Tuesday, August 18, 2015

muck talk.

In less than 2 weeks, I will be mucking it up at MuckFest MS through 19 muddy obstacles over a 5K course with my team of both ill- and well-prepared MuckNuggets, all to raise funds and awareness for the National MS Society.

...man, this is hard to write... here we go. As you may or may not know, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a little over 3 years ago. MS is a chronic and often debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system. It can cause an array of symptoms; MS is unpredictable and affects every individual differently. I have been fortunate in so many ways. Fortunate to have excellent medical care. Fortunate to have the most incredible support system. Fortunate to be feeling really, really good. (Not to brag, but have you seen my yoga moves?)

I first heard about MuckFest MS last fall. I had seen ads for Walk MS and Bike MS and Run MS, and always thought, "Nope. Not me." Partially because I hate to run, don't have a bike, and barely tolerate walking to the train to get to work. But then I got an email about MuckFest MS in Chicago. I thought maybe I could do that. It looks like a muddy jungle gym. I love playgrounds. It was almost a year away and registration wasn't for months, but I forwarded it to my sister and said, "Maybe would you do this with me?"

For the next few months, I went back and forth about whether I really wanted to do it. It wasn't the athletics that were holding me back, either. A few weeks after I was diagnosed in 2012, the Walk MS event was in Chicago. I considered it for a moment, but I wasn't even ready to accept the diagnosis. I didn't know what MS was going to look like for me in 3 weeks - in 6 months - in 2 years - in 5 years... I was too afraid to be face to face with any "worst case scenarios." I was already living my worst case scenario. Worst case scenario at that time was just having MS at all. I wasn't ready for more.

Now after three years, three different medications, countless needles and banging MRI machines, cutting out gluten (mostly), rotating vitamin combos, and one hilarious spinal tap (thanks to Todd), I kind of feel ready to do something public. I wasn't hiding from my diagnosis. I didn't avoid it if it came up in conversation. But to participate in the community is something completely different.

So I bit the bullet. I registered and started a team. And the next thing I knew, we had a crew of 14 Chicken MuckNuggets! I didn't initially plan to do any fundraising, but the reaction from my friends/family and their enthusiasm to join me in this muddy adventure lit a fire inside me. To date, we have raised $3,000 in support of the National MS Society and their mission. Every time we receive a new donation, no matter the size, my heart fills with pride and love and so many feelings. My eyes well with tears every. single. time. I am overwhelmed by the generosity I have seen from people. And "Thank You" just doesn't even begin to express the extent of my gratitude.

Like I said, I am fortunate in so many ways. I have been living with MS for over three years. I have accepted my new reality for now, but the thing that keeps me from fearing the next "worst case scenario" is learning about the medical breakthroughs that happen everyday. I believe that we will find a cure for MS in my lifetime. That is where all of these fundraising dollars are going. To end MS forever. But for now, I am celebrating my health at MuckFest MS next weekend with my incredible team, who I love so much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for being a friend.

To make a donation to our team, visit my fundraising page!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

getting unstuck.

I'm stuck. Not stuck in a sad way, but stuck in that way you get stuck when you are anticipating the unknown with both excitement and trepidation. I have passed a number of milestones in life already, but for some reason this next chapter has me standing like a deer in headlights.

According to the rules of life, I am a grown up. I am over 30, employed, insured, married, and I just finished paying off my car loan. Writing it out like that makes it look way more responsible than I actually feel. There are still many things that I don't do that a grown-ass-woman probably should. Like make dinner occasionally (on the stove or in the oven - not in the microwave), get out of bed before 11am on the weekends... or before 8am on the weekdays, shower regularly (kidding... not really...), go to the dentist, maybe to the gym, maybe the unpack those last few boxes from when we moved two years ago... am I painting a clear picture for you? For every responsibility there is an equal and opposite irresponsibility. Isn't that what Newton said? No?

We have one year left on our current lease, and while we love our apartment and our neighborhood we can't help but think forward to the next phase of our life. Do we buy something and put our money towards property that we own, or continue renting until we are ready to leave the city? When would we want to leave the city? And that leads to the question that people inevitably start asking after you've been married for two years (if they've even waited that long) - what about kids? When? How many? If we buy a house next year, would we regret leaving the city so soon? If we buy a condo, it would need to be baby-hauling friendly. Babies don't care if they have a yard, but I definitely care about lugging a stroller and other baby accouterments (oh, and also the baby) up and down multiple flights of stairs - no matter how gorgeous the balcony may be and how close we are to the Square. Can we even afford any of this? How do you know? WHAT IS A BUDGET?

Picture me now like when Dr. Grant and Lex are nose to nose with the T-Rex in Jurassic Park: "Don't. Move. He can't see us if we don't move." "He", in my scenario, I suppose would be Life? Father Time? The Responsibility Monster? It's hard to tell. At least I'm not being chased by a T-Rex. We've gotten away from the point.

I think I am so afraid of making the wrong decision that I have found myself too afraid to make any decision at all. I can't even help decide where we should go on vacation this year, because it all seems too overwhelming. What places do we want to see "before we have kids"? What about before I am pregnant? Will I be pregnant next year?? Oh god, should we take a BIG trip this year? Oh god, is this our last summer before we're having kids?? And now it's August and we have made no plans. Any suggestions?? Seriously. I need help.

I know this probably seems frivolous to some, and maybe relatable to others, but it's where I'm at. Feeling like I've hit a roadblock and I'm stuck here trying to figure out how best to climb over it (ladder? chair? catapult?) and what could possibly be on the other side, when I should really just walk around it and let things happen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

dirty thirty. like dirt.

So yes, maybe I have been working on this post for the past 12 months. But I really just couldn't handle how special my 30th was. So get ready for a LONG post with LOTS of pictures, which were taken exactly one year ago.

Last year, leading up to my 30th birthday, I painted my nails dark red and realized that my hands now look like my mom's. Not as much as my sister's do, but that's because she got Mom's craftsman skills and uses them every day. I had gotten my hair cut short again while I was visiting Justin in AZ for his/Todd's birthdays at the beginning of October, and his stylist told me my grey hair was "perfect." It's not so bad being 30, I thought.

I was feeling good about my birthday weekend - but also apprehensive. Like, excited nervousness. You see, many years ago I showed Todd a cake and said, "Todd, this is the cake I want you to buy for my surprise 30th birthday party." And that was sort of the end of it. We joked about it a couple times in the following years (i.e. I dropped not-so-subtle hints about my "surprise" 30th birthday), but I gave him no direction whatsoever. Just a cake. Earlier in the year, I knew he was starting to plan something because I straight up asked him, "Are we going to Disney World for my birthday? I just have to know so I don't make a disappointed face, even if I'm not actually disappointed with what we are doing." He said no. So I made the disappointed face. But he said it was because he wanted more of my friends to be able to come. I was sad we would not be celebrating at The Happiest Place on Earth, but I was also really excited to know that he was actually thinking about it and trying to make plans.

And then I started to psych myself out. I always pictured seeing my best friends' faces and laughing and drinking and smiling all night. But all my friends had just come to Chicago in May (you know, for our wedding), and I would not, could not, be mad at them for missing a birthday party after just traveling to be a part of another super special celebration. So I was mentally preparing myself for something smaller than I had originally pictured, and was practicing my "happy-face". I knew Todd was working so hard to plan something special, and whatever it was going to be would be just right. When it came time to pack, he said, "Pack for Wisconsin." I said, "Wisconsin? Like inside, or outside?" And he said, "Yes." Cool. Thanks for the help.

On the eve of my birthday, we left work and drove to his parents house. I had been texting with Justin all afternoon about how Todd was taking me to the woods for ritual sacrifice on my 30th birthday. Todd was stressed out because there was traffic and "we had dinner reservations." I really knew something was up when we pulled in his parents' driveway and the kitchen window shade was closed. (It's never closed. Something was happening inside there!) We walked in the front door, and his parents were sitting in the living room, very suspiciously nonchalant. I gave them hugs and kisses, and then as I walked past the kitchen, I hear "SURPRISE!!!" in two of my favorite lady-voices! I turn around just in time to be jumped on by Shay and A, who flew from NYC and DC. Oddly enough, the first face I actually saw was Matt - Shay's new bf, who I had not yet met - and I remember thinking... "Oh hey, Matt is here waitaminuteWHAT??" and then I was tackled.

My mother in law had prepared quite a spread - as usual - so we sat down to eat and give my heart a rest, and Todd went out to the car to get our bags. When he came back in, I turned around and following him through the door was Justin. That jerk had been texting me all day in airports. I covered my face with my hands and he teased me with some profanity not fit for in-laws. When I looked up again, there were Brandon (brother) and Shane (bf) right behind him. They all flew in from Phoenix just for me.

After things settled down, I asked if this was it. Like, this is plenty. So many people I love - (and I knew Dom and Kristen were joining the next day from Chicago) - just hanging out all weekend in Milwaukee. I'm good. This is so good. But no. One more surprise tomorrow, and no one would tell me where we were going. So the next morning, we packed up again and hit the road. It was a beautifully sunny day to turn 30. We drove west from Milwaukee into the depths of Wisconsin for about 45 minutes and got off the highway in the middle of nowhere. We went down country roads, and I was pretty sure the ritual sacrifice was becoming a real possibility. We turned down a residential road and I saw a lake and thought "Aww, lake house! Yay!" When we got to the end of the road there was a very cute old sign for "Wandawega Lake Resort" and I said "Todd, look at that cute sign! Did you see it?" And then we turned into a gravel drive. I saw an open field with archery... and a tire swing - omg... and a TREEHOUSE... and then I screamed at him, "WE'RE AT CAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMPPPPP!!!!!" I was grinning from ear to ear, jumped out of the car and ran to the tire swing shouting "Somebody push me!" Yep. That's how I turned 30 years old. On a tire swing.

In the last year, Camp Wandawega has blown up in the media. They have been all over the blogs, in the news, on an episode of Tree House Masters. It's incredible. But at that point, I feel like it was still relatively under the radar - except I had seen it before. I had pinned this image of my dream grown-up treehouse. And there it was. Right before my very eyes. And that evening, after Kristen and Dom and Leah and Dianna had all arrived to join us for archery, tire swinging, treehouse mimosas and dinner at a "Friday Night Fish Fry" (which is apparently a thing in Wisconsin), we sat at that very table under those very lights in that very treehouse and Todd brought out my birthday cake. Not only did I open my eyes and shout "MY SPRINKLE CAAAAAAKE!!!" but when we cut into it, the cake was a Golden Delight. Just like the ones at every single graduation party from high school. You know the ones: light angel-food style cake with whipped cream style frosting layers that have sliced strawberries laid in them... My mouth is watering. It was a deliciously happy-accident on his part. (See what I did there?) My mother-in-law was in charge of the cake, and I believe his main instructions were just "Covered in sprinkles. Like, no icing should be visible." They nailed it.

The rest of the weekend included bunking in the old "hotel" building (aka "house of ill-repute") with incredible lake views, hot whiskey-ciders made on the vintage stove, hikes (yes, a couple friends got briefly lost), one exhausting canoe/row-boat outing, hanging out in tee-pees, bonfires, dirty-catch-phrase, and spending 4-5 straight hours taking turns on the rope-swing over the lake set to the weekend anthem: "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus. It really is the perfect rope swinging song.

I want to go on and on. But this post is already approaching 1,500 words. That's probably longer than any college paper I ever wrote. (I didn't take very many hard classes, obviously.) I honestly could never say enough about my 30th birthday weekend. Todd pulled off the most unexpected surprise, and the most incredible weekend I could have ever imagined. If I hadn't just married him a few months prior, he would have been a shoe-in at that point for sure. I rode the wave of that joy for 12 solid months. To be honest, I still am. I can't wait to celebrate 31 with some of my Wandawega campers this weekend. I just feel so blessed. (Not like, #blessed. Like, actually blessed.)

Long live Wandawega. xoxo

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

live and let go.

I usually try to keep things pretty light around here. I'm very aware of the whole "your grandkids may be able to clone you based on your internet life that lives in the cloud" theory. I want them to clone the best possible version of me, and leave the bad stuff in the past where it belongs.

Speaking of leaving the stuff in the past, I have a serious issue with letting go of things. Not even emotional things - I'm actually pretty good at the whole "forgive and forget" way of living. I'm talking about silly things like ticket stubs from a baseball game that I randomly attended with friends, cheap-o jewelry that is tarnished and out-dated, thrifted t-shirts that are waaaayyyy too small because "maybe my kids can wear them!"

I can attach an emotion or a memory to anything. And it makes it incredibly difficult for me when things happen that are out of my control, and I am no longer in possession of one or more of my belongings. I've had two Jeeps stolen since living in Chicago. The first had my favorite bathing suit in it, an awesome red igloo cooler, newspapers from the day after Obama was elected president and a book of my favorite CDs. The second had less. Todd's first Ray-Bans that I bought him and my Walt Disney World Mickey antennae ball from my 2003 road trip w/ Lindsay after our freshman year of college. Each time the car was found completely stripped with nothing left but a milk crate where the driver's seat should be. People are terrible.

Last week I was pick pocketed for the first time in the 10 years that I've lived here. I was having lunch outside with my back pack on the back of my chair and someone stole my wallet, a compact mirror that I gave to all my bridesmaids at my wedding, and my make-up bag (it was leather and probably just looked like a clutch). All this happened right behind my back. I feel violated and vulnerable, but mostly heartbroken over my leather wallet that I bought for myself when I first moved to the city, my gold dive card that I earned in 2001 that cannot be replaced (the new ones are blue. and stupid.), the playing card that Justin slipped in my wallet as a practical joke because magic makes me nervous, and the spare key to my mom's old Jeep that my dad saved for me when he finally sold it last year. Thinking about these things makes me cry. People are terrible.

It's hard for me not to just let this turn into a tail-spin post of how horrible people are - how they need to get a real job and earn their own money and not steal from people who work hard. That can lead to a lot of controversial topics that are really just coming from the heightened emotions of my own heartache. Bad things happen. Sometimes it feels like they happen all the time. And only to me. I know that's not true, but I feel like I've had my fair share so if the world could just lay off for a while, I would really appreciate it.

I need to bring this back around. I feel myself going down that tail-spin I mentioned. Basically, a lesson that I have to re-learn every time something like this happens is to let go. Let go of the physical things. They don't take the memories with them when they are gone. I have those. I will remember Justin's tormenting sense of humor without the 4 of clubs. I will remember my first dive and getting certified with my sister at 17 without my original gold card. I will remember that white Jeep Grand Cherokee and every memory made in it for 15 years without that key I carried around in my wallet.

Even before this happened, I had mentally been trying to prepare myself to "purge" at our house. I've been watching friends as they prepare their house for the arrival of their baby, and have been thinking about all the things I have carried with me from apartment to apartment. All the things "I need to save!" but have been feeling less attached to as I continue my new life with Todd. We have unpacked boxes of photos and trinkets and mementos, and they're all mine. I feel guilty that our house is filled with my clutter. Boxes of things that were important to me once as I tried to hold onto every single moment, as if they all needed to last forever. Moments that no longer really matter. They have made me who I am, and I am grateful. But I want our house to be filled with our memories. Our family. Our friends. Not with boxes of my past. I do not need every tiny t-shirt that I once fit into in high school. I do not need the key chain "ticket" from senior prom. Every time I lose something that I most treasured, these other items I've held onto become even less important. If I can keep the memories of my most loved treasures without the actual physical thing, why am I holding onto all of this other junk?

It's hard for me to learn this lesson over and over and over again. I couldn't even leave a towel at the bottom of the ocean, for pete's sake. (See previous vacation post for that reference.) But I try. Or I am trying. Or I will try. One of those. My heart still breaks though. And it hurts.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

the name game.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I got married last year. What's that? Only like a million times? Ok, well then we're all up to speed now.

Well, one whole year and a month or so later, I'm finally looking in to what it takes to legally change your name. Todd and I had a few conversations about it before we were married, and he's never pressured me to take his last name. It's not something that either one of us came into this feeling that strongly about. We didn't feel like sharing a name would make us any more or less married and committed to each other. But to be honest, the main reasons I've postponed doing anything about it until now is convenience, travel and sheer laziness. Apparently, in order to change your name on a plane ticket (since they would have to match my new ID and passport, obviously), airlines will charge you upwards of $250-300. JUST TO CHANGE THE NAME THAT PRINTS OUT ON THE TICKET. Ugh. I mean, I'm in the ticketing business. I get it. You don't want people just buying a bunch of tickets and then selling them for more money and changing the name. But still. If you can prove that you are the same person who bought the ticket, and just changing your legal name, there should be some kind of exception. So anyway, since Todd and I already had a couple of plane tickets purchased through March of this year, we decided I would just wait until after those trips were over so we didn't have to pay even more money just so I could be "Mrs" instead of "Ms". And then we booked that other (super amazing) trip for May... so it got pushed back a few more months.

And that was okay by me. I mean, it is actually really frustrating and complicated. And even after you've jumped through the hoops of legally changing your name with the Social Security Office and the DMV and the Passport Office, it gets really overwhelming when you start to think about the number of other places/organizations that you still need to notify... utility companies, banks, credit cards, insurance, employers, post office, doctors' offices, voter's registration, schools... It's crazy how many places know who you are.

That's when the laziness kicks in. I like my first, middle, and last names. They've done me right for 30 years. They're great. I like being SEM. But I'm also really excited to have a new chapter of life as "Mr. and Mrs. Garcia". It's pretty cool. People might even think I speak Spanish. (I don't.) But do I drop my last name and keep the first+middle? Or do I drop the middle and make my last name my new middle name? Or do I go for broke and keep them all?? I've been practicing my new signature to see what feels natural. And if I kept them all, can I have two middle initials? Or would I have a double last name, no hyphen?? The possibilities are endless!

Has anyone else been at this crossroads, or did you dive right into the name-change and never look back? Any tips or super secret short cuts or loopholes you found to be helpful? Has anyone else done the double-middle name?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

sun days. fun days.

Our dad loves boats. He finally bought a boat a couple years ago that he keeps down in Florida. It is so great and I love staying on it. It's the perfect size for a weekend visit. We knew once he broke down and bought a boat again (they sold our last boat when I was in elementary school, I think), that it would only be a matter of time before he was hooked again. Well, he's hooked. In a big way. He's also (always been) hooked on family vacations to tropical islands. And this time, those two hooks hooked each other and Stef, Loc, Todd and I all benefited from said hooking.

My dad chartered a power catamaran, large enough for the five of us to eat, drink, sleep, cruise, swim around, dive from, and sun ourselves on for seven days. It was actual paradise. We hit a new island everyday. We were in the British Virgin Islands, and it was so easy to get from one spot to the next. We didn't even get out "to sea" really, because we were almost always in sight of Tortola (the largest island) and at least 4 little islands or cays. Dad was the captain and we were his crew.

Stef quickly established herself as navigator/dive guide/maintenance crew. Loc, Todd and I dutifully appointed ourselves the mooring crew, with Loc on the port line, I took the starboard and Todd had the mooring hook to snag all the boys buoys. You may be wondering how Stefanie became our "maintenance crew". Well, our first evening on board and out of the marina, we noticed that our water tanks were empty. That's odd. As we were filling them the next morning, the gauge raised and then dropped to empty again. That's odd. So obviously Stef investigates the situation, hops below deck, finds the valve that was "on", switched it to "off", and miraculously our water tanks were no longer emptying directly into the ocean. She was immediately dubbed our "crew chief", because duh.

Loc was also appointed "dinghy captain" and his skills were tested on one of our last adventures when we took the dinghy through a downpour to get to a tiny islet, called Sandy Spit, on the other side of the rain. I believe halfway through he said something like, "can't go back now!". Todd was our "galley boy" and prepared most of our meals on board, including an adaptation of the new-to-him classic Mitchell-Family-Vacation summertime specialty "mac & cheese & hotdogs". This trip we got fancy with Velveeta Shells & Cheese & Spam. His life and culinary prowess will never be the same. He also made other delicious things that were actual non-processed foods, but who cares about that stuff? (I do. Please don't stop feeding me, Todd. I love you.) What was my role, you ask? I took the most strenuous job on the boat: "sunpad supervisor". I spent everyday laying on that sunpad to make sure it was still there. It was. You're welcome.

We are also now officially a full dive family! Loc passed his certification dives while we were down there, so we all got to dive together for the first time ever! (Todd completed his certification on our honeymoon last year.) I also love diving with my sister. She is the most fun underwater. No offense to the dudes, but they don't quite understand our underwater talking language yet. I was so excited to be diving with her again that she talked me into pushing my free-diving skills when one of our towels blew off the railing and sank 33 feet to the ocean floor below our boat. You see, she is a very good free-diver/breath-holder/buoyancy-controller/body-pressure-equalizer. I would also like to be good at those things, so when she said "you can do it, just try" obviously I was going to try. I'm 30. Can't be the baby sister forever, right? (RIGHT?) So I strapped on my mask and fins and a weight-belt, and plunged into the sea. And well, the rest is history.

(Note to self: equalizing the pressure in your mask is equally as important as equalizing the pressure in your ears.) BUT GUYS! I got my treasure and free dove deeper than I ever would have attempted before and held my breath longer than ever! I'd say it's a trade-off. I also got a temporary job-title upgrade to "treasure diver". It didn't stick long, since I couldn't really wear my mask again after that. (No more eyeball suctioning, thanks.

It really was an incredible trip. I know family vacations are different for everyone - some people love them and some people dread them. I wasn't sure exactly how this trip would be, but everyone was so relaxed and so on board (literally) for everything anybody wanted to do. This was the first time we travelled with just the five of us, and it was a perfect family bonding trip. (Great idea, Dad!) We had one day back on Tortola after returning the boat before we all went back to normal, non-boat-living life. It was nice to just relax and ease out of it all a little bit. Get our land legs back. There were also cats at our hotel, and I befriended one and gave him chips, so I felt a little closer to home already.

I never like leaving places like this. I love the sun (all the time sun, please) and the fact that the first thing I put on in the morning is a bathing suit. If it were appropriate in Chicago, I would wear a bathing suit under my clothes everyday and lay out on the sidewalk at lunch. That's totally normal, right? (But seriously, Stacey + Sand + Sunshine + Swimsuit = the key to a happy life for Todd.)

Can I say it again? This trip was incredible.

P.S. If you want a daily breakdown of this trip, Todd's been breaking it down over on his blog lately.