Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas in Ohio, not Killarney

(I'm sure a handful of you will recognize the Irish Christmas song referenced in the title of this post.)

"Antonio" and me with Santa
Just writing with a quick update of how my Christmas went.  I went to Ohio to be with my boyfriend's family and we had a great time at a variety of family celebrations up there.  Although I spent last Christmas Day in Texas, this year is the first time I haven't been in Iowa for all my family celebrations (we frequently would celebrate extended family celebrations on a date other than December 25, whenever everyone could be together). 

On the Friday before Christmas, my BF's family had a Christmas party at their house.  I had made a few recipes from home, to bring a bit of those memories (and tastes!) with me to Cincinnati.  The caramel Crispix, Oreo balls, and "crapper dip" (you throw a bunch of crap together and it makes a cracker dip, hence the silly abbreviated name) were all a hit.  A large number of friends and family poured through the house, excited with the holiday spirit.  The highlight of the evening was a visit from some carolers led by Santa Claus himself! I was beaming with holiday cheer as "Antonio" had one arm around me, another around his grandma, and we sang Christmas carols with Santa, who was surrounded by all the children at the party by this time.

Christmas Eve at Paul Brown Stadium, cheering the Bengals to victory!
On Chistmas Eve, the BF and I went to a Cincinnati Bengals game (we are both crazy about NFL football...I'm...well, actually, tattooed crazy about my team).  This year marked the first time I hadn't been to a Chicago Bears game in about six years, a tradition started with Brian that I really miss.  But the Bengals game more than made up for it.  We had shopped for Bengals gear at the pro shop as soon as Antonio and his sister picked me up at the airport, so we were dressed the part, and we didn't even have to cover up in coats the weather was so nice.  The Bengals played well overall (a couple missed field goals were frustrating), but it was a nail-biter 'til the last minute, when the home team walked away with a victory.  It was great to see the Bengals win, and we were really lucky to have a great view of Jerome Simpson's amazing flipping touchdown (and I don't mean "flipping" as a euphemism for another "F" word...I mean he literally flipped over a defender and landed on his feet in the end zone).  It was one of those football moments I will always remember (like the time I saw Devin Hester's two return touchdowns carry the Bears to overtime and eventually victory over the Broncos on a snowy Sunday night at Soldier Field). If that Simpson play was the icing on the cake, the cherry on top was the fact that we got to share the day with family.  Antonio's sister and her friends were at the game too, and Antonio's cousin got to go onto the field to be recognized for his accomplishments as a high school quarterback (his face was on the Jumbotron and everything!).  That night, the extended family exchanged presents with his grandma at her house.  From there, it was off to Mom's house for a Christmas Eve ham dinner (again, with the whole family) and then to late mass.  From mass, like many a good Catholic would, it was to the Irish bar for more caroling and some darts.
Me with the BF's family (sibs, mom, and Grandma)

On Christmas Day, we went to Antonio's stepdad's house for breakfast (he's Dad to the younger siblings and helped raise Antonio).  We had a great homemade breakfast and did gifts there, then it was back to Mom's house for immediate family gifts.  Antonio got me a Toshiba Thrive (a smart pad device), which will be perfect for me to use when I get started as a real estate agent early next year!  He also got me some nice polarized sunglasses.  I got him a range finder device for him to use on the golf course (it has a laser and detects how many yards you are from the flag).  I think everyone was pleased with their gifts.  That night, we had dinner at an uncle's house -- prime rib, cheesy potatoes, and specialty drinks were on the menu -- yum!  The night ended on a down note as the Bears-Packers game did not end with the Christmas miracle I was hoping for (a minor down note; still a good day).

The day after Christmas, Mom, Grandma, Antonio, one sister, one brother, and Uncle Mark all piled in to a couple vehicles and headed out for lunch and a trip to the conservatory.  We saw a bunch of really cool plants and flowers, a miniture train set-up made of all-natural materials that filled a whole room, and a life-size nativity scene (with actual animals).  We also got to drive around a park with some amazing views of Kentucky across the river, and some neat things to look at.  That night, we said our good-byes as Antonio and I marched to two fantasy football victories (and two championship game appearances).  I have an Iowa native, Darren Sproles, to thank for my last-minute victory over my father-in-law.  (Sorry, Steve.)

The trip to Ohio was fantastic.  I missed my Iowa friends and family, and our traditions, and I missed Brian.  But that didn't keep me from enjoying myself with people I love, in a place I love -- even if those people and places are a little newer to me, and even if it means recognizing that my life is forever different.  I had a wonderful time.  Besides, I carried Brian and his family with me, and my family, with me.  Even if we weren't physically together, they were all with me.  It was in me making caramel Crispix -- a Boka family recipe that we would make for Bears tailgating and holiday parties, and that Brian loved.  It was in me talking about my family, and Brian, even though no one there has met either (and will never meet Brian).  I still talk about him, because he was a part of my life and I love and remember him, and I can talk about him happily.  It doesn't make me sad to talk about him, and that feels really good.  I felt like I honored and remembered him very well when push came to shove on Christmas, instead of just being sad because I missed him (something I'd been struggling with lately).  So I'm glad to say that Christmas went very well.  Not that there were no tears -- there were, but they were a quiet sidenote to an overall happy time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Morning After

I'm happy to report that Brian's birthday was a good night.  I got to see about a dozen friends of mine throughout the course of the night.

The first meeting point was Black Sheep Lodge, a place a couple of my friends (who didn't yet know each other) happened to be going, and a place that Brian and I first went to together when we were spring breakers visiting Austin. 

The next stopping point was LeeAnn & Arika's living room, where people trickled in and socialized until it was time to head downtown for the evening.  (LeeAnn & Arika were neighbors of mine at my last apartment and they just ran the San Antonio half marathon with Antonio and me.)  In their kitchen, we started the evening with a toast to Brian.  I told the group that it was his birthday (some already knew, some didn't, and some I'd just met that day), that he would have been 33, he would have been happy his birthday was on a Friday, and would love for us to go celebrate by watching live music out with friends in Austin -- something we had loved doing so much when he was alive.   

The White Ghost Shivers at Antone's, Austin, TX
Once downtown, we split up, as I owed my friend Drew dinner for his help in facilitating my move to San Antonio (he is an apartment locator).  We ate at an amazing tapas bar and had a great bottle of tempranillo.  I told Drew about Trostel's Dish (, a tapas bar in West Des Moines that Brian and I enjoyed.  We had a great meal and conversation, then headed to meet up with a few others at Antone's to see The White Ghost Shivers, a ragtime-style, roaring '20s band.  They are a hoot to see perform, so it was a great time.  Besides that, I love Antone's.  It has a perfect set-up for live music and it is special to me because Brian and I went there and because Antone's is where I met Antonio.  (And, no, that's not why I assigned him the name "Antonio," but it is a funny coincidence.)

Throughout the night, I periodically got texts and e-mails from friends and family, offering support or telling me of their plans to honor and remember Brian on his birthday.  It was wonderful to hear those things.  I think part of the reason this round of birthdays and holidays is hard is because I'm not around in Iowa to lead his friends in toasts, to plan meals at his favorite places, etc.  I was starting to feel bad about not being able to do that, but I was actually able to do that here in Texas, with a bunch of people who now know who he was, how great he was, and how much he meant to me (and always will).  Getting messages of support from loved ones back home helped me realize that I don't have to be the one to keep his memory alive to those he knew -- as LeeAnn pointed out, he was a great enough person that those who knew him will always remember him.  I know I'll always carry his memory, and I know others will too.

All in all, it was a great night. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday?

Today would have been Brian's 33 rd birthday.  I'm having mixed emotions about the day.

Antonio, Mittons, and I came to Austin last night.  Antonio and I went out for dinner at a sports bar to catch the NFL Thursday night action, then went to a bar near our condo to check it out for the first time.  We had a night of amazing conversation together, just the two of us.

This morning, we went to our favorite breakfast joint down the road (  Then I took Antonio to the airport and he left for Ohio for the holidays.  I will be joining him in a few days, but I wanted to have some time to myself to get some things done and to just have some "me" time during this month full of difficult dates.  It was still hard to have him leave today, though -- I cried into my pancakes last month when I realized he'd be flying out on Brian's birthday.

I didn't know what to do today, and so I sort of just let the day slip away.  I planned to go to yoga, but when I got back from the airport I laid in bed for a while instead, thinking and crying and remembering the man I loved (and still love) so much.  (Also, I played Angry Birds for a while -- what can I say?  I'm hooked.)  I'm having a hard time remembering to be thankful for the time I had with him; right now, my dominant feeling is that of missing him.  I know this is a matter of choice and focus -- I need to make an effort to celebrate him, not mourn.  I know he'd be happy that I'm going out with friends tonight for good food, drinks, and live music.  It's exactly how he would want me to mark this day. 

I guess it's time to stop giving in to the sad part of me. She got most of the day already.

Honestly, though, I kind of just want to cuddle with Mittons and cry some more.  That doesn't do anyone any good, and it isn't what Brian would want for me.  It isn't what anyone who loves me would want, and it isn't really what I want for myself.

I'm going to have a good time tonight.  For Brian.  It's the best thing I can do for him on his birthday.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!"

I wrote this post almost two weeks ago and had to sit on it until the emotions weren't so raw.  Just speaking about this experience to my best friend on the phone, I broke down in tears.

We just decorated for Christmas.  Among our -- pretty much my -- decorations is a an animated, light-up, stuffed moose head wearing sleigh bells that hangs on the wall next to our fireplace.  It's sort of a nod to the actual deer head Antonio would like to see one day hanging above the fireplace (if he can get me on board...and that's a big "if").  So a stuffed moose head that shouts Santa's catchphrase and sings Christmas carols will have to do for now.  (Ain't she a beaut, Clark?)

Brian loved this moose head.  It was always in our downstairs bathroom, which had a hunting lodge theme.  It was the bathroom at the top of the stairs when you came up from our basement bar, the Boka Bear Den (beer on tap, a fridge for other stuff, shelves of liquor, a dartboard, Bears memorabilia all over the walls, and a poker table).  We had so much fun there!

Anyway, back to the moose.  Brian always liked moose.  When he was tiny, he had a stuffed animal named Moosey. He always kept that moose in his bedroom at his parents' house, even when we were all grown-ups and married.  Once our nieces were born, they got to sleep with Moosey.  There is a great picture of Brian playing with Lily and Moosey on the stairs at his parents' house.  Brian once bought Lily a giant stuffed moose for Christmas.  Moosey was buried with Brian.

The day after we did our Christmas decorating, I was in the kitchen doing dishes from my oatmeal breakfast when I heard the animated moose head start shouting and singing. He's a motion-detector, so I go in to see what set him off, as I was the only one home and I hadn't heard any activity from the cats. There was a cat laying on the chair, but she didn't look like she'd moved in a while. The only other thing in the living room that could have set him off was the screensaver on the DirecTV. Could that moving blue box have been enough to trigger the moose?

When I heard this Christmas moose start shouting and singing, and I couldn't see what had set it off, I thought it had to be Brian.  I thought he was saying hello and "Merry Christmas" to me.  At least that is what hoped, with all my might.  I wanted it to be Brian so badly.  I ran into the living room to see what had set the Christmas moose off, hoping Brian would be there.  I know he is dead and that he would not be there in living form, but I do believe in visits from the departed and I just wish I could see him again, so I could feel like it wasn't all in my head.  If I could see him, I would know he was reaching out to me.  And of course I want him to be reaching out to me.  I miss him.  I want to know that he's happy and at peace, and that he would approve of what I've done with my life and where I'm heading.  I long to see him.

When I didn't see Brian, I cried.  And I decided I had to blog, to share this experience with everyone else who has lost someone dear and who may have felt a similar longing to be visited by their loved one who has crossed over before.

As I was writing this post, the damn moose went off several more times, until I concluded that a change in lighting in the room due to cloud positioning is probably the culprit that keeps setting him off. Is that what happened the first time?  Or was it Brian? 

I feel crazy having these questions, for seeking a sign from beyond so desperately that I might be losing my grasp on logic.  How do I know what to believe?  How do I know if he is trying to say hello or if it just a coincidence, etc.? 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey Trot

After our week in Iowa for Thanksgiving, I feel like I've run a marathon instead of a typical Turkey Trot fun run.  Unfortunately for my waistline, though, none of our running around consisted of actual running.

Last Tuesday, we flew into Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where we had lunch with my friend Emily, an attorney and law school classmate who was my first visitor to Austin after I moved there last winter.  From there, we went to get flowers and visited Brian's gravesite in Muscatine.  That night, we went out for dinner with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend.  At the restaurant, a high school classmate spotted us from across the room and came over to say hi.  She turned to my boyfriend and said, "You must be Antonio.  I've read all about you."  We joked about how he had a level of celebrity in southeast Iowa before even setting foot there.  That night, my parents' van broke down and my dad got a speeding ticket with all of us in the car while we were driving home from supper.

On Wednesday, we (my parents, Antonio and I) visited LeClaire, Iowa, a scenic town set along the banks of the Mississippi River.  We browsed an antiques shop and visited the Mississippi River Distilling Company ( a distillery there that is run by friends of mine and in which I hold a small percentage of ownership.  We took a tour, enjoyed some samples, and filled up a box of liquor, stickers, pint glasses, and beef straws (yes, beef straws -- I couldn't make this up if I tried:  That evening, my parents had family and friends over for a party at my dad's garage bar (which is more impressive than many actual, open-to-the-public bars I've frequented in my day).  Antonio got to meet grandparents and aunts and uncles from both sides, along with friends of mine (and Brian's) from high school. 

Thursday was Thanksgiving day.  It was a relatively quiet, low-key day.  We ate a very traditional dinner at my parents' house -- turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatos, gravy, stuffing, rolls, etc.  It was just the six of us (again, my parents, little sis & her bf, and us).  When we weren't having our dinner, football was on in the living room for as long as my dad could take it (he prefers old movies to pigskin action so a couple games back-to-back was enough for him).  We went to bed early that night.

On Friday, we woke up early and headed to my in-laws' house for another traditional Thanksgiving feast, with a little college football on the side.  We had dinner with Brian's parents, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and their three daughters.  That afternoon, we drove our bare-bones, rented Chevy Aveo to Des Moines.  We checked into our hotel, then stopped by the home of some friends of mine (formerly "friends of ours," as they were both people I met through Brian).  We spent a little bit of time at their house, catching up and getting to hold their baby boy, who is seven months old.  From there, we met some other friends -- Hart and Sheppard, guys who have visted Texas twice this year and who know Antonio well already -- for sushi and went out in West Des Moines.

Saturday morning, I got a bright and early start to my day while Antonio got to sleep in a bit.  I had an 8:30 coffee meeting with a family friend who, as fate would have it, is 33 years old and was widowed suddenly last year as well.  The time flew by as we talked about loss, death, emotions, in-laws, love, dating as a widow, family, grief, and work in a way that only we could understand.  Before I knew it, more than two hours had passed and we were both running late for our next obligations.  I rushed back to the hotel and picked up Antonio so we could make our lunch date with the Disneys -- parents of my good friend Erin, who lives in Austin now.  The Disneys are like family to me, and they had met Antonio in Austin before, so it was good to see them.  We snapped a picture of Antonio and me holding Erin's nephew, who they were baby-sitting so his parents (Erin's sister and brother-in-law) could join Erin's brother on a Thanksgiving road trip to visit Erin & her husband in Austin.  From there, we went to the home of Jenny and Justin, a couple who were part of my running buddies in Iowa and who came to Austin to run the Livestrong half marathon with me this February.  My Iowa BFF, Kristine (who happens to be Jenny's sister too) and her husband came over, and we all visited for a few hours before Antonio and I had to be off for our evening plans.  We first went to Hart's apartment -- a funky new pad right on the edge of downtown Des Moines.  Shep joined us there and the four of us walked to a nearby bar for a drink, then through Des Moines' sculpture park to the wine bar that served as our meeting point for the evening.  Saturday night, we ended up bar-hopping around downtown with a group that was in excess of 15 people at one point.  We went to a wine bar, a German bar (where we passed around boots of beer), the Miller High Life lounge (an old school lounge-y bar where the most popular shooter is a mixture of Tang and Jaegermeister), a beer-focused bar with hundreds of offerings on tap, and a sports bar. 

On Sunday, we got up and went to the children's hospital where Kristine & Bobby's newborn girl is staying while she receives the remainder of her IV antibiotic treatement for a blood infection.  It was really exciting to see the baby face-to-face; I thought I'd probably be seeing a pregnant bestie the whole weekend instead (Kristine's due date was not until today).  Another good friend, Joy, came to the hospital as well.  From the hospital, it was back to Jenny & Justin's, where more friends gathered for a feast of leftovers and fast food, and more NFL football action.  It was a fantastic Sunday.  Late in the afternoon, we drove back to southeast Iowa so Antonio could meet one more aunt, uncle and cousin who had been out of town earlier in the week. 

Monday was our day to return home.  We had a late flight, so we had time to enjoy morning coffee, then lunch, with my dad before we had to go to the airport.  Sunday night, we got home late and I was glad to sleep in our own bed, with the three kitties all around us.

All in all, it was a good trip.  We saw a ton of friends and family -- around 60 people, with over 50 being new to Antonio, ate a lot of great food, and saw some cool sights.  Antonio got along well with everyone in my family, of course.  We enjoyed our time with Brian's family, as well.  It was strange being at that dining room table for a holiday meal with someone else, but it wasn't bad.  At various points on various evenings, I had friends pull me aside and tell me some combination of three things:  1) I miss Brian; 2) I like "Antonio"; and 3) I'm glad to see you happy.  I agree with all of those.  Antonio saw pictures of Brian almost everywhere we went -- friends and family have pictures of us up from vacations we took together, birthdays, etc.  We told stories about those pictures, and we toasted to Brian, who brought so many of us all together. 

It was also good to spend some time with another young widow.  I was widowed about seven months before her, and a friend commented that she probably really appreciated talking to me.  I responded that I appreciated talking to her.  Just because I've had that title or status longer doesn't mean I know more about it; instead, we can learn from each other.  I think I said things that will help her out and she said things that were good for me to hear.  I have been feeling a lot of anxiety about the holidays and birthdays that are coming up, and we talked about what to do on those days.  It was good to hear someone else's thoughts and approach, and I think I'll have an easier time with my decisions this coming month because of it.

Throughout everything, Antonio was a champ.  He is unfazed by all the talk of Brian; he loves hearing more about him and who he was.  I was scared about going to the cemetary and crying in front of him; he calmly reminded me that he's seen me cry my hardest before and that hasn't scared him away.  He somehow knows just how to act and what to say, and he's not jealous of Brian's memory or intimidated that he can't live up to the ghost of my husband past.  When we drove past our old house, when I pointed out where Brian used to work, when we went to Taco John's because that was Brian's favorite, he was curious about all those things -- my story, my history, my past.  It's a nice feeling to finally bridge that gap between past and present.  Now I feel like the man who I share my present with, and with whom I am planning a wonderful future, really appreciates my past and my background. 

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Terrible Twos

The holidays are upon us again.  As anyone who has lost someone dear to them can tell you, there is a definite difference in the way you view the impending celebrations and traditions after someone you love dies.  A lot of people will tell you that the hardest part is getting through all the "firsts" -- the first birthday, first anniversary, first set of holidays without your loved one.  I've also read more than one piece of grief literature that suggests the second year is often harder.

This is going to be my second year of being a widow during the holidays.  Last year was awful.  I expect this year to be very difficult as well, though for different reasons.

Last year, I remember crying my eyes out at Easter when my uncle thanked the Lord for our family's blessings during the pre-meal prayer.  I didn't feel particularly blessed or thankful, having been widowed a few months before.  When the winter holidays rolled around -- as well as my birthday and Brian's birthday, both in December -- I had been widowed longer and was beginning to adjust to life without Brian, but I still found little joy in the holidays.  I remember feeling empty, like I was just going through the motions.  I remember feeling so alone on Thanksgiving, despite being surrounded by family.  That night, I couldn't get excited about Black Friday shopping plans.  "I don't even want Christmas to come," I sobbed to one of my aunts.  Still, Christmas came and went.  I attended all of the numerous celebrations hosted by Brian's family and my own, just as we normally would have done.  Though I was in the process of moving to Austin, I planned things so that I would be in Iowa for each family celebration (I traveled something like 8,000 miles that month by car, commercial air, and private flights).  I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Texas, and was able to enjoy spending time with friends and family in Texas, as well as the simple act of waking up in a new apartment on Christmas Day.  I loved that apartment and, to me, it signified that there were good things to come in my life in a new place, even without Brian.

This year, I have someone special to spend the holidays with.  While that is a wonderful thing, it also means things will change, yet again.  It cements the fact that my life has changed forever and that I'm no longer walking the same life path as I was when Brian was alive.  It really drives home the fact that he is gone, that I have to let go of the expectations and plans I had for our lives together.  If he were alive, we'd almost certainly still be in Iowa, and we'd go to all the family celebrations like we always did.

That's not an option for me anymore. If I tried to do all that, I'd have to spend a month shuttling back and forth between Iowa and Texas, and I'd have to ignore Antonio's family in Ohio altogether.  It's just not feasible -- logistically, economically, or emotionally.  Part of me wants to just say, "Forget all this!" and not go anywhere for any of the holidays, to just stay home alone in Texas, enjoying the simple pleasure and sense of peace I feel at home with the cats.  At least that would allow me to wallow in my grief as I see fit, to not feel like I have to mask my complicated feelings beneath a joyful holiday face.  I did a similar thing for my 30th birthday last year, choosing to treat it as simply another day, picking out new living room furniture for my apartment.  I rather enjoyed that.  No expectations, no false front, no disappointment, no hoopla, no unnecessary energy and emotion required.

So what do I do this holiday season?

Well, we are going to Iowa for Thanksgiving.  I haven't been home since summer, and Antonio's never been to Iowa and hasn't met most of my family and friends from up north.  I have a mixture of emotions about this trip.

Of course, I'm looking forward to seeing my family (including Brian's family) and friends, and to visit some of the places I hold dear to me.  I can't wait to show Antonio off to everyone, and to show him how great my place of origin is.

On the other hand, I know it will feel strange to be back in those familiar places, surrounded by familiar faces, with someone who isn't Brian.  I've never been in those places with a man who wasn't Brian, and I know it will be different.  I'm not saying it will be bad -- in fact, I'm looking forward to it -- but it will certainly be different.  I haven't had a "meet the boyfriend" moment with my family since the mid-90s when I brought home the tall, skinny redhead upperclassman I'd just started dating and would eventually marry.  I know they will love him, but I'm a little anxious because it's an unfamiliar situation.

I have to admit, I also worry about introducing him to my in-laws.  I can't imagine what it will be like for them to have me at their family Thanksgiving table with a new man beside me, a man who isn't their son and brother.  Will my nieces understand?  My in-laws are loving and gracious people, and I know Antonio will be welcomed warmly; that is not a concern.  That still does not mean it will be easy, or that it won't feel a little bit strange.

I also worry about Antonio.  I want him to enjoy this trip.  Will he be overwhelmed to meet all "my friends," most of whom were Brian's friends, or "our friends"?  Does he worry about being liked by everyone who loved Brian so deeply?  Will he get sick of hearing me rave about the places we used to go, the things we used to do?  He hates seeing me cry, but I suspect there will be many tears in the week we will spend in Iowa.  Will he hate the trip if I cry too much?  We'll be going to see Brian's grave, which makes me bawl every time I'm there.  I want to show him our old house, my old law firm, and all our old hang-outs.  I loved my life with Brian in Iowa, and I want to show him why.

All of the places and people that used to make up my daily life are now 1,000 miles and one year removed from my current reality.  Will seeing them all again trigger sadness for what I lost?  Will I get overly sentimental and yearn for what no longer is, for what will never again be my life?  I don't know.  I know that one year ago, I couldn't miss my old life as much as I do now, because I wasn't as removed -- I still had possession of my house throughout the holidays, so I was at least in a familiar home during the holidays.  This time, our trip will include a couple nights in a hotel, further cementing the fact that "home" is no longer.

Despite my mixed emotions and complicated feelings, despite my pain, I know I can enjoy the holidays.  I just have to have a plan to deal with emotions when they come up, instead of hoping they won't interfere and being unprepared when ignoring the emotions doesn't work.

First, I have to remember that the past is meant to be remembered with fondless and affection.  Instead of longing for what I no longer have, I need to cherish the fact that I had years of happiness with Brian, and to be grateful and joyous that we had such a wonderful life together in Iowa -- full of friends, family, a wonderful home, great food, and fun.  I can share all that with Antonio, who I know is looking forward to experiencing the places and people that made me who I am.

Second, I need to remember that pain and happiness can co-exist.  While I might feel sad to let go of my old life and my old traditions, I also know that I will enjoy being with Antonio this holiday season.  I can miss Brian and be sad that I might not make it to Iowa for Christmas, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy myself with Antonio's family in Ohio.  I love his family, and I look forward to spending my first Christmas in Ohio with them. 

Third, I will talk about Brian.  Whether in Iowa, Texas, or Ohio; with my family, my in-laws, or my boyfriend's family.  Brian may be gone, but he is not forgotten.  Sharing good memories about him, telling "Brian stories," and just saying his name all feel good.  Talking about him helps bridge the gap between my old life and my new one.  It is a way to be open to change, to the world, and with my emotions.  If I stifled myself, listened to that tiny inner voice that warns me not to talk about my dead husband too much lest anyone think I'm obsessed with him or unable to move on -- or that worries that people I've just met will think I'm weird or morbid, I would bottle everything up.  That wouldn't be good for anyone.  It would be self-destructive, as it would cause me to feel I couldn't share my past and would make me feel bottled up.  It would also be disrespectful to Brian -- just because he died, doesn't mean he didn't exist.  He doesn't deserve to be exiled to a place of non-mention.  He was a wonderful person -- bright, funny, outgoing, warm, wise, and honest.  He doesn't deserve to have his presence limited to our silent memories; instead, the stories of his life should continue to be told -- for they are a source of laughter, inspiration, and happiness.

I think with these simple rules that I will enjoy this holiday season, even if it turns out to be harder than the last.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Got Me a Fearless Heart

Being a widow is the most painful, horrible, difficult thing I have ever been through, and it’s been harder on me than I could imagine.
And here I am, less than two years out, in a relationship again.  And not just “in a relationship” – I’m in all the way.  I’m in love, hard core, all in.  We share a home, a family, a life.  I’m committed to him.  I've relocated from the city of my dreams so I could be with him, and I plan to start a career here in San Antonio because he is here.  He is the center of my world.  This is how I felt, loved, and lived with Brian.  I know the immense value of what I have now, and I know how easily it can all disappear, without warning, in an instant.   I know how vulnerable I am.  Although highly unlikely, it could all happen again anytime.  I hope if I'm widowed again, that it would be after a long marriage, when I am an old woman with grandchildren who are grown.  But life offers no guarantees.  With a relationship comes risk of heartbreak, and I am now acutely aware of what a risk I am taking. 
Knowing the pain I have carried, I choose to put myself on the line again.  I will risk that torture, that heartbreak, that complete and utter devastation again.  Why?
Because he is worth it.  Because I love him so much.  Because I’m brave.  Or maybe because I'm just too stubborn to let death win.  I’m proud of myself for being able to love again, for not letting fear keep me from finding joy. 
Go forth with a fearless heart.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Run Baby Run!

I'm running a half marathon this weekend -- the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio.  What will make this race different for me -- other than the fact that I haven't trained very well -- is that it will be my first time running with a significant other.  Two of my friends from Austin, Antonio and I will all be participating in this 13.1 mile voyage through the streets of San Antonio, dotted with rock 'n roll acts along the course (the, ahem, "star" of the show is Vince Neil from Motley Crue....let's just hope he's still as good behind the mike as he is at getting himself arrested).

As I've been training with Antonio, I've had a chance to think about how different it is training with a romantic partner.  For one, he's made me a lot faster.  I usually try to keep up with him, even though I don't have to -- he makes a habit of turning back to check on me and looping back to let me catch up and we plan where we will meet up to finish the run together if we get separated.  Another fun thing about running with him is that I enjoy the visual aspect of watching him run ahead of me.  He looks sexy in his sweatband, gym shorts, and headphones.  The stud factor and the positive impact on my training would be reason enough to keep running together, but the big thing is that I just enjoy being with him.  It's great that we can enjoy doing this and being healthy together.  It is fun to discover new ways to spend time and bond with a partner, and this is especially a treat for me because this relationship is the first one I've entered as an adult.

Antonio and I do things together that I've never done with a romantic partner.  In addition to running, we golf together, we've gone fishing, I help him with work sometimes, we share a bathroom, and we cuddle on the couch often (Brian didn't care much for physical affection).  It's interesting -- and wonderful -- to see how different relationships work.  I don't look at it terms of "better" or "worse" -- just different.  After all, it is not just my partner that is different -- I am a different person than I was when I was with Brian.  I'm older, wiser (I hope), and forever changed by having been Brian's wife and by becoming his widow.  Now, as a different person, and as an adult choosing a partner (as opposed to growing into one another the way Brian and I did, as high school sweethearts), it is interesting to see how things unfold.  I'm excited to see what other things we will enjoy together in the future.

Right now, I'm just enjoying the view by his side...or from behind when he's wearing his running clothes. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meet the Parents

Antonio and I recently got back from a trip to Cincinnati, which is where he is from.  We spent a week in Cincy, eating our way through the city's best offerings in the form of Skyline Chili, Frisch's Big Boy bacon cheeseburgers, Montgomery Inn barbeque, and Graeter's ice cream.  (I should also mention that we started exercising more and watching what we ate immediately upon assessing the damage shown by the bathroom scale when we got home!)  In addition to the culinary delights, we got to enjoy the visual splendor of fall's foliage that covered the rolling hills surrounding the beautiful skyline of the Queen City and the banks of the Ohio River.  What a perfect time to experience the city!

More importantly, though, I got to spend a lot of time with Antonio's family.  I had already met his mom and four siblings, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.  I met Antonio's stepdad, uncles, cousins, grandparents, lifelong friends, and more.  We went to his brother's last two high school soccer games, cheered on his QB cousin at a football game, golfed nine holes with another cousin (who, at 13 years old, beat me handily), watched a play put on by the Cincinnati Children's Theater (where his mom works), went to the restaurant where his sister was waiting tables, took another sister shopping and then had "brinner" (breakfast for dinner) for her birthday, picked up all the siblings at school for ice cream, and hosted a ping-pong tournament open to friends and family and that lasted for several hours while NFL football played in the background.

We spent a lot of time with Antonio's family, and it was amazing to watch the way he gets along with everyone in his family.  He is an amazing son, big brother, grandson, cousin, and nephew.  Antonio's family is large, but close.  It reminded me of my family, if we were set in a big city instead of a small town.  His family home, like mine, is within walking distance of other relatives, with more a short drive away.  Maybe this is part of the reason I felt so at home there, like I was with my own family.  I'm sure another part of that is the type of activities we engaged in -- cooking together, going through old photo albums with Antonio's grandma, and running errands with various family members were all in the mix on top of the sporting events and meals out.

Antonio will be coming home with me to Iowa for Thanksgiving in a couple weeks, and I hope he enjoys his visit as much as I enjoyed mine.  I've been making plans for things to do and places to take him in Iowa.  Regardless of what he thinks of the sights and tastes of Iowa, though, the most important thing is that I want him to come home feeling like he's been somewhere he belongs, with people he enjoys, and that he wants to come back.  I want Iowa to feel like home to him the way Ohio felt like home to me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Yours, Mine, and Ours

I've had a couple of weeks to settle in with Antonio now, in the house we share with the three cats.  While I was in Europe, he did a lot of unpacking, and we have now finished with all the unpacking, done a lot of organizing and decorating, and are putting on the final touches of "home," though having been a homeowner before, I don't know if one ever truly finishes all the "final" touches -- it seems like little "honeydews" and projects are perpetually popping up before the last task has been completed.  Nevertheless, I strive to be an optimist, so I'll focus on what's been accomplished on the home front (which is quite a bit).

I had literally moved my stuff from Austin to the house in San Antonio, dumped it off, and said, "Going to Europe - see you in a couple weeks!"  I had no idea what my boyfriend would do -- or not do -- with everything while I was gone.  He did great on his own, unpacking as much as he could (there were some things even I wasn't sure what I wanted done with) and hanging pictures here and there.  (Oh, and he got me a golf bag as a "welcome home" gift, but that's a little off topic and I'm really just bragging about how sweet he is by bringing it up...)  Anyway, among the things Antonio hung up were a painting Brian's grandma had painted and given to us as a wedding gift -- that hangs on the mantle above the fireplace, as it has in every place we've lived since we wed.  There is a framed Van Gogh print Brian bought in Europe on a college trip -- a piece we never found a place for, that we never had hung up before while Brian was alive.  Now, it sits atop a bookshelf in the living room.  Also in the living room, above the entryway door is a sign reading "Home is Where Your Story Begins!"  That used to hang in the hallway, along the stairs, in my old house, flanked by photos of Brian and me.  Then, in the apartment in Austin, it was displayed above the door to the balcony.  Now, it is again in a "home," the place my new story -- our story -- begins.

It's interesting to fill a house with stuff that is "yours, mine, and ours."  It's even more interesting when there is stuff that was Brian's, or that was "ours" together -- things like matching dishes, glassware, towels and bedding that we received as wedding gifts.  There are framed photos of our wedding on display in the bedroom (a choice we made together in advance of the move), and other little things -- a jacket of Brian's that I've always kept hanging up in the coat closet for some reason, even at this house.  I was a little worried that Antonio would feel weird about all this, but my fears have all been for naught.  We had discussed in advance where I'd put pictures of Brian, and how many would be displayed. In fact, he's even been excited about some of the things I brought to the equation as a result of being married to Brian -- the keg fridge and a kick-ass coffee maker chief among them.

All in all, the "yours, mine, and ours" approach has worked out perfectly well for us, and we have a beautiful home that makes a lovely setting for our story to begin.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

European Vacation

I'm back from my trip to Europe with Brian's family.  It was a great time, and the sights and tastes were amazing!  We went to Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.  My favorite part of the trip was a train ride up into the Swiss Alps, to the highest train stop in Europe.  This magical place is called Jungfraujoch and is known as the "Top of Europe."  There was an ice castle (walls, floors, ceilings, tunnels and sculptures of ice surrounded you), snow activities (a couple of us went zip lining into the snow!), and breathtaking views of Switzerland, Germany, and France.  I bet I took 100 pictures or more just on this excursion, though due to technical difficulties I will have to rely on this one from the internet for now (once "Antonio" can help me get my pictures off my camera and onto his computer, I will share some personal ones -- geez, I sound so technologically impaired, don't I?).  Though honestly -- none of my personal pics look quite as good as this professional one, likely taken from a special helicopter:

Another highlight included Oktoberfest in Munich -- oh, the merry people in their festive costumes!  The German bier!  The singing!  The oompa-oompa music of the brass instruments and the accordians!  The giant pretzels (far better than any giant pretzel I've ever eaten in the U.S.)!  The German bier (oh, wait, did I already mention that...?)!  Due to knowing the right people, we were in a group of about 30 people from around the world at the Hofbrau Tent to celebrate Oktoberfest one afternoon, and it was a great time.

We also explored a few cities in Switzerland and Austria, and I loved seeing the rivers cut through town, the narrow streets, the sidewalk cafes, and the flowerboxes full of red geraniums on nearly every window of every house.  The views everywhere were amazing, and just so different from what I'm accustomed to seeing in the U.S.  There were so many interesting buildings, with such detailed architecture from a time long, long ago -- a time before anyone was building permanent structures in America. 

We missed Brian on the trip, to be sure.  We toasted him several times, once with cognac and Coke, at the suggestion of Brian's grandpa, who had sent his mom overseas with money and instructions detailing us to specifically drink cognac for him.  We met up with some long-lost relatives in Zurich, Switzerland and had a large family dinner at their favorite, off-the-beaten-path restaurant.  It was incredibly tasty, to the point that I found myself wiping the plate with my finger and licking it when no one was looking!  It's a shame he couldn't have met this cousin and her new husband; I'm certain he would have liked them, as well as their pets, a cat and two rabbits.

Once I got back to San Antonio, to the new house, "Antonio" had a business trip that prevented us from being able to spend the night together, with all three cats, for several days.  On top of that, I was hit with a nasty sinus infection that had me clogged up, messed with my sleeping patterns (which were already jacked from the time change and travel), and left me unable to talk on the phone for more than a few minutes without feeling woozy from the "wah-wah-wah" sound in my ears.  I missed Antonio terribly, and I missed Brian too.  It was the first time I've felt such a strong feeling of longing, of missing, of wanting, for both of them at the same time.  There I was, alone in the house with the cats, unpacking my things, feeling simultaneous excitement at starting a new life with my boyfriend (and for the wonderful home we are making together) and longing for my late husband.  I was laid up on the couch (my couch in Antonio's house, though now everything is "ours" and not "mine" or "yours"), wearing an old sweatshirt of Brian's, and I actually had dreams about them both while I was cooped up sick and alone.  It was a strange feeling.  I think sometimes pain is necessary to move forward though, and I do feel like experiencing that jumble of emotions was a step forward.  I'm making progress, though sometimes it's hard.

Last night, we finally had our first night together in the house as a family -- Antonio, the 3 kitties, and me.  It was wonderful, and today I feel as on top of the world as I did at Jungfraujoch, and I like the view just as much.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whirlwind Week

In the past seven days...
...I took possession of a condo in Austin (to use for writing, weekends, and eventually a rental/investment)
...I moved a houseful of stuff (plus cats!) out of my apartment (2.5 stories up, no elevators) and into Sheldon's house cat almost got eaten by a dog and was briefly lost outside glass got broken....but not a fancy one
...I took part in an amazing birthday celebration for a friend, who was lucky enough to play a packed house at Saxon Pub on a Friday night
...I got my apartment leased out to a couple of guys from L.A.
...I've had two credit cards have their information become "compromised" and become useless
...I cried to strangers in a bar bathroom after finding out that an acquaintance in Iowa killed himself
...I coordinated a four-way move involving an apartment, a condo, a house, and a converted church-to-loft
...a stranger I know I was meant to meet became a friend over a couple glasses of wine

Last but not least, I'm headed off to Europe this morning! I'll be gone for 10 days, which I'll spend exploring Germany, Switzerland, and Austria with my in-laws, including an aunt and uncle and a cousin who I'm really excited to see.  One of the highlights should be spending Oktoberfest in Munich.

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks!  The moving out of the apartment happened much quicker than I thought, as the tenants who moved in wanted in ASAP.  Instead of moving at the end of the month, after my Europe trip, I scurrried to move out in a few days.  I'm literally signing off on the paperwork on my way to the airport this morning to finalize it all, and also stopping at the bank to sign the check for half of September's rent, plus the agreed-upon portion of my security deposit that the lease takeover-ers are paying me.

I'm amazed that I've made it this far.  Somehow, through all of this chaos -- and "chaos" is the only word that can explain what my life has been for the past two weeks straight -- I've maintained my sanity and mostly kept my composure.  I've only cried at appropriate times, like when I've dealt with the deaths of family members and friends.  "Antonio" and I never went to blows, and actually shared a lot of laughs and good conversations along the way.  It's gone so smoothly with him by my side that I know I'm doing the right thing (not that there was any doubt in my mind anyway).  I'm excited about my trip to Europe, and just as excited to settle down at home with Antonio when I get back.

I will take lots of pictures and will be sure to re-enter the blogosphere upon my return.  Until then, happy trails to you, my readers!  May your journey be just as enjoyable as mine is now, even if it's not quite as winding and bumpy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Long Road, Part Two

I had more thoughts on my great-grandma's death that I wanted share, but I thought the last post should be all about her and my memories of her and my great-grandpa.  I wanted to pay tribute to her without muddling it up by making it all about me, as this post is.

This is the first time since Brian died that I've had to deal with a death in the family.  It wasn't unexpected or sudden, and it wasn't someone who was taken from us while still far "too young" (though I know that designation doesn't matter to fate, no matter how we plead).  That helped make things easier for me. 

One thing that has made this harder is being away from my family.  The funeral and visitation for Grandma Cooper are happening this morning -- right now, in fact.  They are happening about 16 hours up the road, with "the road" being I-35 (it really is a straight shot all the way from San Antonio/Austin to Hampton; to drive it, there would be maybe 30 minutes total that weren't on that road).  A very long road indeed.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to Iowa for these events.  This is the first time I've had to miss out on anything really important because I'm so far away.  I hate that.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I am ready for another funeral.  That is a lame excuse, I know -- life (including death) goes on, and I don't get a pass forever just because of my personal history of losing Brian so young and so suddenly.  It's not like I get a "funeral pass" for the rest of my life -- at some point, I'm going to have to face that demon again.  It might be one of the last milestones, actually -- I've managed to go to weddings, after all, and hear "'til death do you part," and I've gone to baby showers and fantasy football drafts, Bears games, etc.  I can't use my pain or fear as an excuse, though I am certainly worried about that additional emotional toll that a funeral will bear for me because of my history.  This would have been a good one to go to -- a funeral for someone who led a full and happy life, who has been wanting to be reunited with her late spouse, and a funeral where I'd be surrounded by the love and support of family. 

That matters not, though.  I'm here, in Texas, and not there.  It sucks.  I have paid tribute to Grandma in my own way, though, telling "Antonio" all about her, writing about her, and I also plan to make some of her famous Rice Krispie bars once I can locate a recipe (I distinctly remember seeing a recipe at her house once; it was the first time I'd seen the word "oleo").

Facing death again also makes me think about Brian.  Has he found Grandma Cooper yet, to welcome her to the other side?  Or is he giving her some time with Grandpa Cooper first?  For that matter, have my dead relatives and friends met Antonio's dearly departed on the other side, as they look down on us with love? 

One thing I'll say is that I'm not bitter that Grandma Cooper got eighty-eight years and Brian got thirty-one.  I can't explain why, but I'm not.  I do, however, feel sadness that he didn't get to do as much on earth as her, or as much as he wanted.  He didn't get to have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  He didn't get to retire.  He didn't get to have that fulfilled feeling that I can only imagine one feels when surrounded by their offspring.  He didn't pass on his legacy in that way, didn't get to see the future he created through his life, didn't get to sort of see the beginning of the end with the love of his life by his side, and that truly breaks my heart.

The way Grandma Cooper lived and died is the way it's "supposed" to go.  I'm thankful for that, while also mourning that it didn't happen that way for Brian. 

As someone who loved them both, and someone with (I hope) many years left to live on this planet, all I can do is celebrate their lives and remember them fondly.  That is what I will do to pay my respects.

The Long Road

This week, my great-grandmother passed away after eighty-eight years on this world.  She had been suffering for some time, though I understand she went peacefully.  She traveled a long road on this earth, both in terms of her years and in terms of battling pain and illness for so long.  Though "long" in this context sounds difficult, arduous, and trudging, that's not entirely true either.  There was much happiness, abundance, and love that she was blessed to experience in her lifetime.  Eighty-eight years of life.  That's a good run for anyone, and Grandma Cooper made the most of it.

Esther Cooper, 1923-2011
Of course, I don't know much about Grandma's early years.  She was born in 1923 in Belmond, Iowa, a town not more than 20 minutes from Hampton, Iowa, the town she called home with Grandpa Cooper.  There, she worked as a nurse's aide for decades.  There, he owned houses around town and was a handyman.  It was in Hampton that they lived in the old farmhouse by the railroad tracks -- a house where we spent many weekends and holidays when I was young.  I loved hanging out with my older cousins in the playhouse above the garage, finding various unsafe things to play with in Grandpa's shop (I especially remember the time I lost a tooth as a result of some horseplay in which we took turns getting inside a tire and having the others roll the tire down the hill), and then coming in to dig into a tray of Grandma Cooper's famous Rice Krispie treats.  These were no ordinary Rice Krispie treats, either -- one pan would be covered in a thick layer of chocolate, while the other pan would appear normal, but there was a layer of gooey caramel hidden in the middle of the cereal crisps.  Never were her goodies dry, never did they scrape the inside of your mouth, and never were there any left in the pan by the end of a family gathering (if my dad, my uncles and I were all in the kitchen at the same time, they wouldn't last more than a couple hours, as it almost became a competition, with each of us trying to make sure we got our fair share of goodies).

Grandma and Grandpa Cooper's house was our gathering place in Hampton.  My dad was very close to his grandparents, being the oldest of their grandchildren, and having been taken on vacations all around the U.S. with them when he was young.  Grandma and Grandpa Cooper were pillars of the community in Hampton; they were leaders in their church, they were involved in city-wide events, they owned property all around town, and they had generations of family growing up under their wings in that town.  In fact, one of my dad's cousins (who is really closer in age to me -- in fact, he was involved in my clubhouse memories and the rolling-inside-a-tire-down-the-hill story) now lives in Grandma and Grandpa Cooper's old house with his family.  I haven't been in that house in years.  It might be jarring to me to go in and not see the shag carpeting, church-style organ, the same photos and art on the wall (including a picture of Jesus at the bottom of the stairs that changes depending on your angle when you view it), etc.  If I climbed the steep, winding stairs and went into the first bedroom on the left, would that large, creepy doll still be standing in the corner of the room?  For the sake of my cousin's kids, I hope not! 

I have many fond memories of Grandma and Grandpa Cooper -- their 50th wedding anniversary, them hosting my cousin's wedding in their backyard, holidays and reunions, great food from the kitchen.  Grandma and Grandpa Cooper visited my family in Austin once, about twenty-five years ago, during the brief stint my immediate family had there in the mid-80s.  I stayed home from school to spend the day with them while my parents worked.  I don't remember if our shopping excursion that day was a grocery trip, or browsing for pleasure, but I do remember holding onto Grandma Cooper's purse straps for dear life and being lead around the crowded store amidst a sea of torsos and backsides.

Grandpa Cooper -- a man who used to entertain us all at family gatherings and campouts with his guitar and songs (my favorite, "The 50 Cent Song," was about a young man on a date with a woman who ordered one of everything off the restaurant menu, all the while he worried about what would happen when it was discovered that he wouldn't be able to pay the bill with the 50 cents in his pocket), a man who had as much talent for poetry and wordsmithing as he did in his machine shop, has been gone for over ten years now.  Grandma has been talking about him increasingly over the past few years, as their spirtual arcs have grown closer.  Now, they are finally in the same place again.  For that, I am thankful.  Of course, I'm sad that the place they are together is not around a table in Hampton, Iowa, surrounded by family members singing along with Grandpa and eating Grandma's famous desserts.

Still, what a life.  Eighty-eight years is a good run.  Grandma Cooper leaves behind generations of family to carry on her name and tradition.  We should all be so blessed. 

Rest in peace, Grandma Cooper.  We love you and we will miss you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't Tea-se Me (Bro)!

This morning, I was getting ready to head to IKEA to meet some friends for some shopping (they are actually in town from Iowa, which doesn't have an IKEA, so they wanted to browse around there).  I was dressed and ready to go, purse over my shoulder, breakfast bar in hand, when it happened:  the great hot tea incident of 2011.  This was almost as monumental as the earthquake on the east coast that tipped over some lawn furniture a couple days ago, folks.  I grabbed my travel mug of decaf cinnamon tea, but the lid wasn't on tightly enough, and in one fell swoop my breakfast, my skirt, and my kitchen floor were covered in scalding hot tea.  I jumped back, cursing and banging into things.  I quickly regained my composure and got out of my skirt so the hot tea wouldn't sear my skin any more.  Next, I got out a handful of kitchen towels and started soaking up the mess.  I started another pot of water, realizing I'd have time for it to come to a near-boil while I picked out a new outfit, started my skirt soaking in cold water, and started a load of laundry so that every dish towel I own wouldn't be dirty at once (never a good thing).

I realized that this is the type of thing that starts happening when I get stressed, when I have too much on my mind and plate at any given time.  I've got a lot of things I want to cram into this week -- transcribing interviews I've done for my book, writing a legal brief (I still do some freelance legal writing), getting licensed to practice law in Texas (so I can freelance write legal things here too), finding someone to sub-lease my apartment, going through things (again!) to try to reduce stuff to be moved to either the house in San Antonio or the condo in Austin, etc.  So naturally, that's when this sort of thing would happen to me.  It's par for the course, really; I can't count how many times in law school this kind of thing popped up.  I'd lock my keys in the car, back into something, fall in the mud while I was rushing to get to class on time, etc.  I haven't always handled these things so well -- I used to have meltdowns over these little things, these "last straws."  I'm proud that I was able to take it in stride today.  Is it because I'm older?  More mellow?  Is it because of the perspective I have on life? I've been through much worse, obviously, and I'm stronger for it.  I'm absolutely certain there will be worse things to come at some point in my life. 

Today's Great Hot Tea Incident threw off my morning, my clothes, and my ability to be prompt, yes -- but is it really that big of a deal?  No.  I still got to IKEA to meet my friends (though in shorts and 20 minutes late), new travel mug of tea in hand.

The next time a sitcom-worthy "disaster" throws a loop in your day, how will you react?  Will you give a minor inconvenience more energy than it's worth by stressing out and letting it ruin your day?  Or will you laugh it off and go with the flow?

Remember:  life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's Moving Season!

Last weekend, I went to San Antonio and took the first truckload (well, SUV-load) of stuff to the house.  Most significantly, Mittons and my keg-a-rator now reside at our southern home (and I honestly don't know which one "Antonio" was more excited about).  From now on, every time I visit, I'll be taking a tote or two (or three) of stuff that we know will be going to the house.  My Halloween stuff is down there, with my tote of Christmas things soon to follow.  For the next six weeks or so, I'm always going to be running inventory in my head -- do we have one of these at the house already?  Is there a spare for the condo?  What can I take, and when?  It's going to be kind of nice to do a gradual move, especially with it being such a short distance.  The condo is really close to my apartment too -- less than a mile! -- so that will be relatively easy to furnish once I take possession in a couple weeks.

In the meantime, my friends Erin & Chad are moving this weekend too.  They are fellow Iowan-to-Austinites, having moved here about the same time as me.  Their lease was up and they (like me) wanted to find a living space in Austin that was more suited to what they wanted, as well as a bit more affordable.  What is nice is that we will be able to take on the moves together -- I am lending them some totes (the ones Antonio used for his recent move into the house) and boxes, and then I will get those back (and a bunch more empties) once they have moved.  Antonio's coming up this weekend and we are going to help Erin & Chad move, as we've done for each other the last few moves we've gone through.  They will be needing a washer and dryer at their new place, which works out well for me, as I'm going to need to sell mine.  It's nice how this is all working out.  I'm going to take it as a sign that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing...not just moving, but moving forward.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Second Act

I'm excited to be "going public" with a lot of good news in this post!  I haven't been blogging about any of these things to date because I didn't want to get ahead of myself by counting my chickens before they hatched.  (Growing up in a farming community, that analogy has always stuck with me especially well.)  There really are a lot of exciting things coming up in my life, so I didn't want to jinx anything.

The biggest news is that "Antonio" and I are going to move in together!  I'll be moving to his house in San Antonio, and that's where I'll pursue my real estate career once I get settled in there.  I'm incredibly excited to share my life with him and to be starting the next chapter of my life.

Speaking of chapters, I've started working on a second book.  No, I haven't yet completed my book of life lessons taught by Professor Grief; that is still in the beginning stages as well.  However, I had a great idea for a new book right as I found myself having a hard time re-living the grief and writing about that all day, every day.  I decided that I should dive right into the second book, as I needed another writing project that was more fun, so I could temper the difficult and draining writing with something a bit more lively and mood-boosting.  My second book will be a coffee-table book about the city of Austin, featuring people from each of the 50 states who have chosen Austin as their home.

Speaking of Austin-related ventures, I've also started designing some tee shirts and stickers to sell at some of the city's eclectic souvenir shops and boutiques.  I've found a graphic designer to turn my visions into visuals, and am going to start shopping my designs around soon.

As I'm going to need to be in Austin a lot for the book and the merchandise, I decided to buy a condo in Austin to use for those purposes, and for "Antonio" and I to have for weekends in the city that is the capital of fun.  I'm really excited about the condo -- it's right on South Congress, near great shopping and restaurants, and with an incredible view of the capitol building and the downtown Austin skyline.  Sure, it's pretty small -- almost a glorified hotel room, really -- but tastefully designed and in the perfect location.  There's a pool, exercise facilities, and free laundry facilities about 100 feet from the front door.  I think it will be perfect for what we need, and easy to rent out later once I don't need to be in Austin so much.

I will take possession of the condo sometime early next month, and will have the condo and my apartment throughout the month of September.  I couldn't move all at once, as I have a ten-day trip to Europe planned with my in-laws next month too!  I'm really looking forward to that -- we are going to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  Oktoberfest in Germany should be incredible!

There are many details to figure out -- what goes to the house, what goes to the condo, the closing date, which furnishings (if any) will come with the condo and for what price, when the cats will move, etc.  Chief among the things to figure out is finding someone to take over my lease.  My lease runs through early December, and I'd like to get out of the apartment at the end of September.  Luckily, my good friend Amy has been staying with me, helping out with some bills, and watching my place and cats for me for the last couple of months (which was really handy when I went on my two week, South Padre-to-Dominican Republic trip with both of our families).  She will be staying with me at the apartment through my vacation and while I'm moving, so that will be really nice to have her help with the cats and showing the apartment to prospective sub-lessees.

So there's the update!  I called this blog post "The Second Act" because of the way I heard Jane Fonda describe life in a lecture she gave in Des Moines once (regardless of anyone's opinion of this woman, she is an incredible speaker and moved me greatly).  She compared life to a three-act play, each act consisting of approximately 30 years.  She likened the First Act to setting the stage, the Second Act as introducing more plot and interesting twists, and the Third Act as wrapping things up.  This analogy really strikes a chord with me; I believe my life was in the First Act until the day Brian died.  The life I led to that date set the stage for what would transpire in Acts Two and Three.  At this point, I'm partially into Act Two, and looking forward to seeing what plot lines unfold before me.  I'm also very happy to have someone with whom to share the stage, whose life story is intertwined with mine.

There's been a lot going on in my life, to be sure, and a lot of this has happened very quickly.  It's a bit overwhelming to keep up with, but also incredibly exciting because I'm looking forward to the future.  As a widow, I've struggled to focus on enjoying the present, what life has had to offer each day.  Now, for the first time since Brian died, I'm planning for the future and working on the life I want to have.  This is a big step for me.  I hadn't been able (or maybe willing?) to think about the future or to look forward until now, partly because I was too afraid to count on anything, always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me.  Now, I feel like I'm on solid ground and I'm able to take steps toward what I want in my life.  I'm ready to see what Acts Two and Three bring.



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cheer Up Charlie

My last several posts have been really depressing, which is definitely honest, but also not very encouraging for those who read this blog for a sense of hope that it really does get better.  (By the way, it does.)  I sometimes struggle with that -- I try so hard to be an optimist, to find the silver lining, to stay focused on the present instead of my longing for the past or my anxiety about the future, to enjoy what life offers me now instead of thinking about what could have been.  Obviously, sometimes I'm winning, and sometimes grief is winning.  The last time I wrote, grief was strong-arming me into a sad, hopeless state.  Today, I'm writing to say that I've waged war on those feelings and I'm on top again.

How did I do that?

First, some great things happened -- my mom came to Texas to visit me and meet Antonio, I made some great new personal and professional contacts in Austin, I got to celebrate some big birthdays with friends, and one night I even got to lay on top of a car at the beach at night and watch shooting stars with Antonio.  Second, I made myself focus on those good things that I was experiencing and really tried to push aside all negative thoughts -- the missing Brian, some miscellaneous and really unimportant drama, frustrations with situations and people in my life, etc.  When you're going through a tough grieving patch, it's easy for anything bad to seem magnified, for any weight on your shoulders to feel ten times heavier than it should.  I had to actually make myself count my blessings, to list out some of the great things that I had the opportunity to enjoy.

Third, I have taken a break from writing the "Brian book," the one about my grief journey and the lessons I have learned.  By no means am I shelving it for good, or even for probably too long, but I did have to take a break.  It's just too hard for me to focus on reliving the most painful days of my life, day in and day out, to remember and articulate every detail possible.  Doing that for hours on end every day was too draining; there was no way I could keep my chin up through that many tears.  Luckily, I've started another book, and this one will be fun to write!  I'm working on a book about Austin, TX, and what causes people from all over the country to uproot themselves from what they know to plant themselves in this great city.  I've been meeting people, taking notes, conducting interviews, etc.  It's been a really exciting change of pace, something I'm genuinely excited about.

I have some other very exciting things going on that I will share with my blogworld soon....but in the meantime, I wanted to reiterate a simple truth:  Life is good.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just Breathe

Brian died at home from a pulmonary embolism.  Blood clots traveled to his lungs and stopped his breathing.  I was home when it happened, along with our two cats.  Now I live in a state of fear that it will happen again -- to someone I love, someone I'm with, or maybe to me.  Every time my leg hurts, I think I have a clot forming.  Every time I don't hear "Antonio" breathing in bed next to me, I have to put my hand on his chest to check for a heartbeat and the feeling of his chest moving up and down.  I have a hard time getting restful sleep in a room with a snorer, knowing that the apnea causing the noise and the sudden, noisy intakes of air (that most people would just consider a nuisance) is happening after a temporary cessation of oxygen to the lungs.  If I hear someone snoring, I feel compelled to lay awake and listen, waiting to make sure the silence is temporary and that the next breath is taken, that the person is still alive.  If I see one of my cats sleeping but don't see her chest moving up and down, I sneak over to make sure she's still breathing, still alive, that she too hasn't been suddenly taken.  I constantly wonder if I've got a clot forming and don't know it.  I worry that I'm going to imagine symptoms, and also that they will present and I will think I'm imagining them.  I think about how stupid it would be for me to let the same thing happen to me that happened to Brian, how I could never forgive myself if it happened to anyone else while I was there, and I worry that if it happens again, no one will want to be in my presence.  How do I stop worrying about this?  How do I stop thinking it will happen again?  And what if it does?

You Wanna Make A Memory?

A taste of my old life, courtesy of Pizza Hut
To help get me through this wave of grief that has been washing over me, pulling me down like a strong undertow, I've been trying to enjoy "Brian" things.  Last Sunday, I ordered a half pepperoni, half pineapple stuffed crust pizza -- our ultimate indulgence delivery treat.  I would normally have gotten just pineapple -- my favorite -- but I wanted to get pepperoni to remember him.  I have been wearing a couple of Brian's shirts around the apartment and wrapping up in a memory quilt my aunt Tracy made with most of Brian's Chicago Bears shirts.  I've been looking at pictures of Brian to re-live those good times we had together; I even got out the posterboard of pictures that was displayed at the visitations and funeral from its place in the closet and have put it back in its old spot next to my bed so I can see it every night and morning.  I've been listening to The Avett Brothers, especially the I And Love And You album. 

Daddy's girl Ellie on his memory quilt
Are these things helping me remember, or keeping me stuck?  I can enjoy good music, good food, and good memories and still enjoy life.  I need to make sure I'm continuing to do the latter, and as long as I'm doing that, I'm doing okay. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Remember When....?

For the past few days, I've been stuck on one feeling:  longing for my old life.  I want to be back in Iowa, back in my house, practicing law, and back in Brian's arms, planning and enjoying our life as husband and wife.  There's too much in my life now that is new, unknown, confusing, and scary.  I just miss the comfort of the life I knew and loved.  It's emotionally and mentally draining to write about that life, and my great loss, while I'm trying to carve out a new life at the same time.  It can be overwhelming.  It makes me want to curl into a ball under the covers and cry sometimes.  That doesn't do much good, other than providing some measure of emotional release.  But I can't go back to that old life, no matter how hard I wish, so crying in bed is the next best thing.  Man, that's a pretty crummy "next best thing."  I hope I can get this out of my system soon and get back to enjoying the life I have now, which I know is full of love, friends, and goodness -- I just have to remember that, and focus on those things instead of what I no longer have, to help me through this wave of grief and sadness that has consumed me lately.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Okay, okay, so the regular season for the NFL doesn't start until September.  Nevertheless, I'm stupid excited about football already.  I was relieved to see the NFL lockout come to an end so teams could start making personnel and player moves, training camps can get underway in time, and we can go about planning our fantasy season -- live draft included -- without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our heads.  Since the lockout was long, and no one could lock out coaches, owners, and managers from thinking, discussing, and planning player moves, the result was a flurry of activity yesterday -- player trades, free agent signings, rumors of possible moves, etc.

One of the biggest surprises to me was the Seattle Seahawks' signing of QB Tarvaris Jackson, a former Minnesota Viking who has largely ridden the pine with the likes of Brooks Bollinger and John David Booty.  He might have been Brett Favre's backup for the past couple of seasons, but he ain't no Aaron Rodgers.  For whatever reason, though, it looks like the Seahawks are putting Jackson under center (though the possibility remains that he will compete with another mediocre QB for the starting role, as the team was attempting to sign Matt Leinart as well) and paying him $8 million over two years to do so. 

I was out at a bar with some friends last night (I know, I know....on a Tuesday!) when I saw the byline on ESPN announcing this.  Any avid Bears fan would know how this guy plays, seeing as we face our NFC North rivals at least twice a year.  Having seen him play that long, I was surprised to see that he was snatched up so quickly, presumably to be the starting quarterback.  My first thought was, "I wonder what Brian will say."  Damn.  That hasn't happened in a while.

I had to take a moment to process the thought that had popped into my head.  I looked out the large window (we were in an open-air kind of bar) and just stared for a few seconds, not really looking at anything, just having a quiet, internal "widow moment."

When I came back to reality, I wondered if anyone had seen me suddenly flinch and turn away from the TV, or the subsequent longing, sad stare outside.  It hadn't taken long -- maybe 20 seconds total -- but these moments do still happen.  A year and a half later, I still have the occasional illogical thought, where I almost forget that he's gone, followed by the pang of remembering. 

My "widow moments" don't just come up when I have those "Oh, maybe it's Brian calling" moments, which are admittedly growing more rare as time passes.  There are so many other triggers -- seeing an ambulance, hearing a voice like his (though none have sounded quite the same), stumbling upon something of his at home, or even random memories and images popping into my head for no apparent reason.  I know there are plenty of times when I mentally depart from my surroundings, taken away by pain no one else can see.  I'm sure I look like I'm zoning out or something, eyes unfocused and glazed, mouth hanging open, oblivious to what's going on around me.  I just didn't expect a mediocre quarterback to take me there last night. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thoughts on Amy Winehouse

Another talented musician is dead at age 27.  When I first saw the byline on the news yesterday -- "Amy Winehouse Found Dead in Apartment" -- I had a very illogical gut reaction.  I first thought, "Maybe not -- maybe this will turn out to be a mistake."  Maybe my skepticism stems from the plethora of twitter-induced celebrity death hoax rumors, or maybe it's a bizarre defense mechanism I've employed in the event of sudden (though here, arguably not wholly unpredictable), young death.  I know I didn't believe the doctors at first when told that Brian had died.  I didn't think they were lying to me, but I hoped there would still be some miracle, that he'd suddenly start breathing again.  That's what I imagined might happen to Amy Winehouse -- that CNN jumped the gun when she flatlined, but that resuscitation efforts would prove successful, and that her life story would not come to such an abrupt and early end.  I guess it takes me some time to accept death when it pops up randomly and seemingly suddenly, even to people I've never met.

Why does it take me time to absorb this?  It is because death it is so unforgiving, unrelenting, and permanent.  There's no coming back.  That's it for Amy.  No more Grammys, no more hits, no more best-selling albums, no more arrests, no more chances at rehab, no more tattoos, no more wild nights, no more chances at true love.  She is gone now, forever.  And, one day and multiple reliable news sources later, I have no choice but to believe it. 

Thanks, Readers!

I have had some incredibly touching comments left on this blog, and I wanted to say thank you to those who read and especially for those who comment or who reach out in other ways.  My readers have encouraged me when I was down, offered practical advice in terms of living through difficult situations (including dating!), shared similar experiences and let me know I'm not alone, and have shared with me how I have helped them in their own journeys.  When I read that sharing my journey -- whether in person on a plane ride or through my blog -- has helped other people deal with the circumstances of their own lives (death, divorce, or other), it validates my decision to experience my journey publicly in this forum.  If this blog helps anyone else, then it was worth doing.  Some of the most recent comments are especially uplifting as I'm going through the emotional wringer with the book-writing right now.  Thanks for re-affirming my decision to travel through the grief again on paper.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011


As a widow, I have lived by the mantra, "One day at a time."  It has been an invaluable survival mechanism, to be sure, but I've perhaps abode by this principle a bit too much, as I've noticed that I'm not as good at planning ahead as I used to be.  Perhaps part of that reason is that I'm afraid to get too comfortable in life or to count on things continuing to go as planned, knowing that everything could be uprooted at any moment.  Thus, it's hard to plan ahead if you don't know what the landscape of your life will be like in the months and years to come.  I haven't decided yet whether this tendency is a problem -- maybe I planned ahead too much before, and it's time to start letting life set its own pace, to roll with the punches.  I don't know the answer, but I try to walk this line.

Taking things day-to-day also means sometimes you don't see the big picture.  I think I have changed completely as a person from who I was when Brian was alive and I hadn't known the pain of widowhood.  I've changed completely from who I was a month after he died, six months after, and a year after.  I am not the same woman I was on January 16, 2010, when I was Brian's wife.  It's not just the fact that I've relocated to a new climate, and have pretty much given up the legal profession in favor of some career soul-searching.  Those changes of location and job are superficial.  I'm talking about what's inside me, who I am.  I have gone through a physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation; my outlook on life is completely different.  I no longer see anything the same way as I once did, and I wonder what my eyes will see when they look at the world in another six months, another year.  The changes probably won't be as drastic as they have in the past eighteen months, but I know now that the metamorphosis will never be fully complete.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movin' On Up

I've been in a transitional phase of my life for over a year now.  Well, pretty much a year and a half -- since Brian died -- but especially since last May, when I started moving around from place to place.  On top of that, I've had enough friends and family members move that it seems I'm always surrounded in a state of flux.  Here are the moves that I've been involved in recently:

May 2010:
My studio apt. last summer
  1. I move to Austin to begin a three month lease
  2. A housesitter moves into my house in Iowa for the summer
  3. A friend/co-worker also moves into my house in Iowa
  4. I help my husband's aunt and uncle in Texas move from Austin to their retirement home in the hill country near Austin
  5. A friend from Des Moines moves into my studio apt. in Austin with me
 July 2010:
  1. I help my friend/Austin roommate move into a different place in Austin with her fiance, who had just been able to move to Austin from Des Moines
  2. I decide I will move to Austin permanently (okay, this isn't really a "move," but it was a decision to move again!)
August 2010:
  1. I move back to Iowa, my sublease being up.
  2. My housesitter in Iowa moves out.
September 2010:
  1. A new cat, a kitten I discovered alongside a running trail, moves into my house.
  2. My friend and co-worker moves out of my Iowa house after he is able to find someone to rent his house in eastern Iowa and can afford to get a place of his own
  3. I help my friends Hart & Schweers (roommates) move to a new place in Des Moines
October 2010:
  1. I put my house in Iowa on the market, after months of cleaning, painting, organizing, donating, staining, landscaping, and the like.
November 2010:
  1. I take a trip to Austin to pick out a new apartment and sign a lease that begins in December (my apartment locator and I went on to play skeeball together and he is now one of my closest friends)
December 2010:

  1. I move the "big stuff" to Austin with my dad (who had to move my sister from Minnesota to Iowa in the same day as we started the Iowa to Texas move!), leaving the old living room furniture and some other things for use when I will be back in Iowa over the holidays
    Getting ready to move to Austin!
    On the plane w/ Picaboo & Ellie
  2. I fly 2 cats from Iowa to Austin on a private plane, free of charge   (a fun story, to be sure!)
  3. I drive another load or two of stuff from Iowa to Austin in the course of the holiday season, and pick out some new living room furniture for my apartment
  4. My friend Kristen (who also played skeeball with me) moves in to my apartment temporarily to house- and cat-sit while I'm in Iowa for holidays and a wedding
January 2011:
    Mittons & I driving to Austin
  1. The couch I'd been sleeping on in Iowa over the holiday/wedding season is moved out and to a new home, with a friend's brother in Iowa City
  2. I fill up my SUV one last time and Mittons and I drive to Austin, completing our move
  3. My living room furniture is "moved in" by the furniture store delivery guys
February 2011: 

April 2011: 
  1. "Antonio" starts seriously house-hunting for a house in San Antonio
June 2011:
  1. Antonio signs a contract to buy a house
  2. We pack up as much of his apartment as we can before we set out for our first family vacation together
  3. My friend Amy "moves in" to my apartment temporarily to house- and cat- sit while I go to Bonnaroo
July 2011:
"Antonio's" new house
  1. Antonio does the majority of his move while I am in the Dominican Republic with my family
  2. We finish the move by cleaning out his apartment, handing in the keys, and bringing the cleaning supplies over the house upon my return
  3. We continue to unpack and organize at the house
  4. Amy moves into my apartment again to look after things while I'm on vacation and helping Antonio with his move

Having moved so frequently, and in such a manner, I really relied on friends and family to help me out -- not just with the physical moving of things, but also with things like: going through things/purging stuff: packing; organizing; unpacking; cleaning; painting; picking up moving trucks; letting me come over while I had open houses; disassembling and reassembling furniture; house-sitting; pet-sitting;, arranging for me to hop on a private jet with my cats; airport pick-ups; packing "snack packs" for my numerous road trips; deciding just how many pairs of shoes I'd need in a three month time span; providing a couch and a home-cooked meal in the midst of my transience; etc.  I could not have made it through all of the above-mentioned transitions without incredible help and support of my friends and family.  I think you find out who your true friends are when it's moving time.  I could never adequately repay those who've helped me, though I will continue to try.  One thing I can do, though, is pay it forward.  Whenever I hear of anyone who needs help moving, I always volunteer.  I'm a good person to have coming moving day, too -- I know a thing or two about how the process operates, and how to make things run as smoothly as possible, I'm calm under pressure, and I'm a heck of a lot stronger than I look.  Oh, and I try to remember to bring beer!

As for when I'll move again....well, I have five months left on my lease, so it looks like I have a little bit of time before my next move.  While I don't relish the idea of going through all that again, I know I can handle it.  Besides, I have several friends who are moving before then, so I'll get plenty of practice (and perhaps I'll rack up some favors owed)!