shaking hands, grateful hearts

The details are personal but the suffering is universal.  Abnormalities at a routine doctor appointment inspired labwork that demanded I have surgery within 24 hours.  There was an abnormal growth in my stomach, possibly cancerous, and the doctor needed to operate immediately.

I was frightened, anxious and confused.  I went to bed wondering why this had happened and woke with tear strained cheeks.  There wasn’t much time to research the situation or learn if it was genetic or study possible side effects.

The next morning, Jon woke me with flowers and drove me to the hospital.  He got lost twice on the familiar ten minute drive.  His shaking hands told me he was more nervous than I was.
Each nurse I spoke with told me stories of a patient, friend or child that had experienced a similar diagnosis.  Some of the stories ended well, and some, unfortunately, made me ache for their loved ones.

This was the point, however, that I started to feel empowered.  I was reminded that we are all in this life together, and our experiences (both good and bad) are the things that unite us.  When we experience hardship, the best we can do is hope our story makes someone else feel less alone.

Perspective is key.  Although the doctors estimate full recovery in 6 months, I’m anxious about receiving a similar diagnosis in the future.  The good news, however, is that come what may, I’m going to be okay.  There is power in recognizing that loved ones surround us in our hardest moments, and when we persevere, we come out stronger and better prepared to move forward.
The first thing I heard when I got out of surgery was that my friend Amanda was engaged.  Her lucky boyfriend popped  the question while they were strolling Central Park on a weekend getaway.  She sent a photo of the proposal, a quick story about how it happened, and a promise to celebrate when she returned to Minneapolis.

Her joy prompted me to research champagne bars in our neighborhood.  Maybe we could even schedule a cake-tasting before drinks? I immediately Googled wedding cakes in the 55408.  Jon handed me my pills, I gazed through the options on OpenTable, and I got excited about Amanda’s return to the city.
Life, filled with hardship and joy, is meant to be experienced.  We endure heartbreak and setbacks, of course, but we also experience healing and happiness.  The important thing is that our lives are meant to be shared.  In times of suffering, our work is to divide the pain of others, and in times of happiness, our efforts should increase their joy.  With a bit of luck and a prayer, when we reflect on our shared experiences, we will recognize how the moments of suffering worked to make the joyful moments even happier.

full (of thanks)

Jon woke me up this morning with tea, a granola bar, and a kiss.  The breakfast was thoughtful and perfect, but the best part was that he was home — he usually leaves for work at 6, I wake at 7, and then we see each other when he comes home in the evening.  Sharing my morning with him is my favorite way to start the day, and in this case, it’s indicative of something even greater: we’ll be spending the next five days together in Chicago.  As in, five days of vacation, family, food, theater (we’re seeing Wicked!!), and absolutely no working.  Let the laughter and silliness begin.
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the smallest detail

My favorite time of day is the first couple of hours before the sun comes up.  The quiet of morning makes me feel quite alone in the world, and I enjoy strolling the vacant streets with a cup of coffee.  The walk wakes up my legs and the coffee jolts my mind, and, ever so slowly, people trickle out of their homes and into the streets.  The poetic and incredibly beautiful thing about people in the morning is how determined they seem to begin the day just right.   

If you watch closely, everyone seems to understand their place in the world around 8am – business associates hop determinedly onto bosses, students crack open their books, and shopkeepers swiftly sweep the floors.  As the day progresses, people inevitably feel tired or angry or sad, but in the morning, it just seems like endless hope.

I woke at 7am the first time I slept at Jon’s apartment.  It was a Saturday morning, and I figured he wouldn’t stir for at least another 3 hours.  When I  rolled over, however, I found him watching CNN and sending emails on his laptop.   He kissed my forehead and hopped out of bed:  “You’re up — Let’s get coffee.”  I wiped the sleep from my eyes and thanked my lucky stars for finding me an early riser.  Two mugs today, please.

We crossed the street from our downtown apartment and entered the coffee house on the corner.  I just about keeled over when he grabbed The WSJ like a reflex.  The WSJ is my favorite paper.  

We ordered two black coffees, snuggled into a booth, and divided the paper.  We spent the next few hours reading out loud, swapping stories, asking for opinions, and laughing over the same events.  We occasionally turned away from the paper to indulge in some quality people watching.  
This is a long story, Reader, but I’m trying to convey the magnitude of our first, seemingly ordinary, Saturday morning together.  Three years later, the Saturday morning routine has become a relationship habit — we wake, brush our teeth, and then we go searching for caffeine and news.  

We were in Chicago this past weekend, and even though we were on vacation, we woke Saturday morning and went searching for the local coffee shop, hand-in-hand.  The power of our relationship ritual was too great to be broken by something as simple as a vacation.  The consistency of our ritual, of the shared morning, coffee, and paper, is something that we look forward to and depend on.  We repeat this Saturday morning tradition, time and time again, because we both find it so fulfilling and happy — down to the smallest detail.   All of our Saturday mornings play out exactly the same way, in a sort of domestic haze, simply because we wouldn’t want them any other way.  We found a moment that we choose, time and time again, to recreate exactly.
Do you have any relationship rituals?  Families, couples or friends?  Is there something that you look forward to doing, time and time again, with the people dear to you?

Here are some pictures from the weekend Chicago trip:


the mushy-gushy-grab-a-tissue variety

For a long time, I felt an incredible sense of urgency to meet exotic people in foreign cities. I wanted to explore new lands and experience different ways of living. Above all, I wanted to learn, as quickly as possible, where I belonged.

A lucky few are born somewhere they feel comfortable, and rarely venture far from home. Others, however, associate home with a place they’ve never been, and they spend their time searching, searching, searching for somewhere that feels safe.

I know it sounds cliché, but my search for belonging ended when I met Jon. You know all those songs about how a person feels like home? That’s exactly how it was. We met, and after a few short weeks, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. My search was over.

This post ended up being of the mushy-gushy-grab-a-tissue variety, and I apologize. The thing is, I’m beginning a number of DIY projects for the apartment and the idea of belonging is on my mind. Today the crafting revolved around mason jars: I turned one into a makeup brush holder, and then I transformed another into a flower vase for my friend, Amy.

Here is a preview of the flower vase I made for Amy:Image

Just for fun, I created this print for you to keep:

august blooms

my drive to work goes something like this: cross over the bridge, pass the blueberry farm, stay right when you see the field of horses, then straight down highway 93 past the dozing sheep, the grazing cows, and the beautiful fields of green.  excecpt in august, they aren’t green — they turn into fields of sunflowers.  can you imagine my excitement when they bloomed? so lovely.

not only do the blooms make the drive more beautiful, but they also make the farmer’s market more colorful — look what Jon and I bought for $5 (that’s right, $5):

we spent the weekend running around with kinzie — exploring the markets and buying furniture for the new apartment.
my favorite part of the new house is probably the bubble machine that jon installed in my bathroom.  how sweet is that? i already have a little radio, but now a bubble machine?  it makes getting out of the tub hard when you’re having a private concert:

and, i do say, the flowers make the kitchen a little more cheerful too:
as do the little wine cork magnets I made:
okay, okay – the last thing I need to share is this pizza farm that we found.  we drove down the backroads (yes, we do spend a lot of time doing this) until we came across this:
The Nelson Farm built a little restaurant the serves only brick oven pizzas, and they make everything from the ingredients grown in the area — the wait was about an hour, but we sat on a blanket, shared a bottle of wine, and enjoyed being together until the pizza was ready.  a perfect day.

i want love to be simple

I want love to be simple. I want to trust without thinking. I want to be generous with my affection and patience and love unconditionally. It is easier to love a person with their flaws than to weed through them. I want to love the whole person, not parts; and this is how I want to be loved.” – Jewel Kilcher

I think that making love the center of your life allows the every day pieces to fall into place a little easier.  Or, as Vicci Martiniez says, “Now that I’ve made the commitment to myself, to enjoy my ride, everything seems so effortless.  In a way, I think it has set me up to be ready for whatever may come and to welcome it with open arms.”

I suppose that’s a lot of rambling about love as a recipe for simple and good living, but it’s true, and it’s what this post is about.  Yesterday was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was such a wonderful day, just because of my gratitude for the little things.  

Anyway, one weekend a month, this abandoned warehouse downtown is taken over by artists, and I am always excited to go and see what they are painting, sculpting, composing, etc etc etc.  Not too many people know about the market, so it always feels like I’m part of a secret when I enter the warehouse and ascend the stairs to the artists’ studios:

When I got home, I baked some chocolate chip cookies inside oreos for Jon.

He loves these cookies almost as much as oreo stuffed chocolate chip, red velvet with white chocolate chip, funfetti with bluemoon frosting— eeh, I think the boy just loves cookies.  I was planning dinner as well, but he called and said it was the perfect day for a picnic.  Before he came home, I got a blanket and snacks ready, and then we rode our bikes down to the river. We played Lumineers Pandora and munched on wraps and salads while
watching the sunset.

home sweet view

in my last post i said that jon was my home. that’s true. in all sorts of sentimental ways, our relationship makes my abstract home sweet, but in a very physical sense, i believe that a view makes or breaks a home.  wouldn’t you agree? in chicago, i rented a restored 1890s mansion with a couple of friends, and the home was a stunner: hardwork floors, filigree details lining the walls, bay windows, fireplaces- a chicago hotdog with all the fixins’.  what was missing, however, was anything to look at beyond the curtains adorning that beautiful bay window.  my bedroom view was simply the redbrick that was my neighbor’s house, and that lackluster view kept the otherwise impressive mansion from being anything exceptional.

now, the apartment jon and i shared in chicago had a view for the books — facing west (an untraditional view in chicago where the most coveted view is east toward the lake), and overlooking all the activity of the city.  the two of us spent many o days sitting porchside with cream soda and chatting about what the neighbors were doing in the building across, who was going home with whom below, and which places we would visit when we descended the 28 flights of stairs…

well, enough of that.  this was our view in chicago:

now, we are living in the country (cheating a little bit since we’re living in an apartment building, but hey- it’s still a rural area), and we have this view:

this view doesn’t afford us too many opportunities to muse about the behavior of the city, but it does allow us to draw constellations, watch the sunrise, and observe the changing of the leaves.  
jon took work off yesterday, and with the help of the movers, he had all of our things in the apt by the time i came home:

i was ready to start unpacking and decorating, but he asked if we could just have dinner and watch a movie. ha, as if he needed to ask.  i made sausage tortellini, and then we shared a bottle of wine on the porch.  we laid there with kinzie for an hour or so, just chatting, and i had that feeling that we have ended up exactly where we needed to be.
oh? and for the movie? we went throwback with a beautiful mind.  it’s an oldie but a goodie.

cheers to 960 more months

Jon and I got engaged after four months of dating, and we’ve come to expect a bit of shock & disbelief when we explain to people that we’ve been together 5, 6, or even 7 months.  Most people answer with a tactful “when you know, you know,” but others chime in about the responsibility of marriage, and the importance of being “sure.”

well, we were both sure after 4 weeks, and we’re more happy today, 1 year and 2 days later, than we’ve ever been.  july 28 marked our one year anniversary since our first kiss, and we decided to spend the weekend together kayaking in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Jon began the anniversary by sending roses to my office:
When I got off work, we drove north toward Lake Superior, and stayed at a quaint B&B in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  We had a nice dinner at Wild Rice on Friday night, and then ferried to Madeline Island to go kayaking on Saturday:

After we finished kayaking, we wandered through the town hand-in-hand, exploring mom&pop shops and specialty boutiques.  We had a lot of fun, and found these interesting things to entertain us:

Sunday we woke up early and went to a flower and berry farm outside the city.  I intended to come home with lots of fruit for pies and muffins, but we ended up passing out fruit to hitchhikers and homeless individuals on the way home.  

i do i do i do

jon and i traveled up to Minneapolis for a wedding (1 of 8 that we are going to this year) and watched our friends Ann & Dan tie the proverbial knot.  we’ve made a game out of wedding going: we’ve decided (actually it was jon’s idea) to incorporate something fun from each wedding into our own  — this wedding had an awesome candy bar and DIY wine corks as seating cards, so it’s a toss up which idea we’ll be taking…

exploring minneapolis is always a good time too (we think it combines our favorite parts of Chicago with what we love best about the country).  we took sunday to bike around lake calhoun and lake of the isles, and then we brunched at a little bistro called barbette (if i was a yelper this place would get five stars.)  as this blog  continues you’ll come to see that jon is a true midwestern boy — we sat down for our breakfast and he started commenting on all the cheeses — chevre, goat, ricotta, etc — and told me he was going order “bacon and cheddar eggs — i’ve had enough of these funny cheeses, jen.” haha. i giggled and told him to just try the goat cheese with ham and bacon.  he thanked me.

the weekend got even better when we returned to Eau Claire on Sunday afternoon and I got to see my puppy again (his parents had been watching her for the weekend).  Sweet Kinzie back in my arms.