‘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

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.

LIFE, AND ITS BEACH

MY FRIEND, HUNTER, WHO WAS NICE ENOUGH TO TAKE HUXLEY AND I TO MONTROSE BEACH SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MAKES HIS WAY OUT OF LAKE MICHIGAN WITH MY PUP. A FELLOW SOUTHERNER … AND BEACH LOVER … THE HOURS SPENT ON THE SAND SEEMED TO DO HIM JUST AS MUCH GOOD AS IT DID ME.

“I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day. Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away. I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.” NEIL YOUNG, “ON THE BEACH”

Zombies.

Every one of them.

As I made my commute downtown this morning, I was hit with that oddest of sensations.

It being a Monday, there was the normal sense of agony as everyone made their way to offices downtown and beyond. But today there was an added level of anxiety in the atmosphere, masked by an eerie silence, as I passed the throngs of people pouring out of Millennium Station. Heads down, hurriedly moving about like scattering cockroaches as a light is flipped on, most walked as if in mourning.

And I was one of them as I contemplated my return to another day full of dread following joys of this weekend. Ah, the weekend … that wonderful heat-filled-sunshine-radiating-get-me-outside-then-back-into-an-air-conditioned-apartment 48-hour period that just passed.

The first of the “summer” here in Chicago.

Following weeks of stormy weather, cool temperatures and the odd 60-degree day, Mother Nature decided to reward our patience with a week filled with digits in the 80s and slight chances for rain. Saturday was quite calm as the weather began its transition.

But Sunday … Ah, Sunday.

The minute I stepped outside to walk Huxley, I knew what a wonderful day it would be. Removing my thin sweater at 9 a.m. as we made our way around our Uptown neighborhood was the first sign of wonderful things to come. By the time we made it back home, the warming rays of sunshine had encompassed every fiber of my being, and the resulting switch in mood was palpable.

The complaints over the “sweltering” heat began early for some around me, yet I continued to revel in temperatures normally reserved for March back home in Mississippi. The window unit, left in a bout of laziness at the end of last summer, was switched on in the house as I watched my 15-pound dog pant profusely when we returned from our walk … Which left me wondering if I was the only one relishing in the quick switch outside.

I soon discovered I wasn’t.

Hundreds of canines and their smart owners covered the sand at Montrose Beach Sunday afternoon, as it seemed every dog lover had the same idea in the 80+ degree heat. Splashing through the knee-deep water and walking along the sand with my pup and some friends, Hunter, David and then Joel, I began to regain some of the spirit a lack of Vitamin D seemed to have sucked from my body. Now, I am left hoping the feeling garnered from nearly two hours spent with my toes in the sand will last.

As I sit at my desk today, facing the open window, it is taking every ounce of strength I have not to go crashing through it just to get outside.

But, since I would rather not spend the week covered in stitches, I’ll be patient.

I’ll move like all the other zombies, towards another warm weekend.

Yep. No turning back now … Summer is here.

GET HUXLEY IN THE BACKSEAT OF ANY CAR, AND HE CAN SOMEHOW FIGURE OUT WHERE WE ARE GOING. LIKE ME, HE WOKE UP IN THE BEST MOOD ON SUNDAY, WHICH ONLY CONTINUED AS WE MADE OUR WAY TO THE BEACH THAT AFTERNOON.  THE JUXTAPOSITION OF MY PANTING PUP AND HUNTER’S WINTER GLOVES STILL IN THE BACKSEAT SHOWS HOW WACKY THE WEATHER HAS BEEN HERE IN CHICAGO RECENTLY.

IF YOU EVER WONDER WHAT PURE JOY LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS IT FROM A CANINE PERSPECTIVE. I HAVE OFTEN SAID THAT FOR HUXLEY, THE BEACH IS LIKE HEAVEN ON EARTH … AND IF ALL DOGS ACTUALLY DO GO TO HEAVEN, I HOPE, FOR HIS SAKE, SAID PLACE WILL BE THE BEACH FOR ALL ETERNITY.

THIS VENDOR SHOWED DEDICATION LIKE NO OTHER AS HE PUSHED HIS ICE CREAM CART THROUGH THE THRONGS OF PEOPLE ALONG THE SAND SUNDAY AFTERNOON. THE JINGLING BELLS HAVE BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH A JAUNT TO THE BEACH, AS DOZENS SELL THEIR WARES ON WARM DAYS.

DOZENS OF DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS CAN BE SEEN IN THE LENSES OF HUNTER’S WAYFARERS AS HE SURVEYS THE BEACH. AND I THINK HE WILL AGREE WITH ME WHEN I SAY THAT THE WATER WAS ACTUALLY QUITE WONDERFUL … FOR A LAKE ANYWAY.

AS THE CLICHE GOES, “STICK A FORK IN HIM …” AFTER A QUICK SHOWER UPON OUR RETURN FROM THE BEACH, HUXLEY WAS DONE FOR THE DAY. AND RIGHTFULLY SO, AS HE SEEMS TO COVER MILES OF SAND DURING OUR AFTERNOONS AT MONTROSE HARBOR.

A (NEAR) PERFECT TWO DAYS

SPENDING AN HOUR LOOKING THROUGH RECORDS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ WAS NOT ON THE AGENDA FOR SATURDAY, BUT MY FRIEND KIRK AND I FOUND OURSELVES THERE IN HONOR OF NATIONAL RECORD STORE DAY. I’M NOT QUITE SURE WHAT IT IS ABOUT MY WEEKENDS LATELY … NO MATTER WHAT I PLAN, I NEVER SEEM TO GET ANY OF IT ACCOMPLISHED.

Oh … the weekend.

It doesn’t matter how my week is going at work, I am on constant countdown for Friday now that warmer weather has finally hit. When 5 p.m. came this past one, I knew I had no other concrete plans than grabbing a beer with friends that night at Hopleaf … and I liked it that way.

Cleaning house, seeing a friend I keep canceling on and going to watch “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which another friend has music directed, were the main items on my agenda for Saturday and Sunday.

But somehow, it never seems to go that way.

My friend Kirk and I celebrated National Record Store Day Saturday afternoon at Shake, Rattle & Read. Less than $10 was spent for Sonny Rollins and XTC on vinyl, and I was proud of my finds … and Kirk’s $15 copy of “Zeppelin III” as well. Then we were off to take Huxley to the dog beach at Montrose Harbor … which thankfully wore him out for the rest of the day. When Kirk dropped us off after the beach, I told him I would come up to his place after I cleaned some, so we could hang out and listen to records.

Less than an hour later, I was standing in the middle of Target with my friend Jessica. Having gotten a ZIP car for work in the suburbs Saturday, she called to see if there were any errands I needed to run before she returned the vehicle. Although nothing was pressing for me, spending the early evening doing retail therapy with a great girl was enough incentive for me. After lots of laughs – and lots of cash – I found myself back at home … and later at Kirk’s for coffee and Katamari. (Yes, I am too old to be playing video games … but it’s quite an amazing one.)

Sunday morning found Kirk, his roommate Hunter and I waiting for more than an hour to sit down for brunch at Tweet. (Even a screaming baby at the table next to us could not override our joy at finally being seated.) A favorite place for the guys, it was my first time venturing into the “famed” breakfast spot. The coffee is great, the food fresh and the staff super friendly … Although fully worth the wait, I’ll be making it a point to go during the week now that the sun has come out of hiding.

After a necessary walk back home, we found ourselves lounging on the couch listening to Beck’s “Sea Change” as we gave our food time to digest. Next, we all headed north on the Red Line for coffee at Metropolis where we hung out for an hour or so enjoying our lattes and French presses while deciding what to do next. We agreed on “dinner” (cheese and crackers … fresh pineapple … and later ice cream) and went our separate ways, after agreeing to meet up again just an hour later.

And that’s exactly what we did, as we ended our weekend back on their couch with snacks and “Inglourious Basterds.”

It’s Monday now …

My apartment looks as if it was hit by a tornado. I never went to see my friend Amy. Thankfully, “Whorehouse” runs through June. And I have further proof of why I don’t like to actually make plans.

Besides … there’s always next weekend to accomplish all the things I failed to do.

It’s only about 96 hours away anyway.

YES, THE FACT THAT IT IS FINALLY SPRING HAS A LOT TO DO WITH ME FEELING SO RESTLESS AT THE MOMENT. AS TULIPS POP UP EVERYWHERE ALONG THE STREETS OF UPTOWN, I FIND MYSELF WANTING TO SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE OUTSIDE ENJOYING NATURE’S COLORS.

TWEET, JUST A 10-MINUTE WALK FROM MY UPTOWN APARTMENT, PROVIDED A GOOD WAY TO BREAK UP THE MONOTONY, AS I USUALLY END UP AT GOLDEN HOUSE NEXT DOOR TO MY BUILDING FOR BREAKFAST WITH FRIENDS ON THE WEEKEND. DESPITE THE DELICIOUSNESS OF THE FOOD AND COFFEE BOTH, THE FIRST HOUR AT THE RESTAURANT WAS EXCRUCIATING, AS I HAD TO WAIT WITH TWO GUYS WHO HAD YET TO HAVE THEIR CAFFEINE … AND WERE LOW ON PATIENCE. BUT THE CORN AREPOS MORE THAN MADE UP FOR THEIR DISCONTENT.

A COMMON PLACE TO FIND HUNTER, KIRK AND I HERE LATELY? ON THEIR COUCH LISTENING TO ONE OF COUNTLESS RECORDS OR WATCHING AN OLD MOVIE HUNTER THINKS WE “JUST HAVE TO SEE.” THANKFULLY, HUXLEY HAS ALSO BECOME A MEMBER OF THE “FAMILY,” SO HE’S NEVER LEFT HOME ALONE.

AFTER ONLY ONE VISIT, I KNOW THAT METROPOLIS WILL NOW BE MY GO-TO PLACE FOR COFFEE. HUNTER HAS BEEN SINGING THE SHOP’S PRAISES SINCE I MET HIM, AND EVEN THOUGH I HAVE HAD THEIR BREW BEFORE, I HAD NEVER BEEN UP TO THE CAFE ITSELF. COZY, ODDLY QUIET, AND WITHOUT AN OUNCE OF PRETENSION, METROPOLIS NOW HAS A FAN IN ME.

HUNTER, UPON FINDING SPILLED ADVIL ON THE GRANVILLE PLATFORM, REALIZED IT COULD BE USED AS CHALK. WHILE I WAS ABLE TO SPELL OUT MY WHOLE NAME USING THE IBUPROFEN, HUNTER KEPT IT SIMPLE WITH HIS “H” WHILE KIRK LATER IMPRESSED US WITH HIS MODERN MEDICINAL ART SKILLS. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF FINDING JOY IN THE SMALLEST OF THINGS. AH … THE WEEKEND.

THE HIGHS/LOWS OF SPRING

A WEEK OR SO AGO, MY NEIGHBORHOOD WAS BLANKETED WITH A THICK LAYER OF FOG FOR DAYS. THE CREEPY AMBIANCE DID NOT LAST LONG THOUGH, AS THE DAYS FOLLOWING WERE SUNNY AND BRIGHT. NEVER KNOWING WHAT YOU WILL GET WEATHER-WISE IS ONE OF THE JOYS OF LIVING IN CHICAGO, I GUESS.

I was always taught growing up that people talk about the weather when they have nothing else to talk about.

For more than two decades, I would have completely agreed with that benign statement. Moving to Chicago changed that for me. Meeting neighbors out in the courtyard, down the street, at the corner, it’s always the first comment one of us will make.

It’s either too cold to be out and/or the snow is too deep to walk … then it hits 50 degrees for a few days and you marvel at the miraculousness that is warmer weather … a few days later and it’s in the 40s again, and the remarks center round how cold it feels even though two weeks before there was ice on the ground … it’s a vicious cycle, I assure you.

Last Monday, after weeks of fog, rain and a chill in the air, I cheated. I met my friend, Shawn, and her sister, Cody, at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Walking around the temperature-controlled rooms, surrounded by foliage, both native and exotic, it really hit home how much I longed for green. After months of bleak grays and hibernating leaves, I am beginning to ache for signs of life around me.

And they are truly beginning to show. The sun has been out this week and it even hit 65 degrees the other day at work. The tulips are coming up in our courtyard. We heard bugs and frogs chirping in a field the other day, and my friend, Natalie, rejoiced at the sighting of a bee earlier this week. (Although we both agreed said insects would hate the weather forecast for the weekend.)

And for once, they were right on the money. After a week of longing to be outside while sitting at my desk at work, now that I have the freedom to enjoy the sunshine, there is none. This morning I woke up to snow.

For it is “Spring” in Chicago. The most magical time, weather-wise, of the year.

(Well, next to Fall … and Summer … and OK … even sometimes Winter.)

LAST WEEKEND SAW THE SUN OUT EVERY DAY, ALTHOUGH IT PROVED TO BE A BIT OF A MISCONCEPTION. IT WAS STILL PRETTY COLD, SO STAYING OUTSIDE FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME WAS NOT ALL THAT COMFORTABLE.

A TRIP TO THE GARFIELD PARK CONSERVATORY WITH SHAWN AND CODY DID LITTLE BUT MAKE ME MORE ANXIOUS FOR WARMER WEATHER ON A DAILY BASIS HERE IN CHICAGO AND GREENER SURROUNDINGS. BUT THE CONSERVATORY ITSELF WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND SPENDING THE AFTERNOON LAUGHING WHILE DOING A WONDERFUL, FREE ACTIVITY IS ALWAYS GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT IS SAFE TO GO OUTSIDE, YOU ARE MET WITH SNOW AGAIN. EVEN HUXLEY WASN’T QUITE SURE HE WANTED TO BE OUTSIDE THIS MORNING, AND AFTER A MINUTE, HE DRAGGED ME RIGHT BACK INSIDE. HOPEFULLY THE TULIPS WON’T BE TOO ANGRY WITH MOTHER NATURE, AND WILL BE HERE TO STAY FOR A WHILE SOON.