Gratitude, Personalized.

I turned 39 last Monday, and I pretty much loved it. I got to have some amazing celebrations with family and friends, and one such celebration took place last Saturday, when a group of some of my favorite kickass women treated me a to night out.

All through that night out, I remember looking around the table and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude to be surrounded by so many strong, smart, funny and generally awesome women…and they were all there to celebrate with me!

To express my gratitude, I had this grandiose plan to write each of them a personal thank you note on fancy stationery.

Well, it’s almost a week later and I have not yet purchased any fancy stationery…so the odds of me finding the time to do so, and write those individual notes, are getting slimmer by the hour.

S0, allow me to take this opportunity to do what I do best: shamelessly exploit the existence of this blog to publicly acknowledge awesome people.

I heart these ladies.
I heart these ladies.

They wined and dined me and would not let me pay a cent. They tried like hell to get the fairly lameass DJ to play SOMETHING worth dancing to…and when he didn’t, they wandered the streets of New Haven trying to find somewhere we could dance. We never did, but just the same I wouldn’t trade a minute of that night.

Each has brought something awesome to my life for which I am grateful:

Cari: You are a perfect combination of New York-style attitude and genuine kindness and caring. I would never be stupid enough to piss you off–anyone who would is obviously a complete moron–but I count myself lucky to have you as a friend. You are a smart, hilarious, straightforward tell-it-like-it-is hot mama, and I love you for it. THANK YOU for celebrating my birthday with me, even though I missed yours. ❤

Karin: What can I even say to convey how lucky I feel to be your friend? You have brought dance back into my life, both literally and metaphorically. Your friendship, your support and your sweet-ass choreography have brought me so much joy and laughter, and I continue to aspire to be as strong as you someday. THANK YOU for dragging me out of my seat even though the music was meh. (That’s a metaphor, too, you know. Love ya.)

Anna: Let’s not even talk about the fact that you were like, in the Olympics, which automatically makes you a complete badass. (I guess I did just talk about it…uh…moving on…) Instead, let’s talk about how much I admire your amazing spirit of compassion, combined with a no-nonsense, let’s-get-shit-done attitude, and how much I appreciate your sense of humor–especially in more stressful moments– your insight, and your sweet dance moves. THANK YOU for being brave enough to move my cookie out of the way when they were bringing the cake. I sincerely apologize for the 2 seconds during which I legitimately considered stabbing you with my butter knife.

Maria: It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for…that’s you, my friend! You have one of the best deadpans I’ve seen, and an uncanny knack for remaining calm that I admire greatly and wish I could duplicate (unless there’s another yet-to-be-revealed side of you that I’ll look forward to meeting someday!) You were probably the best person to be sitting across from me when I got the “We’re in the ER!” text! THANK YOU for celebrating with me, and for keeping me cool when I panicked about the Tough Mudder obstacles.

Kathrin: Another quiet one–but watch out! I’m so glad I get to work out with you 2+ times a week, because for someone so soft-spoken, you kick serious ass. You always inspire me to add more weight, see if I can do more, push a little harder…and you are one of the kindest people I know. There’s something about you that just radiates warmth, and I count myself very lucky to experience it. THANK YOU for being there.

Samm: Where do I even start? You embody friendship to me. I admire your kindness, your wisdom, your continually optimistic and honest, unmuddied outlook, and your loyalty. If I could go back to my 20’s, I would try like hell to be more like you, although I know there’s no way I would succeed in being that cool. THANK YOU for being my friend through some crazy adventures, and making me always strive to be the best version of myself that I can.

Leah: So how often do you play the straight (wo)man to my dramatic outbursts? I’m not sure I can quite convey how grateful I am to have you in my life; it’s like having a piece of solid ground to stand on when life feels like a swirling vortex of doom. (Me? Being dramatic again? WHAT?) You are one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and funny women I know and I can only hope I am deserving of the gift of your friendship. THANK YOU for arranging to bring all these wonderful women–including yourself!–together for my birthday. It was an amazing night, and you made it happen.

As a special gift (and since Karin forgot the Homeys tattoos), I give you all this:

Who remembers his name?
Who remembers his name? Was it Jerry?

If I haven’t said it enough yet, here’s one more THANK YOU for a special night I won’t soon forget, and for the privilege of calling each of you my friend.

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Badass Tribute

So today would have been my aunt Donna’s birthday.

We lost her to pancreatic cancer last year on what was the saddest Christmas ever. (Side note: PANCREATIC CANCER SUCKS.)

Donna was my godmother, and she was the awesomest kind of badass woman you could imagine: a tiny, feisty little Italian lady who was smart, motivated, ridiculously organized, and full of energy and compassion.

She was a role model to many, including me.

Some of her life I only know from stories I’ve heard from my family and Donna herself. But I hope to share my remembrance of her as best I can, even if the details aren’t exact. Starting waaaaaay back during a groovier time…

Lookin’ good in the late 60’s or early 70’s. My mom on the left and Donna on the right.
Oh yes, that adorable little baby is yours truly.

Of the three Bigna girls (my mom and her two sisters), Donna was a typical oldest child. She was the responsible one. The one who did all the dishes while my mother hid in the bathroom. The one who got the best grades and went to college. The one who argued passionately with my grandfather about the social justice issues of the time. The one who married the right guy–my Uncle Bruce.

Now, I moved around a lot as a kid. We moved to FL for awhile when I was 5, and then my brother and I came back up to CT to live with our dad when I was in fourth grade.

Once we were back in the same state, we saw my aunt and her family every year around Christmas. My cousin Ryan was an only child and therefore–I believe–got better toys than my brother and I. So we played hours of Coleco over there…but I digress.

The Christmas visits became a tradition, a very important one for a kid like me who didn’t have such a rooted childhood. As I got older, it morphed into a Christmas Eve dinner tradition and I refused to give it up when I got married. Christmas Eve at my aunt’s was a non-negotiable. And really, who wouldn’t want to go to a Christmas Eve dinner with my aunt and her tacky-but-awesome Christmas vest?

There was also wine involved, as evident from all our red cheeks.

Now me, I love an adventure. A new challenge. I’m always looking for the next thing, and I have a related habit of letting go of things too quickly. From my aunt, I learned about the importance of tradition. Of laying down roots, keeping commitments, and being a person that people can rely on. I’m so grateful.

And you could always rely on Donna. When my daughter Emma was gravely ill and we were in the Yale PICU for two weeks, Donna called every day, at the same time: “Just me, honey. Checking in.” Her voice became such a comfort to me, and in her last few months, I made a commitment to her and myself that she would hear from me, every day. While I wasn’t able to call or text her at exactly the same time every day, I honored that commitment and I think–I hope!–it comforted her in some small way.

Donna was full of both passion and compassion. She was an amazing badass combination of kindness and serious Sicilian attitude.

From her, I learned to stop giving up so much of myself, to instead say “enough” or “that’s all I can do.” I thought I was being giving, but I was really making myself disappear.

My aunt taught me about boundaries, where to draw the line to preserve myself and my own family instead of spreading myself too thin just to try and please others. Which happens to be a very, very bad habit of mine…but I am working on it, thanks to her.

Donna didn’t take any shit. There were schedules, people. There were lists. You followed the goddamned schedule, you kept things moving, or woe to you. You’d be at the business end of Donna’s ire, or, more likely, just left behind as she briskly went on with the plans. Your loss.

My aunt listened. It didn’t matter that some years we only got together two or three times. She listened to my marital problems, my struggles helping my dad through two recurrences of brain cancer, my trials and tribulations with my career, and my mom victories and complaints.

She gave great advice. Sometimes it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear, and she (usually) delivered her pearls of wisdom with firm kindness. Because–duh!–she was always right.

I am a better woman for having heard and internalized all she’s ever taught me.

Donna loved fiercely, and was fiercely loved.

My badass aunt is most assuredly running a very tight ship up there in Heaven, but down here, she is missed every day, by so many.

Happy Birthday, Auntie.

 

Badass: A Love Story

I interrupt this vacation to bring you a brief Profile in Badassery. Because my husband Drew is the awesomest badass I know, and today we’ve been married 13 years.

Awwwww! Look how cute we were!

I can be a little…impetuous. Capricious, you might say (cough, cough). And sometimes, being a badass means being the one who holds the shit together and keeps things steady and grounded in reality. Without Drew, who knows what kinds of crazy tomfoolery I would’ve gotten myself/us into.

But this is not about me. My husband is a total badass in his own right. He is a thrill seeker, and wows me on a regular basis by doing things that would have me crapping myself. I believe this picture speaks for itself:

skydive
Um. He’s smiling? Hello? Falling through space and time and SMILING?

Total. Effing. Badass.

Drew’s been training with Mike for about a year now and is looking pretty hot these days. Although he wasn’t heavy like me when he started, he’s lost fat and definitely gained a ton of muscle from working hard and eating clean.

Last month, he ran his first mud run. As we drove up to the ski slope where it was held, he seemed anxious, and I was surprised. This was not like him. I came to understand that he didn’t just want to participate, he wanted to COMPETE. To really see what he could do. And, no surprise to me, what he did was pretty amazing: he finished 5th in his heat and 56th overall (close to 800 people ran the race). Drew attacked that run and totally kicked its ass. I could not be prouder.

mud run
Badass.

Even though he’s a personal risk-taker, Drew has typically been very conservative and “safe” when it comes to his career. I’ve always encouraged him to be less focused on stability, and more focused on getting to where he wants to be–where I know his brains and skills can take him. But being the awesome husband and father that he is, it has been difficult for him to think about walking away from a steady job that guarantees he can provide for his family–even though it may bore him to tears–to do something more challenging but possibly a little riskier.

Guess what? My badass husband just gave his notice at a 100+ year old insurance company to join an old friend and colleague in a new, much more challenging position with a fledgling company. He’s going to really be able to flex his management muscles and make a positive impact on how the company will grow. Yes, there’s risk, but also potential for big, big payoffs. And, with the outcome weighing quite a bit on what Drew has to do with it, my money’s on him (I mean, it actually is…but it metaphorically is, too!) I know he’s going to drive this company forward and make amazing things happen.

Did I mention he’s an amazing dad?

Drew with newborn Emma. Aaaaaand, my heart just melted.

We have weathered many storms together. A few times, we got sidetracked from what was most important and almost lost our way. It was Drew’s loyalty and steadfastness that always brought us back. Now, we are a strong, united, unstoppable team creating the life that we want for ourselves and our kids.

I am so lucky to have shared a life with my badass husband for the last 13 years. I can only imagine what awesomeness the next 13 will bring us. Happy Anniversary, babe.