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...