My Thirty-Second Year

this-lady-is-32-todayToday is my thirty-second birthday, quite honestly, throughout most of the week, I forgot. Birthdays have never been a big deal in my family, we celebrate with dinner and a couple of gifts, but otherwise it’s a typical day with some flair thrown in.

This year, I am happy to spend time at home, and with my family. Having a birthday so close to the holiday season has been a balancing act between wonderful and crappy my entire life. As a kid, it’s not great – you’re usually going back to school, it’s cold outside, family smashes your birthday and the holidays together into one celebration, and people just forget. As an adult, you are usually heading back into the real world after some time off, but the proximity to the new year is very beneficial. As I’ve been reflecting on what 2016 has been, and who I was in it, I get to start over in the new year and also in my thirty-second year. The symmetry is not lost on me.

When I was younger one of my favorite things to do was put in old home movies and watch the smaller version of myself, and my cousins running around during holiday celebrations. One video in particular is my favorite: I was one, and it was the celebration for all of the early birthdays of the year – myself, my mom, aunt, and uncle. I am in a classic 80’s peasant top strapped in my highchair with some cake in front of me. The chaos of my older cousins running around me as the adults share stories, laugh, play with the kids, and eat some cake. Seeing my family from this angle was always so entertaining to me. This is the first piece of footage on this tape, it progresses through the years – the kids get bigger, the adults get older, new children are added [HELLO, Laura!], sometimes the adults change, but the dynamic is still the same. Family celebrating each other.

It’s no surprise that I prefer to spend my birthday relaxed and with family, it’s been the standard for my entire life, and probably well before I was born. No need for a big party, or anything fancy. Gimme some good food, laughs, maybe some cake, and time to hang out with the people I love!

Happy Emily’s Birthday to you!

A Letter to the Person Saving My Best Friend

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I’ve thought a lot about you in the last four days, which is interesting considering I’ve never met you and chances are that I never will. There are laws that keep us a part. To be honest, I still struggle to understand those laws, but I know they are there to protect us both.

I wonder where you’re from, what your life is like, and your motivation to do such a selfless thing. Are you spending time with family this weekend? Do you celebrate Christmas? Is there snow on the ground where you are? Are you anxious about what all of this means for you? I wish I knew more about what this means for you.

All I know is what it means for me. It means that I have the potential to live out the rest of my life with my best friend, that my husband might be able to think beyond the next 18 months, and that we could, once again, push play on our lives. You see, for the last year, almost exactly a year, our lives have been on hold. We have been living week to week, treatment day to treatment day waiting for the appointment where they say we are ready for the next step. Two months of hoping it was just the flu or bronchitis, another month to find the right treatment plan, and six months of treatment. The time has come, you’ve entered our lives and yet, I know no more about you than any stranger I see walking down the street.

But here I sit, on Christmas Eve, thinking about you and hoping you realize the gift you’ve given my little family. We are able to spend the next few days enjoying time with our families and with each other. We are starting 2017 knowing there is a plan, and what the next step is. It’s comforting. You’ve offered us comfort for the holiday season, and come the day when our lives collide, you will give us hope. Hope that, finally, there is a treatment that will give us more time. It will be the biggest fight of our lives, there will be days where we will be terrified, tired, hopeless, and desperate for relief. There will be days where I forget to be grateful, for you, your family, your selflessness, and the gift you gave us. Please know, that even on those days, deep down, I will be thinking of you.

I hope that someday I will be able to express my gratitude so that you will be able to feel it. I hope that on this holiday weekend that you are happy, that you find time to laugh, and spend time with the people you love. Please know that we will be able to do that because of you.

A Snow Day

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All week long the people of southeastern Michigan had been talking about the impending snow storm. It seemed as though it was anything anyone could talk about. Chatter of weekly plans turned into grumblings about snow. Not really the uplifting and anticipatory conversation we’re all used to.

As someone who is usually not a fan of snow, I was dreading the change in weather, that is until Sunday when it actually started snowing. We had no plans, the grocery shopping had been done, errands were checked off the to-do list on Saturday, and our plan was to enjoy a day on the couch. With six inches of snow accumulating outside there’s not much you can do but sit back, relax, and watch the world turn to white.

My entire Sunday was spent on the couch watching movies with Justin while some chicken enchilada soup simmered in the crockpot. It was relaxing and exactly what I needed. As the evening rolled in I let my hopes of a Monday snow day grow and started thinking of all the things I’d do if I was given a second day within the four walls of our house. It wasn’t long after that I got the text message from my boss, a snow day was granted. A day with no expectation and no where to go.

I let my alarm ring as usual, around 5:40 – I might have let it snooze a few extra times, but I was up early, like usual, drinking my coffee and watching Morning Joe. Justin and I spent some time outside finishing off the driveway and sidewalk from the last of the snow we got overnight – him with the snowblower, me with the shovel and salt. After spending time in the backyard with Bruno in the snow, thoroughly frozen, we came inside to thaw and to start the rest of our day. I got to work on some projects for the blog, watched some television, made some food, and again, relaxed while I could.

While I haven’t accomplished much and I’m still not, quite what you would call, a fan of snow, I was grateful for the last two days isolated from the rest of the world. It was refreshing to have two days with no expectations or agenda. I highly suggest that to anyone needing a recharge, and I won’t lie – the snow storm helps.

I hope, snow or not, that everyone had a productive (in whatever that means for you) Monday! My biggest accomplishment, other than the delicious chicken enchilada soup, was FINALLY finishing my About Me page for the blog. Head to the blog and you can check out the new format too! Have a great week!

Knock Yourself Out

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I had convinced myself that I didn’t believe in God, that religion was a joke and a way for people to justify their bad behavior that happens between Sundays. It wasn’t a theory I came to lightly, but for years I have had a hard time even looking at bible verses, let alone subscribing to the philosophy behind them. I was hurt, broken, and felt betrayed by a religion that I had built my life around.

There are very few people that I have shared this part of my life with, the part of me that gave up on trying to understand why a higher power that I had been told to pray to and also had been planning the hardest times of my life, supposedly from the time I was born. I have been very selective with those that hear my story, both because I wasn’t sure I actually believed it and also because of how personal of a decision it was for me to walk away.

Before Justin’s diagnosis in 2011, I had been an active member of my childhood church. I grew up going to service on Sunday morning, was an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant, was an active youth group member, and continued mission work well into my college years. It was that building where I met my husband and built our relationship, it is where we were married, and was an extension of my home. When, after only 15 months of marriage, at the age of 28, Justin was diagnosed with lymphoma my faith flatlined. The more that I had heard that “it was all in God’s plan” the more hurt I felt, and couldn’t come to understand why anyone should have to endure that kind of pain. Associating struggle and pain with the faith I had invested so much in broke my heart, instead of turning to my faith to help pull me out of the struggle, I cemented myself in the stance that it was all a joke. I didn’t fault anyone for believing, but for me, it no longer made sense.

The few people that I felt safe enough to share this with were supportive, understanding, and let me dwell in my feelings. I felt no judgement or push from them. They listened, shared their story, and encouraged me to stay positive. Even in my positive space, when I felt comfortable with the decision I had made, I felt doubt lingering in my resolve. I would hear someone mention staying strong in their faith, hear scripture, see someone lift themselves up through their relationship with God and it made me wonder how they stayed so committed and optimistic. I began to contemplate visiting a Sunday service, sitting way in the back of the sanctuary, hopefully unnoticed, just to see how it felt to be back in that space. The only time I got the courage to go was to attend a funeral for a family friend,  someone taken from this earth way too soon. Not the best way to break through the wall that I put up. That was fourteen months ago.

Last week when Justin’s grandfather asked if we would attend that Sunday’s service where he would be honored as a veteran, I said yes with no hesitation. Of course we would go and stand with his grandfather. Inside I was curious of how I would feel walking back into the building that I know so well, conspicuously attending a service we’ve missed for the better part of the last five years. We sat with Justin’s family, stood up in front of the sanctuary behind his grandfather while he was honored, and listened to one of my favorite people give her second sermon as the Head Pastor of the congregation. In the midst of my anger, my hurt, and my avoidance, I forgot how much I enjoyed to listen to her preach. She has an incredible way to make you feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation, magically she picks up on the single topic that has been weighing heavily on your heart and mind. It seems like she is just up there chatting, those of us that know her know she spent countless late nights preparing for this very moment. Her opportunity to reach all of us in the room, and inspire us to keep moving forward for the week ahead.

On this particular Sunday, a little unexpectedly, it was like she was speaking right at me. I had forgotten about her ability to pull you in, read your mind, and put you at ease. With the presidential election finally over, we were a country divided, and a country in need of love, kindness, and understanding. I had walked into the sanctuary that morning feeling drained and unsure of our future, scared of the actions being brought to light after such a polarizing electoral process. She shared a story from her own personal life, about a time where she was asked “What’s your story?” and had the opportunity to not only share, but learn about the culture of the life of the serviceman sitting next to her. It was an opportunity for understanding. If only we could all go through life look and speaking to understand, we might not feel so divided. If we could “knock ourselves out with kindness and love” we might be able to break down the walls in between us. I smiled, made a note on my bulletin, and felt a little thawed from my time away.

I am still not sure that I have all the answers, maybe no one does, but I know that going through life feeling betrayed isn’t going to inspire anything other than frustration and anger. I refuse to live my life in that way, and I absolutely refuse to create those feelings for myself. On a beautiful November morning, I felt a little less hurt and a little inspired by the message put forth to the congregation. Knocking ourselves out with kindness and love.

Saturday Traditions & Lazy Sundays

EJFP ChaptersIt’s a rainy Sunday here in Metro-Detroit. A gray, calm, quiet Sunday. This weather makes me feel cozy and happy. It’s a time to just sit back and relax, to not worry about a growing to-do list, to enjoy and recharge.

Yesterday was a more productive day, a little more active than usual. After spending the morning watching Netflix with Justin on the couch, I decided to make a menu for dinner with my parents. Usually, we make the quarter-mile trek to their house, for whatever meal my mother has chosen that weekend, but when she texted to see if we were coming over I decided to instead extend the invite for them to come our way. She seemed excited to not have to think about dinner for the day, and I was excited to get creative myself.

I spent some time on Pinterest, thinking of things to make. While brewing my second cup of coffee, I looked at the Detroit Red Wings game schedule on our fridge and suddenly I felt inspired. Hockey Snacks! A tradition in our family that occurs several times each winter, a variety of appetizer type of foods sprawled out on the coffee table in the living room while we watch a hockey game together. It’s one of my favorite family traditions. I had never been behind the scenes for a hockey snack dinner, so I was pumped to take it on. I searched for over an hour to assemble my menu and grocery list.

I came home from my pilgrimage to Kroger to a clean house. Justin had spent the hour making sure the house was clean and presentable for my parents to arrive in a few hours. All I had to worry about was the menu. I started with dessert and worked my way backwards through the list of appetizers. Making up my own rules as I went. Three hours later I was 3 episodes of One Tree Hill deep, out of counter space, and my parents were walking through the front door. I went non-stop for over three hours and was baffled by how much organization it took to pull it off, but it was all done: Taco Pie Rolls, Meatball Bombs, Baked Potato Slices, Mini Italian Subs, Banana Bread Muffins, and Mini Apple Pies. I was impressed with myself. I still am, quite frankly. I gave my mom props for pulling this off several times during the hockey season, it’s quite a feat!

We spent our evening snacking, watching hockey, chatting, playing with Bruno, and relaxing. I was very grateful to have the ability to host my parents so my mom could have a day off. I even sent them home with leftovers so Dad had Sunday dinner. I went to bed shortly after they left, exhausted but happy.

So, for today, I am grateful for this gray Sunday. I spent my morning tracking my friend who was running the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon, watching Sunday Today and Meet the Press, sipping on coffee, and snuggling with my puppy. I have my laundry going, a clean kitchen, and full fridge as I continue along my lazy Sunday path. Go ahead and rain, Mother Nature, I’m loving it!

Exploring Both Sides: The Montreal Pit Bull Ban

exploring-both-sidesI just spent the last six days with Bruno while Justin was out of town. He (Bruno) was recovering from bronchitis/kennel cough and had to stay home instead of spending time with his dog friends. I worked from home for two days, and spent my weekend in the house to monitor him and keep him company. At some point during our extended weekend together, I began reading about the pit bull ban in Montreal. The Montreal city council had passed legislation banning the adoption and breeding of “pit bull type” dogs. Those that already have the dogs would be able to keep them, after completing a registration process, sterilization, increased fees, and muzzling the dogs while they are out in public.

The legislation has now been suspended after an outpouring of concern and outrage from several organizations and citizens. Currently, under the suspension, pit bulls can continue to be adopted, and current owners do not have to abide by the added requirements.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am cuddled up with my 16 month old pit bull puppy as I write this. We are on the couch, he has his head resting on my thigh as he snores himself to sleep. He is part of my family, I worry about him when he’s by himself at home or looks like he might be sad or anxious, I get excited when he’s excited, and I plan my life around taking care of him. As hard as I might try, I cannot be completely unbiased on this topic. I love a pit bull, I recognize his facial features and personality in every picture I see of dogs of a similar breed. I even wrote an entire post about my relationship with this pooch. I can’t imagine my sweet, energetic, happy puppy being forced to be muzzled when out in public or, heaven forbid, being euthanized because it would have been illegal for him to be adopted in the first place. Never the less, I am struggling with defining my position as I empathize and understand several aspects of the issue.

The Montreal legislation was initiated after a woman was attacked by a pit bull, ultimately dying from injuries sustained in the incident. At this point it is unclear as to whether or not the dog was actually a pit bull, the claim has been disputed, not that it changes the fact that someone has died due to an attack.

If you read any of the hundreds of articles on the internet regarding the Montreal legislation, and look through the comment threads, you will find the majority of people blaming the owners of dogs. Not in the most respectful way, and most certainly not in the most grammatically correct way. Ever since adopting Bruno I have understood this logic, it has been my gut reaction – to not blame the dog, but the human that did not take the responsibility of owning the dog seriously. From the moment Justin and I decided to adopt Bruno, we were researching his breeds, strategizing on how we could best support his training, and manage his aggressive nature. I was scared. I had never had a dog before and quite frankly, was nervous about living with one. I automatically, before even meeting him, knew it was my responsibility to make sure Bruno could be a contributing member of dog-society. After a year of working with him and learning more about how dogs function, I am certain that any dog, if treated properly and trained to understand his place in the world, can function without falling into the aggressive stigma.

The human aspect of this issue is impossible to ignore though, you can’t deny that whether or not this dog was trained, it attacked someone. I’ve driven down streets that have dogs roaming aimlessly, seen dogs chained up for hours outside, effectively being ignored by their world. I understand that any dog can become aggressive and potentially dangerous given the right circumstances, and what is there for law makers to do to comfort communities of people that have been affected by such a horrific incident?

I’m not sure what the right or wrong answer is. I am not sure of anything other than I love my American Staffordshire Terrier and take full responsibility to make sure that his sweet demeanor stays that way.

 

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy September

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It’s the first day of October! I have officially made it through September, a little bruised and definitely tired, but it’s over. My favorite month is here and oddly enough, it was like my motivation returned to me as soon as the realization hit me. At some point in the last hour, as I was going through our morning routine: kibble for the animals, coffee for me; I wondered how much I played into my awful September.

For a long time, September was an easy month. Possibly even exciting. It brings the transition to fall, new school supplies, a fresh start, cooler weather, and a little more structure. All things I enjoy. In my role as a trainer, September was always slower – parent programming slowed because of the start to school, and teachers are focused on their classrooms, not professional development. As the manager of the program, September means, the end of the fiscal year. There’s a budget to balance, usually money to spend, planning for next fiscal year, usual programming to manage, processes to put into place, and just an overall feeling of stress as we wind down one year and ramp up for the next.

My first September as a manager hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t expecting the shift from an easy thirty days, to a crazy thirty days. Maybe it was just my inexperience, I thought, I’ll get the hang of it. My second September was miserable. We were going through a program evolution with our funder and I didn’t know which way was up, none of us did. A collective sigh of relief came on October 1st, 2015. I figured it couldn’t get any worse, September 2016 will be a breeze.

As this September approached, I lost my positive attitude and knew I had a fight coming my way – both literally and figuratively. My hesitation grew, my stress took over, and inevitably started affecting me physically. By the middle of the first week, I was knee deep in hatred for what was to be the next 25 days. From then on, every little thing that happened was magnified and contributed to September. Stub your toe? Damn, September! Feeling under the weather? It’s because it’s September. Bad hair day? COME ON, SEPTEMBER!

At what point was I the one that made September awful? Probably around September 1st. I never gave it a chance. I stayed in my unmotivated bubble and slugged along until this morning. I slept in a little later, woke up to our 48th hour of rain, and a text conversation with my traveling husband. In the middle of our conversation I realized it was October first and I screamed with a giant smile on my face. It was over. It’s officially my favorite month of the year! Maybe September wasn’t so bad after all…

Nope, it was awful.

But we’re moving on. We’re moving on to a month of cooler weather, apples, cider, fall beer, warm food, sweaters, boots, colorful leaves, open windows, pumpkins, blankets, hockey, breast cancer awareness, new tv shows, and good hair days.

It’s October and that is awesome!