Lake Life

20150703_113836“Hey. You probably already have Fourth Of July plans…but would you want to come to our lake cabin this weekend…?”

“Yup.”

Previous plans are irrelevant when the words “lake” and “cabin” are involved.

Whitney and Landon (Whindon) are my favorite married friends. They are also my only married friends. But don’t let that diminish the weight of their awesomeness.

Landon’s grandpa built this house in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin back in 1940 something… and the place has not been touched since. Whitney refers to it as “glorified camping.” But it’s on a lake, with a dock, and it’s free. So I could care less that the sink water smells like sulfur, and the wallpaper is peeling off, giving it this creepy dollhouse-vibe. At least the place has running water.

How much is that Doggie in the window?

How much is that Doggie in the window?

20150704_17580620150703_151419My only price for entry was a case of beer and some chips. Someone had already been assigned the meat and cheese, or I would have offered to get that, too. Can’t have a weekend in Wisconsin without 16 pounds of summer sausage and cheddar cheese.

I got into town around 8 on Thursday, and by 8:15, I was at the local watering hole, Black Oak Bar, with an Old
Fashioned sour in hand and an order of cheese curds and ranch on the way. By 10 PM, I knew the whole town.

I. Love. Wisconsin.

We woke up on Friday and did what we always do after a night out with Whindon: we used the breathalyzer. What was a gag gift, has proven to be the most comical and valuable tool in all party settings. Only one of us was sober enough to drive to get fishing bait. I’ll let you guess who.

So we fished (AKA watched Landon put leeches on the hook and cast the poles for us), while the girls laid around tanning and stopping Bella from jumping off the boat. I’ve seen few things as comical as a 15 pound dog growling at waves…

Doggie Life Vest!

Doggie Life Vest!

In typical Wisconsin fashion, we went out for Friday Fish Fry, then headed to the barely-there-airport lawn for 20150704_031341fireworks. Then back to the Black Oak Bar, where we said hi to all our best friends from the night before. Ya know, askin’ Brenda how the kids are and such.

The rest of the evening is a mix between hazy and crystal clear incriminating disaster. Maybe we will leave it at “you just had to be there…”.

The rest of the weekend was typical Lake Life activities. Tiniest Fourth of July parade I’ve ever seen. Being pelted by kiddies throwing tootsie rolls as hard as possible. Hangover burgers. More fishing. Lots of beer. Consuming all 16 pounds of cheese and summer sausage. Card playing. Selfie sticks. Shake & Takes. Making up dialogues between the glass ducks that decorate the living room window (decorations that Landon’s mother has forbid anyone from touching). Profane pictures and stories that I’ve purposefully left out. Some of these things being more typical than others…

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Selfie Stick. For the WIN.

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Dezzy is Whit’s little sister. And the closest thing I have to a spirit animal.

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The infamous Shake and Take

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Don’t be fooled. This little baby was hefty. We threw everything we caught back though. Apparently Whindon only believe in catch and release…a tactic that still doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I am still too traumatized from deer hunting. I thought all “catches” ended in a kill…and a meal.

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Thanks Whindon for an unmatched Fourth of July weekend and for exposing me to the glorious place known as Land O’ Lakes. I hope the Black Oak Bar will let us come back.

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I’m a Grown Ass Woman

Maybe it was the brutal winter finally ending. Maybe it was the increase in Vitamin D. Maybe it was Mercury finally leaving Retrograde (I don’t even know what that is, but the Internets were all about it last month). Maybe it was something about the one-year anniversary of breaking my face. I don’t really know what happened: but I woke up one day and realized I was an adult.

I don’t even know if #adulting is what I am doing. I’ve always had a strong will, but I’ve never been this proactive with execution. It’s like I’m on some personal growth tornado lately. If doing what I want, when I want to do it, is the definition of #adulting, then I think Adult Melissa is going to be okay.

I think the real catalyst was moving apartments. I was sick of living in the dungeon“Garden Level”, and a unit opened up on the 2nd floor. It didn’t have a renovated kitchen, but it had windows that let in sunlight, three massive storage closets, and a perfect wall to hang my bike. Sold.

10940580_10153434229346992_8063212977676706598_nIn the past, moving has always been made possible with the assistance of men. From freshman year on, I’ve always enlisted the help of (read: bribed) boyfriends, my friend’s boyfriends, my Dad, my brother – anyone with the mental and physical capacity to weasel a 7 foot couch through a 6 foot entry way. But I don’t think it is any coincidence that Adult Melissa and Single Melissa are co-existing – and so I found myself with limited males to ask for help. Instead, I asked Courtney. C has been my go-to girl for 5:45 AM spin classes, caffeine fixes, work lunches, happy hours, nightly trivias, free concerts – you name it. I knew she could handle lifting a dresser. So it was just me, C, 953 trips up two flights of stairs, and a case of beer. Five hours later, and that shit was on lock. No dude to carry the couch. No guy responsible for hanging the pictures. No boy bossing me around about “best moving practices”, as if it was in their DNA and not mine…Just me. And C. Cuz we are grown-ass women.

Consider this a PSA. Moves can be made without men. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. But it can be done.

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20150628_064055Who run the world? Girls.

So here I was, in a gorgeous new apartment, with access to my old unit for another six days. Empty, vacant, and the closest thing I would have to a “Woman Cave” for easily the next five years. It was the perfect time & space to finally re-finish my coffee table.

20150620_111843This beast has been with me since college. I couldn’t let it go because of its brilliant design (Grand Central…you were good for something…). The top of the table raises – doubling as a dinner table. So you can shovel food from plate to mouth, withouts spills, while watching Netflix. This table has lived in four different apartments, and has benefited four different men in my life – who all offered to help me re-finish it someday. I got tired of wishing and waiting on Mr. #5 to come around, so I got up, rented a power sander at Ace Hardware, bought paint and sealer, and made a masterpiece. Complete with adorable, matching Anthropologie knobs. For four years, this coffee table’s appearance has plagued me. And in just five hours, I had a shiny new table that was all mine. And yes, I ordered Pad Thai and shoveled it into my mouth that night while watching Netflix. Cuz I’m a grown-ass woman, and that’s allowed. I am woman. Hear me roar.

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Dexter vibes, anyone?

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Brilliant, no?

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20150627_175525The next few days were filled with similar triumphal events. I went to the Farmer’s market and bought herbs for an indoor plant garden. Because I wanted fresh mint for summer Mojitos. And I picked up a hanging plant, because why not?

I ordered a new credit card so I could rack up better bonus miles for some serious 2016 travel plans (cough cough, Janelle, cough cough), and the first thing I purchased was a pontoon rental for my birthday. I’ve never driven a boat before, but hell. If I can use power20150621_083507 tools sans injury, I can surely figure out a pontoon.

Then I ordered new sheets from Pottery Barn, because they were on sale, and I wanted them. I wanted nice sheets, because I deserve nice sheets, dammit!

I tried a new coffee shop on the south side of town, and sat there for three hours, sipping on a honey latte and reading. Declining all social invites, because I really just wanted to read.

I bought a new car. I went to four dealerships in two days. I got my Mazda appraised. I researched the car I wanted, I weighed the options, I negotiated, and I made the informed, educated decision to lease a Honda CR-V.  Car payments will be less than thrilling, but I did it on my own. And I did it for me. Because I needed to. And I wanted to. And I could.

20150701_191032As if all the above wasn’t enough of a transformation…I finally decided to get my tattoo. Because I am evolving. I have evolved. Even from where I was six months ago. I worked with a designer, I went by myself, and I did it for me. Because I wanted it. And maybe in some weird way, I needed it. Because it is a declarationof me. Of who I am. Of who I am becoming. Of what I love. And I am finding a deep love for myself and my capabilities – far beyond what I thought was possible.

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I’m learning to be unapologetic for who I am, and what I want. Maybe I’ll look back on this phase of my life and wonder what the hell I was thinking. But I’ll have no one to blame but myself. And that is weirdly empowering. All these choices are mine.

Disclaimer: even as a Grown Ass Woman, I still hope to find a Mr. #5 some day. Because I know how much I love giving love to someone. Being able to love & share with someone is part of who I am. And finding that will be a much needed missing puzzle piece. But for now, I am learning what it feels like to be my own biggest fan. To do what I want, when I want to do it. To confidently, and competently go about living my life fully. To be enough for myself. To have everything I need, right here, with me.

I’m okay with being my own #1 right now. And I am okay with showing myself all the love I need. And I think that is what #adulting is. I think that is what it means to be a Grown Ass Woman. You know how to love yourself above all.

I don’t know what came first: the chicken or the egg. Did I become a Grown Ass Woman, and then love myself? Or did I love myself, and then become a Grown Ass Woman? Don’t know. Don’t care. I just know that whatever stage of life this is…well…it feels damn good.

Cheers to 25! See ya on the pontoon!

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When You Live Next To a Pizza Place

wbgleason_1320770307_ScreenShot1158_1When you live next to a pizza place, your decision making process for meals becomes infinitely easier. I could put on shoes, walk to the grocery store, spend a minimal fortune on mislabeled organic produce, walk back, cook something, accumulate dirty dishes, and eat the leftovers for weeks because cooking for one is hard (especially with a mother that always cooked enough food to feed rural African villages. My portion judgment is a little skewed).

I could even do the above, but drive instead, cutting travel time in half.

Or. I could walk the 19 feet to the pizza place, most likely sans shoes (and bra) because they know me, and I ain’t trying to impress anyone anymore.

Screenshot_2015-06-10-10-21-39I’ll get my usual slice and side salad. With ranch. And extra ranch. And toss the box for easy cleanup. Dumped into a garbage can that is already filled to the brim with identical pizza boxes from everyone else in my building. It comforts me to know I am not alone. The struggle is real.

The Uplands: the presenting Sponsor of Pizza Luce in Uptown. Keeping your favorite, local pizza joint in business since 1999. And drunkenly entertaining (annoying?) your employees from midnight to 3 am.

I’ve formed a special bond with the Pizza Luce crew. Once I popped over for a beer before a party, stopped by for a slice after the party, and then appeared again with a friend an hour later so she could get her slice post-party. ThrIMG_20150301_021213ee times was enough to warrant questions from Mario. I can’t make this stuff up. His name really is Mario and he makes pizza. Mario now makes me swans out of tin foil to cover my ranch when I visit. There is some under-appreciated talent in this world. I tell ya.

I think an ultimate low (high?) point was using a Pizza Luce delivery driver for a ride home. What’s even worse – this was premeditated and planned. Ashley wanted pizza. I wanted to go home to my bed. So our brilliant solution was to order her a pizza, and then force politely ask the driver to give me a lift back to the motherland (approximately 9 blocks away). He said it wasn’t the weirdest request he has ever gotten, but it was up there. I hope Ashley tipped him well…

2408atg-w800h800z1-44881-all-i-care-about-is-pizzaAnd yes, I got a slice when the driver brought me back to Pizza Luce.

Sometimes I get really ambitious and pre-order a meatball sub for pick up, rather than do the by-the-slice approach. But even that takes some serious planning – and contradicts the ease of having Pizza as a neighbor. I want what I want, when I want it. And 99% of the time, that is pizza.

Basically all I care about is pizza, and like two people. Mario being one of them.

In my previous post, I talked a lot about my involvement in the yoga community in Madison. I think I’ve become an integral part of the pizza community here in Minneapolis. I’m not that upset about it. Maybe Pizza Luce will sponsor my pizza tattoo. Brand ambassador for life, yo!

story of my life. literally.

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Yoga, and Horses, and Baked Beans, Oh My!

1914226_485799904797914_1558731836_nHally Marlino played a pivotal role in my life while I lived in Madison. I first met Hally when I was working the front desk at Inner Fire Yoga, and she was teaching. Hally is a self-proclaimed “Blue Collar Yoga Teacher.” She loves beer & cheese. She radiates a gentle confidence, and has an undeniable aura of authenticity. And she is a regular writer for Yoganonymous – because she is a word wizard. I knew Hally was my kind of person right when I met her. When it comes to my criteria for idols – Hally hits every nail on the head.

I religiously attended her classes on Monday mornings. And every other class I could attend. I was also working for lululemon at the time, and Hally was conveniently a lululemon ambassador that year. Her weekly visits to the store were always a joy – as we’d spend longer than my manager appreciated talking about our love of yoga, bike riding, blogging, and stretchy pants.

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11225352_969074289778212_7470546479656812136_nLeaving Madison was tough, because I felt like an integral part of the yoga community – one that included so many admirable teachers, now turned friends. I’ve done my best to stay in touch, whether attending a class when I am in town, or stalking via social media. Hally makes the stalking easy because of her active presence online – which is how I stumbled upon the most glorious event in the history of events. Coachella has nothing on this.

A day retreat in Mauston, WI. A trail ride on horses, followed by lake-side yoga, followed by beers and barbeque. It’s like Hally combined everything I love into one Super Day. I cleared my schedule and immediately signed up.

My trek from the cities was a bit longer than those of my comrades from Madison. But I watched the sunrise as I drove south east, drank a large hazelnut iced coffee, and listened to “The Best of the 90’s” on the radio.

I passed my favorite Wicheese foodsconsin landmark. The “CHEESE food” sign. The CHEESE sign – double the size of the Food sign below it. Signifying what I still love most about Wisconsin. Cheese is it’s own category, and it takes priority.

I pulled into Woodside Ranch just after 9 AM – where Hally’s husband and son were waiting with vegan breakfast cookies and cinnamon rolls. I expected nothing less.

First task was choosing a horse. My eyes were fixed on the tall stud, last in the row. His coloring looked like a peanut butter & vanilla parfait. I inquired about his manner. “Oh, Apache? He’s got some zip to him. You’ll have a good ride.”

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And so Apache and I spent the next ten minutes bonding and taking #horseselfies. He didn’t seem to mind.

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Not a cloud in the sky, 72 degrees. A day destined to be perfect from the start. With the exception of the flatulence contest that seemed to be taking place between Apache and his comrade Spitball.

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20150606_111002After a serene ride through the woods, we laid out our yoga mats for a “Hally Special” as I like to call it. A completely blissful slow-flow vinyasa practice, with essential oils and aromatherapy. Hally had brought chilled spearmint & chamomile cloths, to lay across our foreheads while in savasana. Seriously Hally? Was there anything you didn’t think of?

And perfectly timed, waiting for us across the way, was a gourmet barbecue provided by Woodside Ranch. Burgers, Brats, Cucumber Salad, Macaroni Salad, Potato Salad, Baked beans – and complimentary beer. Some of us had ventured there with partners in crime, and others of us had ventured there solo, because of a mutual love for yoga, horses, and Hally. So the picnic table conversations were not just pleasant – they were real. And easy. And fascinating. It’s like I was right back at the Inner Fire yoga desk, being blessed by the presence of other like-minded individuals that honor the divine spark in everyone they meet. AKA Namaste.

Namaste Hally! And thank you for a day that lifted my spirits and scratched an adventure itch. It was a day of doing exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. And I am so glad that simultaneously aligned with your dream day. I hope this is the beginning of an amazing event series that will grow and flourish beyond your wildest dreams.

If anyone is interested in participating in a Yoga + Horse day retreat, I think there may be a couple spots left for a July and August session. Check out all the details at http://yoga-beast.com/

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The Day I Took My Ex’s Sweatshirt To Goodwill

Melissa Faulkner:

Little known fact about me: I reserve my serious writing for Thought Catalog.

Whenever I write something serious or vulnerable (read: about love), I keep it safely inside a Google Doc folder, where it can’t see the light of day. But I usually submit it to Thought Catalog first. It’s therapeutic. It’s emotional release. It’s a diary – but better. I can share my words and deep feelings – without any consequences. Because shocker: I never get published. Thought Catalog probably gets 3,000 submissions an hour. So I can confidently submit my words without repercussion. And it does feel nice. But today – that game changed. I was published for the first time ever. And despite the content, I am damn excited. And damn proud. Nothing compares to the feeling of having my words read and appreciated. So cheers Internet! Enjoy seeing inside my soul!

For full article, click here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/melissa-faulkner/2015/05/the-day-i-took-my-exes-sweatshirt-to-goodwill/ 

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

I had forgotten about your sweatshirt’s existence. I was looking for an extra set of sheets – inside a polka-dot canvas box, high on a corner shelf inside my closet. I don’t venture there often. My high school water polo parka lives there. The one that is conveniently Packers Green and Gold. I wore it to our first Packer game, and you ridiculed me for wearing “tampons” on my feet (I found out the hard way that Uggs are not waterproof…)

My suitcase lives back there. The new Michael Kors suitcase I bought for my first business trip to Europe. The last time I had been to Germany was with you. I was hundreds of miles away from that city, and yet I still found myself walking through Munich, reliving inside jokes. Like the fact that you can’t go to a karaoke bar in Germany without hearing Oasis Wonderwall.

I…

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Winthrop, Washington

If you drive three hours northeast of Seattle, you will find yourself in the grand Northern Cascade region. Mountains have always fascinated me. Something about being so small and insignificant is strangely comforting. LIke the details of life are so irrelevant – who you are, or who you were before you succumbed to the will of the mountain. Because in those moments (and hopefully hours & days) that you are in the wilderness, you are at the grace of the snow-covered beasts. They will decide your short-term future. And you simply just have to be there and adapt to whatever they decide to throw at you.

DSCF9569Goals are simpler when you set out to climb a mountain. Take in air. Stay hydrated. Keep your limbs dry. Have KIND bars on hand. Get to the top. In fact – I’m not even sure getting to the top is always the goal. Just get somewhere. And get back in one piece.

Now – I know it sounds like I’m talking about some Everest excursion – but Maple Pass was my own kind of Everest. At least in October of last year. And it did not involve nearly the amount of prep work that Everest requires.The only prep work was an e-mail to my friend Andy. “Take me to this picture.”

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I had been in Seattle for work, and the pictures of Andy’s Cascade excursions had teased me long enough. We set out from Seattle with two Whole Foods breakfast burritos & some beef jerky. My hiking gear consisted of lululemon crops, a rain jacket, and some old Nike tennis shoes. There was only so much I could fit in a carry-on for business and leisure…

20141011_141308Before we hit the trails, we stopped at Mazama General Store – which was basically Little House on the Prairie meets Ina Garten. I picture my mother running a store like this. Pristine, organic, locally grown vegetables. Hand made gourmet cheese and gruyere baguettes. Apples the size of my knee. Specialty coffees with choice of soy or almond milk. And alpaca placemats available as souvenirs for a whopping $30. I guess when you are the only inhabitants for a 9 mile radius, you can charge whatever you want for alpaca placemats.

It was at Mazama General Store that we ran into Doctor Capp. Capp turned out to play a pivotal role in my Washington adventure. Capp is Andy’s local physician in Seattle – and it really threw them both for a loop to see each other in such alternative contexts. Capp and his wife are 5 foot 9 packages of solid muscle and steel. They just reek of physical fitness and mountaineering skills. They advised us to take on a smaller pass that day – seeing as Maple was reported with snow, sleet, and dismal views. Having no intention of hiking multiple days – Andy and I decided we’d already come that far. It would be worth it to wait an extra day. We’d do the smaller trail Capp suggested, and tackle the famous Maple Pass loop tomorrow.

Two hours later, utterly soaked, and cursing Capp for showing us a road to a piddly little lake (oh, and possibly getting us murdered by a solo hiker from VT in short jorts…), we made plans to refuge in Winthrop, Washington.

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If you drive just one hour past the Cascades, you will find yourself in a western lookalike town.

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DSCF9396Winthrop, Washington looks like it belongs in southern New Mexico – or more so, in Disney Land. The place seems totally unnatural. Like a Hollywood movie set, meant to depict the Wild West. As if a fake rattlesnakes should adorn the wooden plank sidewalks.

But there was an extra room available above the Mexican cantina/motel. It had hot, running water. And there was a beer nearby. We were sold.

I’ve never been much for clubs and seizure-inducing light shows. But put me on a barstool at the local dive bar, and I come alive. The people watching. The decor. Their stories. How did they get here. Why haven’t they left? What makes them tick? Could there be some secret essence here that I am meant to experience?

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DSCF9400The reason they all came? Opening day of hunting season. How naive of me to think hunting was confined to to the Midwest… It seems I cannot escape the hunting life wherever I go (see previous post: 7 Misconceptions I Had About Hunting). Two older men gave us sound warning: “Ohh yahhh. Hunters be all over dees days. You bettah wear blaze orange tomorrooh if ya know what’s good for ya.”

I’m sorry….what? Are you serious right now?

Did these old men have a Sconnie accents, like they vividly do in my memory? Likely not. But my mind still plays tricks on me when I think back to the Twilight Zone that is Winthrop, Washington.

There would be no risking it – serious or not. Andy and I purchased two blaze orange skull caps from the Winthrop General Store. And I picked up a cotton sweatshirt that looked like something from a Billabong catalog.

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The picture I was taking, while the above picture was taken. So. Metta.

DSCF9546We love your hats!” can probably still be heard echoing through the mountain ridges of Maple Pass – as Andy and I traversed the narrow trails like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in matching blaze orange beanies.

But. We did not get shot. Or mistaken for deer.

And who did we find also traversing the narrow trails? Doctor Capp and his wife. And dog. All three of them sprinting. Yes – you read that right. Apparently mountain running is a thing. You run up a mountain, and you run down it. Capp was headed the opposite direction as us – meaning he had already gained 2,000 feet in elevation, reached the 6650 foot peak, and was 3 miles away from finishing the 7.6 mile loop. In under 3 hours.

Some people.

Some people AND their dogs…

It took Andy and I a bit longer… and there was no sprinting involved.

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DSCF9576We went from desert sand in Winthrop, to wet, cool forest at the base of the pass, to snowy tundra at the peak. And back again. In 7 hours. Between the sweat and lack of proper attire, I was once again soaked from head to toe.

Ya know that feeling after a day of skiing? It’s maybe 2 in the afternoon, and you know you need to get some fuel in you if you expect to do any more runs. And that bite of rubber, tire-like burger and non-melted Kraft Single from the rest lodge is the best damn food you have ever eaten in your whole life? Like the Food Gods themselves had blessed that burger with only heaven-sent ketchup and holy mayonnaise?

That is how I felt about the pasta carbonara we devoured back in Seattle that night. There is no sweeter ecstasy than the first meal after a return from the wilderness. After the mountains have allowed you to leave unscathed, looming in the rear view, reminding you that your small, simple existence is nothing compared to the grandeur they see and the roots they hold.

I might have left unscathed, but I left the Cascades a little taller. With a little more appreciation for being small in scale, but powerful in nature. Powerful by human nature, and powerful as a piece of the nature that surrounded me for those two days in Winthrop, Washington.

My picture of the picture that started it all. Full Circle.

My picture of the picture that started it all. Full Circle.

*all photo credit given to Andy Brawner: http://andybrawner.com/Photography

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I Had To Go To Europe For Work

20141202_142324I recently had to go to Europe for work.

Now – let’s just get it out of the way and acknowledge how downright pretentious that sounds. It’s just oozing with jerk.

So if you will now allow to me to clear the air, I’d like to counter-act the jerk with some sincere and utter gratitude for said opportunity.

I am beyond grateful for this experience, for reasons that go so far beyond “OH EM GEE. BUSINESS TRIP TO EURO!!!”

Work has done nothing short of save me these last few months. For those of you who follow this blog – you know the kind of year I had. 2014 was less than stellar for me. It started with a move to a new city – ripping me away from everyone and everything I had formally known. Then there was an extremely painful breakup with the person I thought I would spend my life with. And then, to top it all off – I broke my face. Having my cheek and eye socket reconstructed with metal plates was definitely not how I envisioned spending my summer.

As I’ve mentioned in a lot of previous posts, healing from trauma is measured in months, not weeks. And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic – all of 2014 was traumatic for me. And coming back to a still-foreign Minneapolis after my accident was not an easy task. But I’m a big believer in the “fake it til you make it.”20141202_113854

So I poured myself into work when I returned. It was the perfect distraction from everything clouding my head (physically and metaphorically). It was the only thing that made me feel normal.

As Q4 approached, business picked up in general. It is just the nature of the beast. And everyone in our company felt it. But the intense workload and pressure did more than keep me busy. It gave me a sense of worth and purpose – in a time in my life when I frankly felt worthless and undesirable. Work tasks were tangible problems, that I could objectively solve. Rather than the subjective matters of my heart and soul.

My daily work decisions were about the only thing I could put confidence in. And I was glad to devote my brain to work – the motivation being immense gratitude for a company that provided me short-term disability during my entire recovery. That benefit was just something I signed the dotted line for – and it ended up saving me. You never think you will need such a thing, until the day you need it. And I was grateful to have an employer that provided this benefit. And I felt the need to give back to the company that had given so much to me.

The accident put a lot of things into perspective for me – and work was a huge part of it. My job, my capabilities, my brain, my circumstancece, my growth potential, my benefits – all of it seemed to be in a different light when I returned post-accident. And I knew I owed it to the company to give everything I could after how gracious, supportive, and understanding they had been throughout the whole recovery process and beyond.

Fast forward four months from w20141205_114638hen I had facial reconstruction. And I am sitting in a beautiful hotel in Munich.

20141205_181532My intent of this post is not to paint myself as some marketing goddess. My intent is not to brag, or boast, or build myself up. All I am saying is that while I was on a train this afternoon, drinking a Hefe Weizen and eating some Brie, I started to cry.

I can feel myself in the middle of a change. I am in a very static place right now. I can feel
my mind and my heart shifting, and it all hit me today – as if the Deutsche Bahn train itself had catapulted into my heart.

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.”

I read this quote 18 times a day when I first returned to Minneapolis. I was depressed for countless reasons, and I read that quote every day, convinced that I would some day believe it.

And it was on the train from Füssen today that I think I began to believe it.

This year has done a lot of molding. And it still is. But I can feel myself in this state of change. I can feel myself being molded. Static. Changing. Growing. Learning. And in some ways – coming to peace with 2014.IMG954296

So what is the point of this post? To share my heart. Because life was meant to be shared. And these moments are meant to teach us, right? And I find I learn best when I write. And I feel best when I share.

I am so grateful to be in a career field that allows me to travel and meet brilliant people from many cultures and pasts. I am incredibly grateful for a working mind – that allows me to communicate, network, engage, produce, and create the things I ultimately love. Which is relationships. Relationship building is the basis of my job, and the reason for this European trip. And it has been extremely rewarding to be in this field – both professionally and personally.

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Doner. My long-lost European boyfriend.

I am grateful I took this job in Minneapolis one year ago. It set the stage for a lot of change in 2014, but it has helped teach me to love myself again. It has helped me feel like I bring value to the world. That I am capable of doing a lot of things. That I am capable of standing tall and strong – even when I am alone. That I am okay – just as I am, in this moment. This moment being alone in a hotel room in Bavaria. I am proud of myself in this moment. And I didn’t get to say that a lot in 2014.

Stay tuned for more on the EU travels. Like the time I was eating a stick of brie cheese. Gnawing on it like it was a hot dog. And crying. While sitting across from an Italian family. I gave the daughter a Hanuta cookie as peace offering for my strange behavior. Her parents wouldn’t let her take it. Sounds a little more comical than life changing now, doesn’t it? #crazyAmericans

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The Time I Tried To Date JJ Watt

It wasn’t hard to spot JJ Watt on UW Madison’s campus. It didn’t really matter if you “knew” him, because anyone that went to UW during those two years “knew” him. They’d shared a class with him, spotted him on the sidewalk, heard his name fill Camp Randall (Said like Lil’ Jon: WATTTTTTT), or caught glimpses of him on a moped. Think Tommy Boy. Big man on a little moped. Hilarious.

Professional Family Portrait ya'll. In Badger gear.

Professional Family Portrait ya’ll. In Badger gear.

Now…I don’t want to taint my college years and proclaim to the world that I was some kind of “jersey chaser”. Any female that says they didn’t perk up when seeing an athlete in their class is lying. We were all jersey chasers to some degree. Even the guys.

And honestly, my only defense is “I got it from my mama.”

Anyone that knows Lydia knows how much she LOVES her Badger sports. Her screams on game day can be heard all the way from Boston. She tends to shop around from season to season…but the player that has continually captured her heart is JJ.

It couldn’t have been more than 2 minutes after a post-game interview that my mom texted me. “You should date him.”

4cf1bca2509b9.preview-1024Yeah, sure Mom. I’ll get right on that. Me and every female on this campus.

My mom was serious. A week later she sent me a “Just Cuz” care package – filled with a beautiful scarf and earrings. The note was signed, “A little something for you to wear when you run into JJ!” Subtle, no?

At the time, I was taking Portuguese classes at UW. Little known fact: but Portuguese is the class all student-athletes are assigned to if they have no foreign language background. Why? The woman that wrote the textbook is the private tutor for the athletes. No big deal.

How did I end up in this class? Well, technically I came to UW as a student athlete. I was recruited for rowing, having never rowed a day in my life. One ACL tear later, and that dream ended. But I was still enrolled in Portuguese, and the athletic department actually let me continue using the student center for after-hours Portuguese help. Not sure they appreciated me using the computers, free printing, and free snacks for a good six months after I quit rowing…but….details.

4c8bc87d78a44.imageSo. There I am. In Portuguese class. With 25 other student athletes. And Louis Nzegwu (also a UW Football player), starts telling a story about his roommate JJ. And that’s when my wheels started turning.

Christmas was upon us, and I wanted to give my mother something sentimental. What better gift to give my jersey chasing mother than a signed photograph of JJ Watt – her dream man. At this point in JJ’s career, it was clear he would be going places. At the very least, the picture was bound to earn my mom some cash in later years. So it was really a two-fold gift.

I asked Louis if JJ would be willing to sign a photo for my mother as a Christmas gift. He didn’t seem too alarmed by my request, so I told him I’d get something printed for him to pass along.JJ Watt JPEGAt the time, Google Images of JJ Watt were pretty slim pickings. Aside from his UW head shot. I opted for a field candid. Side profile. Signature arm bands. Black eye paint. I mean…honestly…it was pretty sexy.

I still remember the look on the Walgreen’s cashier’s face as he asked “Are these your 8 by 10 photos of JJ Watt?”

Um..yes. Yes, those are for me…

Sometimes I am clever and witty. But only sometimes. And as I was placing the photos in an envelope to give to Louis, genius struck. I put a post-it note on the photo that said “If you ever want a signed photograph of me, here is my number. ”

It is only years later that I have realized the awkward and bizarre implications behind that post-it note.

And so a week passed. And then one day Louis strolled into Portuguese with my envelope. Inside was the signed photo…with the post-it note still attached….

I wish JJ could have at least humored me and taken the post-it off….

Don’t worry JJ. No hard feelings. You can do no wrong.

DSC_0074Christmas morning came. My mother was ecstatic with her gift. I am pretty sure it lives on her nightstand. Next to my parent’s engagement photos.

Because. Badgers.

I ran into Louis and JJ many months later at College Library while they were promoting a blood drive. I have no memory of what I said to JJ because I completely blacked out. Something like “I’m that girl…that…well…..”

Perhaps my brain blocked the memory on purpose. It’s too difficult to relive.

I’ve still made subtle efforts to rekindle the flame. My former roommate Leigh (UW Madison soccer star extraordinaire) has run into him a time or two in Texas. While I was recovering from face surgery, she asked for my address to send a little something. I asked if that “little something” could be JJ. She said the shipping would probably cost too much…

So needless to say…I never did date JJ Watt. I dreamed big, but I’ll admit, I didn’t work very hard.

Time to Google “What do rich people look for in a future wife…”

*all joking aside – congratulations to JJ. Any former Badger can be proud of another former Badger, whether they “knew” each other or not. Another reason why UW Madison is the greatest place on earth. We’re all family. Keep killin’ it JJ.

JJ-Watt

 

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Saving Face Part Two

One week post accident

One week post accident

When it comes to trauma, recovery is measured in months, not weeks. It has been six weeks since the initial fall, and five weeks since my facial reconstruction surgery. If you could assign a percentage to my healing process, the doctors would say that my face is about 50% healed.

If you could assign a percentage to my emotional healing, I’d say that’s about 10% healed. Getting back to work this week was a true testament of how far I have come, and how far I have not.

Since my return to Minneapolis, everyone has reacted as expected. “You can’t even see the scar!” “You look beautiful as ever!” “You look great!” “You don’t look any different than before!”

My initial reaction is to jump into a dramatic episode called MTV True Life: I Shattered My Face. “You think you know, but you have no idea.”

My cheek is still swollen and puffy. I have four metal plates in my face – including one supporting my eye ball that the doctor compared to a Lay’s potato chip. My eyelid has a scar across it that makes me look like I got in a knife fight in prison. The stitches in my mouth haven’t dissolved. The feeling has yet to return across my cheek and scalp – making for awkward meal times, brushing my hair, and applying lip gloss.

My left leg is one giant mass of hardened blood. It’s gross to touch.

My shoulder is as good as a limp noodle.

But.

I can walk. I can type. I can see. I can drive. I no longer need narcotics for the pain. I am able to use a treadmill. I can still sing. I am still fully able to live alone in my adorable Uptown apartment. I can cook meals for myself. And I can still think. Some days are better than others, but my brain still works.

And so does my heart.

10392520_10152388805173640_2638462995214832988_nA big part of the healing for me is processing how to move forward after feeling all this love, attention, and care. And I truly believe the only way to truly process this is to Pay It Forward.

The accident has caused me to think a lot about the kind of person I am, and the kind of person I want to be. It’s caused me to think a lot about identity, and beauty, and what criteria is important in the concept of “self.”  It has caused me to think about what is important in my life. And by what, I really mean “who”.

And by important, I mean the idea of placing someone else’s needs entirely above your own. No strings attached. No hidden agenda. No Catch 22. Just putting someone else first. Maybe for a good reason (like an accident), or maybe for no reason at all beyond “Just Because.”

So many people have put my needs first, over their own, time and time again over this recovery. And I believe the greatest thing I will learn from this experience is how to fully love.

I’m not necessarily talking about romantic love either – just loving people because. Not needing a reason, or a fact sheet, or a give and gets checklist. Just loving others because loving others feels good. And sometimes there doesn’t need to be much more to it. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason.

Of course Meatball came. Registered "therapy" dog.

Of course Meatball came. Registered “therapy” dog.

My mother and father dropped everything to be there for my surgery. Jobs, clients, trips, vacation plans – everything. I mean, you could argue that parents really forfeit their lives entirely the day they bring children into the world. My parents have put their kids before their own lives every moment of every day since we were born. This accident was no exception. And I wasn’t the easiest patient to deal with. Immediately upon waking up after the anesthesia, I told the nurse “Don’t let my mom touch my face. She’s a kisser. Don’t let her touch me.”

My mom was standing right there.

That night I may have sworn a time or two (or twenty) from the pain. My mother’s response was to rub my feet.

Making the most of a broken face on my birthday.

Making the most of a broken face on my birthday.

Matt made the drive to Madison countless times to help take care of me and attend to my every need. It was only recently I learned that he was supposed to be on a house boat during the majority of his one-month summer vacation from school. I am sure there are MANY things that would have been a lot more enjoyable than preparing my breakfast yogurt and watching Pretty Little Liars. But he never complained once.

Am I the kind of friend that would give up a house boat vacation to take care of someone just because they needed it?

I don’t know if I am. But I want to be.

Will I be the kind of parent that will alter all my life goals for the sake of helping my children attain their goals?

I don’t know if I will be. But I have the best examples that a daughter could ever ask for. My dad has always said “My dream is for my kids to chase their dreams.”

I hope to be that kind of parent.

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20140727_123905My brother Steven opened up his house to friends, family, and strangers alike for more than a month – never even thinking twice about it. Talk about having your life completely disrupted and all your privacy invaded. My little sister got coffee and lunch with me every day – and let me crash any social engagement she had, even if it was weird to have your older sibling tag along like a lost puppy…

20140807_220827Am I the kind of sibling that can open up my doors and every other aspect of my life to accommodate my brother and sister’s needs?

Am I the kind of person that is willing to feel uncomfortable for the sake of helping someone else be comfortable?

I don’t know. But I hope I can be.

I’ve lived most of my life believing the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.” I’m not sure I can find a reason for breaking your face. But I can find a reason for needing love and devotion, like the kind I received from everyone the last several weeks. The reason is to send that love right back into the world. And be the kind of person that people were for me when I needed them most. To be like my parents, my siblings, Matt, Jenn, Janelle, Bailey, Mickey, and Jake – and countless others.

People have always said “You don’t know how strong you are until you have to be.” I always thought this phrase pertained to an individual’s struggle and trials. But I am beginning to think it has nothing to do with the individual. You don’t know how strong and capable you are, until you have to be for someone else.

Saving Face is beginning to feel a lot more like Saving Heart.

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One day before I returned to Minneapolis.

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Saving Face

sf 2 It started out as the greatest weekend ever. Five best friends from college. One storybook cabin. Set on the most picturesque lakefront in northern Wisconsin. A whole weekend to play and laugh – and pick up right where we left off since the last time we were together. We had been planning the reunion weekend for months, and things were already sublimely perfect that Saturday afternoon.

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We were taking turns on the rope swing – the same one Bailey and her family had been using since she was a young child. The first time was certainly intense, but everyone successfully made the jump from the wooden platform to the deeper part of the lake. All our fears were subsided. Mine included. But it turns out that the third time really is a charm – and on my third jump, my legs caught hold of the land, and I was dragged into the water, landing face first on a rock in the shallows. At least that is how it has been described to me. I immediately got a concussion and have zero recollection of the next 2 hours of my life.

I’ve had some time to deal with the trauma of breaking my face and losing all physical components of my identity…but honestly? The one trauma I cannot even begin to comprehend is the one shared by my friends, as they had to drag my unconscious body out of the water. I wish this kind of awful event on no one – and my heart goes out to beautiful, incredible souls that were there that afternoon. Yes, already my best friends. But my love and connection to them has grown leaps and bounds because of this incident. I will forever be in awe of Bailey, Jake, Jenn, Janelle, and Mickey – and all that they did for me that day and have continued to do for me every moment since.

I know everyone went into immediate action mode – from retrieving me, stabilizing me on land, calling 911, and following me to not one, but two hospitals across northern Wisconsin. My first undeniable gratitude goes to Jake Dahlin – Bailey’s boyfriend.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had been hoping for a pure girl’s weekend at the cabin. I knew it would be fun regardless, but I was still being a whiney 7-year-old girl at the time and craving alone time with the girls. But Jake’s presence that weekend is proof that everything truly does happen for a reason. If Jake had not been there, I am not sure I’d be typing this right now. He remained completely calm and collected in the face of this tragedy, (a trait that does not come naturally to us girls – sorry ladies) and was able to pull me from the water with the help of Bailey and Jenn. He kept my head and neck completely stable while my blood fell on his lap. I will forever be grateful for Jake and the immense support he provided to my friends as they dealt with this unforeseeable accident. I’m sure this statement is against a feminist code somewhere: but I am so happy a male was around – and one as capable and caring as Jake.

I know that Bailey and Jenn helped cradle my body as well – while Mickey and Janelle called 911, and waited for the ambulance. Not only did these girls have to deal with the trauma of the moment, but they also had to deal with me being a relentless bitch when I finally came to.

You see – I am the go-to girl in the group. Or at least I usually like to think so. Whatever you need – physical, emotional, or mental – I have you covered. I am always in control. So when I woke up on a hospital bed with a neck brace, a morphine drip, and a bloody swimsuit, I went into hyper anti-vulnerable mode. Post-concussed Melissa apparently started barking orders at my friends – demanding to know where crucial things were like my air mattress and my sparkly headband.

You know. Important things.

You wouldn't want to lose that sparkly headband either!

You wouldn’t want to lose that sparkly headband either!

This reaction apparently helped soothe my friend’s concerns. I was certainly acting like my typical, sassy self. And if you ever get the chance – ask them for their take on my hospital visit. It’s a tragedy turned comedy. I apparently requested a beer at one point….

Only one girl was allowed in the emergency room at a time, and they all took their turns holding my hand, rubbing my head, and assuring me that I was going to be okay – despite my sass bucket attitude.

Mickey held my hand tightly, and did not flinch once as the doctor had to suture my eyelid. She even prompted me to use my yoga breathing to deal with the pain. The thought of her saying those words brings tears to my eyes still – because she knew exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. And she didn’t flinch when I proceeded to projectile vomit all over the room from the pain meds…

And then there is Matt.

No questions asked, Matt traveled an hour and a half on a Saturday night to be with me in the hospital. The girls had been through enough between Minocqua and Marshfield, and Matt took the reigns. He immediately dropped everything to come to my aid. He stayed with me all night in my hospital bed – through countless episodes of pokes, pricks, pukes, pain meds, and tremors. And lying in a twin hospital bed is no easy task for someone that is 6 foot 7….

20140720_130419When I was finally allowed to eat the next day, he went all over Marshfield colleting every item I could have ever wanted – Culvers custard with hot fudge, pulled pork sandwich, bacon cheeseburger, Burger King fries, hash browns– and the ultimate care package filled with Band-Aids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen – everything. It was later we learned that my recovery would take a lot more than Band-Aids. I would need to have facial reconstruction surgery to repair the multiple broken bones across my cheek and eye.

And so the train phone began. To my brother in Madison. My parents in Boston. And everyone else from California to Denmark. It was difficult for me to communicate with anyone – so Matt became my impromptu nurse and my telephone operator, making sure my parents were constantly texted, called, and informed until they could be there themselves for the surgery.

Pretty funny how it takes breaking your face to make you realize that you are the luckiest, most loved individual on the planet. The love and gratitude that I have for everyone that has been by my side since the moment I fell astounds me. To the point that I can barely find words to continue.

I mostly wanted to write this post to say “Thank you”. Thank you to everyone that has shared their time, thoughts, words, prayers, and compassion with me. It has not gone unnoticed. It may seem like a simple text to you – but it means the world to me. Because words mean everything to me. So thank you to everyone that has shared their words. Thank you for reminding me that home is not about a location. It’s a place in my heart where all your love lives. Thank you for brining me home.

More to come on Saving Face…

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