2016.

I haven’t written in a while. Sure, I have sat down to write many times, but just couldn’t formulate my thoughts enough to do them justice. Until today.

If you could put a medical diagnosis on a period of time I would classify 2016 as bioplar.

bi·po·lar adjective
1.having or relating to two poles or extremities. “a sharply bipolar division of affluent and underclass”
2. (of psychiatric illness) characterized by both manic and depressive episodes, or manic ones only.

 

Seriously. You. Have. No. Idea. Or perhaps you do in your own world. If so, you are not alone in thinking that 2016 was bipolar.

I’ll begin with a bit of history, 2015.

2015 Seemed like the upswing of amazingness; bought a house, went on an amazing and romantic West Coast trip, got engaged, work was successful, my father was seemingly feeling better from his treatments, and I can actually remember being in the car smiling- thinking THIS IS AWESOME.

I remember immediately thinking after that- this will all come to an end soon. Well, then we welcomed 2016. Oh hello.

Here are some of the lows and highs of the year from my imperfect point-of-view.

Low: Terrorism is at an all-time high to where I am actually afraid to go anywhere.

High: I started planning our wedding! Date, venues, vendors, priests, wedding party, favors and dress. Check.

Low: Our political system went from stupid to something Cypress Hill would sing about- and now the writers of SNL have fallen into a deep hole of the same boring shit every week. We get it. You are bummed Hillary lost and you like mocking Trump. Can you please move the fuck on and bring back Justin Timberlake or Andy Samberg? Or both? Thanks. 

High: The Ice Bucket Challenge actually made a breakthrough in ALS research!

Low: We lost so many people in 2016 that TIME MAGAZINE’s Person of the Year is the Grim fucking Reaper! I mean we lost the ultimate creator of the chick-flick, Willy Wonka, the crazy heiress who slapped a cop and married nine men, Professor Snape, the guy who invented that ice tea & lemonade drink that Gunnar and my father loves, the boxer who makes the argument in Coming to America’s barbershop scene come to a close, Dr. Jason Seaver, the Russian dude from the new Star Trek movies, an astronaut, “The Artist,” Patty Duke, Scrooge McDuck, Janet Reno, Natalie Cole, Grizzly Adams, Miss Cleo, Punky Brewster’s dad (on the show), the mayor who famously says “Bring me the Ghostbusters!”, the man who wrote Hallelujah, the guy who wrote Hotel California, Mr. Hockey, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Larry Sanders, R2-D2, Mrs. Brady, Bowie, the man who made the sentence “I want your sex” actually make sense, Princess Leia AND her mother, and SO MANY MORE. We have been depleted of so much talent. I fear for the tasteless and vulgar “comedy” stylings of the Amy Schumers of the world that we are left with.. I miss the time when there was a little mystery and grace. 

Side note: yes, I know I swear a lot, so I’m not saying that I am graceful. At all. I digress.

trust me, I know.
trust me, I know.

Moving on.

High: I got accepted into the MBA program at UNH for Spring 2017 and Brad got commended for saving a man’s life!

Low: Hatred of EVERYBODY is at an all-time high. I have never before seen anything like this and it scares me every day my husband puts on his uniform. People are being killed for the sake of being killed every single day. In America! I understand that comment might come off ignorant, as people have always died every single day, and now because of social media we are more aware of it, but it feels like its gratuitous sport at this rate. IT NEEDS TO STOP. 

High: We got 10 chickens! I was told not to name them, but I did. I mean, I had to have a Cocky. Don’t worry- I kept Brad in mind as I named the biggest yellow one Clay Matthews. 

Low: We lost all but one of our chickens to a jerkface fox.  You don’t know sad until you see 9 piles of feathers all over your yard. 🙁  RIP Chicken Cocky and Chicken Clay Matthews. That one remaining chicken now lives with our neighbors- who also have chickens. I suggested bringing him in the house to be domesticated, but I guess that isn’t a thing. I tried.

High: Brad finished our beautiful home inside and out. We bought a house, but Brad made it a home with his talent and craftsmanship. Work was good for us and our relationship has been stronger than ever.

Low: Brad lost the two women in his life who raised him. First his mother, Barb. Her failing health just overcame her very slim frame and she took her last breath in February. Then, in July, her younger sister Joanie followed. I don’t know exactly what took her from this life, but I truly believe it was a broken heart. They were best of friends. They were crazy, silly, Wisconsin-salt-of-the-earth women, with good hearts and bright red hair. They raised one of the most amazing men I have ever met in my entire life. Celebrities had nothing on these two women.

red and barb.
red and barb.

High: I got a job offer from an amazing company, Lindt & Sprungli. It was a hard decision to leave the Boston Globe, but the close proximity to home (for my father) and dream position of finally being able to create something had me hooked.

And now for the finale:

Lowest Low: My father’s seemingly dormant prostate cancer came alive and his failing health took an evil turn for the worst as it hit his liver. This was an extremely rare cancer, as apparently prostate cancer metastasizing to the liver doesn’t happen often (so I was told). The real hit was that he kept the actual state of his health from me- so I wasn’t prepared. I never really knew the whole truth. “All you get to know is that I am sick” was what he said to me. Finally, without wanting to be a burden on anyone, and with the full knowledge that he was losing his freedoms with every moment, he took his own life on June 16th. He was only 68. What I do know from this horrible loss is that my father loved Brad and Gunnar. He blessed our upcoming marriage. He blessed Brad as a son. He let me know how proud he was of me and that he loved me very much. He taught me to be confident within myself vs. seek approval. What I wouldn’t give to have him randomly show up, too early in the morning, for pancakes, bacon and orange juice- with pulp. We miss him every single day. I have now made steps to join the Death with Dignity movement. You should too because you never know what hand you’ll be dealt later. 

my father's first (and only) selfie.
my father’s first (and only) selfie.

Highest High: Brad and I got married in the most wonderful celebration I have ever known in Portsmouth, NH. Aside from the lows of the year, we were able to put it aside for one day and celebrate our love. We had friends and family come from all over the country to join us on this champagne and blush, with a touch of Tiffany blue day. We marched down the isle to the most beautiful music of Craig Armstrong (I walked in around the 6 min mark). Gunnar gave the most amazing best man speech on the planet. The music was fun and lively, by the talented Julie Kramer of RadioBDC. The event planner Casey at our reception space  managed our small group of 100 like a pro. Holy good food! Just go there for dinner and imagine that quality of food-multiplied. Nicole Friedler couldn’t have taken better pictures. Everyone got along and laughed the whole day. This might have had something to do with the open bar, but I’m going to take it. And sure, our wedding party was of comical size, and the flower girl refused to turn around for pictures, but we got it done….in a blue 488 Ferrari (Thank you, Ezra!). Our honeymoon on Key West and Little Palm Island was warm and offered the spoils we needed to congratulate us on our nuptials. We did it!

my favorite kiss.
my favorite kiss.

If you can believe it, there are some more lows and highs that have happened this year, but I’m a little spent rehashing all of it. I’ll leave it with what I have recorded and save the rest for another time. You get the picture anyway.

OH! Almost forgot- did I forget to mention today Brad and I have been together five years? Yep! Five years since that first day he opened the gate in my Chicago apartment, touched my hand and changed my life. We are spending the evening at a resort in Maine, and then back home to celebrate our first Christmas as husband and wife.

Mr. & Mrs. Von Haden
introducing the Von Hadens.

2016: So much loss, but so much love. 

 

five years.

As I was driving into work this morning, I started to think about my sister. This week marks five years since her death.  I see the “national sibling day” posts on Facebook, with all my friends sharing them and showing love for all the world wide web to see. I see photos and posts of sisters and brothers loving each other and feeling “blessed” to have one another. I try to ignore it. I try to pretend that I am pragmatic and it simply doesn’t apply to me, but who am I kidding? This sucks.

When she first died I was so angry at her.  How could she be so selfish? How could she do this to my parents? How could she be so stupid, as to put herself in a situation that would cause her harm- and everyone around her pain?  The last conversation we had- she was mad at me.  The last time I saw her, she was mad at me. I said horrible things about her to anyone who would listen. I acted awful. I was blind to things going on around me because I was in such a state of hatred. Well, now that it has been five years, I can honestly look back and say that I didn’t deal with her death very well and I genuinely miss my sister.

token "kids in bath" photo.
token “kids in bath” photo.

I have always known that my sister and I didn’t get along. Anyone you ask who knew us both would say the same. I was the annoying little sister always getting in her way. I was the reason she had to stay home, so my parents could go out. I was the tattle-tale. Whatever- I was 5 1/2 years younger and looking back I simply didn’t understand how this “sister” figure could hate me so much.  She was like a foreigner in my home at times. But with as many things that I can think back on with pain, there are some memories that I can look back on and smile.  We had our moments. These are 5 happy memories of my sister:

1. She ALWAYS made Christmas special. Leading up to Christmas, it was almost like a campaign in my house for the gifts we would like to open come December 25th. We would start, depending on whenever the item would have been marketed through television, or whatever our friends had that we secretly coveted. Or whatever crazy idea was in our head that we had to have. We would pitch our ideas, much like Ralphie. Well, Jennifer had this skill of finding where my parents would hide the presents.  She would wait until my parents were gone out to dinner and she would take me on an adventure.  Mind you now I recall it they were always in the attic, but at the time I thought she was brilliant.  How did you know!? Then, on Christmas eve, we would go to bed, pretending we didn’t know what we were getting the next morning. Fast forward until the next morning: She would wake me up between 2-4am. She would lead me out to the living room to see what “Santa” had left for us. 100% of the time there were gifts that we had NO clue we were getting.  How did mom hide those from Jennifer?! My mom had this way of leaving some gifts unwrapped, our packed stocking and then the rest of the presents looking like we were the only house Santa visited. Jennifer and I would grab our stockings (that was all she would allow us to open) and empty them on the living room floor. We could eat some of the candy and then she would make us stuff them back up again, so mom didn’t know we opened them. It was usually around 4am at that time. We had permission to wake dad. We had a strict rule that we had to wait until 7am to wake mom, but until then we would watch cartoons with dad in the living room until she woke up. She made that morning special every year of my childhood. Even when she was 16, before she left for North Carolina. She would ignore the silly stigma of liking your sister not being “cool” and she would bring us back to our magical Christmas world. Nowadays, I try to wait until Christmas morning to open my gifts. I don’t look for them though because it’s just not the same.

i think this was in boston- at the kids museum.
i think this was in boston- at fao schwartz.

2. She was proud of me.  She always described me as 5’10”.  I don’t think I have to say how awesome this was, but every time I would walk into a room, she would have prefaced my entrance with the description that I was a 5’10” blonde, with green eyes and played men’s lacrosse. In later years, she would add “and went to college.” Note: I’m not 5’10”. I’m 5’8″ and change, and I only played men’s lacrosse for one year.  I did go to college, but she was so smart that if she had decided to go, she would have kicked ass. I was always sad she would brag about colleges she got into (BC and UNC-Chapel Hill), but then would be jealous that she didn’t go.  She could have gone! Side note: YES, my license says 5’9″, but I mean….I am basically 5’8 1/2″, so I’m not really lying, per se. 🙂 …Oh, shut up. 

i feel like this is cruel and unusual punishment. alas, those hula skirts were around all the time- for many holidays.
i feel like this is cruel and unusual punishment. alas, those hula skirts were around all the time- for many holidays.

3. She could be mean to me, but you would get your ass kicked if you dared give a bad look in my direction. She declared it her sisterly right. Seriously, I have seen her punch out a boy at the bus stop for picking on me. Damn straight. Now, this isn’t admitting that I necessarily liked the way she would play little games like “if you ignore me for two hours, then I will play Barbie with you.” Or when we would play Barbie, she would take all the good new clothes and leave me basically with a naked Barbie, saying I was her servant.  But hell, when she would pay attention to me I soaked up every minute of it.

4. My father, her and I all have one thing in common: we can read a novel in a day or two. Her favorite book was “The Grapes of Wrath” and she would often comment that she had read it many times over. She was this beautiful crazy party girl, who was secretly smart. It was up to her and only her who she would let know that information. I was often confused when she would be so bubbly and play the ditz, when she was anything but that- truly. She had this Daisy Buchanan way of living- perhaps it was simpler to be the beautiful fool. I just hope people know she wasn’t a ditz.

dad was working on the deck. mom dressed me like my big sister. i was psyched, she was not.
dad was working on the deck. mom dressed me like my big sister. i was psyched, she was not.

5. My grandmother Lois’s house. My grandmother lived in Statesville, North Carolina. Often times during the July fourth holiday, we would travel down the coast and stay with her. The trips graduated to Myrtle Beach, but for this memory I will stick to Lois’s house (yes, we called my grandmother by her first name). Lois had a trampoline. It was a huge old rusty trampoline.  Not like the ones today with padding and and nets.  This was where Jennifer taught me to do flips, splits and crazy jumps that she learned from being a cheerleader. It was so much fun. Once, I accidentally triggered the police alarm in the house.  Well, Jennifer grabbed my arm and pulled me to the trampoline. I had more fear in me than I knew what to do with, but she insisted that if we just jumped and pretended that we had no clue what was going on, then no one would be the wiser. Police showed up and we just watched from the back yard. Dum de dum.  We didn’t do it because we have been here all along!  From finding my grandmothers “toy” collection (inappropriate, I know, but it was funny as hell at the time) to helping me catch fireflies- it was always fun.  Side note: Yes, there was the story when she first taught me to do a flip and my head caught between the springs. She left me there, laughing. Obviously, I escaped. So I guess I can forgive her now.

my mother had this phase of dressing us like amish children.
my mother had this phase of dressing us in traditional norwegian garb.

Bonus: Pillow fights. Jennifer would make it like a celebrity death match, but in our hall way, with pillows. She would come to get me in my room or downstairs. I always felt so lucky when she would come to get me.  She picked me to play with, yay! We would shut all the doors in the hallway and stand at either ends- pillow in hand. My mom would yell “GO!” and we would start in on each other.  No mercy. I feel like she always won, but it was so fun. It was our duel. I want to go as far to say as sometimes when we would fight in the real world, my mom would make us pillow-fight-it-out, in order to work it out. We always ended up laughing.  Nice work, mom.  🙂

She picked on me for not being able to change oil in a car, claiming that there was no way we were related, but she would call me whenever she was sad. No matter where in the country we both were at the time- she would call. Those in our lives might not know that, but it’s true. I could play the “I wish…” game over and over, hell, anyone who lost a loved one too young probably can, but it doesn’t do any good. Five years this June 5th since I lost my only sibling and I’m happy to rise above the bullshit and finally admit I miss her.

Would have been cool if she were around- I’d totally give her shit for being in her forties. Hey, I’m still her little sister. You can’t take that away from me.  

proof she liked me.
proof she liked me.

family.

“fam·i·ly /ˈfam(ə)lē/ Noun. A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.”

Family is a funny thing, isn’t it? This post might be a little bit touchy, but I never write anything touchy, so why not? I think in terms of traditional family, especially from the era, which I was accustomed, you think of a family as the mother, father and kids. Maybe a dog or cat- even a fish. Who defines family? I know what I have seen, what I believe, and what I have experienced. I’ll share.

I have seen families where there was the single mother, who refused to remarry after a divorce, who seemed to marry the life of her kids (no matter how involved she wanted to be). She controlled the “family” with use of her (tons of inherited) money, guilt and good old-fashioned yelling and judgment. I know she made fun of me on a regular occurrence, but I also understood she couldn’t help herself. Being that lonely must suck. It’s certainly been one of the more entertaining family situations I have seen: The brother who can do no wrong, the other brother who can do no right and the spoiled princess sister who sits on a pedestal. I won’t mention the odd Oedipal instances, but they were present. CREEPY AS HELL AT TIMES, but present nonetheless.

Side note: If only the mother knew how much I know. Oh, and I don’t understand why she used to follow my Twitter feed and mock me, but I know about that too- and you really have to be bored to look at my Twitter feed. I mock my own Twitter feed! It’s social media, not rocket science! I digress.

I have seen the perfect family. Wife, husband and years of faithful and loving marital bliss. Three successful happy daughters, one of who happens to be my best friend, who now have grown into healthy adults with amazing families of their own. I love this family and wish everyone had the luck, love and happiness they do.

I have seen family with a famous relative(s). The family who has coped (or not coped, rather) with loss. The stage family. The active family. The poor family. The military family. The family with a parent who is a drunk (or smoked something that didn’t smell quite right, but being I was a little girl- I didn’t know it probably was an illegal plant). The family that yelled and fought. The super happy and fun family that always had the cool stuff to play with. The super-rich family. The divorced family. The non-traditional family. The southern family. You name it, and I have probably seen it. Regardless of the situation, it will never compare to the strangeness I have encountered, and the resolution that came out of it.

My sister passed away 4 years ago. It was something out of our control (she had addiction issues, which led to her murder in New Orleans. I am the only one in the family who is honest about it and has no problem talking about it, as it is the truth), but the thing I have always found funny is that since it happened- no one in my family talks about it, her life, or anything relating to her. I mean that seriously. Unless someone is crying about it, there is nothing. I bring up a “fun” time, like our pillow fight tournaments (which were epic and I think I won, once), etc and it is dropped as “too hurtful of a topic.” I don’t get it. Shit, I hope I don’t die! I wouldn’t ever want my memory lost with my heartbeat. Aren’t you supposed to talk about the happy times? Not to mention since she died, everyone has changed. My mom is an insane person now, who treats me like a redheaded step child (and speaking as a woman who has a history of being obsessed with pink flamingos, that is hard to beat). I have not spoken to her in almost a month and she has not called me ONCE to find out why. I find this astounding. At this point, it is pretty clear why I am not speaking to her: Family doesn’t act like this.

Members of my family blow my mind. Just to be clear, what I am about to describe isn’t just how I am treated; many people in the “family” treat everyone this way. In my opinion, (I’ll say it again) Family DOESN’T act like this! Family isn’t jealous and angry and picking fights and writing mean emails all the time. Family doesn’t cut people out for making mistakes and blaming and pointing fingers. Family doesn’t hold grudges! It’s insane the amount of drama that can be within one family. A family should TALK! The one thing I can say though: it truly is fantastic to be able to stand on the outside, looking in, and have nothing to do with any of it. I have removed myself from it all- and I have never been healthier in all my life.

Disclaimer:There are very cool members of my extended family who do not fit any of the above description, and they know who they are. To them: I love you!

The one positive change since my sister died is that I am now close with my father, who doesn’t treat anyone poorly. He is simple guy, with no demands or expectations. Jennifer (my sister’s name- and for some reason I feel like I am saying Voldermort’s name when I type it just now) was very close with my father. Because of that I never got to know him- aside from random singular visits when I lived in South Carolina, Boston and Chicago. My dad comes for breakfast almost every weekend. I make pancakes and he talks about boy things with Brad and Gunnar. He even let Brad take his Harley for a spin the other day (gasp!). Please note- THIS DOESN’T EVER HAPPEN! My father never let us walk near his toys growing up, never mind drive one! Regardless, I’m getting to know my father better and I think that is very cool.

I have some step-ish siblings, but in the 20 years that they have been in my life- they have always had their own thing going on, and I am no one to intrude. Would it be cool if we had more of a relationship? Sure. Will I fight it? Probably not.

My family is my Brad, Gunnar, Lucy (pup) and Buddy (pup). We have a beautiful home. We all get along. We don’t have fights or complain about each other. We don’t talk behind each other’s backs (although, it would be kinda funny if one of our dogs talked about us behind our backs). We make decisions as a family. When we do have an issue, we talk it out. Most of all, we love and respect each other. Coming up in 2 weeks, we have a family trip (sans pups) planned to Sanibel Island. I’m very much looking forward to it!

One last little sweet note: Brad made me a wine rack for our home! It’s made from walnut and cherry wood! It goes perfectly with out new living room furniture!

he imagined, he drew, he created.
he imagined, he drew, he created.

Someone said to me recently that Brad and Gunnar were not my family because “we are not married yet.” Well, I don’t know about you, but aside from the amazing friends I have had along the way- it’s the perfect family for me. After all, it’s mine.