Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Magical Trip

Tom and I have just arrived back from our trip to Disney World. For me, it was my first ever trip to a Disney park. Tom has been to Tokyo Disney. When I told people that we were going, and that it was my first time, most people responded with "like ever? not even as a kid?". Nope.

My family chose to vacation in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where my dad had been going since he was 2 and where he and my mom met when she was on vacation there with friends. Our castles were in the form of sand, and the only characters we came across were crabs and frogs, and the occasional jellyfish. But I wouldn't trade that for the world. Those memories are the best memories I have. For me, Fort Walton was my magic place. I don't remember ever feeling really jealous of my classmates when they went to Disney, because we had our special place. I do recall thinking it looked pretty awesome on the Full House episode when they went to Disney, though. It wasn't until I was older, in high school and college, that I truly understood what Disney World was.

And here's the thing- I'm a Disney fan! I can sing along to almost every soundtrack, I know the characters and the movies, I love princesses and fairy tales and singing animals. I've seen almost every Disney movie. And yet, I never found myself traveling to Orlando to see what the hype was all about. Until now.

Tom and I booked a quick trip to celebrate our First Anniversary. The entire process of booking everything was overwhelming for someone who has never been, with all the logistics, the different types of tickets, fast passes, and dinner reservations. We decided that for us,it made the most sense to do 2 days of visiting parks, with the park hopper option. We did not do any dinner reservations and decided to just wing it when it came to meals. Trying to figure out timing about when we would eat and which park was too much.

We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and spent most of that day walking around our resort area, in Disney Springs, and on the Boardwalk. We got a little sprinkle of the Disney magic. We got our "Happily Ever After" pins at Disney Springs and immediately people started to congratulate us. On Thursday, we boarded one of the Disney buses from our resort to head to Magic Kingdom. When we entered the park, turned down main street, and saw that castle, it finally clicked. This is Disney. This is magic. This is where you can be a kid. People kept telling me that, leading up to our trip, but I did not truly feel it until I saw that castle and practically ran to the front to get a closer look. Magic Kingdom is where the nostalgia happens. It's riding the Winnie the Pooh ride to settle my stomach after nearly hurling on the tea cups. It's seeing Peter Pan in a crowd and skipping over to ask for a picture. It's singing along the words to Little Mermaid songs as you travel through the ride. It's running to meet Daisy and Minnie because you know your niece will love to hear about it. It's yelling "We're flying!" while riding Peter Pan's flight. It's getting a great spot for the parade and waving to the princesses while jumping up and down. It's riding It's A Small World and getting that song in your head. It's acting totally normal to do the Enchanted Tales with Belle when it's literally all children and their parents in your group.

After Magic Kingdom we headed to Epcot. Our first mission was to do the World Showcase. I had heard so much about the different countries, I couldn't wait to see it for myself. It's truly amazing, and almost overwhelming, how incredible and detailed it is. Our favorite was Japan, where Tom was born and spent most of his life. We tried a Chicken Terriyaki Bun and spent time in the Japanese marketplace. As we made our way around the world I loved how many options there were for food. Each country had a couple restaurants to try- plus it was the Epcot Food and Wine festival, so there were extra stands with smaller sample size items to try.  Epcot is also where we met my queens, Anna and Elsa. Listen, I fully embrace that I am a 31 year old woman who loves Frozen. I saw it twice in theaters and bought it on DVD the day it came out. There is something very special about that story, and the music. I was somehow a little nervous to meet these two, even though they are actors who are likely 10 years or more younger than I am. We loved meeting them, Anna was especially interactive and fun to talk to. We didn't ride on the Frozen ride, primarily because it was an hour wait and we were tired, hungry, and ready for a break from standing in the heat. But next time, it's on my list. Also, there are other characters sprinkled throughout the World Showcase. We quite literally ran into Mulan as she was walking to her spot to meet fans. We also saw Belle in France, and again, I would have waited in line because I am a Beauty and the Beast fanatic, but her line was in the direct, 95 degree sunlight heat.

After the World Showcase we rode a few rides, met Joy and Sadness from Inside Out, ate dinner, and then eventually walked back to our resort (Epcot was within walking distance, a huge plus!). We stopped on the Boardwalk to get a dessert, and realized that we had walked close to 35,000 steps.

The next morning, we headed to Hollywood Studios. We were looking forward to seeing Toy Story Land and all the Star Wars stops. Upon entering the park, we ran to Toy Story Land with hundreds of other people trying to do the same thing. That slinky dog ride? Already an hour wait when we walked up. We never did get to ride it, and it's another thing added to my list of things I need to do next time. But walking around Toy Story Land was amazing. The detail is beyond what you could even imagine. We enjoyed the alien saucer ride, and we had a fast pass for the Toy Story Mania ride, which was super fun! You basically are playing an arcade game while riding, and we both really enjoyed it. After Toy Story Land we got to explore the Star Wars spots, which included meeting Chewbacca, looking at props from the movies, interacting with Storm Troopers, and riding a Star Wars themed ride which Tom loved. We also met Olaf at Hollywood Studios. We didn't make it onto the Rockin Rollercoaster and truthfully I couldn't handle the Tower of Terror, so we decided to head out of the park and go to Animal Kingdom.

Originally, we weren't going to go to Animal Kingdom. We were going to spend Friday afternoon at one of the other parks again, going on rides we missed the first day. People told us that Animal Kingdom was "basically a zoo". I am so glad we decided to go, because we had a blast at this park! First of all, a lot of it is shaded, so even though we were still so hot, it was much better to walk around here under the trees. But it's a beautiful park! We didn't do the Avatar ride but we did get to do the Safari (and saw so many animals!), ride Everest, which may have been my very favorite ride, and we rode the indoor dinosaur roller coaster that was also super fun! The DinoLand part of the park is really cool for kids, too. I may not need to go back to Animal Kingdom, (except I would, to ride Everest), but I would for sure recommend going.

Instead of resting for the rest of the day, we went back to Hollywood Studios. Tom was able to watch a mini live Star Wars show and we ate dinner there. The line for Slinky Dog never went down, and the line to meet Mickey and Minnie kept going up, so we eventually did leave that park. If my feet had not been hurting so badly I think we would have stayed and waited in line for Slinky Dog and watched the Star Wars Fireworks. But I had blisters on three toes, and my feet were just pulsing with pain. So we took the boat back to the boardwalk, got a Mickey Mouse cookie for dessert, and went back to the resort to sleep.

And just like that, our trip was over. We were awake by 5 am to get to the airport.

Obviously, Disney is magical because you can be a kid, and you can meet all your favorite characters, ride some amazing rides, eat delicious food. But I think the most magical thing about the trip is that you literally feel like you are in another world. We never left Disney property, so we were surrounded by Disney at all times. I barely checked my phone, and only had it out to take photos and post them. I didn't keep up with the news or read any work e-mails. I just lived in each moment, taking it in, paying attention to the incredible details. As we sat in the airport to come back home I couldn't help but think about how every single person in that airport is either escaping from something, or returning home to something.

For us, "back to reality" means back to work, back to getting our finances on track after a little blip, back to planning for our future. It means back to our families and supporting our loved ones through difficult times. Back to eating healthy, going to bed and waking up at normal times. Back to being busy. Back to making memories with our family and friends. Back to us, one year of marriage down, infinity more to come.

We escaped for three days, away from all of the things that normally fill our days and our brains. And it was a beautiful escape. There is no one I would have rather experienced all of this with. I don't think there's anyone else on this world that I could have been my true self with on this trip. I would have hid my excitement. But with Tom I knew that I could just be me. And he smiled as I skipped around. He calmed me down when I got anxious about the crowds. He helped me when I almost got sick from the heat, making sure I rested and got water. When I thanked him for taking care of me, he just looked up and said "well, I'd be lost without you". I actually cried when he said that. It was one of the sweetest things he has ever said, and he said it so simply.  Sorry for that extra helping of cheese, folks, but I just know I will cherish that moment for ever.

I will cherish our whole trip forever. Thank you to everyone who gave us advice, who followed along as we posted pictures on Facebook and who encouraged us to take this trip even though it felt like the universe was against us going.

And thank you to Tom for being my best buddy, for going on this adventure with me and for encouraging me to do things outside of my comfort zone like ride scary rides and go to the bathroom on an airplane.

Until next time, Disney World! One day we will be back.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Tom and I took getting married seriously. For us, it was never about the party, or the dress, or the food. It was about promising to be there for one another, for the rest of our lives. I'm so glad we had (and still have) that mindset, because our first year of marriage certainly put us to the test.

Marriage isn't easy. I know this. I know that every single married couple has ups and downs that they must get through together. So I am not claiming that Tom and I are unique, or that what we faced is harder that what other married couples endure.

I'm just saying it was difficult. 

It was not difficult to love one another, support each other, to be there for each other.

But it was hard that I spent the first 5 months of our marriage in and out of our home, spending most of my time caring for my dad as he was dying. And then I spent the next half of our first year in a deep grief, with waves of anxiety and depression taking me under every so often. It was also hard that just when I felt like I was starting to get a grip on things, and feel really confident about our future, that we had a shake up with Tom losing his job. He found another one quickly, and we will get back on track to where we were, but those two weeks brought back another sucker punch of anxiety. 

Of course, there were so many moments of light amongst all of this. The sense of relief I feel around Tom is one that I cannot describe. He gently pulls me back when I start to step too far. He is my safety net.

I'm not sure what the next year, 10 years, 40 years (you get it) will bring. More challenges, I'm sure. But I know that we can tackle them, because I see what we did in just one year. I know that we can come out stronger. But I'm also sure there will be adventures, and new beginnings, and excitement. And in between both the heavy and the light, there will be the boring nights where we sit on the couch and watch Youtube videos. Because you need those boring, quiet moments to balance it all out.

We've had a messy, beautiful first year. We've had enough tears to fill an ocean. But we've made it, and we've been step by step with each other, in a crooked, not quite perfect stride. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Time turns flames to embers, you'll have new Septembers

For the past five years, my family has faced a rough September/October. It was five years ago, in September, that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was four years ago, in September, that my dad suffered his steroid psychosis and spent 6 weeks in the hospital. The two Septembers to follow? Complications that led to hospitalization. One of those included a brain surgery. Last September, he was hospitalized just before my wedding for shortness of breath/fluid on the lungs. He was there right up until my rehearsal dinner. It was only a week or so after my wedding that he went back into the hospital, and things began to go downhill.

Two really magical things have happened in September too, of course. One was that Tom and I became "official". That was right before my dad was diagnosed, so Tom has quite literally been there every step of the way. I also married him in September, and it was the absolute best day of my entire life, and he is the most amazing thing to ever happen to me.

So now it's September again. And she's brought her bad luck with her.

Tom lost his job, which has been heartbreaking and scary for both of us, as I wrote in my last blog. I know we will be okay, I know we will come out stronger, but that doesn't take away that this is a difficult situation.

Coupled with that, I have been suffering deep anxiety. I am experiencing difficult physical and emotional symptoms, ones that I would not wish upon anyone. I hesitate to share this kind of thing. I think that anxiety is something that is complicated, and difficult to understand. It's not just about being nervous or worried. I often feel deeply misunderstood with my anxiety, or that because I don't always seem like I am suffering to the outside world, it can't be that bad. Take it from me, it is that bad. Another reason I hesitate to share is that I do not want to be treated differently, or to be judged, for my anxiety. Even though I am struggling, I am still able to do my job, get myself to the gym, do the grocery shopping, and all the other tasks I need to do to get through. They just become 100x more difficult when I am feeling this way.

I push past the hesitation and open up because, well, we've spent way too much time shying away from being open about mental health. We still treat it like a secret, or something to be ashamed of. We're afraid to ask people how they are really doing. We're afraid to tell people how we're really feeling. So we just keep it in, which is only adding to the problems. We need to be more open. We need to understand that we are not alone, we need to understand that people in our lives need us as much as we need them. We need to be there for each other, to listen, and to take action when you know someone is suffering.

I go through these periods where the anxiety rattles me and keeps me captive. It happens. I usually know how to move past it. I have full confidence I will once again move past this, adding an extra layer of strength to my skin, ready to fight the next battle that comes. But just because I know all of those things, does not mean it goes away in an instant.

I know my anxiety is coming from Tom's job loss, combined with the past trauma's that September has brought creeping up behind me, trying to blind my view. It is like I am waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, so I turn nearly everything that happens into a worst case scenario.

When I get like this, here are the reminders that I tell myself, over and over, until I start to believe them:

It will be okay.
It's not as bad as you think it is. Your anxiety is playing tricks on you.
There is a logical explanation.
You have people that love you and support you.
You will get through this.
You are strong.

September may continue to deliver bad news, or maybe we'll get a break next year.  Anxiety, though, does not halt. It may slow down, or stay quiet for a while. But it will come back. And knowing that I have done this before is one of the key points to helping me to know that I can do it again. My anxiety is not a burden. It is not a weakness. It is part of who I am and it's made me stronger.

So there, September.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

24th Birthday

My cousin Laurence would have turned 24 today, if it weren't for cancer.  That's a hard concept for me to grasp, considering he was just 15 at the time that he died. 15, but known for being a humanitarian and a philanthropist. 15, with a passion for cooking, playing guitar, and soccer. There are so many paths that Laurence could have taken.

When I was 24, I was working my first "real" full time job. I'll never forget when a friend called me, celebrating the news that I got a job, and she shrieked "You have a door for your office and EVERYTHING?". It was all so exciting. According to my Timehop, on this very day when I was 24, I was making my dad watch Stomp The Yard with me. I was back living with my parents after a year of volunteer service, it wouldn't be until 5 months later that I moved out to live with a friend in a rental house. It just seems surreal to me that Laurence could be doing those very things right now. Although let's be honest, he would probably be the CEO of a nonprofit fighting against poverty, not watching Stomp the Yard at his parents house.

I miss Laurence deeply, he and I had a special bond and it is one that has continued since he passed. But I'll be honest, I've had a hard time truly feeling him lately. I begged Laurence for a sign today, on his birthday. I wanted anything, whether it be a U2 song on the radio or seeing a Florida license plate, or maybe something spectacular in the sky. I didn't get a sign. It left me feeling a little empty and sad. I wondered if I was doing something wrong. It made me feel lonely. 

Maybe I'm just not listening. Maybe Laurence is trying to show me what I need to see, but I am so consumed with work, with the news, with Instagram, that I am not seeing the signs as I once did. 

I'm not sure if it all works that way.

But here's what I do know.

I had made a promise to myself that I would always talk about Laurence and what he did. Laurence was a brave soul, speaking up for people without a voice. I can only imagine the kind of advocacy work he would be doing if he was still here. And although I may never be as brave as that 15 year old boy with brain cancer was, I do try to carry him with me. I fight for cancer patients because I hope that I can be part of eliminating cancer, so that 15 year old boys can play soccer with their friends and create new recipes in their parents kitchen and play guitar in their basement without having to worry about getting to chemotherapy appointments or having brain surgery or signing onto hospice. His fight has powered my fuel to keep fighting to end cancer. And to make life easier for those who are battling cancer.

My signs may not be as obvious, or I may not see them as clearly as I once did with all of life's distractions, but my connection to Laurence will never lose it's spark. 

Maybe Laurence is being a little quieter right now so that I can truly grow, listen to what is inside of me and run with it. 

All of this is a great Mystery, and it's part of what makes life and death so beautiful and complicated. Aren't we so lucky to have these kinds of things to wonder about and awe over? It's incredible, how connected we all are. 

Happy 24th Birthday, Laurence. I wish you were still here on earth so that we could all be putting your campaign signs in our front yard or taste testing meals at your own restaurant or sitting in the front row at your concert. The grief of what could have been is a difficult one to handle. So we'll hold onto the beautiful impact you left while you were here. What a gift you gave us, buddy. 

Maybe you and my dad could watch Stomp The Yard tonight. And yes, Dad, I heard the thunder as I wrote that. Nice dad joke.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A New Road

Just last week, I started toying with the idea of blogging again. It started when someone commented on an Instagram post and asked if I had ever considered starting a blog or a podcast. I told her that I used to blog, but I stopped because I felt the posts were getting to repetitive, and that I had been using the #365daysofgratitude tag on Instagram for the past couple of years to replace my blog posts. I thought about her comment all week, and by the end of the week, I had come up with an idea for a podcast. I even started jotting down notes and investigating how I could record without spending thousands of dollars on equipment.

At the same time that this was happening, I was reflecting on my amazing summer. I posted a fun slideshow of photos and wrote about how much the experiences I had this summer meant to me, and that I felt truly lucky to have had them.

And then, not even 24 hours after I wrote that post, we found out that my husband lost his job. I felt everything get swept up underneath me as I fell apart. I cried for him, because he truly loved his job, and he worked so hard. I cried for us, because we've had an incredibly difficult newlywed experience already. I cried because I was scared, we have worked really hard to build up our savings to buy a house and I feared losing it all and never getting the house. I worried that this would mean we would delay having kids, and what if we never have kids? I selfishly and maybe childishly cried because we have plans to go to Disney for the very first time in our lives in a few weeks and what if we have to cancel? I cried because he was hurting. I cried because I felt helpless. I cried because I couldn't fix it. I cried because I felt insanely guilty about all those summer adventures I had just spoken so highly of. I cried because my dad isn't here to tell me that it's going to be okay and to give me his best advice. For two solid days, I cried.

Those two days felt like hell. Like I would never get out of that mindset and I would never feel calm again.

But somehow, like I always do, I pulled out of that. I'm not suddenly calm and worry free, but I am confident in the team that Tom and I have built together. We are a unit, we always have been, and we will move forward together. It will not be easy. Anyone who has ever had to search for a job knows how hard it can be. But we will not cave, and we will fight through this together.

I think maybe that's what my dad would have told me. To be there for each other through this. He'd also tell Tom to stand tall and stand proud, and remind him to follow up on applications and send thank you notes when he has interviews. And he'd remind us over and over again, that it will be okay, to take one day at a time.

To me this is another reminder of how surprising life can be. The next big thing, whether it's good or bad, is always around the corner, and you are never fully prepared for what it will be. So while this may test Tom and I in a way we were not expecting, maybe a really grand thing is coming for us. I've got to hold onto hope that our next turn is a bright one. It might be rocky along the way, but knowing that we are by each other's side, picking each other up along the way, is going to be our saving grace.

So here we go.... a new adventure. Maybe this will mean more blogging, maybe it won't. I'm just glad I'm living this life with him, I couldn't imagine it with anyone else.