{Charlie} Live Your Best Dreams

Many years ago Charlie gave me a Pendleton coffee cup for my birthday. I loved the cup. I made sure it made the move from the suburbs to uptown. It was the cup I had on my desk at the office. This was my cup and no one could drink out of it, like ever. After Charlie died I brought it home from the office as I wanted it safe in my kitchen. I drank out of it almost every morning as I stared off into the distance muttering “what the fuck,” with the muppet like dog at my side. Until one morning it slipped through my hands and landed on the floor in pieces. With tears welling in my eyes, I swept it’s broken remnants into the trash. I tried to find a replacement cup but it eluded me.

That is until Jay accidentally broke the Pendleton Coffee cup that I got for him in the gift shop at Custards Last Stand in Montana. He was heart broken as it had become his favorite cup. I told him “don’t worry, I can find you a new one.” As I scrolled through the tableware section of the Pendleton website my heart stopped. The cup I had been searching for was there on the screen and in stock. So of course I clicked add to bag and then added the replacement cup for Jay.

In that moment, I realized that Jay was meant to break his cup that night. It was Charlie’s way of giving me a reason to log onto the Pendleton website to find the cup I had broken long ago. He sent a sign at Christmas time from heaven above to let me know that he’s still with me. And knowing me he’s probably like “girl order a couple of them, because you drop things a lot.

This cup isn’t the same as it wasn’t given to me by Charlie. However it makes me smile. Smile because it helps me remember the man who healed my heart and opened the door for Jay. Without Charlie’s leaving there would be no Jay. In my heart I know he’s smiling down on us and yelling “live your best dreams!” ❤️

{Cabin Life} Do we save her or do we let her go?

In 1986 my dad was driving through the Wisconsin country side when a log cabin caught his eye. The cabin had seen better days, her windows and doors were gone, and the roof had a gaping hole. But, her logs were strong. Where others saw a dilapidated building, he saw beauty. And he knew that he had to have her. So he sent my mon off to go find the owner. The owner was more than happy to sell the cabin to them, he needed $5,600.00 for a new pole barn. So a deal was struck and the log cabin was ours.

After purchasing the cabin my Dad learned that it was built in the late 1920s for a sheep herder and his family. The basement is a dirt floor and that is where the lambs and sheep were kept on stormy & winter nights. The family lived on the first floor and utilized the sleeping loft. They lived in the home until they moved to town in the 60s. And there she sat, she sat empty waiting for her new owner. Slusher purchased the 300 acre parcel somewhere in the 70s and had no interest in the cabin, so she sat empty. He rented out the land to Mr. Bathel a Christmas tree farmer and to Mr. Smith a Bee farmer. Eighty acres across the road was sold to a Postal Carrier from Saint Paul and he built a little cabin down by the creek. He was our only neighbor.

When I was a little girl the son of the sheep herder would bring his family and friends down to see where he grew up. He often shared pictures and stories with us. He was thankful that someone was working on restoring the place he once called home. He was glad to see that a new family was making memories in the logs that once protect him.

This cabin of ours is a magical place. Its a place of healing. When I was little I was sick. Being in town meant that our world revolved around doctor visits, tests, medication, and pitiful looks from strangers. I couldn’t even play with the kids in my neighborhood or go to school. I was homeschooled by Ms. Ann and played dolls with my next door neighbor Ms. Cora (she was my 90+ year old best friend). Every once in a blue moon they’d let me go to Sunday school, which was a real treat. As a child I didn’t understand that they were protecting me from getting sicker than I already was. It was torture not getting to be a normal kid. But, as an adult I realize that they gave me an escape, they gave me something most people never have.

My Dad bought a second home, a summer home without electricity or running water. He bought a place where his daughter could truly be a kid. I was allowed to explore and dream. These woods that surround the cabin entertained me for hours on end. These old logs over heard scary stories and jokes told in the dark. Her old logs sheltered us from stormy skies as we played board games on the living room floor. And with time her logs healed a sick little girl and her family. She allowed them to dream again.

It’s more than logs, the land the cabin sits on is magical. The woods were my playground. I often could be found picking strawberries, mixing potions, “hunting bad guys,” playing in my make shift fort, or just laying in a field of wild flowers calling out shapes in the clouds. When my parents weren’t looking I was known to capture an unfortunate toad, frog, salamander, or turtle in my bucket. Somehow my dad always knew, he didn’t even have to look at me and I’d hear him yell “Mannie! You better put that critter back where you found him!!” Snakes? I wasn’t afraid of snakes. I was fearless as a child and my dad had to teach me about poisonous snakes in order to keep me safe. If a snake crossed my path it was a guarantee I’d pick it up and put it down the back of my sister’s shirt. I’m pretty sure I am the reason she has a fear of snakes. I am probably the reason for her fear of the dark, dead fish….. and many other things in life. And yes, she deserved it, she’d cheat at board games and violated my Barbies by cutting their hair. As we grew older we grew apart, she lost interest in being my sister and in her eyes the cabin lost its magic.

Even though the magic faded for her, it grew and grew for me. We are not the only folks who love the land the cabin sits on. As I said earlier Mr. Slusher rented out the land to local farmers. As a child I’d watch Bathel and his crew expertly care for, trim and spray paint the Christmas trees that would be sold in the fall. Yes, believe it or not Christmas trees are spray painted…. that’s why you sometimes get a tree where the needles fall off as soon as you get it home. It’s a pretty neat process to see in person. Anyways, Mr. Smith tenderly cared for over 20 hives and he’d tell me “now Mannie, don’t kill the bee. The bee doesn’t want to sting you, he just wants to get back to the hive.” He taught me to respect the honey bee and to this day I find myself telling people “don’t kill that bee! He just thinks you are a flower. Once he realizes you aren’t, he will go on his way.” It’s true, they will. My Dad used to have an orchard on the land. I’d spend my summer days following him from tree to tree with trimmers in my hand as he patiently explained the delicacy of grafting. When we weren’t trimming or grafting, he made me carry 10 gallon buckets of water up the hill to thirsty little trees. He said “it will teach you character….” I don’t think it taught my character, however I did have really strong arms for a 10 year old.

Sunset is my favorite time at the cabin. My Dad calls dusk “God’s magic time,” because each sunset is a beautiful painting to remind us that life goes on. I spent my summer nights sitting by the fire roasting marshmallows while watching fireflies dance in the darkening skies. We’d tell stories about UFOs and aliens as the foggy mist rolled in through the trees. The sound of bullfrogs singing, crickets chirping, and wind rustling the leaves would lull me to sleep in the old iron bed. I’d dream of another day at the lake and rescuing turtles from the road. The smell of the fire would stir us awake, the morning mist dissipated through the trees as our feet touched the wet grass. Breakfast was always fried potatoes and some sort of meat, if my Mom was there we’d get pancakes + fried potatoes + meat. Breakfast always tastes better when eaten outside under the old oak trees. Those are days that I will always cherish for as long as I have breath in my body.

Speaking of body, this little log cabin of ours is no match for the test of time. She was built back when we knew little about concrete and her foundation is crumbling. Her logs are good, but her base has seen better days. My dad guarded me from her fate all summer long and told me over and over “I can fix it, I just need some materials.” When I laid eyes on her, I knew that this wasn’t a project for him. We needed help. We had to map out our options and attach cost to those options. We needed to make the decision of do we save her or do we let her go?

We chose to save her. All roads pointed to one contractor, we are bringing in Heritage Builders from Menominee WI to restore her. In the spring of 2021 she will be lifted, her old foundation will be removed and a new one will be put in its place. Once the foundation is completed the Jacks and supports will be removed one by one and she will be sat on her new foundation. This project terrifies me. One wrong move and we will end up with a pile of Lincoln logs. I know our log cabin is in the right hands, Troy from Heritage Builders immediately saw what we see, he saw the gem. The gem that my dad saw all those years ago, the one painstakingly brought back from ruin to life.

I know in my heart God is making a way. This land, this house is my Dad’s heaven on earth. And he gave her to me, he’s trusting me to carry her on to the next generation and beyond. We pray each day that this cabin of ours will hear the pidder patter of little feet within her walls again. That scary stories and laughter will once again ring through her rafters. This log cabin craves life and life is what we will breathe into her.

Because she breathes life into my Dad and makes his soul sing. This log cabin of ours will be where my Dad’s soul rests. As his daughter I made a promise to ensure that her log walls are his final resting place. I will honor that choice. When the time comes his ashes will be placed in an old ceramic Indian whiskey decanter and tucked up in the rafters to watch over the place he loved most in life. And I will spend the rest of my days caring for and protecting his Heaven on earth.

{Infertile Me} Silent Endo

A part of me wants to be mad at the first three fertility clinics I went to. Like someone along the way should have picked up on the fact that I might possibly have endometriosis plus a side of adenomyosis. Yet no one did and so they shoved me into their one size fits all protocol box. In which in their defense my numbers always looked great so their one size fits all approach worked.

It worked until it didn’t. In Iowa I cycled two times and both were canceled prior to our retrieval date. Dr. Young’s last words to me were “if anyone can get you pregnant, it’s Mayo.” He’s words soaked into me like water to a sponge. Yet I never picked up the phone to make an appointment with Mayo. Instead we explored our options such as foster to adopt and donor embryos.

By the fall of 2019 I had my heart set on donor embryos. I was ok with carrying someone else’s genetic material to term and calling that baby my own. But my heart she still whispered “let’s try one last time. One last time.” My gut gave me the courage to call Mayo for a consult. And on an icy February morning I drove down to Rochester and never looked back.

Mayo takes a team approach to infertility treatments and therefore you need enough of the team to believe in your case in order to proceed. The day of my consult the majority of the team was at a conference and I wouldn’t find out if I was accepted until I got back from my cruise. We did everything on the cruise to keep my mind of Mayo and it worked. Sherri and I had a blast aboard the Carnival Victory. And we soaked in the sites of Key West and Cozumel. It was a trip that I will always treasure.

When I got back the Doc from Mayo called me early Monday morning to tell me that I had been accepted. As fate would have it the university of Iowa called a couple hours later to tell me that we were next on the donor embryo list. That night jay and I weighed the pros and cons. We prayed and my gut told me that Mayo was the answer.

Enter Covid and all of our appointments got postponed. Which was fine by me, people needed the PPE and doctors more than I did. In May I had a pelvic MRI done and was at that time diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis. Dr. Khan could also see plain as day my complicated anatomy on the screen. He explained that we could do surgery now or wait. Wait because if my ovaries had to be cut open I’d loose what little egg reserve I had left.

I chose to wait. In July we did one last Hail Mary retrieval cycle and ended up with two high grade embryos. Which I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I have two embryos in the freezer. The team at Mayo was just as excited as we were and they were so glad that we were able to freeze embryos.

Anyways back to the endo, I had my surgical consult at the end of August. During my consult Dr. Khan was once again very thorough and he explained everything to me. He laid out the options and the plan and like before he gave me choices. Hard choices like “if your Fallopian tubes are diseased is it ok for me to remove them? If removed you will be infertile.” Well according to medicine I am already infertile so I said yes to that option. I walked out of his office knowing that we had a solid plan and that one day soon my body would feel so much better.

Surgery day came sooner then I thought it would. The date it just sneaks up on you and before you know it you are in the shower with antibacterial soap that makes your skin itch. My surgery was delayed by 6 hours due to the case prior to me needing more time. I was fine up until hour 5, my hunger and thirst set in and I’d do anything for water. Thankfully a nurse took pity on me and gave me a little bit of water. Soon it was my turn to go down to pre-op. Where when I saw Dr.Khan I asked “did you forget about me!?” He said “how could I forget about you AJ. You are one of a kind.” He once again went over the plan and even the changes he made. He decided it was best to leave the adenomyosis alone because cutting it out of my uterus could cause more harm than good.

Five some odd hours later I was backup stairs in recovery. I do want to add that the post op recovery unit closed at 9PM. Two nurses whose names I did not catch stayed late so I could go home to my own bed. The nurses I had were incredible. They made sure I was able to walk on my own. One nurse helped me get dressed and made sure we had a barf buffet cup (it’s a bucket filled with wipes and Kleenex) to go home with. The nurses wheeled me down to the pickup zone and waited for Jay to bring the car over. On our way down I kept apologizing to them and they both looked at me and told me it was ok. “This is our job. We love our job. We’ll go home tonight and do the exact same thing again tomorrow.” They both gave me a hug and helped me into car and we waved goodbye as we drove off.

There is something about a Mayo Clinic nurse. They truly have a servants heart and away with people. I was always amazed by my Dad’s nursing staff and now to experience it on my own, he’s right when he says “they are the best of the best.” It’s true they are and I am so thankful for the care I received from my recovery nurses.

Rochester is 75 bumpy miles from Burnsville. And I felt every bump HWY 52 had and I’d never been happier to turn into our little street. We got home after midnight and that first night was pretty rough. French fries were a bad idea…..(I’ll leave that for your imagination). But butter toast saved my tummy along with some oxycodone and a little bit of sleep. You don’t realize how much you use your core and pelvic muscles until they are cut open.

Speaking of cutting, Dr. Khan diagnosed me with stage IV endometriosis and an ASRM score of 76, which in normal human terms means, really bad. He told Jay I had one of the worse cases he’s ever seen. Which is strange because I never showed symptoms, my endometriosis was the silent yet naughty kind. He removed endo from my pelvic cavity, abdominal cavity, colon, rectum, ligaments, ovaries, uterus, and a whole lot of other spots too. It’s crazy to me how much damage was done to my body every month and that this had gone undetected for years.

When I think back to the first three clinics, two out of the three saw dollar signs. Especially CCRM Minneapolis, Dr. B claimed to be an expert, yet she missed a lot of fucking red flags. And her arrogance didn’t allow her to seek outside advice on my case. Her kicking me out of the clinic lead me to Iowa. In Iowa Dr. Young did his best to help me, but at the end of the day I was to complicated for him. And I respect his walking away from my case and sending me off to Mayo.

If it weren’t for Dr. Young’s words I’d never would have gone to Mayo. Mayo’s tag line is “when you are ready for answers.” It’s perfect, I was ready for answers and I got answers and explanations to everything I’ve gone through in the past five years. One MRI sealed my fate and now knock on wood I will be living endo free for a long ass time. And with just a little luck and a whole lot of faith I will get to carry our embryos to term.

The lesson I learned in all of this is…. listen to your body. Do not give up on her and keep searching until you find a doctor that will really listen to you and not throw you into the one size fits all box. You are unique and you deserve the very best care. Everyone deserves that. So if you feel you might have endo, go talk to your doctor. And if your doctor doesn’t listen go find one who will. Because living with endometriosis shouldn’t be a death sentence, it should be a piece of your story.

{Travel} The Trip That Almost Wasn’t….

In April I got a call that no child wants to receive. A call from my mom that my dad was in a head on collision. Those words were all I needed to hear and I was headed to Red Wing.

In my heart I knew it was useless because due to Covid no one, but the patient was allowed in the ER. While on my way a nurse called to ask me some questions about my dad and she said she needed me to come in and talk to him. I asked her why and she said “the doc will explain everything to you when you get here.”

On the surface he looked like his normal grumpy old self. He had some bruises and scratches, so to me he seemed ok. Then the doc came in and started explaining his Troponin level was off the charts and that he needed to be sent down to Mayo.

I stood by and watched as the EMTs loaded him up and rushed him away. It broke everything in me knowing that I could not follow that ambulance to Rochester. I could try, but there was no way I’d get in. So I did what my dad always says to do in a time of trial, I prayed. I prayed that he was going to be all right and I headed back home.

My dad had his second sudden cardiac arrest. This time it was while he was driving home from our cabin with Ruby (his trusty dog. Ruby did not sustain any injuries in the crash, she walked away unscathed to chase a turkey for another day). The Doctors figure the impact of him hitting the airbag/steering wheel restarted his heart. There is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening again. So we decided to live life, to live a full life because the next time it happens he might not walk away.

In June we had planned to go to Yellowstone, I had to move our trip to September due to his accident and Covid. September finally arrived and I was excited to get this trip underway. This was his first time on an airplane. As the plane lifted I looked over to see him in his seat pretending to fly the plane. I could feel the tears welling up and I fought them as hard as I could. It was in that moment the reality of our summer sunk in. I could have easily been traveling to Yellowstone alone.

It made me realize that these Daddy/Daughter trips will not go on forever. As much as I’d like time to stop, I know it has to end eventually. And that I as his daughter need to fill whatever years he has left with adventure and make memories. I want to have stories that I can tell to my children. Hell I want to be able to take my kiddo on trips with their grandpa, so that they can have stories to share.

In the end when the drip finally stops, all that is left of us is our stories. And I pray that you have people in your life who will continue to tell your stories when you are gone. Charlie used to tell me that “date of birth and date of death don’t matter on a tomb stone. It’s the “dash” between those dates that matters. Some of us chose to die while living and others my friend, they live while their dying. Your dash is your story, it’s the nuts and bolts of a life well lived or a life well mourned.”

Somewhere between the ghost towns of Montana and the valleys of Yellowstone, I added to my Dad’s dash. He kept saying over and over “I never thought I’d see Yellowstone. This is a trip of a lifetime.” he was right, this was a trip of a lifetime for him. We set out for Yellowstone in 2019, but only made it to the entrance due to car trouble. We vowed that day to come back, to come back and finish what we started. When I parked in the exact spot our trip ended in 2019, my dad looked around and looked at me and said “We completed our task!”

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana
Nevada City, Montana
Norris Geyser Basin

Indeed we did and all I have to say is Yellowstone is beautiful beyond measure and the mountains of Montana speak to your soul like no other place can. I would take this trip with him a million times over, including the tiny cabin with a broken heater that we stayed in.

Tiny Cabin at Pine Creek Lodge
Grand Teton National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park

If you have a dad don’t take your time with him for granted, for he is not immune to growing old. Take the time today to start making memories. It doesn’t have to be some grand trip, it could be lunch or even just a walk in the park. Memorize his every word so that one day when he is gone you can pass his stories on. Even the highly inappropriate stories. Even the ones that make you cringe a little. When he is gone from this world his words will matter and you will be thankful that you have them to keep you company.

And as for my dad, I thank God every darn day for his third chance at life. I could not imagine this world without him and travel just wouldn’t be the same. He is and will always be my road trip buddy.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
Devil’s slide, Montana
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

{Divorce} Is a Launching Pad not a Failure

Ten years ago I woke up and made a decision. A decision that was months in the making and one that needed to be made for my own sanity. I chose to leave. To walk away from a marriage that wasn’t worth saving and said goodbye to a child that I will love until my last breath.

Only a handful of people knew about my situation. Most thought I had the perfect storybook marriage. I had the big house in an affluent community, money, travel, and a husband that adored me. In reality my husband only adored me in public, my big house became my prison and the money only flowed one way, his wallet. Day in and day out I was told that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to be loved. Those words cut into my soul and my mind believed them as truth. After awhile I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror and my laugh disappeared. Smiles rarely showed and my light hearted manner slipped away. He broke me in more ways than I could ever explain.

I never correlated what I experienced with abuse. Until I started therapy. My therapist looked at me point blank and said “Hun, that’s not normal. You went through mental and emotional abuse.” All I could say back to her was “Umm what?” She explained that he used manipulation and gas lighting to break me down. To make me feel like I was less than and that if I ever left him I wouldn’t survive on my own.

His last words to me were “you will never make it on your own.” Those very words have been my fuel. I’ve been fighting to do better and be better because I couldn’t let his last words win. It took awhile but I slowly found myself again. At first tears were plentiful. I felt like a failure and having to start over at 27 was scary. I got my first apartment, learned how to pay bills (no side eyes, the ex had done this for me), and I adopted a muppet like dog. And I never looked back. I was determined to make it on my own.

My adorable apartment in Uptown + the muppet like dog

And when I was ready I dipped my toe into the dating pool. It took awhile for me to realize that his words were false and that I was indeed beautiful. To this day I can remember the first time after my divorce a stranger told me that I was beautiful. It was in the uptown Green Mill parking lot and I cried. I cried because it was the first time in over a year that someone uttered that word in my direction. I left that parking lot with a new found confidence and my grove was back.

Dating as a young divorcee is hard. I kept my guard up and my hope close to my heart. I just wasn’t going to settle for anyone that slid into my DMs. I was picky and there were times where I didn’t even show up to the date. Yes, I AJ ghosted people and that’s ok. Sometimes you just don’t feel like it or maybe you got lost and you didn’t want to be super late. Anyways dating is hard, like real hard.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pool, Charlie came in and threw me a life ring. Charlie was able to peel back the layers and heal the years of hurt. In his eyes I was everything and nothing would ever change that. Sure he was 13 years my senior, yet the difference didn’t matter. He’d tell me often “AJ do you know why we work?” I’d tell him no. “You understand the work. You understand that an Attorney doesn’t always work a 9 to 5. You understand that sometimes a case comes before family. You understand that sometimes I have to be away for weeks at a time and because you understand, you are ok with it.” He was right as a paralegal I understood the work and all of the late nights and long weekends that go into a case. I never complained or batted an eye when he stayed in the office till 1AM. He was right, because I understood the work we just fit.

That fit was short lived. And my heart to this day still hurts. Charlie died on February 16, 2012 from injuries sustained in an auto accident on Valentine’s Day. His life was taken by a drunk driver. A driver that I have forgiven. He made a mistake and like me he has to live with the consequences of his mistake for the rest of his life. Charlie was a once in a lifetime love. His soul was vibrant and his personality could fill a room. He knew how to make you smile in the worst moments and roar with laughter. To calm me Charlie would tell me stories in Mohican and with each word whispered I’d forget what I was fretting over. Charlie looked out for everyone and lived life to the fullest. A piece of my heart lies in a little cemetery in Montawk and because of that I strive to live the life Charlie had imagined for me.

After Charlie I took time to let my heart heal and when I was ready I dipped a toe back into the pool. Dates were plentifully, but only a few had long term eligibility. After awhile I just gave up and decided that the single life was the life for me. I had a good job, a cute apartment and a muppet like dog. Life was good and I was happy. But fate, she’s a funny lady, Fate had other plans for me. On Veterans Day 2014 a marine slipped into my DMs and I’ve never looked back.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs. We’ve gone through more than most couples do and we’ve come out on the other side stronger than before. He gets me and I get him back. Jay believes in my crazy dream of motherhood. Jay doesn’t like the limelight, he prefers to be in my corner where he can cheer me on from the cheap seats. He answers to every whim of my wanderlust heart. Jay gets my Tasty Taco addiction and my need for adventure. If it’s out there and if it won’t kill me, I want to do it. But mostly Jay is what my heart always needed, he can make me laugh until I can’t breathe, he can calm me when I’m out of sorts, he knows that the simplest things make me happy, and he always makes sure the bed is made. (Having a made bed is everything to me) He is a good egg and I am never letting go. Well that is unless he declares that he hates dinosaurs and fluffy white dogs, then I’ll let his ass go. I can’t have that negativity in my life 🙃.

Looking back now I realize that my divorce wasn’t a failure, it was my launching pad. I’ve done a lot of amazing shit in the past ten years and none of it would have happened if I stayed in that marriage. I wouldn’t have worked as a contract paralegal hopping from case to case. That job eventually led me to my niche, I’m a Risk Consultant and it perfectly fits me. It’s a mix of law/regulation review and procedure/policy analysis, which is my jam. I never would have done the best thing ever…….. duh adopted a muppet like dog! Cullen has been my side kick for almost ten years, he is my joy in four legged form. In the end I am the one who got rescued on adoption day. Nor would I have a shit ton of travel stories to share. My life would have been boring and sad. And ya all know me, I may be a lot of things but boring and sad isn’t one of them. This life I’ve built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, is fucking amazing and I wouldn’t change any of it. Life is a beautiful disaster and this disaster is all mine.

What a difference 10 years makes!

From time to time people ask me for advice. Like relationship advice, yes you read that right, relationship advice. And when I respond I think back to what Charlie said “you need to find someone that understands the work.” He was right, at the end of the day you need to find someone who understands the work and understands you as a person (<—- last part is my two cents). Otherwise your relationship isn’t going to work. Things will happen in your relationship that neither of you signed up for, it’s what you do with those things that matter. If those things break you apart and that break is not repairable, it’s ok to walk away. You did your best, you gave it everything you had and now it’s time to call it. A wise attorney once told me “there are no winners or losers in a breakup or divorce, someone has to call it. That’s the hardest part, making the judgment call.” <—- I heard this advice on a Friday and walked out of my marriage that Sunday and then never looked back. Best advice I was ever given. So if you are where I was ten years ago, just call it and never look back. Your launching pad is waiting for you.

{Infertile Me} Hail Mary

Every IVF cycle I started was filled with hope until the seams started to rip and disappointment seeped it’s way in. Positives were met with negative outcomes. Yet somehow in the darkest moments I still clung to the tiniest shred of hope that my turn would come. That I too would get to carry a child. That I too would finally get to be called “mom.”

As the months rolled on it looked less and less likely that motherhood would be in my cards. I racked up a list of failures no one wants to have. One still birth. Two miscarriages. Three failed IUIs. Three IVF cycles, two of which were canceled due to poor response. The words “gestational carrier” were uttered last spring and I began to look at door eggs/embryos and adoption as my options for motherhood. Yet my gut thought otherwise and she made a Hail Mary appointment at Mayo.

My heart wasn’t ready for Mayo. She had her mind set on donor embryos in Iowa. Yet she entertained her gut and heard her out, because it doesn’t hurt to just see. To just see what Mayo had to say about their fertility. Turns out, I still have viable eggs and all of my hormone levels are on point for a 37 year old woman. Though the odds are terribly stacked against me, Mayo still approved me for treatment.

Unlike the other clinics, Mayo left no stone unturned for they understand this is my last shot at motherhood. For the first time on my journey a pelvic MRI was ordered and the results spoke volumes. I always felt like I might have endometriosis and/or an underlying issue with my uterus due to a 2010 perforation. The other docs dismissed my concerns and told me “research doesn’t support an impact on fertility, you will be fine.” But I wasn’t fine, my body was silently screaming for help and no one listened to her.

I met with Dr. K who specializes in endometriosis removal to go over my MRI results. He first showed me what my fucked up cervical canal looks like and then asked “are you ready to see yourself light up like a Christmas tree!?” He was way more excited about it than I was. He clicked to the next imagine and said “all that is glowing is endometriosis, you have one of the most severe cases I have ever seen.” The endometriosis is wide spread as it is in my abdominal & pelvic cavities. He went on to explain that if it was just the endometriosis he would be in support of me going through with IVF. My heart sank and I was thankful for the mask so he couldn’t see my expression.

The endometriosis wasn’t the worst of my problems. Adenomyosis was my new enemy. Adenomyosis is where the uterine lining growing deep into the muscle tissue of the uterus. It turns the tissue into a cork like consistency and makes it harder for an embryo to properly implant. He went on to explain that embryos that implant in a uterus with Adenomyosis tend to have smaller placentas and poor blood flow to the placenta. My heart sank again, our sweet Emmett’s demise was due to a smaller than normal placenta for his gestational age. The poor kid never had a chance, the embryo most likely landed on a spot of Adenomyosis.

I asked if the Adenomyosis was something new. My heart had to ask that, it needed to be reassured that this wasn’t the cause behind Emmett’s demise. Dr. K said “no this isn’t new, it most likely resulted from the 2010 uterine perforation. I died inside, The previous clinic had transferred our embryos into a toxic environment. Dr. K went on to explain that I was lucky because the Adenomyosis was localized and the bad spots can be cut out. This was good news to me, all be it risky, it was good.

Dr. K was extremely detailed when he explained both the Adenomyosis and endometriosis surgeries and what my odds of a successful pregnancy are. Dr. K explained that I should consider doing a retrieval cycle fist as I have diminished ovarian reserve and during the surgery he will need to cut open my left ovary to remove a few endiotomas which will cause my follicle count to plummet. After he gave me the bad news, he did something no other doctor has done before, he said “now it’s time for AJ to call the shots. People have made choices for you in the past. We are not going to do that here. You dear are in the drivers seat and we are here to help you get to your destination.”

I about cried. It’s true I’ve never had a say in my IVF treatments before. It’s always been “you will do this and that’s it.” In my gut I knew there was only one option so I uttered, I want to try with my own eggs. Can I do a retrieval first, freeze whatever embryos we get, and then do the removal surgeries? “YES! That is a wonderful plan AJ, I like how you think.”

I left that day with a renewed sense of hope and a tiny ping of anger in my heart. Mostly I’m angry at CCRM. Angry because they noted in my chart “suspected endometriosis” and did nothing to investigate it. All of this could have been taken care of in 2017, who knows maybe I’d have my mini me by now. I cannot hold on to anger for long, as anger harbors stress. I let myself feel the anger and then I let it go. Emmett would want his mama to do that, to let that shit go. I don’t have time for grudges. I have no hard feelings about Iowa, at the end of the day I was to complicate for Dr. Young and the last words he said to me were “if anyone can get you pregnant it’s Mayo.”

Mayo is our fourth clinic and I finally feel at ease with the care I am about to receive. Knowing that I have a hand in the treatment makes a big difference. This is our Hail Mary, we have a lot riding on this retrieval cycle and I pray to everything holy that we end up with viable day 5 embryos that lead to a baby in our arms.

{Lucia} Double Digits

How can it already be ten years? Ten years since I heard your heart beat, held you in my womb, and saw you on ultrasound. You my son, have had ten glorious birthdays with the King of Kings. You’ve welcomed your brothers and looked on as your mom continues the fight for a baby she can keep.

My heart, she still aches for you. You are and will always be my first son. You are the soul that brought me hope, the soul that brought me more strength than I could ever image, and mostly you are the soul who taught me to hold onto faith. You are the child that I prayed for, you were the silver lining to my storm, yet God needed your more. He called you home before my heart was ready. A piece of my heart went to heaven and I walk this earth with a broken heart. For I gave my son back to God, he was simply to beautiful for earth.

I often wonder Lucia what you would look like, would you have my curls or your dads black hair? Would your laughter be filled with warmth or would you be a soul filled with quite? Would you be a gamer like your dad or would you have your mother’s wanderlust? Your voice? How I long to hear it. Your smile will always be a mystery to me. These questions will go unanswered until my name is called and I can wrap my arms around you. How I long for that day, the day I get to hold you in my arms and never let go.

Letting go of you was the hardest thing I had to do. No mother should ever hear the words “I’m sorry, there is no heart beat.” Those words killed the dreams I had for you and I turned away from God. I was angry, I was hurt, I wanted my silver lining. Instead, I got brokenness. With time my anger faded and my faith began to seep into the darkness, it cleared the way for the light. The light allowed me to see that I am the daughter of the King and your death was apart of HIS plan. My faith is because of you. Your little soul renewed your mama’s faith and that is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. You are the gift that I never planned for. Your life although short, matters more than you will ever know. My baby, you will always be.

Alucious Gregory Beaulieu Cohen, I love you more than you will ever know, you were desperately wanted and you are deeply missed. You were the child I planned for and I will love you for all of my days. From heaven to earth my love knows no bounds. Happy 10th Birthday Lucia, my son you will always be.

{2020} Wiping the Dust Off

“Walks around dusting of the blog……. wipes her hands on her jeans. Ahhh there we go!” Now we can work with this! I admit, this blog of mine has been collecting dust as I busily live life out loud. I am in the process of learning to live in the here and now, without the sudden urges to document everything that’s going on in m my life.

Yet, my soul knows how much my fingers love to touch the keys and with each stroke my words translate into a hope that I can’t even begin to understand. This blog of mine is a source of comfort, triumph, laughter, and lastly a source of hope for those on their way to parenthood. This is a safe place where I can share and where my sharing resonates with you and in turn you said “damn, me too.” This place will always exist for us and I promise to be better about sharing with all of you.

The journey is forever changing. When I think I am on the right path it switches on me and I end up on foreign ground. The path to parenthood isn’t always a straight line. For some of us it’s a switchback up a mountain with more lows than highs. This summer we were certain foster to adopt would be our path to parenthood. But my heart she wasn’t ready to let go of what her soul yearned for. Deep down my soul knows I am meant to carry a child into this world. To prove that against all odds science and God will triumph.

Somewhere in Iowa a couple went through IVF and they decided that their family is complete. That couple decided that they wanted to pay their blessing forward. Instead of letting their embryos sit in a cryobank for eternity they chose to donate life. The embryos are donated to the University of Iowa’s donor embryo program and we are on list one. List one gets served first (couples with no living children and/or pregnancy) and we are waiting for the day we get the call telling us it’s our turn. With a little luck their leftover embryo will become our take home baby.

If our IVF story would have turned out differently, we had planned on giving our leftover embryos to a donor embryo bank. We wanted to pay it forward and let someone else have a chance at holding a baby in their arms. Being on the receiving end of Embryo Donation is a path I never thought I’d go down. Yet here we are, putting one foot in front of the other moving closer to parenthood. Our turn, is just a phone call away and my heart cannot wait to finally grasp that rainbow.

{Boudoir} Celebrating Me

Ten borrowed years have passed since I heard the words “massive pulmonary embolism with infarction and stroke.” My body may be scarred, but she is beautiful. She had to break, before I could shine.

Nine years have passed since the first time I heard the words “I’m sorry but there is no heartbeat.” My womb may be broken, but her body is strong. She has created life and swaddled them in death. Her babies they will always be.

I have put my body through hell in the fight for motherhood. She went into battle and carried me on my hardest days. She’s taken 100s of shots to the abdomen and held out hope that the eggs would grow. In the spring she heard the words “your journey is done.” She held her head high. Yet, she still believes in the dream that one day her weary arms will hold a baby of her own.

I was angry with the body I saw in the mirror. The body didn’t fit the mold. It couldn’t carry life to term. It could no longer run or even breathe in the cold. My body is broken and bruised. Yet there I was standing tall in front of a mirror. My body had more faith in me than I did. She believed and so I did.

In July I bought my first bikini in over 15 years. I wore it proudly at the pool. No one made comments or sneered. I found confidence that I didn’t know I had.

Somewhere along the way I must of felt brave and signed on a mailing list to get more info on a boudoir session. In late July I got an email looking for models for outdoor boudoir shoots. In an act of boldness I responded to the email and to my surprise I got chosen. I talked myself out of replying a million times over. Yet I dug deep and before I knew it I was on the phone with Alyssa from Illuminate Boudoir talking about my session. I chose to do my shoot at Wisconsin Point at the end of September.

You may be wondering why did I choose Wisconsin Point? The answer is simple, healing and connection. When I look out at the vast lake I can feel the courage and strength of my ancestors. I am the descendent of Voyagers who crossed the ocean in the name of exploration and progress. I think about the courage it took to paddle their canoes across the mighty lake to the land of the unknown. As I stand on her shores I think about my very Great Grandmother Chief Sky Woman who fell in love and married one of those voyagers. This lake runs through my soul like blood does through my veins. It’s where my family began. Lake Superior will always be apart of me and my soul will always belong to her.

Healing, this big lake of ours has healed me in more ways than I could ever explain. I have cried tears, filled the air with laughter, and just sat quietly on her shores. We stood on her shore and said good bye to our sweet son Emmett as her waves swallowed his stone turtles. She took on the grief that I could not contain. She took my anger, my sadness, guilt, and replaced it with peace. This mighty lake of ours heals me and allows me to come away renewed. So this place was the perfect place to live boldly through boudoir.

Alyssa made me feel safe and loved through out the entire process. She explains everything throughly and goes out of her way to make sure that you are comfortable. I told Alyssa that I wanted my portraits to feel strong yet feminine. I wanted them to capture me as a human and not just me as the survivor. She understood and we planned for the end of September.

I couldn’t have asked for a better weather day. It was perfect, unlike my makeup. When I walked out of the cosmetic bar I was feeling defeated. The girl who did my makeup didn’t do a good job and I head to Walgreens to get supplies to fix it. I did my best, yet I still didn’t feel like me. I contemplated canceling the shoot. But I didn’t, I decided to just go with it and headed to the coffee shop to meet Alyssa. As soon as I saw Alyssa she reassured me that I looked beautiful and that everything was going to be just fine. Those words, her words were just what I needed to hear.

Alyssa = magical. It’s hard to explain but she is the ultimate confidence whisperer. She just makes you feel incredible in front of her camera. So incredible to the point that you kind of forget that you are outdoors on a public beach posing in your underwear. Alyssa puts a lot of thought into everything that she does during the shoot to ensure that you have a beautiful experience. She took the time to show me how to pose and would direct me on where/how to look. My favorite line she said was “ok, now a little smile for yourself.”

“Smile for yourself” sums up this entire experience. The boudoir shoot was for me and me alone. I drove away from Wisconsin Point feeling incredible and so full of light. That day is a day I will always treasure. The feelings I felt and the confidence I gained will carry me for the rest of my days.

Going into reveal day I had mix emotions as I was worried about how I’d look with all the makeup. I can hands down tell you that Alyssa did not disappoint. Seeing my portraits for the first time got me right in the feels and teary eyed. It took me a second to realize that I was actually the girl in the photos. My photos were so full of life and light, I could barely believe that they were mine. Each one had a different feel from feminine to serious, to a little naughty and I loved them all. I walked out of Alyssa’s studio with portraits in hand and a new dose of self love in my pocket. She empowered me to view myself in a whole new light and I am going to let that little light shine.

Truth: Boudoir is for everyone! If you have a body, then you my friend have a boudoir body. I went into my session filled with insecurities around my double chin and lovely large ankles. Alyssa knew exactly what poses would work for my body and the end result was beautiful. If I can do boudoir, than YOU CAN do boudoir too!

If you would like to schedule your own boudoir session visit: http://www.illuminateboudoir.com for more information. I promise you will not regret it!

Now for the incredible photos!

{Hearts on 22} TEN Incredible Borrowed Years

On October 22, 2009 my life, it changed forever. I woke up that morning as a healthy 26 year old and within hours I was admitted to the ICU at Woodwinds. I almost died five days before my 27th birthday. This life that I live, is an incredible borrowed gift.

I have lived 10 borrowed years on this earth and it hasn’t been easy. Surviving is the easy part. Living as a survivor is the hard part. To this day I still have immense survivor’s guilt. According to statistics four people had to die so that I could be the one out of five who lived. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Because I know anyone of those four if given a chance would take my seat. This life I live is not for me, it is for the four who no longer have a life. I carry those four wherever I go and thank God every day that I got to be the one out of five.

Ten years ago I asked God constantly “why the fuck me? What did I do to deserve this? Do you not like me?” To this day those questions remain unanswered. Not getting an answer allowed me to flip my perspective and ask God “why not me?” God put me through my darkest hour in order to break me so that I could shine. In that one moment of disaster he birthed my purpose…. “to find myself and to fight for a healthier tomorrow.” I had to break, before she could SHINE.

Tomorrow is not a given. Since October 22, 2009 I have lived 3,665 borrowed tomorrows. Every morning I wake up and face the sun, I thank God. Seeing the sun means he’s not done with me yet. I still have a purpose and we still have work to do.

I have lived 5,263,200 borrowed minutes. Those minutes turned into hours, which turned into days, that turned into years. Ten years of survivorhood. I wish I could say it’s been all rainbows and unicorns. But it hasn’t, I’ve had really good days along with terribly bad days too. It’s the bad days that allow me to dance on the good days. The bad days allow me to heal and savor all that is good in my life. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything in the world.

Life, I have shoved a large amount of life into the past ten years. I am that friend who always says yes to new adventures and days where we just gossip on the couch with wine. The slow moments are where I find my zen. In the busy moments I’m thankful for every beat of my heart. I’m thankful for what my body can still do and savor the smallest of victories.

I am more than a survivor. All to often we forget that survivors are human just like everyone else. We are not invincible nor do we strive to be. I have hopes and dreams just like you. The only difference is, I’ve lived through the unthinkable and came out on the other side. God broke me, before I could shine.

I’ve learned to live in my skin and not hope for what society says I should be. I’m a girl who likes her cheese curds, brats, whiskey and cupcakes. I am more than the number on my waist band. This size 18 body of mine has been through hell and back. It survived the impossible and continues to defy the odds. She may be scarred, battered, and bruised, but she is 100% mine. Every scar tells a story, every bruise has meaning, and we found beauty in the fight. The fight to survive another day in this borrowed life.

{Photo by – Illuminate Boudoir Portraits}

I live this life for my sons Lucia, Baby E and Emmett who went to soon. There leaving changed my life forever and it’s in their names that I choose to live to the fullest. They are with me always, my sons they will always be. They have given me the strength to not give up on this thing we call motherhood. I have faith that my turn is still coming and that one day this weary body of mine will hold a baby in her arms.

This life that I live is to honor the four who lost theirs, so that I could be the one who walked away. Those four allowed me to become a mom to 3 babies in heaven. Because of their leaving, I got to live to be an auntie to Sophia & Jack. I got to live to love again. Because of them I got to live the life I was always meant to live. A life filled with love, adventure, and more laughter than one soul could handle.

Laughter is what got me through the bad days. Cullen my trusty muppet like dog keeps me laughing. Cullen’s antics and chirp like bark will make anyone giggle. Getting a dog was the best medicine that I ever took. He gave me purpose and was the reason I kept going. Because without me, he would have no one in this world. He got me out of the house and together we broke through our shells to become the souls we were always meant to be. We are an unstoppable team of underdogs with a big bite. This little dog of mine rescued me and for that I am grateful. He is mine and I will always be his.

This borrowed life of mine has filled me to the brim with gratitude. I’ve spent the past 10 years advocating for our healthy tomorrows. I’ve stood on the steps of the capital building giving my testimony to the nation that affordable quality health care should be a right and not for the privileged. I’ve wept in front of congressmen/women asking them to ensure that someone else gets a tomorrow just like I did. I’ve held the hands of survivors as they shared their journey. I have hugged the parents of the warriors who left this world to soon. I’ve been on billboards, in TV commercials, fashion shows, and I will not stop until there are none. I will not stop until there are none, because no woman deserves to fight alone. My one moment of disaster sparked my purpose and I’m not done yet.

To sum it up the past 10 years have taught me one thing: to live boldly. Time is a great teacher, she taught me to be strong and to dig deep for that last little shred of courage. I look back and think “wow, I lived all of it and each stone led me to where I was always meant to be.” The good, the bad, the ugly, and down right funny moments all belong to me. My Pulmonary Embolism and stroke taught me strength. My first marriage taught me to never compromise who you are for a man. Charlie, Charlie taught me that when the darkness fades love finds away in. Charlie loved me until his last breath and he prepared my heart to love again. My heart though broken loves Jay unconditionally and without question. He is my exact opposite yet equal. Jay can calm me within seconds and make me laugh until I can’t breathe. Jay held me during the loss of our babies and believes in my little dream called parenthood. He dares me to push myself into the unknown and for that I am grateful. This love that we live was always meant to be.

If anything my borrowed time on this earth has taught me one thing: I’m not in control. Just when I think I have all my ducks in a row, one wanders off to the bar. For awhile I was afraid to just be in the here and now. That quiet voice would whisper, “this is to good, the bottom is going to fall out .” I wasted so much time waiting and plotting for the good to end. I did this because I didn’t believe that I deserved to be happy and at peace with everything. I found the strength to quiet that voice and to allow myself to just be. I as a human have to do my best to soak in every moment like it’s my last. For this life I live is not a guarantee for my years are borrowed. It’s a beautiful disaster, a disaster that’s mine and mine alone.

My advice:

Be bold and live without fear. Take that trip. Fall in love. Adopt a dog. Drink that glass of wine. Call your parents and check in with your besties. This life is yours to live and you can either do it boldly or you can hide in your own shadow. The choice is yours my friend.