenny on as she finished up the full marathon. It was a truly great day and I couldn't stop basking in the glory of it all.

By the way, there are a lot of great pictures at:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Paws for a Good Cause

Almost a month ago now I had my "marathon weekend." Right after the family holiday dinner in SE Iowa, I hopped in the car and drive straight to downtown Des Moines for the annual Paws-n-Claws Auction, the big annual fundraiser for Animal Lifeline of Iowa. Here's a photo of me at the fundraiser with Al, the ALI mascot:

As you might recall, Brian was on the Board of Directors for Animal Lifeline of Iowa. This year, he was recognized in the auction program with a full page that included his picture and biography. I had decided that I would also make a special bid in his honor. You see, each year, there is a silent auction, then a live auction. The live auction always includes fantastic prizes, and then some "gimmies" that have no monetary value, but are a good way to get donations to the shelter, such as "bidding" on the right to buy food for the shelter for a week, to sponsor medicines for a week, etc. The most fun of these is naming rights to the next litter of puppies and naming rights to the next litter of kittens.

Last year, the bidding started at $100. The naming rights for the next puppy litter went up to around $300. When it was time for the kittens, my friend Kristine opened the bidding at $100...and that's where it stopped. So, this year, I decided I was going to buy the naming rights for a litter of kittens and name them all names that Brian would like. This year, the puppies went for a couple hundred bucks again...and then it was time to bid on naming rights to the kittens.

Long story short, I won the rights to those kittens. For $700. Yes -- Seven. Hundred. Dollars. Gulp! The good news is, the shelter actually made $2,100 on this auction item! You see, I was in a bidding war with 2 other people and after I won, the auctioneer joked, "Anyone else who'd like to name a litter of kittens for $700, hold up your paddles now." The two ladies I beat out held up their paddles! Also, the shelter director stood up after I won (but before the other two pledges/bids were made) and said, "For that price, she can name TWO litters!" So I get to name two litters of kittens! I did have to laugh though -- I thought the kittens would go cheaper than the puppies -- they always do! I think Brian had a part in that going differently -- I think he was telling me, " bought yourself a Gucci purse this summer. I'm going to make sure you donate more to Animal Lifeline than you spent on that damn ugly purse!" (In my defense, I LOVE the purse, though I know it would not have been something he liked. And it will be my only real Gucci bag ever.)

Actually, I went to see two litters of kittens last week and submitted names to the shelter yesterday. I will post their names and a link to their profiles once those are up on the Animal Lifeline website.

All in all, the auction was a good time. There were 13 people in my group, the better part of two tables. This included several of Brian's co-workers (who are also friends). Readers would recognize a few names -- Kristine (running partner), Joy ("aunt" Joy to my cats), and Ellie (who is a phenom at house projects) were all there.

At one point in the evening, I had an intense and emotional conversation with Brian's former boss, who is the one who got him involved with Animal Lifeline. It was really good to open up and have a tearful conversation, actually. For one, I think it helped relieve some of the emotions that were coursing through me that day and that would have probably reared their head during my half-marathon the next morning if they hadn't come out that night. For another, it was another chance for me to open up face-to-face, which is something I'm not always good at.

Side note: There's the takeaway, readers -- don't feel bad if I cry while talking to you. First, it isn't you that "made me cry" -- it is the situation I'm in. Second, it's not a bad thing to express emotion honestly, and tears are sometimes a product of that.

In addition to getting to name two litters of kittens (with names I know Brian would love), I was thrilled to see the shelter make a lot of money that night, I felt lucky to have the love and support of friends and Brian's co-workers surrounding me, and I even walked away with a silent auction package that included a 60-minute massage! (I have already used the massage, and it was incredible!)

I'd say the ALI auction was a success.

First Family Holiday

As promised, here are a few pictures from my first family holiday, which I described in a long post a few weeks ago.

This was the Thanksgiving dinner on my mom's side (my grandparents and their 6 kids and families were there, plus a few friends of the family, so it was a big gathering. This is me and my cousin Max, who is 11 and with whom I am pretty close:

Here is my grandma, her 4 daughters, and their daughters (me and my sister Laura):

Back Row: Aunt Amanda (she is 32 and we grew up like sisters; she is Max's mom), Mom, Mommo (my grandma), Aunt Trish, Aunt Pam
Front: Laura (my sister), me

My aunts and mom also had a cupcake war! The picture below shows their giant cupcakes, made with a giant cupcake mold they each got from Mommo. The result was a tie, but my secret favorite was Mandy's Sweet Potato Casserole Cupcakes.

Long Time, No See (A New Post, That Is)

Okay, so a few things formed a perfect storm in my life to keep me from blogging for a while, but I'm back in the saddle now! I'm going to try to catch everyone up on what's been going on, and to do some random, non-event-related posts too...

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Marathon of a Month, Part I

I've been really busy (just got back from California and got the house ready for showings during that short week before the trip!), so I haven't written about the marathon or any of that weekend yet. In fact, I'm not sure I've processed it all. I hope sitting down to write about it will help me with that.

My recent experiences/challenges began with some family time, most notably an early Thanksgiving dinner gathering. This was about a week and a half ago. I went back to SE Iowa on Friday and went to dinner with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend.

It's always been a group of five with my family, but I'm just not used to being the single one whose sister has a boyfriend. It was always my parents, Brian & me, and Laura. Now, it is my parents, Laura & Alex, and me. It's an interesting shift. I've never been in that role before. At no point did anyone do or say anything to make me feel like a fifth wheel or left out, and I didn't feel like an odd person out or anything, but it is just another way that life is different for me without Brian.

Everything in my life is different now, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't still cry and pray for a day or two that feels the same, that feels "normal." I miss the hell out of Brian and loved having him there for everything I experienced. I got used to having him as a constant in my life. I don't know how it feels to not have that constant, that partner. Think about how "used to" having him I was (I AM) -- we started hanging out as friends when we were 14 and 16 years old. We started "going out" right after my 15th birthday. I've never not had him fill the role of boyfriend/partner/husband in my adult life. Hell, he was boyfriend when we were really just kids still. Of course EVERYTHING is different without him -- I never actually had my own life without him. The last time I remember family functions without him, my sister (who is now 20 and a sophomore in college) had not even started kindergarten. He has ALWAYS been there, he was ALWAYS in my life.

So I'm still getting used to the change in dynamic, the change in roles, the weirdness of this position and feeling (on top of just plain MISSING him, of course -- I still think about what he would say during a conversation, what he would order at a restaurant, what he'd wear to a family dinner out, etc.). I feel like an alien on another planet, but only I know that -- everyone else sees a human, but I feel like an impostor. Look at me, pretending to be normal and like I know how to function in this world. Inside, I'm mining every encounter, every conversation, every situation -- and even every sitcom -- for clues about how one is supposed to act. I'm suddenly very self-conscious of whether I'm "normal" or how I will be perceived. Before, I knew Brian would call me on it if I was rude or weird. Also, I didn't care -- I had him. Now, I feel like I can't do anything that might drive people away because I don't have that security that comes with a good relationship.

For so many reasons, I miss living out every moment of my life with Brian, and to be having those moments and experiences without him is just plain weird. I'm not saying I can't (or don't) enjoy life without him; that's far from true. But even the best of times have a tinge of discomfort or weirdness for me. It's weird to me to enjoy life on my own, to not have anyone to share it with. I miss having someone to share all this with.

But I digress. Getting back to my busy weekend a couple weeks ago:

I had dinner with my family Friday night. Saturday, I got up for breakfast with Brian's parents and I took a car -- nay, SUV -- full of Brian's clothes to their house for his dad to go through. Then, I went to the cemetery, where I sobbed and hugged his tombstone in front of some people walking past. This was a big step for me; I have a really hard time showing emotion in front of people (part of the reason I have to blog). I was proud that I could let those emotions flow and not feel self-conscious. I also think it's important to show "bad" emotions like crying, or to talk about "bad" feelings like guilt and jealousy. People have to know those feelings are a normal part of life and that you can talk about them and not have to hide them. In a way, I felt that letting my emotions show in front of strangers breaks down that societal wall just a little bit. And, oddly enough, for me, it might be easier to cry in front of strangers than people I know. I'm just not good at opening up -- I try to reserve my emotional breakdowns for when I'm alone.

After I left the cemetery on Saturday, I went to my aunt Trish's house. I was still very emotional from being there, and it's a short drive from Greenwood Cemetery to her house, so I was still pretty teary when she came to the door and as soon as I saw her, I fell into her open arms and cried some more. I think this also will help me with my feelings barrier, and I'm glad I went to Trish's house rather than driving to another relative's house further away and letting those feelings dissipate (or forcing them away) before seeing anyone else. I need to lean on my family and let them comfort me instead of always trying to suppress the emotions to deal with on my own later, as I've been doing.

Trish helped me design my shirt for the Des Moines Half Marathon. It was on Sunday, October 17, the nine month anniversary of Brian's death. The Bears had a home game that day. I wanted Brian to be with me in some way, so I took an old Bears tee of his from the 90s and Trish and I modified it to fit me and girl-ify it a bit for the race. It was his way of being with me and my way to honor him.

After Trish and I got the tee shirt modified, we went to the Thanksgiving dinner. I think having a big emotional weight lifted by crying a lot that morning helped me go in with a sort of clean slate, and it actually went really well. I have a big family, and it was great to be able to catch up with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family. There were a lot of people and a lot of things going on, which helped. This family function is held at a sort of reception-hall style space (my aunt and uncle run Circle of Pride motorcycle club in SE Iowa and own some great event spaces as a result of operating functions for that club).

The reception/dinner space at the rodeo grounds was set up for a wonderful family dinner. There were beautiful fall decorations, a Thanksgiving tree, a door prize table, a table for displaying giant cupcakes made by my mom and aunts for a cupcake war, and even one of those cut-outs where you can stick your face in for a photo. It was awesome! I will post some pics soon, I promise.

I had a wonderful trip back home. Yes, there were things that were weird, and moments that were sad, and times that I was crabby, but it was still a good time. I was bummed when I had to leave early to head back to Des Moines for the Animal Lifeline fundraiser.

I guess I really DID have a lot to process, looking back at this post...
I will write about the fundraiser and the half marathon in separate posts.

The next one will be less wordy, more photo-y.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Come Walk With Me

This is a poem I found on a grief newsletter mailed to me from the funeral home (there are periodic mailings for a year, I think). Some of this applies more to the immediate time after a death than where I am right now, but I still really like it and I think it perfectly sums up how I felt, and how I think most grieving people feel:

Come walk with me...this journey will be very lonely.
Please don't try to stop my tears! Bottling them up inside hurts too much.
I don't expect answers...just a listening ear as I ask the questions.
My story may get old, but I need to tell it again and again...this is healing.
For a while I may forget to do the simplest thing...gently remind me.
If I get angry, please forgive me. It's not you...just my circumstances.
You can't possibly fill all my alone time...moments will do!
A "thinking of you" phone call will brighten my day!
Don't give up on me! I may seem fine and then unexpectedly appear
To go backward. This is normal I am told.
I need to hear my loved one's name. Don't be afraid!
It hurts me more if I never hear it.
Laughter is soothing to a breaking heart...tell me
The funny joke you just heard!
Please understand if I want to be alone.
Resting and taking time for myself is necessary.
Knowing that you will walk with me, not carry me gives me courage
And strength to face my changed life. I am not alone.
In my heart I have the assurance that God has promised to never leave me.
But He has created me with human needs for...a smile, shared tears, a hug, a listening ear.
Thank you for all of those things and allowing me to walk at my own pace!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Quickie

I've been super busy lately, and my realtor called yesterday morning wanting to know if a photographer could come take pictures of the inside of the house for the online listing today. So the last two days have been pretty frantic, but the house is listed now, with pics and everything!

Here's the link:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Quickie

I will write more about the weekend, but for now I wanted to do a quick post to let you know the weekend went very well. I had a great time at my family holiday dinner, as well as the Animal Lifeline of Iowa auction. The half marathon went very well. I was happy with my pace, it was a beautiful day, and I had great support from friends and family.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And So It Begins...

In the next 24 hours, I have:

1) a family holiday dinner
2) Animal Lifeline of Iowa fundraiser (cocktails, appetizers, silent & live auction)
3) Des Moines Half Marathon

This is going to be a weekend full of good things, good people, and good causes. But these are also times that I loved sharing with Brian, and I will feel his absence acutely. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers this weekend. I will need it.

House, Episode Seven

**Apologies for the delay in this broadcast. The broadcast station had internet issues.**

In this week’s episode, we take a look at a week in the life of Wendy, dating from the last episode.

Saturday – Wendy and her mom take an SUV full of stuff to Goodwill. Meanwhile, Wendy’s dad is very busy around the house. He fixes a dragging gate, installs new light fixtures and new house numbers to the exterior of the house, hangs mini blinds in the kitchen, and lays 14 bags of mulch. Wendy also paints over some spackled areas on the bedroom wall (where the old curtain rod was hung) and adds another coat of paint to a bathroom wall. Then, the family loads up another SUV full of things to bring back to Muscatine and heads to enjoy themselves at the World Food Festival, where Wendy is volunteering at an information booth set up by Animal Lifeline of Iowa. That evening, the crew heads for Letts.

Sunday – Wendy takes her SUV, loaded with totes of Brian’s clothes, to her aunt and uncle’s house. He is about Brian’s size, so will be able to use some of Brian’s things. She also goes through the sheet music Brian had kept in his guitar case before taking the guitar to his mom. This, along with seeing and holding the guitar again, makes her cry bittersweet tears. She loved his music, but the song was just too short. That afternoon, she attends her cousin Max’s football game and then heads back to Des Moines, dropping off the Christmas tree and ornaments at Brian‘s brother’s house on the way. Incidentally, he and his friends remove a non-functioning hot tub from Wendy’s house the same day.

Monday – Exhausted from the weekend, Wendy spends part of the morning reading in bed. However, much of the day is spent getting the house ready to show to the realtors she meets with that afternoon. Now that there are two fewer truckloads of stuff in the house, she is able to make every room in the house at least presentable. She meets with the realtors (a husband-wife team), signs a contract, and a “For Sale” sign goes in the yard!!!

Tuesday – Wendy attempts to stain the deck railings. First, she lays plastic down and tapes off the composite plastic floor of the deck (just the floor is plastic; the railings are wood). Then, she gets everything ready – the stain, a paintbrush, a wet rag, and a bottle of water – it is warm! She considers wearing a string bikini, but seeing as how most of her helpers are paid in pizza, which she has been eating right alongside them, she figures the neighbors would not appreciate the view. She stains most of one side, then realizes the stain isn’t really all that dark. She puts on another coat…then realizes that she was supposed to stir the stain before applying it! Honestly, she is clearly terrible at house projects. She thought stain was supposed to be a clear-ish, liquidy glaze. Surprised to find that it should look and go on more like paint, she starts over. There went almost two hours…and she doesn’t get very far before she gets rained out. Then she goes inside to work on the office. There are piles and piles of papers – stuff to sort, file, shred, etc. Amongst the papers, there is a stack of Christmas cards received in 2009, and a few other memory “triggers,” including the program to Sam & Jackie Langstaff’s funeral. This leads to a meltdown of sorts, and that’s about where Wendy calls it a day. That night, Wendy’s day turns from bad to worse when she spots a flea on Mittons.

Wednesday – Wendy takes Picaboo and Ellie to the vet for their annual visit and gets flea medication for all three girls. Ellie (the human friend) and her daughter Riley come over that morning. They vacuum and start washing cat beds and blankets the cats have been on. Wendy and Ellie also paint the ceiling in the garage and get the coat closet cleaned out and show-ready.

Thursday – Wendy, having neglected her running when she has new shoes to break in and a half-marathon around the corner, goes for an eight mile run in the morning and does resistence training in the afternoon. The rest of the day is spent on laundry, vacuuming, and shredding. Wendy attacks one room at a time, moving furniture, vaccumming the floor and all upholstered surfaces. Between each room, she goes to the office to shred more papers, stopping either when the shredder gets full or when it stops working (it is not designed to run for so many minutes straight). The vacuum attachment that she uses to do stairs and upholstery is not designed well, so it stops running several times and must be cleaned out. This sometimes entails a simple removal or untangling of hair or carpet fibers, but on a few occasions, she must bust out the tools and open the attachment head up to pull fuzzies out of many small compartments and between wheels and belts that should not have air flow (and, hence, carpet fuzzies) going there at all. Wendy is starting to wonder if ANYTHING can ever be simple and quick….alas, the entire day is spent vacuuming, doing laundry, and shredding documents.

Friday – Wendy has a doctor’s appointment in the morning, along with various other errands. Really, the only thing that happens around the house is that she buys a new kickplate for the front door (which she will install in next week’s episode). She also loads up a few more things to take “home” to Muscatine, and heads for that part of the state, where her marathon weekend (literally!) will begin.