I Am (married)

Anniversary Edition!

I Am, by marriage, second-generation thin crust pizza, spicy Italian sausage from a local butcher, whole milk mozzarella and pizza sauce that’s not to sweet, not too tangy, not to salty.  I am popcorn at 10pm with garlic salt and crushed black pepper, scrambled eggs most mornings, and breakfast in bed on my birthday. I am a cup of coffee snuck onto the bathroom counter while I’m in the shower. I am a late night mini DQ run accomplice.

I Am, by marriage, at the very top of a 14 thousand foot mountain. I am sitting at the UW Terrace with some kind of local brew in Madison, WI or at the New Glarus brewery with a $3 flight, or taking a lazy stroll on State Street after the Farmer’s market when the weather is warm and I’m in a sundress. I am in the upstairs bedroom on the left, waking up on holidays to rolling hills, Palamita Pond and a little farmet outside frosted windows in Beloit, Wisconsin. I am our very first Indiana Avenue facing one-bedroom apartment just a few steps from the Canal and White River State park by foot. I am sitting on a fixed and treated deck, sipping a summer Shandy by the Monon, with a yard just mowed, twinkle lights on, and a grill cooking fat-tire brats in Carmel, Indiana.

I Am, by marriage, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt, niece, and cousin. I am Bucky the Badger and flip-flopper and Merlot Kathy and Indiana Ron/Wisconsin Ron depending on the score. I am Brookaliscious. I am a gold medal swimmer at an Olympic wedding! Most of the time, without even thinking before it slips out even at work, I am simply Babe, which is okay with me.

I Am, by marriage, always in style. The dress never makes me look fat, the hair always looks good, there is definitely a change in my arm muscles, and yes, I can have the last bite/piece/sip. I am good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. I am known. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am “I will” and “I do” and “I now pronounce you man and wife!”

0021

PS: Some friends have started doing this exercise with me, and I’m so thrilled it’s catching on. Three friends means catching, right? I do these weekly on Sundays, except for today which is Monday,  If you like it, please respond with your own answers.  Wouldn’t that be fun? (Yes, Brooke, that would be SO fun.)

Thanks to my pals who have responded- I love knowing who you are!
So tell me, everyone else, who are you?

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What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My friend posted a blog, after reading another blog, and that blogger had read a book, and the author of that book had been asked to speak on what was saving her life right then. Today* a bunch of people and synchronized blogs are answering this question: What is saving your life right now?

*When I say Today what I really mean is three weeks ago. But three weeks ago I was in such a despairing place, I could not come up with a list of things that were saving my life.  I could only come up with a list of things I wished were saving my life. Yes, I realize this kind of defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.

So, as all the life-savers rushed passed me on the internets, optimistic and enlightened, I sat on the sidelines chicken-scratching a bunch of things that were absolutely not saving my life right then (picture McKayla is NOT impressed) and feeling angry I couldn’t find optimism and gratitude- my two best things! You will lose all respect when you see my list. It’s bad.

Things I Wished Were Saving My Life Three Weeks Ago:

Food. Loads of goat cheese. On chicken. Wrapped in bacon. On bread. With oil. Small plates as far as the eye can see. If these things were happening right now, my life would be saved. Instead, due to the need for restraint (calories, waistline, cash, time) we are on a meal plan. Five meals per week, 20 ingredients or less, all organic, under 600 calories. Blast that meal plan! The inability to go out to eat for every meal and order anything I want is killing me. Salads in jars are killing me. For a person who communicates via food and weather patterns, who would rather ingest a tiny amount of taste-bud-bursting goodness than loads of mediocre anything; for a foodie, I wish amazing food was saving my life right now.

Hawaii. I wish Hawaii was saving my life right now.

Riches. Yes, I know how hard it is for a rich person to get to heaven, and that we’re not supposed to store up treasures and all that. I get it. But seriously, I could go for some cold hard cash. I would (you might have gathered) go out to eat every single meal and buy a personal trainer to work most of it off, and then a med spa to take care of the rest. I would go to two movies this weekend, and I’d have an outdoor living space with a plush couch, and tomorrow, I’d quit my job and vacation in Cuba for a month. I’d buy land in Belize, adopt some kids, and eat some more food without consequence. I would also go hiking in CO, visit all my friends in NOLA, and then go to Nepal. Yes. I wish those things were saving my life right now.

I wish single digit sizes were saving my life right now. My life would be saved if at the end of the day I could catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, Yep. Instead, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gnash my teeth.

I wish God’s voice in human form and his face in human flesh sitting across from me were saving my life right now. I would ask him a direct question and get a direct answer. He would also likely buy my coffee, I think. He would tell me exactly how to pray. He would say, Yes, you have enough faith to do this one thing. Or, He would say, No, you’re not really believing believing. He might reveal that I’m praying in safe ways that leave wiggle room for God not to answer prayers, in case these things are Not His Will, instead of praying expectantly. He would let me know once and for all if expectant prayer is entitlement or faith.

I wish some kind of everything-fits-perfectly feeling was saving my life right now. Instead- well, just read this. She says it perfectly. J and I have a case of the wanderlust. If some kind of Holy Passion presented and everything suddenly fit, my life would be saved.

I wish God’s breath into a mess of cells and tissue was saving my life right now. It’s not all I want in life. It’s not even something I wanted until a year ago. It’s not the only thing I think about. But if it happened, my life would be a little bit saved.

___

Three weeks later, thanks to things that are actually saving my life, I am able to identify some things that are saving my life. Funny how that works.

What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My aunt is saving my life right now. On the prayer thing, she said: When you prayed that prayer the very first time– the unanswered one, the one in which I don’t know if I have enough faith- God heard it. It has already been answered. You just don’t know how or when or in what form this thing will appear. But God heard it, it’s been answered, and you are free to move forward.

Limes and La Croix are saving my life by being all refreshing and tart, and caffeine free, sugar free and sweetener free. This combo tricks my taste buds into thinking I’m having some kind of dirty carbonated beverage. Really, it’s just soda water with some limes.

My little community of women are saving my life right now. Kim’s words: These women are teeming with so much life. Giving me so much life. Saving me on days when I couldn’t find hope with a floodlight. Saving me by letting me point out hope when it’s their turn to misplace it. Saving me with plans for a weekend away, just our despair, and our hope, and margaritas as big as our heads.

A new friend who came over for a long walk is saving my life right now.

A friendly neighbor who stops by more often than not is saving my life right now.

My writing group is saving my life right now.

My job is saving my life right now. Three or four weeks ago, after the worst worst MD visit, I really wanted to cancel all my appointments the following day to give myself time and space to recoup, emotionally. Being a therapist is for the birds on days when you need a therapist. But it was too late, and I am reliable. So I went to work and resolved to be 100% present. For 8 whole hours, I did not think about myself even one time. I came home lighter, and my life was a little bit saved that day.

My husband is saving my life right now. His insight and care. His partnership. The way he ushers me up to the roof to watch shooting stars on a blanket. The way he could never write an ungrateful I wish list, because he’s got that much perspective. His humor and kindness save my life every single hour.

Our blooming flowers that were dead a month ago are saving my life right now. The way these flowers, planted on almost the exact weekend we began our journey through unparenthood, have become reflective of my insides- bright and cheery, withered, dead, sprouting, full-bloom, wilted, thirsty, drowning, blooming… endless, the stages, and totally dependent on things they’re not in charge of.

Church is saving my life right now. Each time I show up, the question bouncing back and forth between J and I all week is answered. It’s not Jesus in the flesh, but I’m learning more about the Spirit. The Spirit is saving my life right now.

Our pet electronic vacuum is saving my life right now. Purchased before the Hartman recession hit, in a fit of crumb-despising-fed-upness, to which most people respond with a broom and dustpan, we feed this pet/child/swiffer thingy scraps from our dinner table and speak to it as though it has a heart and soul. Don’t tell anyone.

Three Bottles & a Fat Bastard

This was my first attempt at writing a fiction piece for Scribes, and the assignment was to write a story about wine. You will be temped to think these stories are about J and I, because you’re not used to a fictional voice in this space, but don’t do it. Although I weave parts of our own stories throughout, much was absorbed from the experiences of those around me, including friends, family, and the good ole ER.

~~~

Among the mess of gift bags, wrapping paper and brunch, under the last tent standing to shade them from the morning sun, with sleepy eyes and brand new rings, they came across the last wedding gift: a bag containing four bottles of wine with notes attached.

He lifted the first bottle from the bag—a 2009 Barefoot chardonnay. The note, tied to the neck with ribbon, on a tiny piece of green construction paper, read: Open this on your first anniversary. May you dance Barefoot and enjoy the great memories of your beach wedding.

She smiled, and selected the second bottle—Big House Red. She flipped over the little blue note, tied with a yellow ribbon. Enjoy this as you celebrate closing and moving into your first house together. What a wonderful adventure is ahead of you.

The third was a bottle of Little Penguin Pinot Grigio. He read the yellow note out loud: Celebrate and rejoice after the birth of your first child. What an awe-inspiring miracle. Many blessings to your new family.

The fourth was a bottle of Fat Bastard with a red note attached: Your first fight… don’t call her fat, don’t call him a bastard, or trouble is sure to follow. Enjoy this when you make up.

They passed the bottles back and forth in wonder, imagining how these events would unfold.

She pictured their anniversary on a beach in the Caribbean with 360-degree views of the island, a front porch hammock, and one—maybe two—weeks of R&R reflecting back over the last year and how much love had filled the space of it. It would be so romantic. They would open the bottle and dance on the beach, barefoot. She could hardly imagine what the year would hold—family Christmases and Thanksgivings, living in the same house, city, state, and country together. She looked at him and wondered how they’d appear to each other after a year had passed.

He, too, imagined their beachy first anniversary. They would kayak and sip wine. Dance under a full moon, in that top floor condo with the porch hammock and the rooftop hot tub. They would open those French doors to the beach each morning and have at least one amazing dinner at the expensive restaurant down the street. He would wake up early to snap pictures of the sunrise, and catch a glimpse of her sleeping softly in the morning haze. Or maybe they’d go back to the mountains like they did on their honeymoon. They’d returned home just a few days ago, in time for their stateside reception last night. Either option would be great. As long as they could get away and do something special.

Passing the Big House Red, she imagined the closing of their first house together—what the house would look like and how cozy they’d feel, how home they’d be.

Right now, they lived in a little one-bedroom apartment on a canal. It was adequate for the two of them, bright and spacious, but too small to host anyone else or invite friends over for dinner. They didn’t even have a kitchen table. In the table space sat a desk, which they’d clear off on those rare occasions they didn’t eat on the couch ottoman. Once, they’d had a dinner guest and he sat on an exercise ball because they only had two chairs. The entire place was new—the city, their jobs, the apartment. They weren’t sure how long they’d stay; they’d each only come here for jobs. But she thought they might end up in a big house near her family up north, or a trendy loft in Chicago, maybe. That would be the exact middle between their two families in Michigan and Wisconsin. They’d want to be in a good school system, not too far from the city, but not too close, either. They’d probably close on their first house when they had their first kid, or settled on long-term jobs, or were ready to be committed to a place. She didn’t care where it was, but she figured it wouldn’t be here.

He imagined by the time they were ready to close on their first house together, they’d already be back in Wisconsin on 10 acres of rolling hills in the country.  They’d have a kid or two, so they’d need to fix up and sell his old two-bedroom bachelor pad currently being rented by graduate students, and buy a bigger family house just outside city limits. Or maybe on the east side—it’s getting more trendy there. He thought she’d probably like the east side.

As he put the Big House Red back in the bag, she picked up the Little Penguin. She secretly couldn’t wait to uncork this bottle, signifying the birth of their first child. They would wait two years, probably. They’d spend time traveling and enjoying one another, get their lives and finances in order first, and then take the plunge. What would their first little baby look like, she wondered? It would be a girl—his eyes, her hair. A snapshot moment played in her mind, the two of them holding hands in the hospital as everyone passed around their new little baby, cooing and rocking and arguing over who she looked like most. The kid would be an athlete. And so perfect.

He imagined a boy, decked out in Brewers or Packers gear. They’d play baseball together, or, you know, whatever the kid wanted to do, he’d support it. He knew before he’d even met her he wanted to have kids. It would be tricky timing, though. He wanted stability, friends and travel first. On the flip side, he didn’t want to be an old dad, either. He was pushing 40, and friends had told him he would never feel entirely ready. He imagined about two years from now they’d be opening that bottle, excited and nervous and thrilled while the baby slept soundly next to them.

Smiling at the last bottle, she wondered what would do them in. What would cause the uncorking of the Fat Bastard? In her wildest imagination, she couldn’t even conjure up an image of the two of them fighting. The closest they’d come was after the earthquake in Haiti. He had an opportunity to respond with a medical team for six weeks right before their wedding, and she created a position or herself on the French-speaking team they both thought was brilliant. The team didn’t buy it. He had to decide whether to stay or go, and she supported either option. But here is how they dealt with stress: She needed to talk it out eight different ways, and he needed space to process internally. They stewed separately for four hours and met for dinner. Over soup, he verbalized intent not to go. She agreed. Done.

He thought it would be money, for sure. Spending habits would open the Fat Bastard. Either that, or the need for alone time. She was extroverted; He was introverted. Having never lived together, he wasn’t sure how it would all play out, but they took extra care in fleshing out these differences before the engagement. He was confident whatever the issue, they’d communicate their way through it straight to the make-up bottle of Fat Bastard.

 ~~~

A year later, they sat with 18 friends and family members around the kitchen table/desk in the one-bedroom apartment by the canal. Their one-year anniversary happened to fall on the day of a biking event in the city, and each of their family members from all sides and states came to participate. Everyone stayed with the two in their 900 square foot apartment. There was no barefoot beach dancing or wine-sipping; there were no French doors or 360-degree island views. There were no rooftop hot tubs or mountains of any kind.

Instead, there were bowls and bowls of veggie pasta, friends and family gathered on chairs and stools and milk crates on the deck. There were air mattresses piled floor to ceiling. There were breakfast spreads and popcorn parties, lots of grilling, laughter and story telling. They toasted their waters and beers and Gatorades high in the sky on the deck of the little apartment, under stars and twinkle lights, marveling over the rare gathering of almost the exact same group of people who had lined up on a beach for a wedding a year ago, wishing the two another great year, and reminiscing over stories the couple had never heard—stories about skinny dipping and champagne surfing after the ceremony.

Although not what they imagined, they uncorked the bottle of Barefoot chardonnay on a Monday night, after all the families had left and enjoyed a slice of freezer packed chocolate wedding cake. Their anniversary had been meaningful, if not tropical. A month later, they went to the mountains. Four months later, they went to the beach. The celebrated their anniversary 4 times that year, which was a different kind of better than they had imagined.

The following November, six months after their anniversary, they sat with friends, wrapped in blankets and flannel, in a lake house on the northern border. They had accidentally purchased a house. They weren’t looking, but a friend was selling who offered a good price in a neighborhood they loved, and the mortgage for a three-bedroom home would be less than the monthly rent of their one-bedroom apartment downtown. It was a no-brainer. No realtor, and the signing happened over a beer. The owner had given them access to the house before the closing to re-paint, tile the bathrooms, and replace the carpet with wood floors. On the day of closing, while He was at work, after they had signed and taken ownership, She flooded the house. That really happened. She was trying to figure out why the master bath only reached lukewarm temps, and somehow wrenched the entire fixture off the bathroom wall. The bathroom, bedroom and hallway were ankle-deep in lukewarm bath water in about six seconds. Her brother and the plumber directed her to the water shut-off, and each came over to pry up wood planks in an effort to save the floors.  But the floors were ruined—the floors her brother had installed two days earlier. She didn’t know what to do. She called Him at work, and He reassured her. They would call the insurance. Everything would be okay. This is why She loved Him. Everything was okay.

The next morning, they set up industrial sized fans in three places, grabbed the bottle of Big House Red and drove three hours north to meet a another couple for a weekend at the lake house. There, in the cozy glow of a fire and s’mores, they opened the bottle of Big House Red and toasted the closing of their first house together. This was not how they imagined it, but in the span of life and death and disaster and fulfillment—life was good. They were home. Just not right this very second. Right this very second, they were in a different home three hours away with the best of friends, wrapped in cozy blankets toasting the moment while their real home was drying out.

The flooded house would hold a thousand firsts: gardens and furniture, friends and kids, small groups and family Thanksgivings, job changes, bike routes, budget changes, lost rings, vacations, sick days, bonfires, grill outs, Christmas trees—it would hold the entire first chunk of their marriage, after the little apartment on the canal. They would outgrow it quickly, but hang on to it as long as possible: their little bungalow on Main.

~~~

Years later—three, to be exact—she could just cry thinking about the Little Penguin bottle, gulped down in some throw-her-arms-up battle through 18 months of infertility and a desperate need for a bottle of white because company was coming. She would immediately purchase another bottle of Little Penguin in the morning. The next day they would begin fertility treatment.

The treatment worked quickly, and they became pregnant within the first three months of injections and monitoring. They were ecstatic and began decorating a nursery in the little house on Main—forcing His office into the living room area. He didn’t mind. They would find out the gender next month and teased about which sport the child would play, and what the name would be. Every sign or menu item He saw, He would say: Hey! Let’s name the baby that. For example, Stromboli—Strom for short.  They each began making arrangements to shift work schedules to 30 hours per week in order to care for the baby equally without a sitter. He would work Mondays and Wednesdays, She would work Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they would alternate Fridays.

At 16 weeks, though, the worst of the worst happened.  She sobbed in the ER holding her 5-inch, 4 oz. baby with 10 fingers and 10 toes in a little pink kidney-shaped emesis basin. Everything had happened so fast—He was on his way to the ER from work. They had only told family they were pregnant three weeks earlier.  He sat next to her in the hospital bed, as they looked at their first child, genderless and nameless. They asked for a picture, but the nurse had no camera. They looked to the Social Worker and the Chaplain who had come into the room for support and resources, but nobody could do anything. The Social Worker called the Forensic Nurse, knowing she had access to a camera for evidence collection. But the Forensic Nurse would not permit the camera to be used in this way. She only wanted to document this, the birth of their first child. They were devastated.

When everyone else left the room, the Social Worker offered up her cell phone. “I could take a picture for you, right here, and send it to your phone or your email. I don’t know what the rules are for this, so we’d have to delete it right after it’s sent.”  They agreed, through tears, took the picture, and sent it to themselves at home. They deleted it from the Social Worker’s phone and said goodbye to the little baby.

They spent several days holding hands, but not talking or eating. They spent several more days watching TV and going on long, solitary bike rides. Sometime during the second week, they started eating snacks and taking walks. They went back to work. They took deep breaths and were very careful with each other. During the third week, He brought home a bottle of Little Penguin. They poured a glass and celebrated the brief life of their first child. He kissed every place the tears fell, and she again knew everything would be okay. Everything was okay.

The following spring, they gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Waiting for them at the house was a chilled bottle of Little Penguin and two glasses. They gave each other the longest hug ever in the world and toasted to their healthy little penguin.

Two years later, they gave birth to twins and immediately purchased an entire a bottle of gin.

~~~

On the 96th floor of the Hancock building in Chicago, several decades later, they sat at a corner table, surrounded by their kids and grandkids to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. After rounds of appetizers and meals and desserts, She pulled the bottle of Fat Bastard out of her giant purse. In 45 years, they could not bring themselves to open the Fat Bastard, which would have meant they’d had THE fight. The first one, the worst one, the one you had to make up over.

They’d had moments: stressful moves, budget veers on both sides, parenting struggles, a constant battle over who would let the dishes pile up the longest until someone broke and unloaded the dishwasher, and there was that one time he threw away her entire bag of dry cleaning because she’d put them in a black trash bag and he assumed it was trash. Whoops.

But they never opened the Fat Bastard until this very moment, in celebration of their 45 years together, having made it so far and so long. They opened the bottle, poured a glass for everyone, and drank until it was gone. They looked at each other, smiled and swallowed the last gulp hard. They’d consumed the worst, and they were okay.

What neither disclosed was that each had replaced the bottle an average of 3-4 times per year, having emptied it without the other knowing.

The 500 Things Theory

For our one year anniversary I made this list. I would like to keep the list, and add to it the following:

Here is what Jeff and I have discovered after two years of marriage. (I would call it flowers and rainbows- but that’s because I’m on vacation right now, and marriage demands far less of me poolside.)

This conversation formed, credit to Jeff, over months of providing support to certain brothers going through certain dating relationships.

Suppose there are a finite number of irritating characteristics in a person- lets call it five hundred. Five hundred annoying things. Dating for three months or three years, living together before the marriage or after, you will never be exposed to every single negative thing, because they present themselves over the span of a life, triggered by a span of circumstances. Simply: if you live with the person first, and it’s cool, you’re not safe. If the person is your same religion, you’re not safe. If you scored off the charts on every compatibility survey, you’re not safe.

It’s easy to identify the good characteristics during the good times- We have so much in common! He’s so handsome! She’s so fun! He’s so good with the kids! These are the pretend qualifiers. Good times will occur in your lives, and you will manage them with essentially no skill or training. You can bank on this.

The bad time characteristics are the real qualifiers, because these are tools that will navigate you through those other 500 things. Does this person have characteristics you’ll need to get through hard times? How does this person communicate when they’re not agreeing with everything you say? (Sometimes you will say stupid and unfunny things.) How does the person respond to stress? Would you trust this person during your most insecure and irritable moments? How does the person negotiate? What role does he/she take in problem-solving? You will hit some kind of brick wall somewhere, and you’ll need to figure out how to get up, over or around it.

What I’m saying is: nobody is safe from marriage. Even if you have the person move in, share the bathroom, live out their financial habits and hygiene habits and spiritual habits and nose-picking habits in front of you, there will ALWAYS be something else.  Marriage is not the expectation that you found the one person in the world for you and you’re certain you’re compatible. Marriage is the expectation that shiz will arise and you’re certain of your ability to navigate through it together effectively. When the car breaks down, when its raining on vacation, when the dishes don’t get clean because the barbeque sauce wasn’t rinsed off the pate first, when the dill weed falls out of the cabinet and shatters and you’re BOTH running late, when the bedroom floods, when the budget is cut, when you inexplicably cry through 3 consecutive church services, when four families want you on the same holiday, when you get home from a 12-hour shift and don’t feel like talking to anyone, when there is nothing to make for dinner, when you gain 15 pounds, when the roof has to be replaced, when you can’t get knocked up, when half the outlets in the house don’t work, when you can’t find a job, when the fam is coming in an hour and the place is a wreck.

Here is the question that matters: Is this who I want next to me in the trench? (You’ll be in a trench somewhere, sometime.) Or even better: Am I the type of person someone would choose to trench-up with?

Yes. And I hope so. (He could at least live off me for a few years in that trench if something happened- think turkey drumstick- amazon thighs, burn my fat for oil, etc.) This we knew after our 85th self-facilitated premarital survey. We dated in two separate states-  countries, even- 800 miles apart for over a year, and only flew home together on our honeymoon. Most would never believe we could know each other in any kind of way dating like that. Not really. But we did. And we are a good team.

Happy 2nd anniversary, J. I got you a tropical storm named Debbie.

Switching gears entirely: Like, 5 years ago or something, I decided I wanted to work for Doctors Without Borders. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are the only mental health professionals hired by Doctors Without Borders, and they work in countries with armed-conflict, natural disaster, famine, epidemic, post-war recovery, refugee camps, etc. to provide mental health services. I could not WAIT to travel the world and do this. In the meantime, I got married. The Irony: last week I got my LCSW. Doctors Without Borders does not accept couples.

What’s the return policy on this gig?
KIDDING! I would rather have J.

For J, on his Day

To the type of husband who sneaks a cup of coffee onto the bathroom counter while you’re in the shower-

To the type of ‘band who pulls the stove out from the kitchen wall looking for the GFCI outlet, and lets you off the hook when you see a spider, no matter how dirty and dusty it is back there. You flip and dry heave, he remains calm and cleans the entire thing until sparkles-

To the dude who keeps all the plants alive in our house-

The the husband who brings home some nail clippers randomly one day from the store because he remembers yours got confiscated in the Cancun airport-

To the husband who can capture the perfect picture of your baby niece’s sparkly shoe on a skateboard

To the guy who lets you pick the Garden Salsa Sun chips even though he really wants the Harvest Cheddar-

To the husband who wakes up one day and with a tiny shovel rips out the front bushes or finds our screens in the garage-

To the guy who secretly fills up the humidifier when it’s my turn and I’m already in bed-

To the husband who leaves these in my car-

And this on my table-

For no reason at all.

To the husband who brings home an US weekly before a road trip because he thinks its the kind of magazine I like-

To the guy who walks into Charming Charlies, picks a colorful pair of sandals, and orders them in my size for an unexpected birthday surprise-

To the man who took me to the top of a 14-thousand foot mountain on our honeymoon-

To the guy who values everything I write and every pic I take-

To the husband who always offers me the last slice of pizza, the last bite of cookie, the last kernel of popcorn-

To my Friday morning egg-maker and my Sunday morning road-tripper-

You will never believe how glad I am that you were born. We need a new word for glad. Happy Birthday!

Operating Instructions: First Year of Marriage

1. While many people are afraid they’ll discover some kind of annoying habit about the other during the first year, it turns out marriage functions like a full-length mirror. You might discover some crazy habit you didn’t know about yourself reflecting right back. (Me? Yes, you.)

2. Sometimes you can learn adaptive habits from each other, like making the bed every day. There! Now, doesn’t your day feel more organized? Yes!

3. Per the prior, the last one out of bed makes it. Except for today.

4. Sometimes you need to go to the bathroom for 45 minutes. What you do in there (examine your pores, pluck your eyebrows, steam clean your face over the sink on one leg with John Legend on your ipod- whatever) is your own business. It used to be your SSB: Secret Single Behavior. Now it’s your Secret Married Behavior. It’s okay to keep it secret.

5. Separate bathrooms are icing on the cake.

6. Engage in hobbies together. People might laugh when you turn your living room into photo studio, but it’s y’alls own thing.

7. A programmable thermostat can help facilitate this discussion: The heat was on all day?

8. One of you may be the type to save the good champagne and Swiss fondue for a special occasion; the other may want to pop the cork at 8pm on a Tuesday. Find a way to make 8pm on Tuesday a special occasion. S’mores fondue night by the river? Yesssss.

9. Re-evaluate goals when things like thousand-dollar car repairs come up. You’re probably working toward something. Continuously reset the course together.

10. Keep a bottle of Fat Bastard in the house to uncork after your first fight. The presence of the wine itself may keep you from having a worst-ever first fight.  For all who wondered, we have not yet opened the Fat Bastard…

11. You might accidentally buy a house. When you do, agree in advance how many towel bars and curtain rods you will ask him to help hang. There is a threshold.

12. Per the prior, don’t flood the house.

13. Per the prior, know where the water shut-off is if you begin to flood the house.

14. Per the prior, when your spouse floods the house, take the opposite temperament, call the insurance company, set up a fan, and get away for the weekend. It will fix everything.

15. Discretionary spending accounts: one of you may be at a constant balance of $5 as you happily line up shoes and play with new hair accessories (Jeff?); The other could fly to Hawaii with his. Mutual goals achieved otherwise.

16. The Ron Hartman rule: don’t take the last slice of pizza.

17. Post-it notes, breakfast in bed, and knee squeezes- excellent forms of nonverbal communication.

18. If you can make each other laugh, you’re already through it.

Any tips for year two?

We did.

Welp. I’m back on the writing train, because every 5 days I think: Oh! I need to tell the internet that. No really, I do. I’m just that kind of person.

For starters, I got engaged.
Then, I got married.
Next I hiked to the top of a mountain.

The engagement was not a fee-for-service arrangement, which shocked my brothers, I think. It was totally voluntary on his part, and dreamy. This from our wedding site:

We met. We fell in love. We’re getting married.

More?

Okay, we were introduced by mutual friends and our work in Belize in the spring of 2008. We spent a few months sending e-mails like: Hello. How are you? The weather’s great! before Brooke left for graduate school in New Orleans and Jeff continued life and work in Madison.

We stayed in touch throughout the fall and discovered we would both be in Belize at the same time that November. Of course we would try and meet up! Unfortunately our plans were interrupted by country-wide flooding and busy schedules. We were 90 miles apart in the same foreign country working on two different projects with the friends who had first put us in touch, and still couldn’t meet.

Three weeks later, we met for the first time under the silver ball at Millenium Park in Chicago. It was December 20, 2008, and it was snowing.

We spent the next year jet-setting between New Orleans and Madison, Destin and Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Belize, and finished the year back in Chicago on the 96th floor of the Hancock building. Overlooking the city we’d first explored the year before and the adventures 2009 had brought us, Jeff proposed and Brooke accepted.

It was December 20, 2009, and it was snowing.

The real story is this: Jeff said, “Will you marry me?” and I said, “Wait! You have to put it on my finger.” So he put the ring- which was from Tiffany and engraved with I love you– on my finger and asked again. Of course I said Yes! But he likes to tell people he had to ask twice.  What I remember most is that we sealed the deal over guac. What a story.

What I find hard to believe is that for 29 years, I didn’t have a fiance. And for 29 years, there has not been an oil spill in Destin.  But then I get engaged and plan a wedding in Destin on the beach.  A month later? The gulf is filled with 200 million gallons of oil.

Life’s like that, I guess.

Prior to the wedding, our families spent an entire week together at the beach house sharing meals and stories and sunscreen. To my knowledge, no one peed her pants laughing, which tends to runs on my side of the family. Whew.

The wedding was held on a private (oil free!) beach accessed by a spectacular 50-foot dock, lined with little flicker candles, at sunset. Perfection. I floated right down that long, plenty-of-time-to-turn-around aisle toward a handsome groom in a cream-colored suit without a second thought. Well. I did wonder if the flower in my hair was falling out, since it took a glue gun, wire cutters and a thousand bobby pins to secure in the first place. And the reception was held at the beach house, on the other side of that same aisle, with bistro and twinkle lights strung over tables and balconies.

It was an Olympic wedding. Literally. Our pastor, my friend Kim Black from grad school (go ahead, google her), was a gold medalist in the 2000 Olympics and brought her medal to our Olympic wedding to share. I held it. You want to touch me? 

Of course we plan to renew vows every 4 years.

For candid pics of the ceremony, click here
For  professional ceremony/portrait/reception pics, click here
For getting ready pics, click here
For reception pics, click here
For wedding week pics with the fams, click here