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.?