S4 Episode 9:

According to the Oxford dictionary an addict is “a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug.”

Help guide.org states “Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation.”

But what if someone is addicted to something that they cannot see? Something that knows no bounds and cannot be easily obtained? What if someone is addicted to HOPE?

Hope; that feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen. That feeling of trust.

I am an addict, I am addicted to Hope.

The word “hope” is mentioned in the Bible over 130 times. One simple word, a word that can bring life to the weary and heal the broken. A four letter word…. A four letter word that I myself have clung to in times of darkness.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD.” — Jeremiah 17:7

“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” — Psalm 71:14

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” — Romans 15:4

The Bible is filled with stories about Hope. My favorite of all these stories is about my girl Sarah. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We have both prayed on our knees until they were bloody. We’ve sat back and watched other women get the very miracle we prayed for. Her prayer, the prayer she prayed thousands of years before I was even thought of is now my prayer. A prayer for motherhood.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise.” — Hebrews 11:11

You see our girl Sarah was childless until she was 90 years old. Like so many of us who have faced infertility Sarah did not believe in the promise that she to was going to be a mother. Can you blame the girl? Year after year passed with no pregnancy. Yet her husband Abraham believed in God’s promise that Sarah would be “a mother of nations” (Genesis 17:16) and that she would conceive and bear a son. At 90 Sarah gave birth to a son, a son named Isaac, God fulfilled his promise to them.

With respect to the fulfillment of the promise, Sarah embodies the themes of fear and doubt, Abraham those of faith and hope. Her doubt drives Sarah to devise her own way of realizing the promise—she gives Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for them. When the promise is repeated, Sarah expresses her doubt in sarcastic laughter (Genesis 18:12). And when the promise is kept, Sarah, overcome by joy, still implies her doubt had been reasonable (Genesis 21:6–7).

I feel Sarah on so many levels. The journey of infertility isn’t an easy one. There are times where my heart is filled with doubt. There are moments where I let the fear creep in and it’s words chase away the hope. When you are waiting on a promise it’s hard to stay the course. It’s hard to believe that your turn is coming. Four fertility clinics and multiple failed cycles later, I am still waiting on God’s promise. Just like Sarah did thousands of years ago.

In an attempt to fulfill the promise herself Sarah gave Hagar her maidservant to her husband so that she may bear a child for them. Modern day Hagars exist, somewhere right now in this country there are women going through retrieval cycles to give their eggs to a barren woman like myself.

I am barren, life and time have done me no favors. The cards they are stacked against me. The Endometriosis was diagnosed to late and the diminished ovarian reserve make for unfavorable odds. Add in the fact that I am 39 and that age puts me at the top of the geriatric maternal age. Yet despite the odds, I cling on to hope. I cling to the promise that my turn is coming. I have fears and doubts just as Sarah did and there are times where I to have laughed sarcastically at the possibilities of “what if.”

S4 Episode 8:

Winter in Minnesota is a special time. You either love it or you hate it. There are those of us who are a very special breed and we embrace it head on. Walking through freshly fallen snow can bring you peace like you’ve never felt before. Snowshoeing with your dog can provide endless moments of laughter.

But then, then there is something we all know exists… most of us like to forget about it. Most of us cannot see it because it’s so thinly coats the very ground we walk on. Ice! Ice! And I’m not taking about “ice ice baby.” I’m talking about deadly ice, yes that ice. The ice that takes you down within seconds. Sometimes the only thing that is injured is your pride and other times it’s just a bruise or maybe a bump on the head. But then there is that time where you fall and you feel your knee smash into the ground. You instantly know, well this isn’t going to be good. But I’m walking with a friend and I need to act like it’s nothing, because it is nothing and yeah I’m a champ not a whimp.

I am in the later category. I slipped and fell while walking with a friend. I picked myself up and acted like it was nothing and proceeded to walk a few more loops. By the time I got home my knee was a tad sore. Yet I kept pushing through. I made dinner, cleaned and organized somethings. It’s when I sat down with jay to talk about our painting project that it hit me. I was fucked. Yet I still proceeded to act normal, I drew a bath and added a bunch of epsom salt because we all know that helps with stiff joints. While in the tub I realized “shit I cannot extend my leg…. It’s fucking stuck at an angle. It took all of my strength to bend it so I could get out of the tub. It loosened just a little.

I proceeded with my skincare routine and brushed my teeth all while my knee was throbbing. I finally broke down and told Jay about the injury. I was holding back tears while he annoyingly messed with the apps on our bedroom TV. This was not the time to fuck with the TV. All I wanted to do was zone out to mysteries of the abandoned and will my leg to stop throbbing. Jay went and grabbed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer along with some ibuprofen. Which neither of those things made a dent in my pain

Jay knows me well enough to know that I rarely complain about pain. So when I said to him “I think we need to go to the doctor,” he knew I was in pain. I don’t willingly ask to be taken to the doctor. I avoid the doctor like it’s the plague. I’ve got better things to do than sit in a waiting room. He took me and when we arrived it was a two hour wait just to be seen. Thankfully our clinic has an orthopedic urgent care staffed with on site orthopedic doctors.

Two hours passed quicker than I thought they would. Mainly because I was ease dropping on other peoples conversations. Some woman thought her son shouldn’t of had to wait because he was a teenager in pain. I totally pegged her as a Karen. She groaned a little when I got called before her son. I hobbled past her and the nurse brought me straight to x-ray.

Which trying to contort an already fucked up knee into positions to get a good picture, is not fun. It’s pure torture. The x-ray didn’t show much. The doctor’s main concern was that I had a potential “bucket handle” tear in my meniscus and a dislocated knee cap. So she ordered an MRI to get a better look at my very fucked up knee. Which if you are familiar with American health care you know your insurance company gets to decide if you need one or not. The Doc stressed repeatedly “you are to be on strict bed rest, do not, I repeat do not over do it.” I left the office in a knee brace and on crutches. The only thing that was going to fix this was Chic Fil A, don’t come for me…… I needed comfort food. Jay ran into Target to buy every ice pack known to man and proceeded to take care of me.

Thankfully my insurance decided it was necessary. My knee is stuck in a bent position so getting it inside the torture device that is needed for the MRI was not fun. Thankfully they had a backup device that worked much better and I wasn’t in any additional pain. We got the MRI results same day, TRIA Orthopedics is that good folks. I didn’t have a tear thank god, however I had a piece of bone stuck in my knee joint and it was sitting to close to my ACL for comfort. I was scheduled to see the surgeon on Valentine’s Day, that piece of bone had to go.

We met with the surgeon that Monday and he was in agreement that surgery was needed. I was scheduled for surgery on the 22nd. And of course Mother Nature had to give us a blizzard that day. Surgery went off without a hitch and I went home same day to more bed rest, but with instructions to bare weight and use my leg. Go me! That was easier said than done. I felt really good after surgery so of course I over did it and ended up paying for it the next day. Pain meds were barely cutting it and I was trying to hold back my tears because I didn’t want jay to know how bad it was.

Thursday came and we were able to remove the wrap and surgical bandages, there was so much blood. Side note, I AJ your awkward host of this podcast doesn’t get to have a normal recovery. My recovery comes with a hefty side of lovenox, that shit burns and every time I inject myself I mutter “fuck you Nuvaring!” Anyways back to the bandages, once they were off and Jay patched me up I was able to take a shower. You haven’t lived until you’ve needed help showering. Jay was doing his best at holding me up while I attempted to wash myself. He learned very quickly that conditioner has to soak in and regular soap isn’t face wash. We managed and I was clean and he dried me off and helped me get dressed. Little did I know knee surgery meant reverting back to toddler life.

I am jealous of all the able bodied people in this world. Ya all walk around Target and Sam’s club like it’s nothing. Pushing your carts happily while both of your knees bend as you walk, while I’m over here hobbling around like a hot ass mess. I remind myself on the daily “this is only temporary.” With a little help from PT and cryotherapy plus electro therapy I’ll get my knee back and I’ll be hitting the trails by the time the snow melts.

S4 Episode 7:

I have sat down and tried to write this episode over a dozen times. The words would flow and then they’d stop. How does one possibly sum up ten years into words? Ten years of missed milestones, ten years of laughter followed by tears. Ten years of working through grief, it’s a constant battle and ten years of choosing not to be angry at the person who took your life. Ten years have passed since the day I slammed the shot glass down on to the lid of your casket. Ten years have passed since I stood in that snowy cemetery watching as they lowered your cobalt blue casket into the frozen ground. Ten years have passed since I threw a handful of tobacco and dirt onto your casket. The spiritual leader was right, he said “you need to walk away and never look back because Charlie has moved on from this world.”

Not looking back is harder than it sounds. I walked arm in arm with your brothers to the limo and fought the urge to take one last look. It’s been ten years since I have stood in that tiny cemetery, though I have not been back to see you, I do order flowers every spring and the caretaker places the Muppet like dog statute at your feet. That hole in the ground holds only your shell, for I know your spirit is free. That you have journeyed on to the land of never-ending happiness. That each day you peek through the clouds to see what I am up to, I’m sure most days you are laughing while scratching your head and on other days you are pushing me onward.

Onward was the only direction I could go. Your death left a hole in me that I will never fully be able to describe. Why you got called home in the middle of our story, is something I will never understand. Charlie spent eight years of his life chasing after me, waiting for me to be single so that he could make his move. During those days his mama would often tell him “Let her be Charlie, it’s just not your turn yet.” When his turn finally did come, when I finally realized what he knew long ago I submitted fully. To those on the outside looking in it seemed odd to get engaged after just a few short months of dating. In reality we had spent eight years romancing the idea of growing old together. He was eleven years older than me, yet he was filled with childlike wonder, a wonder that was so infectious that you couldn’t help but smile.

Smiles were hard to come by in the early days of grief. I lost my way a few times. But soon the hours faded into days and the days into weeks and the weeks into months. My world stopped on February 16, 2012, yet despite my tragedy the entire world kept on spinning. And I had a choice to make, I could let it spin right on without me or I could spin with it. I made the choice to rejoin the land of the living. I could feel you with me on the hard days, gentle signs here and there letting me know that I would be ok. I had to learn that it was ok to not be ok and that grief is a never-ending process. You have good days and then you have bad days too. Mainly I had to find someone who understood that they have a seat at my table because you lost yours. That our story was cut far to short and that you Charlie left a stack of unfinished business in your wake. I will always be your unfinished business, the love that you did not get to live out.

Because I am your unfinished business, I do everything in my power to make sure my shit is in order. I have become that person who tells her friends that she loves them and checks in on them frequently. I have become that person who makes sure her friends and partner feel seen, that they feel like they matter, and that they are validated on the daily. You Charlie taught me to love like this, you taught me how to love on those who cannot see the good they add to this world of ours. And that is a gift, a gift that will keep on giving.

You told me once “AJ if you make one person feel valued, that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and then that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and so on and so on, is a ripple that will continue so long as folks feel valued in your presence.” He was right. Each day I do my best to create ripples wherever I go, and I extend my table to make sure everyone I meet has a place where they feel valued and loved. That they have a person they can turn to when the shit hits the fan, a place where they can unleash their deepest darkest secrets and desires without judgment. Charlie said to me, “Be the person people trust and once they trust you, they will relax in your presence and your friendships will deepen.” That is what I want, I want the deep complicated friendships and not the surface bullshit. I want the mess and not the perfectly posed Instagram photo. I want to love like Charlie did. I want to trust without question and develop bonds that will live beyond this lifetime. I do not want to leave any unfinished business in my wake, instead I want to leave a legacy so deep one will never find the bottom.

If anything, these past ten years have taught me is that life always moves on and that if you don’t look up you will hit rock bottom before you can even get the screw cap loose from the bottle. That in order to survive this thing called life we need friends that we can count on, ones that will love us without question and ones that will always have our backs. We need to surround ourselves with people who listen first and offer advice second. Surround ourselves with people who know that sometimes all we can do is offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Words have a time and place and sometimes they are best left unsaid.

Mostly I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to move on, people who let me know “hey its ok to fall in love again.” People who pushed me back into the dating pool. Those first few times out of the gate were rough. The dating game had changed, it was hard, and I am sure Charlie was up there laughing his head off going “girl don’t you dare slip into another hoe phase. We have already done that.” With time it got easier. With time my heart realized that it would always love Charlie, however there was space to love someone new. That new walked into my life on Veteran’s Day 2014 and I have never looked back. Jay has allowed me the space to love the both of them equally. He realized that in order to love me fully, he also had to learn to love Charlie too. He had to learn how to love someone else’s unfinished business………

S4 Episode 6:

February 12, 2012 is forever engraved into my memory. I’ve tried to hold onto every precious detail of that day. Even the moments that I was short with you. That day February 12, 2012 was the last day I saw you alive. It was the last day that I got to spend with you.

It was a Sunday. A very lazy Sunday at that. You normally packed well in advance for your business trips and checked the contents of your messenger bag multiple times. However this trip was different for you, you didn’t want to go.

We woke up a few minutes before the sunrise and watched the city come to life. Charlie took a deep breath, his eyes memorizing every corner of the city as the rays washed away the shadows. You ran your fingers through my curls and pulled me into you, almost splashing my coffee onto the floor. You chuckled as I steadied myself, you spoke “AJ I love,” into the top of my head.

I freed myself from your grasp, walking to the kitchen to put on my apron and started making breakfast. I said “Charlie you need to get a move on, your bag isn’t going to pack itself. Did you double check your bag? Did all of the contracts download?” You brushed me off and continued to settle into the deep cushions of our couch as you scrolled the New York Times on the iPad. I looked up from the stove to catch you looking at me in gaze and you broke into a smile as you whispered “I love you.”

Breakfast is ready, I said. Instead of getting up, you motioned for me to join you. You set your cup on the table as you stretched your arm out to me. I fell for it, you pulled me onto you and nuzzled my head under your chin “I don’t want to go AJ. I want to stay here.” Charlie it’s only a few days, you will be back before you know it. This is your last business trip and then you’ll be stuck with me 24/7 365. Charlie squeezed me tighter as he said “Man, I can’t wait for that,” followed by “24/7 365 eh, you going to give up work and be a stay at home wife!?” Umm no, work is my escape from you sir, I need that escape. You blew a raspberry on my cheek and proceeded to tickle me until I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breath.

AJ do you know what my favorite thing about you is? Umm my eyes Charlie!? “No! I love that your laugh is bigger than your lung capacity.” We both burst out laughing until I looked at my phone, Charlie seriously you have to get moving. “Mouse if I miss this flight, I can catch another one.” I gave him the stare capable of making a grown man cry. He got up ate, triple checked his bag and got in the shower.

I pulled his suit case out from the hall closet and put it on the bed. When he got out of the shower he pushed it to the floor. “AJ he shouted, His shout startled me and I came running in thinking something was wrong. Nothing was wrong. Charlie laid on the bed laughing reaching his arm out to me. I again fell for it as he pulled me on to him. I laid next to him taking him in, committing every laugh line and his deep brown eyes to memory. As I brushed a few hairs out of his face he pulled me in and nuzzled me under his chin as he said “I love you” in Mohican. Charlie knew that even though I didn’t speak a word, his language Mohican calmed me. He lingered a bit longer and slowly got up to finish getting ready.

Cullen and I walked Charlie to the light rail station. He held my right hand the entire time and wouldn’t let go of it. We must have been a sight for sore eyes. As we waited on the platform you held me as tight as you possibly could. “It’s for warmth AJ.” I just winked at him, sure it is Charlie.” Cullen had settled at our feet and was startled by the bells of the train. He kissed me like he always did. But this time he studied me intently. With loving eyes he said “AJ you are so fucking beautiful, I found home in you and I cannot wait to live a life with you.” When he boarded he didn’t take a seat, he stood looking out the doors watching me until the platform was out of sight.

For some reason I remember the time, the time the train left the station. 1:30PM. Trains run every half hour on the weekends. The last time I saw Charlie alive was 1:30PM on February 12, 2012.

If only I had know that would be our last day, I would have done that day differently. I would have indulged his desire to be lazy and soaked in every drop of time.

S4 Episode 5:

In February we focus on women’s hearts. But this month isn’t just for me, it’s for my Dad too.

20 years ago I was in college in Ladysmith WI, I called home to talk to my Dad. My sister answered, she said “he’s sleeping.” I pleaded with her to wake him up so I could talk to him. She was persistent and uttered “Dad isn’t here, he’s in the hospital.” My heart sank and I hung up.

When I finally go through to my mom she told me it didn’t look good. His heart was sick. I took to my knees and prayed with every fiber I had. I asked God to spare my father’s life. At 19 I couldn’t imagine a world without my father. I needed him at my side to tell me that this to shall pass. My rock was fading and all we could do was fucking pray and wait.

When my dad arrived at Mayo he had a survival score of “zero.” His heart was beating so fast it just fluttered in his chest. Congestive Heart Failure and aortic fibrillation was to blame. The doctors prepared my Mama for the worst. She lied like all mothers do and told us he was going to be alright. I was a mess and couldn’t think straight in class. My body was in Wisconsin but my heart was in Minnesota. 

Two weeks later that zero walked out of the front doors of Saint Mary’s and he never looked back. Today February marks his 15th survuvior anniversary. With every beat of his heart he steals time from the sandman and keeps death at bay. We know each day isn’t spoken for and that only the good lord knows if we will see the next sunrise. He lives with faith in his heart and appreciates every second of his borrowed time. 

Borrowed years are a gift. My father has lived to see his daughter graduate from college, he was the proudest father in the arena. He walked his daughters down the isle and held me as I cried into his should on the day I found out my son had died. He’s picked up the pieces after our divorces and was the glue that our hearts needed. He stood by my side as I fought for my life and put his arm around me when we found out that I inherited his heart. I’ve watched him hold his second and third born grandchild for the very first time while morning the loss of his first, forth and fifth grandsons. He is the ultimate road trip companion and dinner buddy. As long as a ride is involved he’s game.

Borrowed time is all but rosy. My father looked on as doctors fought to save my life. Blood clots are no joke and strokes they are even worse. He taught me how to inject myself with blood thinners, “make sure you clean the area real good” he said. Little by Little I got stronger and I never looked back. My dad’s face lit up when he saw me on a billboard and in a TV commercial promoting heart health. He tearfully watched the video of my speech in DC, his surviving heart was so very proud. Those teary eyes looked on as I strutted down the runway and shared my story at the fashion show. All because his heart, it saved mine. 

My father’s heart saved mine. If it weren’t for his broken heart I never would have gotten involved with the American Heart Association.  If I hadn’t gotten involved I would never have learned that women have different symptoms than men and that cardiac events can happen at any age. In one moment I became the very surivivor I advocated for and I’ve never looked back. 

Because of my father I am alive today. Because he lived, his heart saved mine. Because of his heart and the research they are conducting my future looks fucking bright. I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps, he was 50 when his heart gave out, I was 34 when I was diagnosed with stage one congestive Heart Failure and I am not afraid to tread down his path. For I know having high levels of C-reactive protein is no longer a death sentence, it allows us to go boldly into the night and wakeup to a beautiful painted sunrise.

A beautifully painted sunrise that my Dad prepared for me. For the past twenty years he has been a research patient at Mayo and oh have they learned so very much from him. Knowledge that wasn’t available twenty years ago is now extending my life and the lives of others. We know now that children of parents who had a sudden cardiac arrest may follow in their foot steps. When my Dad had us second in 2020 my cardiologist sat down and said “we need to plain for an internal cardiac defibrillator.” The plan is to have it implanted when I am 45, which is five years prior to the age my Dad had his first sudden cardiac arrest. I pray each day that this device is never needed but grateful to have the insurance policy under my skin.

February 8th is a celebration, a celebration of a life well lived on borrowed time. My Dad and I are thick as thieves. Many fathers have told me “when my daughters grow up I hope I can have the relationship with them like you have with your dad.” My Dad and I have a special bond. He knows me in and out. He’s seen me on my worst days and laughed with me on my best days. He believed in me when no one else did. He was that force that pushed me when I didn’t think I could go on. He knows how to center me and when to just let me be mad. We all know when I get mad I take down names and get fucking shit done. I can tell him my vision or a design element that I want and he says “yep,” and weeks later he’ll call “I have it drawn out” or “I think found what you wanted.” He gets me like no one else does.

The best gift I can give to him is a day well spent. Road trips are plenty, we may get lost but it’s on the roads less traveled that we find our best adventures. He’s not as spry as he once was, yet he does everything in his power to keep up with me. Whether it’s walking a trail or strolling through a flea market, he takes a break leans on his cane with a smile and says “go ahead Mannie, I’ll catchup.” I treasure these moments and the days for I know this season will not last. Each year he gets older as my mind settles on the fact that even though I want him to, my dad will not live forever. His heart had one job to do and that was to save mine, and save it, it did.

Here’s to twenty more years filled with laughter, good wine, adventure, and hopefully lord willing a grand baby that he will get to hold.

S4 Episode 4:

The Go Red campaign focuses on women’s heart health which is the number one killer of women. I suffered a stroke, a stroke that came after my pulmonary embolism was discovered. Sure a blood clot is not a cardiac event, but it still is an event. An event that only 1 out of 5 survive.

If you ask me those odds are shitty. Fuck only one out of five people who have a P.E. will survive. That statistic is one I cannot escape and it haunts me to this day. I am the ONE out of FIVE. I’ve lived twelve borrowed years on this earth and I’ve done my best to make every second count. I cannot undo the events of October 22, 2009, I can only move past them. 

Five days before my 27th birthday I drove myself to the ER. My chest felt like it was being split open and I could barely breathe. I collapsed as soon as I got inside and woke up to a nurse telling me “well you are not having a heart attack and you can either help me take your clothes off or I can cut them off.” I opted to help. I was confused and gasping for air. Every breath I took ripped through my body. I’ve never been in labor but I imagine the pain I was feeling is on that level. The ER doctor told me that my oxygen level was below 50% and he was leaning towards an infection in my lungs. He was going to run some tests. As he headed toward the door he stopped and asked “are you on a birth control?” 

I uttered yes and he explained about the d-dimer test and that it checked for possible blood clots. He was certain it wasn’t that, he just wanted to check to be sure. The lab came in and took my blood. It would be a bit before the results came back. As I was being taken to x-ray the Doctor stopped us and stated “put her back in her room she doesn’t need an x-ray.” I thought this meant it wasn’t serious and I was on my way home. He calmly explained “the d-dimer came back positive. We need to do a CT scan to look at your chest to check for any blood clots. The contrast dye if you are allergic to it it could kill you. But it’s your best option.” 

I looked at him and said “I might die either way right?” And signed my name to the consent form. The Radiology Tech said it would take about an hour for the results to come back. I waited and listened to the clock tick the minutes away. Thirty minutes went by, I heard a phone ring and the doctor’s voice in the hall. I only made out “shit! You have to be kidding me!” Followed by a page for extra staff to the ER. Then I heard foot steps, lots of them running towards my little room. The doctor popped in and explained “you have a pulmonary embolism.” I stared at him blankly and he explained “you have a blood clot the size of a ten cent gumball blocking the valve from your left lung to your heart. Blood and oxygen can’t get through.”

Those words were a lot to process. In that moment I did not fully comprehend the shit I was in and how bad it was. He explained I needed blood thinners and that I would be in the hospital for a while. He stepped out for a moment to put in RX orders. And that is when I lost my words. My body felt strange, it felt like I was sinking and I couldn’t get my words out. The heart monitor started beeping and everyone was frantically moving around. My blood pressure was well above 200 and I was fading. Clot busters, TPA to be exact were ordered and given, my stroke was stopped right in it’s tracks and my life was spared. I live each day with the knowledge that I almost died 5 days before my birthday.

I became accustomed to my new life. A life of blood thinners, scans, diet change, and never ending doctors appointments. I was angry and bitter. I wanted to put a why behind the how. I wanted to know why this happened to me and how I could prevent others from enduring my fate. To this day the answer is still hard to swallow.

Truth: my pulmonary embolism and stroke were 100% preventable. The blood clot was caused by the progesterone in the Nuvaring, my birth control. One week before this occurred I had my annual check up and I told my doctor that I was feeling unusually tired, had redness and warmth on my upper leg. She ignored my symptoms and told me “oh just go home drink some water and walk more.” Since she didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t either. Boy was I wrong. I now know I had all of the classic signs of a potential blood clot and that a simple d-dimer test could have caught the clot before it reached my lungs and brain. My whole ordeal could have been prevented if only my doctor had truly listened to me that day.

Because I survived, I go Red for women’s health. All of us need to realize that we know our bodies better than anyone. We know when something isn’t right and we need to listen to our guts. It’s time we put our health first and push for the answers that we need. Our symptoms are and will always be different from men, because hello we are not men. It breaks my heart to know that young women are often dismissed. We shouldn’t be, blood clots, heart disease and stroke do not know age and they can occur at anytime. Love yourself! Make a doctors appointment and make sure you are being heard. If one doctor won’t listen keep on pressing until you find someone who does. You only have one life, one heart, and you deserve the very best.

Don’t be like AJ, she didn’t push for answers and almost died 5 days before her 27th birthday. 

S4 Episode 3:

In April 2020 I got a call that no child wants to receive. A call from my mom that my dad was in a head on collision. Those words were all I needed to hear and I was headed to Red Wing.

In my heart I knew it was useless because due to Covid no one, but the patient was allowed in the ER. While on my way a nurse called to ask me some questions about my dad and she said she needed me to come in and talk to him. I asked her why and she said “the doc will explain everything to you when you get here.” 

On the surface he looked like his normal grumpy old self. He had some bruises and scratches, so to me he seemed ok. Then the doc came in and started explaining his Troponin level was off the charts and that he needed to be sent down to Mayo. 

I stood by and watched as the EMTs loaded him up and rushed him away. It broke everything in me knowing that I could not follow that ambulance to Rochester. I could try, but there was no way I’d get in. So I did what my dad always says to do in a time of trial, I prayed. I prayed that he was going to be all right and I headed back home. 

My dad had his second sudden cardiac arrest. This time it was while he was driving home from our cabin with Ruby (his trusty dog) Ruby did not sustain any injuries in the crash, she walked away unscathed to chase a turkey for another day. The Doctors figure the impact of him hitting the airbag/steering wheel restarted his heart. There is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening again. So we decided to live life, to live a full life because the next time it happens he might not walk away.

In June 2020 we had planned to go to Yellowstone, I had to move our trip to September due to his accident and Covid. September finally arrived and I was excited to get this trip underway. This was his first time on an airplane. As the plane lifted I looked over to see him in his seat pretending to fly the plane. I could feel the tears welling up and I fought them as hard as I could. It was in that moment the reality of our summer sunk in. I could have easily been traveling to Yellowstone alone.

It made me realize that these Daddy/Daughter trips will not go on forever. As much as I’d like time to stop, I know it has to end eventually. And that I as his daughter need to fill whatever years he has left with adventure and make memories. I want to have stories that I can tell to my children. Hell I want to be able to take my kiddo on trips with their grandpa, so that they can have stories to share. 

In the end when the drip finally stops, all that is left of us is our stories. And I pray that you have people in your life who will continue to tell your stories when you are gone. Charlie used to tell me that “date of birth and date of death don’t matter on a tomb stone. It’s the “dash” between those dates that matters. Some of us chose to die while living and others my friend, they live while their dying. Your dash is your story, it’s the nuts and bolts of a life well lived or a life well mourned.” 

Somewhere between the ghost towns of Montana and the valleys of Yellowstone, I added to my Dad’s dash. He kept saying over and over “I never thought I’d see Yellowstone. This is a trip of a lifetime.” he was right, this was a trip of a lifetime for him. We set out for Yellowstone in 2019, but only made it to the entrance due to car trouble. We vowed that day to come back, to come back and finish what we started. When I parked in the exact spot our trip ended in 2019, my dad looked around and looked at me and said “We completed our task!” 

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana 
Nevada City, Montana 
Norris Geyser Basin 

Indeed we did and all I have to say is Yellowstone is beautiful beyond measure and the mountains of Montana speak to your soul like no other place can. I would take this trip with him a million times over, including the tiny cabin with a broken heater that we stayed in. 

Tiny Cabin at Pine Creek Lodge 
Grand Teton National Park 
Mammoth Hot Springs 
Yellowstone National Park 
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park 

If you have a dad don’t take your time with him for granted, for he is not immune to growing old. Take the time today to start making memories. It doesn’t have to be some grand trip, it could be lunch or even just a walk in the park. Memorize his every word so that one day when he is gone you can pass his stories on. Even the highly inappropriate stories. Even the ones that make you cringe a little. When he is gone from this world his words will matter and you will be thankful that you have them to keep you company. 

And as for my dad, I thank God every darn day for his third chance at life. I could not imagine this world without him and travel just wouldn’t be the same. He is and will always be my road trip buddy. 

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park 
Devil’s slide, Montana 
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

S4 Episode 2:

About four or so years ago I had spent a Saturday with my dad. We did what we normally do, go shopping and then out to lunch. When I dropped him off at home he was being particularly annoying. He told me “the headlights are dirty,” so he pulled out his hanky and started wiping them down for me. He then asked me to put my flashers on so he could check my blinkers, which lead to him wiping down my windshield.

I finally had enough of this and said “Dad I gotta go! Just let me drive off, I will be fine, I’ll call you when I get home, ok!?” He reluctantly kicked my tires and backed away from my Prius so I could pull out from the curb. I should add that this was during winter and a thick blanket of snow covered the country side. As I pulled away he yelled “watch out for drifts on the death road. There could be black ice, ok!” I yelled back “ok I will drive slow,” and waved goodbye as I pulled into the street.

The death road is a very hilly section of HWY 61 that crossed corn fields with little to no snow fences along the roadway. It’s known for drifts and accidents. The road is very busy and due to that it’s well maintained in the winter. On the outskirts of Meisville I cranked up the tunes and settled in for the drive through the country side.

There was little to no wind that day so the road conditions were actually good. I had gone through the first few hilly sections and made my way to the straight which is just a mile or so outside of New Trier. As I crest the hill I could see cars with flashers on in the distance. “Oh great,” I thought. As I got closer the details of the accident came into view and I felt a pit in my stomach.

It had just occurred, police and ambulance/fire weren’t even on the scene yet. In the road laid a jumbled snowmobile and on the side was the trailer it had just fallen of off. The snowmobile was not properly secured on the trailer and it had come loose. It flew into the front of a pickup truck, bounced into the roadway and another car hit it. That second car went into the ditch, while the now smashed up snowmobile sat in the road. A third car hit it head on. The height of the pickup truck saved the driver, if he had been in a car the snowmobile would have landed in the cab. Thankfully there were no major injuries besides smashed up cars and wounded egos.

As I was driving away from the scene it hit me. If my dad had not been particularly annoying that day and made me 10 minutes late, I would have been behind the truck towing the snowmobiles. The snowmobile would have come loose and landed straight in my windshield and I would have been gone. I was overcome with the gravity of the near miss that I pulled into Dan’s parking lot to call my dad. I had to tell him what happened.

And he said “that’s a God Moment. That’s God looking out for you. Had you of left when you wanted to, you’d be dead or laying in an ambulance waiting for Mayo One to land.” He was right, if he had not been particularly annoying that day my story might have been different.

That day was a bit of a wake up call and caused me to reflect. All of us can think of moments where something should have happened to us, but for some reason out of our control we either missed it or walked away unscathed. Maybe your kids misplaced your keys which caused you to leave late and you hit the rush hour grind. At first you were probably frustrated until you turned on the radio only to hear about a 20 car pile up. You feel that little knot in your stomach and realize that your keys went missing for a reason. If you had left on time you would have been in that pile up that is now snarling up the freeways. Fate stepped in and said “not today friend.”

I used to live in uptown Minneapolis which is a huge bike riding PBR drinking hipster community. One particular morning I was in a rush and forgot my laptop so I had to turn back home. I grabbed my laptop, got back in the car and started heading into to work, all be it late. As I turned the corner I saw a bike laying in the road, I thought “that’s not right.” And then it’s rider came into my view. I didn’t hesitate, threw my car in park and went straight for the rider. He had been hit by a car and his leg was a real mess. I didn’t know this man, he was a complete stranger, but in that moment I was all he had. I knew if he saw his leg this situation was going to turn south, so I kept his head still while calling 911. I stayed, I talked to him, and kept him as calm as I possibly could until help arrived. As they were loading him in the ambulance he reached for my hand as he mouthed thank you. As I turned to answer the officers questions I felt that familiar knot in my stomach. The knot that told me he was the reason I forgot my laptop that morning, God knew he needed a helper, so he sent me.

God Moments can be simple too. Maybe you forgot an item and you had to double back in the store only to find a little old man struggling to get an item off the shelf. You are not an asshole so you ask “need some help?” In that moment you change the course of his day, you are a reminder that good people still exist in this world.

Maybe you are in a hurry and racing through target to get home before the snow hits. You grab your soup, milk, and bread and head to the checkout line like you are running a marathon. Only when you get there you find that the lines are backed up. At first you are annoyed, until you see the mama two carts ahead of you struggling to wrangle her kiddo while dealing with a crying baby. You pause as you wait and strike up a conversation with her little one. You offer her a smile and tell her “it’s all right, we were all little once.” In that moment you changed her course, your simple gestures reminded her that kindness still exists.

God Moments can be big or small. God Moments can be extraordinary or simple. God Moments can be life changing or life saving. Those moments serve as reminders that we are not in control of our timeline.

S4 Episode 1:

I’m not one for trends. Trends run rampant on Tiktok, there are so many that I cannot keep up. However there is one that I just can’t stop thinking about. It irks me in a way. “What I eat in a day as a fat person who is not trying to loose weight.” I’m sorry why do you need to justify to the world that you as a fat person do not over eat and that you have no intention of losing weight!? Like why!? I just don’t get it.

I’ve seen hundred of “what I eat in a day” videos. It’s always I ate this for breakfast, drank some water, and had a coffee. This is what I had for lunch, I didn’t eat all of it and I drank some water. Oh for a snack I had a Luna bar, which is so good and drank more water. Then I got home and we went out for dinner, don’t worry I didn’t eat all of it, and I drank more water.

I’m pretty sure a lot of folks make these videos for accountability reasons. Which is perfectly fine, if you need to make a video to hold your self accountable or for mindful eating, do it up girl!

Where I feel it gets hairy is the focus on “as a fat person who is not trying to loose weight.” First of yes you are fat, I’m fat too, but you are more than your weight. You are a beautifully vibrant human being. And you do not need to prove to the world what you eat in a day. There is no fucking reason for it. You are human and you eat food to fuel your body and not for likes on the internet. You eat food to sustain yourself and not for TikTok views. And the fact that you don’t want to loose weight is your business and no buddy else’s. If you are happy with who you are inside and out, that is all that matters. Be beautifully you, stop caring about what others think. Sometimes the hardest critic we face is ourselves and we need to quite that voice in our head with a bag of sour gummy candy.

Lord knows if I did one of those videos it would go like this “hi I’m AJ and I am a fat person here is what I eat in a day. For breakfast I had a breakfast sandwich, some OJ with my herbal vitamins, coffee, and I walked past the sour gummy candy in the pantry and ate a few. I think it was gummy worms, by it I’m not sure. I went to caribou and got a large ice crafted press with white chocolate and malt powder, it’s so good. I realized it left a bag of sour patch straws in my car, I was going to eat some, but the new Prius mouse got to them first. My ADHD brain took over and I didn’t eat lunch, but I did have a spin drift with a handful of chips. Yup it was definitely sour gummy worms, I had some more when I was looking for steak seasoning in the pantry. I had another spindrift while making dinner. Steak and scalloped potatoes hit the spot, I washed it down with two hard ciders and yet another spindrift. Went to the pantry to get poop bags for Cullen’s walk and grabbed another handful of sour gummy worms and ate them as we walked. Before bed I had a smoothie, drank it in bed while watching trash TV.

That is literally what I eat in a day. Yes I have a problem with sour gummy candy….. every time I go to the kitchen I grab a few and walk around my house eating said candy. It’s not unusual for me to take sour gummy candy into the shower, it gets wet and looses its sour coating so it’s not an ideal place to eat sour gummy worms. But yeah I do it and sometimes I drink my smoothie in the shower and/or tub. I’m a busy lady, so I gotta do what I gotta do.

Back to the TikTok trend. You are beautiful and you owe nothing to the world. Eat what makes you feel good. Eat the amount of food that satisfies you and not the portion society tells you to eat. You are unique and you’ve had your body long enough to understand what it takes to fuel it. Maybe you are like me living on spindrift and gummy candy. Or maybe you are like Cindy Lou who powers herself with organic grains and salads. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that you nourished your heart, your soul, and your tummy. You are the only ones me who knows how to take care of you. So put down your phone, enjoy your food, and tell the nay sayers to fuck off.

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