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.

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2011: stealth deliverer of good things

Before I write anything, I would like to share that “ninja spanker” was my top search this week. Where do people come up with these things? And also, how did my space become relevant to ninja spankers? (As I type this, I recall mentioning Spanker Banker after Krewe du Vieux sometime in 2008, and also dressing up as a ninja for Halloween that year and fighting pirates on Jackson Square. The internet don’t forget, y’all).

That said, it’s been two years since I did a year in review, two years since I wrote some resolutions, and consequently, two years since I resolved some resolutions. In the two year gap, I got engaged, got married, moved to a new city, bought a house, started 3 new jobs, graduated, became licensed, acquired a couple more nieces- you know: Almost all of the most important things that can happen to a person besides being born. Now that I sit down to review last year, it seems like nothing happened.  But alas. It did.

January  Co-piloted a tiny plane from Belize City to PG. Swam in a blue creek. Climbed into a cave. Met some fun UWisc Physical Therapy peeps. Watched the Rose Bowl on a rigged up TV, under a thatch roof outside, sitting on benches removed from a mini-van. Spent nights in tiny cabins above water. Ate seafood caught on a kayak with a spear. Took a 6 hour bus to Cayo. Shed tears over this discussion with my former supervisor: “Your work is being used here, Brooke. Every day.” Discovered God doesn’t need a person to use a person. Understood that sometimes we don’t even know we’ve been used. Said goodbye to the BZ. Again.

More pics: here

February  Worked a 16-hour shift during Snowpocolypse 2011 and felt like a Lamb in a Bow Tie. Discovered, via Jeff, that cross-country skiing on the Monon during an ice storm is possible, and acceptable. Went to New Orleans and spent time with my good ole friends and co-workers. Got my Haydels King Cake. Got my Abita. Got my Steins, my Surreys, my house party with a nice brownie spread, my 2 days of 65/sunny, got my washboard band, got my Kim, got my Mandy. Could not have been happier until Tator Tachos appeared. Realized (besides the availability of junk food & supportive social worker friends) why the NOLA feels like home: it’s where I fell in love! J and my’s entire do-I-like-you-do-I-love-you-I-totally-love-you-let’s-get-a-daiquiri-let’s-get-married happened here. Sigh :)

March Went to Cuba Belize Mexico Belize Cuba Belize. Cuba with some good friends. (If you’re an immigration officer, I would like to state for the record I oppose the embargo.)  Had many rooftop mojitos. I neither confirm nor deny the Cuban cigar or the night dancing in Old Havana. Listened to old men argue about baseball in the center of the park. Watched a Cuban baseball game. Became entranced by and forever drawn to Cuba and its music. Thanks friends!

More pics: here

April  Unveiled Brooke 3.0 to the public. Not so bad, 30. Received breakfast in bed from a dude I thank God for by the minute, and a tent. Promptly camped in the backyard. Celebrated Lil’s 3rd birthday (where does time go?) Took down the Christmas tree… and put it in the Monon. Can you find it? Spent Easter with the Hartmans in WI, and got the Easter flu, which everyone mistook for morning sickness. If that had been the case, I’d be 9 months pregnant today. Told you guys.

May Started a new job! Waved goodbye to the hospital (although I still pick up ER shifts here and there when they need help) and joined a private practice in Carmel. Hosted the Kaminski Fam for Memorial Day and ran around Lucas Oil. Celebrated J’s birthday. He continues to be in his 30s. That’s all he would want you to know, I think.

June Celebrated our first anniversary with a romantic evening alone the Hartmans, Kaminiskis, Sellers, Sharon, Pat and 2500 others for the 18th annual Indy Nite Ride. Jeff and I enjoyed a burger at Bub’s after everyone left. The event has facilitated use of the following statement all year to justify anything we’ve wanted ever since: Well, this can be our anniversary meal/gift/trip since we didn’t really have one? Celebrated Maycie’s 2nd Birthday. Love her.

July Breckenridge! This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Also, it was truly the anniversary and location of our honeymoon! Hiked some hikes. Snapped some pics. Ate some good food. Drank with friends. Hot-tubbed with family. Surfed on snowfields. Biked down Vail pass. Garden of the Gods. Pike’s Peak. Celebrated a Hartman (the original Hartman- well, not the original original, but the Ron & Kathy Hartman ) Anniversary. This one gets 2 rows of pics, because I’m the boss of this space, and it’s what I want to do.

  More pics: here

August Hosted the Sellers/Wilsons for Labor Day. Shucked some corn. Grilled some food. Played with some noopy nieces. Dad’s family reunion in Brown County. Spent some time in Nashville and a good night at a Brewery. Hosted Elaine & Doug, also Sprinky. Cut into a sex cake. Found out E&D are having a boy! Can’t wait to meet brand new Baby Luke.

    More pics: here

September visited some good (fun!) friends in NYC. This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. These friends appreciate my knowledge of pop culture, which is sometimes a foreign language to J (although he is the one who first informed me of the Kim/Chris split and insisted I see Bridesmaids. He heard both on sports radio). Observed 9/11. Held the Statue of Liberty in our palms. Went to the Catskills. Ate some good food. Played with an adorable baby. Participated in the first bonfire of Fall. Played in a kickball tournament, concussed myself on the pavement. Celebrated Callie’s first birthday. Love her. Joined a small group at church. Made some friends.

   More pics: here

October Destin! I know I’ve said this before, but this was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Plus it was the location of our other honeymoon, between the ceremony and actual honeymoon in Breck. Spent some time with the Grampies. Spent some time at the Blossfolly (ceremony beachouse) beach, for nostalgia’s sake. Ate dinner at Henderson Park Inn, where God gave us the most amazing anniversary sunset ever imagined.

More pics: here and here

November Hosted the fam(s) for Thanksgiving: Hartmans, Sellers, the Grampies, Wilsons, Kaminskis, Sharon, & Grams. Got rear ended. Saw THREE rainbows in one day. Spent a noopy weekend with Callie.

December Watched the Badgers win the Big Ten Championships. For reasons unexplained, my nieces started calling me Uncle Brooklyn. Dressed up in snowflake placemats & battery operated lights for a party. Celebrated our engageaversary in Chicago on the 96th floor. Celebrated Christmas in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indy, and Sprinky (not a place, but a BFF). Celebrated the last moments of 2011 with good old friends and good new friends.

          More pics: here

The End! Cheers to all for such a great year, and thanks for the friends who hosted us.

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

I Might Be An Ecoterrorist in Mexico.

This is the reason people hate blogs: I’m getting ready to talk about myself, and no one even asked me to.

Sometimes we go through these spectacular seasons, like living in the land of Mardi Gras, having daily coffees and margaritas and bagels and shrimps and po-boys; becoming a scholar, trained by all the best trauma & Disaster Mental Health people around— even if they don’t actually lecture you, but start out their year on sabbatical, which leaves you staring at theories of attachment slides from the 60s, but whatever. You stumble upon an accidentally perfect international project to culminate your learning experience, and it happens to be in Belize, your fave, with all your favorite people, and you are sort of forging the way for this kind of work there, and you feel a tiny bit like floating because the project was executed so flawlessly with such a kind and encouraging supervisor. And you come home to a two-week graduation festival/margarita marathon with free dinners and parties and regalia and sleepovers, and you walk away from New Orleans with a diploma in one hand and a certificate in the other hand—I mean, so what if you ran to the LBC for your big congratulatory reception through the rain to find four stale pieces of cheese and two hundred confused family members? (Tulane was sorry, they dropped the ball: would your family consider coming back for another reception? We promise cookies this time.) It doesn’t even phase you. Your family’s there, your best friend is on your one side, and your boyfriend is looped through the other arm, and two weeks later, at the top of the Hancock building in Chicago, at dusk, in the snow, he proposes.  Seriously. A spectacular season.  It doesn’t get any better.

Then you come home and move into your dad’s attic. Although, to be fair, he did clear out a lot of drawers and squares of closet space to be the most accommodating. And you’re not actually living in the attic. All your stuff is up there, but you have a nice cozy bedroom on the main level. You start the job search.  You! The best most awesomely trained Master Social Worker with the best resume in the world, straight out of New Orleans with your shiny new diploma and your new fiancé and your new city—Madison WI, of course, which you prayed and prayed and prayed God would help you love. And he did. You love it.  So you start applying.  The first place contacted you way back in Belize, so you go though two rounds of interviews with seven board members, including an hour-and-a-half role-play while they watch you through a two-way mirror, and they say, “We’ll let you know by the end of the week.”  Two months have passed.

You apply for more jobs—part time, full time, lots of types, lots of interviews, lots of blasted role-play, lots of promising contacts, lots of people affirming your resume and experience despite your age, which is great because your smile is getting a little droopy, and you’re starting to wonder if Tulane lied to you.  But nothing materializes.

So you go home. Or, really you feel like you leave your new home to go back to Indianapolis: land of boring familiarity with grey winters and no fiancé (not to mention a super bowl loss to your OTHER city), but a curious job opportunity.  You didn’t apply for it. It found you.  Before you know it, you’re sitting in a second-round interview with an unexpected chance to be the Social Worker at a level 1 trauma center, and the option to pick up shifts at the children’s hospital you always wanted to work for.  It’s a dream. EXCEPT IT’S IN THE WRONG CITY!  You’re like, “Hello, God? Remember that part about how I’m supposed to be in Madison?  Wrong hospital. Call Meriter or UW or something. If I’m good here, I’ll be good there, too.”  God’s plugging his hears & humming like, “I can’t heeeaaaaarrrrr youuuu….”

In the meantime, fiancé gets an opportunity to go to Haiti with an international organization and a team of PTs. Your joint dream has always been to find a way do these types of things together! This is perfect. The two of you put together a proposal explaining the need for a Disaster Mental Health worker on the team and list your skills.  The agency, to your surprise, believes you, and they schedule an interview for the next morning at 11am.  The hospital agrees to give you the six weeks off to go. You wink at God and say, “Okay. Okay God, I get it. Yep, this is it. This is better. We must be supposed to go to Haiti.”

You and fiancé spend the weekend weighing out the costs, benefits, problems and solutions of leaving for 6 weeks before a wedding in 4 months.  You don’t really trust yourself making huge, life-altering decisions, so you’ve been praying all along that God will only open the door you’re supposed to walk through, and so far you haven’t had to make a decision. So, in the same way, you promise that if the Haiti door opens, you’ll walk though it.  But if it doesn’t, you’ll trust the provision.

The door doesn’t open.  You glare at God.

You’re disappointed for you, and for fiancé. You realize with the Haiti door closed, and the Madison door closed, you’re back to the attic. (Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with dad’s attic, if he’s reading this. You have lots of food here and free laundry and water aerobics on Wednesday nights!)  But you feel exhausted from stacking up every possible opportunity and then starting to build a life around each option, attempting to get a head start on every possible thing.  On top of that, you did hot yoga and almost died.  You really feel, physically and metaphorically, like every single thing in entire world is flowing in the opposite current you’re trying to walk through.

You don’t understand why God isn’t helping.  You thought you were clear with your order. Obviously God didn’t write it down when he was at your table…

Then you read this, by Donald Miller (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years):

A while back I was working on a novel about a performance artist-turned-ecoterrorist. I never published it because, well, it was about a performance artist-turned-ecoterrorist, and I couldn’t exactly find a market for the story.

I’d get up every morning and make my coffee and toast, I’d put my laptop in a backpack, and then I’d walk…  I’d create my stories while I walked, thinking about what I wanted my characters to do, what I wanted them to say, and how I wanted them to throw headlong into whatever scene was coming next. By the time I got to my desk, I’d had plenty of time to plan whatever was coming in the book.

But stories are only partly told by writers. They are also told by the characters themselves.  Any writer will tell you characters do what they want.  If I wanted my character to advance the plot by confronting another character, the character wouldn’t necessarily obey me. I’d put my fingers on the keyboard, but my character, who was supposed to go to Kansas, would end up in Mexico, sitting on a beach drinking a margarita. I’d delete whatever dumb thing the character did and start over, only to have him grab the pen again and start talking nonsense to some girl in a bikini.

And as I worked on the novel, as my character did what he wanted and ruined my story, it reminded me of life in certain ways. I mean, as I sat there in my office making my worlds, and as my characters fought to have their way, I could identify with them. I was also that character fighting God, and I could see God sitting at his computer, staring blankly at his screen as I asked him to write in some money and some sex and some comfort [and some job in some city].”

Maybe I’m the ecoterrorist in Mexico. Who knows.

But I accepted the job at the hospital. Translation: I accepted three more months away from fiancé and the nights & weekend shift.  I’m closing both eyes and crossing my fingers that a loving author is writing something perfect for the two of us…

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2008, we did the best we could.


January
Moved to Belize. *Carry-on bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. Attendant made me take out bulge on top, which happened to be a Ziploc gallon-sized bag of underwear. Held underwear on lap for duration of the flight.

Lived on an Iguana reserve. Learned how to do laundry with a hose. Experienced Belizean wedding and funeral in the same week. Set out to teach everything I knew about conflict resolution, drugs, and AIDS. Learned everything I know about love. Got accepted into grad school.

February Caught a parasite, hiked to the top of a ruin, swam in a cave, experienced my first Belizean election and confirmation. Fought a piñata. Lost.

March Overcame fear of spiders. Discovered a new love for choco-bananas. Played with a monkey. Met real Guatemalan Indians in Guatemala. Bought skirt from them. Watched the Ruta Maya river race. Said goodbye to the Caribbean. Understood that life would never be the same.

April Got a niece! Heart opened a little wider. Fell in love with her.
Turned 27. Panicked. Cut my own bangs.

May Got another step-family. Danced! Celebrated! Laughed!
First laid eyes on my new city, New Orleans. Stabbed my foot with a parking lot spike.

June Went back to work at Boys and Girls Club. Happy to find that I still loved the kids. Got shingles. Thought I was dying.

July Sold everything I owned on Craigslist. Moved out of Fort Wayne (ten years!) Received Carrie Bradshaw as a parting gift.

August Moved to New Orleans. Found the two-story target, which I had previously thought was an urban legend. Took a family vacation to Destin. Came back. Became acquainted with city life. Loved it. Went to Tulane for student orientation after a month of waiting. Got evacuated for Gustav at lunch.

September Stayed evacuated for two and a half weeks. Went back to school. Dropped ten pounds for lack of friends.

October Made friends! Gained ten pounds. Heard that Taylor Fort Wayne would be closing. Felt orphaned. Dressed up like a ninja and fought pirates on Jackson square.

November Watched history unfold in the TSSW building with snacks and wine. Found out Bry and Jess are pregnant again. Went to Belize. Delivered school supplies. Painted a cafeteria. Provided flood relief with two armed guards on the Guatemalan border. Became acquainted with Big Mac and Quarter Pounder, the tarantulas. Realized I had not overcome fear of spiders. Had the sweetest reunions I could ever imagine at San Marcos School.

Learned that a plan is usually unfolding around me even when I am not still or patient enough to see it. Discovered that if I feel lost even for a second, all I have to do is ask for help. Understood the beauty in a prayer that goes, “Hi God, I’m an idiot and I don’t trust myself. Could you make this one clear for me?” Trusted completely. Found out I am purposed. Convinced Tulane I am purposed. Doing last semester internship in Belize!

December Wrote a thousand papers. Failed a final. Got all A’s!
Watched snow fall in New Orleans. Saw Lily take her first 3 steps.
Went to Chicago. Smile.

Please make a U-turn

I got up early today and ate breakfast at the car dealership: cookies, popcorn and Diet Coke. They had a dimly lit area for people who wanted to relax and read, a movie theater for the kids, couches, tables, WiFi, cable, cookies, coffee, popcorn and Diet coke. My own kitchen only has, like, one cinnamon & brown sugar Pop-tart and half a head of cabbage. Plus I keep selling my furniture, so its kind of bare. I just really needed a nice morning out, you know?

If only my car needed a repair.

(Just kidding- today I actually am getting a repair, courtesy of the economic stimulus check, not my recent 4 hours of employment.)

Sunroof, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Also, I got this new GPS system a few weeks ago, mostly for New Orleans- yes, I am afraid to get lost somewhere and end up in a wetland or, like, the eastside or something- so Sprinky and I gave it a whirl on our way to Chicago.

Navigon lady (that’s what I call her) directed us into the city just fine, but downtown she forced us around the block 40 times and ordered us to make U-turns every 5 seconds. We were just trying to get from the train station to the hotel. She kept saying things like, “Please turn left. Turn left now,” into a fountain or tulip garden, which is sketchy. I think she is alive and thinks she’s funny or something.

The thing is, I’m not supposed to drive and operate the Navigon at the same time. Apparently it is unsafe (so what if I almost sideswiped 4 cars and pulled over in a taxi lane? Its not like I hit anyone) and makes it hard for the system to locate me.

But the Chicago streets wait for no one. So she kept getting more frustrated with her unfulfilled U-turn and left turn commands and we just made fun of her for trying to make us left-turn into a street post. Of course we eventually realized we were lost on every street corner so I stopped the car, reprogrammed the directions, waited for the satellite to locate me and found the hotel in less than 5 minutes.

I think Navigon would have liked to have yelled, “Are you retarded? Just freakin pull over and listen to me! This is my job– I know what I’m doing!” But she couldn’t. Plus, she’s monotone. So she had no choice but to continually recalculate my route. After that, I believe her continuous U-turn commands were passive aggressive attempts to get back at me for not believing her.

I handed over my keys to valet guy and apologized to Navigon lady.

The next day I set her on “pedestrian” mode so we could walk around the city and find our way to Millennium Park. Of course, the very first thing she did was tell us to make a u-turn right there on the sidewalk.

I knew she would hold a grudge.

I turned her off (but I swear I heard laughing in my purse) and found my own way to the park. Turns out, we should have made a u-turn. I’m pretty sure the next time I turn her on, she’s going to say in her little navigon voice: “You stupid idiot. Please make a u-turn now.” And she’ll be right.

Then when I say “Taco Bell” she’ll say “Hell to the no! You need to drop about 20.”

Stupid Navigon lady.

Regardless, we had an excellent weekend in Chicago celebrating birthdays and Wicked. We were thrilled to have a downtown suite, tickets to Wicked, lots of drinks and overpriced food, a meandering walk to Millennium Park, blooming tulips and tassels.

And by tassels, I mean tassels.

Here are a few choice pics.

(Happy birthday to my mom from Sprinky)
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Hard Rock
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Harder Rock
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Next, I’m gonna lower the gas taxes…
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Oh, that won’t really help?
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Chocwat Cwassant
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Wicked!
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oh, OHH! (Think Amy poehler in Baby Mama)
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Mom & Jill
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Me: just take a picture of me walking through the tulips
Everyone else: no, i dont think that’s a good idea
Me: no, just do it. hurry take a picture.
Cop on scooter: ma’am, you’re not allowed to walk in the Tulips. They’ll break.

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Come to Mama, tulips
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The Silver Bean- who knew in 7 months I’d meet a husband here?
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