Life Is A Beautiful Disaster, Not A Perfect Plan

I find comfort in a delicately plotted plan. In college I made vision boards that plotted my success from point A to Z. I had a grand plan of attending law school and becoming a kick ass attorney. Plans of traveling the world, building a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home, and when I felt I was successful I would adopt a child. A child that I would raise alone. I never planned on falling in love or getting married. It was going to be me against the world and if love happened, it happened. I wasn’t going to count my eggs before they hatched, instead I plotted them neatly in my head. I was focused, I had vision, and nothing could veer me from my future.

Nothing that is until a dark-haired brown-eyed boy walked across the parking lot of my dorm and swept me off my feet. In him I found comfort like I had never felt before. I would do anything for him and his son. We date long distance, he didn’t come to my graduation nor did he seem to care that I got my degree. I talked about going away for law school. He told me “I won’t wait for you to finish.” With those words spoken, I put hat dream a side and moved in, by Thanks Giving we were engaged. He told me “when one dream ends, another begins.” Over the next 3 years that became my motto. I set out on creating a new plan, a plan that never quieted my desire for more. I loved Nylan with all of my heart, being a mom was one of my greatest joys, I gave everything I had to my husband, and kept our home polished. Yet, something was missing, it never felt right, and I wanted something more. Durring my marriage I never put myself first. My dreams and desires were not worth keeping, they sank slowly to the bottom as my husband whispered “this is your dream now.”

At 26 I became a survivor and little by little I started putting myself first. I was determined and created a new plan. A plan that would never ring true. I found out I was pregnant in the spring of 2010, I was filled with joy and began to plan for this new life. I spent hours debating paint colors and nursery themes. I read pregnancy books and looked into pregnancy yoga. I was happy. Happy because 6 months earlier I was on the brink of death and here I was six months later carrying a baby. This was my calm after the storm. It was decided that I would have a c-section and that I would take blood thinners during the pregnancy. I didn’t have a say in this and I wasn’t looking forward to twice daily injections for 9 months. However I knew that in the end the reward would be worth it. All of my planning went out the window the day I found out my son no longer had a heart beat. I was devastated and overwhelmed. This was never part of the plan. At that point in my life I knew something had to change. I had to find my way and figure out who I was. I only knew AmandaJean the college student and AmanadaJean the wife. I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted. The death of my son was the turning point in my beautifully broken plan.

Divorce, I never planned on it, yet it became a part of my history. I realize now that my PE and the death of my son were to prepare me for the hardest journey I’d ever take, the journey to find myself. The day I left my ex husband was the day I decided to live an uncharted life. I was terrified of failing, mostly I was terrified that I wouldn’t find myself. Terrified of falling down and that when I did no one would be there to help me up. I trip a lot and lord knows I’ve had my share of face plants. Since my divorce I have fallen more times that I can count. The City of Minneapolis is littered with potholes.

In January I unexpectedly found myself unemployed and without a plan. I was terrified I had never been unemployed in my life and I felt like a failure. I started to question my skills. Tears were heard in my voice and friends, they rushed to my side. Attorneys I had worked for in the past reminded me of how my work helped them and why I love my line of work. Lucky for me I was not unemployed for long. Within a week I was hired on as a temporary editor at a publishing company in the cities. That job ended in early April and I am not worried.

A few years ago I would have been a tearful puddle on my couch and desperately grabbing at tiny shreds of a plan. That was then and this is now, now I find joy in living an uncharted life. I can take this time to find the job I really want and take some time to just be me. Nothing in this life is set in stone. Each day we are above ground is a mystery and filled with wonderous exceptions. I’ve learned that a life lived on a vision board, is not a life lived at all. I have come to believe that fate loves to mess with a perfect plan. Maybe its fates way of giving us a slap in the face and saying “hey, while your planning you are missing out on the good stuff. You my dear are missing out on your own life. So stop the planning, throw the vision board out and just go with the flow and expect a few pot holes along the way.” That is exactly what I am doing. I am finding comfort in the beauty and meaning in the potholes.

{Pocket Paralegal} Workplace Fashion

Each and every work place is different. I have worked for firms that are business casual all the way down to casual wear. Casual wear was really hard for me to get use to. I am old school. I love wearing structured dresses, trousers, cardigans, and skirts. Growing up my Father never let me wear sweatpants outside of the house. He would always tell me “A lady always needs to look put together. Because you never know who is sizing you up.” He was critical about our hair, fashion choices, and make up. Even to this day I do not buy an evening gown without my Daddy’s advice. He will tell you “I raised ladies and not heathens.” It’s true he did.

When I worked downtown I would often sit in the crystal court and watch the sky way fashion show. I saw everything from men in glittery jeans to suits along with women who often looked closer to a hooker than an accountant. Then there were the Target ladies. Target employes look like they walked right off the women’s clothing department floor. They had style and I’ll admit they liked pretty darn cute in their Menora wear. You could tell the first time suit wearers from the old pros. Awkward straightening of the tie to young ladies pulling their tights out of unspeakable places.

The firm in the burbs is a very casual environment. It’s hard to tell the Attorneys from the Paralegals and the Paralegals from the collectors. Everyone is always in jeans. Truth: When an Attorney comes in wearing business wear I automatically think I missed a court date on their calendar.

Over the years I have been witness to many wardrobe malfunctions. One should not wear clothes to work that fully display your muffin top or every bump in your body. Pants so tight that you can see a panty line or something worse. There is a reason God gave us mirrors. Most of the legal assistants are in their early twenties so its understandable that they think what worked at the club, works in the office. If you shook your booty in it, then don’t wear it to work. Club clothes do not belong in a law firm environment. If you are a bigger girl (hey I am right there with you) dress for your shape and accentuate your curves. This doesn’t mean wearing a shirt that’s three times to small and pants that are so tight a roll hangs over the top. Show who you are and leave something to be desired. Hey, dressing like a lady can be hard work.

So what does a paralegal wear to work? Thats a very good question and I am inviting you into my closet to find out.

If your firm allows it thick strapped structured sun dresses will be your best friend.
Dress Summer

Dress WinterTake your summer dress straight into winter with a cardigan and tights.

Summer Casual
Light weight tops are perfect for the summer weather and a dark wash jean still keeps it professional.

Business wearI get all of my blazers tailored to my body. This way I know they will look great on me. For a spring time look pair a cream blazer with a blue silk tank and dark gray trousers.

Cardigans are a girls best friend. We all know that the office can be to cold or to hot. Pair a light weight top with a cardigan and trousers. If you get to warm take your cardigan off and roam around in your light weight top and trousers. To cold? Well go find your cardigan and warm yourself up.
Business Casual

Winter CasualDark wash jeans are great for the office. They shout “Hey I am casual, yet professional.” To keep that business casual feel pair the dark wash jeans with a flowy top and cardigan.

Friday CasualDark wash jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt can go along ways and work in a pinch on a snow day or if your running late.

I get most of my clothes from New York & Company, Old Navy, JC Penny, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Target and H&M. One thing should be known I rarely pay full price for clothing and I always shop the sales racks for great deals. Basics like cardigans can be picked up at Target for less than $30 each and they usually go on sale in the spring/fall for 50% off or more. Old Navy is great for t-shirts and trouser jeans. I am loving their sweetheart trouser cut jeans right now. JC Penny has a new sales model, you can find great deals on the 1st and 3rd Friday of the month. Neiman Marcus and Macy’s are my splurge spots.

What matters most is that you feel great in what you are wearing and that it is comfortable for you to work in as well. Your style choices are a reflection of who you are and show that you care about yourself. Always wear a pretty shoe and put your best self forward. Keep in mind you never know who is watching you. It could be Mr. Right or an Attorney from another firm scoping out paralegals for a new hire. I always say dress like you are going to an on the spot interview. When you do that, you can never go wrong.

Hopefully this helps each of you dress like a top-notch paralegal.

{2012} Finding The Lining, When the Bottom Falls Out

2012 was filled with promise. As the clock turned to midnight Doctors were closer to coming up with a cocktail that would put my kidney disease into remission and I was finally starting to feel better. I was no longer taking up residence on the couch, instead I was out and about. Charlie was happy that his AJ was getting better. So glad that he proposed to me while I was a sleep. He totally took advantage of my ability to hold conversations while sleeping. Lucky for me he proposed to me again, this time I was awake. Wedding magazines slowly piled on top of his Play Boys and he was enjoying every minute of my drooling over Vera Wang. I had decided on a simple lace gown with a gecko green sash that tied into a bow on the side. Pie, I wanted pie and Muddy Paws Cheesecake instead of cake. Charlie wanted to pick out the venue and he had chosen the Chateau St. Croix winery. He wanted to hang lanterns from the 100-year-old oak tree and thought it was best to say I do at sunset.

Wedding plan lead to talks of babies. Charlie wanted to be a father, well with a catch. He was a Helion as a child and did not want a boy. He would tell me “If we have a boy I am going to FedEx him back to God. There will only be girls in this family.” I almost died laughing. You can’t blame the man, he grew up with three brothers. Charlie wanted to name our first-born girl Charlotte Rae. I giggled because well he’d say “We can call her Charlie for short.” Yup, he was going to name our daughter after himself, selfish I know. In truth I loved the name Charlotte Rae and couldn’t wait to start a family with him.

Thoughts of weddings jumped in my head as I started my new position at the firm in the burbs. Leaving the team at Faegre was hard, they had become like family. For once in my life I got to be a part of the ripple that was creating a better day. An that ripple will always be with me, because never again will I get to work on a case that big. I was excited to get started at the new firm and lucky for me I hit it off right away with the new Attorneys. While working away and learning the ropes I was counting down the hours to Valentines day. Charlie would be returning to Minneapolis permanently on Valentines day and I was excited to start building our life together.

Valentines day didn’t bring me love, instead it brough a wave of tears. The bottom fell out. I received the late night call that everyone dreads. Charlie’s brother said to me “AJ, sweetie I’m sorry to call so late. Choking back tears he said Honey, there’s been an accident and Charlie was hurt pretty bad.” The air left my lungs and I crumbled into the floor. I couldn’t find the strength to speak or to even cry. I muttered an OK. Two days later on February 16th, I got the call I had been dreading. Charlie’s Mom said to me “Sweetie, I’m sorry.” In that moment I knew he was gone. The man I loved with every fiber of my being was dead.

Charlie never got to say I do and we never got to plan the perfect wedding. Instead I got to plan a funeral, write a eulogy, and place connect four into his casket. I got to say Goodbye to my best friend. Charlie loved the song Cowboys and Angles, the chorus reads: “She lives for me, and I’d die for her.” I can die knowing that Charlie loved me until his last moment on this earth and that he would have died for me. So I must live for him. As the grave side service ended I was given a final moment to say goodbye. The funeral directors stood guard and looked toward the crowd as I placed my hands on his casket. Tears fell onto the cobalt blue lid and I promised Charlie: “Charlie, I will not let this one moment define me, I promise you with all of my heart that I will pick up the pieces and find my new normal. I will not lose my way and I will not lose my sense of wonder. I will always love you.” I also promised Charlie that when I start a family of my own I am going to honor him by naming my first-born daughter “Charlotte Rae.”

With those words whispered into the wind I walked into my future and began to heal. I will never understand why the man thought he was fit to drive after one to many drinks at a Happy Hour. That one drunk driver took the lives of five people on a NY state Hwy that day. Five families will never be the same and our lives will be forever impacted by the moment he turned the key and put his car into drive. I no longer ponder the why or the how. I am at peace with what happened and know that Charlie’s life was not a waste. Charlie’s life was full and he is now resting on the clouds of heaven looking down on all of us.

Bronks Charlie was looking forward to meeting Sophia and he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms. Sadly Charlie never got to meet his niece. Having my niece helped me cope with the pain of losing my best friend. Sophia’s sweet smile and tiny laugh make me smile. When I look into her eyes I see hope, hope for a better world. I have no doubt that Sophia will create change and impact this world in a big way. The world is at her finger tips all she has to do is reach up and grab it. For now she settles on puffs, yogurt melts, and grabbing her Auntie’s hand. She has grown so fast. It seems just yesterday that I was holding her in my arms and now she comes crawling when she hears my voice. I love that little girl more than anything. Charlie would have loved her too. He couldn’t wait until she was old enough to play board games and to learn how to snow shoe. We had big plans to take her to Paris when she turns five. Now I will be taking her by myself and capturing the moments of her standing in the Streets of Paris. Charlie often viewed the world through child like wonder, I pray to God that Sophia does the same and that she will never lose her way.

While Sophia rested in the safety of her home, I was packing up mine. The Ivy no longer felt like home. The condo that we shared was no longer filled with laughter, drafting sessions, and board games. It was like someone came by and sucked the hope right out of the air. It was gloomy and stale. Minah and I cataloged and packed up Charlie’s things. Durring this processes I realized: “It doesn’t matter what we do in life, because all of us end up in boxes.” Tears where shed as I packed away his board games, wrapped art work, and God his clothes still smelled like his cologne. The muppet was sad to lose his friend and would walk around the condo looking for him. Soon the cars were loaded on a flat-bed, the last box was loaded into the semi, and I stood in an empty condo looking out at the Minneapolis skyline. I said my good byes and headed back to uptown.

Before I knew it spring had arrived in uptown and I was slowly finding my balance. One thing Charlie’s death taught me was to spend time with the ones you love. Because you never know when there last day on this earth will be. An I did just that. I no familylonger worked 70 hours a week and felt like I was cheating when I left the office at 5. Man it felt good to have a life again. I reconnected with Sherri, that girl deserves an award for being a saint. Her friendship means the world to me and I thank God every day that she is back in my life. Cocktails were had on the sidewalk, laughter filled the air, and I was smiling again. I took the time to actually listen to my Father when he called me, had lunch dates with my Mama, and babysat Sophia. Work is no longer a priority, it is no longer my life, and I am thankful that I was able to find the balance. It feels amazing to have a social life and friends again.

In July I went on vacation with my Mama and my sister for the first time in years. My Mama learned that one must keep their mouth closed when going down a water slide. WI Dells She drank slide water. No one likes slide water. All it took was one weekend to remind me why I love my Mama and my sister. My sister is always there for me. We may fight hard, but we love even harder. August brought Pete and I to the river road winery tour. Connecting with my Father is important to me and well wine makes it fun. By summers end I was ready to put on my dating shoes and make an attempt at a personal life.

On one August night a Chump walked into my life and well as they say “One moment can change everything.” For now the Chump is a keeper. He thinks I am goofy and well he just gets me. It’s not easy to date a complicated stroke survivor. He truly deserves a trophy for taking on such an endeavor.

I said goodbye to my twenties and hello to my thirties in Chicago. I am so glad to be 30, my thirties have to go a lot better than my twenties. Then again I of all people know that nothing goes as planned. So far we are off to a good start.

2012 is the year of construction. Fate tore my life apart and I put it back together. When the bottom falls out you must use everything you have to patch the bucket and move on. Living in the land of what if does nothing for the soul. It only steals your fire and brings you down a dark road. Ferry 20120818 - Copy I traveled that road when my son died. Charlie was the light I needed and he helped me over come a bad marriage and made me believe in love again. I have no doubt that he was there pushing me along the path and cheering me on once I found my way. Sometimes we just need one person to throw us a rope, other times it takes a village to help someone out of a dark place. What matters is that you get out. No one is ever to proud to ask for help. Help can come in many forms. For me my Family, Faith, and Muppet like dog got me through the darkest days. I know that Charlie is resting beyond the stars watching over me and cheering me on to my highest potential. I can go to the grave knowing that he died loving me and I will love him until my final breath. Until that day comes, I am going to live the life dreams are made of. Knock down a few walls, take down a few names, and leave this world a little better than I found it. Charlie would want me to do that.

My bucket is patched and I am ready to move on. I am ready to take 2013 head on with all cylinders burning. Love the life you live and live a life full of love. When you do that, you can never go wrong.

A toast: May 2013 be filled with love, prosperity, hope, and more laughter than one soul can handle. May the wind always be to your back and may you always wake up fighting the good fight.

{The Ugly Side of Divorce} – How One Girl Got Her Kung Fu Back

I was sitting on my couch sipping a cup of coffee looking at my Christmas tree when it hit me, I was no longer struggling. That I was no longer struggling to figure out who I was or where I was headed, and mostly no longer worrying about bills. In 2010 I made the choice to leave a terrible firm and take a $12 an hour job working foreclosures and that was my spiral.

Freshly divorced and barely making ends meet. I cried myself to sleep most nights. Durring the day I put a smile on and acted like my life was perfect. It was far from perfect, I wasn’t fine and it hurt. Life wasn’t supposed to be this way. I went from a plush lifestyle where we didn’t worry about money to that’s all I could think about. I knew something had to give and I needed a different job. Creditors called me more than friends did and the debt it just got taller.

I use to work in consumer debt collections as a paralegal and now I suddenly found myself in their shoes. I use to think “yea right” when a woman would say her ex husband had screwed her over. Then I found myself in that woman’s shoes and I didn’t have a clue on what to do. One thing I did know was that I didn’t want the debt to haunt me forever and little by little I paid it down. I learned to live lean and to only do what I could afford. Every bit of overtime I made went towards my debt and I cashed in part of my 401k to pay off medical bills. It has taken me almost two years, but now the only debt I have is my student loans and thankfully I can finally start paying on them.

Divorce may look easy, yet it is the ugliest thing I have ever gone through. It brought me to the brink, to the bottom, and eventually I struggled inch by inch to the top. Divorce taught me that as a woman I can not depend on a man to take care of my finances, I have to be the one in control. Truth: when I left my ex-husband I had no idea how to pay bills or even do an account transfer. I had to figure it out and plan out my pay checks. I had to do my least favorite thing and that was create a “budget”. Budget was such a dirty word to me and now its a part of my daily life. Budgeting has taught me how to plan for trips and those unforeseen expenses. Like dropping your cell phone in Old Navy. Only to pick it up and realize “shit, the screen is fucking cracked to hell” Thankfully I had cash on had to pay for a new phone. For once I didn’t have to worry about where the money was going to come from. An that was the best feeling in the world.

The feeling of not having to worry about “how am I going to pay for this?” I didn’t want to fork the $129.00 over for my clumsy mistake as it cut into the money I had saved for shopping. I have always loved Black Friday, I am one of those girls who refuses to pay full price for anything that is not edible. If it’s not on sale or if I don’t have a coupon, then I don’t need it. I always shop for clothing at the end of the season and save about 75% off retail, shoes I wear them until they fall apart, same with purses. I rather spend money on a quality product that will last me than spend a ton of money on cheap stuff that falls apart. Since my shopping budget was cut by $129.00 I had to rework my shopping plan. My living room is currently being taken over by presents. I bought gifts for seven people on Thursday/Friday and my grand total was $126.98. Even thou my bank account was down $129.00 I was still able to buy everything I had on my list and not have to worry about my account being in the red. Everything is wrapped and tucked under my tree.

This is my first Christmas where I am not worried about money, about being alone, or my health. Its been a long road, a long three years and I can say that I have finally arrived. My bank account is in the black, my bills are paid, being alone isn’t so bad and for once in three years I am finally not sick. I have gone an entire year without a kidney infection. According to my doctors we are winning the war, yet my future is uncertain. I have chosen to take my disease one battle at a time and one day I will conquer the staph virus that has taken up residence in my kidney system. My heart is strong and my lungs they are doing their best to keep me going. Today is great, yesterday is behind me, and tomorrow has yet to be determined. I have learned to live each day like its my last and to be thankful for every single thing I have.

For now I am happy that I can hold Sophia, tell her stories, and watch her grow. I am thankful to see Nylan one Saturday a month. One Saturday a month may not seem like much to you. However I know that all it takes is one day to build a memory that will last a lifetime. My love for Nylan will never cease, he is one of my greatest joys and I am greatful that I get to watch him grow. In Nylan’s eyes I will always be the woman he calls “Nannie” and that is all right with me. Charlie once told me “AJ if you believe hard enough the pieces of your life will fall into place.” Charlie was right, even thou he is gone the pieces of my life have fallen into place. This is my first Christmas without Charlie, yet I can feel him around me and I know that he is pushing me on to the next peak. Charlie would never give up on me and because of him I will never give up on myself. I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends, colleagues that put up with me, and one hell of a family that refuses to let me stand alone.

While sipping my coffee the worries were quietly silenced and I looked up at my tree with a smile. The muppet sat beside me sniffing the steam from my cup, I rubbed his goofy head and said “we made it pal.” A few tears began to fall and it started to sink in that I was finally “alright”. Three years of struggling led to this moment and I am finally comfortable in my own skin. My struggles will remind me to never turn my head away from someone who needs help and to smile at every stranger I meet, for they could be fighting a harder battle. I know what its like to be in their shoes, to feel lower than low, and to lose hope. The only difference is, I had people who believed in me. They never let me give up and always told me to keep fighting the good fight. I never stopped fighting. I plunged, dove, kicked, and punched until I got my kung fu back.

{Happy Birthday} Hello 30!

One little Ninja and her Mama
October 27th, 1982

You have no idea how excited I am to put my twenties behind me. My twenties were amazing yet terrible at the same time. In truth I wouldn’t trade them for the world, they made me into one hell of a woman.

In ten short years I traveled the world, graduated college, bought a Prius and a house, got married, became a mom to Nylan, had a pulmonary embolism induced stroke, became a mama to a baby in heaven, got divorced, adopted a muppet like dog, hit rock bottom, and found myself. The only thing in the above equation I plan on repeating in the next ten years is travel, marriage, house, prius, dogs, and kids. Thats it no ifs ands or buts about it. Then again I of all people should know that we really don’t have control over our lives. The only thing I can control is how well I live my life. An I am determined to live one hell of a life.

Not having a plan used to scare the crap out of me. Now its a thrill. When I walked out on my ex husband I didn’t have a clue on what my life was going to be like. I just knew that it had to be better and that someone out there would love me. I dabbled in dating only to come up empty-handed. Turns out Mr. right was waiting in the wings. Charlie was an amazing man who was brave enough to take on my baggage. He patiently waited for me to drop my bags at the door and walk into his life. Charlie made me feel like anything and everything was possible. Mostly he showed me that love does exist, it’s not just a dream. Love is worth waiting for ladies, it truly is. The biggest lesson of my twenties was “don’t go for Mr. Right now, instead hold out for the one who takes your breath away.” Don’t get me wrong, I will always have a tiny place in my heart for my ex husband, at the end of the day he just wasn’t the one.

My ex showed me what it was like to be last. Scott always put my wants, needs, and well me last. I was never a priority in his life and what I needed didn’t matter to him. My dreams were shoved to the bottom of the pile, heck I gave up law school for him. Yet, I am glad I met Scott. Because without Scott I would never have met Nylan. Nylan will always be my first son and one of my greatest joys in life. This equation proves that there is always good in the bad, we just have to pick out the good parts and sweep the bad a side. You can guarantee that Nylan and I will continue our bond into my thirties. Any man I date will have to realize that I have a date with Nylan one Saturday a month and that date will never be cancelled on.

Dates are funny little things. Some dates stick in our minds and others leave us forever changed. I am not talking about dating rather the dates on our calendars. April 3 2005 Scott and I had our first date, November 13 2006, Scott asked me to marry him, and on May 31 2008, Scott and I said I do. October 22, 2009 is a day I will never forget. That was the day I had my PE induced stroke. May 12, 2010 was the day I found out that the child I was carrying had died and June 27 2010 was the day I walked out on my marriage. August 13, 2010, was the day I adopted the muppet like dog. On September 24, 2010 I quit my job and on December 23 2010, my divorce was finalized. May 27 2011, was the day I started at the big firm. January 27 2012, I became an aunt, February 6 2012, was the day I started at the little firm and on February 16, 2012 Charlie died. The above dates are forever engraved in my memory. All other dates are irrelevant and are trivial compared to the moments that changed my life. Each and every one of us are a collection of dates. Dates tell us how far we’ve come, how long we’ve loved, and how long someone has been gone. My hope is to only add happy dates to the running list during my thirties. Lord knows I could use some happiness to go along with the bad.

I’ve stuffed a lot of living into ten short years. Even I look back and think “Holy Shit AJ! Do you realize you’ve been to Egypt, lived in a Palace, snorkeled in Alaska, and Zip Corded trough the jungles of Belize?” Then I look at my scrap books and say “Yup, I sure did!” Incredible is the one word I’d use to describe my life. Its been incredibly strange, awesome, and darn right tough at times. Hitting rock bottom gave me the strength to dig out and find my way to the top. Now that I am on top, no one will ever knock me down again. The past ten years have taught me to hold my ground and to fight for my place on the mountain. My heart is strong and I have vowed to never lose myself again. I am going to savor my place on the mountain and enjoy the time I’ve borrowed.

I am going to enjoy the time I have on this earth and will not dwell upon the past. Sure I have questions that will go unanswered. I will never understand why my ex husband stopped loving me or why I had to be the one who suffered a PE induced stroke. Mostly I’ll never understand why God called my son Aloucious and Charlie home. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around what was going through that drunk drivers mind the day that Charlie died. Nor will I ever understand why my ex husband chose to stay in Vegas and push his grieving wife a side. I just know that one day it will all make sense. That in life we cannot have the good without the bad. It has to make sense, otherwise every moment of the past ten years was worthless. My faith tells me that each moment is part of a grander plan. I may not understand that plan, yet I am willing to go where ever fate takes me.

A Toast:

To one more incredible borrowed year on this earth. May year number 30 be filled with love, adventure, hope, and more laughter than one soul can handle. Goodbye 29 and Hello 30!

{Remembering Gerry} Attorney and Mentor

“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time.”
– Emma Goldman

Today the world lost one heck of an Attorney and I lost one incredible mentor. I can still remember the day I got summoned to Gerry’s office. I was scared and held my breath as I pushed the elevator button. Only to be greeted with “you like to ask a lot of questions” and a smile. Gerry was glad that I asked questions and dared to do more than what my job duties said. My long hours hadn’t gone unnoticed and my efforts were being complimented. To him I was no longer AmadaJean a temporary case assistant, I had become AJ the go to girl. If I couldn’t get it done or fixed then well no other assistant could. My questions led to more work and one on ones. The seasoned attorney took me under his wing and shared his passion with me.

Gerry shaped my career and gave me the tools I needed to change the world around me. I can still hear his voice say “Well if they don’t get in the buffet line, they are going to walk away hungry. Because they are only serving the people who rsvp’d. No rsvp, then no plate for them.” I would give anything to hear the “buffet line” analogy one more time and to be sitting across the table from him. Gerry’s mind never turned off, he was one step ahead of the game, and he expected you to put in everything you had.

I am a better paralegal and lobbyist because of Gerry. He taught me to have passion and to love what I was doing. No task is to small or mundane when livelihoods are at stake. It only takes one person to care and when that happens others will follow suit. When I look back on my career working at Gerry’s side will be a highlight and I will always cherish my days on the GCCF crew. In those days I gained one of my greatest cheerleaders and one hell of a mentor.

None of us know when our last day is going to be. None of us know how important someone is until there gone. If only I had a few more moments to pick his brain and one more chance to say “Thank you.” Gerry dared to test the status quo, he dared to beg to differ, and in the end he brought justice to thousands. All I can do now is repay him by doing the same.

{20’s} A Snap Shot

Holy, its hard for me to believe that I will be 30 in 31 days. I am excited to say goodbye to my 20’s and hello to AJ 3.0. My 20’s were one crazy ride. The past decade was filled with, love, advenutre, loss, learning , and so much more. So take a stroll with me as I recap the good, the bad, and the down right funny parts of the past decade.

During the fall of 2002 I started college at the University of Wisconsin Superior and managed to fall in love with a boy from Sri Lanka. Made some great friends and took part in all of the activities that the Northland had to offer. I met my greatest mentor Dr. Maria Cuzzo and she taught me everything there is to know about the law.

Ah! Finally I am legal. Legal to drink that is. However my 21st birthday was a bust. I was sicker than a dog with mono that October. It sucked. Anyways at 21 I came into my own as a bi-racial woman and started speaking at different conferences around the state. In the fall I applied and was accepted to the Wisconsin in Scotland program and was pretty darn pumped for living abroad. I spent most of the year plotting my trip overseas. The Sri Lankan and I saw our first anniversary. Man, back then I thought one year was a huge accomplishment. If I had only known right. That spring he and I drifted apart and I was once again single an ready to mingle. Well I didn’t really mingle.
I spent my summer working at the St James Hotel in Red Wing and saved every dime I made for my trip to Scotland. That August my Mama wrapped her arms around me and waved good-bye as I walked towards the ticket counter. I am not going to lie, I was pretty darn scared and had no fucking clue if I would make it over seas. Scotland was everything I hoped it would be and I got along great with my roommates. In September I wondered the streets of Paris, tanned on the beaches of Sardinia, rode the funicular in Barcelona, and sailed the canals of Venice. I had been to the Edinburgh Tattoo, seen the Queen of England in Person and took in the highland games.

I set off to find my place in the world, I didn’t find my place, instead I found myself. Scotland taught me that I can do anything and that life is one hell of an adventure. I had an amazing 22nd birthday in Scotland and returned home that November forever changed. I was no longer the shy sheltered small town girl, I was now a citizen of the world and a shadow of my former self. I gained so much strength. In January I said goodbye to the Sri Lankan boy and said hello to Scott.
Scott walked into my life that April and he brought a little boy along as well. I fell head over heels for this man and I knew within a few months that he was the one. Scott and Nylan were a package deal and I loved them both with all of my heart. In the fall I started my senior year and plotted my next overseas adventure. Joy and I spent our fall prepping for Egypt and our pending graduation. I lived it up with my sorority sisters and took my speaking skills to the national stage. I got a kick ass LSAT score and was filling out my law school applications. I applied to four that fall. My heart was set on LSU Baton Rouge.

In January Joy and I took off for Egypt. Traveling with my best friend was a great way to say good-bye to our college years. We explored the Great Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, sailed the Nile, and ran from creepy Egyptian men. Joy and I will always have the night train. Ah, yes the night train. Motion sickness got the best of me and Joy growled at the hobos as I puked my guts out in the not so nice bathroom. I swear to God that train popped out of 1920 something. I made some great friends on our trip and was forever changed by my journey to the land of the Pharos.
That Spring Scott and I saw our first anniversary and I began making plans to move in with him that summer. Law School was put on the back burner as I focused on finding a job and being a Mom to Nylan. Woodbury would become my new home and I quickly learned what it was like to live with his brothers. His dogs became mine and I started to build a new dream. Jenny Craig was my first job out of college. I felt a little defeated, my heart laid with the law and without experience that was out of my grasp. Yet, I made the best out of the situation and kept on pushing for something better.

In November Scott and I took a cruise to Mexico and Belize. We took doon buggies to the ruins, zip corded through the jungles, and fell deeply in love on the high seas. The Monday after we returned from our vacation Scott asked me to come out to the garage. He explained that Nylan had left something for me and directed me to my Halloween porch kids. Nylan left something for you in the skeleton’s bag, reach in and see. No I said, it might be a spider. Scott got me to reach in, to my surprise the object was square. As I pulled it out and turned around Scott was on one knee. He asked me to be his wife and of course I said yes. This was one of the happiest days of my life and I was now the proud owner of a calla cut butterfly engagement ring.
In January I said good-by to Jenny Craig and Hello to Express Scripts. Life was great. I loved my job and our relationship was going strong. Wedding planing became my top priority and lucky me I found the dress of my dreams in March.
I needed to itch my travel bug so Scott and I planned a cruise to Alaska that September. It was chilly, yet incredible. Once again he and I fell in love on the high seas.

Whoever said your cube mate can’t become your best friend was wrong. Lisa and I bonded over wedding planning and puppies. She is one of the most incredible women I know
. Today she is no longer my cube mate, instead she is my best friend. Scott and I were getting tired of living with his brothers and we set out to find a home of our own. We looked at more than 30 houses until we found the perfect one. Nylan said he wanted a red house and that is exactly the color of the house we bought and called our home. I spent most of the spring making the red house our home and putting the final details on our wedding.
That winter I started the paralegal certification program at the MN Paralegal institute. I excelled at my courses and my teachers would ask “um why are you here, you know the law and can draft.” Well I am here because no one will hire me unless I have a paralegal certificate. I spent some evenings after class helping my classmates understand the law and proofing their drafts.
On May 31st, 2008 Scott and I said I do with Nylan at our side. It was a beautiful day filled with love and family. Together we were unstoppable and our love bubbled over.

It seemed that the home we bought to bring us together was instead ripping us apart. A rift was formed. Scott had done things I couldn’t forgive. Yet with the walls crashing down we planned another cruise. This time we were headed for Europe and Africa. At times I wonder why we even went. Maybe we thought the magic we had before on past cruises would find its way in and that we would fall in love once again. Love didn’t find its way in. I had few words to say. yet I held on for Nylan’s sake. He deserved a home. To those around us we looked like the perfect couple. In reality we were far from that.
Change was brewing in the wind. That October I took a job at a law firm in Plymouth. I was excited for this new adventure, yet sad to leave my friends and the safety of Express Scripts.
I was excited to start my new job on the 19th of October. I hadn’t felt well that weekend and I just wrote it off as nerves. On the 21st I had terrible pain through out my body. It felt like someone was trying to cut me open. I took some Tylenol and went to bed early that night. On October 22nd I never made it to work, instead I made it to the ER and was fighting like hell to survive. When I arrived at the ER I could barely breathe and my chest felt like a thousand knives were stabbing me. This would be the day I learned what a pulmonary embolism was and on how lucky I am.

I almost died five days before my 27th birthday. I was still finding my way as a survivor and dealing with the aftermath of my blood clot. My life revolved around lovenox, INR checks, drs appointments, and so on. I was sick and tired of it all. Mostly I was tired of being married to a man who didn’t love me. I wanted a man who was moved by the fact that his wife almost died, instead I got pushed to the bottom and cheated on. Yet he promised me that our life was going to be better and that he was going to try harder. That December we had our first Christmas with Nylan in Minnesota. He had an incredible day and enjoyed playing in the piles of snow.
We learned in January that the blood clot had finally dissolved in my lung and that I was half way out of the woods. Once we got that news we decided that Scott + AJ = baby. In April we found out that we were expecting.
To me this was the silver lining. My moment to say that I survived one of the shittiest things in the world and now my body is carrying life. In this moment Scott and I were Happy. The world seemed to stop spinning and love slowly seeped back into our marriage. He talked to my growing belly and would say with a smile “We did it bear.” That we did. Our pregnancy was high risk and we knew the odds. I held out hope that our baby would make it and that we would say hello in a few short months.
Hello never came. In May we said goodbye. Sherri held my hand and dried my tears as I sat waiting in the hospital. We both knew why we were there. She held on to my wedding ring as I went into surgery. When I came out I was no longer with child, I had become a mother to a baby in heaven. My son’s death showed me just how little I mattered to Scott. It showed me that I needed to call it quits.
That June I met an attorney who told me “It all comes down to a judgment call. There are no winners or losers in divorce. Someone has to walk away first.” I heard that on Friday June 25th 2010 and walked away from my marriage on June 27th. It was easy leaving Scott. It hurt like fucking hell when I said good-bye to Nylan. I loved that little boy with every fiber of my being. He was and will always be my son.
I spent the rest of that summer learning how to be unmarried and rescued the muppet like dog. The muppet quickly became my trusty little side kick and he is totally the best dog ever. it was me and the muppet like dog against the world. I tucked my ring away and set out to find myself. Part of finding myself was to quit my job. I hated the law firm I worked for and decided I was done. Of course I was scared. I didn’t have a plan or a fucking clue what I was going to do next.


Me and My Mama at my Birthday Lunch

I actually got a job offer on my 28th birthday. It didn’t pay well. I didn’t care a job is a job. I started dating a little and made new friends. I was creating the life I wanted and had been waiting for. I came to turns with all of the shit that happened during year 27 and walked into survivorhood with grace.
I was no longer a Cohen. My divorce was finalized on December 23rd, 2010. Merry fucking Christmas to me. I was one very happy divorced woman and those papers proved that I was now a free woman.
In the spring I tried on a pair of lobbying shoes. To my surprise they fit and when I opened my mouth people listened. By May I had enough of the bullshit at my $12 an hour job and set off for something new. Enter the big downtown firm. I must admit I was scared half to death to start working there. The attorney from last June and I fell on bad terms. I had no idea if he was going to try to sink me. My lovely friend Lisa talked me into taking the job. She was right I had as much right to work there as he did.
In truth, I shined. Before I knew it I was the go to girl and had 12 attorneys emailing me for assistance. They didn’t care that they had their own assistant, they wanted me. They wanted AJ. I will admit, I worked my summer away and eventually worked myself sick. Yet I was happy to be apart of something huge and I now know more about fishing than I could have ever imagined.
Charlie and I started dating off and on that summer. He was in NY most of the time, yet we made it work. I slowly fell in love with my best friend and started spending more days at The Ivy. Life at 28 was perfect. I loved Charlie, Loved my job and the muppet like dog.

At 29 work became my life. I barely had a social life and at times Charlie got mad at me. This is where I learned that trying to prove yourself isn’t necessary. By Thanksgiving I had worked myself sick, barely slept, and rarely did anything outside of work. Something had to give. If the big firm wasn’t going to give me a permanent position I would find a firm that would. I had several interviews and few call backs. I had started to give up and was accepting my fate as a temp. In late January I got a call, a firm wanted me. I accepted and said my good-byes and left the big downtown firm. I made a lot of great friends there and will always remember the late nights and crazy hours I put in to make someone’s life better.
Oooo, I became an Aunt. Yes, this is definitely a highlight! My niece Sophia and I are 29 years and four months apart, totally cool if you ask me. I love that little girl with all of my heart.
Speaking of love Charlie sat on his coffee table and asked me to be his wife. Of course I said yes. My world was once again perfect. I had a new niece, I was on the mend, engaged, and I loved my job again. Once again I felt like this was my calm after the storm and that nothing was going to destroy my bubble. Bubbles burst way to often in my life. I should know by now that when things are perfect, it take one little prick to burst my happy.
Charlie passed away on February 16th and I was heart-broken. He never even got to meet my niece Sophia or my sister for that matter. Charlie would have loved Sophia. Saying good-bye was hard and I can live the rest of my life knowing that Charlie loved me with all of his heart. There are days where I can feel him around and on others I look up and say “stop pushing Charlie, I can do it on my own.”
An that I did. I proved to myself that I am more than a survivor, I am one hell of a woman with one incredible story. Charlie’s death taught me that memories are worth more than dollars. I have spent more time with friends, uttered I love you more often, snuggled with niece, and spent time with my family. Life is precious and it is worth living. The ultimate lesson of year 29 is “Putting memories into you memory bank is more important than the balance in your bank account.” I will never again work my life away. I will be damned if I let moments slip away because of a work deadline. I have learned to say no and walk away at 6pm. I deserve a life and you know what my bank account doesn’t miss the overtime.

One thing is for certain My 30’s have to be better than my 20’s. I hope that there will be less pot holes and more smooth black top ahead of me. Life is a journey worth taking an I am going to hold on tight. The next 10 years are going to be awesome. I hope to find love again and start a family of my own. Hell I just might entertain the idea of law school or something awesome like that. I do know that I will keep on blogging, so grab your tickets and in 31 days come see AJ 3.0 in action.

{Ninjas} Shrinkable When Wet

With each new year comes change. For me 2012 has been full of change I started a new job, became an Aunt and lost my best friend. I’ve had moments of sadness following by un-containable joy. In January I decided to follow the words I’ve been preaching and to truly embrace a heart healthy life style. My pants were to tight, my stomach was not awesome, and mostly I didn’t feel like me. I needed to feel good in my own skin and to like the girl standing in the mirror. Fuck, I needed to love the woman I saw in the mirror.

That’s me! My photo was taken at the Go Red for Womens Health Luncheon in Minneapolis MN.

I haven’t been a twig since the fifth grade. In truth I it was never in my genes for me to be a twig. My sister she is slender and I am not. I got the Ojibway genes. Ojibway women have baby making hips and small waists. Over the years I have had to come to terms with my body type and embraced my curves. After all slender girls have tiny boobs and I like the rack I am carrying around. Thou they do get in the way when I am playing golf and doing other things. Mostly I came to terms with the fact that I cannot change the genes I was born with. However I can choose to live a healthy life. Because when you are healthy you are happy.

For me I wanted to get back to my pre-stroke self (I still hold out hope for my old life). In reality I will never be the way I was before my stroke. I have to move forward and do the best I can with my broken body. Running, aerobics, and lifting heavy weights are things I will never be able to do again, my poor lungs can’t take it. On the bright side I have two feet and God made those feet for walking. Lucky me I live near Calhoun and have a little dog that loves to explore the path around the lake. Each morning we suit up, put our shoes on (well my shoes), and head on down to the lake. I take him for an extra long walk at dusk too.

Walking was my exercise so I checked that item of my list and set out to tackle my food. I am not going to lie, I love cookies, chips, cheese, bacon, and everything else they say is bad for us. I am normal, normal just like you. However I knew something had to give because my kidneys were not liking the salt and I felt yucky. Lunch was an easy thing to change. One of the benefits of working in downtown Minneapolis is the skyway. The skyway has so many lunch options and the food trucks are like heaven on the street. I didn’t bring a lunch to work, instead I ate out every single day. My wallet and my waist line protested. One of the disadvantages of working in the burbs is that you are not close to anything and have to drive somewhere to get lunch. Truth: I am lazy, once I am at work I do not want to drive somewhere for lunch and come back to the office. Laziness worked in my favour and I pack a lunch each day. Packing a lunch totally controlled my calorie intake and my waist line finally stopped protesting.

Shameless Bathroom shot! August 2012. Down two pant sizes! Hip Hip Hooray!

Before I knew it my pants became to big and I was pulling them up as I walked around the office. I did this discretely of course, Girls you know the shuffle, yea I perfected that. By June I was down two pant sizes. I repeat TWO pant sizes and thank God my boobs didn’t shrink! Bras are expensive and well for the price of one bra I could buy two pairs of pants. I am a frugal girl at heart. My coworkers started taking notice and I finally liked the girl I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I am not a stick, my pants size is till in the double digits. Pant size doesn’t matter to me. What matters is how I feel in my own skin.

Each of us should feel incredible in our own skin and love the person in the mirror. Take it from me, it takes work to stay fit and to eat healthy. There is no such thing as a magic pill or an instant fix. So ignore the infomercials and the ads in the magazines. Put your heart into it and soon you will see results. I look at it this way, I only have one body. My body thanks to the birth control I used is fucked up. I have to live with my broken body for the rest of my life, I don’t have a choice. However I can choose to treat it well and then maybe one day it will only be a little fucked up. Regardless of whether or not you are living in a fucked up or healthy body, you need to take care of yourself.

Remember that Ninjas are shrinkable when wet and an after brisk walk glow looks good on every body!

{Silver Platters} Hard Work Pays Off

Only YOU can change the room you’re standing in.

I got a text message this evening from a former coworker and as I read it I had no pity for the man. He was upset that my old firm had hired someone else on and passed him over. I asked “Did you apply for the position?” He said “No I didn’t even know they were hiring a case assistant.” There you go, I said. You let this opportunity pass you by. If you want to work at the firm as a real employee and not a contractor you need to apply. You are not above anyone else and you just like everyone else needs to go through the application process.

As of late there seems to be a reoccurring theme. People feel that things should just be handed to them on silver platters. Silver platters rarely come around in the real world and silver spoons if you’ve got one hang on to the damn thing. Nothing gets handed to us in this world. The haves got what they have because there worked their ass of to get it. An well the have-nots kept on hoping for that silver platter. I am not one to sit around for a silver platter and believe that in the end hard work always pays off. I am a fighter. I choose to work like I’m broke, live like I am dying, and dance like no one is watching.

Work, is something I crave. It keeps me humble and reminds me that I am no better than my fellow-man. People say I am lucky because you can barely tell I had a stroke. Truth of the matter is, I get Botox to tighten up the left side of my face and to stop the nerve pain. During therapy they told me it was going to be work. That I would have to work hard to get myself back to where I was. An that’s what I did. I pushed through the pain, cried my tears, and now I stand proudly as a survivor. Now I encourage others to veer away from my fate and teach thousands how to live heart healthy. If anything I have to fight harder to prove my worth, to prove that I am more than just a survivor. I work ten times harder and push further to prove that I am worth more than my pay check. Mostly I work my ass off to prove to myself that I am still capable. To prove to myself that I am more than a statistic.

Charlie use to giggle at me because every morning before I leave for work I say to myself “I am AmandaJean and no one else is better than me. I am the best!” Each morning I have a pep talk with myself and let my worries float away. If you are not at the top of your game you can be easily knocked down. Hell, I even give attorney’s pep talks before they head into trial. Pep talks are something I give myself on my way to work, every time I step on a stage, and head into a politicians office. I believe in myself and I believe in my ability to produce quality work.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how good you are. If you never put your fingers to the keys and fill out an application. You will never get that job. I had so many firms tell me no. I never gave up and in the end it paid off. I love my current firm and enjoy what I am doing. I had to work a few crappy jobs and fight my way to the top before I could bask in the sun. The fight was worth it and the crappy jobs taught me beggars cannot be choosy. The legal field if you are not careful will eat you alive and spit you out faster than you can spell Mississippi. You just need to be the chewer and not the chewee.

Truth: I am a chewer. If you do not do everything within your power to change the room your standing in then I do not want to hear you complain. Complaining is for people who know deep down that they did not take the right step to create change. They are the ones who wave goodbye as opportunity passes them by and they wonder why there unhappy. Reach, dream, and for God sakes make the change you need to become a better you. Stand on that soap box, toot your horn until someone takes notice and offers you what you’ve been looking for. Until you do that your room will be dark and the walls will close in. Close in until you realize that you’re six feet under and life completely passed you by.

{Life Lessons} What Working At A Large Firm Taught Me

In life we long for success. We long for respect and aim high. Sometimes we get what we want and we realize that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Over the past 7 months I worked for a large firm down town. I gave the case everything I had. Before I knew it summer had turned into fall and fall slowly slipped into winter. I barely saw my friends, golfed, or sailed. I just worked and worked some more. Overtime replaced nights on the mall with friends and dates were hard to come by. One Saturday night I was told “Maybe you should marry your work. Thats the only thing you care about.” I understood why he was angry. Yet heart broken. It was true my work became my life.

What made the late nights worth it was knowing that I was making a difference. That I was changing lives and helping the attorneys do the same. Then again when the clock hit 5 all of my coworkers left. They didn’t care like I did. They chose to view it as a job and not their moment to create change. They didn’t step up or say how can we make this better. They just chose to do enough to get by and enough to get a pay check on Friday. By Thanks Giving I was burnt out. December brought the news that I was fighting a disease and getting sicker by the day. Even through illness I still clocked 50+ hours a week. Yet one day I looked around and decided that something had to change. I loved my job, yet it didn’t love me back.

The New Year brought interviews both in and out of state. Law firms are a lot like men. You have to keep going on dates until you find the right one. Soon luck would be on my side and a perfect match was made. I was moving on from the big firm to a smaller firm that valued passion and hard work. One where they believed in having fun and a balance. A balance between work and home. Something I never had at the big down town firm. Something I longed for. {A} was right when he told me I should marry my work. At the time that was all I valued.

Now I actually leave the office at a decent hour. I can get things done, hit up Target and walk the Muppet like Dog around the lake.

I learned a huge lesson at the big firm: “Life isn’t about work and work should not take over your life.” Life should be filled with laughter, friends, late nights, and adventure. Life isn’t about the moments that make us money; it is about the moments that take our breath away.