July 13, 2015

Thankful / Be the change

Today's been challenging.

Alan and I got caught in the middle of a bureaucratic mess. One place was supposed to fax paperwork to the other. When we called to check on progress, they told us "we never got the fax". Of course, there's a deadline involved. So now we're scrambling last minute, trying to get things submitted in time. Add a heaping amount of terrible customer service and zero accurate expectations set… and Alan ended up furious and having to stay late at work, and I cried at my manager.


Sometimes it feels so much like the world sucks. It's too much. People are jerks.

I reached out to ask for help today - just to see if any friends could share some positive or uplifting comments or encouragement. It's so wonderful to hear the great things loved ones can send your way. Thank you.

I also tried an experiment. I took a few minutes to specifically focus on gratitude. What am I grateful for - seriously?

No snide, undercutting remarks. No sideways comments that were actually-bitchy-disguised-as-grateful. An intentional, mindful exercise.

I put pen to paper and started writing. Started with the way-big picture stuff, and started to trickle down into smaller things that I might not have even vocalized.

And it worked.

I felt re-centered, and back in touch with the things that matter most. There is so much to be thankful for. And while the bureaucracy and frustration is real and awful and kind of hurts my feelings… it's one very small piece in the puzzle. Attitude and mindset are so incredibly powerful. Sure, sometimes that seems hokey and I just WANT to be angry and pissed off and just be a grump. I make sure to honor that every once in awhile, because who can be zen and mindful and positive all the time? ;) But today's exercise was an incredible reminder of how I can "be the change" I want to see in the world. That I can bring myself back from "everything happening to/at me" to focusing on what I can control.

July 6, 2015

Things James Says

Oh, this talkative, goofy kiddo of ours. 

He says a LOT. Hard to imagine, knowing his mama, huh? :-p 

Here's some of my favorite gems recently: 

"What's wrong, Mama??" 
This is also applicable to Daddy, and usually gets deployed when some sort of exclamation occurs. Driving? Stub your toe? If we yell about something, James immediately becomes concerned and asks us so genuinely sweetly and lovingly… that we feel awfully low for being upset that someone didn't use their blinker. Or whatever. Sweet boy. 

A super common question around here is along the lines of: "What's going on?" "What're he/she/you doing?"So when we reply/answer, James is ready with an enlightened-sounding "Oh…!"Pretty cute. Where does he pick this stuff up??

"Mm hm." 
Sometimes I'll give this reply when James is looking for confirmation. He's picked it up for his own use, and it's ridiculously silly to hear a 2 year old say "Mm hm" in response to something. 

"Walk away!" 
We think he learned this one at daycare somewhere along the way. I'm pretty glad that he has this one (along with the next entry) because it gives us a common language when James would like to decline something or get some space. Often, "walk away!" is used when he's super frustrated and doesn't want someone else in his space. Recently, this is mostly deployed at Alan due to his super-mama-clingy phase… but I've heard it a couple of times as well. 

"No, thank you." 
We've tried to give James some phrases when he would like to say no, but looked for something polite as well. This has been pretty great, when he's done eating, done getting tickles, etc. We're also trying to turn it around and use that same language too, if WE would prefer to be done with something. Fingers crossed - it seems to make sense to him so far! 

"I'm still playing/watching/eating/digging…" 
Oy. This is a common one. We try to give James cues and processing times before switching tasks or jumping activities. This helps us with our transitions SO much… but now, he will respond to our cues with a very matter-of-fact "No, I'm still playing with this truck" or whatever he's doing that he'd much rather continue than put on shoes/change diaper/take bath. 

"I took Daddy to get bagels…"
This kid has incredible recall and spatial recognition. One morning, several months ago, Alan took him to get a bagel at Einstein's for a Daddy/son outing. This particular place is on the normal route to/from work, and without ANY prompting James will narrate that "I took Daddy there for bagels". It's incredible. He's done this with a couple of locations - even remembering the Petsmart logo, and that "We take Zoey for nails". He's totally right - we take Z there every month or two to get her nails done, and in this case - it's not even the specific location - he'll recognize ANY Petsmart and relate that back to us. Jeez. 

I have NO idea where this came from, but he's all of a sudden calling us Mom/Dad, not Mama/Daddy. It's kind of cool… and kind of squeezes my heart in a painful way. 

General repetition
James loves to repeat back whatever was just discussed to the other parent (even/especially when we're all together and clearly experiencing the exact same thing). James and Alan will have a quick discussion about the sky/clouds, and immediately following I'll hear: "Look, Mommy! That's a blue sky!" Yes, baby. Thank you for sharing with me. :) 

July 5, 2015

Countdown to 5 years: 26 days

Our big day.

Gosh, I love our wedding!

We knew that we wanted something non-traditional from the start – the big poofy white dress/church/reception really wasn’t for us. We started off dreaming about eloping to Mexico. That was way too expensive. Maybe we could elope to Florida. Still really expensive. California? Nope. None of it felt “right” to us. (Plus: too expensive.)

Alan and I are both Phoenix natives – born, raised, and grown up in the Valley of the Sun. We really liked it there, and decided – what better place to become husband and wife?

I started planning, and knew that while we were doing our ceremony at the Justice of the Peace (with many locations across the Valley), I wanted something that felt “official” and had some weight to it, not just your average municipal courthouse building. I settled on the downtown Phoenix location off Jackson street – a big building that satisfied what I was looking for.

We both knew that we didn’t want to wait and drag out the engagement, particularly since we were planning something super small – but that meant a summer wedding in Phoenix (read: 110+ degrees), so a reception probably wasn’t going to happen until later in the year. This would be a super-small, super-simple affair… but I still wanted a photographer to help us capture those memories.

I got a referral from a dear friend to her photographer, and I’m so thankful to Ivy Studios Photo for working with me to create a custom “package” that suited our needs. A standard wedding photography package wasn’t going to work for our situation, and Shelly was so great at working with us.

Shelly and her assistant came with us to the courthouse, along with my mom/dad/brother and Alan’s two closest friends. Each group was called into the courtroom separately, so we had privacy and quiet for our ceremony.

I am still so thankful for our particular Justice – he was so well-spoken and genuine, and the words and vows we spoke had such emphasis and weight. My brother signed as my witness, and Luie signed as Alan’s.

We have a great picture of Alan’s dubious face during the ceremony:

But he ended up saying “I do” in just the right spot.

After the ceremony, Alan and I went to take some pictures with the photographer, and my family went with Katy and Luie to a restaurant to meet us for dinner. Turns out – no joke! – my parents and the Ugartes were married in the same tiny chapel, just decades apart. What a small world, huh?

That afternoon and evening were so full of love and family and together and celebration – it’s a hazy glow of happiness for me. And just the right way for us to start our lives together as husband and wife.

July 4, 2015

Countdown to 5 years: 27 days

We “only” dated for about 7ish months before we got engaged, and we were only engaged about a month before we got married.

I’d say we knew pretty much by 2 months into dating that we had found our person, and wanted to get married. We’re the marrying kind, and homebodies to boot. We didn’t want or need to really “rush” things, but we also both agreed that getting actually married was important to us – so why delay?

Since Alan was in school and I was working, we decided (again) to go our own way and buy my engagement ring together. We went to a couple of different jewelers, and found just the right stone and had it set. While we bought the ring together, the rest was a mystery – Alan would pick it up at an unknown time, and plan how he wanted to “propose”. Even though we knew we wanted to get married (and that I’d say yes!) he still wanted to ask me that question and make it special.

[Note: I still have no idea when he actually picked up the ring, but he told me afterwards that he “hid” the ring in his nightstand… not very secret, but since I’m not a snooper – it worked!]
It was mid-June, and Alan scheduled a hike for the two of us… at Saguaro Lake. A little excitement started to build up, because clearly this place was SPECIAL for us… so maybe something SPECIAL would happen!

We followed the same trail – with the intention of stopping at the same lagoon. Alas – a boat had docked there for the afternoon, and all privacy and quiet was shattered. We had to turn around, and to be honest – I was OVER it. The day was HOT. I was HUNGRY. I figured we should just turn around and give it up, but Alan was (not surprisingly) determined to find us a place on the lake to rest.

He had seen an un-scouted offshoot of the trail as we hiked earlier, and he encouraged me to keep going. Amazingly, this new location was even better than the original – there was a palo verde tree to provide a bit of shade, and a sandy “beach” area that gently sloped into the water.

We unpacked our bags, had some water and snacks, and sat for a moment to enjoy the scenery and the cool water.

[As a side note, I’ve always been an empathic person (a word I didn’t even know about until a couple of years ago). I’m highly sensitive to other people’s emotions and moods, and those moods can easily influence mine.]

I knew right away that something was up. Alan was quiet. Fidgety. Not his normal self – the vibe was all weird. Then… it all made sense. He pulled the ring out, and asked me to marry him.

Of course, of course, of course!!!

I was so darn excited, and said yes.

We started to hike out, because I was SO excited I needed to share with my parents – if not now, then as soon as humanely possible. I ambushed a couple of other hikers on the way out and asked them to take our (hot, sweaty, but so-in-love) picture. First picture as an engaged couple!

Alan was a great sport and totally understood my urgency and drove us right away to my parent’s house. We announced our exciting news and celebrated and then realized – it’s Father’s Day! Happy Father’s Day, Dad! :)

So there it is – our engagement story. Special, personal, perfect – for us.

[One final side note: I have to poke fun at myself, because as soon as I saw the ring for real, I knew that the setting I chose – that I was SO dead set on – was all wrong for the stone. I told Alan on the drive to my parent’s house that we’d have to go back to the jeweler and get it reset. Ha! Just goes to show you that things aren’t always what they seem!]

July 3, 2015

Countdown to 5 years: 28 days

I was pretty sure at this point I had found someone very special, but I also knew how important it was to NOT dive into another relationship. I was at a pivotal place in my own life, and working to figure out what was important to ME, and take care of myself. I very much got the impression that Alan like-liked me – in a “I want to date this person” way. Since I knew there was NO way that was going to happen, I immediately sat down to write to him and let him know where I was coming from. I figured that open, honest communication might be a little awkward/surprising/uncomfortable, but infinitely better than leading someone on, or having missed communication or unrealistic expectations.

I really liked this guy, but I liked myself more. I knew what I needed, and I wanted him to know too. I figured that this was certainly a gamble – what if he got my message and was angry? Walked away? Yelled at me?

But then I thought: What if he doesn’t? What if he listens and gets it? What if he’s okay being seriously “just friends”? We might get a chance to get to know each other for real, and then decide what we wanted to be. We could make this work for US.

Here’s my verbatim at the end of my first extra long message: 
“so if any of this is jumping the gun, or ridiculous, then no worries. or if it pisses you off or wrecks everything, then i’m sorry. but i think this is important enough for me to tell you immediately… and i really really really hope you get it, or get me enough to know that i mean this.

let me know what you think.”

Gosh, I’m glad I sent that message.

I will tell you that the hours I waited for a response were pretty nerve-wracking. Because even though I was comfortable with the “worst” outcome, I certainly didn’t WANT that outcome. It was tough, that waiting.

But so so worth it.

Here’s an exerpt from Alan’s response: 
“Alex, I like you. I like you a lot. I want to make sure that that point is clear. I am so glad that you respect me enough to be honest with me. I understand that you have a history. Everyone does. I also understand that you feel that your history still affects you. In light of the information that you have presented me, I'd like to let you know what I'm thinking…”
Because guess what? Alan didn’t just get it… he TOTALLY got it. He was kind of going through some major changes too. Just out of the Army, just starting with his Bachelor’s Degree, just finishing up the details of his divorce (!!!). So…. yeah, he liked me too, but he also liked the idea of just being friends. Taking things one step at a time. Being honest and open with each other.

This is something I’ve really tried to keep alive in our relationship over the last 5 years. Sometimes it’s hard. Being vulnerable and open is HARD. You have to have trust… and that’s scary, when you’re not being your prettiest, shiniest self. Sometimes I need to think or write first, before I can articulate what I want to say to Alan… but the easiest, best thing is to talk. He’s my person, he’s on my team, he’s my partner, and my rock (but never my stepping stone). Things are always easier and better with him.

(He told me later on that he knew that he didn’t just like-like me… he really liked me, right from the start. Absolutely wanted to be boyfriend/girlfriend/dating, but also understood where I was coming from… and was willing to wait.)

July 2, 2015

Countdown to 5 years: 29 days

I shared yesterday about our first date: the hike at Saguaro Lake. As we were hiking back to the trailhead, Alan asked what I was doing the following weekend. I kind of chuckled to myself because: that’s cool! Getting asked on a second date before the first one is even over… Pretty nifty.

Since I didn’t have any plans, I asked him what he was thinking. “Well, my dad’s getting remarried, and if you don’t come with me I’ll have to take my friend Steven.” (Ha – I’m sure you would have had a blast Steven, but I appreciate you letting me cut in!)

I nearly fell over – that’s kind of an off-the-cuff invite to a kind of big event, to kind of a girl you barely know. But… We had hit things off so well, and I figured it couldn’t be a BAD thing. I remember clearly asking him – “Will there be food?” Since he assured me that I’d be fed, I absolutely agreed. (Talk about being comfortable being myself, right??)

Turns out, his dad was getting remarried… right back at Saguaro Lake! So our second date was in the same spot, but this time we had another unique vantage point. They had rented a large sight-seeing boat for their wedding party and guests, and were married on the water. After the ceremony, we took a tour all around the lake.

Alan brought the same little point-and-shoot camera with him that he’d brought to the first date, which I promptly commandeered. I took pictures of EVERYTHING. The sights (we saw deer!), the wedding, and pictures of us. Look how young and shiny we are! (I remember that as we communicated after this date via FB messages and texting, he was bemoaning how many pictures I’d taken… I guess that might have been a sign, huh?)

As with our first date, things were just COMFORTABLE. Not in a lazy, PJs way (because boy did I obsess over what I wore), but in a I feel completely at home way. Meeting this brand new guy’s whole family? Witnessing his father getting remarried? Perhaps an awkward, weird situation? Not really. I had a great time. We laughed a lot, we enjoyed each other’s company, and then afterwards met up with some friends (Hi, Chris and Il!) to round out the evening.

July 1, 2015

Countdown to 5 years: 30 days

Alan & I will be celebrating our 5 year anniversary at the end of the month, and I wanted to intentionally reflect on our story so far. I'll share a different photo and memory each day to help us remember the path that we've walked so far - and how much more there is to come!

Back in 2009, I had been through a LOT of changes - early in the year I had broken up with a boyfriend of 4.5 years, quit my teaching job (you know - the one thing I had aimed to do with my life and gotten my college degree for), and moved back home with my parents (thanks Mom & Dad!!). With all of those changes, plus finally starting my new career with my current company in the fall, I was NOT looking for or interested in having a "boyfriend".

So of course I met Alan.

Our first date was a hike at Saguaro Lake in Arizona, in late summer 2009. There are so many things that stand out to me about this day, but let me share the clearest memory: For the first time (in maybe ever), I felt 100% like myself in the best possible way you can imagine. I didn't feel the "normal" first date stuff: anxiety, worrying about my appearance, trying to "be" the person I thought I should be. I equated it in my head to the feeling of safety I had in my family's house - I could be the best possible version of myself without worrying about censoring or monitoring. Who gets that feeling on a first date?? Much less a sweaty first date tromping through the desert, followed by a giant meal at a burger place wherein I ate more than the gentleman on this date (ahem).

On this hike, we talked… and talked… and talked. About ALL of the things. Small things. Big things. My mind was BLOWN when he told me he had just gotten out the Army (because he did NOT have the stereotypical military vibe). We talked about families, jobs, the world - pretty much everything we could think of.

The hike was hot, dusty and long. Like a fairytale, there was an incredible ending: the trail dead-ended in the most magical (for Arizona) lagoon. An inlet of the bluest water, surrounded by the greenest reeds and foliage, in the middle of the desert filled with saguaros.

Right away, we decided not to waste it and kicked off our shoes to slide into the water to cool off. It. Was. Awesome! (and very out of my normal character - usually I would have politely or uncomfortably declined) A special experience that just the two of us shared, and was a welcome relief from the heat of the hike.

I walked away from this date kind of… amazed. Something incredible had just happened, something that had to be considered. Connections with another person don't often happen with such an audible click - with such a REAL connection right away.