Friday, October 28, 2016

10 Years

For someone who is a writer, I can't seem to find the words to describe our love, a love that officially turns 10 years old today. To put it simply, this I can say. We are the definition of soulmates, and we bring out the best version of each other.

Happy 10th wedding anniversary to the Wandering La Vignes! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Currently: October

Disclaimer: This post will be a little vague, but someday, I will fill in all the blanks. The ambiguous version is that these past few months, J has had a pretty serious medical issue related to his lifelong Crohn’s disease (yes, even when he was climbing mountains). Part of resolving the issue happened recently. Together we endured quite possibly the hardest week of our lives, but we got through it and are moving forward!!!
Currently living/working in: Finished up teaching kids environmental education at Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and moving into the Fenton Ranch caretaker role. J has to stay in Denver for a few weeks, but I am returning to New Mexico to fill our caretaker role stag for the time being. 

Current mood: Grateful for SO many things. 

Currently excited about: It feels good to be on the other side of this medical issue that has really been looming over our heads since March. The road to recovery for J may be a long, bumpy road, but we are getting there. 

Currently not excited about: While I am thoroughly excited about my solo book-writing time, I am not excited about being apart from J again, especially on our 10th wedding anniversary!!!

Currently worried about: There were a lot of things I could worry about related to the medical stuff. However, my mom taught me to take things one day, or one minute at a time, and worrying is like a being in a rocking chair; you’re going to get nowhere. So I took her advice and didn’t let my head go all the way to that deep dark place of constant worry. 

Currently thankful for:  Our friends (and family!). We needed our friends more than we realized this month and they far exceeded our expectations for being good buds. Also, we had an amazing medical team working on J! 

Currently proud of: My husband. He could write the book on being a rockstar patient. 

Currently regretting: Not enjoying high school more (see my last post about my 20-year high school reunion). What the heck was wrong with me??? 

Currently amazed by: New Mexico’s fall. I am an East Coast gal who grew up loving the fireworks displayed by the fall trees. When we lived in New Hampshire for 4 years, I became spoiled by those fall fireworks exploding just a little more. New England’s fall can never be beat, but I’ve developed a special place in my heart for a West Coast tree—the aspen. Their golden leaves paired with their stark white bark against a blue sky is something magical!

Current confession: Mrs. Gibbles, our New Mexico feral-turned-domestic cat, has 2 kittens!!! We suspected she had just given birth when we got there in August. But we searched and searched and never found any kittens. Right before we left to come back to Denver, she brought them to us. I am hoping they are still around when I return! 
Current guilty pleasure: We’ve been in Denver this week staying with J’s mom, who has TV (with lots of channels, not like our 2-channel antenna we have in New Mexico). In any case, I’ve been binge watching “This Is Us” via On Demand. I love it and it makes me cry every time and I’ve needed a good cry this week! 

Currently reading: Trying to get through Crazy Free: An Epic Spiritual Journey by Melissa Wyld. I think it was a freebie we picked up on the Kindle. It is way hokey, but I am trying to give it a fair shot. I am only at 26 percent. At what point should I give up? 

Currently watching on Netflix: Thanks to snail mail, J and I enjoyed 2 movies/week the first few weeks in October in New Mexico. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Class of 1996

Last Saturday was my 20th high school reunion. 20 years! I graduated high school 20 years ago. Inconceivable.
But I digress.

I didn't love high school. Our nephew just started high school and I worry for him. If I had to repeat high school--especially in this day and age--I would have pigeon-sized butterflies swimming in my stomach.

High school did not offer the best years of my life. I actually think I ran screaming from the double doors on the last day of classes. This was the message I wrote on my class banner. I was as bitter as a crab apple.
"Class of '96, 
I hope you all grow up someday, but I doubt it. Good luck anyway! 
Patrice E. Kopec"

I'm not sure why I disliked high school so much. It was just a weird time for me. I wrote this in my diary 4 months into my freshman year: "I'm finally adjusting to high school, but I hate all the fights, peer pressure and smoke." Sounds like the best of times, huh?

I had a few cards stacked against me when I entered as a freshman. I had braces, four eyes, remnants of a bad perm, I laughed a little too much and I was still waiting for puberty to happen. To give you a better picture of the puberty part, I'll share this gem. The summer prior to starting high school, I gained a nickname because of a hot pink bikini I wore: Pink Floyd's "The Wall." I came from a small Catholic school--very small, as in 6 people in my graduating class--to a large public school (~300 in my class). I had no idea how to effectively change classes or open a locker (something about turning the mini wheel twice past zero??). Instead, I made my scoliosis worse by carrying around five huge textbooks because the thought of trying to get from A to B with a stop at my locker within the 4 minutes allotted between classes seemed superhuman. With my newfound freedom to wear something other than a plaid dress uniform and knee-high blue socks, I had a calendar dedicated to planning out my outfits, down to perfume choice.

I ranked low on the hierarchy built on sports, extra curricular activities, smarts, fashion sense, looks and clowning around. I was bookish, just not in the valedictorian way. I memorized WWII dates, struggled through Calculus and dissected a frog. I ran track and played field hockey, but was often benched. Seriously, my track coach would send my friend Amanda and I out for a long run on our own because he didn't care about fine-tuning our form (for the record, either did we. We would run to a friend's house and hang out, then return to practice claiming we ran 3 miles).

Despite all this, I wasn't entirely unpopular and more importantly, I survived. People told me they remember me as one of the most genuine and thoughtful gals in the class. In fact, my very good male friend, Matt, pulled me aside to tell me just how much he valued my friendship in high school. His kind words almost brought me to tears (J needs to step up his game). In any case, I needed that reassurance after reading what I wrote on my class banner!

You may be asking why in the world I would have wanted to attend my high school reunion if I felt so strongly about those formative years. I was wondering the same thing. Here are 4 reasons why I decided to go:

1) I didn't have the nerve to go to my 10-year reunion, because, well, that's just High School Part 2.  The statue of limitations on harboring ill feelings toward anyone usually expires around 20 years. Truthfully, I have changed dramatically since high school and even in the last 10 years. I feel pretty proud of the life I've built. I knew I could confidently walk the halls (so to speak).

2) Aren't we all curious? The popular people actually live ordinary lives! But they still won't give you the time of day. Oh, and my high school crush lost hair and gained a belly. How's that for retribution? I really need to tell my nephew that whatever you do to be cool in school won't mean jack days after graduation.

3) Facebook allows us all to "keep in touch" pretty well, but status updates are not real conversations. Face time (not the ap) is good for our health and very few events these days allow us the opportunity to really reconnect with people.

4) J and I share everything these days, but it's nice to take a walk down pre-couple memory lane in an effort to learn even more about each other. It only forges a stronger bond.

If you are on the fence about attending your own reunion, I say go. I had fun. There were only a handful of my fellow grads (50/300) who attended, and very few of my friends, but I am still glad I went!

Best friends then, best friends now. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Birthday Celebrations

Once upon a time, I told Justin that my 20-year high school reunion (more on that in another post) was taking place in New Jersey the week of his birthday and I really wanted to go. Not only did I want him to accompany me to the reunion, I didn't want to leave him for his special day.

"Spend my birthday in New Jersey??? EEEEEEW," was basically his response.

Given it was his big 4-0, I wanted to make as big of a deal as I could. If we stayed in New Mexico for his birthday, we would just be working. I couldn't even take him out for a nice meal, since we live in the middle of nowhere.

I sweetened the deal for a trip to New Jersey as much as I could.

"I'll throw you a birthday party with all your friends," I tempted. "And, let's go down to Atlantic City for a little getaway." If only there was a From Good Home concert and he would have been immediately sold.

Thankfully, he took the bait and off to New Jersey we went last week.

The week started with a birthday party hosted at his buddy's house. I've mentioned this on the blog before, but J attended a private high school in New Jersey (Seton Hall Prep). Most of us walk away with only a handful of good, lifelong friends from high school, but I am always amazed at the solid high school group of friends still in tact after 20+ years. The truth is, these guys can't end their friendships because they have so much dirt on each other. Kidding (or truth) aside, they are good eggs and are present for each other. A few of these guys drove from several hours away to come out and celebrate (missed you Beef!).

The Seton Hall Prep family has grown considerably, as J's friends are very prolific.
One of the boy's daughters even shares a birthday with J!

The Seton Hall Prep crew wasn't the only family we saw while in New Jersey (some not pictured). 
Our niece and my sister share October birthdays with J, so there was even more reason to celebrate together! 
 My aunt and uncle were in from Alaska the same week and brought my Nana out for a lunch date. 
Justin has known these 2 family friends since he was a teenager! 

The party wasn't the only way to celebrate. We treated ourselves to a 2-night getaway in Atlantic City. Even though I grew up in New Jersey, I have not spent a lot of time down in AC. It has had its ups and downs, but I was pleasantly surprised. We took long walks on the beach and boardwalk, ate seafood and tried our luck in the casinos. Let's just say we made a small donation to them. The birthday boy's usual card-playing luck was noticeably absent. 

All in all, I am happy to report, J was pleased with his birthday celebrations and keeps saying how memorable everything was for this 40th. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy 40th Birthday Justin!

Today, Justin turns 40.

My first impression of J was that he was "so cool." His smile won me over almost immediately ... and it still does. Even though we are going on 10 years married (Oct. 28), I am not surprised I fall deeper and deeper in love with Justin as every year passes.

I thought one of the best ways to wish him a happy birthday would be to recant the story of how I met him, since I never put it in writing!

It is 7pm on August 14 and the outdoor temperatures are still in the 90s. I pull up to my regular Wednesday night meeting with the Take A Hike Club of Arizona at Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe. 

The average age of Take A Hike members is 35, so I am one of the youngest members at age 24. Tonight I am flying solo, as my good friend, Amy, can't make the meeting.

The club follows the usual agenda: drinks, mingling, club business and upcoming trips. They end the "meeting" by asking if anyone is new to the club.

A young man my age stands tall and follows the drill about telling where he is from and his favorite hobbies.

"My name is Justin and I just moved from New Jersey to go to grad school at ASU," my heart skips a beat as he speaks. "I love music, hiking, camping and rock climbing."

After the meeting officially closes and more socializing ensues, I beeline to Justin.

"Hi, I'm Patrice and I'm from Jersey too!" I offer excitedly.

"Oh, hi." he smiles. 

We do the usual exchanges about Jersey (contrary to what people think, we do NOT ask what exit). As it turns out, we spent our most formative years not knowing each other just miles away from each other in NJ. I wouldn't be surprised if we crossed paths at Mennen Arena or a diner. 

Our conversation that first night in August 2002 was flowing like a river and I'd like to say we closed down the bar, but Justin had to leave at 10pm to go tutor. A girl. In Statistics. At 10pm. A girl. At 10pm. 

I left thinking, gosh this guy is cute and way cool, but he is most likely dating this "girl he is tutoring." 

Weeks later in September, I went back to a Wednesday Take A Hike meeting. As I was walking into the bar with my friend Amy, I saw Justin pull up in a parking spot. He smiled and waved as he passed me in the lot. 

"My Jersey crush is here! My Jersey crush is here!" I felt like I just won the lottery as I shook Amy's shoulders with fury. 

After the regular meeting, Justin and I cornered a private table at the bar and got to know each other a little better. He told stories about his friend's band in NJ and all the shows. What I knew about music at the time could fit into a fortune cookie, but I smiled and nodded like I did. Despite my lacking knowledge, we hit it off again. 

"Do you want to go for a hike together sometime?" I suggested innocently, still unaware if he was dating this girl he was tutoring. 

We made plans to get together (as friends) on October 13, 2002. 

Our date started at 11am. We never did go hiking. We just sat and talked for hours. I discovered a lot about him on that first get together. I discovered he wanted to someday thru hike the Appalachian Trail. I discovered he wanted to someday visit Alaska. I discovered that he wasn't dating that girl he was tutoring. I discovered he was my soulmate. 

As they say, the rest is history. 

Happy 40th to the man who always dreams bigger than anyone can imagine, always has a comeback, always makes a joke, always puts others before himself and always has my heart. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Backpacking New Mexico: Calaveras Canyon

If there is one thing we've learned about living in New Mexico, it is that there is no shortage of outdoor opportunities. However, our fall teaching schedule has been a little busier than our springtime teaching schedule was--especially with some weekend work--so escaping has been more difficult.

The good news is, Santa Fe National Forest is in our backyard. Literally, 100 yards from our door.

Knowing we only had one night free last weekend and not wanting to drive anywhere, we decided a backyard backpacking trip was in order. So we walked to a nondescript trailhead up the road and dipped into Calaveras Canyon.
Once through the ponderosa trees and a livestock gate, the isolated canyon opens to serene meadows peppered by interesting rock formations, shapes like skulls and gorillas.

We selected a basecamp backcountry campsite and took off to explore deeper into the canyon and its offshoots. We traveled about 15 miles total, but feel we could go back and traverse even more. What we found were aspen tree groves and mountain lion prints--both equally exciting. The aspens haven't quite turned in this area, but many were getting ready to go.

The mountain lion may have been elusive, but the cow were not. We felt unbothered by them when we saw them way down the canyon at nightfall. By morning, though, they wanted to get a little cozier.
We have a few more canyons to scout in our backyard and hopefully we can get out there just in time for the aspens' full fire dance.