Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Time of Thanks, a Time of Reflection

Stein and I just got back from Chicago last night. We had a wonderful time there, catching up with family and friends. It's funny how easily I fall back into the swing of things when I go back to Chicago. We slept in late, had leisure breakfasts at local restaurants we love, met friends for drinks and food at places that have changed faces and names since I grew up there, and relished the fact that the town clears out and leaves ample parking spaces and unoccupied cabs for us to snag.

My brother had Thanksgiving at his house, which I know I have written about before. He and his family live in the house we grew up in, so it's always fun to go back there. Although he has remodeled a lot of it, and it doesn't look exactly the same, it feels like home to me. I sometimes have to remind myself while I'm there that I am not just going upstairs to bed. We ate, played a game, and talked.

I always like Thanksgiving because it's a time to get together, but it's free of all the gift-giving pressures that Christmas holds. Will she like what I bought her? Does he need another book in the same genre? Have I experienced the Christmas spirit yet? Thanksgiving is just a time to gather, give thanks, and eat. A lot.

On the morning of Thanksgiving, I received two pieces of news that really made me thankful for what I have, for what I was going to experience later that day. I was on Facebook, and saw that the mother of a friend of mine died unexpectantly and suddenly on Tuesday night. I know my friend was busy before that preparing Thanksgiving for her family including her mom. In a matter of minutes, her week was turned around. I thought of her all day on Thursday and continue to keep her in my thoughts as we move through this holiday into the next.

While I was on Facebook, I also found out that a friend of mine whom I used to work with died at the beginning of October. I knew by the pictures of her wearing hats and wigs that she had cancer (for the second time in her life) and was battling it for a while.

I worked with Gayle at the University of Michigan, where she and I sat side by side in an academic department, answering phones and dealing with students and faculty members on the front line. In between our daily duties, we swapped stories about ourselves and became friends. Gayle was such a classy lady who hailed from the south. She worked as an accountant for many years, and tried to retire (at a young age) at one point. But she was bored and missed the daily interaction with people. How lucky was I that I landed in the same office she did, if only for nine short months.

In those nine months, Gayle taught me a lot. She worked hard, but also worked hard to find a balance between work, play and family. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, to laugh often, and find the silly whenever you can. My days were peppered with stories from her days growing up as the child of a military dad, stories about her three daughters and doting husband, and stories about her chihuahua Isabelle, who had a personality all her own.

I kept in touch with Gayle since the time we worked together, but in the last 2 years I only saw her once. When we reconnected with her on Facebook, I sent a message to her about getting together. I never heard from her, and assume that she had a lot going on in her world.

I am sad that the world lost such a vibrant, life-loving person. But I am counting my lucky stars that I got to spend everyday for nine months with her. I am also thankful for the other people in my life, many of whom I was lucky to be able to see this weekend.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Want to Wake Up in a City That Doesn't Sleep

Stein called me a couple weeks ago on my way into work. He seemed frazzled as we had the following conversation:

Stein: Can you take off a half day in the afternoon on your birthday?
Me: I think so, I just need to figure out the logistics.
Stein: Well, could you find out and call me back?
Me: Sure. When I get into school. When do you need to know?
Stein: This morning.

I called him later that morning and told him that it would be no problem. I tried to pry a little, but figured I should leave well enough alone. I love good surprises, and part of the fun was finding myself daydreaming about possible scenarios for the next couple weeks. A trip to Chicago? A massage and lunch? A trip to Lansing to see Mary Poppins? A trip up north? A dinner with friends?

Tuesday when I got home from school, there was a birthday card on the coffee table. Inside was a plane ticket to New York.

Stein is sending me to New York to spend the weekend with Chris.

The idea for this trip started when Chris sold her condo and felt free of the financial obligations that two mortgages held. She wanted to do a girls' weekend, and no one was really biting at the suggestion to go to New York. I said I would go, but selfishly forgot about it in the midst of my school drama. Apparently she and Stein were in cahoots the whole time, planning this weekend. Bless them both.

Oh, and need I mention? Reason #6,354 why I married that man. He spoils me.

The last time I was in New York was when Chris ran the marathon there. We did have some days surrounding the marathon to hang out, but nothing like we'll have this weekend. I can't wait to just walk around, catch up, eat good food, talk, and people watch.

These little town blues.... are melting away...