Just Heather

Today is our 6th anniversary. Sort of. It’s our fake anniversary. Our renewal anniversary.

Spencer and I have been married for 18 years. 18 really long, terribly emotional, overly erratic years. But we made it. There was a time when we almost didn’t. Many other times when it could easily have gone the other direction.

Several years ago, we took steps to reconnect and recommitted ourselves to one another. So when the opportunity for a business trip to Vegas came up, we did the only thing we could. We got (re)married in a wedding chapel with Elvis as our officiant.

Our vow renewal was silly and tacky and tons of fun. But it was also incredibly meaningful. The venue and ceremony was a joke — something silly we always said we should have done the first time.

The vows were totally not. We take our vows very seriously around here. We called it Sokol Wedding 2.0 — and that just about sums it up because it’s better in absolutely every way. That’s not to say that things are perfect.

We are still flawed people with our own issues who often fail to communicate properly. We still argue and fight and forget to actively love one another. We went almost two solid weeks without speaking just last year. But we are more confident in our commitment. We fix things without question now. We turn towards each other more often than we pull apart. I know when every storm passes, he’ll still be there holding my hand.

Because this time, neither one of us is willing to let go.

Today is my dad’s 60th birthday. I’m feeling a little guilty because we threw our mom an epic 60th birthday bash last month. All I’ve got for Dad is the annual phone call and “my dad is awesome” Facebook post. 

  

But, he really is awesome, and I wanted to do a little something more for such a milestone birthday. I’m a writer, which he sometimes thinks is kinda cool, so here is a birthday listicle for Dad: 60 reasons my dad is cooler than yours:

  1. He insisted we didn’t need to include him in Mom’s birthday party because he wanted the night to be all about her. 
  2. He still asks me if I need gas money when we travel to visit them. 
  3. He plays ball outside with his grandkids, even though he’s usually sore for days afterwards. 
  4. Two words: kickball video
  5. He is never afraid to apologize. I definitely did not get that particular personality flaw from my dad. 
  6. He is still completely in love with my mom — his high school sweetheart. Sometimes it’s gross.
  7. He really did drill us with table manners and etiquette but mostly just laughs when it turns out the lessons didn’t stick. 
  8. He took me to lunch after I got engaged to express his concern, but he has zero problem admitting how wrong he was and embracing my husband as one of his own. 
  9. He once introduced himself to my neighbor as “Spencer’s dad.” That’s how much my husband has become part of his family.
  10. He is such a huge Colts fan that my mom painted the living room blue and decorated it with fan gear.
  11. When Peyton left the team, he was sad but refused to become a Denver fan. Broncos decor is not allowed in the Colts room. 
  12. He later bought my mom an orange Manning jersey even though he thought it was ridiculous.
  13. Family legend tells of the one Scrabble game my dad lost (very loudly) at 3am. He still contends his best friend cheated.
  14. He also doesn’t often lose at Words with Friends. 
  15. He taught me to play euchre when I was 13 so I wouldn’t be left out on the marching band bus. That game is basically how I made friends in college. It’s a marketable skill in Indiana. 
  16. When anyone complains about my driving, he is quick to my defense and swears I drive exactly how I was taught. By him. 
  17. After he spent a month trying to teach me to drive the stick shift he accidentally bought, he sold it and bought a replacement without a word.
  18. And laughed when he found out Spencer later taught me in a single evening on one of our early dates. 
  19. After a series of not-a-dates with a guy friend of mine, my dad told me it’s never a date without a kiss goodnight. I hold my husband to that definition to this very day.
  20. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does, it’s powerful and meaningful. 
  21. He’s on Facebook nearly everyday but hardly ever posts. 
  22. When he does, it’s novel length. 
  23. And always grammatically correct. 
  24. His laugh is infectious. It’s a good thing we all inherited his sense of humor so we can hear it often. 
  25. Family is the most important thing in his life. It’s an amazing feeling to know you’re the center of someone’s world. 
  26. If you’re his, you’re his for life. 
  27. He’s the decider. Mostly, he doesn’t care what we do, where we choose to go, or who makes the decisions. But when there’s a conflict, he will put his foot down, and all decisions are final. 
  28. He never goes to bed without goodnight kisses for everyone. If we’re at his house at bedtime, there are kisses all around. 
  29. No one laughs harder than my dad at Pixar movies. I’ve also never seen anyone cry as much. Both are equally amazing. 
  30. He absolutely hates cats, but their home hasn’t been without one since I got my first. 
  31. He has a smartphone he can barely use, but he will talk to text like nobody’s business. 
  32. I grew up with a solid moviecation because there is nothing my dad won’t watch. 
  33. He has seen Notting Hill dozens of times but never all the way through. 
  34. He and Spencer once bought each other the DVD for Christmas after a year of that joke. We have still never watched Notting Hill.  
  35. “That’s what she said.” should probably be a little creepy from someone his age, but it’s not. It’s hilarious. 
  36. He was always the loudest parent in the stands shouting encouragement, coaching, and instructions. My sister tells me this is less cool when you are a cheerleader and Dad is leading the cheer block. 
  37. Free watermelons and cantaloupes are a major job perk, but if you ask for “a few,” empty your car because you’re getting at least twelve. 
  38. Dad has the largest penny collection I’ve ever seen because he is convinced they will be deminted in his lifetime and worth something. 
  39. He actually collects a lot of change just from emptying his pockets at night and was not even a little surprised at how quickly his quarters added up when I moved out. 
  40. He’s got all the corny dad jokes because he’s such a mushroom. He really is a fungi. Just ask him. 
  41. He doesn’t always understand the issues we face with adoption, celiac disease, or depression, but he reads every article I send him in an effort to learn more. 
  42. He’s really hard to shop for because he legitimately does not comprehend why someone would want to buy him gifts. 
  43. Whatever he’s playing, he gives it his all. Some may call that “too competitive.” I call it having a dad who was cool enough to teach me to play for keeps. 
  44. I always joke that I’ve been disappointing my father since that time I was born without a penis, but he really did an amazing job raising three strong, independent women. 
  45. He once requested a stocked toolbox for Christmas, for “all the people who fix things at [his] house.”
  46. He and his siblings took over caring for their dad when my grandma died. Without thought, without complaint, my dad is there whenever he needs to be. 
  47. He never goes back on his word. 
  48. When I jokingly reminded him of a bet we made in high school over straight As for a television I never got, he bought me a new tv. Even though I was married with children at the time. 
  49. My mom cooked dinner six nights a week; Dad was in charge of Sundays. He became an expert at bacon or fried bologna sandwiches. 
  50. He also made a mean microwaved cheese and mustard sandwich when he was in charge of packing lunches. Mom didn’t let him pack lunches all that often. 
  51. He also rocks out anything covered in Velveeta. Nothing beats his cheesy potatoes or mac & cheese. 
  52. From dancing on his toes to goofy moves with the teens, my dad has seriously sweet dance moves. 
  53. He leaves all birthday and Christmas shopping up to Mom, but he came up with our “Thanksgiving present” all on his own to support our Black Friday shopping experience. 
  54. He reads almost all the same books as his kids, even when they’re about sparkly, teenage vampires. 
  55. No matter now busy his life is, he always makes time for his kids — even when that meant coaching first base with a cell phone in hand. 
  56. I was actually taught English as a second language; I am most fluent in the sarcasm learned at my father’s knee. 
  57. He taught me from a very early age never to give up. That hallway must have looked real long to a one-year-old, but Dad stood me right back up at the end every time I fell down, until I finally learned to walk. 
  58. I work harder than necessary to make him proud, but only because I know he truly believes I can do anything, and I want so badly for him to be right.
  59. He is in charge of the remote at all times, unless his grandkids are around. They get to watch whatever they want all day. 
  60. He is probably crying right now because even though we don’t say it often enough, he knows how very much he is loved. 

This is my cousin, Lori. Growing up next door, we spent most of our summers together — outside in one of our yards, playing sports, or swimming in our grandparents’ pool. We got on the bus together every morning. We played together every afternoon. We played outside on Saturdays. We had dinner together at our grandparents on Sundays. We frequently spent the night together.

And now, we fight cancer together.

Over the years, Lori and I have stayed in touch through text messaging, Facebook, and Instagram while she lived in Florida. It was hard to have someone that was such a part of my daily life living days away. Sure, we had our own families and lives, and I wouldn’t have seen her often even if she’d stayed in our hometown, but there’s just something about knowing your family is home that settles your heart.

She and her family had just decided to come home again when Lori was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was alone at the doctor’s office, finalizing the movie and waiting to join her husband in Indiana, when she learned of her diagnoses. Four days later, she was loaded up and on the road to Indiana.

I can’t imagine her going through this anywhere but home.

Her mom and dad are right there to help take care of her. Her brother can drive an hour to be with her during chemo. My mom can watch her kids during her treatments. Friends and family can bring meals or just give her a hug. Because she’s home — where her family can be a part of the fight.

Where people know her. Where things like #TeamLori become a community endeavor.

A few months ago, the family ordered pink Team Lori bracelets and began a campaign for those near and far to show their support for Lori. You guys, they gave me a prop and a hashtag. It’s like everything I’ve ever done was leading to this very moment. I might not be right there in our hometown to help, but I can make her smile with ridiculous pictures all over town.

#TeamLori at graduation. #TeamLori with blue hair. #TeamLori in the treetops. #TeamLori at the ball diamond. #TeamLori on tour has been my summer mission.

And then her son’s team blew every one of my pics out of the water. After winning the championship game, the boys all changed into pink #TeamLori t-shirts to surprise her. It brought us all to tears. I am so very grateful she has that kind of support in our hometown.

I hope she draws strength from every offer to help, even when she doesn’t accept it. I hope she sees each silly photo as a hug, even when I’m not around to give it. And, I hope she knows I would do anything to help her through this.

Lori is approaching the end of her chemotherapy, and things are looking really good so far. She looks amazing. Her doctors seem pleased. And, it seemed like the perfect time to participate in a fund-raising campaign in her honor.

I joined the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pink Sweater so I could share our story and raise money to truly help fight breast cancer. The recipient of the funds raised through the pink sweater project is Pink Ribbon Connection, a local organization that whose mission is to provide emotional support, local resources, and education to those touched by breast cancer across Indiana.

I couldn’t think of a more fitting organization. Support and resources right here at home? It’s exactly why I’m so glad Lori packed her own suitcase and moved to Indiana. I would love if you would join me in the sisterhood by making a donation to the Pink Ribbon Connection — in honor of my cousin or someone you love who is also fighting breast cancer.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pink Sweater project will continue through September 15th, and the fundraising results will be tallied. Please follow the pink sweater as its journey continues — my friend Katy from Indy With Kids has taken possession of the lovely vintage suitcase and will be blogging her own story soon.

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On Monday night, my grandmother passed away. Her husband of 63 years held her hand, and she was surrounded by her children and several grandchildren. The room was full of sadness as we said goodbye, but it was also full of love and prayer, exactly the way she would have wanted.

Nana leaves behind 6 children and their spouses, 16 grandchildren and our spouses, and 24 great-grandchildren. 24.5, really. I know the upcoming birth of my cousin’s baby will be bittersweet when Nana isn’t there to hold her.

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20130926-092953.jpgShe was a champion baby snuggler, an amazing cook, and a mother or grandmother to anybody who needed one. That’s the legacy she leaves behind — family, by blood or by love, is second only to God.

Nana bought me my first Bible, taught me how to make noodles, and showed me that traditions make memories.

She will be there every time I serve a home cooked meal to a crowd, every holiday when I choose the same menu year after year, and every Sunday when I go to church, though I have a Bible app these days instead.

Things will continue to grow and change, but she will live on in our hearts. She will live on in our kindness. She will live on in our willingness to set an extra plate. She will live on in our service.

My grandma dutifully served God, the church, her husband, and her family — with a smile on her face and love in her heart. And I want to be just like her when I grow up.

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Barbara J. Smith

March 2, 1930-September 23, 2013

Fifteen years ago today, I married my best friend — and it nearly destroyed us.

We spent years trying to be everything to one another. But when you rely on just one person for everything, you lose yourself a little bit. One of the greatest things I’ve ever done for my relationship with Spencer is find girlfriends.

I have friends to hang out with when we just need a break from one another. I have mom friends who get the day in and day out of my life. I have friends who make me laugh or let me cry. I have friends who support my relationship or let me complain about it.

My friends helped me find myself far better than my husband ever could. Because they were separate from me. Spencer and I are just so entwined after 15 years. Getting married young, having a baby a few months later — we grew up together. And, for awhile there, we grew apart.

The key was remembering we’d always wanted to grow old together. No matter who my friends are, what I’m doing or where I am, at the end of the day, Spencer is still the one I want to hear my stories. He’s not my best friend anymore, but we’re so much better for it. Oh, we’re still friends — talking, laughing, spending time together — but he’s so much more now.

Instead of trying to be everything I ever needed in a friend, he can be my love, my life, my soul mate. This man? He’s my heart and soul. He’s the link to my youth. He’s the dream for my future. He’s the one I want now and always.

Even after 15 years.

After our super fun letter C date, we had a plan for letter M—a whole day of hitting Indy museums. We are members at both the State Museum and the Children’s Museum, plus the art museum is always free. It was supposed to be a fun, inexpensive day. We only needed a whole Saturday when someone could watch the girls.

Then, my mom volunteered to watch them for my birthday weekend—score! Sure, we could have still gone to the museum, but with an entire weekend alone, we changed the plan. Kid-Free Weekend, brought to you by the Letter M. After dinner with my family (both to celebrate my birthday and hand off the girls), we rented a few movies for Saturday.

Technically, movies are against the Alphabet Dating rules, but as part of a larger weekend, it is acceptable. Besides, we make the rules and are free to change them at will. So there. We went with both mindless action (Game of Action) & uber cheese (G.I. Joe)—neither of which I recommend.

Saturday morning featured mimosas & breakfast in bed, followed by a lazy movie marathon, curled up in bed, with a quiet house, and enjoying being together. We eventually got dressed and went to a new movie in an actual theater before dinner at Maggiano’s. When we do succumb to a simple dinner & a move date, we always see the movie first.

That way, we have something to talk about at dinner and don’t get sucked into the everyday work & kids chats. Dinner was awesome—it’s a cozy, romantic restaurant with delicious Italian food. I don’t like pasta at all, but there are plenty of other yummy options to choose.

I had hit up Twitter for a sexy dessert idea for letter M and came up with mousse, which we made together Saturday night but never got around to eating once they had chilled. And, so it became Sunday morning’s breakfast—yum! It definitely met the challenge.

We finished up the day with Macho Nachos for lunch and a few flea markets, before meeting my parents for gluten free pizza at Monical’s, to get the girls back. It was just a really laid back weekend, enjoying the quiet (and one another!). Before kids, we used to hit flea markets almost every weekend.

I think, sometimes, we forget about the simple things we used to enjoy. We get caught up in the game, planning our dates & doing things we’ve always wanted to do—which is awesome, but kinda misses the point. It’s all about being together, no matter what we’re doing.

Big, elaborate dates are obviously a lot of fun, but the simple ones are important too.

Thank you to Yahoo! Mail for sponsoring this post about staying connected. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.


Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl on a date. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy & girl live happily ever after.

Except, ours went more like: Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy barely notices girl exists. Girl stalks boy through email for 6 months. Boy asks girl on a date. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy & girl live together ever after. The happily part came & went through the years, but that’s another story.

This is the never told story of a long ago email stalking flirtation. The story of us.

The story most people remember is we were engaged less than 6 months after beginning our relationship and married when I was 5 months pregnant. My version is better—we met in 1995 (my freshman year of college), were engaged in 1996, married in 1997 and had our first child in 1998.

And, none of it would ever have happened, if it weren’t for one impulsive, late night email.

But, I suppose I should back up a bit. I first met Spencer when I needed some help finishing a project. The super cute geek in the computer lab came to my rescue, but I didn’t think much beyond “Oh, yum!” and “Crap! I hope I can get this finished on time.” So, I didn’t even get his name.

Then, I bumped into him again, a few weeks later—on my turf. I served him ‘mocktails’ at my dorm’s Casino Night fundraiser and brazenly introduced myself. This is sort of not like me, but I figured seeing the same cutie twice in one month was fate. We flirted (yes, even him—it was awhile later before I realized he kind of isn’t good at it.) a bit and that was that.

Everything in me wanted to call him up the next day and invite him to our dorm’s formal that night, but I figured it would be a bit much. So, I settled for bumping into him the next week at the computer lab & sending random, light-hearted emails to stay on his mind—a tactic I employed for the several months. I flirted. He blushed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Until the night I stayed up way too late and ended up sending a completely different kind of email, about how much I liked him. I can’t begin to tell you how much I wished for an undo button that night. It was completely candid & totally humiliating, probably even more so because he didn’t even bother to respond. But, it did put things out there and make my feelings completely obvious to a clueless college kid.

It would be several more months before he did anything about it, but it didn’t take much from there for everything to click. And, that’s a story for another day!

A couple weeks ago, I was standing behind Spencer and leaned forward to kiss the back of his neck—as I always do when I find myself in that position. Except, I couldn’t reach. I had to stand on my toes to kiss my favorite spot.

Confused, I realized it’s because I’ve always worn heels when I do this. Weird, since I’ve been wearing heels for less than 2 years.

In my head, this is something I’ve always done. In reality, there were huge chunks of time when I wasn’t interested in kissing him at all.

As we headed down the path of reconciliation & rebuilt our marriage, date night was a major part of the plan. We concocted the alphabet dating scheme as a way to make dating fun again—and to be sure we kept it on the priority list. We’ve reconnected, learned to communicate better in between dates and fallen in love all over again.

That part was kind of an accident. I just wanted to be able to live together, without the constant bickering. But, being in love with your husband? Is pretty much awesome.

And, it’s not just the date nights keeping us going anymore. Last week, we went out for the first time since June—that’s almost 9 whole months, if you’re counting. A few years ago, a span like that would have found us bickering nonstop and ready to call it quits (again). Now, it’s just a welcome break from our everyday lives.

Between dates, we’re talking instead of arguing and sharing our lives instead of isolating one another. I’m almost willing to say we’re starting to figure this marriage thing out—it only took us 13 years. Except, I know we’ll have rough patches again. The difference is, next time, we’ll be ready for it. And, we’ll confront it head on together.

And, that is our happily ever after.