Tuesday, April 23, 2013

so, this is happening...

It is weird that I've been so silent lately considering how much has been on my mind. I think that writing those thoughts intimidates me because then it gets real. Things are going so smoothly right now that I feel like I can look back on these experiences with a sense of accomplishment instead of trepidation, like I once did. I think that it takes an amount of bravery to express those emotions in writing in real time that I just don't possess quite yet. It is easier for me to write about things that have happened instead of reporting them live. Also, with all of the events that have transpired over the last few months, I hardly know where to begin. I suppose now is as good of a time as any to pick up where I left off and be as honest as possible about everything.

Just before our engagement, I was facing some serious issues with my new supervisor and my work and my happiness were suffering. I decided to step down from my current position and accept a new position at a lower salary to separate myself from the unpleasant environment in my professional life. I had always been so proud of myself for working my way up to my current job and at the time, I didn't realize how stepping down would affect my confidence and my self esteem. I was trying desperately to find some sense of accomplishment in my new duties but the work wasn't challenging me and I found myself bored and lacking any sense of pride in my work and it began to affect my personal life. Our recent decision not to move to Boston had also been weighing on me. I was so excited to make a change and instead I was stuck in a rut, in fact I was feeling that I had even taken a step back from where I was. I kept reflecting back on my time during chemotherapy and all the promises I made to myself to make the most of my life. I was failing myself and even worse, I felt like I was failing Carley, the woman I was planning to ask to marry me. What did I have to offer her? 

Thankfully, as she always does, she gave me a chance. Against all odds, we decided to put our heads together and plan our wedding, and our future lives together. I feel so lucky to have such an amazing lady at my side and that she wants to stay there for the rest of our lives. 

I am so overcome with emotion lately that I am timid to put things down on paper for risk of sounding like a cheese ball. Maybe its just me, though I can't imagine that it is, but I feel ridiculously nostalgic...about everything. And everyone. The last time I was single, I was 16. Carley and I have grown up together. We've shared all of our "first" everything together; our first house, our first car purchase, first dog, first love. We have so much fun together that thinking of myself as a single unit hardly makes sense anymore. Looking back at those memories lately has been almost as breathtaking as the experiences themselves. 

Of course my memories of Carley and I are pulling constantly at my heartstrings but I have to admit, I have an awesome group of girls in my bridal party that have been at my side all these years. Especially lately when I struggled with my work, they have pulled me up, encouraged me, shown me a good time, and occasionally gotten me good and drunk when I've needed it. You are each amazing friends and I love you.

This is the most exciting time in my life. I have finally started a new position working for a company that respects and values my ideas, my creativity, and my opinions. I am constantly surrounded by people in my life who encourage me to ask more out of myself. I have been showered with love and support, sometimes from the most unexpected places, and I am DAYS away from marrying the best woman I've ever met. You'll be able to hear more at the wedding (or catch it on the DVD release), but I am in love with her. She never loses faith in me or ceases to give me all of her support. Together, we can do anything and we have accomplished so much already. I am on the precipice of something so amazing that I am not even remotely afraid to fall right into it. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Disneyland Adventure - THE PROPOSAL

We finally made it back to the Disneyland park after we got our Candy Cane bracelets, rode Screamin' California, Toy Story Mania, and grabbed a "quick" cup of coffee from the Disneyland Park Starbucks. I was managing to control the nausea that made me ill earlier that morning but the thought of the proposal had not left my mind. By now, our group had grown from 4 to 6 and I was hoping that Garrett and Ashley were going to stick around so I brought them into the loop about my plan so they would be aware when the time came. Of course being that we were all best friends at this point, they were excited and congratulated me. We embraced each other and they helped me reorient the group to Disneyland toward the castle. 

The morning so far had been filled with anxious glances from both Leslie and Jacqueline who were ready with their cameras at a moments notice. Though the plan had been to propose in front of the castle, I told them that when the moment was right, it was going to happen so "Be ready!" And they were.
When we turned the first corner on Main Street, I caught the first glimpse of the beautifully decorated castle in front of us. It was all the way at the end of the street and everything else seemed to blur away as I walked down the road. 

I could hear everyone excitedly jabbering behind me, possibly even trying to get me to join in conversation, but I couldn't hear them. Every step brought me closer and closer to the place I had planned to ask Carley to marry me. I was nervous and my audience was growing. It was actually the first time that I realized that people were everywhere any everyone would be watching me. I know that may seem silly because I had been over this moment in my head over a million times over the last 6 months. I suddenly felt like I was on stage as we all lined up side by side, few hundred feet from the castle and stopped to take in the scene. 

I was shaking and my palms were getting sweaty as I fumbled through my bag and attempted to transfer the ring into my pocket without being seen. Thankfully, there was a distraction to our immediate right and it allowed me the perfect window to slip it in the pocket and strap my bag on my back again. 

What I didn't know at the time, because I was so locked in tunnel vision, is that the event that provided me the distraction I needed was another couple getting engaged just a few feet from where we were! Carley said something to me and I remember smiling and nodding, completely unaware of what she said to me. I returned to the curb in front of the castle where the rest of our group stood lined up, as if in battle formation, hesitant to take the first step toward the castle, waiting for me to make my move. Leslie was standing to my immediate left and I glanced down to see her camera on, ready to capture whatever events may unfold.

"Let's go get our picture taken, Car," I said aloud with an obvious tone indicative to my entourage that the moment had arrived. Carley handed her phone to Ashley and asked her to take a couple of pictures for us. We walked forward to wait in line to have our photos taken. We watched as the family in front of us took approximately 49 different combinations of various family members and facial expressions. I clumsily handed my Photo Pass card to the photographer and walked out a few steps ahead and turned for a photo. Leslie whispered to the photographer that I was about to propose and asked her to snap as many shots as possible. 

I grabbed Carley around the waist and held her close to my side and smiling proudly for the cameras. 

"Are you ready?" I asked her

"What are you talking about?" 

"This is it, your big moment..." 

I reached down for the ring in my pocket and continued to speak. "We are in the happiest place on earth and I love you so much." I knelt down and opened the box, the diamond ring shining up at us. Her hands in her pockets, she took a few steps back and cried, "No.....No..." a few times in disbelief. Her face lit up and she smiled down at me.

"Carley Webster, will you make me the happiest person on earth and marry me?"

She started celebrating and and realized she forgot to answer me. "YES!" she screamed and I jumped up and wrapped my arms around her. The crowd around us started cheering and clapping. 

We kissed each other and I finally pulled the ring out of the box and grabbed her hand to put it on her finger. I laughed when our hands met, both shaking fairly violently, and I couldn't fit the ring over her knuckle. "Push harder!" she laughed at me and I managed to slip it on her finger. It was so beautiful on her hand and I couldn't believe that this day had finally come. 

I threw the box it the air and laughed as I shouted, "I'm so glad that's over!" to the members of our group. They walked excitedly toward us and hugged both of us. We laughed and talked about how surprised Carley looked and joked about how her first reaction was to step away from me and say "No." She showed off her ring to everyone and we also laughed as we compared the size of her ring to her formally tiny promise ring. Carley retrieved her phone from Ashley and reviewed the footage, delightfully surprised to find that she had captured the entire thing on video. Everyone else pulled out their phones and started making phone calls to announce the news to our closest friends and family. 

"Well...that was awesome! Should we head to Peter Pan now?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Disneyland Adventure - MEET THE FRIENDS

I would like to introduce you to these two lovely people. For anyone reading this that may not know which of these is not like the others, I'm talking about the dashing young gentleman to the far left and the smiling brown beauty to his immediate right. They are Garrett and Ashley, respectively, and though I just met them, I feel blessed to call them two of my closest friends.  


Since I've already let the cat out of the bag in my first entry about Disney, I'm just going to do my best to tell this story in chunks and link it all together like a crazy person. As I mentioned in the entry "WE SAID YES" Carley, my girlfriend of the last 7 years, and I got engaged during our trip to Disneyland this year.

When I started my journey that morning to Disneyland, the engagement ring box in my recently purchased CamelBak backpack, I couldn't get into my usual "Disney" zone because I was so distracted. I wanted everything to be perfect and the thought of that moment being anything less had my palms sweating and my stomach flipping. 

We had an early entry to the park that morning so the gates were opening at 7:00 am therefore I requested to be walking into the park no later than 6:00 am. Jacqueline, Carley's mom, and Leslie, Carley's sister, were on the trip with us and graciously humored my outlandish Disney rituals. After calculating the proper timing to accommodate the return of the rental car, hotel check-out, shuttle from airport to new hotel, hotel check-in, McDonald's breakfast run, and arrival at the gates at 6:00 am, we figured we needed to leave the hotel at 4:30 am and wake up about 45 minutes prior to leaving the hotel. Since Leslie and Jac weren't flying in until 11:00pm the night before, the one thing we didn't calculate was sleep.


The next morning, we stood waiting for the shuttle dressed in our matching tee-shirts full of Disney Spirit. I turned on my Disneyland playlist on Spoitfy on my phone and set it down on the bench to set the mood and mask my impatience with the tardiness of the shuttle driver. 

We threw our bags in the back of the dark blue van and I climbed in last and sat next to Leslie on the front bench, Car and her mom behind us. I was so excited to have Leslie and Jacqueline there to help make this day as special as possible for Carley. If the ridiculousness that we'd already shared the night before and the morning so far were any indication of the fun we were going to have over the next three days, this was shaping up to be one helluva great trip. We were playing Disney Theme song trivia, reviewing park strategy, and laughing and joking about everything. We hadn't even arrived at our hotel and things were already running exactly according to my Disney routine.

Even on the van ride to the hotel, all of my energy was focused on doing everything possible not to tip her off about the impending engagement. I was nervous and doing my best not to let it show. I looked forward through the windshield, happy that we had been early enough to see the sun rise, and talked strategy with the Girls. We had a solid plan in place that would put us in front of the Disneyland castle about 30 - 45 minutes after entry to the park. I wanted to propose at that specific spot because I knew there would be a Disneyland photographer stationed there to capture it all on camera. My agenda was to propose as soon as possible so I could finally share my excitement with Carley about the engagement and enjoy our Disney experience to the max. It was a flawless plan and Jacqueline and Leslie helped stealthily confirm what we had in place.

After checking into our hotel early and taking our luggage to the room, we walked to the McDonald's in the adjacent parking lot for breakfast. My stomach was in no mood to eat but I walked in with the group in honor of the most sacred of Disneyland rituals, "We always travel as a unit."

The mixture of excitement from my proximity to the entrance of Disneyland, nervousness from the proposal, and the smell of McBreakfast wafting through the lobby was more than my anxious stomach could handle and I started to feel ill. I whispered to Leslie that I didn't feel well and would wait outside for them. The fresh air felt great but it didn't ease the queasiness. Egg McMuffin, hashbrowns, and Parfait in hand, we headed toward the park. After only a few steps, my stomach gave out and I started to heave. I fell behind a little and pulled off the side of the sidewalk and heaved again. Then walked a few steps. Then heaved. Then walked a few more steps. Then heaved. Leslie and Jacqueline, determined to prevent themselves from joining me at the side of the walkway, giggled and sped up a few extra steps, just out of ear shot. It was quite a ridiculous sight. 

Apparently, emptying my stomach a bit was all I needed to get my head back in the game. As soon as we reached the front entryway, I broke ahead of my group into a dead run. I threw my hands above my head, lanyard swinging from side to side, slapping me in the chest and neck as I dashed toward the bag check line. I didn't expect to run the entire quarter mile stretch at a full sprint but that's exactly what happened. About half way down the path, I realized that there was a line with no one else lined up and I stood a serious chance to be the first in line at the ticket booth. An unknown source of energy propelled me forward, shouting and waving my arms as I ran, fully prepared to nurse some serious laryngitis the following day. It was worth it. There I stood, one of 4 people standing in line that day, first in the line I was in. 

About ten minutes later, when the rest of my party caught up to me at the gate, I had already introduced myself to the Cast Member waiting to let us into the park. She was telling me about a special candy cane making day that only takes place 4 times a year in December and that day was today, in the California Adventure park. It wasn't an advertised event and only people who knew when and where to go could participate. They start handing out wrist bands to the first 150 people that show up as soon as the park opened and ran out quickly. 

In the line next to us was a young couple, about my age, and another woman in front of them, probably in her late 40's. They were joining in on the conversation and the excitement throughout the group was mounting. Unfortunately, our well-orchestrated park strategy wouldn't put us in the California Adventure park until the following morning. Our group decided we probably wouldn't go so we put it from our minds and we continued talking to the people in line next to us. 

The young couple were Garrett and Ashley, from Arizona, and the other lady was an annual pass-holder but any other information about her is totally lost in the blur of my Disney Vision. I was acting foolish, as I often do when I'm excited about something, and having an extra parfait in our McDonald's order, we offered it to our new Disney friends. Jacqueline quickly decided that the granola was actually not up for grabs as part of the previous offer of the parfait. I helped emphasize that she was speaking only specifically about the yogurt and fruit portion of the parfait so if they were thinking that it only sounded good with the granola drizzled on top of the yogurt and fruit, they would probably not want to accept the parfait. It was a good bit and we ran with it for a while. Leave them laughing, I always say.

The cast member let us in and it was off to the races for me again. I shot out of the gate and raced in to be the first one to line up at the final entrance. I immediately met a Cast Member on the other side of the fence and we exchanged excited pleasantries. When my group finally caught up to me (again), we chatted with another Cast Member about the strategic line-avoiding course we had mapped out for the day. 

Just a reminder, I was first in line. For the second time. Our matching tee-shirts were getting many positive reviews and I was happy about that. And I have to admit, I was looking pretty amazing.

It wasn't long before we were meeting and talking to everyone around us about their plans for the day. I turned around and the Cast Member who was guarding the entrance from what I'm sure she could only have assumed was a crazy person, was trying to get my attention. She asked me in a soft voice how many guests were in my party and I told her there were 4 of us. She opened the gate and let the four of us pass and closed the heavy green steel gate behind us. She told me that we, Carley, Leslie, Jacqueline, and I would be helping them open the park and were THE FIRST GUESTS IN THE PARK FOR THE DAY!!!! I thought for sure I must be dreaming but she asked for my ID and park pass, stamped my hand, scanned our passes, stepped aside and welcomed us onto the grounds. I was living a fairy tale and I was feeling that the stars were aligning to make this the perfect day I had dreamed it to be.

I started hyping the crowd, surprising them with my excitement and energy. I even spotted the friends Garrett and Ashely that we had met at the gate! I'll admit that I was even enjoying the bit of envy in the faces of a few anxious guests in line just a few spots behind me.

"10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...LET THE MAGIC BEGIN!!!" We shouted in unison.

Like the well-oiled machine that we had practiced to be, we each shot in the direction of our first planned ride, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. We raced to the right, ahead of the crowd, headed straight toward Main Street. We stopped suddenly at the first sight of the beautiful Christmas decorations on the buildings and above the main walkway down Main Street toward the Castle. The stage to our left was draped with beautiful white and silver lighting with rows and rows of chairs surrounding a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. We continued, at a slightly awed pace, taking in the wonderful sights around us.

(This is actually a photo from the last day but hopefully helps paint a picture of the beautiful decorations in the park.)
After Nemo, we stuck to the agenda and headed to Space Mountain. After the adrenaline of opening the park had worn off a little, the reality that our next plan was to inconspicuously take a path in front of the castle and set the stage for my proposal, had set in the pit of my stomach. I was in no shape for Space Mt. and decided to stay behind with Jacqueline and do some looking around and shopping. We waited for them at the exit of the ride and bumped into Ashley and Garrett again, coming off of Space Mountain themselves. They told us that they were going to go to California Adventure to get a bracelet for the Candy Canes. The girls came up behind us and they invited us to come with them. The prestige of the event seemed exciting and lucrative and we decided that it would only enhance our Disney experience so we went with them to get our candy cane bracelets.

That was pretty much the last time we were separated from our new friends for the rest of the trip. They fit into our group like a piece we never knew was missing. They were the exclamation point on the best sentence ever written. I was tentative at first to leave Disneyland for the other park and derail my well-rehearsed plan of proposing as soon as possible. I've never been so happy that I chose to go with the flow, unknowingly embarking on the best Disney adventure of my life with 5 of the best imaginable companions. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Disneyland Adventure - THE MAGIC

When I think about Disneyland, I get excited. Not just a little bit excited. Its more like an "I should be in therapy" type of excited. When Disneyland is in my future, I'm bursting at the seams with so much emotion that it isn't uncommon for me to well up and start crying without notice. 

Something amazing happens to me when I walk through those front gates. Entrance into Disneyland grants me a super human increase in energy, strength and endurance. My imagination becomes more vivid and my mind goes into a state of perpetual daydream. Magic and adventure greet me at every corner. Whether it is a gift from Disneyland or just an inherent ability given to me at birth, my character-sense kicks in and links me to any Disney character in the area. I never miss a photo. Wonder and a sort of childhood innocence clouds my eyesight while I take in the elaborate and imaginative scenery and my old familiar friends. When I'm in Disneyland, everyone is my friend. 

The part of Disneyland that always amazes me is what I like to call "The Sandbox" effect. Let me explain. Very rarely, as adults, do we get the chance to truly return to the imagination we had as children. I don't remember the last time I sat on a pile of dirt and watched it grow into an entire metropolis in which small stones and piles of grass served as houses and clover-flower cars drove their families hurriedly throughout the city. Even further, of the 4 or 5 times that I have done that this year, none of my friends have ever sat down beside me and shared my my vision. When I'm in Disneyland, everyone is playing in my sandbox. Everyone, even the other guests, want to make my daydream a reality. 

This year in Disneyland, I was lucky enough to catch a short line at the stop to see Donald Duck. I hadn't seen him when I was there in June earlier this year so I was pretty jazzed. He was dressed up in his Christmas outfit...BONUS! As Carley and I stood there, we started searching our Disney Pin lanyard for any pin with Donald. A few years back when we saw him last, he was very upset that we didn't have any pins with him on on lanyards and threw my autograph book on the ground and stomped on it. Then also threw my pen on the ground. It was upsetting and I wanted to avoid a similar scene this year. Unfortunately, I had my Donald pin on the back-up lanyard I left back at the hotel. I did, however, have a Huey pin and figured that a relative of his might make him happy enough. 

I was wrong.

He instantly reached for Carley's lanyard aruond her neck and noticed that there were no Donald faces looking back at him. He folded his arms and pointed for Carley to leave. I could tell it really hurt his feelings. When he noticed the Huey pin, it was enough to convince him to allow Carley back into the photo as long as he could stand in front of us and block out our faces with his hands.

Later, in the middle of a casual pin-trading session with a Cast Member later that evening, I explained the predicament I'd had earlier with Donald and was looking to trade for a pin of Donald to prevent this issue from arising yet a third time. I selected a pin from his lanyard of Donald wearing a Disneyland Mickey Ear hat. 

He melted my heart when he responded, "To be honest, that probably still won't satisfy him because he is wearing Mickey's Ears. You know Donald is #1."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Perspective - 12/14/12 A Sad Day in US History

Perspective always tends to find you when you least expect it and coincidentally when you need it the most. This year has brought a whirlwind of highs and lows. I honestly try to see every closed door as an opened window somewhere else that I just need to look for. This doesn't mean that I don't get a little pissed off for a while when the door smacks me in the face. It can last even longer when it leaves a bruise on my cheek. I was nursing just such a bruise on my cheek this morning (if you're all still following me) when I powered up my phone and started surfing my social media. Things took a sharp left turn when started catching up on Twitter. I read over tweet after tweet about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut detailed with over 20 dead, mostly students. I'll admit that it didn't hit me at first but when it started to sink in, it hit me like a freight train. 

I continued to scroll through the Twitter feed and read about the emerging details and I started to cry. I thought about how I would be feeling right now if one of my siblings was sitting at a desk in that school in Connecticut. I thought of my 5 year-old brother, Jaiden, specifically because he was elementary school age. The horrific images that fluttered through my mind were terrible and sort of earth shattering. My small tears turned into unmanageable sobs for the families who were living the reality that I was only imagining at a distance.

I realized that I still have people in my life that love me and whom I also love. We are lucky to have each other, even if we are spread out a bit, and know that we are all safe this Christmas. It was a jolt strong enough to shove me out of the chair at the head of the table at my own pity party. I have some amazing gifts in my life and I am lucky, regardless of the obstacles I have also been blessed with. Christmas is a magical time. It brings an intense need in each of us to be closer with our families, be a little more generous to strangers and the less fortunate, and be a littler nice to our neighbor. 

I think that one of the of the best ways to pay tribute to these innocent fallen children, teachers, and their families is to exemplify the spirit of Christmas in every possible way. Be generous and and kind to everyone you meet. Treat your family and friends with love and appreciation during the holiday season. Forget some of your vain and 1st world worries that we tend to let take precedence over more pressing family matters during this time and replace them with quality time with your loved ones. Remember and keep in your heart the reality of other families who will not be as fortunate to spend these festivities together this year. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Disneyland Adventure - WE SAID YES

Disneyland this year brought many beautiful and precious gifts for me this year. I got engaged to my 7-year partner in crime, shared memories and laughter with my new family, and built a life-long friendship. Another silent and personal gift that I gave to myself can't help but bring a smile to my face. I made myself a goal to ask my girlfriend to marry me and to get my body weight down to a more healthy number so I would feel confident about the way I look in my engagement photos standing next to my beautiful bride. I know that may seem vain, and maybe it is a little bit so I'm sorry about that. It has been a long and difficult year but it has finally paid off. For the first time in my entire life, I accomplished both of my New Year resolutions. Please stay posted for the events of my magical trip as I work to put the memories to paper the best that I can. For now, please enjoy some of these sneak peak photos as well as a look at a great mile post on my long road to my personal weight loss goal. Thanks to everyone for your continued support of Carley and I. We are so excited for our special day!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Wanna Be Like Mike

Around 1991, my grandpa purchased a state-of-the-art Panasonic VHS camcorder. He began to film almost every moment of our lives, significant or insignificant. Today, there are still VHS tapes filled with his grand-kids engaging in several interesting activities like getting ready for church, playing Nintendo, putting together our toys, reading a book, jumping on the trampoline, and eating breakfast. It may have seemed simple at the time but I like to think that Grandpa had the foresight to realize that even the simplest moments in life are precious and capturing them could give us some insight to why we turned out the way we did. In each of the videos, there are two most common characters; Me and my brother, Michael, and the moments between the two of us are still very special to me.

There is one video in particular that seems to sum up my relationship with my brother the most perfectly. I think I was probably 5 years old at the time meaning Mike was probably 7. We were both dressed in full length footie pajamas at my Grandparents' house around Christmas time, I believe. I know that his jammies were red and probably Ninja Turtles, but I do know that mine were pale yellow with Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang on the front in a white circle across the zipper, my shoulder length blonde ringlets sat disheveled around my round face suggesting that we had only recently crawled out of bed. 

Grandma and Grandpa had given us a Sesame Street railroad set and we had the pieces strung out across the dining room table. Each piece of the railroad was in the shape of a letter and the ends of the letters connected together to form a path for the train to move throughout the neighborhood. Even though the pieces only had limited options for placement, I was struggling to make a smooth path. After all, I was only 5 and this toy must have been in the 6-10 age group. I seemed oblivious to my shortcomings as a railroad operator and excitedly grabbed letter after letter and haphazardly connected them together. I was anxious to get the railroad built so we could put the train on the track and I couldn't be bothered by detail.

Unknown to me at the time, Mike was taking a much more logistical approach to creating this alphabetic railway. Once or twice, preserved only by the video, Mike addresses the situation with me that I had placed the pieces at an incorrect intersection. I looked thoughtfully at the pieces, kindly disagreed with him, and continued about my business. Because of my stubborn nature, even as a wee one, Mike realized that attempting to stifle my creative and ambitious vision would be futile. What he does next showed me more about my brother than I ever expected to find in an antiqued home video. 

He stepped a few feet behind me and carefully reoriented each of the pieces I had placed incorrectly and followed me as I went continuing to make silent corrections along the way. As soon as I noticed he was turning a piece here and there, I thanked him and told him I was just about to fix it, which I obviously was not planning on doing. As I got frustrated throughout making my path, he softly suggested a more suitable letter and which direction to connect the letter. He encouraged me and congratulated me when I made the correct connections, even if they were a result of his suggestions. At the end of the construction, my railroad connected full-circle and the correct connections allowed us to put the train in place and watch intently as it circled around the track. 

Mike has never been a person who needs recognition or fame for what he does. He loves with his whole heart his family and his friends and does anything he can to help. Even in this memory of my brother, he just did what he could to help me, asking for nothing in return but to see things work out for me with the best possible outcome.

As my 5 year old self continued decorating and adding embellishments to my railway with my brother, my future 24 year old self found myself again on my grandma's couch, watching a video that had been shot only 5-10 feet from where I was sitting, almost 20 years prior. I glanced over to the area behind me where that dining room table still stood and pictured the two of us, only barely able to see over that table at the time, building that silly railroad together. 

My heart was full of love and admiration for my brother and I realized how much I missed him. During my childhood, there have been a lot of people in my life, whom I have loved, that have left me for some reason or another. Even recounting experiences to others, it is impossible to give an accurate feeling of how I felt during that time. My brother is the one person who was always at my side. Between the moves, new schools, new friends, new religions, new faces, I never have to describe to my brother how those things made me feel because he has been my co-pilot and the co-author to my stories throughout the years.

Mike joined the army when I was 19. It was a very difficult time for me and the first time that we had spent any real amount of time apart from each other. We could only communicate via snail mail during that time but I desperately looked forward to his letters and sending him details of the events from home. Things were tough for him but he seemed to be learning and enjoying the comradeship of the fellow recruits. When he came home for Christmas during his basic training, Mike had become a more proud and handsome version of himself. He held his head high as he walked toward us at the airport. His smile instantly greeted us as he welcomed each of us into his arms, one by one. I have never been prouder of him as we walked toward the car, other passengers thanking him and shaking his hand as we went. 

Now, 5 years later, I find myself being overwhelmed with pride again for my friendship with my oldest brother. He married his beautiful wife, Amanda, and became a dedicated step father to her gorgeous son, Aaron and set up life for his family in Texas. The recent birth of my adorable nephew, Aidan, has only further revealed his commitment and prowess as a loving father and husband. I miss them but whenever they cross my mind, I always smile.



I rarely take the time to tell you but I am so proud of the amazing man that you have become. It shouldn't surprise me because I have spent my entire life believing that you're the coolest person on the planet. Since as young as I remember, I have always looked up to you and and valued your approval above all others. 

You have taught me how to catch snakes with a piece of plywood, how to maximize the double tap when using my trigger finger on my paint ball gun,  how to drive a stick-shift, pitch a tent, construct a shooting range, and walk across a monkey bridge. You have rescued me when I snapped the drive shaft on grandpa's pickup, helped me hook up the bithcin' sound system in my car, loaned me your shorts when I peed myself, held my hand while we walked through Lego Land, flew across the country to be at my side while I underwent chemo, and been my partner in numerous crimes. We have mourned together, cried together, laughed together, acted completely irresponsibly together, confronted death together (at our own hands), and we have learned together. Most importantly, you have shown me how to accomplish anything by putting your mind to it, how to be a loyal friend, and how to love like nothing else matters. 

You have stepped in as my hero to save me when I had no other way out so many times I've lost track. Money, time, or distance have never prevented you from reaching out your hand to help me. 

Thank you for all the years you tolerated me tagging along with you and your friends, making me your partner in your adventures, and for valuing my advice and opinions. You will never know how much it has meant to me. 

I know that as a new family with two young children, things will be tough at times. Now, we didn't have children, but Carley and I moved out when we were very young and very inexperienced. I know that those first few years are the most difficult time to work through. I don't think Car would mind me saying that they were downright miserable for a lot of that time in our first little apartment. They are scary at times and the fear and stress can easily manifest itself in frustration with your partner. I have seen you and Amanda together and seen how well you two compliment each other and love each other. If I could give you any advice, it would be to let these tough times draw you closer together, not drive you apart. Because it will if you let it. Fall back on the love you that you have for each other and for your children. When you feel like everyone is betting on you to fail, bet on each other to win. It may seem weird that I can relate to you in this way as your sister, but there is nothing as empowering and motivating as the love of a beautiful and supportive woman in your life. Her love and your relationship with her will power you though the darkest of times. When it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, remember that when you get through it, it becomes only a memory that has strengthened you as a team.

I wish that Grandpa was here to meet your wife and your children. He would be so proud of you for the way you love and care for your family. You should be proud of yourself. I am proud to be an aunt to your sons, a sister-in-law to your wife, and a sister of the best guy I know. You're my best friend, my hero, and I love you.


There are places I'll remember
All my life
Though some have changed
Some forever
Not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life
I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one 
Compares with you
And these memories
Lose their meaning
When I think of love
As something new

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life
I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life
I love you more
In my life
I love you more

(Johhny Cash version, not the one by Bette Midler)