Thursday, April 10, 2014

Black Love & The Thin Veil Between Heaven and Earth

I've been following the UPS tracking all week as my vinyl & CD copies of Do to the Beast by The Afghan Whigs have made their way across the country, inching ever closer to my doorstep. Today, at 12:27pm the package was checked in to a UPS facility in Horsham, PA - wherever that is. Tomorrow, it should arrive and the 16 year wait will be over. 

So tonight, I had the very important task of making sure Joe's turntable was up and running. I wanted to make sure that things went smoothly for my personal listening party tomorrow night so when I got home tonight I tucked the little guy in bed and got right down to business. I pulled out the automatic turntable and the cords that were stuffed in the cabinet with it and made my first best guess at hooking everything up.

I went to Joe's impressive vinyl collection and chose the first thing that grabbed my attention - My World Is Empty Without You as covered by (who else) The Afghan Whigs. I found a spot to put the turntable, plugged it in, pushed "play/cut" and listened to nothing but faint sounds. Ugh. Obviously I needed to pay more attention to all the cords that had been stuffed in the cabinet.

So, I started playing around and after half an hour still hadn't figured it out. Damn it. Joe and I had listened to this turntable together. Why didn't I pay attention? Why don't we ever pay attention when we think we don't have to? Why am I entertaining existential questions when I should be figuring out how to get the turntable to work? Finally after a few foolhardy attempts at getting the sound to work that are too embarrassing to mention here I heard the still, small Joe voice say, "just google it". So I took the full name of the turntable and chose the highly sophisticated act of typing in "kenwood automatic turntable kd-65f troubleshoot" and found exactly the summary I needed to push my problem solving over the edge.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen (GENTLEMEN!), I wasn't plugging in the phono preamp which if you own one of these automatic turntables probably has you thinking "stupid girl" and if you don't probably has your eyes glazing over and skipping to the next paragraph. 

Oh the joy...oh the rapture....when My World Is Empty Without You started playing through the stereo speakers. I listened in stunned silence, only pausing long enough to text a friend who I knew would instantly understand the enormity of the moment.

And then I knew it was time to raid Joe's vinyl collection and kick back with a drink. Tomorrow night it will be Do to the Beast on repeat, but tonight it was an old favorite heard in a different way. Tonight it was Black Love with a gin and tonic and a thankful heart for the thin veil between heaven and earth that still allows me to remember a rich love and celebrate what it brought to my life and where it has landed me today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Fire Department is at Your House...WHAT?

I didn't even get to see if any of the firefighters who responded to my house today were cute. By the time I got home they were long gone and the only evidence they left behind was the air conditioner that had been in my son's window (now perched on my kitchen counter) and a few muddy footprints on my basement carpet. Oh, and the furnace was shut off, some windows were opened to let the smell out, and there was a good measure of soot down in the basement.

I had just picked up the little guy from my sister's house when my cell phone rang. It was the Jamesburg Police calling to tell me that the Fire Department was at my house responding to a report of smoke from the basement. My mind raced.

I've been through a house fire before. Shortly after college I was sharing a 2nd floor apartment with my friend Stacey and one of the apartments on the first floor caught fire and became completely engulfed. It was the middle of the night and we were upstairs sleeping at the time. People tried to yell up to us. They tried to knock on our door. We didn't hear them. We were saved by our functioning smoke detector. The fire was all around the stairwell through which we exited and we had to crawl on the ground to avoid the smoke which had already started to fill the apartment. We watched as the fire from the first floor apartment jumped from the building to my parked car and breathed a sigh of relief as the small town volunteer firefighters showed up and did their thing.

The apartment was uninhabitable after the fire and we had to throw away a lot of our things due to the smoke damage. One thing I remember clearly though about the aftermath - Joe showed up. We weren't dating at the time, but he was there, climbing up and down those stairs helping to pack things up and move them to my Grandmother's place where I would live for the next few months. 

In the 30 second conversation with the Jamesburg Police Department those were the scenes that flashed through my mind. The fire at my old apartment. Escaping down the stairs only to watch the front of my car burn to a crisp. Joe there, strong and patient, just doing the next thing to help me out. I noticed that my mind was no longer racing and neither was my heart.

Be strong. Be patient. Do the next thing.

I called my mom who lives nearby to see if she could head over to the house. She didn't get to see if there were any cute firefighters either. They were gone by the time she got there. While en route to my house, I received two more calls with updates from the Jamesburg PD (very efficient) and made a call to the company that services my furnace (once it was determined that was the problem). The owner of the company came over tonight to check everything out and will be back in the morning to do the cleaning. 

I realized as I was doing my 8 mile training run on the treadmill tonight that I reacted quite differently to the call from the Jamesburg PD than I would have maybe even a few months ago. I think that I am now finding a way to weave Joe's strength and patience into my own life. In that way, he lives on every day as a part of my and my son's lives. That may sound strange but I know I can draw on those parts of him when I need them on my own journey. Today was obviously one of those days.

And it was all confirmed 100% when I walked back into the locker room after my run and heard of all things the familiar croon of Mr. Greg Dulli coming through the speakers. The Twilight Singers playing at Retro Fitness? Yes, on this night at this time, it was none other than the man himself. And I knew in that moment that I was figuring it out and that somewhere Joe is smiling.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Creating Space - 40 Bags in 40 Days

I'm participating in the 40 bags in 40 days challenge found on the White House Black Shutters blog. I decided on this as my Lenten discipline to be paired with a regular focus on this writing by William Arthur Ward:

My goal in doing the 40 bags in 40 days was to create more space in my life - physically in my house, emotionally in my heart, and spiritually in my soul. I'm on Day 3 and I'm shocked to say that it's already happening. I found myself just a little overwhelmed tonight as I filled up the rest of my first garbage bag and took out my 2nd load of recycling. Overwhelmed and accomplished.

So far I have tackled the following areas:

1) Two laundry baskets from my bedroom full of odds and ends. Believe it or not one of the laundry baskets included remnants from my son's Easter basket from last year.
2) The top of the small cabinet next to my front door. This included several dishes with candy (from as far back as Halloween) and a catch all container that had gotten way out of control.
3) The top of my bedside table which had grown into a version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a magazine rack which somehow ended up holding a Christmas gift I received in 2012 (still in its gift bag).

As I daily reflect on the fasting and feasting poem and do the work of physically making more space in my home I am seeing the results in a powerful way. As the spaces that surround me become less cluttered so does my mind. As I slowly organize the pieces of my life I can see a path toward balance where I was feeling chaos just a week ago.

And I know that Joe is smiling on this because 40 bags in 40 days is a Lenten discipline that he would have been happy to see me act on. Every time I hesitate over something, trying to decide whether I should throw it out or not I hear his voice in the back of my mind and it pushes me towards simplifying.  I'm thankful for that because I know that at the end of 40 days I will be at a place where there is space for so much more of what truly matters in my life.

Tonight after spending a relaxing evening with family to celebrate my birthday and completing my 40 bags in 40 days task for the day, I felt a unique peace. 

For some reason in the midst of that peace I was drawn to the two chocolate teddy bears that have been sitting in my refrigerator since Thanksgiving 2011. For more than 2 years now I have thought about but always avoided finally eating them. For Thanksgiving that year we bought a bear for each of us who came to dinner with our name written on it. Joe and I never got around to eating ours.

Maybe it was the spiritual frame of fasting and feasting. Maybe it was the emotional space created by all the bagging up of stuff. Maybe it was the fact that I was staring down another birthday and I just needed some damn chocolate. Whatever it was, I decided without hesitation that tonight would be the night.

So, with Algiers and then Faded by The Afghan Whigs playing on my iPhone and the movie Mannequin on the TV, I savored every single bite of those still delicious chocolate bears. And I cried. And I celebrated the creation of spiritual, emotional and physical space in my life. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Algiers, Organizing & Feeling the Feelings

I've felt the empty over the last two days. It doesn't happen often anymore, but yesterday when The Afghan Whigs released the first single off their new album Do to the Beast and came out with the trifecta of "B" city east coast tour dates I felt the tug at my heart. And tonight, when the ballots were finally counted and we had won the affiliation vote I had worked so hard on in overwhelming fashion, all I wanted to do was give him a call and shed a few happy tears.

These are the moments when the loss of my husband creeps back in and grabs on to my heart.

I listened to Algiers, the new Afghan Whigs song in the car yesterday morning on my way to take the little guy to my sister's house. It was perfect and before I knew what was happening I was zooming through the EzPass lane crying. Always a glutton for punishment, especially in the form of Greg Dulli's crooning, I listened to it at least 6 times on that car ride and many more times over the past two days. I don't tear up every time, but it always transports me to a place where I feel Joe there with me. I can't describe it, but there is just something about that song - and the fact that Joe isn't here to listen to it.

Along with the release of the single came some tour dates. The three east coast ones so far are mid-May and will move from Brooklyn to Boston to Baltimore - all at smaller venues, perfect for a memorable Afghan Whigs show. I plan to be at all three and I plan to have an amazing time with all the friends I made from the last go round we had in 2012. We are assured there will be more dates and I'm trying to be gentle with my schedule and my bank account so I can take full advantage. It's going to be a fun year.

As if the Afghan Whigs new single and tour dates weren't enough, yesterday and today were huge days at work for me. I've been working on an organizing effort with a group of 1,500 workers who were seeking to affiliate with our union. The voting has been taking place over the last two days and tonight the ballots were counted. After a long day, we won the count overwhelmingly 573-118 and as I walked back to my car I realized that the one thing I really wanted to do was call Joe and share the victory with him. But, I don't get to do that anymore.

Thankfully, the universe had given me a pretty good alternative. So I flipped through my iPhone and turned up the volume on Algiers. I let it repeat until it sunk in that life is indeed good and I have more love surrounding me than I ever could imagine.

I'm doing what I love and I'm doing it often and the truth is that I can't ask for anything more from this life than that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Journey to BQ - The 1st Five Weeks

I am now 5 weeks in on my training for the NJ Marathon. With 13 weeks to go I am certainly looking forward to training in warmer weather, but I am proud of how I have stuck to my plan in spite of the seemingly never-ending snow, a hectic work schedule, and nagging head cold. 

I am using the "Own It" Plan from the book Train Like a Mother by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell. This time last year I was using the "Finish It" plan from the same book to train for my first half marathon and during the summer of 2013 I used the marathon version of the "Finish It" plan to train for the NYC Marathon. Now that my goal is to qualify for Boston I have gravitated towards the plan which is designed for improving your time, aka, "owning" the marathon. Oh boy.

Here's the overview from my first 5 weeks of training:

Out of 24 scheduled runs, I completed 23. I skipped the run on New Years Eve day and while now I'm kicking myself a bit for it I hardly think that will be the blockade between me and a BQ, so I'm over it.

I have shuffled some runs on the schedule and once in awhile gone 1 or 2 miles less than the plan called for but I have also occasionally added some get up and go so I think it has all evened out. It's no exaggeration to say that I am already in the best shape of my life and that includes when I played sports in high school.

I live in New Jersey and my training started on December 23rd. The weather has not been my friend. I did 14 of my runs on the good old treadmill (mostly at the gym although occasionally on my rickety old one with a non-working display). Seven of my runs were on the road and 2 on the trail. My most hardcore run? Ten and a half miles on the towpath at sunrise on Sunday, January 19. The temperature at the end of my run was 25 degrees, but the sunrise was beautiful.
January 19, 2014 Sunrise Run along Towpath
I have run 156.34 miles in training at an average pace of 8'41" per mile.

My cross training of choice has been yoga - both at home and whenever possible at a class near my office. I have also been planking for several minutes almost every night to increase core strength.

I got some relief from the rough northeast winter when traveling to Florida for work and took full advantage of my time there by running every day. I was only sent to the treadmill by rain once and had another lovely sunrise reward for an early run.
On a 4-miler near my hotel in Boca Raton
Lest anyone think I am spoiled by my job, I have also spent some of my winter on projects in upstate New York and have made good friends with the treadmills there.

On my long run on January 12th I had my first encounter with a stray dog. I was running downhill at the end of my 2nd time around on a 5 1/2 mile loop and noticed a dog running around in the yard up ahead. I didn't think too much of it until I realized it was a pitbull and then I realized it was not fenced in and not on a leash. The dog started running towards me in the street and so I made a quick beeline to one of the neighbor's houses. I rang the doorbell and after a quick conversation determined that the dog didn't belong to anyone he knew on the street. While we were talking, the dog had turned to go the other way so I decided to return in the direction I had come (back up the hill) and complete my run in reverse. I'm sure the extra hill work didn't hurt, but it definitely left me a little hesitant to return to the route.

On Monday, January 20 I did a 4.85 mile run that put my total mileage run since August 2012 over 1,000. Watching my Nike+ app flip to 1,004 miles after that run was cool. So was thinking about all the places I could have run to with that mileage. Chicago. Nashville. Orlando. Montreal (and back). It's amazing to think that in just over a year I have run more than 1,000 miles, completing 4 half marathons, 1 full marathon and many other races along the way. It makes me that much hungrier for my next goal.

Week 5 was a 35 mile week on my plan. Week 6 will be 39 miles. I am  hoping that I will be able to do some of those miles outside - I'm especially praying that Mother Nature is kind for the 18 miles I have on tap for my long run on Saturday. While the treadmill certainly helps me to keep my pace regulated (read slow) on my long runs, it certainly doesn't help my mood. If I can end February with a 50/50 split between treadmill and outdoors, I will consider that a training victory.

As always it's my parents and my sister Karen who consistently make my running possible. For almost every run they are the ones watching my son and for that I am so thankful. I also have an incredible support network on Twitter and in real life so on those days when I would rather just skip a run I know exactly who to go to for a swift kick in the rear. It works every time. When I cross finish lines, it's with a whole host of people pushing me and I'm so conscious of that fact.

So, 5 down and 13 to go until April 27. So far away, yet so close.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Don't Stop Believin' - The Reprise

Prologue: On the first Sunday of 2013 I attended worship at Community Presbyterian Church and received an Epiphany star with a word on it as a part of the worship service. The idea was that it would be a word for us to consider in our life during 2013. When I returned home that Sunday, I taped the star to the top of the mirror in my bedroom so I would see it throughout the year and at the very least think about it. It became much more than just a word to think about though. In fact my word - BELIEF - became a central part of what God was doing in my life over the last 12 months. I wrote a blog post when I received the star and I think this post will, in many ways, bring the year full circle.
My "belief" star taped to my mirror
The Story: One of the most important things I have learned to do since Joe died is to pay attention to the people, places, and things around me, to do my absolute best to be present in my life. As I have done this I have discovered more and more moments of connection or as I simply like to think of them "signs". 

Sometimes it's as big as winning a contest for Opening Day Mets tickets (which happened last year) but sometimes it's as small as the perfect song coming on my random shuffle at the perfect time (which happened many times last year). To some, these things are simply coincidences. To me, they are a quiet whisper to "Don't Stop Believin'" and I love that the universe always seems to have a way to hit me with one just when I need it.

It's been a challenging two weeks for me. It started on Sunday, January 5th with this and never really stopped. This coming week won't be any easier, especially getting through it down one friend.

However, somewhere in the midst of it all, I have once again found a strength I didn't know I had and a peace I had never imagined. So much of that I owe to those moments of connection I have encountered along the way.

In the days immediately following January 5th there were countless calls, texts, tweets, comments, and messages of love from the many amazing people in my life. Time after time it seemed like just when I was about to crawl in my bed and pull the covers up or bang my head on my desk repeatedly, another one would come rolling in. I'm thankful for that. It gave me strength and it helped me to keep believing that things would get easier.

It didn't take long before the little signs started adding up to a flood of reassurance.

There was Avery Watts who tweeted about my December 5k in the 28 degree snowstorm.

Then there was the big news from The Afghan Whigs - almost as if Greg Dulli was responding directly to my tweet from that Monday. Just as I was getting ready for bed last Wednesday night came the notification on Facebook that The Afghan Whigs are playing at Coachella this year. I won't be going to that show, but the popularly held belief is that a Coachella appearance is only an indicator of more to come. Oh, what I would give for another Afghan Whigs tour right about now.
The Afghan Whigs play the 1st day of Coachella
Around lunchtime on Thursday, January 9th came the email that New York Road Runners was reopening the lottery for the NYC Half Marathon. One week later I received confirmation that I was accepted into the race.

Friday morning I got in my rental car to start my work day feeling the lowest I had all week. I had been in Florida for work since Wednesday morning. I was missing my son incredibly and couldn't stop thinking about my friend. It had been a rough week of work and all I wanted to do was go home. I plugged my iPhone into the USB and wouldn't you know it, the random shuffle came right upon Don't Stop Believin' - just what I needed.

My rough week of work got much better on Friday. My co-worker and I had a good day out in the field and I was able to stay focused enough to check a lot of items off my to do list. By the time the end of the day rolled around I was ready for a change of scenery.

I found myself drawn to CityPlace with its strong connection to Joe. It was there over drinks at Wet Willie's 8 years ago that I realized Joe and I would make it this second time around. I figured that I would have a drink at Wet Willie's and reminisce a bit before going to my friend's house for the night. My heart sank as I climbed the stairs to the bar only to realize it was no longer there. I almost broke down into tears and I almost turned around and left except that there was a guy playing some great live music outside at the B.B. King's Blues Club. I was drawn in so I found a seat with a good view of the music (& the spot where Wet Willie's used to be) and I ordered Joe's drink.

I spent a sweet hour there, remembering Joe and what it was like to share a true love that was until death parted us. It was a time of deep self-examination for me. Maybe it was the spot, maybe it was the music, maybe it was the gin and tonic - maybe it was the combination of all three - but it was also one of the few times over the last two years when I have actually felt Joe's presence and it couldn't have come at a better time. As I was paying my tab and getting ready to leave, I couldn't have asked for a better exit song.

I had one final moment at the PHL airport after flying home from Florida. I was walking out of the U.S. Airways terminal with too many memories swirling around in my mind. The tears were welling up in my eyes and I just started praying while I was walking. It went something like, "please God, my heart hurts and I want to find someone again who I can share my love with who will be able to love me back. Whoever that is and however that's going to come to be, I want it to happen." 

I kept walking out of baggage claim to wait for the parking company to bring my car around and I remember thinking that I already have so much love in my life. I thought about my son. And my family. And my friends. Yet even in that there is this space in me that knows how wonderful and full love with a partner can be and that longs for that again. Then, I reached the curb, set down my bags and saw this on the ground in front of me:

Some days you just need a little sign to get you through to the other side.

Epilogue: I called this post "The Reprise" for a reason. My first "Don't Stop Believin'" post was about my first ever 5k race and the meaning of that song for me after that race. It's hard to believe that was almost 2 years ago and that I have run 4 half marathons and a full marathon since then. The song has popped up at many key moments since then, most notably when I ran the NYC Marathon in November, but what stands out the most to me is how I never have a shortage of inspiring moments to pull me through my most challenging times. If there is one thing I've learned from having that star taped to my mirror all year, it's that no matter how bad things get I should indeed not stop believing because just around the corner...I'm likely to find another encouraging sign.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Ultimate Destiny

Last night I had a tough conversation with one of my best friends. He and I have become close over the past year and a half and up until last night it seemed to me like things were moving in a romantic direction, although at a snail's pace. The details aren't important, but the bottom line is that I had fallen for him...hard. 

He was a part of many of my biggest moments from this past year and again, without belaboring the details, I had hoped he would be there for many more.

But, the time had come for us to have "the relationship talk" and so last night it happened. It went pretty much the way I suspected (and feared) it would. 

Just friends. No romantic feelings.

And I felt the heartbreak and the anger and the loss well up inside me. I had already made a decision for myself that if the conversation went anything like this it would be my cue to dial back from the relationship for awhile. I have no idea how long that will be, but given that we would interact pretty much daily it's a big change even if it's just for a few weeks. I'll need time to deal with my anger, heal my heart, and get my mind straight.

Who knows how long that will take. I guess that's the danger of falling for your best friend - you risk losing out on the friendship too when the romantic part doesn't work.

Thankfully, I have an amazing support network including my mom who was full of hugs and a comforting backrub and two girlfriends who texted back and forth with me last night until I found the strength to get to sleep.

In the morning, it was another exchange with my little guy that got me right in the gut. I went into his room to say good morning and as soon as I saw his sweet face I felt the tears welling up. He knows his mommy and, of course, he noticed. He asked me why I was sad and I tried to give him the 3 year old version.

Then, this:

LG: Let me see what I can offer blankie or my turtle?

Me: "I'll take your turtle."

I reach for it and give it a big hug. He pets the turtle and looks up into my eyes.

LG: "Can I have my turtle back?"

I give it back to him and we turn on the lights inside of it.

LG: "I can hold your hand for a little while, ok mommy?"

Yeah, buddy, you bet. Then, it was time for another Jake and the Pirates serenade. This kid knows what he's doing.

Today was hard, but I've done hard before. I know that somehow, at some point down the road, things will be alright. I always knew this relationship was a long shot for a lot of reasons and I don't regret a single minute of it. I can't say I understand the progression of what has happened, but I do know that I can't control other people, only myself. And I will not let this keep me from doing all that I can to live my life to its fullest. And I'm determined to not let it hold me back from opening myself up to a future relationship. My life has taught me there just isn't time for anything less.

So, at the point this afternoon when I was most feeling like I needed to just reach out to my best friend, I know there was a Higher Power at play, because up popped a Facebook notification. A special friend had written a response to my 13 in 2013 blog post. The part that gave me the reassurance I needed was this...

"I stumbled across this quote recently. It is certainly appropriate to post it here since you are LIVING this..... “It's not what's happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it's your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you're going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny.”

The quote is from Anthony Robbins and it had me in tears and set my heart at peace. I can't thank Marieke enough for posting it at that moment, even though she had no idea what I was going through today. No matter how difficult things feel right now, no matter how much I miss my friend and wish things could be different, it's my decisions about how to move forward that matter.

And while the song I can't get out of my head right now is "Can't Stop Lovin' You" by Van Halen, at some point, it will get easier. This is going to be a painful time, but I have things to focus on - marathon training, my church, my job, my family. I choose to do that and hope that it leads me eventually back to my friend because I already miss him.