One half.

Well, my plan was to be more on top of things this year, and while I mostly am, I definitely neglected to recognize that half of this year is already down! My goal when I even began this blog was to chart my personal successes and attempts at living a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life. I promised to do one big thing a month that was just for me. In April, I recapped the first three months of the year and how it had been going so far. My plan was to do quarterly blog check-ins. Aaaaand here we are now, almost through July before I realized I had dropped the ball on my second check-in. Oh well, better late than never!

April

April was a really good month for me, creatively, personally, athletically, and professionally. The month began with me helping my old friend Theo out and shooting a short film with him. Theo is an amazing artist, and I was so excited to get to contribute a little bit to his work! We filmed over the course of one Thursday evening, and it was so fun to flex my acting muscles, particularly in film, where I have less experience. We created a really fun, creepy, exciting little piece, and I was really proud of it!

April also included a lot of time with two of my favorite people, Tom and Serena. These two attended a fundraiser for my school’s 8th graders to get to go on a graduation trip, something that would have been impossible without the generosity of strangers. The fundraiser was a huge success, and contributions from Tom, Serena, my friend Brett, my mom, Kurt, my coworkers and their friends and families ensured that the entire 8th grade class got to go to St. Louis. It was a really momentous occasion for my school, which is in no position to financially aid these students and their families on its own.

Tom and Serena also became our travel partners in April. First, we went to Milwaukee for a weekend. Kurt and I had tickets to see Jack White at The Rave/Eagles Club, and The Blondes decided to tag along. Here is a really cool pic I got of the Jack White show:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh. That’s right. Jack White does this thing where upon entering the venue, your phone gets locked inside a little pouch that cannot be opened until the end of his set. While this at first promoted a little bit of anxiety (like when I had to pee and had no clue where Kurt was when I re-entered the crowd), it was honestly such a cool little touch. Kurt and I could focus on the music and actually experience a live show without watching it through everyone else’s phone screens. Great concert, and he even came back for an unscheduled encore simply due to the Milwaukee crowd’s crazy demands.

Milwaukee is a great city, and I always enjoy it there. Serena and I had to fit in a training run on that Saturday morning, and we did a cool 5 miles along the lake front and through downtown, ending at Harp for Bloody Mary’s. The folks in Milwaukee are absolute party animals – every time I am in that city, I see a whole new form of drunkenness. However, spending Saturday afternoon and evening bar hopping, asking Random Questions, eating some of the greatest tacos ever, and just being with friends in such a laid back town was well worth the short trip up there.

Closing out April was the half marathon in Louisville. Kurt, Tom, Serena, and I drove down for a weekend trip, and Serena and I ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon. My feelings and experiences of that weekend are laid out pretty extensively in my blog post about it, but finishing that race was a huge feat for me and was a very emotional victory. After my accident in February, I honestly thought my active lifestyle may have to change, and that’s not something I ever even want to consider. While I am still dealing with some residual pain and stiffness from my fall, and reconsidering new forms of treatment, I hold dearly to the fact that I finished that race in April. Be it from sheer will, or the kind and supportive nature of someone like Serena keeping me going, that race was a huge celebration for me, and I can safely say, will be one of the highlights of this year.

May

Ohhhhh highlights of the year…what about highlights of my LIFE? May brought about what will forever be one of the best evenings I’ve ever experienced: the night Kurt asked me to marry him. Again, I blogged all about this, but let me just say – I am so happily giddy about being engaged to Kurt that I don’t think I will ever come down off this high. Planning our wedding is so exciting, and I am so looking forward to sharing that day with the people we love. I love this man with all my heart, and the idea that I am sharing my life with him forever just makes me so beyond happy.

Okay, gushy gushy. May also included the end of my Chicago Run coaching season and year, which could potentially be my last due to some other professional promotions that will be taking up my after school time. I love that crazy team, and have loved getting closer to the middle schoolers, whom I really do not have much exposure to. Additionally, we had yet another successful school field trip to Maggie Daley Park, which is so good for our kids. My students often cannot play outside due to the crime in their neighborhood, and rarely get to see downtown Chicago at all, and so bringing them to a place where they can safely be kids without anxiety or fear of their surroundings is not something to be taken for granted. I am so thankful for our school and the administrators who recognize what our kiddos truly need: to feel young, playful, and innocent.

June

June was an awesome month. It just was. Everything went really well and I had so many fun, good experiences. June began with my show opening, and I cannot even express what a blast I had performing with Chicago Red Line. This group is full of fantastic, sweet people who have welcomed me and allowed me to grow and play as a performer. They met me with support from the beginning, and performing “You Can’t Sit With Us,” our musical parody of Mean Girls, was so fun. Being back on stage, singing and dancing, was so empowering for me, and so much more full of heart than any of the last times I performed. I needed the hiatus, I suppose, to reconnect to who I truly am as a performer outside of just boobs in a corset (the majority of the roles I landed).

Kurt and I went to Louisville to look at wedding venues, and SURPRISE! His mom and my mom schemed up an in-law meeting without telling us. They knew we would have been nervous wrecks, and so they cooked up a plan to have Kurt’s parents arrive a few hours before us. Imagine my surprise when we got into my parents’ house and Kurt’s parents were sitting on the back porch! In any case, we had an awesome weekend showing them around Louisville, and even booked our venue! I feel incredibly lucky that my family is so supportive, and that I am also marrying into a family that puts time with each other first.

June ended with Serena and I going back to Louisville to see Taylor Swift. Honestly, I was a pretty mild T. Swift fan before, and yet now find myself absolutely obsessed. Whatever she is selling, I am buying it. The Reputation Arena tour is absolutely spectacular, and I have never had so much fun at a show. Find a way to see this show and go. And you know what? I realized exactly why I like Taylor Swift so much. This is a girl who gets incessantly dumped on. Maybe she does bring it on herself, I don’t know, but it’s just always something for her – some drama, some pain, some bullshit. And I do believe she handles it as classily as she can in the public eye. I think she writes her pain and her frustrations but gets pigeonholed as the girl who writes songs about her exes. What about all the bops about crappy ex-friends, betrayal, misunderstanding situations, and being in love? She is a survivor, and a fighter, and I play right into her world-domination game, okay???

Oh, also I bought my wedding dress. It’s stunning and beautiful, and I love it, but we are still working on the whole “loving myself in it” thing. Man, 20+ years of body image issues does not make wedding dress shopping fun, but it’s all about remembering that it isn’t about the dress, or the hair, or the venue. It’s that I am marrying Kurt, and all the incredible people I love, the people who are making this year so very good, will be there celebrating with us.

This year is halfway over, and I am absolutely stoked to see what the next 6 (okay, 5, I am late posting this) months brings!

An Eye for an Eyelet.

It is still fairly crazy to me how far I have come over the past couple of years. I said to my friend recently that I am enjoying being engaged so much, I do not want to miss a minute of this time, expedited though it is. However, it isn’t just our engagement that has made this particular time in my life so happy. A lot of changes had to occur to get here, and I am thankful every day these changes happened, whether by chance or by my own doing.

I’ve been super into capsule wardrobes lately and the simplicity they offer, and when I was designing mine recently, I uncovered this adorable, white eyelet lace wrap dress I picked up from Ann Taylor Loft roughly five years ago. (Luckily, white appeared within my capsule color palette, and so this dress made it into the “keep” pile.) I remember trying this dress on at the store, something I rarely take the time to do, and feeling like I looked amazing. I bought it, but never found the right time to wear it. It always seemed too “bridal” to me to wear a white dress, and so I just decided to save it until I was engaged and could wear it to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

The time is nigh, right? Wrong. When I pulled the dress out of the inner crevices of my closet, I saw that it was covered in black and brown stains, from the collar all the way down to its cutesy little midi bell skirt. This discovery stopped me right in my tracks.

On June 1st, 2014, my apartment burned down.

Alright, alright, if you know me, you know this story. You may even be a little sick of this story. So, CliffsNotes version: I broke up with my partner of 6 years in February of 2014. I found an apartment I absolutely loved in Bucktown. I felt safe, complete, and happy there. It changed my whole perspective and outlook living there. On May 31st, after Do Division Fest and watching Wet Hot American Summer, I went to sleep, and just a few hours later, at 4am on June 1st, 2014, I found myself desperately escaping a building that was burning down around me.

My boyfriend at the time woke me to an apartment filled with smoke and my poor dog crying for us to awaken. My windows broke before me, as firefighters, already in the building above my garden unit, tried desperately to ax in the glass to ventilate. I heard crash after crash of furniture and roof tiles falling and being thrown out of the apartment above me. Glass rained down everywhere as we ran through it all, sparkling like diamonds and sharply pinching into my bare shoulders.

By 9 am the building was gone.

By 2 pm, I realized my home was gone.

My best friend Brett and my ex-boyfriend moved what we could salvage out the front door while I stood in the rubble and stared. Stared at the life I had only just started to build, the safety and comfort I had only just established, the home I had only just lived in for three months. I was fully in shock, and still was deeply disturbed and devastated by the loss. Brett instructed me to see what I could take from my bedroom closet, mostly to give me a concrete task to focus on. I stuffed tattered, smokey clothing into garbage bags. I pulled dresses and jeans from hangers, each of them wet and stained with the ashy, sooty, water from the high-powered hoses that ended the fire. The white dress was among what was salvaged.

That fire marked the lowest period in my life. That fire caused almost two months of homelessness and displacement. That fire caused extreme anxiety and PTSD symptoms in me that led me to therapy and medication to help me cope. That fire took years to rebuild from, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. But rebuild I did, to become better than I was, and lead a life better than I’d had ever before. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still have my fearful moments.

My fiance has watched me crumble and have trouble focusing at the slightest smell of burning. He has watched me check that the burners are off 11 times before leaving to go to a bar. He has held me as I watched a building in our neighborhood burn on the 3 year anniversary of my own fire. He even watched an episode of This Is Us with me when I realized that Jack’s death was a result of a house fire.

I believe I am healed, but I am fragile.

And when I found that dress and those stains last week, my gut instinct was to crumble. BUT – I did not.

I am living happier and fuller than I ever have, but I could not and would not be here without the pains and struggles of my past. Can you truly appreciate the good times if you do not know suffering? I appreciate every minute of my time and the people I know, because I also know what life was like on the flip side, before I knew what I know now.

So, no. I did not crumble. I grabbed my OxiClean stain stick and scrubbed the living shit out of those stains. Scrubbed what I had neglected to truly try to get rid of over the last four years. I threw those stains in my washer on high heat. I tumbled dry on low. And at long last, those stains are GONE. And that dress WILL be worn to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

That dress was bought and intended for a happy ending, and much like I have worked hard to give myself one, I should give it the very same respect.

Dear Tinder.

This is a story of Tinder Boy Meets Tinder Girl.

Dear Tinder,

It was the late Spring of 2015. The air was warm, and you could feel summer creeping into the lazy breezes and sun-stretched afternoons. I was at my highest and lowest. Highest, for I had been accepted into a prestigious and competitive education graduate program and teacher training residency, had quit my job of 5 years that brought me considerable frustrations, and was in a new apartment. Lowest, because I was in that apartment after almost 10 months of displacement and discomfort following a house fire where I lost everything, was just reeling from a 6 year relationship ending, and had just been dumped by my rebound.

And there you were, Tinder. Right when I needed you, the very idea of you spread through my brain and allowed me to come to you for the services you offer. I was lonely, but not brazen enough to take myself out to a bar and hit on strangers. I wanted connection, but all of my friends lacked single male friends. I needed reassurance and attention, and was just downright ready to flirt. I downloaded you, clicked the little white flame, and created my profile.

I am shocked, Tinder, that I did not have callouses on my thumbs from the constant, addictive swiping. Sure, people can say that you’re shallow, or materialistic, but guess what? Humans are visual, and we DO judge who were are attracted to based on looks even before we get to know them. So, you allowed me to shuffle through pictures of men in Chicago and be a shallow, animalistic, single, 28-year-old woman. It was right what I needed right when I needed it.

Baby’s first Tinder profile pic. Hide the eyes, get the guys?

I encountered men that ranged from kind of sad (shout out to you, Recently Divorced Dad who still lived with his ex-wife and wanted to make her jealous with me), to desperate (shout out to YOU, Scottish Dude on a travel Visa who needed to get married to stay in America) to pretty gross (shout out to YOU, Guy From Las Vegas on a layover at O’Hare). I went on one date with a guy who I talked to via text for about a week. His name was Eric, and I was impressed because he called me and actually talked to me on the phone. There were immediate red flags on our date, such as him telling me he was colorblind but then identifying many colors of objects around the bar, or stating that if I were his, he would make me sell all my possessions so I had no memories associated with anyone but him. The red flags quickly turned black and essentially went up in flames when he continuously bought me drinks and said he “just wanted to get me drunk enough to fuck him.” Bye, Eric.

Had I turned my back on you then, Tinder, I would have lost out on meeting the love of my life. And this is why, Tinder, I must thank you. You are not merely a vapid, silly, hook-up site. You somehow, by some chance, by some mystic coincidental swiping on both sides, led me to meeting Kurt.

Who wouldn’t swipe right for this handsome mug? (Kurt, circa 2015.)

Kurt and I texted for weeks before meeting face to face. We would ask each other Random Questions, RQ’s, we called them, and slowly got to know each other well enough to know we would enjoy meeting face to face. We eventually went on a first date at Lost Lake, a tiki bar in our neighborhood. Taking a gamble and figuring “why not?” after my bad experience with Eric, I brought along some firecracker poppers in my purse. When the time felt right, I whipped them out and told him I was “really feeling some sparks between us.” He didn’t run. He laughed. Be it out of pity or genuine humor, who cares? He was nice. I went into the bathroom and texted my friend Brett that he was “too good looking for me, and far too nice and normal.” But still, we stayed. We stayed for hours, talking, laughing, drinking tropical cocktails out of ceramic parrots. He walked me back to my apartment in the rain, and I asked him if he wanted to listen to a record. We put on Arcade Fire’s “Funeral.”

That night changed everything. Kurt was in portfolio school and I was starting grad school, but we decided we would continue talking and spending what little free time we had over that next year around one another. We weren’t “official,” and school had to come first, but we spent Fridays and Saturdays together. I met his friends, which was also life changing, and within mere weeks found myself surrounded by much more positive, funny, kind, fun people than I had previously known. You see, Tinder, you led me to not only find the love of my life and my now closest friends, but you allowed me to see what and who I was worthy of surrounding myself with. I deserved far better than I had, and was suddenly able to swipe right into that better life.

At a wedding in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, three months after we met face to face, Kurt asked me to be his girlfriend. A year and 9 months after that, we moved in together. And 13 months after that, last Friday evening, listening to that very same Arcade Fire album, asking the same sorts of Random Questions we had built a connection on three years earlier, he posed the ultimate RQ: he asked me to marry him.

I’ve been learning to drive
My whole life

And so, Tinder, I am writing this letter to you to thank you. You get a bad rap sometimes, but you were there for me when I needed you, you led me away from bad people, helped me wade through some other random crazies, and eventually led me here, to this most beautiful time I have ever experienced: preparing to marry my best friend. I wouldn’t be here without you, Tinder.

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Love, Julia