365 Days

Exactly one year ago last Thursday, I found out I was pregnant.  After 1386 days, 4 IUI and 2 IVF, we finally had the BFP we had so desperately longed for.

Our official pregnancy blood test was scheduled for Monday, June 18th last year but we didn’t want to wait that long.  We did everything right with our first transfer the year prior; we avoided testing at home so that the results we received would come from the professionals.  Well, those results were negative and we were heartbroken.  When it came to receiving the results the second time around, we wanted to be in charge of how we found out.  We felt as though if we received a negative testing at home, we would be more prepared to get the “official” negative when we went to our doctor’s the following week.

I woke up with an incredible urge to pee that morning, which maybe should have been my first clue that I was pregnant.  I rarely, if ever, needed to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night.  While Lee and I had agreed that I would test beforehand, I slunk out of bed, trying not to disturb him.  It was 4 days before our official test, and even if I was pregnant, I wasn’t expecting a positive this early.  I apparently wasn’t as stealth as I thought, as Lee awoke the minute I arose and asked if I was planning on testing.  I said yes, but that it was important to not get our hopes up as it may still be too early to get an accurate result.

Imagine my surprise when “Pregnant” flashed across the screen almost immediately.

“Babe!”  I shouted from the bathroom.

“Yeah?”  He replied rather groggily.

“We’re pregnant!” I exclaimed.

I crawled back in to bed, both of us now wide awake and beyond excited.  I told him that I was going to pick up another type of pregnancy test to verify because naturally, I was apprehensive about getting too excited.  I spent a good part of the morning looking up the statistics on false positives and researching the half-life of Lupron, which was a medication I had used to trigger ovulation 10 days earlier.  I came home from work that day, with a different brand of test and took it, half-expecting a negative.  I got a plus sign almost immediately.  I tested again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that and the day after that.  All positive.  It appeared I was indeed with child.

We got the blood test confirmation on the 18th.  I would have to go back in on the 20th for another one.  You see, they wanted to make sure my HCG levels were continuing to rise.  If so, that was a good indication that this was a valid pregnancy.  If they didn’t, it would signal that it was likely a chemical pregnancy and would not result in a live birth.  Sure enough, at my second blood test, my HCG levels had more then doubled.  I was roughly 5 weeks pregnant!

We planned to keep it under wraps until we had our 8 week ultrasound.  Our doctor had informed us that once we saw the heartbeat, the chances of miscarriage dropped drastically.  We didn’t want to celebrate our pregnancy until we were a little more certain that this was the real deal.  At least, that was our plan.  We had to travel to Lee’s home town shortly after our second blood test for his aunt’s funeral.  We had barely made it in the door of his childhood home before his mom asked if we had any news to share.  There, in front of Lee’s parents, siblings and their spouses, we acknowledged it for the first time.  We stressed that it was still REALLY early and that we would appreciate if they kept the news to themselves until we reached the 12-week mark.  They assured us they would and did not disappoint.

We opted to do NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing), which we were able to test at around the 10-week mark.  The test screens for chromosomal abnormalities, but can also determine the sex of the baby.  Since I was considered an “advanced maternal age” the test would be covered by insurance, so we figured we might as well.  It was through this test that we found out we were having a girl.  I think Lee was initially disappointed, as he comes from a family of mostly girls (8 aunts on his mom’s side alone and 3 sisters of his own).  But that dissipated pretty quickly.  After all, we were having a child; something we had wanted for years.  And frankly, as long as the baby was healthy, that’s really all that mattered.

It’s crazy to think how much our life has changed in the last year.  We now have a beautiful, healthy and happy 4 month old baby girl.  They say that you never know love until you have a child and I always thought that sounded so cliché.  But I honestly can’t imagine what I would do without our girl.  Every day is made a little bit brighter because she’s in our world.

I’ve definitely softened as a human since becoming a mom, and I would say I’m the best version of myself that I have ever been.  Our sweet girl has made us both better people.  And I’ve fallen in love with my husband all over again as I’ve watched him take to parenting as if he were born to do it.

All the procedures, the ultrasounds, the hormone shots, all the negative pregnancy tests and all the tears leading up to our positive; I would go through it again and again to get this outcome.  She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us and we can’t wait to watch the beautiful human being that she will become.

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22-Week Update

I’ve had the best of intentions with continuing my writing, but it seems like time is going by so fast.  So much of my time is now devoted to preparing for this baby; from preparing the nursery to researching day care centers, and every item that the baby may or may not need, to starting a baby registry.  It’s incredibly time-consuming, but oh so fun.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a planner, so all the research that goes into preparing for a baby is basically a dream come true.

Baby Girl Gilbertson is doing well.  We had our 20-week ultrasound a few weeks ago and our little ninja is continuing to impress with her ability to break dance in utero.  45 minutes into the ultrasound last week, our sonographer, exhausted by the number of images she still had yet to capture, finally looked at Lee and I and said “you’re going to have your hands full with this one.”  As of right now, we’re assuming she has all 10 fingers and toes?  It was incredibly hard to tell with all the fist pumping and karate kicks going on during our ultrasound.

Can I feel all these kicks?  Hell yeah!  It’s a pretty amazing feeling.  Lee got to feel her kick for the first time last week, so I’m guessing it’s starting to get real for him too.

How am I doing?  Pretty fantastic.  I spent the entire first trimester in an exhausted haze, so the energy burst I’ve experienced in the second trimester has been a welcome change.  Watching my belly grow has been a pretty amazing sight as well.  I’m being very cognizant about the amount of weight I put on, particularly because having PCOS makes me extra susceptible to gestational diabetes.  I was tested at 10 weeks (it was negative) and will have to be tested again (most likely at my next OB appointment).

And if life couldn’t get any sweeter, we’re heading on our babymoon on Wednesday!  10 days traveling around London, Amsterdam and Belgium.

Yes, things are going pretty well with the Gilbertson clan right now and we couldn’t be happier.  Only 18 more weeks until we meet our little miracle!

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Back from Sabbatical

I’ve been MIA for roughly three months now, for which I am deeply sorry to those of you who follow my blog.  But, I’ve been silent for good reason.  I’ve been hiding a monumental secret.

Baby Kira

Our second round of IVF worked!  I’m currently 16 weeks pregnant with an incredibly resilient baby girl.

It doesn’t feel quite real yet.  Even as I’m watching my body change to make room for baby, I can’t believe I’m pregnant.  I’ve seen her move like a maniac on an ultrasound and heard the sound of her beautifully strong heartbeat, but it still seems so surreal.  I’m not sure when it will truly register.  Will it be the first time I can feel her kick?  Or perhaps it won’t fully sink in until she’s in my arms?  I guess time will tell.  When you spend so many years hoping for something only to be consistently disappointed, it makes it a little hard to believe when that almost forgotten dream becomes a reality.

But now, let me get something straight.  That doesn’t mean I’m not over the moon with excitement.  And I’m already completely in awe of her.  She’s an absolute miracle.  And yes, I know all children, in general, are a miracle, but she’s managed to take it up a notch.  Between two IVF cycles, we had 25 embryos.  Out of all 25 embryos, she’s the only one that survived.  That in and of itself, is pretty amazing.

I’m excited to be back in the blogosphere and sharing our story; just because I’ve been silent doesn’t mean I’ve run out of things to say.  Thank you to all of you who have followed our story, shared in our heartbreak and celebrated our victories.  The story isn’t over; in fact, it’s just starting to get good.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is always a funny day for those of us that struggle with infertility.  If you dare to go on any form of social media, you will no doubt see pictures of mothers with their children and sappy, albeit beautifully written posts from sons and daughters touting the super women they are lucky enough to call mom.  And while you’re so incredibly happy for the outpouring of love that every mother is receiving, there’s still a part of your heart that breaks if you’re not a mom but want to be.

So you know what?  I might not be the mother of another human, but I’m most definitely the mother of three amazing animals.  This is my mother’s day tribute to them.

Omar

Omar is an 11 year-old Rat Terrier.  I got Omar when he was just an adorable little 6-week old puppy; practically small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

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Omar is an incredibly well-behaved little dude.  He never wants to be too far away from Mom and Dad and prefers when both Lee and I are home together.  If one of us is missing from the homestead, it’s safe to say that Omar will be laying in our bedroom, completely morose until we return.

Omar believes that he should be the center of our universe.  He doesn’t appreciate when we pay too much attention to the cats, and he especially doesn’t like it when Lee and I pay too much attention to each other.  In his mind, his spot on the couch, in bed, and in life should always be right between us.

Omar loves car rides, human food, wearing clothes, and an early bedtime.  Yet, for as excited as he gets to go to bed at a decent hour, he still has so much life and playfulness in him.  He especially loves to put on a show whenever we have friends over.  He parades around with his squeaky toys, daring our guests to play tug of war.  He’ll drop the toy at their feet, almost as if he’s offering a welcome present, only to snatch it back up and growl playfully as they try to wrench it from his mouth.

Omar has forever spoiled me as a dog mom.  The love that he puts forth is so pure, so unconditional.  I’m most definitely a better person for having been his mom.

 

Gladys

I refer to Gladys as my “angel princess”.  Named after my paternal grandmother because of her beautiful green eyes, Gladys is extremely cuddly and affectionate girl.  She expects pets and head scratches first thing when you walk in the door, and she expects a lot of them.  So much so, that if you even think about walking away from the pets before she’s had enough, you can expect that she will try to hook your hand with her paw to get your attention.  Don’t be surprised if she also tries to bite you to get her point across.  The good news, however, is that half of her teeth were removed last year due to a mouth infection, so when she bites, you won’t feel a thing.  If she really wants to get her point across, she’ll just climb right on top of you and make herself comfortable.

Gladys enjoys pets, rubber bands, playing with her mouse toys, waking us up with meows in the middle of the night to let us know she’s playing with her mouse toys, dry food and me.  She will accept affection from her father, but she’s a mama’s girl through and through.  Gladys’ dislikes include playing with our other cat, Roger, and when any of the neighbor cats walk through our yard.  Gladys spends many nights sleeping on my pillow, right above my head as if she’s my very own cat hat.

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I’ve said before, in this blog and in daily conversation, but I’ll say it again:  Gladys might very well be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  Gladys greets me at the door every day when I get home from work, ready for affection.  Whenever I’m having a bad day, Gladys is there to make me feel better with cuddles and nuzzles.  Cats can often be such finicky creatures, but I really hit the jackpot with this one.

Roger

How do I explain Roger?  He’s just a super chill little dude.  Actually, he’s not all that little.  The fact that he helps himself to Omar’s food and attempts to steal food from Lee and I has given him a little bit of a pooch.  He’s not fat per sé, but the vet has advised not to let him gain any more weight.

Roger came to us when he was 8 weeks old.  He and Gladys took to each other initially, because he was an adorable helpless little kitten who needed a mom.  However, he soon grew out of his cuddly phase and has been rocking the tormenting little brother phase for the last 5 and a half years.

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Roger lives for food and naps.  He also enjoys making space for himself in places where he doesn’t quite fit.  He’s the most malleable cat I’ve ever met.  You can pick him up, move him around, make him dance, whatever.  He’s never bothered.  And while he’s just as affectionate as Gladys, he’s not nearly as needy.  Mostly he just wants a comfortable place to take one of his 500 daily naps.

He’s a creature of habit, following us to bed every night and staying with us straight through until morning.  He takes turns sleeping between my legs and Lee’s but he’s definitely a “bros before hos” kind of cat.  Most nights, Roger can be found “bro-ing” out with his dad and watching TV.

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As I write this blog post, my heart is filled with such pride.  While I hope our family isn’t done growing, I do have to say we are a pretty amazing little family of  5.  These 3 (and Lee) are my absolute world.  I’m so thankful to be their mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you amazing women out there.  Whether you’re a Grandma, Mom, Mother-in-Law, Mother-to-Be, Cat Mom, Dog Mom, Aunt, Sister, or just one hell of a woman, you deserve to be celebrated for all you bring to the table.

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After my last breakdown, I received the following message from a friend, one who knows the struggle all too well.  I’ve been ruminating on her message for the last few weeks, and about what her kind words have meant to me.  It is so beautifully written, that I felt I had to share.

Even though my journey ended with 3 beautiful gifts from God – it doesn’t mean, for one second, that my heart isn’t with you.

I know your pain.  Your anger.  Your frustration.  Your exhaustion.  Your hope.  Your prayers.  Your tears.  Your anxiety.  Your desperation.  I know all of it.  The financial struggle, the energy to keep going after so many disappointments.  The feeling of why her?

My heart is with you.  And while our journeys may be different – please know I pray for yours everyday.  Every single day.  Every time I look at my gifts from God.  Every time they make a mess or won’t sleep.  Each time they make me want to hide in the closet with a back of Reese’s.  I stop – and pray for you.  You yearn for the “bad toddler” days.  I know you do.  Because I yearned for them.  For years.

So I am here to tell you are justified in EVERY emotion you feel.  Except loneliness.  Please, please promise me you’ll keep reaching out – to me, to a support group, to anyone who will listen.  If a baby is the desire of your heart, then you have to walk this road – but you don’t have to walk it alone.  And I promise you – I promise with every fiber of my being – it’s all worth it.  Every last bit.

Her message got me thinking, specifically about friendship.  I’ve tried to stay off the grid the last few weeks, as I deal with my anxiety over the impending cycle.  Yet, there have been a small handful of people who refuse to let me go it alone, despite how much I’ve tried to evade all human contact.   And this post is, in small part, a way to thank them for their kindness and friendship, as I go through the hardest thing I’ve ever endured in my life for a second time.

To my best friend, my ride or die, my PIC.  Who has refused to let me go through any of this alone.  Who has called after appointments, shot me up with fertility drugs, held my hand and wiped my tears.  Who oozes enough positivity for the both of us, so on the days when I feel particularly hopeless and self-deprecating, I know she’ll carry me through until I can stand on my own two feet again.  Who understands that sometimes I just need to be alone and never takes it personally, but instead, keeps calling, texting and sending me funny memes just to let me know she’s thinking of me.

To the girls in my book club, who always make a point to ask how we’re doing every time I see them.  They make me feel comfortable with talking about where we’re at and how I feel.  And after my last breakdown, a card and beautiful little plant showed up on our doorstep.  It was such a nice little pick-me-up and both Lee and I appreciated the thought and kind words.

To the friends, going all the way back to elementary school all the way up through college and beyond, that have reached out and sent messages filled with kind thoughts from all across the country.

To the friend who listened to me vent as we walked 3 miles around the lake and then took me out for sushi afterward.

To the friend who came over so we could co-celebrate our April birthdays with cake that we wouldn’t have to share with anyone else.  The same friend, who, every time I see her, asks what she can do to support me.

The friend who’s going through enough of her own personal issues right now, but still sends the occasional text telling me that we’re on her mind  and my personal favorite, that she “believes in my uterus”.

To my two coworkers (friends, really) who ask how I’m doing and give me a safe space to be vulnerable if the need hits me mid-workday.

I can’t even begin to describe what each and every one of these kindnesses has meant to me in the last few weeks.  Ever since I went public with our struggle,  every now and then, I find myself wondering if being so public and vocal about our infertility was the right thing to do.  It seems to make some people uncomfortable.  But I hope that whoever is out there reading this blog, that you have managed to find something to take away from it.  Whether you’ve recognized the struggle because you’re currently going through it, or perhaps, you’ve watched a loved one endure the same pain.  If anything I’ve shared over the last year has made a difference to you, then I’ve been successful.

To those that have reached out and been supportive, especially those that have helped us gear up for our second round, I am forever grateful.  I might not have the biggest support system, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the best one.

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Déjà Vu

Well, the day that I have not so secretly been dreading has finally arrived.  The process officially starts again tomorrow.  How am I handling it?  I’m a little fucked up about it.   I’m sure you just read that and thought ‘why on earth would you put yourself through it again?’  Because I’m clearly a goddamn masochist.

Alright, enough negativity.  I’m doing okay.  Not great, but okay.  As I explained to Lee this morning,  I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around going through this again.  No woman in her right mind would choose to go through IVF for the hell of it.  It’s tedious and emotional and exhausting and scary.  Yet, here we are again.

After my tearful confession, Lee asked if I want to do this again.  And after looking into his eyes and seeing the emotion that rarely ever escapes him, and the hint of fear that I might say no, I told him of course.  Of course we’ll do it again.  It’s going to suck, but I’ll manage.  I’ve endured far more painful and emotionally taxing situations than IVF and came out relatively unscathed.  I’m sure this will be no different.

I go in for blood work tomorrow to check my hormone levels.  On Friday, I have to undergo another Sonohysterogram, as the results of those tests expire after 6 months. A sono is a procedure in which fluid is injected into the uterus in order to get a more detailed view than a normal ultrasound would show.  The results of my last sono were great; I had a “beautifully healthy uterus”; a compliment that would sound serial killer creepy from anyone other than a reproductive endocrinologist.

Then, the birth control pills start-up again, which sounds counter-productive, I know.  But, even with some of the healthy lifestyle changes I’ve made over the last year, the timing of my period is still slightly irregular – about every 34 days.  And frankly, they need my body to be on a particular cycle, so I’m just going to go with it.  The actual retrieval and transfer will be sometime in late May or early June, I believe.  We’ll know more once we receive the calendar from MCRH later this week.

For his part, Lee has to give another sperm sample.  He’s currently got one on ice, but it’s a pretty bad sample, so we’ve given MCRH the instruction that if the analysis of this sample comes back better than the previous one, we’d like to do the old switch-a-roo (something that you probably shouldn’t joke about when talking about sperm samples).  We’re hoping for some considerable improvement.  Lee’s coming up on one year smoke free, rarely drinks and has worked on eating cleaner.  Will any of this make a difference?  We have no idea.  But at least we can say we tried.

So that’s where it stands.  I wish I could say I was excited and hopeful, but I’m not. Not yet, anyway.  I’m trying to get there, but that might take a little more time.

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Valentine’s Day

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, which means……

Absolutely nothing.

If you’re one of those people who gets really excited about this holiday and looks forward to spending the day showering your loved ones with chocolate and accolades, that’s wonderful!  Back in the day, in my younger years, I was exactly like you.  As I’ve gotten older (and maybe wiser?) I put much less stock in the Hallmark holiday.  Because if I’ve realized anything over the course of the last few years, it’s this:  Love is hard.

Not always, of course.  When life is going well, it can be so easy to love!  It’s the times of adversity that are the problem.  When life gives you lemons, or worse yet, drops an entire lemon tree on your head, that’s when love can get tough.

Lee and I have been together almost 8 years now.  The first 4 and half (the dating years) were smooth sailing.  The last 3 and a half, well, at times, it’s been a bit of an uphill battle.  I think back to our wedding day, and of the vows we took,  how we both promised to love and support each other in these times of adversity.   It seemed so easy!  Of course I will continue to love you when things get tough!  How could I not?

Well, you know what?  It’s just not that simple.  I wish it were.  As Lee and I have struggled to conceive, I’ve heard from a lot of other couples that were faced with tough times.  Some were able to rebound, and some were not.  Does that mean they loved each other any less than the couples that were able to work it out?  Probably not.  But sometimes the struggles just become too much to bear.

As I’ve struggled to come to terms with some of the cards we’ve been dealt, it’s made it really easy to want to give up.  Not because I don’t love my husband; I’ve never loved anyone or anything as much as I love him (except for maybe my cat, Gladys, but Lee knows this).  It’s just because when times get tough, all I want to do is shut people out.  I’ll dream of running away and disappearing off the face of the earth.  It’s how I’ve always been, and frankly, it’s a hard habit to break.  Depression is a sonuvabitch, man.

Luckily for me, this is where Lee’s stubbornness comes in to play.  He refuses to give up on me.  He refuses to allow me the easy way out.  He thinks I’m perfect.  Well, maybe not perfect, but he appreciates my imperfections, because to him, I’m his perfect person.  And he’s most definitely mine.  And knowing that he sees so much good in me has allowed me to see some of it in myself.

We’ll spend our Valentine’s Day doing absolutely nothing special.  We’ll go to the gym, probably grab something quick and easy for dinner on the way home and be in our pajamas by 7.  But the fact that I’m spending another day with my one and only (my lobster, if you will), well, that is pretty fucking special.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to all those celebrating today.  Tell your loved ones how much you love them, not just today, but everyday.  And make sure to take some time to do something nice for yourself.  Take some sage advice from the illustrious Ru Paul, because:

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New Year, New Decisions

We’re 5 weeks in to 2018, and while I don’t make resolutions, per se, I do believe in assessing areas of “opportunity” within my life.  What am I doing well?  What can I be doing better?  How can my life improve?

I’ve had some time to reflect over the last few weeks and determine how I want my 2018 to look.  And while the majority of my resolve is focused on my career and my health, we do have a gigantic elephant in the room that needs to be dealt with.  Lee and I need to figure out what our course of action will be if we want to try, yet again, to start a family.

I’ll be honest; I’ve had a lot of doubts.  Until you’ve been though infertility, you have no idea how draining it is.  Do I really want to go though that again?  4 years of trying, 4 failed IUIs and now a failed IVF cycle.  Am I a masochist?  Not only that, our Europe trip also made me realize how much I love the freedom of being able to travel.  Lee and I currently have the resources to travel to Europe every year if we want. I love that freedom.  And I’m not quite sure I’m ready to say goodbye to that lifestyle yet.

I’m also concerned about Lee.  On our first IVF attempt, I was convinced that I was the problem.  I busted my ass to get in shape and become the happiest and healthiest version of myself.  I did it because I wanted to make sure that if our IVF attempt failed, that I would have no regrets.  And I didn’t.  But after all was said and done, we found out that I wasn’t the problem.  Will Lee be able to put forth as much effort as I did?

And finally, it’s going to take a lot to get back into the mindset of trying IVF again.  The hormones, the shots, the procedures; they’re physically and emotionally taxing.  And life is so boring during the process.  We’re bound to our schedule.  Sure, we can make plans, but we need to be home at the same time every night to take a shot.  And we can’t even think about making weekend plans, because chances are, we’re going to have at least one ultrasound.  Am I ready to upend my life again?

All of these items were up for discussion when Lee and I sat down to talk about the new year.  After some back and forth regarding our (read: my) reservations, we came to a decision.  Lee and I are going to try again.

The plan for now, is to try again in May.  That should give us a few months to work on our meal and fitness routines and should (hopefully) give me enough time to wrap my head around the particulars of another cycle.

It’s not going to be easy, in fact, this time around I anticipate it will be much harder.  The stakes seem higher, somehow, and I’m not sure why.  They just do.  But I find solace in the fact that I’ve got a small but powerful support system next to me cheering me on the whole way.

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Christmas in Europe Part 3: The Weihnachtmarkts

We left London on Sunday evening to head to Reading, where our friends Charlie & Gareth live.  We were leaving for Germany on Tuesday evening which gave us a day and a half to relax and do nothing.  Except that Gareth had a little surprise for us.  He was already on Christmas Break and as such, was taking us to Winchester to check out their Christmas market.  He’d never been and he’d heard it was one of the best in the state.  Lee and I had never been to Winchester, so it seemed like a no-brainer to check it out.

Winchester was absolutely beautiful.  And old.  You see, Winchester has been an inhabited town since about 150 BC and was the capital of England during the reign of King Alfred (871-899 AD), so yeah.  It’s ancient.  We stayed mainly in the city center, which contained a beautiful cathedral and tons of shops.

 

 

Winchester’s Christmas market was nice enough, but Gareth was adamant that it didn’t compare to what were going to experience in Cologne.  I was glad to hear this, because so far, I hadn’t been all that impressed.  Every market we had been to in England was nice, but not overwhelmingly exciting.

Tuesday we packed our bags, headed back to Heathrow and made our way to Düsseldorf.  The plan was to spend a night in Dusseldorf and then make our way to Cologne on Wednesday.  When we got to Dusseldorf, we quickly checked into our hotel and made our way to the “altstadt”, or old town, to check out our first real Christmas market.  Unfortunately,  by the time we made it to the city center, they were closing up for the night.  We walked around a bit to figure out which markets to hit up the next day before heading to the hotel for the night.

 

 

After a somewhat slow start that morning (too much Prosecco and cribbage the night before) we made our way back to the altstadt and Lee and I finally got to experience our first authentic Weihnachtmarkt.

Oh.  My.  God, you guys.  If you ever have the opportunity to go to Germany during the Christmas season, DO IT.  Everything, from the atmosphere, to the drinks to the food, is beyond amazing.  I got to try my very first glühwein, which is a hot mulled wine, available in both red and white varieties, and Lee got his fill of hot chocolate with both Bailey’s and amaretto.file1-2

We spent about half the day walking through Düsseldorf before making our way to the train station to head to Cologne.  Lee and I were pretty jazzed about the markets we had experienced in Düsseldorf, however, Charlie & Gareth continued to assured once again, that they didn’t hold a torch to Cologne.

They weren’t lying.  As our train slid into the Cologne train station, we saw a beautifully gothic, almost foreboding cathedral in the distance.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  We  made our way to the hotel, dropped our things and went to explore the city.

As luck would have it, there was a Christmas market about 50 feet from the hotel entrance, so we didn’t have to go far to find some Christmas cheer.  I was parched after a 45 minute train ride, so our first stop was at the market bar so we could get another glass of that delicious mulled wine.  Once we’d had a look around we proceeded to the next market.

One of the great things about the Cologne Christmas markets is their proximity to each other.  You don’t typically have to walk more than 5-10 minutes before finding another one.  Cologne had a total of 9 markets set up when we were there, and I believe we made it to 8.

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Our evening was spent trying a bunch of new and exciting foods and drinking a lot of mulled wine and beer.  The markets close around 10, which meant that everyone made their way to the nearest bars to keep the festivities going.  We had a couple more drinks before making our way back to the hotel.  (We had a VERY spirited game of Cribbage that needed finishing)  A couple more glasses of wine and beer later, Gareth and I were still losing at Cribbage but less inclined to care.

Thursday morning, Gareth & Charlie walked us down to the Cologne lock bridge.  Like it’s Paris counterpart, the lock bridge is a place where couples place a lock with their names and anniversary date on the bridge.  The couple breaks the key off in the lock before making a wish and throwing the key into the Rhine.  Charlie and Gareth immortalized their wedding date on their last trip to Cologne and it didn’t take much convincing for Lee and I to decide to immortalize ours as well.  We even found a spot right next to Charlie and Gareth’s lock so we’ll always have a place next to each other.  Best friends for life!

 

The rest of the day was spent hitting up Christmas Market after Christmas market and stopping for glühwein whenever we got cold.  Charlie and Gareth made reservations for us at their favorite Cologne restaurant that evening, an Alpine-themed restaurant complete with servers donning lederhosen and boots of beers.  I chose to try Wienerschnitzel that evening and made lots of Tenacious D references to people eating my fucking schnitzel that apparently only I found funny.  Whatever.  I stand by my jokes.

Friday morning we visited the markets one last time, in order to buy all of the items we had been scoping out since we arrived before making our way back to the train station.  It was a bittersweet day, as reality sunk in that we would be heading back to the US the next day.  Our Christmas vacation was nearly over and we would have to return to the real world again.  A return to the real world meant in-depth conversations and tough decisions were going to be headed our way.  We promised each other that this wouldn’t be the last time we came to Europe to experience Christmas.  If anything, this was just the beginning.

 

Stylin’ & Profilin’….

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….that’s how my dad would refer to himself when he thought he looked good.  And we heard it a lot.  Because dad always looked good.

Today marks the anniversary of his passing.  It’s been 6 years, and while each anniversary gets a little bit easier, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a spot in my heart that will always be just a little bit damaged from losing the first man I ever loved.  We didn’t have a perfect relationship, and it wasn’t always easy, but if I’ve learned anything in the time since he’s been gone, it’s that our relationship was always worthwhile.

After my dad passed away, my best friend, my sister and I were to clear out some of his things.  We found 4 pages of songs that he wanted played at his funeral.  If he would have had it his way, we probably would have had a music festival in his honor.  Well, we didn’t have that kind of time or that much money.  We did manage to find a slightly more cost-effective way to honor his memory; we took songs from that list as well as songs chosen by me, my sister and his best friend and created a compilation CD.  We then handed one out to each person in attendance at his memorial service.  It may not have been all of the songs he chose, but he hasn’t chosen to haunt me or my sister for our song choices or lack of a music festival, so I’m gonna go ahead and take that as Dad’s stamp of approval.

Both my parents loved music, so my sister and I grew up in a household where at least one stereo was playing at all times.  In fact our downstairs stereo was Dad’s piece de resistance.  He’d proudly show off his Klipsch stereo system anytime he had guests over.  There were many a night where my sister and I would be jarred awake from a deep sleep because our dad had to show his friends how great his speakers sounded at close to full blast.  Mom would tell him to keep it down and he’d promptly ignore her.  You see, my mom and dad both loved music but went about it quite differently.  Mom had her favorites that she would listen to on a regular rotation.  She’d listen to it, appreciate it and then file it away before it got annoying.  Not my dad.  He had a way of playing songs so frequently (overplayed was not a word in his vocabulary) that you would get to a point where you would rather to stab your eardrums than hear that fucking Crash Test Dummies song one more time.

But for him, it wasn’t just about the lyrics, or even the melody.  It was about the layers and the composition.  His dream had always been to be a sound engineer and while it was a dream that was never fully realized, he had a way of making sure he shared his love and knowledge with us.  Any time we got a new car, it wasn’t ready to drive until Dad had tuned the stereo.  And if you fucked with any of the dials, he would know the next time he got into that car.  The guy had an ear unlike anyone I’ve ever known.  While I’d like to think that some of this may have rubbed off on me.  Those nearest and dearest to me know that I can pick up a baseline in the middle of crowded bar and tell you what song is playing, no matter how much background noise is going on around me.  It’s a super power, really;  one of many fine qualities that I inherited from my dad.

I put together a Spotify playlist to honor my Dad and am adding to it, as I hear things that remind me of him.  It’s a playlist that my sister and I listen to whenever we need to feel his presence; because we know that’s how he lives on through each of us.  I’ve chosen to share it with you today and I invite any of you who knew our dad to share a song that reminds you of him.  We’ll make sure to add it to the rotation!

Stylin’ & Profilin’ – Songs for Dad

My sister and I will spend this anniversary together, as that has become our yearly practice.  We’ll make a Dad inspired meal, listen to Dad inspired music and share stories.  And while we might not choose to toast him with his drink of choice (because Bacardi Cokes are disgusting), I’m sure we’ll find a suitable substitution.

So cheers to you, Dad.  I can’t wait to see you again.