Iceland, Day 4

We could only pick up Top 40 radio stations in the car, so we heard the same 10 songs over and over. Fortunately, this was the week that “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” dropped. Mood Music!

On day 4,we headed back south. The fog was crazy! This is what a typical town in Iceland looks like:

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And a typical rest stop? Look at this shit. We were walking to get lunch (and free wi-fi!) and I turned around and just started laughing.

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Even the tiniest things are cute. It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but that green traffic light has a happy face on it. Justin told me that while I was sleeping, he drove through a speed radar and it displayed his over-the-limit speed along with a frowny-face.

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This was a fun adventure day! All three stops were within an hour of our hotel, so we just did a nice little circle around the area. First stop, Kerið. This was a giant volcanic crater. Not much to do besides walk around it, but for Missouri and Indiana kids, it’s kinda neat.

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Up next? Motherfucking Gullfoss:

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In pictures, it’s not as pretty as it is in the spring or winter, but in person it’s completely overwhelming. Above is the top of the waterfall. Here is how far down it goes:

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The craziest part is that they let you walk on the slick, flat rocks at the very top. This is where I would’ve died if I had worn my adorable yellow boots.

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Our last stop was the Great Geysir, Strokkur. Not really picture-worthy, until the BOOM:

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Strokkur was home to a great lodge that looked like a 60’s Howard Johnson’s, btw. Finally, we headed back to our hotel, Grimsborgir. Look who we found along the way!

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Grimsborgir was an absolute delight. This guy had a towel draped over his forearm almost every time we saw him. He was so nice! (That’s an autographed picture of Bill Cosby behind him.)

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We didn’t just have our own room this night–we had our own little house!

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With Stephie-sized showers! Yay! There was a hot tub outside, but it was right in front of someone else’s window.

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This night was unforgettable because: Eurovision.

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Eurovision is like American Idol except it’s the Olympics. Each European country picks one singer to compete, and then the entire continent votes. We were eating dinner in the hotel’s restaurant when the Icelandic artist sang. The whole room dropped everything they were doing to watch. “It’s Iceland!”, our host said, so proud and happy.

Every song in the competition had been playing on Top 40 radio for a while. We had no idea what was going on at first, so this one was extra confusing. Make sure you wait for the dubstep to kick in:

(If you’ve never been to Europe, the way you felt watching that clip is basically how Europe feels.)

The voting phase was really fun because each country’s version of Ryan Seacrest took turns reading their country’s polling results in broken English. After so many adventures, it was nice to relax and watch some monumental TV. But don’t worry, we did it the American way–by building our own couch:

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FEATURED FOOD OF THE DAY: I didn’t eat anything that unique today, so here’s the paper I read while drinking some afternoon espressso:

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 3

Mood Music!

On day three, we stuck to one area on the Snafellsnes Penninsula, here:

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Justin made us stop at one of the many, many lava fields along the way. I am too short to get a decent picture of this, but this field felt like it went on forever. It was overwhelming to think about how it must have looked and felt when it first appeared, as well as how old it was. Most of the lava fields are covered in moss today. If it was anywhere else in the world, I would have probably thought about all the death and destruction, but considering how empty Iceland is today, I guarantee it destroyed, at most, two or three huts.  It was so eerie and beautiful!

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Jusrin also planned a stop at Búðir. Apparently, he has always loved this church, so we stopped to take a closer look. I cannot stress enough how beautiful this place was. There were waterfalls dotted along all of the snow-covered mountains. There was an old graveyard out back. The church was surrounded by yet another lava field. And past the lava field, the ocean. Absolutely stunning. Like most places in Iceland, it was empty and we got to appreciate everything alone.

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He was heartbroken that the hotel next door was booked solid when he planned our honeymoon. But I like where we ended up, just down the road at Hellnar. The hotel was adorable, but the best part was just a short walk away: Badstofa sea cave!

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This cave is known for its incredible lighting, thanks to the hole in the top. There were seagulls everywhere. You have to climb over a beach full of pebbles and round rocks the size of basketballs.

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I think this is the day I started thanking Justin profusely for the ugly brown hiking boots that he bought me 12 hours before we left. I had bought these adorable yellow rain boots because I heard that I would need them for the waterfalls and stuff. That was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. I basically would have died without those hiking boots.

It was impossible to not think you were in The Goonies while standing in that cave. Another thing that added to the childlike, magical vibe of it all? The winding dirt path down the hill and the little cottage that you encounter along the way:

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We saw people eating on the porch, so we knew that it was a restaurant of some sort. The inside was teeny, just two little tables, a counter and tons of traditional Icelandic art. A tiny old woman greeted us and we asked for a menu.

“Oh, I don’t have a menu,” she said in a thick accent. “I have waffles, [something], [something], and fish soup.”

Obviously, I ordered waffles and obviously weirdo Justin ordered fish soup. We also had coffee with real sugar and cream! I gave up all those creepy artificial sweeteners years ago, so I’ve been drinking black coffee for 4 years. I forgot how incredible the real stuff is. Oh, and my waffles had real butter. The best part? They were heart-shaped. Tell me this isn’t the perfect honeymoon picture right here:

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The old woman and the cottage really reminded me of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Justin and I both whispered this to each other at the same time. Then as we were leaving, we passed two German tourists and heard them whisper, “[Something something] Hansel and Gretel.”

Then we hiked over to the sea cave. I think Justin was about to cry, he was so happy.

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Up next, Lóndrangar! Getting there was quite the journey. We started by climbing a giant hill to get to the
Þúfubjarg cliffs:

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Then we had to climb down this crazy-ass path:

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Here I am whimpering in the face of death:

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THEN we had to hike through this huge lava field along the cliffs. This was taken about halfway through; the hill we climbed down is in the distance. It took over an hour to hike all the way. It was so much fun! This is the day I discovered how much I love hiking.

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Finally, we reached Lóndrangar. These are volcanic plugs. The taller one is from the mid 1700s, the smaller one is from 1938. They’re so old that the volcanic crater that surrounded them has completely eroded.

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This was another time that I felt like I was in some sort of children’s movie, where the evil queen lives:

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I highly recommend hiking as a honeymoon activity. It’s such a great bonding experience!

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Finally, we ended the adventure by seeing a big rock sculpture (not pictured) in a gorgeous fishing village. (Though, it should be noted that basically every village in Iceland is a fishing village.)

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Oh! Longtime readers will love how we ended the day. At the Mall of America, we came across the As Seen on TV store. I told Justin about my old obsession with Kinoki foot pads. He thought it was hilarious so he bought some (what a romantic!), and this was the night that we tried them out! Yay!

I am thrilled to report that the infomercial does not lie. The pads started white and turned completely black and sludgy. (Justin took a picture, but it grosses even me out.) I also felt amazing the next day. Was this because of the detox pads or because honeymoon? I really want to try them again!

FEATURED FOOD: Heart-shaped waffles, duh!

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 2

Mood Music!

For our second day, we took a Jeep tour of some of the best spots in Western Iceland. To get to our tour guide, we had to drive though a very long, very hot tunnel under the ocean. I did this once when I traveled from London to Paris, but it’s much creepier in a car.

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The other side was gorgeous, though!

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We were dropped off with our official guide at a random gas station. The Jeep was massive. I think I pulled at least three muscles climbing in and out of this thing all day:

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Our first stop was at the hot spring Deildartunguhver. Throughout our trip, we heard about the geothermal aspect of Iceland, but this is one of the few times we experienced it up close. Iceland basically powers their entire country on this stuff. You can bake bread just by sticking the dough in the ground. The steam smelled strongly of sulfur. This is our Viking tour guide:

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Because we went to Iceland during the end of the off season, there wasn’t as much green as you would normally see. However, in places like this and the waterfalls we visited in the south, the moss on the rocks was practically glowing.

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Up next, Hraunfossar. There’s not much to explain; it was just gorgeous. Look at that blue!

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The area included a hiking path. Justin brought 4 cameras to Iceland, 5 counting his phone, so I would often walk ahead of him while he snapped a million pictures. (This is why half of my pictures are of Justin taking pictures.) So I would often come across something amazing, then get to watch Justin turn the corner and react to it, too. When I got to these rapids, I just started laughing at how insane it looked. And when Justin saw them, he laughed too.

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Up next, a glacier! That’s right, a fucking glacier. It’s called Langjokull. I had no idea that we would be driving to–and on–this thing. We were introduced to the power of this Jeep right away when we started driving on roads deemed “impossible.”

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Like, look at this hill. Those other tire tracks are at least a foot deep. I would have trouble walking up this hill, let alone driving. We slid side-to-side like we were on a rollercoaster, but we made it! I can’t believe I didn’t puke. Then we drove up 15 more hills just like it.

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The glacier was 32•F–not cold at all! Here’s my husband on a glacier without a coat:

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There was a group of people camping and para-sailing on the glacier. They were gliding on the snow for what seemed like forever. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them if I could try, but that glacier was no place for an injury. The remoteness was terrifying. Anyway, this guy glided (glid? glode?) by our Jeep on the way out and asked if we wanted some coffee. When we said no, he smiled and just sailed away.

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There were a couple camps on the bottom of the glacier, and even a cottage. Also: sled dogs! I have finally seen sled dogs! They did not look friendly:

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So how does a car drive on ice? By taking some of the air out of the tires. More surface = more traction. Any time we had trouble, he jumped out to let out air and that did the trick. I wonder how people figured this out? When we got back to civilization, we had to stop to put the air back in.

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There are horses everywhere in Iceland. These guys were gorgeous! Our driver pulled over and said, “Would you like to make some friends?” They came over to us right away.

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Look at my handsome husband. Jeez.

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Our driver also moonlights as a camera man for the many films and commercials that are shot in Iceland. You’ve seen the Fjord below a million times, even if you don’t know it. Whenever you see a car weaving around a mountain road near the water in a commercial, it was probably filmed here.

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Finally, we went to Þingvellir! This might be my favorite stop of the whole trip. This is where the tectonic plates for two continents meet. See that giant crack in the earth?

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That’s Europe on the left, America on the right. At one point, Justin and the tour guide left to go find the bathroom, so I was left alone staring at this thing. I felt like I was on the edge of the earth, and I guess technically, I was.

The coolest part about Þingvellir National Park is that you get to walk in the gorge and, if you wander far enough, you can find places where they almost meet. The tour guide actually drove to the other end of the path so that Justin and I could have the whole place to ourselves. That’s right, our own personal tectonic crevice. We both got to stand on two continents at once!

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Oh, just before we went home, we passed this stream and the tour guide said it’s some of the clearest water in the world. All in all, an unforgettable day!

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FEATURED FOOD: Pepperoni Taco. I got it at the gas station.

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 1

When I was 12, I joined Columbia House (for the first time). I chose my 11 free CDs, but couldn’t find anything else I wanted for my 12th. I browsed through the catalog, and I remember being fascinated by Björk’s Debut – her very weird name, her wild hair, her alien face. I’d like to think that album was the one that cost me a penny. From the first listen, I was in love. Thus began a two-decade love affair with Iceland.  (I faithfully bought every Björk album until the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack–I’ve already watched someone go blind in real life and have no desire to watch it onscreen.)

Mood Music!

When Justin and I first started dating, one of the first things we bonded over was the fact that we both had always wanted to go Iceland. So when he surprised me with this honeymoon, I was ecstatic for a million different reasons. Plus, after 18 months of wedding planning and saving up vacation days, it was well earned. I know that most women look back on their wedding day as the best day of their life, but I prefer to think about Iceland, and traveling around such a gorgeous, weird, fascinating place with my best friend, who was possibly even more excited than me.

There’s waaaaay too much to cover in one entry, so we’re going to do this one day at a time. Well, today you get a bonus day, too.

In order to get to Iceland, we had to fly out of Minneapolis… so we flew in the day prior. We had a whole morning to kill, so we went to Mall of America, which was right down the street from our hotel.

Mall of America is, in fact, very big… but for some reason, it didn’t feel as big as I thought it would. I think that’s because aside from the amusement park in the middle, it’s all very much like a normal mall. There were 4 stories, with several wings on each floor. There were at least 6 different Lids locations. It was pretty hilarious.

We spent 5 hours walking every inch, with a lunch break in the middle. I could write a whole entry about Mall of America, but I’ll sum it up with this picture of an Orange Julius and my favorite purchase:

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The flight to Iceland was only 6 hours. Flights from the US typically leave in the early evening, so you arrive at about 6 in the morning the next day. Iceland Air is wonderful! Also, they waste no time finding a place to land:

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Justin booked everything through a great travel agency called Nordic Visitor, and they sent a driver for us. He held up a sign with our name on it at the airport! We have fucking arrived, folks! He also had one of those cars that runs on trash. Whee!

Because it was our honeymoon and we were ballers, we got the biggest suite in the hotel. A two story room, with the only balcony! It was a great way to kick things off.

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This is where we got to experience our first Icelandic continental breakfast, which I’ve already established was legendary. The hotel restaurant was so cool! These numbers were made out of screws:

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Our waitress looked exactly like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I was polite enough to not take a picture.

Soooo… Reykjavík. How the hell do I describe Reykjavík? It’s the largest city in Iceland… really, the only city, with 2/3 of the country. But it still feels small. Every building is unique and colorful. Businesses and homes are side by side. The people are so nice and so insanely happy! Everything is so clean, even when it is covered in grafitti. I wanted to stay there forever. I don’t know what else to say.

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Harpa, Iceland’s largest music venue:

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We only saw terrible skateboarders, but there were so many and they were so dedicated:

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A beautiful home (a fireplace in the front yard? Hi.) and their awesome garage:

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Vikings and gnomes were everywhere!

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My favorite spot was The Laundromat Cafe. It was kind of like Rooster in St. Louis… cool decor, crowded, so hip that it might be overrated but who cares? They had free wifi! Woo! Also, delicious food, incredibly nice people and the best hot chocolate of my life, or at least until I realized that everyone in Iceland rocks at making hot chocolate.

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Okay, so, Justin also made me go to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. That’s right, the Penis Museum. You guys, it was so fucking gross. The one guy working there looked exactly like you are imagining he would look. I just wanted to take a shower. Sure, there was hilarious paraphernalia like this:

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… but there were also preserved penises in jars. Like this sperm whale penis, which is taller than me:

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I came across one penis toward the exit of the museum, and I yelled to Justin, “Gross! This one is covered in hair!” Then I looked at the label and yep, it was human. That’s when I screamed, ran into the gift shop and refused to come back. That’s right, the worst part of my honeymoon was a male human penis.

Finally, we visited Hallgrímskirkja, which is the large church in the center of the city. This is where people get all of those famous shots of the colorful roofs. I could have stood up there forever. Reykjavík just makes me so happy!

(After the museum, the shape of this church was a little traumatic.)

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FEATURED FOOD: Hot chocolate! Whee!

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Björk on her home planet (she goes outside around the 2:00 mark):

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Obstruction

Heh heh heh.

I feel bad that I left that last post up for so long without explaining: Justin has nothing to do with my depression. In fact, he’s one of the few things that consistently makes me happy. He’s my best friend and my favorite person, and I’ll never stop being amazed that I’m the one who got to marry him.

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However, he’s working full time, going to school full time, working at an internship and he’s the layout editor for his school paper. And while his schedule is, shockingly, not as crazy as it has been in recent semesters, he’s gone during weekend days and sometimes three weeknights in a row. When I’m coping with stuff (and don’t consider drinking “coping”), it makes things hard. But I’m so proud of him and I’m always amazed by the work he’s doing.

I could name about 1,000 reasons why I was sad, but not a specific reason, and that’s when you know it’s depression. It started creeping up about a month before my Grandma got sick. I think it started with selling my family home. There was one day where I woke up happy, walked to work in gorgeous weather, and was excited to see all of my friends that night, but then I got a call that my Grandma was in the emergency room. Moral of story: always stay depressed?

It really was the perfect storm of stuff: bad project at work, feeling left out, missing my Grandma and my dad and my house, gaining weight, not sleeping at all. And you know, when you’re getting married, you get used to an insane amount of attention… and then it all goes away. So the sad, lonely, empty times felt a million times worse thanks to that extra deprivation.

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Anyway, I’m slowly but surely getting back to normal. Here’s some ways I kicked myself in the ass:

1. Quit Facebook

I don’t like broadcasting shit on Facebook like I do here, so I took the temptation away by deactivating my account. (Also, at the time, tons of my friends were on this road trip together and thanks to a seating limit I wasn’t invited, so it was nice to not look at their 8 million posts and pictures. I wasn’t mad, but that timing could not have been worse. I was literally like, “I need help; today I’ll make an effort to spend time with friends,” and then NO YOU CAN’T BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL HAVING FUN WITHOUT YOU HAHAHA)

I did not miss Facebook. At all. I liked being forced to call/text my friends and develop real friendships. I LOVED not hearing about politics or worrying about how to please everyone I know all at once. My day felt cleaner and easier when it wasn’t clogged up with the lamest, stupidest details about everyone’s day. (I know people say this is a Twitter thing, but I only follow clever people there.)

Not feeling the urge to check a website 6,000 times a day? Freedom. Pure freedom.

Of course, I’m back for now… there are cancer updates, trial news, and long-distance bffs I need to keep track of. I missed some friends’ jokes. BUT I don’t have the app on my phone anymore, I delete/unfollow people every day, and I know that when I deactivate it again, I’ll be able to go even longer. I know it’s like the most dramatic thing you can do in this day and age, but it’s worth it every now and then.

2. Excercise

I joined this app called Gym-Pact; you commit to a number of workouts and put up money for each one. For example, I commit to 6 days a week at $20 a workout. If I miss one of those workouts, I would have to pay. So far, I haven’t. I’ve made every workout, which means I make money, thanks to everyone who failed. Like my BodyBugg, it turns things into a game and forces me to get off my ass. I love it.

I’ve also joined other apps like DietBet and Luminosity, but I’ll talk about those some other day.

3. My basic formula

Sleep, exercise, Vitamin B and sunshine. Now that it’s cool outside, I can walk to work–and I’m definitely feeling the results.

4. Drugs

So, I thought I could ween off of Ativan to be ahead of the game when Baby Time happens, but this was not the time to have trouble sleeping. All it did was help create the Perfect Storm. Maybe when I get back up to running 6 miles every morning, I’ll try again.

5. Distractions

Since Justin is gone two or three weeknights in a row, I try to stay distracted during those times. Walking with Veronica. Evening trips to the Y. Visits with my shrink. TV time with Jen and Ron. I also go out more on the weekends: parties, dinners, girl’s nights with my work friends, “Friday Night Grown-Up Time!” with Jen. As long as I’m not here alone, thinking about my Grandma and my Dad, I seem to do fine.

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6. West Coast

I wasn’t broadcasting my depression on Facebook and I was trying to keep my crying at a minimum around BFFs like Jen and Vee, but I was very honest about it on Instagram and Twitter. And while I wasn’t trolling for attention, Erin and Janet both sent me out-of-the-blue Cheer Up presents. I literally burst into tears when I opened these–happy tears. It made me feel like someone heard me, that someone cared. And sometimes, that’s really all you need.

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I’m still feeling fat thanks to the Post-Wedding 15, but apparently women are happiest at Size 12? So maybe I should gain some weight and see how that body feels. Ha!

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You Know It’s Time For My Annual Nervous Breakdown When …

… I write an entry about how depressed and lonely I am and how I have no friends …

… and then I delete it …

… and then I post it again …

… and then I edit it to be like, “Except for Jen and Ron, as usual, obviously” …

… and then I delete it again …

… and then I cry in the bathroom and go run 5 miles and finish a book about Scientology and feel better.

I’m glad only like 20 people read my blog these days (and one is in India?) so only a few people get to witness the chaos (and thank you for loving me and/or hate-reading me). This is so much better than when I would write massive, epically embarrassing entries on Ambien and like 300 people would read it before I woke up and deleted it in a panic. There are people out there who still think I’m a psycho because of that.

Anyway, I’m still really sad about what happened a week ago and I will probably be sad about it forever, but I think I’m feeling better.

… well, I watched Breaking Bad last night, so “better” might not be the right word. “Feeling okay about real life but totally fucking sick to my stomach about fictional characters” might be a better description. Like, I feel hungover from the stress of that show. Yikes.

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Gluten-Free Stephie

Did you know that I stopped eating gluten? I stopped eating gluten about a month ago.

We’re not trying to have a baby right now, but we’re talking and planning … and for the first time, I realized that I would have to stop taking all of my daily meds. I don’t take a lot of medicine, but I take stuff for allergies, sleeping … and (in the summer) sweating. I have a friend who sweats even more than I do, and she told me that she found out that her sweating was because of a gluten intolerance. I read up on gluten intolerance symptoms, and so many of them are things that I suffer from (joint pain, anxiety, sleep issues, etc).

I have friends with serious, severe Celiac Disease and I’ve witnessed how hard it is for them. I also used to work in a health food store, where people with gluten allergies have always had to shop until recently, so I’ve been aware of this issue for a long time. I am very, very grateful that I do not have Celiac Disease, so let’s make it clear that I don’t just think of this as a fun experiment. But if there’s any time to try avoiding gluten and find out for myself if this is my problem, it’s now.

These days, people tend to roll their eyes when someone mentions they’re avoiding gluten because they think it is just a fad diet. They bring up the low carb craze and try to mansplain to me that it’s not actually going to help me lose weight. I love telling those people that I wrote my master’s thesis ab0ut the low carb diet and the marketing and advertising behind it, so I fully understand how those diets and fads gain momentum.

However, while avoiding gluten is tied to one fad diet (paleo), it’s also an easy way for grocery stores to bring in an entire segment of people that couldn’t shop at their store before. And because of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, grocery stores need to compete with health food stores more than ever, so they are paying attention. This may stick for a while. I don’t think that stores will keep their giant gluten-free aisles for more than a couple years, but hopefully places will be permanently conscious of carrying gluten-free alternatives.

To be honest, I am eating more paleo than anything these days. Aside from gluten-free pizzas when I go out with friends and the occasional bowl of corn/rice cereal, I haven’t bought any products that are specifically gluten free. I don’t usually buy bread or baked goods anyway. So the only change I’ve really made is that I stopped buying fast food or pigging out on goodies at work. I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination or anything, so while this is by no means an easy lifestyle for people with Celiac, it has been relatively painless for me.

It’s been working, believe it or not. I still sweat in 90-degree weather, that is just science, but I’ve been more comfortable outside recently than most of my friends and I’m not afraid of going out at all. Justin is usually the one to turn on the air conditioning, not me. I don’t need a fan when I’m getting ready in our muggy bathroom. These are huge developments. And because the main reason I’m avoiding gluten is sweating, I’ll be able to slip up occasionally in the winter. I plan on avoiding gluten year-round, but I can still eat stuffing on Thanksgiving or an Easter casserole and suffer through the side effects with minimal discomfort.

I also feel amazing these days, but the fact that I do all of my shopping at the Farmers Market probably has something to do with it. This boost in my mood is much needed because I’m also cutting out sleeping pills and we all know how great that works for me. Shit’s been rough. At least I can take my old friend Benadryl.

My goal to sit up straight this month was serendipitous because work is nuts and I will be spending all month sitting at my desk. Anyway, that’s going well.

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Sit-Up-Straight September

I miss having month-long goals. I feel like they did mold me, in some weird way. I’m always the most open to evolving when I’m depressed or I’ve been through something awful, which right now is both. I’m trying to do nice things for other people and ask them about their day, which always makes me feel better in general, but I need to work on me, too.

I mentioned before that I’ve been re-watching this show called Orphan Black. The lead actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays clones–seven so far. You forget that each character is played by the same person. It’s astonishing, and it’s especially great when one clone pretends to be another clone. You know exactly who that person is, even if they are dressed up as someone else. Hell, there is one episode where the clone with dreads, Cosima, isn’t wearing her glasses–and my first reaction was, “She looks so weird without her glasses!” even though that face is everywhere, in every episode.

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One reason Maslany pulls this off so wonderfully is that her background is dance. So she doesn’t just get into a character mentally–she puts thought and work into what moves them. Allison has this little high-strung tick with her hand that I love, Helena is like a feral animal, Rachel moves with entitlement, etc. It isn’t just the way they talk or dress, it’s the air about them.

I was thinking about this yesterday–the way you feel inside can define the way you carry yourself, and vice versa. You look the way you live. I was also thinking about my Grandma’s favorite mantra: Fake it til you make it.

So for September, my goal is to carry myself with confidence and strength that I don’t exactly have right now. Time to sit up straight. Throw those shoulders back. Engage the core.

And get that fucking chin up. For good.

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And the Lorde Sayeth

I love Lorde! She is incredible and she’s only 16. She writes all her own stuff; her lyrics are so smart and well constructed. And her harmonies in “Royals” are wonderful. It reminds me of Swedish pop that I enjoy so much like First Aid Kit, Lykke Li and Robyn.

And I love that the “Royals” video leads right into “Tennis Courts.” This video is so simple, yet so creepy and mesmerizing.

Another band I’ve been digging lately is Haim; they are so talented and fun. Este Haim looks like a young Melanie Hutsell, which gives them a comedy vibe even when there aren’t SNL people in their videos:

I usually only listen to music when I’m running, so I mostly listen to Jay Z and shit that gets me off of my ass, but it’s nice to have music that I want to listen to while I’m cooking and stuff. Justin usually plays something from his 10,000 iTunes or streams KDHX on his computer, so I haven’t been in the mindset to play music on my own since I’ve lived here.

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Another reason to play music at home is that Justin is fixing my parents’ gorgeous 1965 record player (it helps that his friend at work actually worked at RCA when this was built; he is freaking out over this thing). It hasn’t worked since 1992 when my brother stole one of the speakers to build a sub-woofer. I have a tiny but respectable record collection; it will be fun to build it with current stuff, too.

AND I grabbed this fantastic little radio from my Grandma’s house; it actually picks up KDHX which is rare in my building. I love playing this while reading next to the windows.

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I remember the last time I was as massively depressed as I am now–I discovered Mates of State, Lykke Li and Gogol Bordello, and they helped lift me out of the fog and into one of the happiest years of my life. Maybe all I was missing was music to relax to and heal with, as opposed to the harsh stuff that forces me through a 5-mile run. I’m starting to feel like me again, slowly but surely. It’s nice.

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Charlotte

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” ― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

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I’ve been trying all week to write some beautiful, elegant entry about the past 3 weeks, but then it feels like I’m too detailed, too intimate, too self-absorbed, too wordy. So I’ll just say it.

I watched my Grandma die last week. I sat with her for her last hour on earth. I watched each breath take longer and longer, I saw the panic in her eyes, I told her it was okay, I told her that I loved her, and I held her hand until I felt her let go.

A week earlier, exactly a week earlier, I had a great visit with her. I said goodbye, then popped back into her room – and she was sitting up, having a major stroke. I held her hand during that, too. There was nothing they could do to stop it, so I just sat with her. She cracked joke after joke with a half-frozen face, slurring her words. I was the only person who could understand her. I stayed until she fell asleep.

Part of me feels like this has profoundly changed me–that I’ll appreciate life more or magically become a wiser, better person. The other half can’t believe how natural it all feels, to the point where maybe it hasn’t changed me at all.

I mean, when I lost my dad, the grief was normal and manageable but what I witnessed during the year leading up to that moment messed me up beyond belief. So I have no idea what I’m like right now. I’m not drinking. I’m reading, sleeping and walking a lot. Every time she said goodbye to me, she would say, “Take care of yourself.” So I’m treading lightly.

She was my Dad’s mom. So going through all of her papers and pictures hasn’t just been a reminder about her–it’s been a reminder of my Dad and my Grandpa, too. My Dad’s 70th birthday is coming up, so he was already on my mind. It gets a little overwhelming.

A few days before she died, she hugged me and said, “Thank God he gave us to each other.” That’s all I can think about. I know it was her time; I know it was natural. But it hurts so much. She was so incredible, so funny, so talented, so brave. I could write about her forever. She was one of my best friends. I really just fucking miss her.

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Long Form, Short Fuse

Don’t expend energy in writing and publishing that would be better used in your family or community. Become tempered by life. Make compromises for love. Provide a service to the world.

Sarah Manguso

If anyone needs me, I’m still at Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter. If I’m not there, then I’m obsessively binge-watching Orange Is The New Black and rewatching Orphan Black. You guys. Those shows. Do it.

The internet has been leaving a really bad taste in my mouth lately. Not all of it; mainly just blogs and Facebook. The majority of the blogs I read have evolved into a sort of “I don’t understand this thing so I’m going to bitch about how it’s stupid” attitude (and I’m sure I have too; shit’s contagious). I have trouble reading that stuff. I want to comment on it, to tell people they’re wrong, to ask why they care if they’ve never been there/done that, but if they have enough energy to bitch about something for 500 words then they certainly have no problem arguing with me*. And I can’t tell them to not care if I care that they care. You know? Anyway.

And Facebook is just, like, a shitty family arguing about politics and social issues at the dinner table 24/7. We shouldn’t be allowed to interact like that with every person we’ve ever met all at once, you guys. And even though I try so hard to avoid commenting and getting myself in trouble/unfriended, I just watch it happen and seethe. And it’s not even Republican/racist/religious stuff! It’s like, nice stuff posted by people who RSVP’d to my wedding and didn’t show up. “Oh, a picture of flowers? SCREW YOU.”**

All the negativity is making me sick to my stomach and it’s also making me a bad person. So I’m just trying to stay away for a while, sticking to little snippets and jokes and a little bitching, but just 140-character baby bitching.

I’m finally able to run again, thanks to my dad’s old podiatrist/roommate. I can’t run long distances yet because I took such a long break, so I’m finally able to build up my speed without tiring myself out. Just a couple 10-minute miles a day along with some walking. And p90x in the evenings. These 2-a-days aren’t helping me lose weight faster, but they’re making me feel amazing and helping me sleep like a baby, so Imma keep it up.

I realized that next year will be this blog’s 10-year anniversary, so I’m not ready to give it up just yet. Just … taking a vacation in a few other spots, is all, until I have something of substance to say. Come find me! I’m fun over there.

*Erin probably thinks this is referring to her post about not believing in fibromyalgia, and it’s not. It is a little bit about her cool friend who called me a “retard”  in the comments, though.

**I don’t usually lord this over people, but I went to a wedding when my dad was on hospice and I had a top secret emergency plan in place in case he died that day (which included Erin, thanks girl) because when you RSVP that means YOU SHOW UP.

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Warrior One

My PTSD about my dad is back with a vengeance. I’m learning that it gets the worst in the summer because weather can be the easiest trigger, and that’s when I really took care of him and things got super traumatizing. So I have at least another month of this.

Life is so much easier when you understand exactly what is happening to you emotionally and physically. More important, it’s easier when you understand why. Even if it’s just PMS or being tired. Even if it’s full-blown depression. It’s a chance to be proactive or give yourself permission to cocoon up and rest.

Justin is gone several nights in a row again, and I hurt my ankle so I can’t go to the Y and run. (It will probably be safe to walk in a couple weeks and I will; I just have a history of not waiting long enough for these things to get better.)

Anyway, my way of coping for the longest time was just, like, wine and Totino’s and a Netflix marathon. But I’m trying to read and cook time-consuming-yet-healthy dinners and do p90x, which I couldn’t bring myself to do last time around but now that I can’t go to the Y, it’s nice to have.

I need to just make an effort to spend time with friends on those nights but it’s so hot and I’m so tired and emotionally drained from all of this. It’s not something I can really talk about with friends because they treat it like I’m still deeply grieving after 3 years and that’s not what PTSD is about at all. The last thing I need is someone talking to me like I’m a little kid, which is what a lot of my friends tend to do for some reason. Anyway. I’m fragile but I know I’ll snap out of it when the weather changes.

I’m doing fine about the big move; I automatically stuck memories of the house into that big box in the back of my brain where I keep memories of my dad, my grandpa and my dog. Do you guys have a box like that? One where small memories and stories escape and it’s okay, but you never open it up and look inside because everything floods out and it would hurt too much? Anyway, 908 is there.

Marriage is awesome. I suppose right now we’re starting to talk about getting a bigger place, and that will eventually lead to babies, so maybe in a month or so I will be like OH MY GOD JUSTIN STOP MAKING CHARTS AND JUST PICK A HOUSE GAH but for now I am really digging marriage and I feel so lucky that Justin is my husband.

I will try to tell you all about our trip to Iceland soon. Is there anything else you want me to write about? Random requests really help me get off of my ass, so to speak.

I love you guys.

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My mom officially sold her house. I spent all weekend helping her pack and move. The movers are there right now. The new family moves in on Friday. I am heartbroken.

Packing up the house where you spent 2/3 of your life – birth through grad school – is always rough. But packing up that house, the house where your dad died, on Father’s Day is torture. It makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again.

Most of my friends have already been through this – hell, some of those homes have been bull-dozed – and I’m anticipating some friends sharing their stories and telling me to basically get over it. But, you know, I need a little fucking time.

I hope none of my friends ever have to move back home to take care of their parents, but doing so really helped me to appreciate where I grew up with adult eyes. Taking care of him in the place where he took care of me felt like completing the circle. They say you can never go back home again, but you can. And when you leave again, it hurts twice as much.

I thought I would have time to come by one last time for a visit. But Justin works Monday and Tuesday, I have plans with my friends on Wednesday, and the lady has her final walk-through on Thursday. We were halfway to my mom’s new house before I realized I may have just driven away from there for the last time, forever. I called Liz, sobbing. She’s probably the one friend I have who knew how hard that was for me. Hell, she’s the only friend of mine who saw my dad when he had no legs.

I’m going to find a way to go there one more time. I have to. Even if it’s me just sobbing alone in the basement, without Justin there to hold on to. Even if we have to leave Niki’s house before everyone actually walks to the Gardens. Even if we have to sneak over Thursday night when I’m already so busy and sleep-deprived.

My whole life, I’ve always noticed when the clock hit 9:08. I know that it just stood out to me because it was so familiar, but it really felt like it happened so much for a reason. After my dad died, any time I saw 9:08 on the clock, I would whisper hello to him or just tell him that I miss him. It’s our little moment, at least a couple times a week. (I asked my shrink if this was weird and he said, “Do you freak out if you miss it? No? Then I think it’s really sweet.”) Anyway, I think for a little while it’s just going to make me sad.

I could write forever about that house – my house. But if I start to list all reasons I love this house, all the memories I have, all the time I spent there, all of my landmark moments, the fact that I have known our neighbors for 32 years and they’re like my family, the fact that my friends basically lived here, too … I would go on forever. And maybe I will, someday.

But for now, I’m practically paralyzed with sadness. I can’t even eat. I just sit and stare into space and sigh. It was so much easier when I could feel this way sitting on that back patio, surrounded by trees and smoking cigarettes, knowing an old friend would probably drop by at any moment, with my dad listening to the radio on the porch directly above me.

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Icelandic Fun Facts

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  1. Iceland was formed due to volcanic activity in the rift between the North American and European continents. (We actually stood on 2 continents at the same time; more about that later.) It is still volcanically and geologically active – in fact, the planet’s newest island just recently appeared in Iceland. Lava fields are everywhere and it looks like the moon.
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  2. Until the Norse moved to Iceland, the only creature on the entire island besides birds was the Arctic Fox. Pretty sure Iceland is Justin’s favorite country because there are no snakes.
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  3. As of right now, there are 320,000 people in Iceland (and 4 times as many sheep). 2/3 of the country lives in Reykjavík and the 2 neighboring cities. The majority of the rest live in a large city in the north. No one lives in the middle. 90% of the towns you see on an Icelandic map are composed of 3-5 homes. One town we passed was just, like, a broken down barn. I cannot stress this enough: it is so empty. People have an entire mountain range and waterfalls in their backyards with no neighbors in sight.
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  4. Because the inhabitants of Iceland only go back about 7 generations, everyone in the country is related somehow. The government recently introduced an iPhone app with the entire country’s genealogy. Meet a cute girl at a bar? Bump phones and make sure you’re not cousins before you make a move.
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  5. There are no last names in Iceland, at least not family names like ours. (The few that exist are Danes.) Everyone’s last name ends with either –dottir or –son, meaning “daughter of” or “son of”. Bjork’s last name is Guðmundsdóttir, meaning, “daughter of Guðmundur.” For this reason, the phone book is alphabetized by first names.
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  6. They are one of the most environmentally efficient countries in the world – 13th, I believe. Our hotel rooms required us to put a key in the wall in order for us to have power. Most cars run on hydrogen. Everyone recycles. No litter, no pollution. (And yet, TONS of graffiti.) The head of the Icelanic Electricians’ union? Guðmundur of “Guðmundsdóttir.”
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  7. Some cars run on garbage! Our driver to and from from the airport had one of these cars. The government rewards you by giving you free parking for an hour and a half anywhere you want. These cars have a tiny clock on the dashboard to time the free parking.
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  8. Icelandic continental breakfast: a huge spread of swiss cheese, salami, salmon, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumber – all sliced so that you can put them on pieces of toast. Usually bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns, yogurt and cereal were in the mix. If you really lucked out, heart-shaped waffles. One hotel had shot glasses of fish oil. (P.S. Popular dinner dishes include whale and puffin! We stuck to lamb and lobster. SO much lamb and lobster.)
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  9. The sun is out for the majority of the summer. In the north, it never sets at all during the month of June. The darkest I ever saw Iceland in May was a glowing dusk. We drank in Reykjavík until 1 in the morning and the sun was still up.
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  10. Much like St. Louis, the famous saying in Iceland is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”

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The Greatest Wedding of All Time

So … we got married! Honestly, I’m so overwhelmed with the trip to Iceland and all of the organization that comes with wedding gifts … not to mention a wicked sinus infection that I picked up somewhere … that the wedding feels almost like a fever dream or acid trip that I barely remember. Everyone warned me that it would go fast, that I would barely have time to dance or eat or talk to people, that I would have to make an effort to remember things. And wow, they weren’t kidding.

I’ve put together some things I DO remember very well, and in the fine tradition started with Kevin at Jen and Ron’s wedding almost a decade ago, I present:

Stephie’s Top 10 Memories of The Greatest Wedding of All Time

1. The Rehearsal

IMG_0380The wedding rehearsal was a hot mess. Our officiant Røb had stayed up all night practicing for the rehearsal, then took a nap and promptly slept through 99% of it. But I kept trying to remind myself of my theater/choir days: things would turn out okay.

Either way, it was the first time that I had seen my brother’s family, Erin, or Liz in a very long time. We had our very best friends and our entire extended families all in one room. Because Røb wasn’t there until the last 5 minutes, we had plenty of time to catch up with each other. And after a quick run-through, we got to get drunk and eat fried alligator. Yeesssss.

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2. When Justin Saw Me for the First Time

Pre-make-up.

Pre-make-up.

When you’ve worn your make-up the same way for at least a decade, it can be a shock to be made-up a different way. My hair? My hair that I worried about for so long? It turned out perfect. More beautiful than I ever imagined I could look. My dress? Fit like a glove, so comfortable and so adorable. My face, on the other hand, I hated. Looking back on pictures now, I think it looks okay, maybe even pretty, but I almost cried the first time I saw it. I kept asking my bridesmaids if they liked it, praying that they would demand that Kristin change it, but they all said it looked pretty. And when I came out in my dress, they all kind of melted and I almost cried. (P.S. I don’t have this in the list but I would like to mention that we were in a 4-room suite; BALLER.)

IMG_0476I was unsure all the way until the First Look pictures. We took them at this cute building across the street from ours that we’ve always wanted to buy. He stood around the corner from me, and Ben snapped a couple pictures of us holding hands, and then we turned to look at each other. Justin’s face immediately crumpled, his eyes filled with tears, and he softly whispered, “Oh, buddy!” Then I knew everything would be okay. P.S. Justin, in his red bow-tie and sneakers, looked 100% cute and 100% handsome as hell.

3. The Program

IMG_0485Old friends will appreciate this more than new, but Justin put the bridal party into a Brady Bunch picture, and he came up with that idea completely on his own. If that isn’t a sign that he’s the perfect man for me, I don’t know what is.

We listed the wedding party as “The Cast”, the parents and siblings (also parents) as “The Producers”, and made the events look like a TV Guide. Justin coined a new term, “Mom’voyage” to describe the Unity PBJ that we had our moms make, and that word makes me laugh so hard. I was also able to let everyone know that the wedding march music was a tribute to my dad. It was basically perfect.

4. The Wedding March

I first heard this instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love” on a mix CD that Warren gave guests at his wedding. Honestly, the first time I heard it, years before I met Justin, I knew that I would walk down the aisle to this. And when I realized that my dad would not be there to walk with me, there was no talking me out of this idea, but thankfully everyone was game. See, my dad introduced me to Jimi Hendrix when I was in 6th grade. He introduced me to all of the greats. So, as I said in the program, “Since Jim can’t be here today, Stephanie will be escorted down the aisle by their two favorite dudes: [my brother] and Mr. Jimi Hendrix.”

I was determined to hit my mark at the prettiest part at 3:15 and have it fade out when I reached the end of the aisle, and I really thought it would be impossible to do. The rehearsal attempts were a disaster and I pretty much gave up. But then – it worked out perfectly! All the parents and bridesmaids made it down the aisle, the flower girls and ring bearer were hilariously adorable. I almost started walking, and something told me to wait. And then BOOM. I rounded the corner and hit my mark exactly. I had my brother next to me with his colorful medals. I had my “something blue” (and something important) pinned to my bouquet. I saw Steve, Ron and Peter on the ends of the aisles, beaming at me. And of course, my perfect husband at the end.

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5. Røb

JandS-283-XLNot going to lie, we were all worried about Røb after the rehearsal. But damn, he nailed it. It started with a song that I’m going to link to and man, I hope you can see this. (I’ll make a more accessible video eventually.) But from the accordion serenade to the side jokes (“The wedding ring, like the donut …”) to the perfect vows that made me burst into tears (“I Stephanie, take you Justin as you are, to be my companion and my best friend …”) to the very end (shouting “Let’s get drunk!” as we walked down the aisle) … it was flawless. We probably got more compliments about Røb than the actual marriage; it was that great. Plus, because his song was titled, “The Greatest Wedding of All Time,” that’s how people refer to our wedding now. Victory!

Note everyone cracking up in the background.

Note everyone cracking up in the background.

6. Brent’s Speech

945629_951203912806_586270824_nAll of the speeches were amazing and made me tear up (Jen gave a shoutout to Team Papoose), but Brent’s speech was astonishing. It’s probably too personal to print here, but it was hilarious, heartwarming, surprising and unforgettable. And it ended with, “May you have children of average height.”

 

 

 

7. Friends

Obviously, seeing everyone was a big deal, and so many people said things that touch my heart that I’ll remember forever. But some I’ll remember more than others. Like spending tons of time with Steve, Meredith and Janet at a wedding-themed TV Time the night before the wedding. Or when my dear friend Adam told me that he rearranged an entire family reunion (with his 6,000 in-laws) to be there. But especially when I snuck out for a cigarette and Tony handed me a phone … and my dear friend Tim, who has been wrongly imprisoned for over a year for a crime he didn’t commit, was on the other end. He had a phone smuggled into his cell just to call me. I never expected my favorite wedding memory to be me huddled behind Tony while sneaking a smoke and talking to a prison inmate, but marriage can surprise you.

Our gift bag for out-of-town guests.

Our gift bag for out-of-town guests.

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8. Dollar Dance

Most people keep the money for themselves, but Justin and I donated our money to charity. His bucket went to the MS Society and mine went to the Juvenille Diabetes Research Foundation. We collected over $200! But mostly, this is a favorite memory because I got to dance to all of my favorite dudes to the tune of “With A Little Help From My Friends”.

9. Photobooth

The set-up didn’t turn out exactly like we planned, but it was still great and everyone loved it so much. Here’s the full gallery. Designed and built by Justin, run by our friend Ann’s awesome business, Photomaton.

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Justin’s initial mockup. He sewed the curtains himself!


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10. Things Get A Little Pornographic

Again, God, I hope you guys can see this video. I think Sarah has it set to my “Friends of Friends” on Facebook. I’m going to ask her eventually for a file so I can YouTube this shit. But guys, Røb wanted to serenade me with my favorite song, and then he remembered that a million years ago I wrote this blog entry, and Justin thought it was the funniest idea he had ever heard of in his life, and that’s how I got serenaded with “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on my wedding night by someone who is not my husband, and at one point by an entire room of my friends and family. Sarah’s video perfectly captures Jen and Ron’s laughter, Fritz and Jenny’s dancing, Røb’s flawless performance, and my simultaneous delight and mortification.

Up Next: The Honeymoon! Probably more lists. I am exhausted.

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On Our Way To Iceland, But First …

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May 13, 2013 · 11:04 pm

Engagement Pictures! Hooray!

This was the best day, just wandering around our neighborhood with Ben (Benjamin Trevor Photography).

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Moodboard 7: Bride Pass

Oh my god. You guys want me to fucking blog right now?

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2 weeks until the wedding. I am officially insane; stalking package tracking and texting nonstop and not drinking but then DRINKING and then not drinking again.

If you need me, I am at Instagram and at Twitter and Tumblr and of course if you know me, Facebook. That’s how you get the dirt.

I’m trying this new thing where I just try to love myself and how I look and my body and try to not care about what I weigh. It’s very hard, but I’m getting there. I look like a motherfucking precious angel in my wedding dress just FYI.

I am so tired and busy right now. Excuse me while I fill some vases with foam and some fake grass shit. And please kill me.

Also Justin and I practice dancing all the time, even in the elevator, and when he spins me I want to have 20 of his babies, so this isn’t all bad.

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Breaking Bride

Sorry for the lack of posts; I am getting RILL sick of talking about myself.

7 more weeks of answering questions and harassing people and stressing about literally every worst case scenario, then an avalanche of Iceland pictures, and then hopefully I will get back to regular blogging about … home renovations? Recipes? Fertility? What the hell do married people blog about? (I keed, but really. Nothing will be as interesting as when I was single; sorry.)

My RSVP due date is aligning nicely with my PMS, resulting in some hilarious silent rage and borderline passive-aggressive texts on my end.

Meanwhile I have been doing a lot of “Blogging for Lazy People” aka Tumblr.* You can find me at secretlystephie.tumblr.com.

Mortified Monday update: I haven’t really lost weight but I’ve been noticing some serious Michelle Obama muscles on my arms and I actually wore size 6 skinny jeans without being run out of town with pitchforks. So maybe that “muscle weighs more than fat” thing isn’t just a lie that I tell myself when I’m fat? Anyway, these days I have enough teeth bleach and spray tan in my system to feel pretty in spite of my weight, so whatever.

*I don’t want to hear your sass, Erin; rebloggling is lay-zay.

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The Dave Painting

Last weekend, my work friends and I threw a surprise 30th birthday party for our friend Ben. 90% of the hilarity that ensued is based on inside jokes or Breaking Bad humor (homemade blue rock candy, anyone?), but I need to tell you about Dave’s painting.

Dave and his wife hosted the party in their gorgeous new house, and he mentioned some of the things that he found in the move. Many of my co-workers have known each other for at least a decade, so when he mentioned the painting they all cracked up. But since Justin, Liz and I are a little new to the party, he told us the story.

Dave had a cleaning lady who would sometimes buy him strange presents. “But she wouldn’t give them to me; she would just put them on my mantel or nightstand.” When he would ask her about them, she would just say, “Oh, I thought that would look nice there.”

“Then,” Dave said, “She just started rearranging my furniture? Like full rooms. Without asking.”

“And then I guess I left some pictures of me laying around? Old ones,” he continued. “And then one day, she said, ‘I painted this for you.'”

And then

she gave

him this:

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.
Did she sign it? No. She kissed the back:

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“AAAAAND that’s when I fired her.”

P.S. Look at Kim’s Bencakes!

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