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A Grand Adventure is About to Begin

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Somewhere in the midst of the holiday season, I found myself once and for all fed up with slaving to a daily prescription the size of a crumb and up and stopped. A couple of days later, when it mattered, I told the other human being that my crumb of a pill actually concerned.

"Good," he said.

"Really?"

"I’m so ready. I can’t wait."

"Are you sure?"

"I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life."

And so the rest of my packets of crumb-sized pills went in the trash can. They say it takes an average of six months for these things to usually happen. Might as well start now.

Probably two weeks later, it started to feel like a massive weight, that kind where you can hardly breathe and all you can do is sob. Not cry, but sob. Right there on the sofa with sentimental Christmas movies playing in the background.

"We aren’t ready. We can’t be ready. There’s no way. Are you sure?"

"I told you, I’ve never been more sure," he repeated. "You’re never actually ready until it happens. Because how can you know for sure what it will mean if you’ve never experienced it? I can’t wait. And I know you can’t wait, either."

A few more tears. More words. He was right. I was ready. I was just scared.

But none of that even mattered. Because there’s this little human I have yet to meet with his or her dad’s incredible sense of humor and mom’s impatience who had already made up our minds for us. This kid knew it days earlier, we were ready.

And that was that. I’ve fallen over the moon in love with someone I’ve only met on a black and white screen a couple of times. It’s come to be that my sole purpose for living is to nourish the two of us. Nothing more. Every time I hear that heartbeat…. this is love.

Thirteen weeks later, after the scariest, rockiest, toughest three months of my life and more doctor’s appointments than one would think necessary, this stubborn little one is doing great. It seems we’ve got a tenacious kid on our hands. Or, as our doctor’s told us last week, we’ve got a perfect baby.

Perfect….. it’s never felt so good.

And so, with our tiny, bouncy, precious little babe, I point you now to Winnie the Pooh:

A grand adventure is about to begin.

9.15.2014

Love Notes: The Key to that Word “Happy”

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We’ve been married for over two years, lived together for over five, and been in love for over six. We’re maybe 2% of the way to “figuring it all out” and maybe 25% of the way past arguments, fights, disagreements, and annoyances. I still leave my wet towels on the floor after I shower. He still leaves dirty dishes spread throughout the house. I lose my temper almost immediately when he keeps the TV on all night watching stupid man shows. He cringes every time I want to leave a party early or just stay home altogether. We don’t always work and we know it.

Things go from good to great to bad to awful to okay to perfect to good and all the way back around in different patterns by the day, week, month and year. Sometimes perfect lasts months and then sometimes it just lasts an hour. Sometimes I’ll be dealing with something just terrible and ruin any chance we have for happiness. Other times he’s having a bad day and then for a wee little bit of time we’re feeling anything but marital bliss.

It’s hard. This whole together thing isn’t for the weak. And forever is a long time. Best not to go into it lightly, you know?

So here’s what we’ve figured out. We’re not perfect. He’s got quirks and I’ve got mine. We drive each other insane and we definitely have our own viewpoints. But the important stuff, well, that’s the stuff we agree on. So that’s how you build your happy life. Let the cracks settle and the edges wear down. Foundations do that sort of thing.

I think that’s where you find happy. It’s there.

Love Notes: Think Happy Thoughts

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It’s been frighteningly good around these parts. Our evenings have induced way too many carefree spells of laughter over old episodes of Modern Family, neighborhood gossip, and our broken dishwasher. Daylight savings, even with all of those terribly early sunsets, make it particularly cozy and happy when the alarm sounds each morning. We even cuddle in bed for ten minutes waiting for the snooze button. I cuddle with Misha, that is. I save my cuddles for cats, not the husband. And, it’s just been generally great around here.

Ever go on weekend getaways that just leave you feeling more exhausted on Sunday evening than you felt when you left on Friday? Yeah, we’ve seen our share of tiring weekend vacays. When we skipped out of town for our anniversary a few weekends ago, it was nothing of that sort. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had a trip as relaxing as that one since our honeymoon. And that’s saying something.

We’re baking brownies on Monday nights just to have something sweet, ordering extra large scoops of gelato and real, rich Italian hot chocolates to tide us over til dinner, and we’re planning to start going to the gym again…. sometime soon. Things are just very, well, relaxed and that feels good.

I also bought a ton of candles from Home Goods of the “Santa’s Pipe” Yankee Candle scent and that’s helped out, too. It’s not really Christmas-y, which makes it acceptable to burn in early November. It reminds me of that line in The Parent Trap where she remembers her grandpa’s smell. It’s that peppermint and pipe tobacco combination that really does make a home a home. And to think, I hate smoke. Allergic to it, nonetheless. Pipe tobacco’s different, isn’t it? And the house is so warm with that smell permeating the walls.

We’re feeling good about this third year of marriage. It’s filled with tons of extra kisses and “I love you’s” and a generous helping of comfort. I feel like a different sort of wife, and he’s a different sort of husband, and while things aren’t completely perfect (we still have that dream house to hope for in our new town somewhere away from here), things seem perfect for right now.

And happy thoughts breed more happy thoughts, so I’m ready to bring on these holidays. You know?

I Married for Love

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photo credit Jodi Miller Photography

I met my husband on April 28, 2007 at a mutual friend’s 21st birthday party. The next night, the dude actually called me. Two weeks later, the semester was over and he was stopping by my house five minutes before I hauled out of there for the summer “to pick up that extra box of spaghetti if you’re really going to just leave it on the shelf over the summer”. A month later, we were madly in love.

We spent our senior year hating each other. Two overachievers figuring out where our lives were going and trying to keep emotions out of the picture. We fought a lot to keep the annoying love thing to a minimum. Lessen the blow come May, you know? So he pretended like he would be going straight into his PhD in psychology somewhere, anywhere they would accept him. I pretended like I would be at some big wig pr firm in any city anywhere in the country except the south (because I hate the heat). We had the world’s best poker faces most days. And we were not going to pretend to do that whole long distance relationship thing.

Perhaps we sabotaged it all on purpose, or perhaps life just has a way of surprising you, but none of that really happened. And by mid-July we were moving furniture into our first apartment, back where I grew up in Annapolis. Life happened and here we are, five years later; still madly in love and not a penny to speak for it.

Jenni’s prompt today was to share something difficult about my “lot in life” and how I am working to overcome it. So there it is. I didn’t marry for money, I married for love. And these days it sure seems hard to have both.

To say we think about, worry about, stress about, and even fight about money would be an understatement. It’s not even that we can’t make ends meet, because we can, but it’s more so that we aren’t left with much wiggle room. And, really, it’s that we didn’t ever plan to be here, as underpaid teachers, in the first place. Things happen and my husband’s dreams of going back for his PhD are slim. My dreams of moving back into public relations in post-recession America diminish a wee bit more with each year that passes. Cost of living is high and our mobility right now is low. What are we doing about it, you ask?

My mom always told me that “if it happens to you, it’s your fault” and I grew up owning that idea. She also told me that you can’t help who you fall in love with. Together, those words of wisdom have shaped our marriage. We control our destiny. Things aren’t easy now, but when will they ever be easy? We could sit back and just complain about money some more. But we’re not. We’re making changes and making plans and it’s all going to be our fault.

It doesn’t really matter what “lot” your given in life. It matters what you do with it. If it happens to you, it’s your fault. So start making positive changes. I didn’t marry rich. Yeah, it sucks sometimes. But I married my best friend and love and together we can move mountains if we need to. And that’s a hell of a lot better than sitting back and blaming anything or anyone else.

Make it your fault. And be proud you did.

P.S. If you want to see more wedding pictures, because, you know, weddings make everyone happy, you can see more here.

Love Notes: Pillars Of The Earth

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"This is how we fell in love." Alex mentioned quietly."Yeah, I miss this. I miss our hikes." I pick up the pace, almost skipping I’m enjoying our run so much. "You mean our outdoor adventures?" I laugh. Yeah, I guess you can call them adventures.

Old Rag loops to a conclusion with a 3 mile stretch back to the parking lot from the end of the trail. You’re on the Weakeley Hollow Fire Road so it’s flat and boring- except for the occasional pile of bear droppings that look too fresh not to ignore. After scrambling over miles of boulders and climbing by hand at dangerous heights, all you really want to do is rest by the time you reach the road.

We run. Every single time we hike Old Rag, we run our exhausted butts the three miles back to the car. And what is it about being on top of that mountain all day that makes those three miles seem so simple? On any given weekday, after plugging in a solid instructional day with my class, a couple of meetings and an hour or so of tutoring, three miles can kill me. But after six miles of hiking and rock climbing? Pshhh.

This makes zero sense.

But, really, it’s simple.

I don’t refuel in the classroom. I don’t refuel at my job. Not one ounce of the energy I put into teaching, into planning, into meetings or tutoring could even pretend to be that sort of energy. Instead, my day to day is of the soul sucking energy that drains you exponentially. The more you get, the less you have. And I definitely don’t find the energy to be the wife, best friend, lover, or companion in my day to day.

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But then we hike Old Rag. We escape the madness of suburbia and the twelve lane deep rush of the beltway and the stress of never ever stopping and we find the time. Just us. And it’s a rough enough hike without carrying anything on your back. So you limit yourself to three pb&j’s, two water bottles, three powerades, a bag of trail mix, the dslr, and a few band aids. You know. Just in case.

Old Rag requires the sort of energy that holds the power of a chargeable battery. Plug us in and we’re on fire. This is how I lose track of time. This is how I meditate. This is how I pray. This is how I make it through the day to day. 

This is how I, we, fall in love. 

And it’s quiet on that fire road. Just the sound of the gravel as we stomp above it and the whisper of the trickling creek that winds in and out around us. At the very end, right before you hit the trail head, coming full circle, the fire road crosses the rush of the creek bed. You can go around on the bridges. Or you can cross through.

We stopped, I snapped a picture, and we blessed each and every one of those rocks with our exhausted feet. But, really, they were blessing us. It was our baptism. As the mountain water runs crisp and clear through the pores of our shoes, stinging in a beautiful and empowering way, we are whole again.

So, it’s through the pillars here on earth… the pillars of the earth…. that we finally can take a deep breath. And recharge.

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P.S. Today’s the last day to enter to win $100 to spend at J.Crew!

Love Notes: The Last Ten Percent

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Us// Somewhere on the Appalachian Trail// 2009

Years ago Alex and I went camping down in Virginia where we had our first date. We set up camp riverside and then went out to hike Crabtree Falls. I was certain he was going to propose at the top of the waterfall. Well, he didn’t. But the sun hadn’t set yet and we were itching to try out a new hike a few miles down the road up to Spy Rock. Apparently it had a great view to watch the sunset. So off we went.

Oh, Spy Rock. You had to park down at the end of this fire access road and hike straight uphill to reach the Appalachian Trail. We started off in a sprint up that road, soon enough finding out that the AT was much, much further up this stupid road than we calculated. It was getting dark and our flashlights were working double time. About thirty minutes later, we make it to the AT and jump on trail. More uphill. Loose rocks. It was miserable. And the strangest place, too. We passed creepy mobile homes with the lights on, heard barking dogs, and listened to way more than our fair share of undetectable noises.

I think we made it to Spy Rock. It was too dark to tell. And you had to scramble the rock to get to the top. There was no way we were doing that. The sun had set long ago, anyway. We were out of water, out of breathe, and out of fun.  There was this beautiful patch of soft moss next to the rock with wildflowers and just enough of a tree canopy and I remember telling Alex that I wished we had brought the tent so we could just sleep there for the night.

Instead we started back home. The last ten percent of our day. All downhill. We could do it. God, it sucked. Pretty much the moment we turned around to head home, Alex sprained his ankle. Then, I slipped on some loose gravel and fell on my butt. Three times. Nobody was laughing. In fact, we were trying to be extra silent because we didn’t know who lived in those mobile homes. We were certain someone was going to hear us, think we were a dear and shoot. I don’t even recall if it was hunting season or not. Even when we made it back to the fire access road, we couldn’t run down to the car because it was too rocky and, well, Alex could barely limp. Our better flashlight ran out of battery. The moon was just a sliver and you couldn’t use its light anyway underneath the heavy summer canopy. I wanted to curl into a hole and finish in the morning.

Back at camp that night, out of breathe, out of energy, out of fun, we set to work at building a fire to heat up our crock of chili. I don’t think I’d ever experienced hunger like that before. So, with swollen feet and exhausted minds, we settled in for our 11pm fireside chili. 

Yesterday we started the last ten percent of our hardwood floors. The finishing touches on an installation that occurred nearly four years ago when we moved into our home. And just like our hike back from Spy Rock, it was hell. If I never saw a miter saw, a compression nail gun, a pile of shoe molding or the corners of our baseboards ever again, I’d die a happy girl. As we settled into a 10:30 meal of DiGiorno self rising crust and a growler of hefeweizen, I told Alex that the day reminded me of Spy Rock. He laughed.

“I’d take a sprained ankle and a broken flashlight over today anytime.”

Because, unlike Spy Rock, we still have the last one percent of the floors ahead of us this morning. Isn’t that how life goes? Right when you think you’re at the finish line… but after yesterday, there’s no way we’re quitting now.

I’m making a crock of chili for dinner tonight.

Love Notes: The Blogging Balance

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The scene: She was wired in, re-coding something stupid that got screwed up thanks to a lazy thumb dragging over the touchpad and causing everything to delete. He was on the couch, covered by snugly furballs waiting for her to join so they could watch Big Bang Theory together.

Two hours later, she’s still at the computer. The black hole of web design, social media and blogs having taken over yet again. He gave up long ago and turned on CNN to hear the latest news out of South Africa. The volume is just loud enough that she can hear the details and report out her own anecdotes on Pistorious’s stubs and the cricket bat.

At what point does something you love… a hobby, a creative outlet, an escape from the perils of the real world, your fostered friendships (albeit virtual)….. at what point does it become toxic? And you know it in your gut well before it festers into a head. You know it because it’s the first thing you do in the morning. No longer do you turn to face your husband. Instead, you’re running through Twitter at 6:30 in the morning because that’s totally normal. And you know it because you spend your lunch breaks scrolling through Bloglovin’- even when it’s your turn on Words With Friends with your husband. And you know it because you swear you’ll drop the screen down as soon as he walks in the house, unplugged and ignored until the next day. But when the door opens, you’re only halfway through your favorite blogs and you haven’t even begun to edit those pictures from the weekend.

But you don’t admit it, out loud, until your husband comes over to kiss the top of your head at 11pm  tells you he’s going upstairs and cracks one of those low-blow jokes that’s meant to make you think. “I think I’m gonna start dating again.”

End Scene.

As supportive, patient, loving, kind, understanding and gentle my husband is, he knows when he’s being taken advantage of. And why, why, why wouldn’t he feel ignored?

It’s so totally anything but simple and we both know it. This space, these words, this community… it’s transformed into one of the most joyful pieces of my heart. Little vignettes of the twelve year-old burning through a packet of lose leaf paper with a ballpoint at her desk at 4am on a midsummer’s dream, a penpal to a girl named Maggie who (though she lived all the way in Pennsylvania) became one of my closest confidants all the way through adolescence, the aspiring photojournalist capturing every imperfect detail of a family vacation to Paris in June, the PR major survived by espresso staying in the lab until it closes engrossed in layout and design…. this blog is a place for all of those girls to dance and dream and sing out loud.

But it’s not the best place to foster a marriage.

We both teach full time. And work part time jobs (plural, jobs plural). And then we try to keep fit and house keep and pay bills and stock a fridge and it’s just a lot before we even get to be together. And so we get to the priority part of this lovely post.

Blogging will stay; it will always stay in some form, large or small. It will stay for the therapeutic nature of writing and editing and crafting that my soul just craves. This is me. But then there’s my best friend, this guy who makes me laugh and shares in my adventures and writes the other half of our story. He is my priority. And what is love, truly, but the simple act of unconsciously putting someone’s well being before your own?

So I will love. And practice the art of balance.

(you can find the rest of the love notes series here)

Love Notes: Appreciation

It always occurs in the form of an eruption for me. I prefer to keep my feelings well guarded behind a tough face and plenty of “I don’t care’s” and “get over it’s” and “could be worse” thoughts. I’m not the world’s most emotional person. And while I’m not the world’s greatest badass, either, I’m pretty good at maintaining a tough skin.

And so when I battle quarter-of-a-century, existential crisis, depression bullsh*t like I am currently doing, it manifests itself at home with antisocial conversational comments and those looks that make everyone look ugly. You know the ones I am talking about. And then you say that one comment, right before heading upstairs to take a shower because you’re sick and tired of sitting next to a television zombie, that makes him wake up and realize he’s in the doghouse. Not because of anything he’s done, but because his wife doesn’t know how to talk about her emotions. So she just gets mad instead.

So you have to spend your shower with a concerned party of a man and two talkative cats calling an intervention on the other side of the curtain. Cornered, you start finding your words. And at the end of it all, hours later laying in bed with the aforementioned party, you can laugh and take deep breaths and all of that good stuff that reminds you that it will be alright. Somehow.

Which leads me to today’s love notes. I’m a pretty lucky girl. With a pretty awesome husband. And this post is about him. A rather unsung hero.

I married a man who keeps silent when he sees that I’ve used the debit card, once again, to score big on J.Crew’s latest 40% and free shipping clearance. But when I abstain from frivolous purchases for a pay period, he’s quick to recognize my effort and shower me with gold stars. He’s pretty smart, my husband.

I married a man who lets me plan every part of our life with practically no input on his part. And if that isn’t trust, I don’t know what is. Because our honeymoon could have ended in disaster, our house a decorator’s nightmare, and our bank account in the negative. He’s very trusting, my husband.

I married a man who lets me beat him down when I’m having a bad day, even if it has nothing to do with him. He takes each blow with gentle patience before stepping in to make things right. And when I’m back at it less than 24 hours later, he does it all over again. Except that this time he holds me a bit tighter and listens a bit longer. He’s rather patient, my husband.

Oh, also, I married a man who cannot, for the life of himself, take a normal picture. And I love that about him.

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Love Notes: The Yearbooks

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A positive side effect to the dreadful misery of cabin fever that comes with bronchitis would be that you experience a jolt of productivity in the clutter-clearing department. And when you are married to Alex Byland, well, this is a very good thing.

We are a couple of extremities. On my (more attractive, successful, productive) side you’ve got your typical type-A, neurotic, anxious, OCD, ISTJ intensity. On his (more likable, friendly, playful) side you’ve got your typical type-B, calm, balanced, easy-going, ESFP male.

And he’s also a closet hoarder.

There. I said it. The man doesn’t throw anything away. And it is for nothing more than pure laziness. As luck would have it (luck likes to laugh at me), circumstances left him with all of his childhood possessions when we moved into our apartment many moons ago. I’m talking half used scotch tape, dusty comic strips and teddy bears. Oh, the most pitiful, scary collection of stuffed animals you’ve ever seen. Goodwill wouldn’t even take these things.

And in typical hoarder fashion, they just hung out in our guest bedroom and our closets for eighteen months. Silly Tina. I really thought he’d use our big move to our big kid home as an excuse to finally sort through the stuff. Instead they took the fifteen minute drive in the back of his 1999 Mazda 626 (filthy as well) to our new home. Where they have stayed, pile after pile, crate after crate for over three years. They’ve grown, too. Of course they have.

Things can get really boring when you’re on house arrest because you’re cough scares the general population. So while everyone you know is seeing Les Mis without you, you find the most creative ways to entertain yourself. Enter Alex’s hoarded piles of childhood junk.

In all, over two weeks, I increased our trash piles threefold, donated six boxes, and filled our recycling bin to the brink of explosion. And it felt good. I was rather harsh about what would be kept. Give me a break- if he hadn’t referenced a binder full of professional development on downs syndrome by now, he wasn’t going to need to.

So in the midst of the ditching and pitching rhythm (which feels really good by the way), I came across every. single. yearbook. k-12. Such a sentimental soul. And I laughed at my husband (to myself, I promise). But then I remembered this particularly sunny day when I was about eight years old, sprawled out across the floor in the living room completely enthralled in Dow Senior High School’s senior yearbook. There were my parents, my aunts and uncles, their friends whom I’d heard story after story about. They all were there. Long, hippie hair and homemade bell-bottoms. And I spent that afternoon making up the most magnificent stories about their hallway gossip and the pictures they plastered to the inside of their lockers.

I was never going to throw the yearbooks away. But, by definition of being such a pragmatic soul, I hadn’t really thought too much about the plus side of Alex’s hoarder nature. He’s kept me from throwing away some rather important stuff. A piece of driftwood, for example. Or the cards from each Valentine’s Day and anniversary. They don’t take up that much space, after all.

And I hope that one day our son and daughter stumble upon that stack of yearbooks and learn that, why yes, their Swedish redhead of a father did have cornrows in 10th grade.

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Love Notes: Love and Marriage

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Alex and I spent Black Friday celebrating Thanksgiving #2 with somewhat of a surrogate family. But not really. Close family friends? It’s complicated. And past the point.

So we were sitting at the dinner table, all 20 something of us, chowing down on Waldorf salad and turkey. And we’re talking to our friend about our families. It dawns on her that we both come from divorced homes. And her voice got all serious and concerning as she told us how we had an uphill battle to climb and that we had to promise her we’d stick it out and that we wouldn’t ever get a divorce. And on and on and on.

Sort of something we don’t tend to think about. Though, in reality, we do think about it every once in awhile.

So, yes. While we’re on the topic, Alex and I are a 4 Christmas sort of packaged deal. And it stinks. Glad we cleared the air on that one. But as for the odds stacking against us, we know. And it stinks, too. But there’s something about the reality of those odds that I think makes people like us look at the whole prospect of marriage in a new way. Before the wedding, the ring, even before the house, we talked extensively about this whole doomsday concept. I promise you that.

So, anyways, I’m reading The Happiness Project and loving it. We’ve got a lot in common, Gretchen Rubin and me. And she started talking to me about fighting. About how to fight with your spouse. Gosh, I’m no stranger to fighting. Like her, I seem to thrive on a good conflict. I’ll be disagreeable just to disagree. Stubborn, you see? But she gave me great insight the other night.

Don’t let your fights open up to everything under the sun. Stick to one tiny little issue. Resolve it. And leave the rest for another time.

Oh my word. This is amazing. Am I the only one who didn’t know how to fight constructively? You see, my parents loved each other very much but they really could fight. And the first time I picked a fight with Alex, he freaked out. Apparently his parents never fought. At which point I explained to him that fighting is good. It is healthy. It shows you care.

Which I still believe is true. 

But we are probably the king and queen of fighting over everything at once. I’ll cut Alex some slack because he never fought with anyone before I came along. But I have no excuse. I should have known about this whole fight-about-one-thing-at-a-time rule. Especially since picking fights seems to be a specialty for me.

So as we move forward in our doomsday marriage (which I say lightheartedly because I don’t believe it one bit), I think it’s important for me to share a piece of advice that I let myself forget way too often.

Marriage only works if you put in the time and you are willing to learn. And whether it’s learning how to fight or learning how to share your money or even just learning how to share the bathroom, it’s definitely best to approach marriage with a sense of humility. And then learn some more.

Learn, love, repeat. I’m going to stick to that mantra for now.

*that amazing shot up there is of our rings on our wedding day, courtesy of Jodi Miller Photography (of course)*