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 Pushing, Newly

I usually choose a word to live by each year. That word becomes a sort of meditation for me throughout the year, the goal being to incorporate that word’s meaning into my life so much so that it becomes a part of me. That rumination has served me well.

A couple of years ago, I chose “gratitude” and found that to be a very fulfilling challenge for the year. I worked on being better about thank-you notes, appreciating everything I have – friendships, family, relationships, and so on, and on loving the tiny moments that often go overlooked in the chaos of every day life.

Last year, my word was most likely not “survival” at the outset, but unconsciously, that’s what it became. I have heard so many people talk about how 2013 was not a year they’d like to repeat, and I have to agree. 2013 was the worst year of my life. I can say that with absolute certainty. I have never been so close to the edge of despair as I was for much of the year. I have never felt the depths of darkness licking up closer to my heart. I have never wanted so badly not to be alive.

And yet, the light could not be extinguished. “This too shall pass” did come to pass, and time began to wrap me in its healing, consistent progression and I did survive. It sounds melodramatic, but I’m not joking or stretching the truth. I hated to admit it to myself at the time, but looking back, I’m surprised at how low the lowest points were. There were more tears shed in 2013 than I imagined possible, more desperate, hopeless nights than I believed possible, and too many days where getting out of bed was almost more than I could bear.

There is no stopping the light, though. I remember the day when I woke up and said to myself, I will not let this beat me, and I didn’t. I still think about it sometimes. It catches me off-guard at moments when I least expect it. It stops my heart for just a beat, and then I start to breathe again, remembering that I am whole. I am safe. I am away. Distance. Time. Progress. All of those march forward. And so I go, too.

I am not where I thought I’d be.

I think that’s how much of life goes, though. The unexpected has a way of stripping everything unnecessary and bringing to focus the important things, the things you lose sight of so easily. In losing everything, I almost lost myself, but I also found more than I expected.

2014 is a new year. I’m not one to make resolutions, really. But this year, I’m determined to do so much more than survive. My word this year is “push” – yeah, like that. I’m going to do more and be more – getting back on the track that I was on before the unfortunate derailment. I think that was the most frustrating thing, losing the progress that I’d worked so hard to make for myself.

I’m going to push myself – I want to figure out what I want to do with my life, or at least the next few years. I want to think about grad school, about a job that will be fulfilling but also financially worthwhile. I want to work harder to be better – the working out at the gym business, the eating healthy, the organization. All of those areas are areas in which I’m already quite fantastic, but could stand to improve. (If you know me, you’re laughing now because I am anything but fantastic at organization and eating healthy. My therapist often expresses concern that my diet consists mostly of chili cheese dogs and uh, chili cheese dogs.)

I’m going to figure out a better plan. I want to grow professionally (oh dear god, more than anything I want that), personally, and as a human being – I want to spread more kindness into this world. I want to strengthen my relationships, with boyfriend, with my friends, with my family. I want to make more time to play. I want to push myself to calm the fuck down already and learn how to relax. I want to work harder and play harder.

2013 is dead and gone. It will always be a part of my life story, but 2014 offers the chance for a fresh start and a new perspective. I’m thrilled. It’s not a new beginning, but it’s something better: it’s the chance to continue living the life that I’ve always wanted. This year, I don’t have to let the uncontrollable guide me. This year, I am in control. This year is going to be a fantastic year, I can feel it.

On the Puppy, Who’s Growing Quickly

When we bought Acorn’s collar, we bought an extra-large. It was too big, so boyfriend’s grandfather cut an extra hole. Two days back into Colorado, we had already loosened the collar to the next hole. And now, we’ve loosened it again. Man, they grow so fast.

It’s a good thing the collar is orange, or sometimes I think we’d sit on him when he’s nestled into our black leather couch. He blends right in, and when he falls asleep, sometimes he sleeps so deeply that your presence doesn’t even wake him.

There are currently two dogs in my living room, lounging on the couch. The boxer-lab mix, Lily, is eight; she’s into naps and comfortable places. She doesn’t belong to us, but we’re babysitting her for the week. She and Carlos have a very antagonistic relationship, so Carlos has been taking over the basement while Lily gets the living room. (Lily will sneak away when she thinks no one is looking in search of the cat — she ate his entire food bowl one day before we got to her. Carlos, for his part, will sit and wait for her and swat at her as soon as she’s close. Acorn knows to avoid Carlos, and the two of them seem to be okay together, as long as Acorn doesn’t get too close for Carlos’s comfort.)

Acorn is happily chewing on his new rope toy; we’re halfway to perfecting fetch. He’s still all puppy, floppy and sweet, into chewing on everything and playing, hesitantly. He’ll run into the backyard and romp for a while, but every so often, he looks back to make sure you’re there.

I bought the rope toy yesterday, thinking we needed something besides deer antlers and the squeaky hedgehog (with camouflage fabric on his belly, hah) for him to play with. The rope toy immediately became a hit – I threw it into the backyard and he ran after it, bringing it mostly back to me before dropping it and running to me to get love. I threw it again, and he brought it back to me. He loves it. Last night, he was playing with it all by himself, tossing it into the air, swinging it back and forth. I’ll have to take video; it’s so adorable I can hardly stand it.

We had people over to celebrate boyfriend’s birthday last night and everyone fell in love with Acorn. He’s the happiest puppy, they said, and so well-behaved. It’s been funny to watch him follow Lily’s lead all over the backyard – wherever she goes, he follows, and she’s been teaching him how to play, fierce wrestling and running. We laugh because now she’s bigger than him, and far more dominant, so she seems to have the upper hand, but one day (sooner rather than later), he’ll be bigger than her. I think she’ll make a good mentor, minus her penchant for begging, which we’re trying to avoid passing on to Acorn.

I’m enjoying this time, but trying to give Carlos enough love so that he doesn’t feel left out and so that he doesn’t start to resent the puppy for needing so much attention. I’ve been enjoying having all of us here at the house – brother and boyfriend were heading to the gym as I got home from an errand this afternoon. It’s a nice feeling to come home to a happy house, full of my family.

On the Puppy, Delightedly

I’m going to need more than one post to discuss the Thanksgiving trip to Mississippi, but I’m going to start with the most important part: the puppy.

Boyfriend loves dogs and has been wanting one for a while. He wanted a chocolate lab. (So does my brother.) I always object. I have nothing against chocolate labs, but why have a chocolate one when you could have a black one? Or a yellow one?

We spent the last week or so at his grandparent’s hunting getaway in Mississippi, which is a few miles outside of a tiny town. One of the neighbors came by one night to ask if we’d lost a black lab puppy, which we hadn’t. I was curious though, and kept saying that we should check on the puppy to see if he’d been claimed. (I was mostly joking, but hey, wishful thinking isn’t the worst thing.)

A couple of days later, we were prepping for a bonfire when a different man came by with the same puppy and said that he’d found him running along the road and wanted to know if we’d like to have him. (He must have had some sense that we were in the market for a puppy. I’ll just assume that he was pulled in by our radiating need for puppy love, like a magnet or a force field.) Boyfriend was the one who talked to him, and then he yelled my name as he carried an armful of black something into the house.

I opened the door and there was the black something, tail wagging and sniffing around. My heart stopped for a second – a puppy! We leapt into action and lured him into the bathtub with a piece of deer steak and then boyfriend held him while I began the soaping process – yuck. So much dirt! Poor puppy just rested his head on the edge of the tub and gave us sad eyes while the water went from clear to muddy brown. Boyfriend joked that he was doing the “Carlos submission” because when the cat gets a shower he just sits there and waits it out with the most pathetic look possible.

The puppy stayed the night in our room on a blanket folded by the side of the bed. He’s house-trained and very well-behaved, minus his chewing problem. He left the room in the middle of the night and returned with my hiking boot. When I took that away from him, he returned with a slipper, so boyfriend put all shoes outside the door and closed it. Throughout the next few days, he’d run into the grandparents room to steal slippers and bring them back to his place in our room to munch on them.

I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s the sweetest thing. Boyfriend wasn’t about to let himself get so excited so soon; he wanted to wait until we figured out if we were going to keep him. (I knew we were. Boyfriend’s eyes did that shiny-gleaming-love-at-first-sight look when he watched the puppy and I knew there was no way we’d be leaving him.)

After the first night, we knew we were going to keep him. We had some work to do with the land his grandpa owns for hunting, so we took the puppy with us. He followed us around constantly, running back and forth between us, sleeping on a pile of coats in the car when we were traveling. We bought him some puppy chow and a toy, plus a leash and collar so he’ll look like a proper dog with a family.

We decided to name him Acorn (pronounced “A-kern”). We took him to the vet as soon as we got back to Denver for his puppy shots and a general wellness check. He’s about four months old and he weighs almost 37 pounds. He’s got the biggest puppy feet I’ve ever seen. The vet looked at him and said, “My, you’ve got a long way to grow!”

I’m in love.

The cat hates him, but is possibly realizing that since he’s not going to attack him, the puppy might be all right after all. Fingers crossed. We’ve been closing my bedroom door at night to separate them, but there haven’t been any daytime attacks yet, so I’m feeling optimistic. I don’t think Acorn’s ever seen a cat before, so that helps.

I’m also absolutely exhausted from the drive back and am running on very little sleep – this puppy mothering business is rough. If it’s not chewing on shoes, it’s toilet paper, or mail, or clothes, or…..

So now it’s off to work for me. I’ll post more Mississippi stories soon!

On the Hot Dog Man and Austerity, Simply

My cousin was in town last week. He’s quite removed from all things pop culture, as he spends his time living a very simplified life. I find his perspective refreshing, and have so enjoyed being able to spend time with him not once but twice this summer. He was in the car with our grandmother and aunt during his brief visit, and they drove by a movie theater that simply showed “All is Lost” on its marquee. We laughed as he explained that he was quite concerned by this message, but I explained to him that “All is Lost” is the title of a film (which I know absolutely nothing about).

All is not lost.

Speaking of a simplified life (which I speak of as one who is impressed and motivated by the power to directly impact your own experiences with the choices you make), I’ve been spending a lot of time simplifying lately.

It began out of necessity, but somewhere in the frantic rush to cut back on everything (I only somewhat joking refer to it as “austerity measures”), I found myself realizing how blessed I really am and how much there is to simply enjoy. In the darkest hours, I was solely focused on survival. As I grew tired and frustrated, impatient and anxious, I began to assess the positives, to focus on reinforcing the things that make me happy.

Creating happiness and finding the good in the worst of it all is the hardest part, but I firmly believe that it is the most worthwhile endeavor in which I have engaged in quite some time. Sowing the seeds of positivity has led to a bountiful return for me in both my experiences and in my own emotions.

It began when I sat down with now-boyfriend earlier this summer and he told me over dinner that he hadn’t done anything he didn’t want to in months. My cousin’s perspective is quite similar. He travels freely, lives simply, does exactly what he wants, and in turn, has a refreshingly grounded air of contentment about him.

I was so caught up in the struggle to move forward without direction that I neglected myself, first and foremost, but also my own drive. This year may not have been my favorite year, but it’s been rewarding in so many different ways.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch, feet perched on the railing, absorbing the radiant Colorado November sunshine. A steaming mug of tea sits next to me and a very jealous cat sits just on the other side of the front door. This is bliss.

I am looking at the most positive job week I’ve had in a long time. I had my first actual interview last week, rocked it, and was offered the job. I will be turning it down. I am also poised on the brink of creating a position with a company I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade, and am thrilled by the level of respect and honesty I’ve been offered.

“What’s your ideal job?” my boss asked. “Let’s work on creating something that will work for the both of us.” Marketing, administrative work to include payroll, and assistant managing all wrapped up in one package? Perfect.

I am so pleased. I did this. I offered the boss my services, explaining that I’d love to help with the office and the marketing, then handed him my resume to remind him that I’m far more than the sixteen-year old he hired all those years ago. He responded with the offer and we’re all set to sit down and hash out the details.

And even more! I’m meeting with a recruiter for coffee on Friday. Where that will go, I’m not sure, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of reigniting my drive towards a greater future for myself.

But it’s not just on the job front.

I’m finding myself able to appreciate the positives and the beauty all around me.

My strange love of “the hot dog man” and his dog is my favorite example of good in the world. He comes in to work most days and teases me. He’s still upset that I won’t give him my grandmother’s phone number, and we’ve discussed why women are the root of all evil. (According to him, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy was most likely due to a woman. “You know why I was the captain of two destroyers?” he asked me. “I didn’t get distracted by women.”) Sometimes, he tries to give me money and tells me not to spend it on men.

He’s fantastic. Yesterday, he came in and I gave him a free hot dog because it was Veteran’s Day. I found out that he joined the Navy at 17 (in 1937!). He laughed as I gave him his free hot dog, and then told me that I was probably going to charge his dog double. (I give the dog a pup cup of ice cream every time they come in.)

He asked me if I was going to join the Navy when I turn seventeen. I laughed and told him that I’m far older than seventeen and that my boyfriend joined the Marines when he was seventeen. “Is he still in?” he asked. I told him that no, he isn’t. “Well, when you get sick of him, just send him back!” he said.

The hot dog man got a hundred-dollar bill from a random stranger the other day. She had just sold her house and somehow had a bunch of money from the closing, so she handed him the 100 and told him that her kids were grown and that she didn’t need it, and that she wanted to spread some good into the world. We told him that we’re going to start calling him “The Hundred Dollar Man” and he said his typical farewell of “whatever” and gave us a wave before finding his walker (with the dog tied to it) outside and heading off towards home.

He probably has no idea how much I enjoy seeing him. Yesterday, when he was in the store, he was talking to a mother and her young daughter. He doesn’t see well (blind as a bat might be a more accurate description), and at one point, he was gesticulating with his hand out and the little girl reached up and high-fived him. He smiled and asked her if she was going to hold his hand. It was such a sweet moment.

He’s the best. I don’t mean to ramble, but he’s one of those examples of the best parts of the world. They’re the most unexpected. They take you by surprise and uplift you in the strangest ways.

I’m so thrilled. Life has a funny way of handing you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m finding that sometimes, the things you need the most are the things you’ve carried with you all along. (Oh, I know I’m spitting clichés out left and right and I don’t care at all.)

I’m going to make the most of this beautiful life, even though it’s not at all how I expected it would be. I think sometimes it’s the weird randomness of the universe that’s the most beautiful part of it all.

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 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 Adoption Camp, Happily

This past weekend, I volunteered at Domestic Adoption Camp, which is exactly what it sounds like: a camp for families who have adopted children inside the United States.

I was one of three counselors helping with the pre-kindergarten/kindergarten group. We had five little girls in our group, which was fantastic. The smaller group size allowed us to do a lot more one-on-one activities, which is important with kids that small.

As domestic adoptees and (arguably) adults, my brother Mike and I were invited to speak on an adult adoptee panel in front of adopted parents. I was nervous and excited. Adoption is a non-issue for me; it’s always been a part of my life and I’ve never really thought of it as being a huge deal. It’s not anything that sets me apart; it’s just a fact.

As I get older, I find that adoption is more important to me. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I respect and for which I am eternally grateful. It’s something that does set me apart, to a certain extent. It is a curious thing, the way that I now have so many different mothers: I have my birth mom, my mom, my brother’s birth mom, my dad’s girlfriend. I love each and every one of them.

The panel focused on issues related to adoption and how we as adoptees handled certain things like self-esteem, open adoptions, searching for parents, and transparency. I explained that Mike and I have very different relationships with our birth mothers; I told them how envious I was when Mike got to meet his birth father (Mike jumped in to say that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be); I told them that even though I’ll never get to meet mine, the curiosity about what he looks like only grows stronger.

It’s a magical thing, to be surrounded by families like these. I’ve learned a lot about family over the years, as one tends to do when confronted with the inescapable reality that family is non-negotiable and therefore something you’ll have to adapt to. I’ve learned that family is what you make it. I have friends who are family. I have family who is family. I have family that I don’t consider family.

I have been fortunate enough to find so many different relationships, and when I went to my birth mom’s wedding in South Dakota, my family got a little bit bigger. (I’ve been playing a word game on the phone with my biological aunt. It’s been fantastic – she’s a seriously worthy adversary.)

I have been incredibly blessed to build the kind of strong support system that everyone should have. Through my participation in these adoption camps, I have been able to see the strength of family. The powerful and overwhelming amount of love there is something that gives me chills, in the best way.

Speaking on the panel, I told the adults that transparency was important. And unconditional love. I told them that when I started therapy, I told my mom that I might be angry with her sometimes, and in her graceful way, she told me that she knew that and that she supported me. I told them that if I were to be arrested tomorrow, the first phone call would be to my mother. I told them even though she doesn’t always like what I’m saying, she’s always there to listen. And for me, that’s huge.

When I told her my birth mom was getting married, she wanted to go. I was a little nervous, but I think she was more excited. I was grateful that she was there so that we could all share the experience, both of my moms and me. My family.

I watched a documentary called “Closure” about one woman’s search for her family. She had been adopted by a family in Washington when she was an infant, and as she grew older, she struggled with the not-knowing. (It’s a serious pull.) She began the search and was ultimately successful. It was a moving story, but a poignant reminder that family is forever.

In the documentary, they showed a clip of an old home video in which a stranger was questioning the dad about the kids (eight of them, I believe, all different colors and kinds). “How’d you get so many kids?” the man asks. The dad responds, “They stick to us like magnets. Better question: how do you get rid of them?” Laughter.

My favorite part is the laughter. At the last camp, I remember a girl telling the story of how her parents came to find her. They were in Africa, she was in an orphanage. She beamed as she recounted how they picked her up for the first time, and she smiled at each one of them, and they knew that she was their daughter. She radiated joy as she told the story, and my heart ached with happiness. I could tell that the parents had told her that story over and over, and I could feel the pride she felt.

My mom, Mike, and I have our things. We call each other the “worst guy” and we regularly quote The Sandlot. You’re the worst guy if you are doing something annoying, like when my mom senses that the stop light ahead might – just might – change, so she slows down while it’s still green. You can hear the chorus of groans and “Ugh, you’re the worst guy!” coming from both of us. My mom and I dissolve into a fit of laughter-induced tears when we tell the story of Mike falling off the treadmill. (No one, including Mike, thinks it’s funny.)

Family may be what you make it, but for some of us, we’re lucky enough to have more opportunities for family than most people.

On the Wedding Weekend, Happily

The road trip was a success. We left a little bit later than I had anticipated on Friday morning, but the drive went smoothly.

We stopped somewhere in Wyoming:

Rapid City is only about 7 hours from Denver – maybe I’ll have to start making the trip more often!

We grabbed some barbecue for dinner and then headed back to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep. I was exhausted.

This is the view from the Rapid City airport, where we rented a car. (Mom’s car is too old for road trips and Simon has a pending transmission issue, so we took my grandma’s car. It’s thirteen years old but only has 38,000 miles. I don’t think it had ever gone over 100 mph.) We needed to rent a car because the road up to the wedding was very rocky and nearly impassable by regular car.

This is a lovely picture but it doesn’t do the road justice. It was rocky. It was rough. I’d never really done off-roading before, so I threw the car into low gear and proceeded cautiously. I managed just fine.

The site of the wedding was about an hour and a half outside of Rapid City. Rural South Dakota is beautiful; it’s a lot like Colorado. After leaving the highway for a dirt road, we came up on the rocky road (just after I’d declared that we hadn’t needed to rent a car after all). Following the rocky road for probably the better part of a mile led us to another dirt road, which was the driveway.

We parked. We were the first ones there. They were still setting up for the traditional sweat, so we hung out for a while. It was hot! The couple on whose property the ceremony was held had an adorable granddaughter who was eager to help out.

The sweat was really cool. I was a little nervous going in because I’ve never participated in a sweat lodge before, but it was awesome. (This one was an abbreviated version, so that helped too.) We crawled in to the inipi (a dome-like structure) and then hot stones that had been cooking for several hours were added before the inipi was sealed and we were left in the pitch black.

As soon as the inipi was sealed, it got hot. I started sweating immediately. (The good kind of sweat, like two back-to-back hot yoga sessions.) They pour water on the stones, which are set into the earthen floor. That’s when it really gets steamy. We went around in a circle and said prayers for the bride and groom, and then we sat there for a little bit. Then it was over and it was the men’s turn!

I was bright red after the steamy sweat session, but i felt amazing. After changing clothes and putting on a much cooler dress, I waited for the men to be done with their sweat so we could have the ceremony.

The ceremony itself was beautiful – I’ve never seen a Lakota wedding before. The man who officiated was hilarious. He was half-German, half-Italian, but he had at some point come over here and become a Lakota. (His wife was the one who held our sweat session.) He told us all about what a Lakota wedding ceremony entails (flesh offerings!), and reminded us that this is a forever marriage. There is no option to divorce.

“What are you going to tell the Creator?” he asked us. “That you left your partner because it got hard?” He explained that in Lakota tradition, you go with your spouse to the Milky Way after you both die. He also reminded us that all that you can really own is your body. None of your possessions are really yours, because you can’t take them with you. Of course, your body doesn’t go with you, but it is your vessel for the time that you are here on Earth.

My birth mom, Lise, and her husband after the ceremony:

There is so much love between them and I’m absolutely thrilled for them to begin their lives together. (Well, continue their lives together.) He’s such a calming presence and they make a really wonderful couple. I’m thrilled to have just added more people to my family.

Speaking of family, I got to meet some of my blood relatives! My birth mom is one of twelve kids (so many!) and this weekend, I met four of my aunts and one uncle. They were very cool about it, and it was a no-pressure situation. It was awesome.

My birth mom gave me a ring that belonged to her mother! It’s an opal ring that her brother had made for their mother when he was in college. It’s so unique and absolutely beautiful. I am so overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

We made the trip back on Sunday after a somewhat disappointing trip to the Cosmos – it was exactly like Casa Bonita: go as an adult and it’s not the same at all. I kept expecting it to be longer, but it was so short! I hope that everyone who was with me had a good time – I’m worried that I wasted an hour of everyone’s time, but alas, it was great to get to hang out with everyone for a little bit longer.

I was tired and ready to be home – I cut about an hour off of the drive back home by taking advantage of the quiet back highways. We got home late on Sunday and I went home and immediately crawled into bed (I’m never in bed before ten, but I was wiped out). A very grumpy Carlos was there to greet me – apparently he’s not a fan of me taking road trips and leaving him home alone. He’s been very loud ever since, reminding me that I do indeed have a cat son and that he demands attention and love. I’m not leaving any time soon, the yowling is super cute but gets annoying very quickly.