HEY BODY, I HEARD YOU.

I’ve known it for a year. At least in my gut.

Something was wrong with me, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

I was tired. A lot. My mind would will it away: It was just having a three-year-old, a new business, life in general. Or maybe just the stress of family issues, watching my Mom fight a tough battle. But there were more signs. My skin had gotten extremely dry. I had started to lose some hair. So, hormones … I had recently turned 40 after all.

I was open with my doctor. We did blood work, EKGs, fixed a magnesium deficiency. And still, I didn’t feel like myself.

A headache on Thanksgiving sent me to the emergency room as the side of my face went numb, and thoughts of a stroke filled my mind. A CT scan showed that nothing was amiss, so I was diagnosed with migraines and told to follow up with my doctor.

In December it happened again. So my doctor here sent me for an MRI to further investigate my noggin. Perfectly normal. In January there was the upper endoscopy to try and figure out why my digestion had slowed. Nothing major was found. And finally, just a few weeks ago, we did an ultrasound of my neck to make sure the arteries were clear, and not the cause of the numbness and headaches.

“Have you ever had your thyroid checked?” the ultrasound tech asked me as she scanned my neck.

Of course I had. I’m a pretty healthy eater. I go to the gym. I can’t lose weight.

I have had countless doctors check my blood work for issues with the gland as soon as I would tell them I shouldn’t be this size. But it was always “normal.” In fact, the only time my numbers had come back wonky was when I was pregnant, and I had to take Synthroid.

When I saw my doctor after the scan, he informed me there was a nodule on my thyroid. Nothing to be afraid of he said, they are common. He set me up for another ultrasound focused on my thyroid, which after the same results led to a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. (It’s like a sewing machine on your neck, I was told beforehand by someone all-too familiar with the process. And she was right, that’s exactly what it felt like.)

When I hadn’t heard back from him in five days, I called. “We haven’t gotten ‘final’ results,” the nurse told me. I got the same answer when I tried again three days later. I told Hunter then I didn’t think things were going to go the way we wanted them to. Finally, after 10 days, my doctor called me. The biopsy had in fact shown that the nodule was a tumor, and it was abnormal. But he couldn’t say any more than that. He would get me in with a surgeon for the next step and we’d go from there.

But to not be afraid.

Having a child makes you realize you’re mortal. I tried not to focus on the “what ifs” of surgery, but I was more afraid of something going wrong than the pain or the outcome. I would make little mentions to my husband, “Have his birthday party if something happens to me …” (I had already planned it all.) “His Easter basket is in the closet ready to go …” “Try to keep his life as normal as possible …” “Don’t take your sadness out on him.”

And each step of the way, Hunter would remind me that it would all be OK.

CANCER_HUNTER

God knew what He was doing when He sent me this one. Like me, Hunter tries to approach tough situations with humor, and we were sharing laughs up until they wheeled me back for surgery.

CANCER_SURGERY

The ever-fashionable post-thyroidectomy iodine beard.

The plan was to take out half my thyroid on Monday. Then, the diseased part would be put under the microscope, and if need be, the surgeon would take out the other half and my lymph nodes.

It was the first thing I wanted to know when I woke up in the recovery room: Had he taken it all?

He had.

The pathology reports still came back unclear during the surgery, but my doctor had decided to remove the entire gland anyway. He would tell me the following morning during rounds that he knew when he saw it that it had to come out.

Wednesday he called me at home. His hunch had been right. As had mine.

I have thyroid cancer.

I am scared. And I am mad. But I am grateful it was caught as early as it was. It hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes and the surgeon got it all out. I’ll undergo radioactive iodine therapy soon. I’ve asked to wait until after Mr. Boy’s birthday party next month because it will mean isolation as the radiation leaves my body.

I will be monitored closely for years to come. I will be on medication for the rest of my life. But I am thankful to have answers. I’m glad I listened as my body told me in little ways that something was wrong.

Now I am just looking forward to the day when I finally feel good again.

I know it’s coming.

CANCER_ARCHER

Mr. Boy has been a trooper, even though I know he knows something is going on. When we talked about my scar today he informed me, “It looks bad.” He’s the best.

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‘YOU MUST DO THE THING YOU THINK YOU CANNOT DO’

“March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.” – Kahlil Gibran

I should be a Mom by now. I anticipated this morning would be full of such sadness, grief and many tears.

I could sit here and focus on how hard things have been as we have mourned these past six months. I could attempt to count the number of times I have cried or tell you how often an ultrasound or baby picture made my heart drop.

I could complain about how I’m suffering from intense writer’s block or how a month after my loss I was asked out-of-the-blue to come and interview for my actual dream job and had to pass, because buried in that much sadness, the thought of selling myself was almost paralyzing. I could make this entire post about how my short pregnancy really did a number on my body, and the blood pressure medication I was switched to has caused me gastroentestinal issues. (You can only imagine the screwed-up irony of being in the hospital for endoscopies this weekend, instead of giving birth like I had once planned to.)

The month of July has been hard, knowing she could have been here at any moment … My birthday a week ago was a struggle, as the thought we would possibly share that had crossed my mind many times as Penguin grew inside me. Hunter and I went yesterday to a local nursery and bought a Kalanchoe succulent in memory of her, and there were tears from both of us throughout the day, him dreading this moment as much as I have been.

As I opened my eyes this morning on what would have been our due date, my first thought was not of our loss, but the peace I felt now that it was here and would finally be over. I was told by several of my fellow “Loss Moms” that the anticipation would be the worst. A couple of hours into it, I could already see where they were right. Today, I chose to focus on all the things we have gained this year, rather than what we have lost.

The last day in June, Hunter and I found ourselves in Wisconsin, as we had driven to Alpine Valley to see Phish. (For those of you who know him, you know what a big deal this is for my nerdy love.) The show was actually even more special to us, as a few years ago, it was really where we solidified our love for one another. We were just friends at the time, so it was nice to go back as a couple and watch the show together, me not working. There were tough moments throughout the day, knowing we would not have been going had she still been with us, seeing many pregnant women there, and the onesies the band had printed for its fans to buy. Talking about it all as we walked from the lot toward the show, he told me “At least we are out living our lives.” It was a far cry from where we had been just months before, and it was wonderful to believe in the progress we had made.

We’ll both admit to retreating into our own world for a while, simply making it through the day at our jobs and then returning back to the the safety of our home as quickly as possible. But he was the only one who actually knew my pain, who felt it like I did, who mourned for her like I did. We never thought it possible, but we have grown so much closer this year, loving each other on a level neither of us knew could exist. That wouldn’t have been possible had she not left us, and it’s a tiny silver lining to our pain.

I shied away from my friends here, including my best one who lives just two blocks from me, because I never wanted to burden them with my sadness. (All the while, depriving many of their right to take care of Hunter and I, who they love.) Once I was able to start seeing people again, sharing laughs across the dinner table meant so much more. I learned just how many people truly care about me this year, how many care for him. The support we have both received from afar has touched us as well, our closest friends and family doing all they can to help us through it all. My best friend Robin flew up here twice this year, and reminded others of my birthday so that I could possibly feel more joy than pain. Women, who were a part of my life along the way, sharing with me their hurt, their losses, all left me with hope and an even stronger feeling that I was not alone.

And then there are the women who I have never met in real life, yet have been such an integral part in my recovery, not to mention my hope for the future. The Internet has allowed me the opportunity to bond with a small group of women, all in various states along the East Coast, all who have been through what I have, or worse. We cheer each other on daily, sharing in each others’ heartache and joy. One will be here this weekend, and we finally get to meet in real life, after forming a tight bond as we went through all of this together. Two of them are in the early stages of pregnancy, and we all take every blood draw, every ultrasound to heart, knowing how much we want their struggles to be worth it somehow. And they are just a sampling of the love I have found online, as I have discovered such great camaraderie from dozens of other ladies who have walked in my shoes.

We miss her like crazy. Not a hour goes by that I don’t think about her, talk about her, wonder about what might have been. But Hunter tells me all the time that we will make a beautiful, well-loved child, and I’m inclined to believe him. Although I can honestly say that we’re still not in a place where we’re ready to try again, feeling like this time was hers, and hers alone. I know one day, when I hold our baby in my arms, I will know that the struggle was all worth it … I hope knowing that child would not be here had Penguin not left us will help ease the pain.

We remain thankful she was with us, that she’s still with us.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself  ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A THOUSAND WORDS CAN’T BRING YOU BACK (NOR CAN 3,007.)

“So can you understand? Why I want a daughter while I’m still young? I wanna hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done. But if it’s too much to ask, it’s too much to ask … Then send me a son.” – Arcade Fire

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of the band, having been enthralled around the “Funeral” era, but not thinking much of their music past that.

But when I really heard “The Suburbs” (the title track, not the album) on PBS’ “Austin City Limits” about six weeks ago, those lyrics grabbed me by the gut. The tears immediately flowed, hearing words that summed up something I had never thought about in that way before. Simply put, in the moment as the prose enveloped me, I was crushed to hear someone else say how I was feeling … Spelled out in lyrics was my prayer/hope/wish/dream, and it was almost too much to take.

We had learned only a few days before that our baby had died.

On Black Friday this past November, Hunter and I had gone to Target later in the evening to see if anything interested us. It was time to get our Christmas shopping started, so we went out once all the crazies were back at home.

I was almost two weeks late, but had thought nothing about it, as I had started taking a new medication for my blood pressure. Cycle screwiness was a possible side-effect, but it was also a pill I shouldn’t take if I was, by chance, pregnant. So, while out that night, I grabbed “Zelda: Skyward Sword” for him, and a box of EPTs for me.

And so, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, three years to the day my Dad died, I peed in a cup. I dipped the stick in, and it was instantly positive … As were the other four I took within the next 24 hours. (My doctor would later ask me if I thought I would eventually get a different result. Honestly? Maybe I did.)

We weren’t planning on trying for at least another year. Being in my thirties, that may be a scary prospect for some, but we were enjoying the time that we had together, just the two of us. Plus, financially, we were in no way prepared at the moment, and I knew it would be even more pressure added onto Hunter. (He’s in the midst of deciding whether or not to go back to school as studios and studio work have really dried up in the city.)

I obviously found out before he did that the test was positive, and I waited a day to tell him. I kept trying to think of the best way to share our news with him, as no cutesy Pinterest-esque gimmick would be needed in this situation. Instead I searched for words that would convey how hopeful I was for our future as a family … All the while, feeling shocked, scared, and quite simply, saddened by the sudden nature of it all.

In the end, I simply blurted out “I’m pregnant!” But, only after he questioned the tears I had in my eyes in the middle of a totally random conversation. The angst that came with being first-time parents passed quickly. Swiftly, the wonderment of bringing our child into the world, something made of love, surpassed any feelings of doubt we had. We easily made decisions about how things would change, how we would go about raising the baby once she came. Making concrete choices early on alleviated some of the pressure we instantaneously found ourselves under … And joy soon passed any fears we may have had.

Not that any of the angst mattered anyway. We already loved our Penguin.

The first couple of doctor’s visits were pretty status quo: One to the little Russian woman who had been my general practitioner since arriving in Chicago. (She was the one who confirmed my pregnancy with a blood test, calmed my fears about my blood pressure and size and told me to enjoy every minute of it.) The second was to a new OB-GYN at the hospital where we would deliver come July. (I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I bonded with my doctor, and Hunter and I both felt excited that was where we had ended up.)

I was immediately referred to a high-risk practice at another hospital in Evanston, and soon had to go through the same process again. That visit, Hunter was working, so I went to meet the doctors by myself. Fifteen minutes after walking through the doors, I saw and heard Penguin’s heartbeat for the first time. Five minutes later, the technician went to get the doctor. There was a lot of mumbling and whispers beside me, with him finally telling me that we would talk once I got in his office.

There was a good chance that our baby was cornual ectopic, he said … Meaning that she had implanted high in my uterus, just not quite all the way out of my fallopian tube. I was told that I would have another scan two weeks later, to go to the hospital if I had any pain at all, and that there was a strong possibility that it could all end with me not only losing the baby, but my uterus as well.

Hunter and I had already decided that we would tell some immediate family and a few friends when we went home for Christmas. My Mom already knew, having asked me out-of-the-blue days after I took the tests if I was pregnant. And we had told Hunter’s Mom and my best friend, Robin. So, over dinners at my family’s and his, we told a few others that we were “having a baby, but …” And then we waited.

It was the hardest (and longest) two weeks I’d ever had.

I woke up the morning of my appointment with Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life” on my brain radio … As far as I knew, Dec. 28, 2011, would decide whether we would have a hopefully healthy baby, or if our dreams of ever having children were over. As we waited for my name to be called, Hunter just assured me again and again that it would all be OK … That we had been worrying for nothing … That we would walk out of the hospital smiling that day.

And he was right. Immediately, once the ultrasound started, there she was … Exactly where she was supposed to be, slap in the middle of my uterus, heart pounding away. The technician told us she had seen our previous scan, so she knew what the issue was, but that everything was perfect now. She sent us on our way with a CD full of pictures, orders to relax because the baby was fine, and wishes for a happy and healthy 2012.

The next day I had a normal appointment with my regular OB-GYN who celebrated the findings, and filled me in on just how bad it could have been had the cornual ectopic diagnosis panned out. Since the information from the other hospital had not arrived yet, she wanted to do a quick check to make sure that the baby looked OK. The little flicker of a heartbeat coming from her screen assured her (and I) that we were right where we needed to be.

I finally began to let myself relax. It was the 12th week, and we had seen and heard Penguin’s heartbeat numerous times. Numbers fly around everywhere when it comes to pregnancy statistics, and no one can seem to agree, but the chances of something happening after that point are very, very slim. We started our registries, wanting to make sure grandmas began to take care of some key items for us … We found ourselves walking through the baby aisles, discussing which diaper bag we liked, oohing and ahhing over tiny things. We tossed around names, making note of a few, laughing at some, and wondered how in the world we would ever find one that either, much less both of us, liked enough to label a person forever.

The end of the first trimester was closing in. Soon, there would be no more nausea, plus an upswing in energy, and well, it was all welcomed in my world.

It meant we were one step closer to meeting our baby.

They say there’s such a thing as mother’s intuition, and I know it now to be true. In the days leading up to my Down Syndrome screening, I began to worry, feeling as if something was wrong. My symptoms had begun to fade a little bit, but I was just assured by Hunter, my Mom and even myself that the time had come for those things to change.

I just knew that once I saw her on the screen, everything would feel real again. I would know that our baby was OK.

“I’m going to stop this now,” the technician told me just a few minutes into the scan, moving the wand away from my body. “There’s no heartbeat.”

“Excuse me?” I said, barely able to comprehend the words I was hearing.

“There’s no heartbeat,” she repeated as she began to walk to the door.

I don’t remember much after that, just the sobs that came as everything seemed to stop around me. I know the only thing she asked me was if I wanted a tissue before she left the room, and then I was left alone to “gather my things.”

I immediately called Hunter at work, who was under strict instructions to answer, as it meant something was wrong. The only bit that remains with me from that conversation were the wails of: “She died, Hunter. Our baby died.”

The technician came back into the room to let me know that my OB-GYN was on the line waiting to talk to me. Once she got me on the phone with her, she immediately left the room again. After a brief conversation with my doctor, letting her know I was not in any shape at the moment to make decisions I knew were coming, I started to make my way out of NorthShore in Evanston. It was the most alone that I had ever felt in my entire life. In a hospital full of people, nurses and doctors around every corner, not one person looked me in the eye as I sobbed, much less said “I’m sorry.”

And that will unfortunately remain with me forever.

Since Penguin’s heart had stopped beating the week before, and there were no signs that my body was recognizing the loss, my options were to try Misoprostol (Cytotec) or simply proceed with a D&C. My doctor and I had a long conversation about the benefits and risks of the D&C. Benefits? I would go to sleep in the hospital, never feel any pain, wake up and the physical aspect be over. But the risks, including being put under anesthesia and undergoing a procedure that had a chance, even ever so slight, of damaging my uterus, were enough to make us at least try the Misoprostol.

Two days after we found out she was gone, Hunter and I made the decision to miscarry at home with the help of the medication.

My doctor apologized to me on my follow-up visit for not warning me that going to the pharmacy could be hard. The same drug is given for those who choose to have a medically induced abortion. Unfortunately, a small number of women have had more-than unpleasant experiences picking up their prescriptions based on assumptions. I knew this before Hunter and I went to pick it up and told him what I would do if one person looked at me the wrong way. (Needless to say, it wasn’t very nice.)

Oddly enough, the trip to the pharmacy ended up being one of the rare highlights of the week. (And my only venture outside of our apartment for a full seven days.) The pharmacist on call, a man in his mid-to-late twenties, had to explain the medication to me. He did so with grace, extending his whole-hearted apologies to Hunter and I more than once. After the devastating way in which I learned our baby was gone, it was a blessing to finally see a stranger – at a busy Target in Uptown Chicago, nonetheless – show such compassion over what we had lost.

Hunter and I decided early on that we would not be sharing the full experience of what all we went through the day we had to let her go. Those memories are ours, and ours alone.

But, I will say that it was painful … Physically, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced; emotionally, for us both, it was the worst jumble of loss and love imaginable. The whole process took about seven hours, start to finish … Alone in our apartment, as the first real snow of the season fell outside the windows surrounding us. We were told to expect a lot of blood, clots, and indistinguishable tissue – the way I’m sure any of us imagine a miscarriage would be.

Instead, she came out perfect, a tiny little being I was able to hold in my hand. We were able to tell her how much we loved her; how sorry we were that we didn’t get to keep her; how we would do it all again just to have had the short amount of time with her that we did. In just twelve weeks, she forever changed who we are as people in general; but more than that, who we will eventually be as parents.

She is, and will always be, our firstborn.

The days since have been hard. It feels like yesterday and forever ago all at once. There are more good minutes than bad now, as time is the greatest healer we have after any loss. But memories and missed milestones have a way of creeping in uninvited, so the tears come. But there have been a few times I’ve realized I haven’t cried all day, and I have celebrated a bit of relief. But Penguin remains on my mind constantly, and the “what ifs” burrow their way to the surface every now and then.

I’ve also had to adjust my way of thinking, because I can’t shut out everything around me.

I am doing all that I can to not allow babies or other pregnant women make me sad or bitter. (I’d be crying or angry all the time, as I am surrounded in the real world and on social networking sites.) There have been moments, comments said, pictures shared, that have got me in the gut. But I choose not to let my loss overshadow the joy I genuinely feel for people I know. (Although, I will admit that a few have been temporarily unsubscribed from on Facebook … Sometimes, it’s just more than a girl can take.)

I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I know that I did not cause this. From the moment I saw those two pink lines, I loved my baby … I never drank another Diet Coke, switched to decaf, immediately changed blood pressure medications, upped my vitamins and began taking DHA, started making myself sleep more and tried not to be as stressed out as I normally am – even in the beginning with the ectopic scare. I did everything right for her.

Since this is our first loss, we were not offered genetic testing, not that I wanted it. But my doctor thinks that more-than-likely her death can be attributed to triploidy, and should hopefully be a one-off problem. A “fluke” she says, but it’s hard for me to feel too much excitement over doing it all again. Unfortunately, I am no longer naive, and will enter future pregnancies knowing what can happen, knowing how quick it can all be over. But after telling Hunter early in the first trimester that this would be the only time I would ever do this, I told him after our loss that I would do it as many times as it took. Some of the best advice I have received was quite simple: “Don’t panic, and carry on.”

Once we decide we’re ready to try again, I hope I can adhere to that. Because, truth be told, I simply feel broken.

I went back and forth on whether I would share our story, as I’m a pretty private person. Even though we were in our 12th week, very few people knew that we were expecting a baby. But in the days and weeks following our loss, reading other stories is what got me through it … Knowing that women could survive what I was experiencing – in some cases, way worse – I knew that I would make it. So, maybe one day, knowing that we have gone through this, and that we have survived, will help someone else.

On top of that, she was our child, and I hate that we never got to share our joy with everyone that she was coming. So just know, that for a few short months, we felt as if we had everything … We experienced more happiness than we ever imagined. We were very excited about what we were putting out into the world, proud when we imagined how great she could be. Her heartbeat still plays in my head and I will be sad forever, knowing that she is physically gone … But I know that eventually, I won’t be sad all the time.

I am a Mother without a child to hold, to care for, to mold … But I am a Mother in my heart, and for now, that’s all I get to be.


“A thousand words can’t bring you back, I know because I tried. And neither can a million tears, I know because I cried.” – Author Unknown

For support if you are suffering a miscarriage or loss:

http://facesofloss.com/

http://pregnant.thebump.com/pregnancy/miscarriage-and-loss.aspx

http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/loss_miscarriage.html

FORCED TO LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

“I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m in a funk. Now, it’s a well-deserved funk … But a funk nonetheless.

To counteract it, I’m trying to change the way I see some things, so I’ve been looking at who I am lately. Well, not actually who I am … I’m not going to get that deep and/or philosophical on my blog. (Man, that could possibly have some significantly scary results for all of us. Ha.)

I guess I’m talking more about how I choose to spend my time – or even how I’m forced to spend it in some ways.

I’ve been going over the last year in my head, trying to remember what made 2011 great. (Other than the obvious, I mean, you read my last post, right?) In a lot of ways, life in the past 12 months was better than it’s ever been … For a minute, maybe, I’d venture to say everything was perfect. But, as we all know, you only relish in the good because you face the bad, and perfection is fleeting.

I don’t want to focus as much on what’s got me down … So what did make me truly happy? Where was I able to find some palpable joy? From the simple things, of course.

I moved into Hunter’s apartment last March. It was such a small change, just across the courtyard, up to the third floor. (Yes, the one downside to the move … All those flights of stairs make laundry day and grocery shopping even less fun than they already can be.) But, seeing as he had two bedrooms compared to my one, and a lot more windows, it was a no-brainer. Plus, if they could talk, Huxley and Talullah would both tell you how much happier they are here with all of the light … And how much they appreciate how well Hunter loves and takes care of them.

It was nice moving into a new space, being able to decorate rooms to suit both our tastes. Thankfully, we both love music and color, so that was an easy and exciting task. Plus, being on the top floor, I was able to grow a pretty decent porch garden this past summer. (And thanks to the crazy weather we’ve had, there’s some lavender out there holding it’s own even now.)

Despite the fact that we mainly kept to ourselves, we had some visitors this year … Friends and family are pretty important to us, so it was good to see best friends and sisters, but above all, our Moms. Mine came first, in order to help me move, as it’s somewhat become a tradition when I change abodes. (The woman even drove the U-Haul from Alabama when I moved here six years ago. What can I say, she’s like the “Mad Max” of moving vans.)

Hunter’s Mom came later in the summer, long after we had settled into our routine of daily life. (And like my Mom before her, when she took a nap on our couch one afternoon, Hunter and I were thrilled. There was something about them feeling so much at home that made us feel proud of what we had accomplished here.) We now joke that people come on vacation here to relax, as rarely do we leave our neighborhood when guests come … The draw of tourist attractions played out on visits long before. (Although, there was a morning spent at the Lincoln Park Zoo with his Mom, and even Frommer’s would have recommended that on a weekend jaunt for an out-of-towner.)

We ate a lot of Vietnamese food this year … Pho and banh mi were popular choices for us. (Not to mention, I drank way too much Vietnamese coffee, but man … The chicory and condensed milk just gets me every time!) It’s pretty convenient living just steps away from Little Vietnam, which has always solidified my love of Uptown. We also ordered take-out more than ever, allowing myself a break from the year before when I cooked for us every night. (It was early in the relationship then, and I was still trying to impress with my bucket of culinary skills. I mean, some of my cooking is partially to thank for why he loves me so. Just ask him about my scrambled eggs!)

Of course, music remained a big part of our life, but I will also admit to being a bit of a television junkie this year as well. (Cringe.) But cuddled up on the couch is usually where you would find us, catching up on years of missed sitcoms and dramas. Countless episodes of “Dr. Who” kept us entertained, and we found ourselves developing an even deeper love of Ron Swanson and the gang in Pawnee. (Oh, “Parks and Recreation,” could you get any better?)

My job went through a transition, which proved good for my daily working life,  but bad for outside opportunities. I was able to write several articles early in the year that I remain largely fond of … But as the year wore on, I began to see I was running my creative brain ragged, and I had to take a step back from something. It was hard to put writing aside for a while, but it was an unfortunately necessary evil. But it was still a big part of my existence at the beginning of the year, so I did want to share some of my favorite articles from the past 12 months.

(Between interviews with artists and time spent in front of the computer, crafting stories did take some clicks off the clock for me.)

I hold special love for the interview with John McEntire, because it was Hunter’s dream come true. He’s who turned me on to Tortoise and The Sea and Cake, and his passion for the percussionist’s work is intoxicating. But honestly, it’s hard not to love McEntire’s drumming … It’s simple, yet inventive, plus he was a part of Broken Social Scene’s “Forgiveness Rock Record,” which remains in high rotation for me. http://www.jackarcher.com/pop/featured_article/talent_untapped_and_unmasked_exclusive_with_john_mcentire

The weekend of Lollapalooza last year, I was fortunate to interview two bands: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Nightmare and the Cat. Both proved to be interesting experiences in their own right. Hunter ended up being with me when I talked to the guys from DEJJ, so it was wonderful to have him be able to watch me work … Plus, they were really nice and personable guys. http://www.jackarcher.com/pop/featured_article/dale_earnhardt_jr._jr._on_track_to_become_indie_success_and_they_can_even_t

I think the time spent with Nightmare and the Cat will remain special to me for a long time. I found Django and Samuel Stewart to be some of the more earnest musicians I’ve talked to over the years. It was surprising to me that sons of two relatively famous artists could be so down-to-earth, yet so serious about what they were putting out into the world. (And well, truth-be-told, the 12-year-old Bananarama addict inside of me still can’t believe I talked to Siobhan Fahey’s boys. Sigh.) http://www.jackarcher.com/pop/featured_article/nightmare_the_cat_brothers_band_together_to_fulfill_their_dream

It’s funny … I’m not big on critiquing award show nominations. I have long believed that opinions on music/movies/art/literature are subjective. Who am I to say what’s the best of the year? I’m usually not right anyway. But this piece for Jack Archer was fun, and I was glad to say who I thought should have been recognized as well. http://www.jackarcher.com/pop/featured_article/and_the_nominees_are_sounding_like_someone_else

Finally, my afternoon with Larry Vodak was an unexpected one. He was such a genuinely nice man, and I feel privileged to have met him. I found stories of how he became who was both professionally and personally intriguing. The design he brought into the Smart Home at the Museum of Science Industry was just as fascinating. http://www.jackarcher.com/fwd/featured_article/scouts_larry_vodak_gets_smart

I see now, when forced to look for the good in life, sometimes it is hard to find it all … For some reason, as human beings, we allow ourselves to fixate on what goes wrong more than what’s right. You just have to remember to not look at what you don’t have, what you’ve lost.

I guess when I take stock of it all, I have to admit I feel like I’m living a life not even I could have imagined for myself.  Today, I can honestly say that I am looking toward the future … And I’m excited to see where the next 365 days will take me, where they’ll take us.

(I’m open to anything as long as it takes me out of this funk!)

Oh, and because I feel the need to be honest, and maybe to shed some light on just how lucky I am, the stairs make laundry day hard for Hunter … I haven’t been down in our basement for months.

But I hauled tons of groceries up day before yesterday, so we’re even.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BOY

For nearly a year-and-a-half, I have been a slacker.

Not in life, might I add. Just here on the Internet. (Well, technically, just on my blog, as there are other sites where you would find articles by me … Just nothing personal about my life and my beloved Uptown.) I have decided that I will no longer be lax, and look to return to blogging with full force … Yeah, we’ll see about that one, huh?

I need a creative outlet right now, and besides painting, this is what I do best. I never meant to take this long of a break, believe me. But to be honest with you, my life hasn’t been all that exciting for the past 16 months … Unless you’re me, that is. To me, it’s been amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, stupefying and magnificent. (It’s also been wracked with more heartache than I ever thought possible, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, it’s been more good than bad, though, and no matter what, I now know I can survive anything …

At least I can with him by my side.

“SWF SEEKS SWM BETWEEN THE AGES OF 25-35. MUST BE EMPLOYED. MUST LOVE FAMILY, DOGS, SMALL BABIES, SERIOUS CURVES AND MUSIC. MUST BE FUNNY. MUST BE ABLE TO PUT UP WITH MY ALMOST SMOTHERING BOUTS OF KINDNESS. MUST KNOW THIS COULD ALL JUST BE A PHASE. MUST KNOW I NEVER MAKE PLANS, AND I COULD FEEL DIFFERENTLY TOMORROW. MUST BE DARK ENOUGH TO SEE MY LIGHT. BEARD OPTIONAL, BUT PREFERRED.”

That is from a blog post I wrote Jan. 27, 2010. A blog post that would eventually lead to my life being forever changed.

I was inspired to write “Training Myself to Look Around” after a Red Line ride downtown one morning with an older, yet attractive neighbor. After writing said piece, I got really embarrassed, wondering if someone would point out the posting to him before I ever got a chance to explain why I wrote it. (I wasn’t interested in him, and just needed to make sure he knew that before he got the wrong idea! Ha.) I tried to track him down through our Sheridan Gardens page on Facebook, but to no avail. Instead, I ended up sending a message to one of my other neighbors I saw on there, simply because he had great taste in music.

We had met a few times before, him and I. We had said hellos in passing, but nothing more than that. But after the initial online exchange, we decided that we would meet in person. So, plans were made for the following weekend for me to cross the courtyard to hang out with him and his roommate. No big deal, I thought at the time … Just a couple of soon-to-be friends, Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” on vinyl, and a few laughs. What more could a girl ask for?

Obviously, everything.

I liked him immediately, but not in a romantic sense. I found him to be funny, self-deprecating, smart … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find him to be attractive. But it was more in a “you’re-cute-let’s-find-you-someone-your-own-age-to-date” kind of way. We were friends for a while. For months, there would be late-night conversations about everything from music to family life … Religion to our dating pasts. For hundreds of hours during the beginning of 2010, we never ran out of things to say.

It was during the summer that I knew that I loved him. It wasn’t like having a crush on a friend. (Believe me, been there, done that, bought a few T-shirts.) No, this was way different. I couldn’t imagine ever having to spend a day without seeing him … And I couldn’t imagine that he’d ever look at me in the way I saw him. But, boy, was I wrong.

He too had been feeling the same way for a while, he would later tell me. He said his stomach would turn when he’d see me coming up the back sidewalk to their apartment, and that’s when he knew. But both of us, unsure because of past hurts, doubt or whatever, never put ourselves out there, scared of being let down, afraid of disappointment. So, for months, we just looked at each other longingly, both of us wondering what the other was thinking. (And both secretly knowing how much we cared for one another.)

A rare bottle (or two) of wine at the beginning of September helped change all of that in a night … One kiss, and all at once, we were no longer just friends. We were best friends … And we were in love.

I’d like to say it’s been a whirlwind of romanticism, the kind of courtship you would read about in a Jane Austen novel … But, truth be told, as far as him and I, it’s always just been an easy ride. There have been some flowers, chocolates, and the like. Sweet dates, many a foot or back rub, and a wonderful trip home to meet each others’ families. We simply love to be around one another, each spending our time away from the other just waiting to be back together. Yes, we have become that couple that even we would have hated this time last year. I have been told that our love is infectious … That when you are around us, it’s hard not to see everything we feel for one another.

He makes me laugh on a daily basis, even if all I feel like doing at the moment is crying. He values my opinion, and thinks I am one of the smartest women to ever walk this earth. He sees my beauty, both inside and out, and finds me to be both sexy and funny. (Even if I do make up my own words and phrases sometimes, it’s one of the things he loves most about me.) Most importantly, he “gets” me … I never have to worry about being anything other than who I honestly am. (And the same for him, as well.)

All he has to do is put his arms around me, and the rest of the world, and all of my worries, seem to fade away.

We’ve been going through tough times lately, and it has only proven to me how much I love him … How strong we are. Together we have survived something that most will thankfully never face in their lifetime. But through that, we have grown to love each other on a whole other level that neither of us thought possible. For that I am forever grateful … And for that I am forever changed.

I never expected that in him I would find the one person I had been waiting my whole life for. The one person who would love and understand me better than anyone who had come before him. This week marks two years since I climbed the stairs to the third floor of 4720 N. Racine Ave. in Chicago for the first time … Now I take the same flights daily to get to my home. Our home.

It’s funny how quickly life can change. It’s times like these where I try to hold on to that. I still can not believe I put out into the universe what I was looking for, and I got everything I wanted and then some. (Plus, he looks good with or without a beard, so bonus points there.)

With all that being said, I just wanted to say thank you Hunter. For everything.

And ask you, my readers, to forgive me for being away so long. It wouldn’t have been that interesting anyway, as it’s hard to write about living when all you want is to be holed up inside with the man you love.

(But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

FALL BRINGS MEMORIES OF SUMMER

I made a pumpkin-pecan pie this weekend. Not a big deal, one would say … Unless you see it for what it really is. It is Fall.

Now it’s no secret among those that know me, but this is my most-favorite of seasons.

I am trying my best to embrace the falling leaves, watching the sidewalks slip into vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. I repeatedly fed into my craving for apple cider recently, possibly to some detriment of “calorie counting.” Two days of breakfast consisting of amazing pumpkin bread from my friend David has me dreaming of making my own. (And of carving a Jack-o’-lantern some time this month for Halloween.)

But all of my Autumn excitement is also making me look back at the Summer past.

I’m not sure what it is about having friends and family come visit that always makes me see Chicago in a different way. In some ways, even after four-plus years of calling the city my home, I still feel like a tourist myself. Yet, when someone new comes to visit, I find myself delving even deeper into vacation mode, seeing things anew, or simply new. This Summer was a good one for me in terms of welcoming people I love to the city I love.

My friends Abbey and Amber were the first to come this summer, as they made their way from North Carolina. Here for an engagement party for Abbey’s brother, getting to spend time with me was not the focus of their trip, but equally important to us all.

I had yet to meet their son Aiden, now two, and being able to hold an actual conversation with someone so little continues to blow my mind, all these months later. Spending the day downtown with this amazing family was something I needed for the soul, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Abbey joking on the way up to their hotel room that it was like “Amber was getting ready for a first date,” as she got dressed to meet me that morning; The ability to wrap my arms around Amber for the first time in years and hug her tightly; The joy of seeing Abbey’s excitement in being caught up in the middle of filming for a Vince Vaughn movie; Watching what wonderful parents they both were as we played around Millennium Fountain and Aiden’s delight at getting to play in the water … These are the things I will take away from their visit, along with the anticipation of seeing them again.

My Mom was next, just later that week, although I can’t really classify her as a visitor anymore.

Having spent a lot of time in Chicago by this point, her idea of a vacation is simply living my life with me. There’s no need to take her to the Willis Tower, Hot Doug’s or any tourist traps. On my couch with a good book or simply walking Huxley around the block is more-than pleasing for her. There are always the “normal” things we do when she comes, shopping (for me of course), hanging out at my apartment, having sushi at least one meal and taking my dog to the beach.

That’s the best thing about my Mom, she’s simply happy being with me.

As long as I get her some Garrett’s Popcorn, that is.

July brought my birthday, Pitchfork Music Festival and a slate of “regular” visitors.

Arriving on the actual date, my friend Jake drove overnight from Alabama just to spend time celebrating with me. As I knew it would be crazy around the time of my actual birthday, I didn’t plan anything special, just letting nature take its course towards fun. Spending the day downtown in Millennium Park, lying on the grass with Jake, could not have been a more-fitting gift for me this year. Watching the kids playing in the fountain, women dancing to the salsa music from Pritzker Pavilion, and my photographer friend Leah (also up then from the South) capture all of the things she was seeing for the first time was simply icing on the more cupcake I had to celebrate.

The rest of the weekend was split between Union Park for Pitchfork and my back porch for conversation. The pairing of the four of us was just as much fun as ever, even having to ride in the back of Jake’s truck in downtown Chicago brought some semblance of joy.

I am still brought back to the weekend each time a plane flies overhead. I can hear Jake saying. “There’s Chip and Kalah,” even though, sadly, I know that it’s not.

I love my best friend. After 17 years with her by my side … cringe, yes, we are old … every moment we have to spend with each other is just as great as the first.

For months, I felt guilty every time someone else would come to visit, knowing Robin wanted to be up here with me as well. When she called mid-summer to confirm a weekend trip, it laid plans I most-looked forward to. Like my Mom, she has been her several time before, so it never seems to be a touristy trip. Like my Mom, she is just happy to be around me, my couch becoming a place of refuge for days of catching up and dissection of my single life and hers with a husband and children.

Leisurely afternoons downtown, led to even more laid-back evenings back in my neighborhood. And whether it was meeting a bratwurst down by the Chicago Public Library or having al pastor burritos at the tiny place, Carmela’s, by my house, Robin got her fill of all-things Chicago. (At least the things that were important to me anyway, including getting to meet some of my friends here.)

And like my Mom, we had to go to Garrett’s.

The best thing about family? You can go nearly a decade without seeing them, but you know that you love them just as much as you always did.

Last month brought my last visitors to Chicago, my cousin Paul and his family. Here for a few days, I only got to spend their last night here with them due to work conflicts. But I am thankful I was able to get up with them … even if for only a few hours. Having never met Paul’s wife, Ofelya, I wasn’t sure how she would react to his long-lost cousin honing in on their vacation time, but I was immediately family to her as well. And her to me. Their son, Blake, provided most of the entertainment for the evening … When he wasn’t busy watching “Dora the Explorer,” that is.

It was more-than enlightening to see my cousin, now a grown man, with his family. But the time didn’t seem so far removed from the days we spent rolling down the hill in our grandparents’ backyard as children, our Mothers later picking all the Fall leaves off our clothes in time for family pictures.

See, in the end it all comes back to the leaves.

So bring them on.

‘FUN’ ON TARGET FOR THE WEEKEND

Forty-eight hours.

Oh, why must the weekends fly by so fast? Who decided we needed to work five days a week and only have two to play? If you know, send me their phone number/e-mail address/twitter feed/facebook ID. We need to talk. Pronto.

I always go into the time off thinking about all that I have to get accomplished: Laundry. Groceries. Bills. Cleaning. I always come back to work on Monday thinking about all I failed to get done: Laundry. Groceries. Bills. Cleaning. I could sit here at my desk, feeling unaccomplished and irresponsible, but that wouldn’t change anything right? I still only have one pair of clean underwear left; I’ll get some almond milk today, I promise; ComEd’s at least been paid, so I have electricity; and well Huxley and Tallulah can only complain about the state of my apartment if they both grow opposable thumbs and pitch in some.

Instead, I will marvel at all the things I did do as I celebrated my freedom.

A weekend in the city. Well, kind of.

Friday night found me at the Long Room on Irving Park, one of my favorite bars in the city. I’m not sure what it is about this tiny establishment, but it is one of the most laid-back watering holes in the city.

This trip, although a joyous evening, was tinged with sadness, as many of us were there to say a fond farewell to Shawn Barkdull.

Leaving Chicago for the more-natural, yet more-rainy, town of Portland, she brought a group of us together for a final beer. (Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for me please, too many to count for Shawn.) Set to the sounds of a lot of Broken Social Scene (obviously on heavy iPod rotation) we all shared a lot of laughs … and I saved my tears for later.

If you know me, you know I hate to make plans. Why get yourself all excited over something that may never come to fruition, is what I finally learned.

Or so I thought.

For months now, I have wanted to go to Hot Doug’s. You can’t throw a stone in Chicago without hitting someone who swears by Doug’s … but come on now, I’m not a big proponent of encased meats. But I have friends who worship the tiny establishment, and some who have waited in line for hours just for The Kiera Knightley (a “hot” hot dog) or duck-fat fries. So after months of waiting, Saturday I met some friends early to go.

All the way over in the car, dreaming of the Pete Shelley (vegetarian dog, of course) and Huey-, Dewey- and Louie-free fries, I could actually feel my mouth watering at the thought of such bad-for-me food.

An hour later, Hunter, Kirk and I were sitting in Wishbone on Lincoln Avenue waiting for our breakfast.

Yep, no standing in line for us at Doug’s. It was closed. Flooding. Phooey. (And no, not the duck trio’s long-lost brother. The adjective riddled with disgust.)

It might have been a better dietary option … well, save for the piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie we shared … but none of us left all that satisfied.

Just full. (Both with food and giggles from a gaggle of girls we saw crossing the street.)

I’m a pickling queen.

No seriously, I am. Just ask the 6+ pounds of cucumbers that now sit sliced or speared in jars around Hunter and Kirk’s kitchen.

But don’t worry, the chunks of vegetables aren’t lonely. I threw in some garlic, jalapeno peppers, fresh dill and a spicy, sour brine to keep them all company.

I spent hours on Saturday sterilizing, chopping, stirring, mixing, creating. And now I am left with eight large jars of pickles. (Well, seven now that Hunter and I had our way with one of them in a 24-hour period.)

After opening the first jar Monday night to try, I can say with some authority, they are quite amazing pickles.

And I did it all myself. (Well, and with a little help from my friends.)

After more than three decades on this thing we call Earth, I have become a completely different person.

Well, when it comes to beer anyway.

As Shawn likes to tell me, “I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Guess what Shawn? Neither do I. All I know is there are some brews I actually like … and the list grows weekly. (I would say daily, but I don’t want you to take me literal here and think I have become an alcoholic.)

This weekend was devoted to trying Chimay,* one that I have heard raved about for months. At $13 for a (big) bottle, my friends and I had been saving this one for a special occasion. Since we were celebrating my “birthday” Saturday, it seemed a fitting decision. As I canned pickles in the kitchen, Hunter left for the liquor store, only to call minutes later to say he had been in a wreck. But always the trooper, he was mainly calling to get Kirk’s truck so he could continue on the beer run.

I would like to say it was worth it, but seeing a friend out of sorts is never the price to pay for anything. But the night was not a loss, and after a dinner of shrimp and grits, we broke open all three bottles and spent the night relaxing at the apartment.

The wreck, albeit small, was enough to put a damper on my evening, and made an expensive beer even more so.

But I’ll never forget my first taste of Chimay.

* FROM WIKIPEDIA: Chimay Bleue (Blue), 9% abv darker ale. In the 75 cl bottle, it is known as Grande Réserve. This copper-brown beer has a creamy head and a slightly bitter taste. Considered to be the “classic” Chimay ale, it exhibits a considerable depth of fruity, peppery character. The taste continues to evolve and develop with a few years of age, and is extremely popular with the Belgian population.

Target is open. Let me repeat. Target is open.

It’s sad that I find the opening of a big-box store to be so exciting, but I must admit that I have been waiting with fevered anticipation for the “discount” supercenter to open in my Uptwon neighborhood for nearly two years now.

I lived across the street when they tore down the building that encompassed the land at Wilson Yard, and I used to awake every morning at 6 a.m. to the sound of backhoes and falling debris. Thankfully, I moved far enough away so I missed out on the noise of the new buildings going back up. (And not so far away that I can’t claim ownership of the store and feel proud that it is in my neighborhood.)

Saturday morning found Hunter, Kirk and I there for the first time, wandering around in surreal contemplation. It was massive, overwhelming to say the least. Grabbing what we needed, it was actually a quick foray into the new store. But Sunday … well Target and I were introduced properly.

After a leisurely “breakfast” with Josh at Golden House Restaurant at 3 in the afternoon, I talked him into going to Target with me, since it was on his way home. We joked while walking toward the store that it would become like a Walmart in Ohio, the place to see and be seen. The first person I saw when I walked in was one of my neighbors; Josh called out to Hunter and Kirk an hour later while we perused the second floor. (See, they couldn’t get enough either.)

I have instructed my Mom to set aside an allowance for me each week for the new Target. In the six days it has been open, I’ve now been there three times.

What can I say? You just can’t beat convenience.

Or $18 bitching shoes. Bought right in my ‘hood.