On Love, Simply

The funny thing about relationships is that they’re never what you think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing.

Relationships are a terrifying prospect. Relationships are, for me, a finely tuned machine, something that only works when so many tiny moving parts click into perfect place. Relationships are the result of effort, careful attention to detail, and compromise.

The beginning stages of a relationship can resemble a series of interviews. You are on your best behavior. You are spontaneous, energetic, upbeat, interesting. You are a carefully packaged product, marketed just so. You find someone whose company you enjoy, and you begin a relationship. There are dates, milestones, so many adorable firsts.

Eventually, after months of careful consideration for the other person, you get comfortable. I don’t really do comfortable. For me, being comfortable is a sign that something really bad is about to happen. Comfortable isn’t a state for the long haul; it’s a transient time from which you’ll someday cull happy memories.

But comfortable is a very real state, and eventually, it must be acknowledged and accepted, because sometimes, comfortable is the very best state, with far more potential for permanence than other sorts of emotions.

Letting someone see your weird is another part of this alignment of relationship longevity. You get past the initial interview process, the fun stuff, the activities, the really “deep” conversations about things, and you’re left with the day-to-day stuff. Day-to-day stuff is far deeper than any sort of philosophical debate.

That’s where everything you think you know about your relationship changes. Somewhere in the comfort zone, when you’ve let down your guard, you stop and realize that you’re in it for real, that this is real. You’ve stopped analyzing every text message for clues about love or chances at a fifth date. You’ve stopped panicking over which outfit to wear out (because you don’t have to wear anything but pajamas to stay at home!). You’ve started somehow syncing up your lives, your routines, your meals.

Eventually, it’s “we” and “us” and errands. (Those aren’t the worst things, after all, despite what we’ve heard. Errands are my favorite part of a relationship. If you can run errands with someone, you can be with someone. It’s that simple.) That mindset is a gradual progression, whereas the actions tend to move as swiftly as they please. (Or is it the other way around?) The feelings of “I love you” come long before they are spoken out loud, hesitantly, anxiously.

The best relationship advice I ever got was from a friend of mine who’s been with his girlfriend for three or so years (which, to me, seems like for-ev-er). He said, “You have to wake up every single day and decide to love that person.” It’s an active, ongoing decision. I love that. An active decision to love someone is so much more than that fairy tale happiness we’ve heard so much about (but very rarely see).

When I told boyfriend this yesterday, he scoffed and told me that he hardly wakes up every day and thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll love Katie today, but I’m only doing this for Acorn.” I laughed, then tried to explain to him that how I love him is constant, present always, just a soft hum of normalcy coupled with that deep-seated sense of need for proximity. “It’s just there,” I said. He knows what I meant.

What it is that draws you to someone isn’t what makes you stay with them, but sometimes the pull is unavoidable and the attraction undeniable. That’s when you finally have to accept that there’s something more there, that the questions and the expectations of how you thought you’d fall in love must be thrown to the wind (a pinch of caution should go, too, even though that’s terrible advice). It’s a weird journey. Sometimes it happens overnight but sometimes it takes forever to fall into place.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this internal fear about relationships ending. Maybe everyone does. Maybe that’s a universal fear. Maybe every relationship will end. Columnist Dan Savage once said something about how you date people, you break up with people, you repeat the cycle over and over, until finally, you start dating someone and you never break up. That’s slightly comforting.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been evaluating my relationship, removing myself from the bubble of “us” for assessment (something I’ve also tried to quit doing so much). We’re seven months in (this time), and other than the occasional little bump, we’re doing quite well. When we started dating again this summer, I was determined not to engage in the panic that goes with new relationships (or the resumption of an existing relationship). But I did, a little. The over-analyzing, the careful consideration.

But here we are, months later. I am comfortable now. It caught me off-guard. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know what I was imagining when I started, and perhaps not having any sort of idealistic outcome in mind is the best thing. It’s not all magical, twinkling lights and rose petals and candles, but it’s real. I like that. This is the real. I like it.

I have loved him for a very long time. I realized it this spring. During our first fight, almost six months into dating, I spat out, “I almost told you I loved you last night.” I had been holding onto it for so long, I knew it was only a matter of time before it came rushing out.

When he finally told me, he said, “I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you, but now I realize there was no more perfect time than when we were in the oak bottom with the leaves falling around us. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And I knew he meant it. Now, every time he tells me he loves me, I imagine the day we spent the morning on a hill in the forest in Mississippi, not hunting, but just watching the leaves fall down around us. It was magical.

Life is that weird journey where you have to let go sometimes and hope for the best, or at the very least, a great adventure. Love is, for me, the very best adventure.

On Thanksgiving, Excitedly

This year will be the first year in a long time I’m not in Denver for Thanksgiving. (Not counting 2010, when Mike and I were in Africa.) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not as stressful as other holidays; there aren’t any gifts; it’s more about food than it is anything else. Since I’m not one who eagerly anticipates the shopping season, I have nothing to do that day and the next except lounge around and eat leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best leftovers. (Cranberries! Stuffing! Gravy!)

This year is a big year. I’m going to Mississippi with boyfriend. I’m going to meet part of his family and go hunting. Oh god. Me hunting deer? I’m most excited about a road trip. I drive. He sleeps. Clears the mind.

I think I’m most nervous about deer hunting. What if I’m bored? Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Sitting still and being quiet definitely aren’t things at which I excel. What if I actually kill one? Not likely. I told him I’d most likely either cry or be super into it.

I met his grandfather last week. We went to a hockey game and then had dinner the next night. I’m a huge fan – I love families and his grandpa had some great stories. I’m less nervous about the family liking me now that I’ve met him.

Still, I’ve never been to the South. I’ve already made the silent promise to myself not to say anything until after we’ve left. I want to take it all in and experience as much as possible. It’s going to be a very new adventure, but it’s also going to be a very necessary week off of work for me, which I’m looking very forward to.

In other news: I’m now the assistant manager at my store (officially, since I’ve been the assistant manager in all but name for quite some time now). I’ll be assisting with the revamping of the store as well as the training of the three new kids we hired. But more exciting than that is the prospect of some marketing and office work. The owner and I have yet to sit down and actually hash out all of the specific duties, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more of what the marketing and administrative stuff while still being able to keep up my cake decorating and customer service.

Things are looking up, which is good. Finally a nice break for me and the chance for more positive opportunities and career growth, which are things that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of.

On Boyfriend and Baseball, Happily

The boyfriend and I have very different love languages. I’m all about expression and adorable things. He would never be caught dead using the phrase “love language” since it involves both emotions and communication, neither of which do much for him. 

Last weekend, I had to take the twins that I babysit to a birthday party. (They’re my absolute favorite family to sit for — the kids are amazing.) I asked boyfriend if I could borrow his car because it’s cleaner than mine, but also because it’s a bit bigger and I feel safer hauling children around in it. To my surprise, he came with me to pick up the kids. I’ve known him for over a year, but I’ve never had the chance to see him interact with children. I think that you can tell a lot about a guy based on how he handles children. 

He stayed in the car at first, hesitant. These kids aren’t shy at all, so upon realizing that my car wasn’t there, they got curious and wanted to head out immediately. They put their booster seats in his car, and I introduced them to the boyfriend. The questions began immediately. 

“Do you live together?” “Are you married?” “What’s your name?” “Do you have a dog?” “Can we open that thing?” (The sunroof.) “How old are you?” 

We had time to kill before the party started, so I decided I wanted to run to Costco to grab a hot dog before I dropped them off. (I had forgotten what Costco is like on a Sunday afternoon, so naturally, we did not have time to actually complete the mission.)

We were in the parking lot and I called for everyone to hold hands as we walked in. The little boy, who’s six, grabbed boyfriend’s hand. It was the sweetest thing. Boyfriend didn’t even flinch. 

We got inside, and immediately, they saw some Batman toys. We stood and looked at those for a bit before trying to get in line for food. I checked the time and realized that we didn’t have time for the line and to get to the birthday party on time, so I herded everyone back to the car, after much discussion about what they wanted to eat. 

On the way back to the car, the hand-holding resumed. The little boy was holding my hand, but he decided that he wanted to hold boyfriend’s hand, so he switched. I gave boyfriend a look that said, “What am I, chopped liver?” The little girl was not as impressed with boyfriend as her brother was, so she was quite content to hold my hand. 

The chatter was constant and hilarious. There were a few times when I had to avoid boyfriend’s eyes so I wouldn’t laugh. 

We dropped the kids off and ran errands, including a stop at my mom’s house to help her with her computer, and then we went back to grab the kids. The little boy had gotten a toy owl at the party, and when I asked him what he was going to name the owl, he said, “What’s the name of the guy in the car?” and when I told him boyfriend’s name, he said that’s what he was going to name the owl, although I think that half an hour later, the owl had a new name. 

I think I fell in love with him after we got the kids back to their house, and were playing with them in the backyard. The little boy wanted to play baseball. He’s obsessed with baseball, and even though I’m not the best at the game, I did play t-ball and coach pitch, so I feel like our skills are about equal. I was pitching and the little boy was hitting, and then he declared that it was boyfriend’s turn. 

Turns out, boyfriend is horrible at baseball. Horrible. I’ve always been under the impression that he’s great at all things sport, so finding out that he can’t hit a ball made me ridiculously happy. (Not that we compete at all…)

At one point, the little boy strode over to the boyfriend, who was at bat but had struck out several times in a row, and very seriously explained that he shouldn’t swing if the ball was too high or too far out because that was a ball. Boyfriend gave me a bewildered look, and I had to turn around because I was laughing at the little boy’s air diagram of the strike zone. The little boy trotted back to first base and boyfriend hit a home run. 

I know that it was just an afternoon, but it meant so much to me that he spent his only day off running errands with me, hauling six-year olds around, and hanging out with my mom. He was such a good sport about it, and I really appreciated how sweet he was with the kids. He did do quite a bit of gloating about being the favorite, but I was too happy to even argue. 

On Sweatpants, Fuzzily

It’s been rainy and cold all week here in Denver, which is a relief – it feels like we’ve had nothing but heat for months.

I’m excited. I had to close my windows and pile on extra blankets the other night, and for the first time in a long time, I felt cold. (This is only exciting the first time. Being cold is one of my very least favorite things. In a month, I’ll be complaining bitterly about how much I hate having cold feet and hands and nose.)

This weather means sweaters. And black tights. And sweatpants. I love sweatpants. I own more pairs of mens pajama pants than I care to admit, because they’re always so cozy and comfortable.

The other night, I was cold and at the boy’s house. I asked him if I could borrow his pair of fuzzy sweatpants. He looked at me incredulously. “Fuzzy sweatpants, Katie?” I knew he knew exactly which pair I was talking about. “Men don’t own fuzzy sweatpants. They’re flannel.” (I think he said flannel, anything but fuzzy sweatpants.) Five minutes later, I was happily inside a pair of borrowed fuzzy sweatpants.

As much as I dislike cold, the snuggling-centered parts of my brain love winter because it’s an excuse to pile on blankets and make nests of soft things. I’m thrilled that it’s that time of year again.

 

On Looking Forward, Hesitantly

Time is elusive, something you long for more of, but something you can never quite grab onto, or even really control.  The future seems endless, like today will somehow stretch on forever and next week will never come. Before you know it, all of those tomorrows are yesterdays, and all the things you swore you’d do are yet left undone.

I mowed the front lawn the other day, something that remains an overwhelming task for me. What may be drudgery for some fills the core of my bones with a ringing sense of accomplishment, of certainty, of satisfaction. I even did the strange little hilly part that leads to our neighbor’s driveway. (He’s new – I don’t think he knows it’s his job yet. I guess I could leave it untended and let him figure it out, but I’m concerned that he might not due to the scraggly overgrowth that tends to be comprise my lawn at any given point in time.)

I tackled a few other household chores, but I still have a long list of things that must be handled, dealt with, checked off. They’re not showstoppers, but I will feel more settled once I’ve said good riddance to the mental checklist. (I do know that there is no real end to the lists. I know that as soon as one thing passes out of the conscious concern, another will pop up to take its place.)

I’ve been working, still. Trading one sixty hour week for another. I imagined I would have time to seek the calm I’ve been craving, but alas, that was not to be the case. All I can see is today, this week, the schedules dictated by the Sunday release of the Dairy Queen schedule, all plans left in flux until the message arrives bearing a picture of the week’s schedule. It’s an interesting way to view the world. Months, seemingly endless, are suddenly broken down into seven-day segments, both more manageable and repetitive, unchangingly inflexible without meaning to be.

I’ve been spending time with an old boyfriend, the ever-present romantic antagonist of my mid-twenties. We’ve fallen back into our routine. There are errands (my favorite!), dinners (his attempts to woo me with his culinary prowess delight me), and the quiet hours, where he’s decided that I must learn how to play video games.

After days of wondering why he’d try to teach me – a task far more daunting than he had anticipated – I have finally realized that he’d like to get to the point where we can play together as teammates. I find the notion oddly romantic. And you should know by now how much I hate to lose, therefore this challenge is one I’m not taking lightly.

Seriously though, video games terrify me. I’ve never been one to play them (we weren’t allowed to have them in our house until we were nearly teenagers, and by then my attention drifted elsewhere). I’ve no knowledge of the mastery of strategy, but far more difficult than that is finding my damn character on the screen. And so my character dies. Repeatedly. “I didn’t even see where I was!” I exclaim, before surrendering to laughter at how pathetic I must look. The boys can’t believe it.

Even worse than the finding my character is moving the screen so I can see where my character is in relation to the battles. I’ve been instructed to work on smooth movement instead of just tapping the arrow keys sadly. I’ve been sent home with a tiny Game Boy for homework.

He’s a patient teacher, mostly. I think he’s excited that I’m showing interest in joining him, rather than just watching him play. I think I’m too stubborn to back down. I am determined, but amazed at how difficult this is.

***

By the way, today is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen. $1.50 of your Blizzard purchase goes to the Children’s Miracle Network that supports children’s hospitals across the country. Your donation goes directly to the children’s hospital closest to you. It’s a gloomy day in Denver, so I hope that doesn’t hurt our sales. (I’ll be at my location from 4 until close, so come say hi if you’re craving a Blizzard.)

Yesterday, my first customer asked me if I was full-time or part-time. I gave him a brief overview of my current situation, full-time ice cream queen, part-time legal software marketer, and he was supportive, appreciative, and fantastic. He told me that my cheerfulness was exactly what he’d needed.

But of course, bright things can only linger for so long in this world. A bit later, a man came in and told us that the reason that we work at Dairy Queen is because we voted for Obama. Offended (as I usually am by people who assume I’m unintelligent), I continued the conversation very stiffly and politely. He told me that I had no knowledge of how government works (to which I bit my tongue in order to stem the tide rising inside me), and then proceeded to patronize me. At one point, he told Evan that Dairy Queen is a good job, because he “has a woman” — me — and that my desire to have a career is what’s killing our future as a Christian nation. (Ah, yes. To which I responded that the reason I long for a career is because I fear that the alternative is relegation to domestic tasks for which I am clearly unsuited.)

He concluded with a thought about how the end of marriage and religion were going to be the downfall of our nation. Finally, I’d had enough. I countered, “What I think you’re neglecting, sir, is this question: is it possible to be a good, moral person without religion?” I gave him a brief overview of my belief that it is not religion that drives people to be good, and that community will continue to exist by nature of the human species rather than by the driving force of religion alone. Therefore, I concluded, religion and the end of marriage are not what will doom our society, but rather, our lack of cooperation. He didn’t have a response. I didn’t imagine that he would. He left us a tip and thanked us before he left.

Never a dull moment, I assure you.

On AAA, Shamingly

I heard a commercial for AAA on the radio the other day. The voice of a woman details all of the times that AAA has been there for her while her husband was too busy watching sports to come to her aid. This commercial offended me.

I know, I know, we’re too sensitive and jumpy and can get offended about anything. But you’d think that in a culture such a this, too sensitive and jumpy and easily offended, the team of advertisers tasked with the creation of such a commercial would be wary of their content and mindful of public opinion.

Apparently not.

Ostensibly, someone sat down a team of ad people and said, Sell AAA memberships to women. Remember, they’re helpless and scared, so we need to remind them that AAA is everything their man is not: responsible, reliable, prepared.

So the ad people probably said, Fish in a barrel! This one’s easy – let’s be quick about it so we can have an early lunch.

And then they created this sad excuse for a sales pitch.

Now, I must explain a few things. First, I love AAA. I have been a huge fan of AAA since the very first time I locked my keys in a running car at 16 (you’ll note that I said “very first time.” Yes, with my first car, the Green Bean, it happened often since the doors locked automatically 3 seconds after you started the car, which is just enough time to say, “I forgot _____!” and get out of the car). They were there for me in Chicago, when my roommate left my headlights on and drained my battery.

They were also there for me when I got a flat tire. That’s the experience most closely associated with this radio spot, and the experience most likely to get my blood boiling.

I was driving to Boulder one afternoon last summer to see my boyfriend at the time. I was just getting off highway 36 when I heard a sound like an angry rattlesnake. Sure enough, I had just gotten my first flat tire. I drove along in traffic until I could safely pull onto a side street. I parked. I got out and inspected the car. Sure enough, the rear left tire was flat. Gone. Donezo. (If you were to spell “donezo,” is that how you’d do it?)

So, being the resourceful independent woman I am, I opened my trunk, shoved a million things aside, and pulled out my jack and spare tire, prepared to change the damn thing myself. (I’d never changed a tire, but we covered how to do it in driver’s ed and I wasn’t overly concerned.)

I used the tool (the name escapes me, I was to say tire iron but that’s so incorrect) to remove the lug nuts. Except they wouldn’t loosen. I jacked the car up anyway, hoping I’d be able to loosen them then. I couldn’t. So I jumped on the tool. That didn’t work either. A guy on a bike stopped and offered to help. I was stubborn, but after realizing that my full body weight wasn’t going to do much, I accepted his help. He couldn’t loosen them either.

So I gave up, had my boyfriend come pick me up, and decided I’d deal with it in the morning. In the morning, my boyfriend, such a great guy that he was, left me at my car so that he could drive to Denver. I called AAA. And then I waited.

The AAA guy got there to change my tire and said, “Where’s your boyfriend?” I bristled. My internal voice was yelling, “What, just because I’m a woman I can’t change a tire?!” But my external facade was composed as I explained that I had been unable to loosen the lug nuts and had been forced to call AAA as a last resort.

Then he tried to loosen the lug nuts, cocky and masculine in his approach. He couldn’t. I saw his posture change. My internal self cheered, a smug smile on her face. He looked back at me and I just raised my eyebrow at him as if to say, “Where’s YOUR boyfriend?”

“Not as easy as you thought it’d be?” I asked, sweetly. He was sour. He loosened them eventually, put on the spare, and I drove to the Discount Tire where I got two new tires.

I was upset. AAA has always been wonderful. In Chicago, the dead battery happened on a Sunday. I was so grateful to the man who came to jump my car, and he was so gracious about the whole thing. I told him that I was terribly sorry that he had to come out on a Sunday and he was so kind and wonderful and funny.

But this Boulder man? Everything that frustrates me about people existed in him. Grumpy demeanor, sexist, superior, and so on.

That’s why hearing this AAA ad annoyed me so damn much. It’s not hard to say, “We’ll be there when you need us.” or “We’ll make you feel more comfortable when your teen starts to drive.” or “Everyone needs a backup plan.” I don’t know — I’m not the ad guy, but I feel as though they could have gotten their message across a million other ways instead of having the rely on the oh-so familiar tropes of the sports-obsessed, neglectful husband and the weak, incapable wife.

(I get that in my own rendition of the “I’m a powerless woman and I need you, AAA!” story, my own boyfriend fell into the same trope, but he wouldn’t have been able to fix the tire anyway, so it’s a moot point.)

Shame on you, AAA. You get what you pay for and I suggest you get a better ad agency. You’re a valuable service that I find so worth the money, but if you can’t sell yourselves, how are you supposed to sell your services?

On Love, Actually

I opened my planner today, and it hit me that it’s June. As in, we’re halfway through 2013 and I feel like we just started. It’s already been a hell of a year, emphasis on hell. But it’s also been the kind of year where blessings are abundant. Without the bad thing, there would be no beautiful new things. Without the bad thing, I never would have discovered my strength or the love that surrounds me.

Change is inevitable. It’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s quick. Sometimes you look around and realize that change is has been happening without you even noticing.

One of my best friends is moving to Germany this week. I’ve cried no less than eight times already, but I’m genuinely thrilled for him. Jacob has let me ruin t-shirts with my tears; he’s perfected the art of the across-the-bar-wink; we’ve been silly and serious and wild; we’ve made terrible chana masala; we’ve danced.

(We look like babies here. Babies with wine lips.)

I have loved him. I am looking forward to visiting him – I’ve been meaning to make it to Germany to visit people for some time now, and he’ll be added incentive. Jacob + lederhosen + South African friends + Oktoberfest = excellent reasons to go.

Sometimes, change happens so organically you don’t even realize it. Sometimes, in the lowest valleys of your life, you realize how much people can care about you. I wasn’t looking for love, or anything like it. I didn’t realize it right away, but I probably should have seen it – the signs were there, even if it did take eight years for it to finally fall into place.

I spent the first few months of this year actively avoiding dating. I was worried that after everything that had happened, no one would love me. I was worried that I’d never be happy again. And there he was, with me through all of it. I didn’t have to tell him everything – he already knew. He’d been listening the entire time.

I remember when it hit me – we were out having a late night dinner after a particularly gruesome Sunday night shift at the Dairy Queen, talking about how hard it is to find people who meet our needs – intelligent, fun, educated, driven, and so on. As the silence fell heavy around us, I looked over. He was right there. He’d been right there the whole time.

The Crew. 2008.

I’ve known him since I was seventeen. We used to go drifting in his car after work. We used to dance behind the counter to that song “Call on Me” — there were banana phones involved. It was weird. We used to cause all sorts of trouble after we’d closed Dairy Queen. I never thought that this was where we’d end up.

There is no greater joy than having someone who understands your sense of humor, who challenges the way you think, who brings philosophical amusement to the long shifts spent in the service industry. He is, like myself, stranded now at the crossroads of the future, where the unanswered questions linger longer than the workdays.

Sort of our first date.

It has grown, swiftly and smoothly, from friendship into something so much more and it’s starting to set in that this is for real. For me, this is terrifying. It wasn’t something I expected, wasn’t something I’d prepared for. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing. It’s got all the nerves of a first date and all the excitement of first love. It’s the first sip of hot tea, the warmth of a hot bath, the wild abandon of a midnight swim in the ocean, the comfort of the hammock, and on top of that, Carlos loves him.

On De-Stressing, Gradually

I’ve been working on the concept of “me time.”

Since it appears that the 60-hour work weeks aren’t going anywhere, at least for a while, and the decisions that have yet to be made hang heavy over my head, just out of my reach for now, I have been focusing on making small changes in the hopes that they will have that marvelous ripple effect over all areas of my life. Stress mitigation is difficult, because when you’re this deep, it’s often hard to identify which stressors are the root cause of ever-expanding panic.

Last weekend, I was wound tightly, anxious and tense. I thought about my schedule for the coming days and realized that I would have no time — literally no free time during my waking hours that wasn’t allocated for work — for the next three days. That’s the kind of realization that settles heavily over your heart, because there is no choice but to keep going, to keep moving forward, to hope that nothing goes wrong to derail the carefully laid plans or you’ll throw everything off-balance.

Then it hit me. The thing I was most nervous about wasn’t the work, but the fact that instead of cleaning my house from top to bottom during my one free night last week, I’d read. I’d curled up on my front porch with a glass of wine and tucked my bare feet under me and I’d read. It had been worth it, when I thought I’d have Friday night free to clean. But then a co-worker burned herself at her other job, and I had to cover her Friday night shift, effectively removing my cleaning plan from my schedule.

Inconvenient? Yes. Necessary? Of course. When someone needs help, you help them. I had to work at Dairy Queen on Saturday and then go babysit after that, and immediately after that, we were scheduled to host a party at my house (thus necessitating at least a cleaning once-over).

Identifying that the most stressful thing for me was the fact that I’d have no time to prep for the party was key. I thought about how to handle it and cancelled babysitting. I had worked three 14-hour workdays in four days, plus the Saturday shift, and I was exhausted. I told the family I babysit for as much, and they were understanding. As soon as I did that, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted. I even took a nap on Saturday, pausing to rest while the world went on around me.

I didn’t clean heavily. I didn’t stress. The handle of our toilet broke and instead of panicking, we pulled out the duct tape and made it work. It ended up being a lovely evening. (The duct tape solution is still in play, and it’s rather charming in a rustic, we-DIY-ed-this-all-by-ourselves sort of way. I’m rather enchanted by the novelty of it, although it must soon be fixed – it’s not the classiest of stopgap measures.)

These are lovely people – as the party began to die down, we took a Friends-esque photo on the couch outside.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when Evan walked in, carrying a six-pack of my favorite beer. It was funny, because I’d bought him a six-pack of the hard cider he likes, so we had a trade. We snuck off at one point, holding hands, and spent the better part of an hour talking and laughing, and I felt so overwhelmingly content. I am beyond thrilled, beyond terrified, and all-over ecstatic.

The next day was a day of no work. I got bagels with a couple of friends and then laid on the giant bean bag in the basement and caught up on Game of Thrones in between brief naps. It was the best burn day ever.

Afternoon arrived, and Gina went to set up in the park for the second leg of our joint birthday party. I grumped around, bemoaning my headache and wishing for long stretches of welcome sleep. Eventually though, the guilt got to me and I got up, washed my face, and put on my Lannister dress (I’ll have to post a picture – it’s insanely amazing).

I’m glad I went to the park. We sported quite happily. (“Sport” is our newest verb. At one point, my friend Katie and I were discussing our contributions to relationships and she said, “I don’t sport.” It was so spot-on and sincere, and I’ve adopted it as an excellent verb to describe any sort of physical recreational activity.) We played frisbee, football, and a rather aggressive game of 10,000. At one point, we were tossing two frisbees, a football, and a bubble stick between the ten or so people in the park. It was wonderful to stretch and move and be.

I laid on the blanket I’d brought with me and stared up at the tree I was under. In that moment, I was calm and content. I had left all of my stress behind. There was no looming Monday, nor were there any obligations left unfulfilled. I was, for that brief period, free.

The sun set and a new week began.

Last night, after working another 14-hour workday, we played night frisbee in the parking lot. (Working with the people you love is also helpful – we work together nearly seamlessly, and the night passes quickly and productively. At one point, I commented to Evan that I adore getting paid to hang out. He agreed.) The light-up frisbee (you must purchase one, they’re the best thing) flew through the air and I was filled with the heady rush of happiness, of appreciation for the current moment and the lack of worry for the past and future.

They had established a plan for the night before I arrived – food and then Game of Thrones. Mike (Evan’s friend) and I had watched one more episode than Evan had seen and we’d agree to lie about it to Evan and pretend we’d waited for him. I failed miserably at keeping up the ruse, and so we re-watched that episode before watching the newest one (70% of which, I slept through, of course). I woke up just in time for the action – and then cried, of course.

I love where I am right now. I love the people I’m surrounded by. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

“Me time” may not be long bubble baths and hours spent lounging and reading, but it can be found in the places where I least expect it. Finding the calm I’m sure exists somewhere inside of me may be the biggest challenge, but it’s one I’m finally really ready to take on, even if it means tackling it in small pieces or finding joy in strange places.

Baby steps forward.

On Wedding Weekend, Spiritedly

I forgot how much I love to travel.

Love. The other morning, I had the urge to just throw things into the back of my car (including the cat – who doesn’t hate the car as much as you’d think), and run far away. I wanted to drive until there was no more road, until I’d come upon the glorious nirvana that is endless waterfalls and starry nights that never get too cold.

I love grabbing my “mountain backpack” (that’s what I call it, I bet it has a proper mountain term) from the closet and filling it to the brim with whatever I’m going to need for the next three to five days. I love the travel-sized toiletries. I love the bits of brightly colored fabric straps that have been tied to the zipper pulls for the past four years. I love the way I feel when I wear it.

I love shouldering the always too-full pack (always. I’m going to be the worst backpacker ever) and heading into the airport. In those moments, before the back aches set in and my feet start to hurt, I am filled with the possibility of adventure, with excitement, with a tingling in my fingertips as I hand over my boarding pass to the TSA agent.

I always try to make the exact awkward face I’m making in my driver’s license or even worse (better?), the face from my passport. I don’t know if they find that as hilarious as I do, but it’s worth it.

Chicago, gold coast, streelights,

The view from my friend’s apartment downtown. Oh Chicago, your cold spring winds caught me off-guard and were terrible. But the magic of the city is palpable. Its energy flows around you. It’s sublime.

This is where Katie and Eric got married. Between those two trees. I started tearing up when I saw her start walking down the aisle. I teared up again when her dad gave a speech, but it was her mom’s that put me over the edge. It was beautiful.

White wine. Photo booth. I kept calling it a “king hat.” It’s very obviously a crown. I’ve always been good with synonyms. Dancing. It was so wonderful to see my friends. I have missed them.

On Sunday, my friend Anne drove out to the burbs to pick me up and then we went back to her place and watched new episodes of Arrested Development and got frozen yogurt. I went with her to a birthday party before heading back to Denver.

I’ve been telling Evan that I want to go camping with him (athleticism and adventurous spirits are so sexy, but I’m nervous that I don’t have enough of that – maybe enthusiasm can make up for it?). My goal is to go to Conundrum Hot Springs, which is a very lovely 8.5 mile hike each way. While I was in Chicago, with my “mountain backpack,” I took the stairs as much as possible at the train stations to practice hiking. (Obviously this is a very flawed approach, but you have to work with what you’ve got.)

Sunday was great – I woke up early and went to REI with Evan. I’m really not having great luck with not losing Nalgene water bottles (I left yet another one in Spokane), so I thought I’d try yet again.  (80th time’s the charm, right?) We’re two days in and I’ve not lost them yet.

[Hah, I just have to insert a thought here that has nothing to do with anything, except losing stuff. My freshman year of college, while being young and dumb, I lost my camera at a bar. Shortly after, my mom sent me a care package with a package of cards with a note attached that said, “Maybe these will entertain you on those Friday nights when you don’t want to go out and lose something.” I love my mom.]

After REI, we went to brunch and then, faced with the prospect of an entire day off, I went to see Jacob. There was coffee, cleaning (I owed him – he’s helped me clean so many times), and then we met up with my brother and his friends for some grilling in the park.

Delicious.

Evan was at work, so I brought him dinner – tucked into an empty 6-pack was a cornucopia (ha, mostly) of delicious picnic foods: a brat with grilled onions and German mustard, chips, grapes, and cookies.  He loved it. (Relief. I was a bit nervous that it was going to be the worst thing.)

Summer is coming and I’m in full adventure mode. I want nothing more than to take road trips and to see things I’ve never seen before. Also, I’d love to actually get around to planting my garden (too late, but whatever), and doing yard work, and relaxing in my hammock. I’m filled with the same excited anticipation that I get waiting to get on the plane. It’s endless possibility and experience and it’s all in front of me. This is going to be the best thing.

On the Marrow of Life, Lovely

(I don’t care that “lovely” isn’t technically an adverb. But if you were to use it as an adverb, then you would be able to attempt to encapsulate everything I’m trying to put in this post. Think of it that way. I do what I want; deal with it.)

I think I was a sophomore in high school when we read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” At this point, I had not yet developed my hardened hatred for Hemingway  and was far more open to the literature from that time than I am now. I loved and hated the book.

At my core, I believe firmly in hopeless, foolish love. But at the same time, I recognize a situation that has no hope of ending well.  You can’t quite manage to tear your eyes away, watching the disaster unfold in front of you. It’s the compelling crash, but even as I see everything unravel, I hold out hope that there’s some way to fix it, for the characters to run off into the sunset together, happy and unburdened.

I also happen to adore Baz Luhrmann, mostly for “Romeo + Juliet”, but also “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” — tear-jerkers, the lot of them. I’ve been meaning to go see “The Great Gatsby” but haven’t managed to find the time.

Evan came to visit me at Dairy Queen to try my roasted beets – his face was priceless, and he declared that he didn’t hate them, but I’m not sure if that was just an attempt to preemptively soothe my eager, anxious ego.

Spurred on by the wildling living inside me, I declared that I wanted night tennis (which is exactly what it sounds like); he did not. He suggested the movie; I readily agreed and plans were formed. He stayed for an hour and helped us close. Poor guy – his day off and he finds himself at work, sweeping and counting. I was thrilled, because we got out in time to make it to the last showing (11:15 PM; we’re madmen).

The theater was nearly vacant. I curled up and settled in for a long movie. It was breathtaking. I’m actually surprised that Luhrmann didn’t go for a more disconnected, surreal vibe. It obviously was, but I almost wanted more. It was elegant. I’m a sucker for Jay-Z and I loved the soundtrack. There were moments of brilliantly placed black humor.

The critics are right – we do lose some of the story through the visuals, but I think in the end, the story isn’t about the details. It’s about more than that. It transcends its own plot, as poignant and pertinent today as it was then. It speaks to experiences and heartbreak and the evils of obsession. You cannot repossess your past. There is no way to go back, no matter how hard one tries. There is only the bittersweet, hopeful march forward.

Speaking of the bittersweet, hopeful march forward, I’ve been on a journey of my own lately. It’s not bittersweet at all, it’s beautiful. The slow kindling of something into something more has created in me a warm radiance that seems so natural, I feel as though it’s always been there. It’s brimming with possibilities and the prospect of adventure.

For this, and so many other things, I am eternally grateful. I’ve been wondering Why now?, for it emerged suddenly but sweepingly, but I don’t want to wonder. I want to let this cloud of happiness swallow me whole, and I believe that’s exactly what I’m going to do. (He hates baseball and golf, too! Ugh, this is the best thing!)

We had our first book club meeting last night. The discussion was interesting, at times incomprehensible  and all around inconclusive, as I imagine every discussion about gendered communication to be. It was lovely. We sat on the porch outside, gathered around a table full of snacks, until the air grew too cool and we retired inside.

Then there was Game of Thrones. And of course, I fell asleep, warm and safe, pretending that I wouldn’t be unhappily woken by the rude intrusion of the daylight and the 4 alarms I set each night. But alas, employment called and I answered, reluctantly leaving my nest. (I won’t lie, I’m an insanely good nester. My bed consists of pillows and blankets and small bits of heaven.)

And now, I’m off to Chicago for a wedding! I always cry at weddings. I always cry at everything. The other day at Dairy Queen, a grandmother with tears in her eyes thanked me for letting them have their graduation party there, and told me how wonderful it was. And then I teared up. Because it was so sweet. She was so happy. It was just a cake. It was beautiful.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since last Memorial Day. I’m going to eat Dunkin Donuts, and touch the Bean like a tourist, and eat Portillo’s, and go to Laschet’s (or Laschet’s’z, as I call it), and stand by the lake. It’s going to be lovely. I have beautiful dresses to wear, too, so that never hurts.

Enjoy your weekend.