A reminder of what is right with the world

This morning when I walked into the office, I was greeted by a flowery pink gift bag waiting for me at the receptionist’s desk. Inside was a bottle of Moscato and some Lindt chocolates. No, it’s not my birthday. This beautiful gift was a thank-you from a coworker for helping out with the project I volunteered for on Monday. Totally unexpected and far too generous. To me, taking the time to drive downtown and assist was not a big deal. It was during regular work hours, it took only a few hours to complete, and it didn’t prevent me from being able to complete my other tasks on time. It was just something that seemed like the right thing to do.

Work in general has been stressful the past few weeks. Actually, several things outside of work have been stressful the past few weeks. I feel like I’m giving and giving, but not getting anything to replenish me. Like I have to hold everybody else up, but that no one is holding me up, and I’m afraid that I might not be strong enough to keep standing. My coworker has no idea about any of this; we aren’t close at all and we only see each other in meetings every few weeks. So she has no way of knowing what her gift meant–that to me, it was uplifting. As cheesy as this sounds, it was a small reminder that even when bad things keep happening, good things happen too. There are still a few (ok, more than a few) things that are right with the world. Chin up.

One day

Um…writing every day? About that. Life happens. Excuses could be made, but excuses are boring. The last few days have been full of lunch with my grandma and my mom (love them. seriously.), life kicking my butt some more (confusion, frustration, a few more tears); a Sunday unexpectedly full of good food and friends; last minute request to help with a project on Monday (running around between ORs for a few hours, and successfully not getting lost in the tunnels). But today. Oh today.

Today was lovely. I took the day off and went to our family cabin in Wisconsin. Me and my mom and three of my siblings, plus my aunt and her two children. Fairly unplanned, come when you can, hang out for the day, just do it.

My mom and I left the cities at 8am, late enough to skirt around any rush hour traffic. It’s a drive that, although it’s fairly long, I’ve made so many times over the course of my childhood that it doesn’t really feel long. It’s all too familiar: 8 lane interstates giving way to two-way country roads. Towns that seem eternally the same. The landmarks, from the A&W at the first turn to the eccentric farmers with elaborate fountains in their backyards, to the cemetery signs (if you actually reach the cemetery itself, you passed your turn). Miles and miles of corn and cows under big billowy clouds in a vast blue sky.

And then, the last turn, and there it is, the little brown cabin in the trees, built by hand by my grandpa, my dad, and other relatives. Simple, compared to the “cabins” (aka lake mansions) of some, but enough, and full of a million memories of endless summer days sitting on, in, or near the water, on the roof, in a hammock, or by a fire. It feels like home in a different way than home feels like home.

We spend the day fishing, moving a few plants to fill in weaker areas of the lakeshore, walking in the woods, eating, and talking. We take up the bocce balls after lunch. Hilarity ensues, between the bumpy, sloping lawn that constantly propels our balls into the lake, and my baby sister’s wildly dramatic throwing technique. A constant breeze, warm sun, and a feeling of all the time in the world–deceptive in a way, because we all have things calling us back to the city that night–and in some ways, it’s like being 15 years younger, playing in the yard like we did when we were kids. Carefree.

Before long, it’s time to go–a long drive, past the corn, the cows, and the small town cemeteries, back onto the busy interstate and into an impending rainstorm. But I have sun on my skin and wind in my hair and for now, it is enough.

One of those days

Ever had one of those weeks that nothing really bad happens but somehow life just seems to be kicking your butt? And what I should say is mostly is that work kicked my butt, which, coupled with my really bad tendency of taking everything outside of work on my self and feeling like I have to be superwoman and therefore getting upset when I can’t do it all. And that’s when you end up trying not to cry at 630 on a Thursday night because you really just need to not be the one doing the dishes for one night and it’s not about the dishes but it is and thank God you have someone who loves you despite your occasional neuroses.

But how boring is all this complaining? I mean honestly, I should be grateful I have a job, and at the end of the day..it’s only work. As much as it feels like otherwise…there’s much more to life. Like someone who knows that when you’re crying it probably partly means you need a hug or something to eat.

So. Prescription for crappy days when work kicks your butt and you’re worn out and overwhelmed by stupid things:

Cry if absolutely necessary. Don’t wallow in it, but if you just need to cry and get it over with instead of being a cranky be-atch for the remainder of the evening because you’re trying not to cry: then cry. And be honest with yourself that you’re crying because you’re tired and probably hungry, and not because the world is ending. Ask for help if you need it. Ask for a hug. Then dry your eyes, and move on. And eat something.

Have a bowl of chicken noodle soup. From a can. Because you know what? Canned soup is just fine some days. It’s good for the soul. Throw a PB&J on the side, because it’s soft, and sweet, and there’s protein in there. Bonus: both these things take approximately zero effort and can be accomplished while talking to your former roommate (now in AZ) and hear about her “awkward” weekend. While you’re waiting for the soup to heat up, pour yourself a vodka soda with lots of ice. Or if you’re not into booze, a cup of tea is also fabulous (hey, even if you are into booze, tea is fabulous).

Enjoy while watching The Office. Feel grateful that it’s no longer 95 degrees like it was all of July and soup actually sounds good. Also be grateful that you actually had soup in the pantry because it just isn’t something you usually buy in the summer. Hurray for coupons. While you’re at it, be grateful that a friend left you a bottle of vodka, that you have a comfortable couch, and that tomorrow is Friday and that means this week will come to an end and a new one, in which you, and not work, will kick butt, will commence.

Pushing through

It should come as no surprise to me that I’d begin experiencing a massive case of writer’s block almost as soon as I started this blog. Part of the problem is that I’m a procrastinator- especially when it comes to writing. Every assignment that I had in school was treated much the same way: I’d come up with a rough idea of what I would do, and then it would be set aside until much, much closer to the deadline. Granted, the idea would be percolating somewhere in the back of my mind the whole time, but that’s very different than actively putting the words to paper. I learned how to make this habit work well for me. But in a blog, there are no deadlines. Thus, what is easily put off today eventually spins off into infinity, with nothing to force the expression of the words floating around in my head.

I know, too, that I’m over-thinking. I can’t edit before writing–I need to just write. There’s no pressure, and nothing to lose. I write best when I simply say what I think. So with that in mind, I’m going to start writing every day–whether it’s a paragraph or ten, whether I have photos or not, whether the topic is deeply personal or entirely mundane. The only way I’m going to get past this hangup is to push through. (And even now, I’m second-guessing myself about putting this post out there. Enough already!)

The zucchini taught my garden its bad manners.

Last year, my garden was picture-perfect. Everything stood in tidy little rows, each plant maintaining its own little portion of the patch. However…it was pretty disappointing in terms of what it produced: namely, a handful of radishes, a couple of cucumbers, and maybe a dozen tomatoes. No onions, no peppers, no summer squash, no peas or beans, beets or carrots. Part of the problem was the heat, which came early and often, and the rain, which came rarely. It didn’t help either that the patch had been neglected by the previous owners of the house, who apparently thought it was better suited for an ash pile than a garden plot (even though they had built the raised bed in the first place). Add to this a mutant squirrel who thought he actually owned the property and therefore helped himself to all of the summer squash and most of the tomatoes before they were even halfway ripe, and well, there you have it. So much for summer bounty.

The one exception to both the picture-perfect and the non-producing? Zucchini, which launched guerilla warfare on anything and everything it could, evidently having decided that the entire garden belonged to it alone, and which constantly had to be pushed back into its place. Zucchini has no manners. Now, the upside to this rampaging was that I actually harvested a bunch of zucchini. But people do not garden for zucchini alone, or at any rate, I do not.

This year, my garden looks like it learned a few tactics from the zucchini of last year (which is now relegated to a different spot entirely in an effort to teach it to behave). I have leaf lettuce that refuses to bolt, despite a very hot July, and instead just gets more and more massive daily. If I could only freeze or can lettuce, I would be set for the year at this point. My tomato plants, celebrating that the aforementioned squirrel has been forced from the yard by a pair of docile and charming rabbits (explain that one to me), have decided to flourish and prosper, leaping from their cages and waterfalling over the back of the bed. I’m terrified that the approximately one million green tomatoes out there are all going to ripen at once and I will be utterly overcome.

Massive lettuce. Gigantic pepper plants. Cherry tomato waterfall.

The pea vines that supposedly shouldn’t sprawl have ignored that dictum from their seed package and have instead run their flowering tendrils roughshod through the bush beans, dragging them across the garden on a merry adventure. And the beans like it if the number I’m picking each day is any indication. The peppers, instead of drowning under the tomato waves, are growing obscenely tall, popping out emerald cones that turn to vibrant rubies in just a few days. Oh, and the summer squash is back from last year. I didn’t invite it, but seeing as how it felt welcome and everything else is running all over the place, what’s another tangle of leaves and vines and blossoms?

So my garden looks atrocious but I swear it likes it that way. My neighbor, who maintains a meticulous little plot, strung with twine and tidily marked–and apparently dedicated solely to crafting pickles–doubtless thinks I’m negligent. But what can I say? It’s all the zucchini’s fault. And as long as I’m benefiting from this rebellion, you won’t hear me complain.

Just one morning's worth.

Hello gorgeous.

Four years ago

I got up and went to work at my new job. It was only my second week there and I was still learning how to do everything, impatient to get the first few weeks finished so I could start feeling somewhat competent. I was still working the part-time retail job I’d had while in college and would be for the next week. So, at 4:00 I punched out and drove from the northern suburbs to the Mall of America to put in another 6 hour shift. Or so I thought.

I had only been at work for maybe an hour, when I was told the phone was for me. It was my sister, and she was crying. I thought at first that she had had a fight with her boyfriend or our parents or something. She told me our grandpa (our mom’s dad) had died. It took me a minute to even comprehend what she was saying, and I remember being confused, thinking, but he’s too young to die. My mom’s parents were the “younger” set of grandparents, barely in their seventies, and with no real health problems. I had always, always expected to lose my dad’s parents first.

I completely went into shock. I told my coworker what happened and that I had to leave. I know there were tears in my eyes but I didn’t actually start crying until I had just about reached the doors to the skyway, at which point, I lost it. I think it took about that long for it to really even start to sink in. I got in my car, somehow made it to my parents house, just in time to get in my brother’s car with my three sisters and drive to my grandparents house. It was the worst drive of my life. No one spoke, because there are no words. Just a raw, burning hole that can’t be comprehended.

My grandpa,you see, was active and healthy. He had been at our family cabin that morning repairing the roof. When he died, he was out hiking with one of his best friends, a priest. He suffered a massive heart attack. His friend, along with a girl who was at the park, attempted CPR but it was too late.

I don’t remember a lot about that night, but certain details still stick in my mind. I can remember exactly what I was wearing. I can remember getting to my grandma’s and feeling like I had been punched in the stomach all over again when I saw my mom and my grandma. I had never seen that look on either of their faces and I hope I never have to again. I remember my (extremely pregnant) aunt arriving, sobbing, absolutely devastated that my grandpa would never meet the baby–her first child–that was so close to arriving. It was two days before my grandma’s birthday.

My mom’s family is huge, and almost everyone made it to town that night. But what do you say? You want everyone near, but at the same time, the grief is magnified a thousand times back at you, and you want to run away from it. You know what everyone is feeling, but you can do nothing to eliminate it, and it hurts you to see the ones you love in such pain.

At some point, I ended up in my grandpa’s workroom in the basement, curled up under the desk like a child hiding from a nightmare. I couldn’t stop crying. I thought I would run out of tears but I didn’t. Somehow one by one, the 4 of my siblings who were there ended up in the room as well. We sat there, crying and talking and being together.

When we left that night, my eyes were so swollen I could barely see. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, up before 5 the next morning to go for a run. No music. Just run and run and try not to think but running itself always makes me think of my grandpa, even though we never had the chance to run together. I ran across the bridge toward downtown Saint Paul, which also made me think of him–he worked for MNDOT his entire career and worked on numerous bridges around the cities. At this point, I was going utterly numb.

We made it through the next few days, because that’s all you can do. You find a task, focus on completing it, and spend as much time as possible just being with everyone. At the funeral, over a thousand people attended and it had to be moved from my grandparent’s church just to hold everyone. I still couldn’t grasp that it was real. Couldn’t believe that it was truly over and done. At times, I still can’t.

As time has gone on, it no longer hurts every day, but still, it hurts. My grandpa was my hero. When my relationship with my dad was on rocky ground, I planned that my grandpa would walk me down the aisle at my wedding; it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t see it at all. He was a man of integrity. He loved people, and gave effortlessly. I know he wasn’t perfect, but to me, he was as close as any human can be. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that he was never able to know the man I love with all my heart.

Somehow, though, life goes on. And there are still days, four years later, when grief hits like a sucker punch and I feel like I’m thrown back into time to the 22 year old reduced to a child under the desk. But mostly, I remember how loving he was. How humble he was. How genuine. And I try to be those things as well. Sometimes I wonder if my life would be different if he were still alive, because I can’t tell how much of the changes that began to happen in my life were because I changed as a result of his death. I’ll never know that. But I try to honor his memory by emulating the values he held. And to find joy in the memories and reminders of him (one of which I see every day when I look in the mirror–I’m the only one of my extended family to inherit his strawberry blond hair). I find pleasure in the things that he taught me to love, particularly nature. Maybe that’s why I love being in the woods or on the water so much–it makes me feel closer to him.

I miss you Grandpa, especially today. I wish I could ask you the things it didn’t occur to me to ask as a child. I wish I could hug you one more time or listen to you humming in the kitchen. I hope you would be proud of me. Thanks for teaching me what love and generosity and acceptance mean. Thank you for being someone that I can look up to. I will always miss you and love you.

Begin again

Four years ago, I found myself on the verge of a number of big changes in my life. I didn’t fully know at the time what those changes would entail. I had recently graduated from college and was trying to build a life as an “adult” (although I’m not sure I fully knew what that meant) but mostly, I felt lost, aimless, and confused.

Some of the changes that occurred were painful. I lost my hero, my beloved grandfather, completely unexpectedly. I moved out on my own to a place that didn’t feel like home, and where I often felt lonely. I tried dating several men who seemed only designed to destroy my illusions, one after the other.

And yet, even though the changes were difficult, I found good things as well. I met the man who is the love of my life. I found a job with a wonderful company and managed to not only remain employed, but to succeed at a time when many were losing their jobs.

The past four years have offered few moments of pure good or pure bad. Instead, life, as always, has managed to be a wonderful, heartbreaking, complicated, and unpredictably beautiful thing. It hasn’t been easy, but I am tremendously blessed to be where I am.

Once again, however, I find myself standing on the edge of change. Just like four years ago, I feel somewhat unsettled, somewhat lost. In many ways I’m stable–still employed, we own a home, and I wake up every day surrounded by love–and yet, there is a hunger within me for something more. I can feel something is about to break or break free, although I do not know yet what it will be. I’m scared. I’m excited. I know that undoubtedly there will be some painful moments, but also that there are some wonderful things to come.

This blog is a place for me to process those changes–but even more, to get back to the writing I have always loved but have too often neglected since college. Here I will be sharing from our lives–stories, adventures, thoughts. I hope you enjoy reading along.