“What Will You Gain When You Throw OUT The SCALE?”

Photo by Stephanie Ryan Photography

Photo by Stephanie Ryan Photography

I always dread the end of the Christmas season and find myself counting down the days to wait for it, wait for it….. WEIGHTLOSS SEASON! Every January my TV is filled with commercials spouting “What will you gain when you lose” or meet the new you. There are commercials for every gosh darn weight loss pill, program, and so on. My favorite tagline from an ad is for Lipozine “Why does it work? It cost $300.00. That’s why it works!” Really a $300.00 bottle of pills is going to help me lose weight? I don’t think so. My biggest beef is with Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Their ads always start out empowering with statements such as “You are more than a number.” Then they quickly go down hill.

As a society we have become so focused on the little box that sits on our bathroom floors. We let it guide our self-worth and our lifestyles. I can tell you that I too once lived a life powered by my bathroom scale and counted every God damn calorie that I shoved into my mouth. I ate rice cakes, 100 calorie packs, and many unappetizing low-calorie microwave meals. My life had become “Count, eat, sleep, gym, morning weigh in —– repeat 24/7 365. Then one day I ate a cupcake, I didn’t dare figure out the calorie count, and for once I was ok with it.

As I was learning to love my body, my bathroom scale began to gather dust. I stood one night and looked at myself in the mirror. As in really looked at myself, I saw my body from a grown up perspective. I was reminded that I get my facial features from my Aunt Cherie Leigh, I have her freckles, large forehead, and high cheek bones. I noticed that my collar-bone sticks out and that my boobs are still holding their own. My back fat, (yea, I’ve got it too!) curves, and dimpled backside no longer bothered me. Instead of flaws I saw strength.

For the first time in a long time, I smiled into the mirror. I am not a size 8 or even a 10, yet I am happy in my size 12/14 jeans. I no longer strive to be like the girls in the magazines. I want to be the best possible me. I need to take care of the body that God gave me. The flaws disappeared, instead I focused on the fact that my body survived a pulmonary embolism and carried a child for a short while. The scar on my lower abdomen is a reminder of my bladder reconstruction surgery and to have hope for a better day. The scars on my knee remind me to keep on walking until the road before me ends. My curly hair, I finally love it and no longer wish for straight hair.

My big flat feet proved to be the perfect canvas for a tattoo. Tattoos, I’ve got two! One on my foot of four bear paws to remind me that my son Alucious is always with me. I have a book-worm studying a law-book on my lower right back (Ha! You thought it was a tramp stamp!) it reminds me to never stop fighting for justice.

You see I no longer want to spend my life looking at a scale. Instead I want to celebrate all of the above things and live a life full of worth. A life filled with white frosted cupcakes, walks with my dog, and backyard BBQs. I don’t need to be a size 2 to be beautiful. At a size 12/14 I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life. I no longer need those 100 calorie packs, rice cakes, and crappy low-calorie microwaved meals to eat “healthy”. I learned how to eat healthy, as in real fresh from the farm foods. I cook more and actually get excited about eating. I have more will power than ever before, I can pass up the bakery, cookie, and snack isle in the grocery store. I am not missing out on the treats, instead I buy just one cookie or cupcake to satisfy my craving. That’s all I need.

I do not need a low number to tell me that I am empowering, joyful, healthy, beautiful, or sexy. I will never let the number on my bathroom scale define myself worth again. I just wish Special K cereal would changer their ads and make women feel empowered in their current state and not ask them “What will you gain when you lose?” Because really the true question is “What will you gain when you throw out the bathroom scale?”

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.

{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.

{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!

Step On Up! Pick A Surgeon, Any Surgeon

Someone once told me “Oh you’re 22? Did you know you are supposed to be married by 23 and have the first of your two children by 25?” I just laughed that comment off at 22 and thought society projects the Betty homemaker image on us from the day we are born. No one ever told me growing up that I would have to fight like hell to hang on to what little fertility I have. No one never told me that at 27 I would lose a baby, under go a D&C that would leave my uterus punctured and scarred. No one ever told me that Asherman’s syndrome exists. Not even the surgeon at Allina told me that Asherman’s syndrome was a risk.

Then again the surgeon who did my D&C was so full of herself that she bragged “I’ve never punctured a woman in my 20 plus years of practicing medicine.” I remember telling her “don’t be so full of yourself, I am probably going to be the one you puncture.” With that sentence I jinxed myself and my fate was written on the wall. A fate I refused to succumb too. Two years ago a careless surgeon sealed my fate and took my fertility away. I’ve learned alot of scary things in the past few months. Things like if I were to carry a child to term my uterus could literally tare away or the baby could punch a whole in the uterine wall. If either of these things happened we would both be in serious trouble. Needless to say any pregnancy would be high risk.

As of right now I am single and have no prospects waiting in the wings. Sometimes I think being in a relationsip might make the decision to have the surgery easier. Then again I was without my partner on the day I had the original procedure. I have taken a lot of time to think about this and I can honestly say I am scared. Scared right out of my shoes. This procedure is a one time shot and there is a 50/50 chance for a successful outcome. I have a 50/50 shot of carrying a child to term one day. If the surgery doesn’t work I am without options. It’s hard for me to put my eggs in one basket when I know the odds. The odds are not in my favor, yet I have a small shred of hope that it will work.

I didn’t have a choice in this matter. It happened. Because of one careless surgeon my uterus is broken. Part of me wants to do everything I can to protect what I have left. Then again I think to myself “one day you just might be in a relationship or married. What if he wants children?” That question rings through my mind. They say its best to do the surgery now and not wait until I am ready to have children. If I waited not only will my dream be at stake, but his dream (who ever he is) would be at stake too. I do not want to be that woman who says “Yea we could have had a baby if ya know I had done the surgery when I was 29. I was single then, so oh well.” I have come to terms with my dream slipping away, however I will fight like hell to save the dream for whoever my future partner is. I just can’t think about today. I need to think about my future and how this will impact the rest of my life.

I have interviewed surgeon after surgeon and finally picked one. There are no do overs, there are no other options. I have to leave it up to fate and let lady luck ride. Hopefully she lands on red and I come out a winner.

{Charlie} A Little Hope

Lately I have spent a lot of time alone and dared to let my mind wonder why. Tears fall silently into the Muppet’s fur and then there are moments where I burst out in laughter for no reason. Life isn’t suppose to be this way. We are supposed to fall in love, have babies, and grow old together. For the first time in years I let myself feel and believed in something called love. I held out hope that it would turn out all right and trusted the fact that he would never be like my ex husband.

Charlie knew I was broken and that he was taking on more scars than one soul could handle. Yet he would shoot me a smirk and take my hand during the moments of doubt. He called me late at night to tell me “Hey beautiful, just wanted to remind you that you are amazing. Don’t forget that.” Sometimes he would tell my voicemail a story or just talk about his day. Knowing full well that the voice mail symbol would bring a smile to me in the morning. He had faith in me and allowed me to just be. Charlie didn’t try to heal my scars, or swaddle my fears, he just simply let me be. Why others tried to give me answers, he gave me hope. Hope replaced my fears and allowed me to dream again. Dream of a place where love lived.

Late nights were spent with board games and conversation. Charlie never asked me about my failed marriage, my stroke, or my son. He told me once “I don’t need to pry. I have faith that when you’re ready you will tell me everything.” Those moments came and the man was left in awe. Bit by bit I revealed myself to him and under the brightness of the sun my secrets became exposed. I stood there before him with nothing more than my soul, vulnerable, and afraid. He just threw his arms around me and said “Babe all we need is a little hope and we’ll be all right.”

Charlie was full of hope. Hope for our future and that our lives would be more than perfect. It’s funny how one persons inability to move their car from the freeway brought that hope crashing down. Charlie’s death will remain fresh as I shake my head and wonder “Why?” I can live with the fact that it was an accident. However I can’t live with the notion that it was preventable. Had they taken the extra steps no one would have had to die that day. Charlie didn’t die alone, that one accident claimed the lives of five people. Five beautiful people that mattered to someone out there. I hold out a tiny shred of hope that the Judge will make those two idiots pay for their mistake. Rest assured I will be sitting in the courtroom on the day the sentence is handed down.

Hope is what gets me through the hard moments and allows me to dream. Charlie would want me to have a little hope and to believe in a better day. A day where the pain fades and all of this will make sense. I didn’t get to grow old with him, yet I got to spend 16 of the greatest months of my life with him. In the end that’s all that matters. That for 16 incredible months our friendship grew into love, and that love allowed us to have a little hope for a beautiful future.

{Broken Vacuum} Tears and Absurd Laughter

Last Friday night I looked down at my floor and thought “My God this carpet looks gross and needs to be vacuumed sooner than later.” My vacuum has been failing me for a while and I knew something had to be done to fix the thing. I am incredibly smart but extremely unhandy. AmandaJean and Stanley tools do not go together. Well that was the case until Charlie showed up on my door step with a set of pink tools.

The pink tools sat unopened in my hall closet, just waiting for me to have a moment of I can do this. At first I couldn’t find my tools and ripped the closet apart looking for them. Then I looked up there they were far above my head pushed to the back of the top shelf. Reaching on my tippy toes I managed to pull them down along with a few other things that fell on my head. I was determined to fix my damn vacuum. The muppet had a “What the fuck is mom doing” look on his face and quietly sat under the coffee table.

Armed with my screw driver and a swift bout of determination I took on operation fix the damn vacuum. I did the obvious first and emptied the bin thingy. That didn’t help so then my next step was to check the hepa filter and still no suction. Any normal person would have checked the brush head. I am not normal after a few minutes of swearing I did just that. Holy crap there was my problem. The brush head was covered with string fur, and what ever else I managed to pick up with it. Wrestling with the brush head and cutting it loose from its prison still did not help with the suction. Tears began to fall and I was starting to give up.

Give up to the point where I wanted to throw the thing out and run to Target to get a shiny new vacuum. Giving up is never an option for me so I took a few deep breaths and felt the hose. The hose was hard and I had a feeling that this isn’t normal. Through my tears I began to take the hose off the vacuum as I was doing this clumps of dust fell to the floor. Soon I had it completely detached from the vacuum and it took me about 40 more minutes to remove the rest of the crap from the hose. I put the hose up to my eye much like a telescope I could see clear to the muppet. To me this was good and I set into the task of putting my vacuum back together.

The sound I heard was the sweet noise of suction as I ran the vacuum across the living room floor. My floor looked less dingy and my God I was finally able to vacuum up the fake needles from my christmas tree. Who knew fake trees could shed so much. I cracked a smile and that smile led to absurd laughter. I thought to my self ” I AmandaJean, just fixed my fucking vacuum all by myself.” I actually did something handy and almost feel brave enough to tackle a hammer. Well maybe not so much, baby steps. I need to pace myself on this fix it adventure.

Fixing a vacuum may not seem that big to you. However to me it is huge. I am normally a girl who runs to someone for fix it help. Or I throw the item out and head to Target for a shiny new one. Here I was covered in dust from head to toe vacuuming my floor. To me my vacuum is no longer just a vacuum, it is a symbol that I am capable of doing things on my own. That as long as I take a deep breath, pause and believe in myself I can do anything.