Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas: Chicago Style

The kids were out of school at noon Friday afternoon and by 1:30 we were on the road: Chicago bound!

The trip was ... meh. They get better every time we travel together but only marginally. One was knocked out before we even made it to Missouri:

There's one story from the trip I have to share. We were playing "I packed my bag for Chicago" and had some pretty ridiculous things ... the planet Neptune, an elephant, Texas. J had the letter "U" and said ... "I packed my bag for Chicago and I took Uranus!" Mark and I lost it. I laughed until I cried. We kept saying things like, "I knew that cargo carrier was big but it must be huge since we fit Uranus up there."

I feel like I should also point out that we packed Walter Payton on our trip.  Aaaaaand . . . the kids were really hungry once we hit southern Illinois and, seriously, there's nowhere to stop on that stretch of the trip.  Once we finally found an exit with restaurants, who did they give thanks to?  Yeah.  Walter Payton.  Totally Mark's influence!

We made it to Ed and Beth's around 9:39 Friday. We pulled into the driveway and what to our wondering eyes did appear but ... SNOW! Only a dusting and only on the car windows but it was enough to put our southern kids on eleven.  As in, as soon as K1 saw the snow he was FREAKING OUT. "Where's my coat?  Where's my coat?  DO I HAVE GLOVES?!?  GLOVES, NOW, MOM!"

They opened their first round of presents and we finally hit the bed around midnight. 

Saturday was Christmas with Mark's family. We all met at Aurelio's for some DELICIOUS food. 

We ordered a super six pizza and Mark and I split an Italian beef sandwich. And the boys, ya know, had a sword fight with straws ...

After the grub, it was time for PRESENTS!

Before we hit the gifts, Mark's sister-in-law asked people to pipe in something they were grateful for. It was the usual ... family, friends, God, health, and love. Then Mark's mother said, "I'm really thankful that Mark and Brandi found each other." Everyone "awww"-ed, we hugged and the kids joined in. It was totally a Moment and demonstrates just how special this family is to us and how much they've rallied to include my children and me. From the moment we first met them, they've made us feel included and loved.  And I'm pretty sure my family has done the same for Mark and his kids.

(Both other boys already had this Batman shirt and now, thanks to Mark's brother and sister-in-law, so does J!  They can be triplets now instead of twinkies!)

By the way ... I totally got Chicago Bears gear for Christmas. And expected nothing other!

After the presents were opened, we wound down with Christmas Vacation and, man, did we el-oh-el. Love that movie. 

Sunday morning was church. We went to Mark's brother's church ... mega church. I feel a little "meh" about the mega church phenomenon but this service was simply amazing.  I don't know that I could attend services like that on the weekly but I did enjoy our time there. The pastor was an amazing speaker. We were handed a bulletin explaining January's sermon series. "How to Love a Vampire: Loving the people who suck the life out of you." I think we might actually try to watch online. We both really enjoyed the speaker and it's a topic we both need addressed in life (though it's more tolerating the people who suck the life out of us.)

After church, the girls and I headed out to meet my friends Mo and Gina for lunch. 

We went to Pepe's for lunch and drinks. It was so good catching up with them!  And, BONUS, Mo was my Secret Santa this year!!!  She brought me a bag with cookie butter, cookie butter candy bars, wine, some Chicago-brewed beer, and my favorite gift . . . a collage of pics of the two of us.  We've been friends since our '06ers (J and her son Kam) were just tiny babies.  LOVE getting to see her and spend time with her.

That night everyone else went to see Star Wars. I give zero - ZERO - shits about Star Wars. So the girls and I just hung out and walked around to check out Christmas lights. 

I've lived in the south my whole life and, in the past couple months, I've been able to experience two holidays (Halloween and Christmas) in the Midwest.  I'm not sure if it's just the suburb we were in or what but it feels like Midwesterners do so much MORE when it comes to these holidays.  Like, I'm not going to give up my warmer weather for a few Christmas lights but, I mean, come on southerners . . . let's get with the program! 

After everyone got home, we visited more then Mark and his kids opened birthday gifts (he and his son have January birthdays; his daughter's was the 12th.) 

Around 5:00 Monday morning, we woke up to K2 coughing and crying for me. The next three hours were hell as some weird stomach virus (combined with a cold/ allergies) worked through her body. Not the best way to start our trip home! She was a trooper, though, and once the bug worked its way through her, she was fine -- though very tired and slept a majority of the way home. In fact, we were ALL pretty exhausted and there was a lot of this going home:

(These two are really sweet with each other and I had to snap the pic because I know we're only three or four years away from, "UGH! GET OFF ME, BRO!")

We were home by 7:30, in bed by 9:00, ready to get the rest of this busy week underway!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Life Was So Good. Then He Came Along and Made it Even Better.

Wednesday night, Mark came in from his work out carrying a bottle of champagne.  Neither of us could remember when exactly our first date was, we just knew it was sometime around December 7th and we wanted to celebrate.   Interestingly enough, this picture came up on my TimeHop yesterday:

I posted it the morning after they had gone to their very first Grizzlies game.  And the morning after I went on a first date that would change my life forever. (And our first date actually WAS on December 9th, the date Mark randomly decided to bring a bottle of champs to celebrate!) I had no idea when I walked into Doc's that night that I'd be walking into the very best year of my life. Especially given how things started out ...

Our first date was originally supposed to be at a restaurant downtown. He worked down there and I was dropping my kids there to meet their dad. I was headed downtown when Mark called me. "I'm so sorry, I forgot I have a doctor's appointment. He's running late so I'm late. I still really want to take you to dinner." We decided to meet closer to where his doctor's appointment was and, after dropping my kids off, I headed out to do some Christmas shopping while waiting for him to text when he was done.  He texted constantly, apologizing and saying how embarrassed he was, but you know what? I was shopping. WITHOUT KIDS.  It really wasn't a huge deal to me. Now, of course, I'll tease him constantly about being so late for our first date. At the time, though, I was just like "heyyy, I get to shop alone and then have dinner with a cute guy!"

Our first date went so great that we made plans to see each other again a couple nights later. We added up the other day that we saw each other at least four times before Christmas. So, yeah, we were both pretty smitten from the jump. 

Since it's the week of our first date-iversary, I thought I would share a few reasons why I think this guy is so great. 

1) He never hesitates to tell me how much he loves me or how much I mean to him. He's definitely the more emotionally expressive person in our relationship and that's helped me to better express my emotions. I know what I mean to him because he tells me and he shows me. And he's helped me to be able to tell and show him just what he means to me. 

2) He is AMAZING with my kids.  Amazing.  He has fun with them and he loves them but also doesn't hesitate to put them in their place if they choose to be disrespectful or rude or need a good dose of "just stop it now."  Blending families is hard and I have to constantly remind myself that the kids didn't ask for any of this.  They didn't ask for their parents to divorce and they didn't ask for a new man in their lives.  There are times when we get a, "ugh!  We're going to Mark's again?!?" or "Mark HAS to go with us?!?"  However.  They're also quick to run and jump on him when they see him, to hug him, to beg him to play football.  They love him and that does my heart so much good.
3) He works hard and he's a great provider. But he's also knows how to have fun. This man seriously works hard all week long in a stressful job (his company went from 400 employees to 40 and he went from having one job title to having three) yet he doesn't spend his weekends laying around or catching up on rest. He's all about having a good time and really living life. 

4) He wants me in his life more than he needs me in his life. I don't know if he realized, in the beginning, that he was getting into a relationship with a person who was basically emotionally shattered. He'd been through divorce too, though, so I'm sure he did. One thing I always told myself is that I'd never be in a relationship where I was NEEDED more than I was WANTED. I know the songs say "I need you now" and "baby, I need you" and all that. But to be wanted is so much ... more. And he never hesitates to make me feel wanted. he wants to spend time with me, to do things with me, go places with me. Because he wants to be around me, not because he needs me to do the dishes or make the beds or watch his kids. That's an amazing feeling. 

5) His brothers very obviously love, cherish, and respect their wives. His oldest brother is pretty social media inept. When we were at the Bears game last month, he asked us to post a picture to Facebook but please be sure to tag his wife and tell her how much he missed her being there. And he meant it. Why am I including his brothers in this? Because it's a sign they were - he was - raised right. 

6) His family reminds me of mine ... and I totally love them. Now, of course, they're all in the Chicago area and we're in Memphis so it's not like we see them daily. But they're good people. They're my kind of people. They remind me of my people ... right down to the political arguments!

7) He's still friends with people he went to high school with ... and not just Facebook friends. His friend Ed visits Memphis yearly, we've already stayed with him and his family twice in Chicago. Mark still sees his college roommate a couple times a year, even despite their distance, he keeps in close touch with another roomie who lives in Denver. He keeps up friendships. That's a big deal.

8) I love his friends.  I feel like it's not just his presence that's enriched my life the past year but also the people he's brought into my life.  It's very easy for us to have friends in common -- it's yet to feel like I "have to" hang out with his friends out of obligation.  Because they're my friends too!  I really appreciate he's friends with the kind of people I like having in my life. 

9) We're a true partnership.  If one of us cooks dinner, the other one cleans up.  He goes grocery shopping while I vacuum the floors and fold the laundry.  I watch the kids so he can go golf; he keeps them so I can have a Girls Night Out.  Neither one of us is bearing the complete burden, we're 50/50.  We're partners. 

10) And, finally, because he made this statement Wednesday night when he brought in a bottle of a champagne, "I was going to bring you flowers but I knew you'd appreciate this a lot more."  He gets me.  He knows me. 

A lot of times I think about how I found the perfect guy for me but I didn't just find that: I found the perfect love for me.  Sometimes it feels a little . . . weird, I suppose . . . to write all mushy-gushy about the love I'm in now considering I'm divorced and I wrote in the past about my ex.  But if I can say anything about everything that's happened to me in the past two years, it's that I've learned a lot.  A LOT.  I would never, ever, ever call my ex a mistake (hello!  Children!) but I can say that now, being on the other side, there were a lot of red flags. Not with him or with me but just with compatibility in a relationship.  Going through divorce helped me to understand what's really important to me, what's a deal breaker, what kind of love I wanted and deserved.  And now I've found and it and I'll be all mushy and gushy if I want to!  ;)