Estelle Turns One

Watching Estelle turn the big 01 was so…surreal. And amazing. We have felt so much love and received so much support from everyone in our lives that I couldn’t bring myself to do a toast at her party. I knew I would burst into tears and I wouldn’t have the excuse that I was pregnant and it would just be a big hot mess.

ANYWAYS, I received the loveliest letter from Alek’s sister Leanna. She is supremely smart and supremely funny and her letter summed up how I felt about Estelle’s birthday (and our lives in general) so perfectly, I had to share.

From Lone Star guacamole and chips brought to my postpartum recovery room to the surprise balloon arch waiting when we showed up at the big birthday bash,  thank you, thank you, thank you, for the last year.

Alek + Natalia,

It was so much fun hanging out with you this trip. I’m pleased that you finally got some heirloom furniture in my room, but I will always have fond memories of sleeping on your couch.

I loved being there for Estelle’s first birthday. You surround yourselves with such fun, remarkable, interesting people: like the center of this perfect, glowing universe. I’m so lucky to be a part of it, and I love that your friends are always automatically my friends. Even Especially the ones I made out with.

I love Alek’s rambling stories and firehouse BBQs and leaving me with crying Estelle. I miss being a part of your everyday lives, but I always feel like I fit right in. You two mean a lot to me, and one of these days, Nat will actually visit me instead of playing with my emotions. (I’ll make you do the 5K freedom run again as punishment).

Love you!

Leanna

It’s Like Christmas Day, For Adults

When I first found out I was pregnant, I thought “Oh, I am going to blog like CRAZY. I’m going to document EVERYTHING that I’m feeling and going through in a totally open and honest way and it’s going to be AMAZING. Future Natalie is going to be SO GRATEFUL to have all of this written down.”
WELL, that was like 12 months ago.
Then I got really really really busy.
Sorry Future Natalie.
ANYWAYS, the wee one is here! I am sharing her birth story because I really appreciated reading other people’s birth stories. So, you know, karma.

I want to state a couple of things up front:
1.     I am incredibly, incredibly grateful that I was able to get pregnant, stay healthy, carry a healthy baby to full term and have a healthy delivery for both me and the baby. I have friends that struggle with fertility problems and miscarriages. I have friends that cannot have biological children. I have friends that have hard pregnancies and difficult deliveries. I have friends whose babies came too early. And I have friends whose babies passed away too soon. While I may make mention of complain about something like buying shoes that were 2 ½ sizes bigger than usual to house my incredibly swollen feet, please know that I know that this whole process is miraculous and that I am very VERY lucky.
2.     From the moment you tell people you’re having unprotected sex trying to get pregnant they have an opinion. ON EVERYTHING. And lots of these people that are giving you advice telling you what to do don’t even have a vagina! (What? You’re NOT taking an extra iron supplement with your prenatal vitamin??!!! OHMYGOD!! And it just goes on and on from there.) So please know that I chose the birth plan that was right for me and I am just sharing my experience. I’m in no way telling you what I think you should do or that I am SO RIGHT because believe me I am as sick of other people’s advice as you are.
Whew! OK, here we go.
From the beginning I really wanted a natural childbirth. For me, a natural childbirth meant no medical interventions throughout the labor and delivery – waiting for the baby to come on her own (no induction), no pain medication and no epidural. However, my “natural-ness” ended there. I utterly and completely adore my Doctor and after my sister’s great birth experience with him (which ended in an emergency C-section) I wanted to have the baby under his care and in a hospital. (P.S. If you are interested in natural childbirth, I would recommend watching The Business of Being Born series.) 
I told my Dr. I wanted a natural birth and he recommended a hypnobirthing coach who he lovingly referred to as “Yoda.” He was very positive about hypnotherapy not just as a pain management technique for childbirth, but for life.
So we signed up for hypnobirthing classes. Sidebar – if you are a first time Mom I would recommend signing up for some sort of birthing class. I really had not done any research into labor and delivery and as they say, knowledge is power.  It was very comforting to understand the ins and outs of how this baby getting outside of my body was going to go down.
Sidebar on the sidebar – even if you are planning to get an epidural, I would highly recommend looking into hypnobirthing classes. There are two reasons for this. First, the whole hypnobirthing/natural childbirthing movement is centered around changing your perception of pregnancy and childbirth, which has no doubt been shaped media portrayals of childbirth (screaming and crying and PAIN) as well as the horrible birth stories everyone likes to tell you (and people don’t stop telling you these stories, ever.) The hypnobirthing philosophy looks at pregnancy and childbirth as completely natural. Something your body was built to do. It is incredibly empowering and takes a lot of fear out of the unknown. It teaches you to acknowledge those horrible experiences, say “that is not going to be my experience” and set them aside in your mind. Second, the relaxation and breathing techniques that are taught in hypnotherapy were incredibly helpful to me throughout my pregnancy. They helped me calm down if I started feeling overwhelmed, they helped me fall asleep, and they helped when the baby was breech and had to be turned via an ECV
And even if you get an epidural, you will still be laboring before it kicks in, so you’re going to need SOMETHING. 
Many people have asked me what hypnobirthing is exactly. It’s basically a shorter way of saying “pain management through guided meditation.” You’re not “hypnotizing yourself.” You won’t be running around dilated to a six bock-bock-bagaaaaak-ing like a chicken or anything. Hypnotherapy uses a combination of breathing techniques and guided meditation to bring your focus completely inward, centered on a singular purpose. It also guides you into as relaxed a state as you can possibly be in. Even though you are in a sort-of trance, you are aware of what is happening around you and can make decisions.
For me, someone who has an incredibly hard time stilling my mind, being able to go into this type of state took a lot of practice. To prepare, I attended hypnobirthing classes, read this book, listened to a hypnobirthing script AT LEAST once per week and attended about ten private, hour-long sessions with a hypnotherapist. I also did A LOT of prenatal yoga. Yet another sidebar: the yoga was EXTREMELY helpful when it came to accepting and loving my ever-changing body and practicing different breathing techniques.
I also got a lot of prenatal massages. But I don’t think that really has anything to do with anything other than a real prenatal massage from someone who specializes in maternity massage feels SO GOOD. Three words: TREAT YO SELF

 

Coming out of this experience I am a total hypnotherapy and meditation convert and as my doctor predicted – the techniques I learned will help me throughout my life.
So, I’d done the work. I was becoming a Zen master-ish. And then a wrench was thrown into my grand plan: I had to be induced.
It sort of runs in the family that our babies arrive late. From the minute I found out I was pregnant I always had it in my head that my pregnancy would go 42-weeks and the due date was just a date-ish.  And that was good for me because the last four weeks of my pregnancy I went from being dilated to a 1 to being dilated to a 1.7. And let’s face it, my doctor probably added the 0.7 to make me feel like something was happening.  (AND YES EVERYONE – I had spicy food, drank teas, went on walks, had lots of sex, etc. etc. etc. ) In other words, without medical intervention I would probably still be pregnant.
ANYWAYS, I was scheduled for an induction at 41 weeks. I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to be induced. All of my hippie-natural-childbirth stuff said inductions were to be avoided at all costs. The baby would come on her own. Your body and your baby knew what they were doing. Most importantly,  an induction was a very slippery slope to all sorts of medical interventions that you couldn’t control and didn’t want.
This was on Thursday. The induction was scheduled for Monday morning. I spent Friday feeling very blue about the whole business. Then my lovely lovely friend Estelle called on Saturday. I think she could sense from my texts that this was stressing me out. Estelle was the one who inspired me to go for a natural childbirth in the first place and what followed was an incredibly comforting conversation during which she reassured me that 1. I HAD to let go. I  HAD to be flexible. You can’t “plan” childbirth. 2. It didn’t really matter in the end HOW the baby arrived, as long as she and I were healthy. And 3. “Remember, no one is going to give you a f**king medal for natural childbirth.”
This is why I named my baby after her.
Since I had let go and accepted this process, I will say that it was nice to know that I was going to have my baby on Monday or somewhere thereabouts.
They pushed the Pitocin at about 9:00 AM. 
Shortly thereafter my doctor broke the amniotic sac (which sounded horrible in theory but in actuality was not painful in any way and provided some immediate relief from pressure) and we were a go.
Because of the Pitocin I had to be hooked up to an IV and I also ended up with an internal electronic fetal heart monitorThis meant that I could not use the tub, which was fine because I wasn’t really planning on using it anyway. If you’ve ever read my blog you know of my hideously dry skin. So getting out of the tub and greasing myself up with lotion in the midst of hard labor just wasn’t going to happen.
I asked Alek if he would remind me every hour or so to get up and use the bathroom. I’d read something about damage to your bladder if you had to wee during pushing (or maybe I had just totally made that up) and I also didn’t really want to end up doing a number two in front of Alek and everyone.
Since Alek is familiar with all of the medical equipment, he could hook-up and unhook everything. So, I really lucked out because I didn’t have to call a nurse every time I had to go to the bathroom.
My first order of business was to relax. We turned off all of the lights. I turned my phone to airplane mode so there wouldn’t be any interruptions. I started by listening to a couple of meditation scripts to get rolling.
After a little while I couldn’t really concentrate on the voice and the script so I switched over to music for the rest of the day. I listened to our wedding dinner mix, which was a compilation of all of our favorite sort-of-quiet songs. (Think The XX, Sia, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, Coldplay.) And at the end of my labor I listened to the soundtrack of my adult life, Alice In Chains Jar of Flies two or three times. 
In the hypnobirthing classes there were a lot of discussions about options for pain management during laboring – walking around, getting in the tub, using a birthing ball, having your birth partner give you a “light touch” massage, etc. Other than Alek reminding me to get up to go to the bathroom every once in a while, I didn’t really move around or get out of bed at all. I just wanted to lay there in the dark and the quiet and listen to the music. I liked Alek being close enough to the bed so that I could touch him or we could hold hands, but I did not want any kind of stimulation like a massage. I felt bad for Alek, because I thought it was probably pretty boring.

Let’s just talk about Alek for a minute. One of the reasons I was so confident that I could handle a natural birth was knowing that he would be my partner. I knew that I could completely surrender myself to this process and that he could handle everything else. I trusted him completely and I knew that he would be there for me in every way and would be the best possible advocate for me and our baby. And just like everything else my life, labor and delivery rolled out smoothly because he was so helpful and so loving and so present. I have a vivid memory of looking at him when it was time to push. He was at my side with his hand on my head. He was looking at me and tears were rolling down his face. I guess I was surprised at how emotional it was for him. And I knew in that moment that the stretch marks and the sleep loss and the weight gained were so worth it to give Alek a child and that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for him.

Everyone was very respectful of my process. I have vague recollections of my doctor and nurses checking up on me but the day was pretty quiet. I remember Alek telling me my Mom and Dad were on the way because they were too excited to wait at home and thinking “Oh man, but it’s SO BORING in here!”
Besides staying in a calm, quiet state, in a calm, quiet environment, there were a few things that were very useful during my laboring:
  • Good music that took me to a happy place
  • Simple yoga breathing. In-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, Out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8…
  • My hypnotherapy coach had given me an anchor.” When I touched my thumb and forefinger together it brought me to a calm, centered, place of power.
  • The hypnobirthing script I was most familiar with had a line “There is no pain, only pressure.” I repeated this over and over. That very simple twist on what I was supposed to be feeling was very powerful. Thinking back on labor I don’t really feel like there was any pain, only pressure.
But the most helpful part of the process was visualizing my baby. With every contraction she was making her way into the world. With every contraction she was even closer. We were working together and I needed to stay very connected with her. I found it comforting to see the heart monitor and know that she was with me all the time. It was up to the two of us and I wanted her to know that we were so excited for her to be here and I was going to to my part to try to make her entry into the world as peaceful as possible.
You are pregnant for SO LONG. (I had an app that told me how many days I had been pregnant and let’s just say it’s not a good idea to look at it in terms of days.)  It is hard to picture what it will be like to not be pregnant, and for your baby to be here and for your new life to begin. At one point after a strong contraction I was hit with a powerful wave of emotion and I started to cry. Alek was worried that I was in too much pain, but it was just finally…REAL. Our baby was going to be here soon and I was so happy.
Time was totally a blur. I only had some context when I got up to use the bathroom and glanced at the clock. At one point I felt like I was going to throw up with every contraction. I asked Alek to find something I could throw up into, just in case. Not only did he do that, but he ordered up some Zofran
I love him SSSSSOOOOO MUCH.
The hardest part of labor for me was getting the urge to push, but not quite being dilated enough. So for the next few contractions I had to actively hold back from pushing, which was a lot more difficult than just relaxing through a contraction.
And then it was time to push. And everything changed. Lights were on, my doctor was there, my Mom and Janaan were there and everyone sprang into action.
DAMN, it felt good to push.
This is the part where I talk about pooping. Let’s just get it out there. If you have never had a baby, you have absolutely no context for what labor and delivery are like. And as previously mentioned, people LOVE to tell you how painful it is and LOVE to tell you their horror stories. I’ll tell you what it was like for me. It felt like taking the biggest poop ever. That’s the closest approximation I can come up with. So don’t let the fear of the unknown get to you. Get EXCITED. Because it’s just like a big ol’ poop. And everyone knows how good it feels to take a poop, it’s just not polite to talk about it.
But I digress… 
Alek had a great relationship with my doctor and my doctor knew that Alek was not going to be the guy that gets grossed out or passes out. He made sure that I didn’t need Alek with me “up top” and about 40 minutes later, at 5:01 PM, our baby was born into Alek’s arms. 
I wouldn’t change a thing about my birth experience. The hypnotherapy. The music. The amazingness that is Alek. My incredible doctor and the labor and delivery staff. My loving and supportive family.

If you are pregnant and considering a natural childbirth – know this: YOU CAN DO IT. You absolutely can. Believe that. And if in the end, you don’t have a natural birth – that’s perfectly wonderful too. Estelle was right – stay flexible and do what it takes to stay healthy and get your baby here safely.
When the wee baby Estelle was born she was put right up on my chest. All I could manage to say was “Hiiii!” Even now when she is lying on my chest I go right back to that moment.
Remember when you were a kid, waking up on Christmas morning was like magic? It was a different feeling than any other day or any other event of the year. And all too soon you learned about the magic behind the magic and no matter how many times you read the Polar Express and TRIED to believe, you could never get that magic back?
Well,  a friend of mine told me that the moment her children were born was “Like Christmas for adults.” And that’s really and truly the best description.

It was magic. It felt like Christmas again. 

Texts from Alek

November 17, 2012 – 4:08 PM
 
Alek: “How’s your day Babah?”
 
Me: “Good! Out shopping at crafty bitch boutiques with the girls. I bought a really cool teepee for the wee baby Seamus to play with in like 3 years. What?! TOTALLY JUSTIFIED.”
 
Alek – “Then I’m gonna buy a motorcycle that the baby can ride in like 16 years so…”
 
Me – “Touche, Babah. Touche.”

I know why this guy is smiling.

I had to be at the office at 8:00 AM on Monday. I know it’s lame, but for me, this is an epic event. I had a great reason to be at the office at 8:00 so I was actually really excited when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM on Monday morning.

I bounced (rolled) straight out of bed (after a couple of snoozes) and headed straight for (stumbled to) the shower.

And then it happened.

There was no hot water.

Alek looked so so peaceful all snuggled up under the covers, but this was some straight up manly business so I softly kissed (gently poked while dripping cold water all over the place) him awake.

As we stared at the pool of water at the bottom of the water heater and the rusted pipe with a little stream of water spraying crazily up in the air I recalled the very serious warning of the home inspector when I bought The Chocolate Loft:

“That water heater is going to need to be replaced. I give it 5 years MAX, but that’s a stretch.” 

I file this statement away under “Future Natalie’s Problems.”

That was about 4 years ago.

Back in the present day I am hitting the window where if I don’t shower I’m not going to make it to the office on time. So I suck it up and take a cold shower and pull my hair up into a top bun.

Now, I hate cold showers. I hate them SOOOOOO much. Honestly, it’s one of my most hated things ever. Ever. EVER. But I’m an adult who is trying to be an awesome (decent) person and I know that I can’t let this ruin my whole day. I make the weather, right?

So, I chalk up all of the benefits of the cold shower:
1. I am invigorated! (FREEZING!)
2. I now have proof that I can take a more than decent shower in less than 6 minutes! (Minus hair washing but there’s NO WAY I’m getting my hair wet!)
3. This is better for the environment (And my wallet! Right?)

..that’s all I can come up with.

Alek takes on the task of sorting out the hot water heater situation. Now Alek is a manly man, with manly ways, so before I leave for the office he is dressed and ready to go to Home Depot and already has all of the shrouding off of the water heater. Unfortunately, it’s not that kind of water heater. It’s connected to this huge circuit with a mess of wires that is attached to a bunch of heating coils that’s attached to a big ventilation system. As I stare at this complicated mess, I hear the home inspector’s voice again:

“And these things are EXPENSIVE.”

Alek spends the entire day exploring the wonderful world of plumbing contractors. We’ve been referred by our neighbors to a local company that has basically replaced all of the units in the building. This is our starting point at 7:00 AM. They tell Alek that they don’t maintain these types of units. Huh. After calling several more places, and several more plumbers he calls the first company back and mentions several customers of theirs that we know. They finally figure out that we need their COMMERCIAL business, not their home business. We get transferred and get an appointment for the next morning for them to come look at the hot water heater. The appointment costs $79.

Tuesday morning I decide that I need to be grateful. What is my problem? Do I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head? To have water at all? To have my health, my husband, my family, my job, my life? I try to be grateful as the icy blast water literally takes my breath away. I really, truly try.

Alek calls around 2:00 with the estimate.

“Sock it to me,” I say.

“You ready??” He says.

“Sock it to me,” I say.

“$13,200.”

“Come again now?”

“$13,200.”

Ho-lee shit.

“They said that they’ll put the $79 fee towards the cost of the system though. So let’s see, that makes it $13,121.”

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….oh, oh, hang on, hang on, I have to catch my breath….BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

I mean, seriously, what can we do? Go to plumber school? There is one company in the valley that does the units in this building. And remember the original Batman movie? With Michael Keaton and Kim Bassinger and Jack Nicholson as the Joker? Remember when the Joker puts some kind of chemical in all of the cosmetic products? And everyone starts to devolve into sloppy messes of their former selves with pimples and bad hair? Well, that’s pretty much what I look like.

So we schedule an appointment to have everything installed. 

I mean, $13,000 seems like A LOT, right? Like, RIDICULOUS. I am not feeling good about it at all. I see our summer holiday plans evaporating. Alek says he’s going to put a Harley Davidson sticker on the hot water heater, because that’s basically what this equates to. I envision a family photo with Alek and Me and Lucy and The Hot Water Heater. I wonder what people will think when we give them gift certificates for hot showers for Christmas.

We happened to have an HOA board meeting last night so I bring this jaw-dropping bid up. Three of the board members have had their furnaces replaced. All at a cost of ~$8,000. This is still expensive, but it seems more in the ballpark and it’s a hell of a lot better than $13,200.

We do some digging and the way it was described to Alek, the air conditioner was “on top of” the hot water heater/heater combo thingy so, as part of this whole deal it needed to be replaced too. Well, turns out, “on top of” meant ON THE ROOF OF THE BUILDING! Basically, it is a complete pain in the ass for them to reconfigure all of the duct work to connect the existing air conditioner to the new heater/water heater combo thingy. So while they’re at it with the duct work, why not replace the air conditioner too? Why not? BECAUSE IT’S FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS AND IT’S NOT BROKEN!!!

After a day of insane amounts of hot water heater related profanity, Alek and I look at each other and laugh and agree that it all really doesn’t matter. Hugs and Kisses! I’m not going to lie though, my great life lessons and gratitude are all but gone this morning, my 3rd day in a row with a cold shower as a wake-up call.

Day one of the installation is now over (yes, it takes two days). We know that life is fragile and we need to enjoy every moment. We have our health. We have each other. We have absolutely incredible families and friends and jobs. And now, we have m**therf***ing hot water.

P.S. Did I mention they offered 12 months same as cash? Well, we took it. Suze Orman would bitch slap me right now, but I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around an $8,000 hot water heater.

That’s future Natalie’s problem.

Better together.

When we’re not wearing them, we keep our wedding rings in this milk glass dish that Alek’s grandma gave me after learning of my obsession with milk glass. (Sidebar, she gave me this dish after crushing me by saying “Oh my! You wouldn’t BELIEVE how much milk glass I’ve given to the thrift stores over the years!)

ANYWAYS, every time I see our rings in the dish, it makes me smile.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me lately why I wanted to get married again. I’ve given it a lot of thought and boiled it down to this:

After I learned what a happy, healthy relationship looked like, I decided that I wanted a partner. Not a husband, a partner.

To me, this is an important distinction because we’ve created so many gender stereotypes around what a husband should be and what a wife should be and what a corn-fed-two-kids-and-a-minivan-American-marriage should look like.

One of the many things that I have learned from Karen (a.k.a. the hard way) – and that I firmly believe – is that each person in a relationship should be able to stand alone. Each person should have their own thoughts, their own beliefs, their own opinions, their own interests, their own work, their own play, their own friends, their own family. And, it is each individual’s responsibility to cultivate their own lives.

I don’t want to be completely lost in another person, wandering around comfortably numb, ever again.

I DO want a PARTNER. Someone who I can SHARE my life with. Someone who loves ME truly, madly, deeply. Someone who can SUPPORT me and help me ACHIEVE things that are just not possible on my own. Someone who AMPLIFIES my world. Someone who turns my life into a movie. Someone who makes my days brighter, my food taste better, my chores less taxing, my laughs more deeply felt.

And that’s the thing. My life is great. Alek’s life is great. And we’re BOTH better together.

Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, except way more awesome.

Be Merry | 2011

Love, 
The House of House
Alek + Natalie
(a.k.a. The super-happy, exhausted, fun-filled, caffeinated party that never sleeps, but seriously needs some.)

Last night Alek and I had dinner with some new friends from our building. We’ve been saying for months that we should have dinner together and we finally got it together and we had SUCH a great time. Like, it took MAYBE 30 seconds for us to settle into conversation like we had been friends for ages and there were no weird awkward silences. I think if we didn’t all have to work today that it would have been one of those “How did it get to be 2:00 AM?” kind of nights. Alek and I were semi-giddy when we got home, comparing notes:

“Did you have as much fun as I did?”
“Yes!”
“I know, right?!”
“I know, right!??”

Tonight, The Chad had an absolutely lovely dinner party for our team and their significant others. He opened up his home to all of us. He and his amazing wife Petra spent 14 hours preparing a delicious meal comprised of all of his favorite foods that he wanted to share with us. We prayed together and broke bread together and got a glimpse of each other as our non-work selves. We rolled dice together and laughed together and washed dishes together. And I felt SO lucky and SO humbled to have the opportunity to spend every day with these smart, talented, fun people.

On the way home it hit me, what 2011 has been all about: the hard-working, loving, magical, wonderful, funny, smart, talented people in my life. I am surrounded by utterly incredible people every single day. My family, Alek’s family, the people that I work with, the people that Alek works with, our lifelong friends and the friends that we just made last night.

This is the year that it registered, with so much clarity, how much love there is in the world for me and how much love there is in my heart for every single person in my life.

Thank you for sharing your time, your energy and your talents with me. Thank you for listening to me and for sharing yourself with me. Thank you for challenging me to grow and change and think differently and do better. Thank you for everything you do to make my life easier. Thank you for making me think and most importantly, for making me laugh. Thank you for giving me your heart and letting me give you mine.

And if I don’t have the chance to see you very often, know this: I love your LinkedIn messages, your @replies, your “likes”, your status updates, your hearts, your comments, your texts, your emails, your phone calls and your Christmas cards (oh, how I love Christmas cards.)

I love being connected to you. I love having you in my life. From the bottom of my heart, I LOVE YOU. I do not take you for granted and I can’t wait to spend another year together.

XOXO,
Natalie

Family Pictures | 2011

Mom sent the most exciting text today: “Jodi delivered the family pic CD!!!!!” (And yes, there were 5 exclamation points.)

As per usual we had photo-shoot challenges, namely G and Dad were REALLY sick. Like G had to be rudely awakened from a three hour nap sick. Like Dad walked in the door and up the stairs and crashed in bed for three days sick. Despite that, G looks as cute as always and I think Dad is looking quite handsome in these photos. (We’ve decided he’s entering his “Silver Fox” phase.)

Oh, and the truck isn’t a prop. It’s the Crusty Bastard’s latest project.

The Last Link In the Chain


In a couple of hours, Alek will be sworn in as a Firefighter Paramedic for West Valley City. I am amazed by Alek every day, but especially today. Today is epic.

All of that stuff that people talk about, about following your bliss, about going after your dreams, about the law of attraction, about putting your energy into what you want to get bigger, about putting what you want into the universe and having it come back to you, about God helping those that help themselves — whatever you want to call it — it’s TRUE.

Nothing that you want is upstream.

What I have learned from Alek is this: once you figure out which way your stream is going, and you decide you’re going to follow it downstream instead of fighting against it, you can’t just sit there and wait for what you want to happen.

First, you have to let go of your fear. And letting go of fear is HARD. Alek was really good at what he did. He had been doing it for a long time.  He had lots of business. He was making a lot of money. He had just bought another company. This notion of Firefighting was irresponsible. It was crazy. It was too late, he was too old, it was something he shoulda woulda coulda done in his 20’s but not now. This raged in his head for a long time. But he still took that leap.

Once you’re past the fear, you have to turn your boat around and you have to paddle, and you have to paddle HARD. And you can’t.stop.paddling.(ever.)

I don’t think that anyone, even me, can really conceptualize how much work Alek has done in the last two years to get to this point. I’ll tell you what I can remember:

FALL – 2009: Alek found a program at UVU that would not only get him his Bachelor’s degree, but would get him the necessary Firefighter certifications (a.k.a. Operation Two Birds with One Stone.) So he changed his college and changed his major and mapped out the next two years of his life. I bring this up because I had forgotten what a complete and total colossal pain it is to do all of that. Oh, and he had to finish his Math and Computer prerequisites during this semester, which were both complete and total colossal pains as well.

WINTER – 2010: In order to get into the UVU program, Alek had to finish his Associates Degree at Utah State by taking six computer tests, pass an Anatomy Physiology Course at Salt Lake Community College, take a couple of online prerequisite courses at UVU, get his EMT, and get into good enough physical shape to pass the CPAT. This was in a single semester. Oh, and the EMT classes were all full at the 3 colleges he was already attending so the EMT had to be done at a DIFFERENT school. Yes, that’s right, 4 schools, 1 semester. Oh, and ALL of these things had to be done. If he didn’t pass one it didn’t matter about anything else, he didn’t get into the fire program. Full stop.

Oh, did I mention he was working full time this whole semester?

SPRING/SUMMER 2010: Alek would wake up at 6-ish, work all day, head to school at 3-ish, arrive at 4:00, exercise for 90 minutes, learn stuff, fight fires, head home at 10-ish, study until he basically passed out and then get up and start it all over again. This was five nights a week for an entire summer. And he would spend all weekend working and studying.

FALL 2010: Alek took twenty-three, yes TWENTY-THREE credit hours AND had two, yes TWO fire internships. Each internship was ten, 24-hour shifts. So that makes twenty 24-hour shifts. Oh, and he was not paid for these internships and one of them was an extra opportunity, so he didn’t get any college credit for that one. I think he squeezed a few paint jobs there too.

WINTER/SPRING 2011: Alek was accepted into the Paramedic program at UVU. I had no idea how intense this would be. Typical day: Alek gets up at 5:45 AM, Leaves for School at 6:15, School from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Get home at 6:00 PM, Study until he falls asleep. This was Monday – Friday. Saturday and Sunday he studied all day.

SUMMER 2011: Paramedic Clinicals. 1,040 internship hours in 14 weeks. Unpaid. When he wasn’t working he was studying. Studying studying studying. I tried not to stress him out with wedding stuff, I really really tried.

SEPTEMBER 2011: Alek starts work at West Valley. The first five weeks of the job are a Fire Academy. Everyone keeps me asking the same question: “How is married life?” It goes something like this: Alek leaves by 5:15 AM and gets home around 6:30 PM Monday – Thursday. He studies until he falls asleep. He studies Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s squeezed a paint job in there. So married life is pretty much the same as engaged life and dating life.

The thing is, during this ENTIRE time of stress so intense it borders on insanity, Alek is HAPPY. Truly happy. Even when he’s puking his guts up with the flu while trying to finish a 25-page paper on the relation between black-market commerce and terrorism for his homeland security class: HAPPY.

I think he’s still in disbelief that he is actually getting paid to do this job.

HAPPINESS. BLISS. DOWNSTREAM.

The last thing I’ve learned is that you can’t get your boat downstream without a lot of love and support and advice and help and more love. Love makes the world go ’round.

So, I wanted to share my love by saying THANK YOU to all of the people that jumped in Alek’s boat and helped him get downstream:

To Leanna: Thank you for getting Alek through math. Getting through math started it all. That witty, sharp, photographic brain of yours is truly a gift. We probably owe you something like thirty grand for tutoring and I promise to get it to you, payable in wine, over the course of the next fifty years of our lives together.

To Adam: Thank you for covering for Alek at Harley for two summers. Alek loves that job and you have made it work for him. I know it has made your life stressful and shortened your summers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To Wendy Farnsworth, Academic Advisor at the UVU Institute of Emergency Services & Homeland Security: You are hands down the reason that Alek was able to put together this program, follow it, and finish it. Alek could not have gone this far in such a short period of time without your guidance.

To Bentley Garner: Thank you for sharing your time and your talent and for your dedication in getting Alek ready for the CPAT. You infused him with the knowledge and this drive to REALLY, REALLY WORK when he exercises. He has taken your mantra (“If you’re not ready to puke, you’re not working hard enough.”) to heart and has carried this with him for two years. He can now take any available open space, set up a circuit and kick his own ass.
To Captain Davis and Captain Valdez: Thank you for being such incredible mentors to Alek and for giving him such an amazing learning experience while he worked with your crews. Those internships were his first taste of what life would really be like in the fire service, and he LOVED IT. He knew in those moments that this was exactly what he wanted to be doing.

To DA, Atwood, Rock and All the Guys on Two’s; To Penick, Butler, Roberts, Reardon, Howard and Williams: Thank you for the countless hours spent in carpools and tutoring and in study groups and creating test prep guides. Thank you for access to ECG machines and for letting Alek practice IV’s on you. Thank you for believing in Alek as much as I did. Thank you for all of the advice and encouragement and day to day support. Alek is still learning and you are still teaching and I cannot tell you what that means to him. And I had no idea when this all began that it would end with so many friends. I am excited that you are a part of our lives.

To my incredible parents: You have been there from the first day in so many ways. We literally could not have done this without you and I don’t really have words to express how I feel. You jumped into this with as much wholehearted enthusiasm as I did. Thank you for the countless dinners that made the countless leftovers that kept Alek extremely well fed. Thank you for always understanding why Alek was busy or why we were so stressed and for sitting us down and trying to help us keep things sane these last two years. Thank you for all of the beautiful gifts and tools that Alek uses every day. Thank you for financial support (not the least of which: for co-signing on the student loan!) Thank you for being passionate about the process, excited about all of the little things, and celebrating every achievement, every step of the way. And thank you for letting me hang out with you while Alek was on shift (you know that’s pretty much what I’m going to be doing from now on, right?).

To all of our family and friends and everyone that I forgot: THANK YOU. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU. Thank you for understanding why Alek hasn’t been there for Holidays/Birthdays/Special Events/Brunches/Dinners/Lake trips/Parties/BBQ’s and countless other events. Thank you for your constant love and constant encouragement.

To Alek: Can you believe that this is the last link in the chain? I still can’t believe it. I am so incredibly proud of you. I am so in love with who you are at your very core. Thank you for moving past your fear. Thank you for going after what you really wanted. Thank you for working so hard. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you for showing me what following your bliss really means. Thank you for inspiring me to follow my bliss, and most of all, thank you for showing me what it takes to get it.

Everlong

We randomly got free tickets to see the Foo Fighters in concert last night. And then Alek’s brother had a hook-up in a suite so we had some free popcorn with our free tickets. And then we noticed that there were a bunch of open seats in front of the suite and yada yada yada, we had some really great free seats at the Foo Fighters concert last night! Thank You West Valley City!

The Foo Fighters are a part of Alek’s identity and therefore, a part of our story. See, the reason Alek didn’t show up to meet me to talk about painting The Chocolate Loft was because he and his brother were on a cross-country motorcycle trip to see the Foo Fighters in Washington D.C. Then, when he called me about said paint job later, we ended up talking about his trip and I distinctly remember Alek saying something about having a “man crush” on Dave Grohl. I remember this because I thought it was hilarious and I wanted to keep talking to him. Thus, we ended up on our first date.

As we were driving downtown on our first date the radio was on and Alek stopped mid-sentence to say: “This song will be played at my wedding.” It was the Foo Fighter’s Everlong. (I filed that little request away for possible later use.)

Fast forward to our wedding. We were so so incredibly lucky to have our incredibly talented cousins there to play the violin. (Anna and Alex are currently at Juilliard and Chad is under contract with IMG and performing with symphonies around the world as a soloist WHILE HE FINISHES HIGH SCHOOL. Yes, High School!)

These three are not only incredibly talented musicians, they are incredibly lovely people. (This is no surprise really, because their parents are also incredibly lovely people.) They are bright and funny and smart and polite and spiritual and articulate and poised and well-traveled and interesting and I just adore them.

I would say that overall I’m not a very sentimental person, but I’d like to think I remember the stuff that is REALLY important. Like that comment on our first date. So, Anna and Alex and I plotted for months about a surprise performance of Everlong for Alek that would be played after our toasts at the wedding.

Anna and Alex and Chad created a special arrangement of the song and IT.WAS.BEAUTIFUL. It was stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful like the pure sound of laughter that Future Boy makes when you tickle his belly and the devastating silence in the middle of Death Valley all rolled up together.

It was beautiful because it was so unexpected. It was beautiful because it was just SO Alek. It was beautiful because he loved it so much. It was beautiful because it was the most perfect gift they could have given to him. It was beautiful because they are beautiful people. It was beautiful because they work so hard to be a channel for beauty that we all get to enjoy, and they make it all seem so effortless. It was beautiful because it brought our first date to our wedding night full circle. It was beautiful because there was so much love for us in that room.

It was perfection. It was easily the best part of the best day of my life.

Alex and Anna and Chad: THANK YOU for your time and your talent and for the best part of the best day of my life.

And to Alek’s Man Crush Dave Grohl (P.S. after seeing him live last night, he might just be my man crush too. He is a talented, hilarious, BAMF.) THANK YOU for writing the greatest love song of all time. 

— Natalie

Hello
I’ve waited here for you
Everlong

Tonight
I throw myself into
And out of the red, out of her head she sang

Come down
And waste away with me
Down with me

Slow how
You wanted it to be
I’m over my head, out of her head she sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang

Breathe out
So I could breathe you in
Hold you in

And now
I know you’ve always been
Out of your head, out of my head I sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang

And I wonder
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when 
She sang
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