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Friday, January 27, 2012

Cousin's Night

Since Matt's death his cousins decided to start a tradition of getting together on a regular basis. 'Cousins night' would be about catching up, having fun, and letting loose a little. This group consists of Matt's siblings, his cousins, their spouses, and kids. It has been such an unbelievable blessing for me. It seems to be one of the few places left I can let my guard down and grieve. A place where Matt is still so very much alive and among us it is difficult to imagine he isn't about to walk right around the corner during one of these parties. This last one was just this weekend, and we decided to propose a toast to Matt. We went around the room and each gave a favorite memory of Matt, and I inventively listened and jotted notes as to not forget anything later on.

There were many great things that were said by Matt's family; some from recent years and some from long ago. One thing that stood out to me more than anything though, was the repeated feelings on Matt's excitement for life. It seemed throughout his life Matt found many things to pour himself into. He always took on ideas, projects, or goals with such enthusiasm. He was the kind of guy that could have excited you about dirt if it just so happened he had fell in love with dirt earlier in the month. Matt sold a type of juice the last two years of his life; it was part of a multi-level marketing company, and it was just as any other multi-level company is. Oh, but how Matt loved this stuff. He was ordering it by the cases, handing it out to everyone who stopped over. He could talk about nothing but this juice for an hour straight without a breath. It was the same way with his Christmas lights, his computers, his business ventures, his newest hobby of his toy trains ... it went on and on with him. If there was something he believed in, he would share his passion with such intensity a person couldn't help but want to run out to Hobby Lobby and pick up a train or two for themselves.

One of the other things that really touched me was when a cousin was reminded of a time shortly after Evelyn was born that we had all gathered as a family at some event. Matt had told her that he was so excited to have his own family now. He was looking forward to the times we would be able to hang out, and being able to watch our families grow together. Matt had a rough time in his late teens and 20s, there were a lot of times his family members would go a long time without seeing him. It was after Evelyn's birth that he started to feel the importance of family again. To appreciate just how important the family unit was, and felt remorse for missing those years he was away.

There was a point in the night I was in the kitchen and the rest of the crew was dancing in my living room ... possibly to Don't Stop Believing. I was looking over their faces, feeling so blessed that they continue to let me in as part of their family. I was overwhelmed that I was able to marry into such a loving, fun, and beautiful family. I was sad Matt wasn't with us, but so overjoyed that we were still dancing despite our loss of him, because he would have wanted nothing more.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Good Ol' Maggie Mags

It just wouldn't be right if I were to make the effort to write down memories of Matt and I were to leave out his love of animals. I could go so many directions with this post, it is almost hard to know where to start. I think though, out of respect for his most recent pet, it is only right if I talk a little about our dog Maggie.
Technically speaking Maggie was a Valentine's Day present for me, or at least that is what Matt said. It was February 13, 2010 when Evelyn and I walked in the house after coming home for the day that we saw Matt sitting on the living room floor with the most adorable, little yellow lab. I immediately teared up, and it was not because Maggie was so cute. I teared up because I could not believe Matt had gotten us a dog. There I was stunned and standing in our entry way with Evelyn in my arms. She turns to me, slaps her hands on both sides of my cheeks and exclaims
Mommy, a puppy! It's a puppy Mommy!
Well, after that there was no arguing about whether or not the dog was staying. And although I was fearful about the responsibilities that came along with a dog, Matt was utterly faithful in taking care of everything to do with Maggie. Up until this point Matt and I always had cats. We had four to be exact; Yellow, Blue, Simon, and Blue Two. And Matt loved those cats with all his heart, but it wasn't until we had Maggie I knew just how good Matt was with animals. He had such a good way with her. He trained her, disciplined her, loved her, played with her, and cuddled her with amazing love. He had this way of calling her name, in his low and loud voice, "MAAA ... GGGGGGIIIIIEEEEE". I wish I had the ability to call her the way he did, maybe I would have better luck in getting her to listen to me now a days.
A memory that I always recall about Maggie is from a day Matt and I were both at home, taking a day off to rest together. For the most part I wasn't a fan of allowing Maggie into our bed. On this day Matt and I were spending the day in bed watching movies. Matt would get up to get to get some food or go to the bathroom, and I could sense something was going on, but I couldn't figure out what. He would crawl to the top of the covers, way up by the pillow, and then shuffle down off the end of our bed. It seemed strange, but Matt was a little strange, so I didn't think a lot of it. So after a movie or so, I hear him whisper, "Shhhh, stay down". I look over and for the first time that day realized that there next to Matt was a rather large lump under the covers. I remember laughing so hard, and then Matt laughing. He pulls back the covers, and there under the duvet was Maggie. She was curled down in a little ball completely covered trying to hide from Momma. I don't know how he got her to lay so still, for so long, but she seemed to always do exactly what he wanted her to. I ended up letting Maggie snuggle with us that day.
When Matt first died I struggled for months on what would be best for Maggie. We now lived in a town home, and there was far less places for Maggie to run. I had so much on my plate, and balancing caring for a dog seemed daunting at times. Not to mention the amount of time Matt would spend playing catch with her each day, and how it seemed unfair for her to have such a change in a workout routine. I struggled for months on whether or not a different home for Maggie would be best for all of us, but in the end I came to the conclusion that we needed her as much as she needed us. I know now I made the right decision.
Maggie still drives me nuts now and again. She always has. I'm not a huge dog lover, and Evelyn is much like her mom. We are fickle when it comes to how much we want to have her around. On the days when Evie and I were loving Maggie up Matt would be bustling around the house announcing to whoever wanted to listen, "Everybody loves the Maggie Mags. Oh the good ol' Maggie Mags. Who couldn't love the Maggie Mags." And on those days Evie and I felt we needed a little extra space you could hear Matt in the same melody declaring on Maggie's behalf, "Nobody loves the Maggie Mags. Poor ol' Maggie Mags. Why won't anybody love the Maggie Mags."
I think that Isaac may just fall in love with Maggie the way that Matt had. I'm teaching the two how to play catch. Right now it leaves a little to be desired ... Isaac will pick up the tennis ball and throw it down; the ball landing about 6 inches in front of him. Maggie will happily pick it up and drop it back down for him. He picks it back up, giggling the whole time, and throws it back down another 6 inches ahead. I see the love for animals Matt had in Isaac already, and I hope someday soon Maggie will have a playmate as good as she once did in Matt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

God Bless The U.S.A.

Matt had a thing for patriotism. He loved the Fourth of July and all the hoopla that comes with it. He loved those good old country songs that speak of being American. I don't know where exactly this came from, I never did inquire further, but this embedded patriotism made for some good memories.

The first one that comes to mind is our trip to the Black Hills, which is where we got married. He had this childlike excitement about seeing the monuments that idolize our nation. When we went to the 'light up the night' event at Mount Rushmore he video taped the whole thing. Not Evie and I - the movie and park ranger who spoke ... probably not one of our more exciting videos. On the way out of the park he stopped at the gift shop and insisted on purchasing three posters of the Presidential faces. I did my best to encourage him against it, thinking to myself that I could do without one of these posters framed in my home, let alone three. And for the record ... two of the three ended up hanging in our garage; one above his office door.

And then there was the singing. I'm not sure if it was by chance, or if he brought the CD on purpose, but we a copy of Lee Greenwood's God Bless The USA on the trip. Now this song had always been a favorite of Matt and I's, mostly because we knew all the words and could sing it whenever, no music needed. But on this trip he played it relentlessly. I remember poor Evelyn, only two at the time, begging us to stop the singing. We had so much fun with it though, it was inconceivable to stop. We took a road trip around the parks one day, and every time we would spot Rushmore in the background we would belt out the tune.

So for your listening pleasure ... God Bless The USA

The other most distinct memory of Matt and his patriotism was the American flag he constructed out of Christmas lights. I haven't the slightest clue how he came up with the idea, but the project started as a display for Memorial Day and wasn't ready until Independence Day. He used a green plastic garden fencing, and spent hours and hours weaving tiny Christmas lights around each edge. The end result was impressive, to say the least, but what a trip it was for all of us in getting there.

There wasn't just the construction that took attention to detail; there was the hanging, storing, and repairing that all beckoned for his attention each time a holiday came up with the need for it. It is hard to believe, but I can't seem to find a picture of that flag anywhere ... I will have to keep looking (*see below for update*:). The flag was truly a beautiful thing.

My dear friends who were kind enough to get a team (and that is what it took) over to tear down Christmas lights last spring have been 'storing' the flag for me. Since there is no way I could ever take care of this thing, and I'm thinking my friends don't want the responsibility either, I will sell it to the highest bidder ;)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Let's Play Hockey

Behind our home in Chanhassen we had a pond. You could call it a pond; I think technically, however, it was a city drain off. From the time we moved into our home, before the snow even had a chance to melt, Matt had a desire to make something of that little pond. He let our dog Maggie swim in that water, which was not something I was none too fond of. He bought a small blow up boat to take the kids on short journey's up and down the water. He liked that pond. The first spring we were in the home, along with help from the neighbors, Matt proceeded to take down all the cattails surrounding the pond in order to ease it's appearance.

It was the second winter we were in the house he decided to build a skate rink out of the pond. I loved the idea. When I was a kid we flooded the two gardens in the back of our house a couple years in order to to do the same. I should have known though, that when Matt decided to make a skating rink, that it was going to end up being the best rink within city limits that winter.

He spent countless hours out back that winter. He would flood the rink, smooth it, and shovel it. He spent a week building up the snow around the edges, then taking the hose to those mounds in order to make it more official with 'boards'. With flood lights on each end we had a chance to enjoy that rink a few times that winter. The neighbors, all our kids, and us would get dressed up in our warmest and take to the ice.

Evie was pretty comfortable on skates. Matt would have her hold a hockey stick and skate backwards, as she held on to work on balance. I didn't have a chance to take her skating last winter, and this winter isn't looking too hopeful for ice rinks yet, but I hope that she learns to skate. I look forward to telling her about daddy's extravagant home made pond rink, and the times he helped teach her how to skate.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Old Wooden Island

If you were to go into my basement today you would find an old wooden kitchen island being used as a TV stand. It isn't the most beautiful piece of furniture in the world, but it is probably my most loved piece of furniture. I often think of that table as the island Matt and I fell in love around.

When I met Matt he had it placed in the center of his kitchen. I suppose it was because this was the place the drinks got poured, but it was always the place everyone gravitated to. People were always coming and going, eating and drinking, dancing and living life big around Matt's house - and it all centered around this kitchen island.

I loved that kitchen island, I loved that kitchen. I loved helping Matt entertain there. Making food and drinks, chatting and having fun. It was the dancing though that I loved the most. Matt was a fool for techno music. He had his entire home wired to his stereo; each room with a volume controller, and hours of unending techno music always rolling. If Matt walked into a room and the volume wasn't on a ten, he would walk right over and turn it up (It was usually me turning them down after he left the room).

So here we were in this beautiful lake home, loud music, drinks, and friends - sounds like a wonderful recipe for dancing. Matt loved to dance, but if you knew Matt at all you would know he was not given the gift of rhythm. The man danced to his own beat, which is part of the reason I think he liked techno so much - it is hard not being able to just jump on time to the booming bass. Matt loved to dance, and so do I. Oh, how I love to dance. Not everyone does though ... So it would often be that people would walk into Matt's house and everyone would be hanging around the kitchen island. And while they were standing around chatting they would be simultaneously dodging Matt and I as we would dance around and around and around that thing for hours.

I loved dancing with him, and I love the old wooden island we fell in love around.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Watch Out Walmart, Here Comes Mattyo

It was about 1 week before I started dating Matt that he had one of his infamous trips to Walmart. I had the pleasure (if you could call it that) of sorting and placing all these purchases into his lake home, he owned prior to ours, for weeks afterwards. Although I wasn't there for that specific trip, I had the pleasure (again, if you could call it that) of experiencing other trips, much the same, throughout the years. And it wasn't just Walmart: Menards, Home Depot, Target, or just about any store with similar qualities could have been a target for his shopping extravaganzas. And when I say it was an experience, I mean just that.

Matt had an extreme case of ADHD. He was not one of those people who it was hard to diagnose; it was obvious and it was intense. He was also compulsive, not OCD necessarily, but more in a 'hyper-focus' sense of the word. If he put his mind to something, it would get done. If he wanted something, he would have it. If he was going to build it, fix it, create it; he would.

So imagine a man, completely free from worry, who didn't leave the house much, entering a world like Walmart. It was a site to see, really. I can best describe it as if he was a foreigner or alien even. He would go into a store, that for other people would seem ordinary, but for him it was a new world. With eyes like a child he would literally fill carts with the most seemingly insane things one could think of.

Now ... I think this post needs little disclaimer here. By no means do I condone these trips. Ethical shopping, financial insanity, and adult irresponsibility could all make a person wonder about his motives. But it was part of who he was, part of what made him Matt, and so I share (but by no means recommend).

Matt once shared with me that he didn't like the feeling of trying to do something around the house and being caught without something that he needed for the task, which is why he would shop like he did. The trip that I spoke about at the beginning was the largest I was aware of him taking. He purchased so many idle trinkets, home goods, personal toiletries, and other stuff I still have some of these things around the house. If you wanted to stay with Matt back in those days, you didn't need to bring a thing. His house was stocked with anything a person could imagine; it ended up being quite the little hotel. I still have the receipt from that trip and it makes me want to cry and laugh a little each time I come across it. The total number of carts he ended up checking out with was always up for debate, but it was somewhere around seven.

My mom and I, to our surprise, came across similar receipts shortly after Matt's death. While cleaning out the house it became obvious that Matt had went to every Menard's in the Twin Cities and bought up each clearance box of Christmas lights the store had. It became somewhat of a Twilight Zone experience for us matching up each of those receipts to the boxes (which we found piled and hidden in the above garage storage area), calling each Menards, and requesting ridiculous returns. Mostly, the employees at Menards were great about it. I can only imagine what the light show would have looked like this year.

Another shopping trip that comes to mind was Matt's first Black Friday outing in 2010. I don't know what made him decide to venture out that year, but he did so with a vengeance. He didn't just purchase a WII; he purchased a WII, 6 controllers, a balance board, a dance mat, 25 plus games, a Rock Band set, accessories, and more. He purchased a full size drum set (although no one we know plays drums), a keyboard, and an electric guitar - amp and all. Not to mention a couple TVs.

It all seems silly. Expensive? Yes. But silly too. If you could have shopped with him you would have understood why this makes my memory list. As adults we rarely have moments of complete childlike innocence. Moments where there isn't a care in the world. Times when fun is the only thing on your mind. Experiences where if you could imagine it, dream it, want it, you could have it. That was what it was like to shop with Matt when he would go all out. That was what it was like with Matt a lot of the time, actually.

Of course, he didn't always fill five carts at the store. Sometimes he would just go, and get what he would need, and that would be it. But that is part of it too. You never knew what you were going to get with Matt. It was always an adventure, and if you got invited on one of his adventures you knew it was going to be grand. That is the way he lived ... Grand!

I came across a receipt from Target just a couple weeks ago when I was going through Matt's coat pockets before donating them. I was excited to see what he had bought, get a glimpse into the day he may have had. I was disappointed at first when I opened it, and realized that because I had washed his coat, there was no printing left on it. And then I laughed. The receipt was easily two feet long. I became aware at once of two things; 1) It didn't matter what he had bought that day, but that he had fun doing it and 2) That it saddened me to know, without a doubt, that I would never get the chance to experience a trip like that again. I imagined him coming home with piles of stuff; organizing, moving, plotting, planning ... just the thought of it all was enough for me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Well, I made it through Christmas. It had it's tough moments, but mostly we were busy. The beginning of February is coming quickly. The beginning of February will mean that Matt will have been gone for 1 year. I can hardly believe it. It is harder now accepting that then it did 6 months ago ... I have no idea why.

February will also mean the 1 year anniversary of my widow's blog. I have decided for a lot of reasons that his death day will be my last post on this site. I will keep writing, just not here. One of the many reasons for this blog over the last year is to give the children something to look to, when they wonder about what it was like when daddy died. I hope that I have given them something substantial; that they will be able to treasure these words, and it will help them better understand this year. There is one thing I feel I have touched on here and there, but haven't devoted a ton of time to, and that is some of my favorite memories of Matt. Matt and I, the kids and Matt, and just Mattyo and all he was as a person. So for January I am going to spend some time doing just that. These last posts will be memories of Matt. Things that I can write down while they are still fresh in my mind, and be able to look back on someday and enjoy.

My first memory, appropriately enough for the date, will be New Year's 2009. We had been in our new home in Chanhassen less than a month. Matt and I continued to rearrange room after room, working to get our home just the way we imagined it to be best. Evelyn just about to turn two years old had fallen in love with the sightly annoying Australian children's sensation The Wiggles.

On New Year's Eve Matt and I stayed in, and worked late into the night on the new house. I was upstairs in the bonus room, organizing and arranging my scrapbooking space. Matt spent a good part of the night working in the garage (because really the most important place to focus one's efforts in a new home is the garage . . . right?) Yet even from across this spanning 3000 sqft home we felt connected. Stopping down from each of our own spaces to show off to each other what the other had done. To ask opinions on where things should go, and what would work the best. We had a blast that New Year's. Taking a break just around midnight to walk out into the cold, and take in our new home together. Counting down in the silent darkness of our new little neighborhood to kiss in the New Year together.

The next morning, tired and worn from all our work, Evelyn promptly woke us at 6am. So in true Mattyo fashion he decided the best way to celebrate a new beginning, in our new home, was with a Wiggles concert! Put on by the three of us, right in our own living room. We all dressed up; Matt in one of his fine blue glittery Tom James suits, Evie in a fairy dress, me in sunglasses and dress up wings. We each were armed with musical instruments, including a microphone. And right there in our living room we put on a little concert. Singing along to Evie's new favorite DVD of The Wiggles - You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.

Matt recorded the whole thing. I wouldn't share it here for anything, mostly because we all look so silly. I watched it last night though. Towards the end, as Evie got bored of our concert, Matt egged her on. He said, "Honey, you better dance it up, because in 25 years daddy is going to play this video on your wedding day." Watching that, hearing that, brought me lots of tears. I love that memory though; really, really love it.