24 September 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

Autumn arrived in Chicago this weekend. Both according to the calendar and to the cool, crisp weather that flowed in.

We had no real plans. And between the weather and the weekend off, it was the proverbial breath of fresh air I needed. 


To slow down. 

To breathe.

To be. 

This last month has shown me the incredible awe of life. 

From the slow, heart-wrenching good-bye to Grandma, to a much-needed, long-planned weekend getaway to remind us of how much we love we're lucky to have, to a long-anticipated, absolutely awesome weekend long celebration of promising new beginnings (more on this to come!), it's been a month that has shown me all the wonders of life. 

The joy. 

The heart-break. 

The incredible love and support. 

The absolute pleasure of being silly over nothing at all with great girls. 

The great friendships. The ones I knew I could count on and the ones that emerged to surprise me. 

The fact that sadness can sneak in and surprise you in a moment.

And the fact that life, awe-inspiring life, can bring you back to joy and happiness and balance. 


Balance. 

That's been the key. 

Well, balance, and a whole lot of love from my guy. 

He's so damn great. I'm a lucky girl. 

So this weekend was blessedly lazy. I spent hours on the couch and on the balcony. I've put a serious dent into reading Anna Karenina finally. (I've started and restarted it far too many times to count. And for the first time, I've gotten more than 100 pages in.)

I also spent hours in the kitchen. Baking bread and muffins, making pizza puffs, and having phenomenal success with my first-ever attempt at homemade soup. Sausage and kale soup, to be exact. If there's interest, I'm happy to share some of my recent recipe successes. 

We also spent time in the local dive bar. I'm beginning to think of it as "ours," and we're finally on a first-name basis with the bartender. 

We also spent hours with our downstairs neighbors. They're pretty much the people we hope to grow up to become in the next ten years. They just may be the one of our favorite parts of moving into this building....and they're moving out in a month. It breaks my heart, but the four of us, well, we won't let a little thing like geography keep us apart.


And most importantly, Joe and I spent time loving on each other. I am so amazed at how far we've come in the last five years. The people we've grown up to be and the incredible love we've been lucky to enjoy and the fact that, if anything, I'm more in love with him today than the first time I really, really realized I loved Joe. 

So that breath of fresh air blowing around these parts? It's been much needed. And greatly appreciated. Even if I'm not a fan of waking up early, early, early on these chilly mornings to drive a guy to the airport....(and he may have a few iphone pictures as proof/blackmail.)

I'm rejuvenated now. And with any luck, back to regular posting again. I've missed this space and these friends!

12 September 2012

Pure Michigan

Joe and I escaped Chicago over the weekend for a long overdue trip for just us two. 


We packed up our bikes and stopped for lunch with dear friends in Ludington, on Michigan's West Coast. From there, I drove Joe a bit crazy as we drove down some curvy backroads until we got to the Sleeping Bear Dunes



From the top of the dunes, even though the water looks like it's right there, it's actually three miles from the top of the dune to the water's edge. It's one of the most beautiful places in America, but it's also one of those places you have to see for yourself to understand the majesty and beauty of these sand dune "mountains."


Michigan runs a national advertising campaign, trying to encourage tourism with the slogan "Pure Michigan." I think this picture could absolutely be part of that advertising campaign!


From Sleeping Bear Dunes, we drove through Traverse City up to Mackinaw City, right on the very tip of the Lower Peninsula. By the time we reached our hotel for the night, we'd been on the road for 16 hours (including all our leisurely stops). It sounds like a lot of driving, but we opted for more scenic back roads and pulling over where and when we wanted, since we didn't have a set agenda. It made for a relaxing day. 


I tiptoed out of our hotel room very early to capture sunrise at the top of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. And to capture the beauty of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas and is the largest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. 


Then I wised up and climbed back into bed for a few more hours' sleep before we got up and took the ferry over to Mackinac Island


Mackinac Island is a charming island in the Straits of Mackinac, separating the Upper and Lower Peninsulas between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The island is eight miles around and no cars are allowed on the island (even the Fire Department uses horses and bicycles to respond to calls!). We took our bikes over on the ferry and spent the morning leisurely riding the island's perimeter and seeing its natural sights.  




We spent the afternoon exploring Fort Mackinac, which sits just above the harbor and has the dubious distinction of the being the site of the first land "battle" during the War of 1812. (The Americans surrendered promptly without a fight, so "battle" is a bit of a stretch.) The best part was, there were minimal tourists on the island since it was the weekend after Labor Day and most families were back to school. 


Even though I grew up visiting Mackinac Island, this visit was the first time I ever spent the night on the island. It was relaxing to enjoy the island's charms without hurrying to catch the ferry back to the mainland the same day. We both slept well with the cool Michigan air blowing through our windows, and we enjoyed a leisurely trip back to the mainland and down to Grand Rapids for lunch with my brothers before heading home to Chicago. 

It was an absolutely fantastic weekend. We had fantastic weather, some great meals with great company, a relaxing pace, and I do believe Joe is now as in love with Pure Michigan as I am. (For vacations! We love Chicago far too much to give up living here just yet!)

Here's hoping we don't wait quite so long for another weekend away for the two of us!

Dress Mess

I have bad luck with dresses. 

Which is a bad thing, given how much I love wearing dresses.

There's an infamous incident floating around amongst my friends, involving a night I was having too much fun to just go home after a wardrobe malfunction. So we safety pinned it up, and I stayed out until I was ready to go home. 

Over the weekend, Joe and I had a little weekend escape together (more stories on that coming soon!) and for dinner out, I opted to wear a new maxi dress. 

Because I'm me, I opted to ride my bike anyway even though I was wearing a maxi dress. That lasted all of five minutes before I got my dress caught up in my gears. 

Joe was able to rescue it. Amazingly enough, there were no holes in the fabric! But, a good quarter of the back bottom section of the dress was completely covered in bike grease. 

We went back, locked up the bikes, and I wiped down the grease as much as I could. I still wore the dress out to dinner, even if Joe and I had a private chuckle every time the dress was complimented. 

Since then, the dress has been soaking in cold water and ordinary dish soap. 

Miracle of all miracles....almost ALL of the grease is gone. There's a few tiny stubborn spots, but if I can't get those out, oh well, no one will actually see them. 

Just in time too....I have plans to wear the dress again this weekend!

07 September 2012

Oh, Amazon...

I downloaded a few Berenstain Bears books to read to Grandma while she was in the hospital on the iPad. 

Grandma really enjoyed reading those books this past year and we thought she might enjoy hearing a few stories again while she lay there. 

But we have the iPad synced with my Kindle so Joe and I can share books anywhere, anytime. 

Amazon, in its big brother way, now has recommended every single Berenstain Bears book available for e-reader as a must-read for me now. 

Oh, Amazon.....

04 September 2012

Loss


Loss.

It's a funny thing.

No matter how prepared you think you are, no matter how expected it may be, no matter that everyone, every single person, will experince it at some point in their lives, when it happens, well, nothing is ever quite the same.

I can go hours without issue, just settling back into the every day routines of our life, but then there's that moment, a memory, a glimpse of a momento, or a random comment, and there it is. Loss. Just crashing over you in a wave of grief.

This was an expected loss. When I last posted two weeks ago, I was praying for the reminder that even as we prepared our final goodbyes, even in the midst of loss and heartache, that I would remember that there will be moments of absolute peace too.

But what wasn't expected was how quickly the loss came. Or the fact that it didn't come the way we'd all prayed for.


Two weeks ago, in the afternoon, we thought we had more than six months, but less than a year to say our goodbyes. By the time I went to bed that same day, Grandma had already been admitted to hospice in the hospital.

I learned a lot of lessons in these days. But most importantly, I learned, you die as you lived. Some go quietly, some go alone, some go surrounded by family, some go peacefully, and some go fighting.

And that Grandma of mine, well, if you ever met her, even for a few moments, you'd know feisty and stubborn were the cornerstones of her personality. She was sweet and loving and thoughtful, but above all else, she was feisty.

So when I first heard "you die as you lived," I knew even in her last days, even with all the pain she was in from her rampant cancer, even with her memory loss and confusion from Alzheimer's, I knew she wasn't leaving without a fight: I was right.


But in the midst of the heartbreak and the loss, there were blessings too. Bittersweet, to be sure, but gifts all the same.

Everyone made it home in time to say good bye to Grandma and tell her that we love her. She went surrounded by love, on her own terms. Joe was an incredible support for me while I tried my best to support my parents and my brothers. We got a few moments of genuine recognition from Grandma, where she knew who we were and just why she loved us. There were beautiful views and stunning sunsets every night just to remind us life does go on. I was able to bring Grandma some comfort in ways that only I could. We learned how generous and understanding people are when they realize you're grieving. And we know, without a doubt, Grandma's been reunited with my Papa. Finally.


We're going to miss Grandma. No doubt about that. But as my brother said, "Rest in Peace Grandma. Love you. Best thing you ever did was give birth to my mom. Thank you." She may be gone, but her love lives on. 

** All images just one of the many stunning sunsets we saw from Grandma's hospital room window. Such a beautiful reminder of life.**