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)!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Toddlers & Tiaras

Today's my first full day home alone in my Austin apartment in a long time.  Things are even quieter because Mittons (my youngest cat, who is basically a giant kitten) is in San Antonio at my boyfriend's house keeping him company this week.  I've indulged in a few guilty pleasures today, such as ordering pizza and sticking to my pjs as much as possible.  Perhaps the guiltiest pleasure -- even worse than a few dips of peanut butter straight from the jar -- came in the form of a TLC marathon.

I watched an episode of My Strange Addiction from my DVR list, featuring a woman with 24" fingernails and another woman who hoarded hairless rats in her studio apartment.  When I deleted that and the TV went back to real time, TLC somehow got me hooked near the end of an episode of  Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids' Edition.  By "somehow," I mean I came in at a particularly juicy, bitchy, bridezilla-vs.-bridesmaidzilla moment of the show when there were only about seven minutes left and thought, "Well, I can see how this plays out, I guess." 

I did make productive use of some time while two episodes of Cake Boss played in the background, then finally found myself indulging in the mother (no pun intended) of all guilty-pleasure pop culture psychology reality shows, Toddlers & Tiaras.  Here are some of the highlights, although I felt my stomach sink to an all-time low when they transpired:

One of the 5-year-old contestants, seeing her stage mom approaching her with false eyelashes she deemed "necessary" for her daughter to be competitive in pageants, started crying, "No Mom -- Not the 'eyeballs.' It hurts! Not the eyeballs, please!"  Her mom apologized to the camera for her daughter's "movie star diva" attitude, and proceeded to take her daughter behind closed doors to traumatize the poor child by causing her physical pain despite her pleas to the contrary (because heaven forbid she be seen and judged against the other children without first donning prosthetic eyelashes).

Another stage mother, seeming to not realize how horrible she is, flat-out said, "I always wanted a little girl who would be Miss America.  When my third child was a boy, I was so disappointed."  This mother then went on to ply her fifteen-month old daughter with Coca-Cola for the caffeine rush needed when the toddler became (shocking!) sleepy during a pageant.  Then, she scolded her baby and told her she did a "terrible" job onstage.  In the baby's defense, she didn't seem to realize she was in a pageant, or even what a "pageant" was....something one wouldn't expect most kids to grasp before they are potty trained and verbally communicative.  Then again, most people wouldn't expect to see a fifteen-month old child in make-up and a spray tan, and most would never consider letting a child wear artificial fingernails before she has developed any fine motor skills with her hands and fingers (luckily, her pageant coach nixed Mom's plan on that one).

In my view, what I've seen on TV today equates to nationally televised child abuse.  All I could think was -- These people get to have children, and my husband never got the chance?  

He was a great man, and the world is so unfair.  Not just to him, or me, but to those little girls in their false eyelashes and sparkly dresses too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

7 Flights and 14 Days Later...

Earlier this week, I got home from a two-week trip that involved domestic and international travel, my immediate family, my boyfriend's extended family, multiple beaches, and a total of 7 flights.  I didn't announce the trip ahead of time, not liking to announce to the world at large when I will be out of town, where I will be traveling, etc., so I apologize for not posting in so long. 

I'm coming up on the 18 month mark of Brian's death tomorrow, and I'm astounded at the speed at which things have and are happening in my life.  The past three weeks have been no exception.

On Tuesday, June 28 my adventures began.  I cleaned out my car, finished packing up one very large suitcase and one soft-sided carry-on bag (filled with my laptop and books), and headed south.  I drove to San Antonio, to my boyfriend's apartment.  Things were a bit disheveled, as he was preparing to move into a new house.  Things were mostly stacked up in boxes, but his office area was untouched and he had to have some clothing and toiletry items out for our travels.  I had picked up a bottle of Vueve Cliquot, which has become the champagne of choice to celebrate a recent or impending move (that, and Rudy's BBQ, have become a moving tradition among some of my Iowa-to-Texas friends).  We got take-out food and split the bottle of champagne, then set out for our adventure.

We flew from San Antonio to Harlingen, a town in the far south of Texas, near the Mexican border and in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley -- "the Valley," to those who've lived there.  "Antonio" has lived in the Valley, he has family there still, and my grandparents winter there every year.  This time, we were heading to the Valley together for the first time, our first trip together being a Fourth of July (unofficial) family reunion.  We had an evening flight and arrived in time for a late dinner with some of Antonio's family members in Harlingen.  We spent the night with his cousin (who I had met before in Austin at an adventure 5K and then a girls' night out) and her husband, an attorney who I had not yet met.  We made a Target run after dinner to pick up some things for the beach and set in on making massive amounts of food for the week that was to come.  His cousin and aunt made pulled pork, sausage balls, spaghetti sauce, and what seemed like an absurd amount of Chex Mix -- until we polished off the last bag of the stuff halfway through the trip!

The next day, family members cam pouring into Harlingen by car and plane.  We went to the grocery store for the cold items (beer being high among them), then went to the airport in one borrowed vehicle and with the assistance of a family friend with a truck.  We needed two vehicles to pick up Antonio's immediate family -- his mom and four siblings -- at the airport and take them to South Padre Island, where the 20-plus family members, friends, and girlfriends would be hunkered down in three condos for the next week. 

I had never met Antonio's immediate family, as they live in Ohio.  I was a little nervous, but felt better that I at least had met many of his relatives in Texas.  It was much less overwhelming than it would have been if every face and name had been new to me.  I'd been practicing his mom's and sibling's names and birth order, and I wore a shirt that said "Ohio - the Great Potato State!" with the outline of Iowa, featuring cities from Iowa, Ohio, and the real potato state, Idaho.  (For some reason, I don't think a lot of people down here in Texas even see the joke; many genuinely don't know the difference between these three states.)  The shirt got a laugh, and I very quickly felt comfortable with Antonio's family.

We had a great time at South Padre Island.  We went crab hunting at night on the beach, swam in the ocean and the pool, went shopping, played putt-putt golf, got some sun (some of us tanned, some of us burned), and the guys went (real) golfing and fishing.  I got up early and went for a run on the beach the morning that Antonio was golfing with some cousins and an uncle.  We went to a microbrew for beers and pizza, and caught some live music at a dance club on the gulf side of the island, which was a short walk from our beachfront condo on the ocean side.

I had been nervous about how Antonio's family would react to my past, my situation, my....widowness.  I made sure that he talked to his mom and siblings ahead of time about my history so that no one would be caught off guard or feel awkward when it came up in conversation (and it always does - I don't hold back about sharing my story because it is my life, and it got me to where I am now).  His mom already knew, and I wasn't concerned about that -- any adult should able to deal with such a thing coming up in conversation.  I was more worried about his siblings, who range in age from 12 to 22.  Hearing that I had been married before and that my husband had died suddenly might have been a lot to throw at them, and I wanted them to have some time to absorb this before they met me, in part so that my time with them could be more about who I am now and not what has happened to me.

It turned out all my fears were for naught.  Everyone was so kind and warm to me, and I felt comfortable talking about Brian just as I would with my own family or friends, just as I do in my daily life.  Like Brian, Antonio's brothers are redheads.  I shared the story of how he got sunburned on the first day of our honeymoon by thinking he was fine with only one application of sunscreen because it was SPF 50 and waterproof (turns out reapplication is pretty important too).  There were other references here and there to Brian, and I never felt that anyone was uncomfortable about this, or that they took it to mean I love Antonio any less.  I even had a couple of serious conversations about life and loss with Antonio's mom and one of his cousins, who was experiencing his first family vacation without his sister, who had been killed in a car accident last winter.  As someone who knows what it's like to grieve for someone very near to you, I had a special empathy for him, so I took him aside one night to tell him that and let him know I was thinking about him.  I can't speak to anyone else's emotions, but I know what it's like to be a family gathering, enjoying yourself but feeling incomplete, your smile just not as big as normal, being more keenly aware of his or her absence in a group where he or she belonged and should have been with you.  I don't always get brave enough to approach someone I've just met to say, "I understand your pain, and I empathize."  I'm glad I did, though.  He seemed relieved to have someone acknowledge his pain and his sister's absence, and he seemed a little lighter after that conversation.

I had to leave Antonio's family trip a bit early -- on July 3, so I didn't get to spend Independence Day with everyone.  Don't feel too sorry for me, though -- I simply went from one vacation to another, this time with my family.  On the 3rd, Antonio, his mom and his cousin drove me the hour or so from South Padre Island back to Harlingen, where I boarded a plane for my second and third flights (Houston, then O'Hare).  Once I landed in Chicago, I met up with my parents and sister in a hotel next to the airport.  We flew out the next morning -- on a very early flight, I might add! -- to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  We spent a week at an all-inclusive resort there (the Iberostar Bavaro) to celebrate my dad's 50th birthday, which was in June.  It was an amazing trip!

The beach at the resort was beautiful - perhaps the best I've seen in my life.  Soft, white sand led up to clear turquoise waters.  It truly was incredible.  We snorkeled, ate, drank beach-y drinks like Coco Locos and Blue Hawaiis, swam, shot air rifles, played bingo, made new friends from around the world, read, napped, sunbathed, and I even won a certificate and a tee shirt after winning a beer drinking contest I got roped into at the pool!  We took two excursion away from the resort, which was really neat for me to see more of the countryside (my family has been to the D.R. three times before, while this was my first trip).  The first trip was an Outback Safari excursion that took us to local one-room schoolhouse, a house in the mountains, and a ranch where we ate lunch and got to see iguanas, crocodiles, and a man selling hand-rolled cigars.  At the house, we saw how local families live and got to see the father show us the process for making coffee and cocoa.  It was all really neat.  Our second excursion was a zipline tour, which I was really excited about because I never imagined I'd see my parents go ziplining!  We had a lot of fun doing that, and I'm proud of how brave my normally-timid mom was about it all.

My family on our last day in Punta Cana
At the resort, my family would spend most of our time at or near the beach bar, particularly after we befriended several couples and formed a sort of worldwide resort gang.  We met a couple from England, a couple from Germany, and a couple from Switzerland who had their 13-year-old son with them.  Despite a few language stumbling blocks, we were all able to speak enough common English to make fast friends, and we spent a great deal of our vacation with this crew.  The couples were all around my parents' ages, and I especially bonded with the English couple because she had been widowed relatively recently (five years ago) and was traveling with her new partner, a man she had been with for three years.  She and I discussed the fact that we still had good days and bad days (her birthday had been a recent bad day for her), but that we could still enjoy life and love again.  We both noted how lucky we were to have men who could love us and support us through the hard times, and what a special person that requires.  We all exchanged e-mail addresses and I wouldn't be surprised to see one or more of these people again.  In fact, they were all staying much longer than we (it seems most Europeans we met had two-week "holidays") and they all came up to the lobby to see us off.  As our bus drove away, a couple of those staying behind were dabbing tears away.  My dad had gotten a little choked up himself while toasting our last dinner together the night before.

After our resort time was up, we all flew back to O'Hare (flight #5 for me).  We landed late in the evening, then retrieved my parents' minivan and headed west toward Iowa.  We hit the Quad Cities around 12:30 a.m., which was my stop.  My parents and sister got me settled in to a hotel room and went about the last hour of their trip home.  I slept a few hours in a not-too-nice hotel room, then got up and headed to the Moline airport for the last leg of my trip -- Moline to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Austin.

You would think my rambling post is coming to an end and that there couldn't be much more to say about the flight, wouldn't you?  Standard, mid-week air travel, right?  Well, the first leg was uneventful, but the second leg was very exciting!  Sitting on my plane, riding first class was none other than Matthew McConaughey!  He was traveling with his two children and a woman who was probably either his mother-in-law or his nanny.  He was very nice, and even signed an autograph for me on a picture of him that happened to be in Sky magazine that month, promoting The Lincoln Lawyer.  I wasn't going to ask for his autograph on the plane -- I thought I'd take the magazine and see if I saw him in the airport at luggage claim -- but the couple next to me encouraged me to go for it!  He was sitting right next to the front lavatory, and people from coach were going up to use that one when the beverage cart was blocking the back ones.  Once a teenage boy walked up and went into the front one, the couple said, "Now's your chance!  Go up and just get his autograph while you're standing there waiting for the bathroom!"  Well, I really did have to go I thought, what the heck?  He was really nice and asked my name so he could personalize it.  Later, when I got off the plane, he and his children were waiting off to side (probably for a stroller that got checked or something) and when I walked by, he said (in his deep southern drawl), "Bye, now!"  I was melting! 

From there, it was off to baggage claim, where I got to stand near Matthew for another 15-20 minutes (our bags took a long time).  I hardly looked at him, though, once Antonio arrived with flowers.  My first "flowers at the airport" pickup - something I've hoped for all my life!  When I got the car, a stuffed monkey was waiting for me -- funny, because one of his souvenirs was a picture of me at the resort, holding a monkey (he didn't know that ahead of time)! 

Antonio picked me up at the Austin airport in my car, which he'd driven up that day for a conference.  While I was in Dominican Republic, he finished up his own family trip, then came back to San Antonio and started the moving process -- from his one bedroom, one bathroom apartment to his three bedroom, two bathroom house that I'm writing from now.  He'd used my SUV for the move (as well having the classic "friend with a truck"), which was now nearly complete.  He and his cousin, who'd driven up from the Valley, were in Austin for three days for a work event, which started before I was even back in town.  I spent a couple days in Austin doing laundry and unpacking, as well as managing to see a few friends one evening.  Then, we both headed down to San Antonio to finish up the move.  We've spent the last two days cleaning, unpacking, organizing, and decorating.  There is still a little ways to go, but it looks great so far!  Antonio's aunt and two cousins even had breakfast here the other morning, right after his aunt had to put down her beloved dog Conan (a dog who got to spend one of his last weeks alive at South Padre Island).

Speaking of beloved pets, I need to go check on Mittons.  Until next time (which won't be so long)!