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.