Katie Strumpf
"Helping kids with cancer.......a cancer survivor's story"  

Homeland

They say home is where the heart is.

Despite being born in the Palmetto State, I am, and always will be, a Maryland girl at heart. A crab feast beats an oyster roast any day; Ocean City waves trump Sullivan’s ripples, Berger cookies over Benne Seed Wafers, Terps over Tigers.

Despite these Maryland superiorities, I have made the picturesque Charleston my home, and I am lucky to do so.

 That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my Maryland, and D.C. sometimes.

 I miss being close to my immediate family, having my brother over for dinner once a week, going home to Annapolis almost every Sunday.

I recently started watching Homeland, and suffice to say, it made me nostalgic for home. I relish the seeing familiar sites of our nation’s capital that was my stomping ground.

 A flash of Rock Bottom brewery and I can practically taste the pretzel/spinach dip combo that was a staple of Friday girls’ happy hour.

 The stunning view of the Capitol and I am transported back to running laps there after work and before my nighttime grad school class.

 I miss home (as I still call it), yet when I was there, I longed for Charleston.

 Over the winter I went home to Annapolis and to Bethesda to show my condo to potential tenants, a condo that I lived in for 5 years and loved, yet haven’t been near since I moved over 2 years ago.

 Opening the door to the condo was a bit surreal, while it held wonderful memories, it also held trying times. The empty halls echoed with the sounds of a different life.

 But it didn’t make me as upset as I thought it would, and for that, I was relieved.

 I try to picture myself riding the Metro to work, going out in Dupont Circle, sunning out at the Parkside pool.

 I just can’t see it anymore.

 While watching the inauguration on T.V. in a different state was a novelty, I realized that I am exactly where I belong.

 That I have made Charleston my home.

 I’ve traded the Metro for a 5-minute commute on my beach cruiser. (Which I am also known to ride around in heels.), the bay for the beach, Down Dog Yoga for Charleston Power Yoga, black pants for seersucker pants, a 2-bedroom condo for my tiny King Street apartment, Georgetown Cupcake for Sugar cupcakes.

 Though I miss the bustle, the intellect, the politics of D.C. metropolitan area, the abundance of food trucks, I don’t miss the intensity.

 I’m intense enough as it is, and I find that the laid-back lifestyle of Charleston suits me.

 If home is where the heart is, then my heart is in two places.

I’m OK with that, as I have always kinda been all over the place, anyway.

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:50 AM on May 8, 2013 | Comments (0)



Stitched Together

It had arrived.

No, not yet another pair of shoes, though I do love opening shoe boxes!

This was far more precious than any pair of strappy stilettos, any buttery brown boots.

It was Adam's t-shirt quilt.

After Adam passed away and before I moved to Charleston, I wasn't sure what to do with the countless t-shirts Adam had, (but respected his appreciation for copious amounts of clothes!), and his Aunt Judy offered to turn them into a quilt. I loved this idea.

But beautiful and thougtful creations take time, and his aunt lovingly sewed together this cozy creation that captured Adam's zany and sentimental self. I picked out all his favorite t-shirts, and they are now stitched together and each one reminds me of a different aspect, memory, or quirk of Adam.

It is the ultimate gift of warmth.

A Charleston friend who never met Adam said that the quilt gave her a glimpse into who Adam was, what he valued, where he had been. Her insightful and kind sentiment touched me, as she recognized the quilt's significance, Adam's significance.

Its delivery prompted me to ponder...that I am not so different from the quilt myself.

Adam's death left me torn apart, cut into pieces, and yet slowly, surely sewn back together.

In a better world, those t-shirts would have been worn for much longer. Yet that was not their fate, but instead to be sewn together into something new. 

I feel the same way; I had plans, dreams, and hopes for a life one way, but that was not my fate.

Instead I was sewn together into something new, taking the pieces of me to fit together into this new life.

I am not the same woman who packed up those t-shirts over 2.5 years ago. She was scared, tired, yet hopeful for a new path, a new life.

Now I have that new life, for which I am grateful.

I have a completely different life than I did at this time 2 years ago, I was just starting out in Charleston.

Now I have carved out an identity, a home, a life in Charleston.

I have fallen in love, which I wasn't sure I would be able to do, wasn't sure I would get so lucky to do again.

I met this amazing man at a party in which he didn't know the host, was brought (dragged) by his friend Adam who works at a childhood cancer foundation.

Sometimes the universe sends you a sign, and if you are smart enough, you will pick up on it.

I saw the sign (I can't help but hum Ace of Base while typing that) but wasn't sure I was ready for it, for him.

Turns out, I was.

I couldn't help but fall for him, and I continue to do so. His depth of character, maturity, and compassion amaze and inspire me.

He accepts my past, my feelings for Adam, he simply accepts me.

I actually received the t-shirt quilt while he was over, and was touched at his interest, kindness, and comfort with what had to be a bit weird for him.

I strive to respect him, what we have, while also honoring my unique situation, my memories and love for Adam.

As they often do, some song lyrics recently resonated with me, Fun's Carry On:

If you're lost and alone
Or you're sinking like a stone
Carry on
 May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
Carry on

Because all we can do, all I can do, is carry on. 
So carry on I shall. 
While also making no apologies for embracing this new path, for living my life with zest.
For being me, stitched back together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 9:29 PM on February 7, 2013 | Comments (0)



Big Sis, Little Sis.

To say that I adore my sister is an understatement.

I think she is the cutest, smartest, sassiest, funniest little sister there is.

 It wasn’t always this way, I wasn’t a big fan of her when she was first born.

 To be honest (when am I anything but?) I wasn’t really very interested in her when she was a baby, I had my little brother, and in my 9-year old world, this was enough.

In fact, apparently a family friend asked if I wanted a little brother or sister when my mom was pregnant with my brother, to which I promptly replied, “A brother obviously, so then I can get all of the family jewels.”

 Clearly (Frighteningly?) my materialistic priorities were in order at a young age, so what did I need with a little sister with whom I would have to share baubles?

 That attitude quickly changed, and I saw my sister had a lot to offer.

 She was the first person to show up the day we found out that Adam was terminal.

 In many ways we are similar; outspoken, philanthropic, opinionated, good dancers, lovers of red meat.

 We put the exact same toppings on at frozen yogurt places; strawberries and mini dark chocolate chips. (For the record, I introduced her to that delicious combo.)

We are also very different, she is much more athletic than me, more adventurous, puts on eyeliner better, more compassionate, a better dancer, likes Broadway plays more, smarter.

She taught me how to Dougie. 

 I am 9 years older than Ariel, but there have been several times since Adam’s passing that she has acted like the big sister to me.

I love that she has a picture of her and Adam in her room. 

 Tomorrow my baby sister takes the MCATs, and on Sunday she leaves for Israel, to teach English for 10 months.

 While home this past weekend, I quizzed her on definitions for the MCATs. I could barely pronounce some of the words, yet she flawlessly detailed the definitions.

 To say I am proud and in awe of my sister is an understatement.

 This past Saturday our dad had a Kiddush at our synagogue in Annapolis to celebrate my sister’s impending trip.

 She and I were both asked to read prayers in front of the synagogue, luckily in English.

 There was some confusion when I was up there, and the President of the synagogue kept whispering behind me as I read, “Start..Stop, Start…Stop.” Suffice to say I did just that and looked and sounded pretty foolish.

 I wasn’t too concerned, but Ariel asked me if she sounded nervous, or was stumbling over words?

 I assured her she didn’t, and besides, anything would sound better after me!

 But isn’t that the very role of the big sister; to go first, to make things easier, better for their little sister?

 Every time I said; “Start..Stop” over the next few days, Ariel would dissolve into laughter.

 Her laugh is one of the best sounds in the world.

 We kept hearing the song “Some Nights” by Fun, and this song will now always remind me of that weekend, as songs often do. The chorus recites:

 “What do I stand for?”

 So as my sister embarks on this exciting new path in life, and finds out what she stands for…. in Israel, as a potential doctor, as the amazing person she is and is becoming…

 I will watch as her proud big sister, for I will always stand for her.

For those wondering, I inherited better jewelry than her.

Just in case anyone was curious.

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 4:48 PM on August 22, 2012 | Comments (0)



Pink Nausea

I was annoyed with Komen long before they shot themselves in their (pink-encased) foot last week. 

Not to mention disgusted by their blatant disregard for cancer-preventative measures. 

I was annoyed with Komen because of their pink explosion.

From a branding standpoint, they did an incredible job of putting their signature pink ribbon on just about anything. 

Yet, I found myself intentionally not buying yogurt with the pink ribbon on the lid. Even if it did have one of my favorite flavors.

Don't get me wrong, I fully support breast cancer research and funding. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, Adam lost his mom to breast cancer, and Adam's aunt is a breast cancer survivor. 

But when did Komen stop being about breast cancer funding and more about trendy pink ribbons on granola bars and tight tank tops?

Part of my frustration lies in the fact that there are countless other cancers that don't get the attention of breast cancer, because their ribbons aren't pretty in pink and because let's face it, breasts are sexy, and sexy sells.

Something like brain cancer, with it's drab gray awareness ribbon, is not so sexy.

But last time I checked, everyone has a brain. Perhaps that should be the tagline for the National Brain Tumor Association.

I think it is high time that the countless other cancers, brain, skin, prostate, ovarian, etc get the attention and funding they deserve.

Not because their respective ribbons look cute as cookies, but because cancer is a real, present, and deadly killer of countless lives.

Which is why it is so important to be participate in "Adam's Army" as part of the 5K Race for Hope in to raise money for brain tumor research. In my gray tank top with Adam's quote:

"It is enough for me to know that I did indeed make that positive impact"

I will now step off my soapbox.

It's gray, in case you were wondering.adamsarmy.jpg

 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 4:24 PM on February 6, 2012 | Comments (0)



Giving Thanks

"Think of one person you are thankful for on this day of thanks."

One of my favorite yoga instructors, Jess, said this in the morning yoga class last Thursday.

My mind immediately went to Adam, for he was truly the best person I have ever known.

But that is the difficult part, he was. He was a person, and now he is gone.

Therein lies the most chilling reality.

Yet, I still found myself thankful, thankful for Adam coming into my life and falling in love with me. I am thankful for the love shared, I know our connection and the depth of our love was rare. I loved before Adam, but never to the extent that I loved him. As more time passes, I have a greater appreciation and thanks for this love.

I hear others complain about their significant others, their gripes, and frustrations. This is not to say I was never frustrated with Adam, because of course I was at times. (There is no way he was never frustrated with me, either!) However, I realize more and more since his passing that we truly had something rare, incredibly special, and unique.

Which is why I felt sad the other day when I couldn't remember what kind of milk he liked in his cereal. Not that it matters anymore, but I wanted to remember.

I am thankful for Adam, because he truly showed me what love is, and how a relationship should be. I feel so grateful to have experienced this depth of love so young in life, and this shapes me as I move forward. I of course don't expect the next man I fall in love with to be the same as Adam, that would be unfair and unrealistic. But, I know the caliber of relationship I will want, the kind of partner I will want to be, when I am ready.

I reflected on last year's Thanksgiving, which was just a few months after Adam's passing. I also went to a yoga class, where I had to lay my face down on the mat because I was crying.

Later that afternoon, I moved my wedding band and engagement ring to my right hand. I wasn't ready to let them go completely.

I almost didn't go to our family friend's Thanksgiving dinner, because I was so upset and could not stop crying.

But, I went. I barely remember being there.

This Thanksgiving, I was in a new city, live in a new place, have a new life. I no longer wear a wedding band or engagement ring, yet a part of me will always be Adam's wife.

For this I am thankful.

 

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Posted by Katie Strumpf at 2:14 PM on November 30, 2011 | Comments (0)



A New Norm

I heard the familiar strains of the song, but before I could react, the instructor hastily turned it off.

I was in yoga, and the song was Gotta Have You by the Weepies, otherwise known as Adam and I’s song.

I am lucky that the instructor, Sarah, is so compassionate that she remembered the effect this song had on me before, remembers my weeping as it played this past winter on the 6-month mark of Adam’s passing.

Except this time, it didn’t have that effect.

I didn’t want to weep, instead I found myself smiling.

To say I have changed since that day this past winter is an understatement; I have been forced to change, to grow, to gain an even better sense of self than I ever fathomed. (And I think I had a pretty good sense of self before).

I have been forced to heal, and heal I have.

I have always prided myself on good sense of self, of knowing who I am, and being comfortable in my own skin. For better or for worse, this is who I am. That was yet another thing that drew me to Adam, his comfort in himself, who he was, how he presented himself to the world.

Yet for a while, my identity was defined by Adam, how he was doing, how he was feeling, his treatment, etc. How I was doing depended on how Adam was doing, and it could change in an instant depending on his current state.

I say this not to complain, but as an honest reflection of that time. Adam would have done the same for me had the roles been reversed. Watching him go through that hellacious protocol was heart-wrenching, as was not being able to protect him from cancer.

But when you are a caregiver, you lose a bit of yourself. I know it happened to my parents when I had cancer, and I know it happened to me when Adam was sick. It is just part of the territory.  You don’t focus on it, you just get on with it, as the one you love is sick and you are determined for them to get better.

But I know I lost myself, I lost myself in Adam’s cancer. I thought about it constantly (how could I not?), I researched protocols, I emailed with doctors, befriended nurses,  talked to the insurance company, slept in countless hospitals, kicked a doctor out of Adam’s room for having a bad bedside manner.

At the time I worked for a nonprofit that helped seriously ill-children and found myself in the same position as the parents I interacted with on a daily basis, the position of caregiver. Despite the incredible mission of this organization, I was not supported during this trying time, and I was in a constant state of stress.

 On the surface I appeared as the picture of control and calmness, because when in a crisis, my strategy is to get on with it. Or as I like to say, "Shut your pi-hole and buck up."

Except that crisis lasted almost a year.

I became too thin, I rarely slept, worried constantly, was tired all the time. Those close to me knew that I was barely treading water, Adam often commented that he was worried about me.  I  have since read journal entries of his that reflect this worry, how he didn’t know how I got up every morning.

The irony is that I was thinking the same of him.

Now I live in a new city, have a new job, and Adam is no longer here. I have accepted this new life, have embraced it. After all, I chose it. I chose to move, to rebuild.

My life is no longer spent in hospitals, at an unsupportive job, being a caregiver and advocate for Adam. I no longer wait anxiously for the results of his most recent MRI, I know the outcome.

When I look back on that time I am not resentful, but proud of the way Adam and I handled such a trying time, (particularly him, seeing as he was actually fighting cancer and never complained) I am grateful for the moments of joy and happiness we found during that horrible time.

I still find many moments of joy and happiness, I have much for which to be grateful.  

I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not met Adam, been lucky enough to be loved by him.

But Adam, and his illness are no longer the center of my universe.

Nor is my grief.

I don’t find myself writing as frequently about the trials of being a young widow, of starting a new chapter of life. For this, I know I am healing.

So when I heard Gotta Have You, the sense of sadness and panic did not settle over me as it had before, did not render me motionless, save for my tears.

It made me remember, smile, and feel grateful.

One day I will write another book, a book about Adam and I, our sad history with cancer, our love. I have been writing it off and on in my mind for a while. 

But for now, I am writing the next chapter of my life.

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2011 | Comments (0)



The World Spins Madly On

Of all the dates I have feared, this date invoked the most fear. I dreaded it more than any of the other landmark days.

Yesterday was the one-year mark of Adam's passing. I can't believe that 365 days have gone by without Adam. But gone by they have, and yet somehow, I am still here standing.

Adam and I's song was the Weepies, Gotta Have You. Whenever I hear the Weepies, I am transported back to that summer that we fell in love. Their song, The World Spins Madly On is very fitting right now.

I thought of you, and where you'd gone. And the world spins madly on.

So I approached this day with fear and trepidation. But, I reminded myself that Adam wasn't alive yesterday, and the day before that, and last month, and somehow I made it through that. I tried not to let myself be psyched out by the significance of the day.

But it is hard not to remember what I was doing last year at this time, what happened. That I was living my life in standstill, literally waiting and watching this incredible man that picked me, among all the other women who would have loved to be his, leave this world. I looked back at my journal entry for that day and I wrote:

I feel like I have just been through a war, and another war is starting.

That is quite accurate, I felt like I had been through a war trying to get Adam better, watching him fight so hard to get rid of this damn disease. Then just like that, the war was over, and we surrendered. After he passed away, a new war started, albeit quiet, and less chaotic.

The war was surviving the grief, and fighting my way through it.

But survive I have, and I have tried to navigate this uncertain and isolating experience the best I can. I am so lucky to have so many friends and family supporting me, offering words of encouragement and love. All around, friends and family were doing things to honor Adam, to remember him.

My sister donated her hair to Locks of Love, and did it right around this time of year to honor Adam. She told me she plans to do it at least every other year in his honor. I loved that. I got an email from his oldest friend telling me how he had an very Adam-esque night, and I laughed, because Adam would have loved what he did. A good friend of Adam's that has in turn become a good friend of mine told me her plans to help the homeless on that day, and drink Pinot Noir. Another good friend sent me Georgetown Cupcakes, and when I saw the familiar pink and black box outside my door, I smiled. I cried when I read her note, and then I shoved a chocolate cupcake in my mouth. Grief therapy at its finest.

I received countless emails, texts, phone calls, cards of support from those who knew Adam, and from those who never actually knew Adam, but have gotten to know me, and in turn, have gotten to know Adam. Because although Adam is no longer physically here, I take him, and the life we had together with me. I use it to help guide me, to heal, and rebuild.

But at the end of the day, I am responsible for getting myself through, I am the only one who is in the position of Adam's widow. The person I most want to talk to about how hard it is that Adam is gone is Adam. I have not only lost this loving, sweet, kind man, but also lost my confidante, the one I turned to, the one I confided in. It is a sad irony indeed.

I had originally planned to spend the day at the beach with friends, and paddle-board. Adam rowed in college, and paddle-boarding is something I have recently started doing and really enjoy.

But the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do that. So I listened to my instincts, and told my friends I needed to be alone that day. Because they are good friends, they understood.

I knew on this day, that I needed to be alone with my thoughts. So I did.

I had a great yoga class in which I popped up smoothly into a headstand, which hasn't happened quite so easily before. I felt myself smiling at this yoga triumph. I got an iced coffee from an independent coffee shop (very Adam-eque, he loved being in coffee shops and supporting local businesses before it was trendy to do so.) and filled it with Splenda (not so Adam-esque, seeing as I used to hide the bag of Splenda from him in our pantry).

I spent the day on the beach, reading, swimming, laying out, watching kids play in the surf. I thought of Adam, but I think of Adam a lot every day.

At one point I swam out and cried, but I figured my tears would just blend in with the ocean.

Once I was cried out, I rode a wave in, and swam back to the life I am building in Charleston.

 

adam.jpg

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 2:37 PM on August 22, 2011 | Comments (0)



A Family Affair

We are probably going to  Lewnes for Ariel's birthday dinner.

My little brother Ben told me this over gchat, and I was jealous.

Not just because I want to eat their filet mignon, but because I want to be there with my family. I want to see and hear my sister burst out laughing, I want to be there when my brother gets embarrassed because my sister and I are too loud. I want to be on the receiving end of one of my dad's signature hugs, which convey that he would do anything in the world to protect me.

I want to walk through the garage door into the house I grew up and hear my mom say "Kate?" and see her standing in the kitchen wearing her bathing suit or Under Armour. I want her to ask me a million questions, just like I ask a million questions.

To say I miss my family is understatement.

Until I moved to Charleston, I always lived within 45 minutes or less from my family. I loved that. I loved coming home to Annapolis on Sundays and my mom sending me back with food, meeting my dad out for dinner, loved my brother eating over for dinner about once a week, loved getting sugar-free iced blended mochas with my sister at UMD.

It is also evident I love food. But that is not the point of this blog entry, it is family.

Although the two are instrisincally woven, in my opinion.

Making the decision to move away from my family was hard. Really hard. But, they knew why I needed to go. I think it was a comfort to them that I was going to a city where I have extended family.

Before now, I never lived around my extended family. I was envious of stories Adam would tell about growing up around his cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Now I live around a ton of family.

It is not the same as my immediate family, but it is a huge comfort. I have so many wonderful family members welcoming me, looking out for me, caring for me.

It makes this transition that much easier, and a lot more fun.

I hear my name being called out from an apartment window at the corner of King and Calhoun Street, and look up to see my younger cousin waving to me.

I run into the same cousin carrying a bag of frozen dinners down the street. Despite my just having come from hot yoga, we hug and catch up for a few minutes.

I live half a block from one of my younger cousins, and a half a block in the other direction from a second (third?) cousin's clothing store.

I have an aunt and uncle who are constantly offering help, meals, their pool, cute clothes, their home for six months.

I have another aunt and uncle who send me emails saying they haven't seen me in so long, and I should come over for dinner soon. It had only been a bit over a week since we had seen each other, but it felt long to me, too.

I have a second cousin who has become one of my closest confidantes, and my get-my-tan on partner in crime.

Everywhere I turn, I have a relative looking out for me, supporting me, encouraging me during this time when sometimes I am unsteady, sometimes I am scared.

Ok, often I am scared.

What I envied about Adam, I now have.

I think he would have liked that.

At the beginning of my book, there is a brief dedication to my Mom, Dad, Ben, and Ariel.

It is often said that a family is reflection of oneself. How lucky am I to be a reflection of each of you.

How lucky am I to be a reflection of my family here in the Lowcountry, too.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Charleston-SC-pineapple-fountain.jpg

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 4:11 PM on July 21, 2011 | Comments (0)



Wedding Bells

Congratulations on your special day! This coupon entitles you to 10% of any or all remaining items from your registry.

Thanks, Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Although I do love my coupons, this served as yet another reminder that my wedding date had come and gone, yet there was no wedding.

As I have written before, the milestone dates (Adam's birthday, anniversaries, the 21st of every month, the date we met, etc., etc.) usually make me anxious, and the anticipation building up to the day is often worse then the actual day.

Suffice to say, the days leading up to what would have been my wedding day were no exception.

I felt anxious, sad, and just out of sorts.

Adam and I had to change our wedding date several times (it was originally supposed to be last summer) because of his treatment. We really wanted him to be healthy and strong for the wedding, and able to enjoy the day.

Then last August, we realized Adam being healthy at our wedding wasn't going to be an option.

So we got married when Adam was in hospice. It was sweet, sad, hopeful, yet very us. It gave new meaning to the vow "in sickness and in health."

I wasn't even offended when Adam threw up right after he said his vows.

I was a newlywed, and less then two weeks later, I was a widow.

I have never been a big wedding person, I like going to weddings, but I think the wedding industry has gotten out of control. Adam and I were planning something simple, classy, and about celebrating our love with family and friends, not about color coordination or centerpieces.

While I was so looking forward to wearing my beautiful dress and walking down the aisle to Adam's smiling face, it was everything beyond that walk that I was most looking forward to.

No, I am not talking about the champagne, cake(s) and dancing, although I was most certainly looking forward to all of those.

It was walking through life with Adam.

So back to the days leading up to my wedding date, which would have been a few weeks ago. Like the other milestones, I tried to do something nice for myself.

I got a mani/pedi with a good friend.

I had a shrimp burrito for lunch.

I fell asleep on a raft in the pool.

I met another good friend for a drink that perfectly matched my mani/pedi. (For those curious, the color was OPI Modern Girl, a fun tangerine color.)

Ok, so maybe I did several nice things for myself.

The day wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it was still hard.

But that doesn't mean I don't plan to use that Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupon.

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2011 | Comments (0)



Navigating

It is a strange and fickle beast.

Sometimes it lies dormant, yet always watching, waiting to pounce. Other times it rears its ugly head at full force. 

It is my grief.

I have also compared my grief to a coat that I always wear, and can never take off. Sometimes it is light, sometimes it is heavy, but nonetheless, it always cloaks me. 

Luckily lately it has been more like a windbreaker, light and manageable. Which is convenient given the 100+ temps in Charleston recently. 

But then briefly it wasn't light anymore. 

In my last entry, I wrote about Nadine, who penned the article Shimmy! about saying "yes!" to life after the death of a loved one at age 30 to a brain tumor. I found Nadine's blog and commented to her how much I appreciated the article, how much it resonated with me. 

She then emailed me, and we corresponded back and forth, connected in this sad, yet hopeful way. 

Turns out she lives in Adam's hometown, Media, PA.  

We emailed about navigating this uncertain path, writing, grief, moving, not moving, and she thanked me profusely for contacting her, because until now she hadn't had any contact with a young widow. 

She told me how the Media Court Diner (a favorite breakfast spot of Adam and I's) had been renovated, but had lost some of its gritty, classic diner charm.

She told me how she hesitates to seek support, since David wasn’t her husband, or even her boyfriend anymore, because she is afraid of other’s reactions.

This made me sad, and I told her that grief is grief, and she is entitled to it. She loved David and he was still very much a part of her life at the time of his diagnosis, and subsequent death. The love doesn’t die just because the person did.

You just find a way to live with the loss of that person, and deal with your grief.

I am reading a novel called The Kitchen Daughter, about a 26-year old woman with Asperger’s syndrome that has just lost both of her parents in an untimely accident. Sheltered, socially-awkward, and struggling to channel emotions, she turns to cooking as a source of solace and comfort. A character in the novel talks about grief, and although the book is fiction, it struck a chord with me:

No one grief is worse than another. They are all terrible. They all destroy. But you need to find the way to use yours. I put mine in the bucket and toss it out at the end of every day. Maybe you put yours in your cooking. There are ways to use grief, we all have to find our own.

I thought this was so well-written, and so true. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is only your way, and it is right for you.

I have embraced my new life, and live it with gusto. I see the shock and disbelief in other’s faces and eyes when they discover I am a young widow. Because I am a happy, upbeat person, and try to live each day to the fullest.

Am I devastated that Adam passed away and the life we had together and would have had is gone?

Yes.

Am I grateful for the loved we shared, for a wonderful relationship and connection that many don’t have the privilege of knowing in a lifetime, and I was lucky enough to experience so young in life? Am I grateful for this fresh start in my life, for my strength and determination to rebuild after such a loss?

Yes.

People often comment to me how strong I am, that I inspire them, and they don’t know how I do it. I appreciate their kind words, their encouragement, their sincerity. The truth is, I know I am strong, I know I am unique (Not to sound cocky or conceited.) But, at the end of the day, I am just me, using the tools and life experiences I have to navigate these waters.

There are times when I don’t feel so strong, when my coat of grief is heavy.

Like the other day, I was in yoga and thought to myself, Adam is dead. No, I cannot go into Tree pose, because Adam is dead. I sat there on my mat, unable to move. I wasn’t crying, I just could not move pass that moment of disbelief, as happens from time to time. So I let my grief be, didn’t try to fight it, and succumbed to it in that moment.

 Then, suddenly, I could move, and folded neatly into Tree pose.

After all, it is one of my favorites. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 6:25 AM on June 24, 2011 | Comments (0)



Her story

The one I’d eat sushi and watch The Office with.

I read these words and froze, as I could have written them myself.

But the writer was not me.

Yet, it was no accident that I stumbled across this article, "Shimmy" while absently leafing through Skirt! magazine during lunch.

The writer told the story of David, whom she had loved and lost to a brain tumor.

I felt deeply and significantly changed. I was 30 years old, and one of the most important people in my life had just died in my arms. I knew that my world was different.

I read the article eagerly, hungrily, sad for her, but comforted by her words, her understanding.

Reading her article made me feel less alone.

Being a young widow can be very isolating, even when surrounded by those who love you, and want to help. Because the one you love the most is gone. Your entire world has changed, and there is not a damn thing you can do.

It can be enough to make you scream. Which sometimes I do.

Nadine explained that David was her ex-boyfriend at the time of his death. But, he was so much more than that.

For all intents and purposes, David was my ex-boyfriend when he got sick, but that is not the term that I would have picked to describe what we were to each other. He was still the man I loved. He was still my best friend.

She explained that she was saying "yes!" to life, yes to things she hadn't done before. "Yes" for one whole year. She belly-danced, did a polar bear plunge, started a blog, picked strawberries, helped a neighbor.

She lived.

While I didn't take a "yes" vow for a year, I have said a lot of yes in recent months.

Yes, I will rent out my condo.

Yes, I will take off my wedding band.

Yes, I will move to Charleston.

Yes, I will wear lime green polish on my toes.

Yes, I will call Adam's grandma on Fridays like he used to.

Yes, I will work in nonprofit again.

Yes, I will go on a date.

Yes, I will perfect banana pudding.

Yes, I will love and honor Adam for the rest of my life.

I liked that Nadine wrote about her love for David, even if he was her "ex-boyfriend".

I’m not writing the story of David’s illness or of my grief, but it’s impossible to separate my life right now from what happened to David.

I can relate to that, it is impossible to separate my life right now from what happened to Adam, because it is a part of me.

I recently encountered someone who told me he didn't think I was "over" Adam, and he thought it was weird that I still have pictures of him.

It really hurt my feelings.

I told him I wasn't trying to get over Adam, we didn't split up, I never stopped loving him, he just died.

I intend to have a picture of Adam years from now, and I know there is someone out there who will accept and embrace this chapter of my life. I get that it is unique, I get that it is tough, I get that it isn't neat and tidy. 

But it is a part of me, for better or worse.

But it doesn't mean I can't shimmy...

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 9:57 AM on June 9, 2011 | Comments (0)



Skimming on Skim

The first time it happened I was puzzled.

It happened again.

And again.

And again.

I had finally gotten used to it, and knew just to ask.

"Can I have the skim milk?"

The first time it happened I was in a Starbucks, so I assumed they were refilling the carafe of skim milk. When I asked the barista for the skim milk, she seemed surprised. "Oh! No one ever asks for skim."

I was shocked.

Where I come from, skim milk in coffee shops is a given, as typically finding the carafe empty, or at least low. Because like all the other young professional females like myself, I want to keep my coffee as low-calorie as possible. (I would rather eat more.) Plus, I am mildly lactose intolerant, so skinny skim it is.

So you can understand my surprise, and why I was puzzled.

Do Charlestonians like their milk fattier than Washingtonians?

It would appear so.

Just ask the Coburg cow in West Ashley...

 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3172/2760108558_d1218ba0c9.jpg

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2011 | Comments (0)



Full Circle

They say good things come to those who wait, and as all of you know, I am not good at waiting.

Yet, wait I have, for a job, (well, applied to jobs nonstop) and for the sense of security that only a steady career brings.

I am someone who loves stability, structure, organization, and consistency. I thrive on routines. This is not to say I am not fun, but I just like consistency.

I felt out of control of my life for a long time, with the chaos, sadness, and unpredictability of the past few years. Everything that I knew and depended on was gone, and I was left shell-shocked and bewildered.

So I moved here in hopes that I would recapture myself, and carve out a new life.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Then bam, it all came together at once.

I found a fantastic, rewarding, fun job.

I found a cute apartment.

Everything I waited for and wanted is here, and then some.

I am thrilled, and know I deserve it.

To quote someone dear to me, "You are blessed."

I have wanted them for so long, and worked hard to get them. I have never been someone who scares easily, but when everything has been taken away from you, it is hard not to get scared.

And I am a bit scared.

I am scared that it will be taken away, like I lost all before.

Yet, if Adam wasn't afraid of dying, how can I be afraid of living?

I know that it is important to cherish life, and cherish and celebrate it I do, to the fullest. So I know I can't stop now, when the new chapter of my life is unfolding.

As I drove to work today through picturesque Charleston, singing along to the radio with the windows down, I remembered the woman who drove here in January; cold, anxious, sad, and unsure of the road ahead. Yet still hopeful. I realized how far I have come.

I realized the me that moved here to start over would be exasperated with the me who is a bit scared. The me from January would tell me to live and love it.

So I will.

glass-half-full.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2011 | Comments (0)



New Digs

I knew it was the one immediately upon walking in. It felt right; comfortable and familiar, like slipping on my favorite flip flops. (Which at the moment are my gold Havianas which I stole got from my mom.)


 It was the apartment, the one I have been waiting for.  It was cozy, quaint, and the perfect size for me. I fell more in love walking through it. I could picture my furniture and stuff there, and really making a home there.


I had to have it.
I just recently started my apartment search, but it has been quite entertaining.


The highlights:
An apartment with a huge gap between the staircase and the living room, just in case I felt skipping the last few stairs and just falling to the right.  That same place had no closet. Not a small closet. NO CLOSET. Anyone who has seen my wardrobe knows that closet space is a necessity, and the bigger, the better. Hence my custom made walk-in closet in Bethesda. Plus the overflow of clothes in the guest bedroom closet.  But never mind that.


A studio that was much smaller than described and the current tenant not knowing we were coming over, and being surprised. He was standing there in his underwear, cooking something on the stove.
Is that even safe?


So my expectations were set low when I found The One. It is right downtown, only a few blocks from my office, and exactly what I wanted.


Then the current tenant told me that a girl had just left who was interested, and was going to contact the leasing office.

 
Not if I beat her to it.


I had the email sent before I stepped on to the street, and sent the deposit and signed the lease 1 hour later. Coincidentally, the owner is in Maryland.


I felt a bit bad for the other girl, but not that bad.


Besides, it was meant to be mine.


I had already mentally moved in my furniture, after all.

p220886-Charleston_SC-King_St.jpg

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 1:40 PM on May 19, 2011 | Comments (0)



Your Southern Roots are Showing...

The words were out of my mouth before I even realized it.

I clapped my hand over my mouth and stared in shock at the saleslady as she handed me my change and my decaf iced-coffee with skim milk.

I was so flustered that I dropped my change, and she smiled back, bemused, likely wondering what had rattled me so in our short exchange.

I was rattled by two small words that formed a polite response.

“Yes Ma’am.”

It would appear my Southern roots are showing.

I was born in Columbia, S.C., and legend has it that my Brooklyn born and bred father heard me say “Git the ball, Daddy, git it.”, during an innocent game of catch, and that was enough to send us up North. Settled in Maryland, I quickly lost my Southern accent, and adopted the ambiguous accent of the D.C. metropolitan area.

I grew up in a house where Southern iced tea was a staple, and grits were the gruel of choice.  However, “Yes Ma’am” was a phrase I uttered sullenly when I was in trouble. (Which was often.) I can still hear my mom ordering “You mean, ‘Yes, Ma’am” to my most recent talking back.

So you can see why I reacted the way I did.

Adam was also born in the South, but lived there until he was 10, unlike my mere 2 years.  He was in an elevator with his Philly-born and bred grandmother when he asked her if he could “mash the button.”

Adam found himself living in the land of Philly cheesesteaks shortly after.

I suppose there are worse things than saying “Yes Ma’am.” At least I said it without talking back.

I think my mom would be proud.

Not so sure about my dad.

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2011 | Comments (0)



Past, Present, and Future

Like most things, the anticipation was the hardest part. 

Going home turned out to be wonderful.

I ate my beloved Chipotle, my mom's chocolate chip cookies, Sweetgreen, and all the other D.C. delectables.

I spent time with friends, sweated at Down Dog, rode the Red Line, walked down K Street, saw the beauty of D.C. from a roofdeck, had a sugar-free iced blended mocha with my little sister at the Bagel Place at UMD, admired the White House lit up at dusk, walked by Adam's old office. 

I walked in honor of my love, Adam, in the 1st annual Adam's Army as part of the 5K Race for Hope for brain tumor research. I walked towards the Capitol in the city that Adam loved, surrounded by friends that loved him and I. It was memorable, bittersweet, and exactly right. 

I thought about how I felt when I left there just a few months ago, and was proud of how far I have come. I left home for the South in search of something new, and I found it.

I found the new me.

I will always be Katie; impatient, chatty, friendly, opinionated. 

But I have changed since Adam's death. How could I not? 

Instead of dwelling on the past, I embrace the changes in myself. I can never again be the person I was before Adam passed away. My life is forever split between before Adam died, and after. 

That is just the way it is.

I loved being home, but I loved coming back to Charleston. The shine of home can wear off with the Beltway traffic, the crowds, waiting way too long for the Metro, and the difficult memories there. 

I knew when I drove over the new bridge and saw Charleston spread out before me, and rode my bike around the island that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

Tomorrow I start a new job, and yet another new chapter of my life. 

Now I feel like I can really get comfortable here, and establish a life in my mom's hometown. 

I am thrilled.

But like every triumph that occurs in my life now, it is tinged with sadness, because Adam is not there to share in it. I will never come home to Adam after work, nor talk over my day with him. My new co-workers will never meet the man who melted my heart with his soulful brown eyes, and spent countless unpaid hours helping me at work.

I asked my mom if she thought Adam would be happy about my new job. She responded, "Let me put it this way, you wouldn't have this job if Adam wasn't happy with it." I liked that. I liked that even though Adam isn't physically here, he is still playing a role in my life. That is a huge comfort. 

I was so lucky to be in the last chapter of Adam's life. 

But I have many more chapters of my life, and live it I will.

I know Adam wouldn't want it any other way.

 

DSC_0273.jpg

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 7:41 PM on May 4, 2011 | Comments (0)



Feels like Home to Me

I knew this day was coming, but can't believe how fast it got here.

It is with a mix of excitement and nervousness that I venture back to the place I drove away from in January, back to the place where memories and reminders of Adam greet me at every corner. 

Home.

Is it still home if the person you were building your life with isn't there anymore? 

Adam and I lived in Bethesda, and were planning to move to my hometown, Annapolis, in the near future. We had even picked out our dream house. 

I left Bethesda because the life as I knew it, the life I was building, was gone. Driving by NIH where Adam had his last fateful MRI, riding the metro without Adam, not being able to go to U Street because that is where Adam lived when we first started dating and the memories, while wonderful, are too much to bear. I couldn't walk into our condo without expecting Adam to be sitting on the couch and see his face light up. 

I left that area because I felt that I had to start fresh, and rebuild my life somewhere else.  

And now I am returning to the place that I love and fear. 

I have all my meals planned (love Lowcountry cuisine, but miss ethnic food.), visits with friends, and know that Adam's Army 5K race for brain tumor research is going be a memorable day.

But I can't plan how I am going to feel.

As Tom Petty sang, I guess I'll know when I get there. 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:20 AM on April 26, 2011 | Comments (0)



95 North

I saw the sign and felt a lump in my throat.

95North.

95North represents home, and the road I would take to get there. I could easily turn onto it, merge into traffic, and head home.

And give up. 

It was tempting. I was tempted to head home, and pull the covers over my head. Well, real home, the house I grew up in, as my condo is rented out. 

I could pull the covers over my head, and only come out to eat my mom's cookies. And crabcakes. And chicken pot pie. And special Greek salad. And chocolate cake.

I could also pull off the covers to go out to eat with my dad.

So far my plan for giving up and going home only involved food and being a glutton and slovenly.

Which I know neither one of my parents would tolerate, and thank goodness for that.

Even just thinking about it makes me disgusted with myself, and thank goodness for that.

That meant I was not ready to give up.

Plus, as much as I want him to be, Adam is not waiting just up 95North.

I thought about the beach, grits, the sunsets, King Street, Poe's, my new friends, boiled peanuts, Charleston Power Yoga, Oku sushi, the smell of the marsh, Social Wine Bar, my part-time job, Butterfly, biscuits, and riding my bike on the beach. 

I am not where I thought I would be, but I am getting there. Slowly but surely.

Plus, I couldn't get on 95North.

I was headed to Charlotte to get manis and pedis with Cheryl. 

Priorities, people. 

 

I recently started writing for CHARLIE, a local magazine, and below is my article!

 

http://readcharlie.com/2011/04/15/put-a-ring-on-it/

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 12:09 PM on April 15, 2011 | Comments (0)



See you at the Crossroads

Last week, I heard the words I have been wanting to hear for so long.

"I would like to offer you the job."

I said no.

I really, really, really, want a full-time job. However, I really want a full-time job that feels right.

This wasn't that job.

Although it was in PR, and would give me a lot of independence, it just didn't feel right. I considered taking it until I found something else, but ultimately decided not to. 

I have taken a job before that I should not have, despite the red flags, and Adam's insistence that something wasn't right. 

It was really hard not to be able to talk it over with Adam, and get his calm, rational insight. But, I had my mom here, and it was great to talk it over with her. 

All signs pointed to no.

So I said no, because I think there is something greater in store for me. At least I hope. I was at a fork in the road, and I went in another direction. It is uncertain, scary, and overwhelming, but at least it feels right.

I may not have a full-time job yet, but at least I have a great tan.

Hey, work with what you got. 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 3:29 PM on April 1, 2011 | Comments (0)



Numbers

So, can I have your phone # so I can let you know if I got into grad school?"

I could not believe I was hearing these words; it had certainly been a while. The last time I was asked for my phone # was when I changed banks. Not the same.

Yet here I was watching a 23-year old program my digits into his Iphone. 

Allow me to explain.

Last Thursday, I was in a very bad mood, and taking a long ride on the bitterbus. I was feeling angry about Adam's passing, angry that I didn't have a job, and just generally pissed off. My friend invited me out for St. Patty's Day, and I figured a night out at the beach bars would be fun. Plus, she is a fellow young widow, so she "gets it". I only had to walk three blocks to get there, and figured I could ride the bitterbus home if I was still pissy.

Except I wasn't pissy. I had fun. In general, I have stayed away from the bar scene because the crowds overwhelm me, and I feel out of place. Being the extrovert that I am, it is a strange feeling to be overwhelmed by a crowd, but since Adam's death, I am.

Yet I was at Poe's, flanked by a fellow young widow and her fabulous friend whose attire included green suspenders and glitter on his face. 

I was hit on by an extremely inebriated (yet harmless) man who asked me if I had a boyfriend, and I said “No, I am widowed.” I was hoping this would send him heading for the hills (or at least back to his bar stool), but instead he asked me if I was joking. Nope, don't joke about such things. He stumbled back to his beer after apologizing profusely. Problem solved! 

I encountered the 23-year old at Home Team BBQ, when he offered his high top table to my friend and I, with the stipulation that he could come back and check on the scores of the basketball game. I said of course, and then asked him what teams were in his final four. He then asked me the teams in my final four, and I told him the teams my statistician dad had selected for my bracket. 

And so it began.

We chatted throughout the night, and I discovered that I remembered how to flirt. It was refreshing, fun, and for a little bit, I was just a girl in green shorts, drinking a margarita, and being picked up by a 23-year old.

He told me he was clinging to college life as much as possible, and I responded that was precisely what he should be doing. He and his friends were welcoming, silly, drank too much (as they should, being the youngins that they are), and provided the light-hearted fun that I needed. They kindly invited me for late night buffalo wings, which I politely declined. It was past my 31-years old bedtime.

Instead of riding the bitterbus home, I walked home laughing to myself. I imagined Adam also laughing somewhere, and thinking, "Not bad, Ms. Strumpf."

I have since exchanged a few funny texts and received one mildly awkward phone call from the 23-year old, and I likely will never talk to him again. 

But that's O.K. It may have just been another set of digits for him on another night out, but helped me move forward, and take a big step. A step I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to take. 

He helped me to recapture a bit of me.

Even if he is the same age as my little brother, went to Clemson, hates 80's music, and had never heard of the movie What About Bob.?

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2011 | Comments (0)



10th anniversary

I worried for at least a few days (Ok, weeks) about the kind of coat I would wear on March 12th.  

March 12th was the 10th anniversary of 21st birthday, as my friend Bonnie likes to say.

Before you think I am merely fashion-obsessed (which I am), the coat is not about fashion.

The coat represents my grief.

I recently explained to my mom that my grief feels like a coat that I never take off, sometimes it is light like my Burberry spring quilted coat, other times it is heavy like my long winter coat. Regardless of its varying weight, I never take it off. I wear it all the time, regardless of the weather.  

The night before my birthday, the coat I wore was dark, heavy, and out of season in the warm beach air of Sullivan's Island. I longed to take it off, but on it stayed.

Adam was exactly 4 months to the day older than me, and I liked that. 12 was both of our favorite numbers, and I liked that we were both born on the 12th of the month. It felt neat and tidy.

Now nothing feels neat and tidy, and I am obsessive compulsive about being neat. 

I spent the 9th anniversary of my 21st riding the bus up to NY to spend the weekend in the hospital. I will admit, I felt sorry for myself, and even worse for Adam, of course. We didn't belong there. But there we were.

I spent yesterday at yoga, treated myself to a complicated coffee drink (decaf cappuccino with skim milk and sugar-free vanilla syrup, I know I am a wild one) splurged on a girly, overpriced headband that makes me feel like a mermaid from the Holy City Flea Market, laying out at the pool, and a late lunch at Poe's. It was a perfect day, and I was glad that the coat of grief I wore that day was light. 

 

My friends here brought cupcakes over, and my friend Holly had Georgetown Cupcakes delivered to my doorstep. I literally started screaming and jumping up and down when I saw the familiar pink box and black swirly logo, a piece of home in the form of a dozen delectable delights. 

I refuse to comment on the amount of cupcakes I have consumed in the past day, but knowing that I rationalized that a carrot cake cupcake for breakfast was still a vegetable should provide some insight. 

Oh, and I bought myself a cute coral fitted jacket (don't worry, I got a great deal), because I figured if I have to wear the grief jacket, I might as well wear a coat I actually like as well.

Makes sense to me, and the color is good with my skin tone. 

 

***If you want to comment on any of the blog posts, please do so here, instead of on facebook. Thank you:) If you don't want to comment, then ignore...

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 5:17 PM on March 13, 2011 | Comments (0)



One is Silver, and the other is Gold.

I eagerly awaited their arrival, and had been excited about it for weeks. They trickled in throughout Friday evening, the last three arriving around 9:30 p.m.

Bonnie

Cheryl

Curtis

Yael

Chip

There is something so comforting about long-time friends visiting when you live in a new place, even if that new place is the beach. They were ready for a weekend of sun, Southern food, and I was ready for the casual and easy conversation, shared memories, and banter that old friends bring.

These are the friends that know my stories, know where I have been. They have seen me make a fool of myself in college. One I have known since we first wore leggings in the 80's, and are still in each others lives now in the resurrection of leggings.  

All of them were there when Adam walked into my life (and I mean literally there, at the BBQ where I met him.)

Two of them encouraged me to talk to him more because they saw a connection between us. Thank goodness I listened to them. 

They were there through Adam's illness and treatment, providing words of support, Middle Eastern food, care packages, chocolate. These are the friends that showed up at the hospital when I told them they didn't need to come, who drove from states away to be with us in Adam's final days, who hung out on our king size bed with Adam and I, and had the compassion and courage to treat it like any another time we had all hung out.

All of them were there when Adam left this life. 

It is comforting to tell stories of Adam to them, (although I am sure I tell too many) because they have their own, too. They shared those stories at his memorial, and continue to. Although Adam is no longer alive, it helps to keep his memory alive.

These are the friends that surprised me with a chocolate ganache cake as a pre-birthday celebration.

It didn't matter what we ate (although it was plenty, and delicious), where we went (beach, downtown, Fort Moultrie, Poe's, the Battery) or what we did (acted like fools, made fun of each other, jumped in a freezing cold pool on a dare). 

 

What matters is that these are the friends that remind me where I come from, and help me to get where I need to go. 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 2:24 PM on March 8, 2011 | Comments (0)



Peanut Butter Jelly Time

I did it this morning, and have done it countless times before.

I come home from hot yoga, stick a spoon in a jar of (extra) crunchy peanut butter (preferably Jif), and shove it in my mouth. It is not a pretty sight, but one I repeat time and time again. Sometimes I go back for seconds.

Let me explain. 

When I get home from hot yoga, I am typically ravenously hungry. But, all I want to do is shower. The peanut butter provides me with a quick hit of protein to make it through the shower, before I really eat. When I am feeling indulgent, I add some jelly to the spoon. It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

I had no idea this was a real song, I thought it was something Adam made up to entertain me while I mainlined peanut butter. But, it is a real song, and apparently I was the only one not in the know. I literally laugh out loud every time I hear it, remembering Adam singing it. His dancing and voice were better than the dancing banana. Adam once told me that he associated the smell of sweat and peanut butter with me. Not cute. When he was in a coma in hospice, I would come home from yoga (and peanut butter plunging) and kiss him hello, because I knew however awful that smell, he would know it was me. I imagined him thinking, Oh, yes, it is my love, she who smells of sweat and peanut butter.

Adam used to buy the natural peanut butter that you had to mix together and refrigerate. It completely grossed me out, and suffice to say, we had separate peanut butter. He kept trying to convert me to the natural peanut butter, but I told him that I am a true American, and my peanut butter needs preservatives. Then I noticed he rarely ate his natural peanut butter, but instead mine. I never called him on it, but felt silently smug (this silence is rare). Even all-natural Adam wanted preservatives in his peanut butter.

I did not grow up liking peanut butter. In fact, I hated it. I wasn't as bad as Cheryl, who was actually afraid of ants on a log. Sorry to throw you under the bus, Cheryl, but it had to be said. While most kids were chowing down on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I had tuna sandwiches. Yep, I was high-maintenance even then, just ask my mom. She made all those tuna sandwiches. 

 My peanut butter jelly time routine continues post-yoga here in the South. A few weeks ago, my peanut butter world was changed. 

I tasted organic peanut butter. (Not organic, all-natural, for the record.) It was delicious, and so peanut-buttery. I remembered Adam and his attempts buy organic, to which I quoted Amy Poehler to Adam's celebrity crush Tina Fey in Baby Mama, "Organic is for rich people who hate themselves.". Which we were neither, seeing as we both worked in nonprofit, and had positive self-images. 

After tasting the organic peanut butter, my peanut butter world is forever changed.

And I know somewhere, Adam is silently smug. Or perhaps singing and dancing to the Peanut Butter Jelly Song. Organic, of course. 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:38 AM on March 2, 2011 | Comments (0)



Red State

The Maryland Senate approved same-sex marriages today, and this fills me with pride. As we Terps say, "Let's go Maryland!”  While I have no desire to marry anyone of the same sex, I am very proud of my state. Then I remembered I no longer live in Maryland.

I now live in a red state. Where both Senators are Republican. 

While red is my favorite color, my blood runs blue. True blue. However, I have my political views, and that is exactly what they are. My views that I don't push on anyone else. My view on politics is the same as my outlook on religion, I have my beliefs, and others have theirs. I think Samantha Jones had it right in Sex & The City when she said, "I don't believe in the Democrat or Republican party, I just believe in parties." I have friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I rarely talk about politics with friends. However, I know the political party of just about all of my friends from home, as is the norm in the D.C. metropolitan area. I realized I don't know the political affiliations of new friends in South Carolina. Not that this is a big deal, I am just used to knowing. 

Despite being born in Columbia, S.C., I grew up in the D.C. metropolitan area, therefore, was surrounded by politics. I grew up visiting my dad at his office in the Senate (where he worked for 22 years as Senior Budget Analyst for former Senator Fritz Hollings, Democrat from the red state I now reside in.), and watching my parents dress up for one of Clinton's inaugural balls. My mom wore a turquoise sequined dress, and I thought it was the most beautiful dress ever, and vowed to wear one just like it one day. I did wear one just like it to a Homecoming dance, but cut me some slack, it was the mid-90's! I digress, as usual. I was lucky enough to also work in the Senate, where I met Obama before he was President (I accidentally walked right into him going up the stairs, and the next time I saw him, he called me out on it.), Senator Kennedy, and watch some of the biggest political issues unfold right in front me. I remember the excitement of the city when Obama was inaugurated, and how much fun (and how freezing) Adam and I had going to the concert on the mall, inauguration parties, and the inauguration. I used to run around the Capitol after work before I had to go to my grad school class, and I remember the exhilaration of being right there.

Suffice to say, I am just used to being around politics, because that is D.C. I know that you won't find any stores on the Mall, know where the Well-Dressed Burrito is, to not eat on the Metro and to stand to the right on the escalators, that there is no J Street, that the Hill isn't actually on a Hill, and ate at Ben's Chili Bowl before Obama tried their half-smoke. My homepage is The Washington Post.

That is not to say I am not happy here, because I am really enjoying Charleston. 

I just am used to knowing if you are an elephant or a donkey. 

 

Political parties

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:42 AM on February 25, 2011 | Comments (0)



Half a year

For most people in America, yesterday was a day off of work, school, a day to sleep in. For me, yesterday was exactly 6 months since Adam passed away. Sometimes it feels like 6 years ago, sometimes 6 days ago. Either way, I can't believe that the world has marched on for half a year without Adam. That I am still here, and he isn't. Sometimes it is too much to comprehend. But comprehend I must, and march on as well.

Before Adam passed away, I described to a friend how I felt about his impending death. I compared it to if I had never tasted chocolate, and then someone gave me a bite of it, and chocolate became an integral part of my life. Then, they said they were taking chocolate away, and I could never have it again. How could I go on knowing the deliciousness of chocolate and not have it anymore? 

I love chocolate, so this is what I compared it to. Naturally, I loved Adam more than chocolate (although never turned down any chocolate he gave me), the depth of my love for him took ahold of me, and never let go. I didn't know that I could love someone as deeply as I loved him, but how could I not love Adam that deeply? His death knocked the wind out of me. Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you are told the man you intended to spend the rest of your life with has died. I will never forget the way I felt in that moment, I literally felt like someone had poured ice water from the top of my head to my feet. I remember thinking, and so it begins....Here is life after Adam. Then I felt like that water froze around me, and I went through a daze for the next few months. I don't remember those first 2 months, I remember bits and pieces, but my memory doesn't kick in until around early November. That is a strange feeling, but I know it is the body's way of coping. 

So now it is 6 months later, and reality is settling in like a ton of bricks. Adam is not alive. I am. I am creating a new life, and he is not a part of it. 

But, I think back to the chocolate comparison, and remember that although Adam was taken away, no one has taken away my memories of him. I still have those, the countless pictures, the farewell video he made me, the farewell playlist he made for me last December when his tumor had returned yet again, and played for me in August when he was in hospice. I think about how Adam told me he wasn't worried about me, because I am so capable. He told me that he thought I would go to yoga the day after he died, and that in fact, I SHOULD go to yoga the day after he died. I think about all these things, and am grateful for Adam, and his parting gifts. 

But it is not enough. I know what it is to have Adam in my life, and I want him to come back. 

But I know he can't. So I try to be the capable person that he believed in and loved, and carry on. Even though 99.9% of the time I have no idea what is going on. I heard a song in yoga yesterday, that I thought was very fitting for the 6 month mark of Adam's death. It felt like something Adam would say, and he would have liked the song. Some of the lyrics were:

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
In the morning I'll be with you
But it will be a different "kind"

Now all your love is wasted?
Then who the hell was I?
Now I'm breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

Skinny Love, Bon Ivers.

 

For the record, I did go to yoga that next day.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 5:56 PM on February 22, 2011 | Comments (0)



A bronzed view

My face is tan. In February. This gives me an infinite amount of joy, and likely an infinite amount of wrinkles later in life. But back to now, and the joy of the tan face. The tan didn't come from Mystic Tan, or bronzer, or a bottle of Neutrogena sunless tanner (the best of the bunch, in my opinion.)

It came from the sun, which has been shining strong for days. Don't worry, I haven't been lolling about in the sun all day, or gallivanting on the beach. I have been sitting outside AND applying to jobs, and doing work for my part-time position. I would hire me for a job, as my multi-tasking skills are superb! 

Adam used to worry about my sun obsession, and his concern was likely justified. I can spend hours in the sun, it is one of the few times I am able to hold still. (So I have an even tan, of course!) He once asked me if he ever made me feel like I "needed" to be tan for him, and I assured him it had nothing to do with him. I told him that this was only vice, so I figured I might as well go full throttle. He only slightly raised his eyebrows and smiled indulgently at my declaration of my "only vice", and kindly did not mention the others, all of which he was full aware. Chocolate. Trashy T.V. Trashy magazines. Cake. Gossiping. Cookies. I did remind him that he fell in love with me when I was at my tannest (post-Hawaii), and that one of his favorite t-shirts of mine said "Hawaiian tan in a can". I explained to him that because I can't drink milk, it is important for me to get as much Vitamin D as possible in the summer. He may have been an attorney, but he knew what discussions were worth pursuing, especially with me. 

My love affair with a golden glow was cultivated at a young age during summers at the community pool, where I would stay all day long. I love to swim, too, so I am not just a sun worshiper. Although, I did discover that you get an even better tan underwater. This love affair continued on through my days as a lifeguard in high school and college, when I used to tell my supervisors that I had a wedding to go to (every summer) so I could wear my top bandeau style as to avoid those dreaded thick tan lines. (Note to future potential employers: I no longer lie about such trivial matters, as I have matured greatly.) 

For the record, I do wear sunscreen. At least on my face.

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 7:49 PM on February 17, 2011 | Comments (0)



V-Day

Valentine's Day, like any holiday when you are newly widowed, is a strange day. Well, every day is strange when you are widowed at 30, but Valentine's Day is even stranger. I have never been big on Valentine's Day, as far as making a big fuss and the commercialism of it. However, it was easy to say I wasn't big on Valentine's Day when Adam was my valentine, because there truly was no sweeter valentine than him. Every day of the year. 

I thought about past Valentine's Days with Adam, and the fun and simple things we did that created the best memories. I remember making him a giant heart-shaped chocolate chip peanut butter fudge cookie each year, and worrying it was a bad omen when the first one I made him broke in half in transit to Pittsburgh. I wish my biggest worry now was a broken cookie. I remember riding bikes with him from the beach house in Fenwick all the way to the General's Kitchen in Ocean City, and having to stop to buy gloves on the ride back because our hands were so cold. We laughed because the only gloves they had were gardening gloves, and mine were way too big. I still have those gloves. I remember going to Simon Pierce for brunch last year and his grandma generously calling and paying for our meal before we even saw the bill. She wanted to treat us during this difficult time, and she most certainly did. I remember Adam, bald from chemo and too thin for his tall frame, enjoying his Mexican hot chocolate and the beautiful view, despite the intensive stem cell transplant that was just weeks away. I remember going through their gift shop with him and registering for overpriced hand-blown glass items for our registry. I smile remembering watching glass being blown into a work of art, and sitting next to Adam and wishing time could stand still. 

When I am feeling down or not sure of a decision, I often ask myself "WWAD?" What would Adam do? Kinda like What would Jesus do, except I am Jewish, and asking an atheist Adam. I thought about what Adam would do, or rather what Adam would say. I imagine he would say, "I know you miss me, and this situation is less than ideal. While I can't physically be here to be your valentine, think about the fantastic 3 years we had together, and how we shared a love that some people never know in a lifetime. Think about all of the people who love you and I. Think about your parents who would move heaven and earth for you if they could, and who treated me like their own son. Think about your brother and sister who consistently displayed a compassion and grace that belies their young years, and treated me like a brother. Think about your family that opened their home to you, and are giving you the opportunity to heal and rebuild in the place most healing to you, the beach. Think about the friends at home who care about you deeply, and are cheering you on from afar, sending flowers (thanks, Holly!), treating you to a mani-pedi (thanks, Cheryl, and for those who want to know, the color is OPI Big Hair, Big Nails.) Think about the countless emails of support you receive almost daily. Think about the new friends you are making in Charleston, and how they have made this tough transition easier. Be nice to yourself on this tough day, and eat chocolate." 

So I did. 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2011 | Comments (0)



Yoga Mat

I love my yoga mat, and as many know, love hot yoga. My lemon yellow yoga mat has been through a lot with me. It commuted almost daily on the D.C. metro system with me, neatly compact among the commuters with their Express newspapers. My yoga mat has stayed in hospitals in the Mid-Atlantic, and added a dash of brightness to drab hospital rooms. It supported me in countless studios and held me up through some hard times. That $12.99 Gaiam mat from Target is a fixture in my life, through chaos, sadness, and change. 

But lately I have been noticing that it hasn't been looking that lemony yellow. 

Well, the corners of it do, but the main part of the mat where I stand has a gray tinge. Which is basically the whole mat, since the classes require a lot of moving. It drove me crazy, because I am a neat freak, and I didn't want to be "the girl with the dirty mat". I know yogis are supposed to be non-judgmental and serene, but come on. I do yoga, so let's be honest about the evolving characteristics of a yogi. I digress, as usual. I keep a towel on top of my mat (not because I am paranoid about the gray tinge, but so I don't slip!), but cringed each time it came off, and I saw the gray. 

So, I scrubbed, and scrubbed, and washed it in the washing machine (which you should do, anyway), and dried it in the sun. THE GRAY WOULD NOT GO AWAY. 

Then I had an epiphany. Perhaps some Yogi Master shone wisdow down on me, or I just got tired of scrubbing. Either way, I came to the conclusion that maybe it wasn't dirt, but rather an imprint of where I have been, and what I have been through. So I stopped scrubbing, and accepted the mat, and what it represents. I thought smugly, "I am a true yogi, accepting and letting my mat just be". Namaste!

Or perhaps I am just the girl with the dirty mat.

 

My yoga mat in its prime.

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 8:04 AM on February 12, 2011 | Comments (0)



Improper Parking

I spotted it right away. I felt a hot wave of indignation that had nothing to do with the hot yoga class I had just left, and everything to do with a small, thin slip of paper tucked under my windshield wipers. How had I gotten a parking ticket?! The meters stop at 6 p.m. (love the South!), and I parked at 5:32, and made SURE I had it filled until 6 p.m. I rarely park at the meters, instead parking on a street that the Parking Police failed to install meters on. However, I was running late, and it was closer. 

Genuinely puzzled by this ticket, I plucked it from the wipers and read the following:

 

Improper Parking

Fine: $10.00

Blah

Blah 

Blah

WHAT? I will admit that I am not always the best at parking, and am guilty of the park and dash. You know, just parking quickly and not worrying too much if the car is straight, less than 12 inches from the curb, etc. But this was not the case that time, I carefully parked, as the meter was on busy King Street.

Besides, what is "improper parking", anyway? I have NEVER heard this term in the D.C. metro area, or anywhere else, for that matter. It felt like a Southern slap on the wrist, like wearing white after Labor Day, or using your salad fork for your entree. I was Southern shamed, and apparently, improper, at least when it comes to parking. 

Then I noticed that my car was parked slightly over the front line. According to Southern parking standards, this just would not do!

 

But, I would hardly call it improper. 

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 10:18 AM on February 9, 2011 | Comments (1)



Don't Ask, I'll Tell

It is the question I have come dread, and I know countless others dread as well. 

"Have you found a job yet?" 

I know people mean well, and I am lucky that others care enough to ask. I know that is comes from a good place, and I it is a logical question as a I job search. Adam expressed his frustration over this question when he was job-searching, and he was much more patient than me. So, that makes me a feel a bit better. 

But it doesn't make me dread the question any less.

 

I worry constantly about finding a full-time job, and establishing a life in Charleston. I have luckily made some good friends, am discovering where to find the best sushi, vintage clothes, tacos, local newspapers, margaritas. (For the record they are: Oku-Sushi, Butterfly (the downtown location, not Mt. Pleasant), Taco Boy, Skirt, and Taco Boy again.) If any would like to enlighten me as to better selections, feel free to invite me, as I have the time, but not the finances! 

I digress.

I know job searching is hard, particularly with the current unemployment rates.   I just keep circulating my resume, trying to build contacts, go to networking events, and applying to jobs. Because applying to jobs is my full-time job. 

So to quote my book, I keep on, keeping on. 

I will tell you that I have secured a part-time position doing PR/marketing for a local chef, Iverson Brownell. It is fun, interesting, delicious, and because I am busier, makes me more efficient in my search for a full-time position. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go back to job searching.

 

Because at the end of the day, that is my full-time job. 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2011 | Comments (0)



Johnny Angel

I have been avoiding him since I got here. I see him almost daily, and I look away, not wanting to succumb. But I know he is there, and he beckons me. He knows I will give in at some point. 

Today would be that day. 

He goes by Johnny, Johnny's Hot Dogs. 

 

Don't get me wrong, his hot dogs are delicious, with unlimited toppings, which is a quick way to win over my heart. But it isn't his hot dogs that I simultaneously love and fear.

It's his biscuits. 

I woke up and knew today would be the day, it is dreary, cold, and I have waited long enough. It was worth the wait, I knew, as I ate my egg and cheese biscuit dipped in Heinz ketchup. I couldn't wait to drive home and eat, it so I sat at the small counter in the cold and enjoyed every bite. For those who know me well, it will come as no surprise that I couldn't drive home with my beloved biscuit, as I have been known to put Chipotle burritos in the trunk of my car, because the smell is too tantalizing for the drive home, however short. (It is a really short drive today, too, but it is better to know your limits.) 

I washed it down with sweet tea, and needless to say, there was no Splenda involved.

 

 

Johnny's

 

 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 11:17 AM on February 4, 2011 | Comments (0)



Sleepless in the South starts

A month ago, I packed up Adam's car (well, my car, but I still think of it as his.), and headed south. I felt like a scene from a movie, small car packed to the brim, a packed bag of food from my mom, headed south to find my way. Cue the cheesy music, I imagine "Pocket Full of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield, except unlike the characters on the Hills, I lack the bleached blond straight hair, the convertible, and, well, a desire to go to L.A. 

I never thought I would have a blog. I love reading blogs, and embarrassingly enough, religiously read a fictional blog on Cosmopolitan.com. I also felt that blogs made people think they were more important than they really are. Yet here I find myself at a major transitional stage of my life, and I love to write. So perhaps I think I am more important than I really am, but I thought the blog would be a good way to stay in touch with my friends and family, and maybe help another young widow who happens to stumble across it. Plus, I am a really random person and have been told I am funny, so I thought people might want to read it. Yep, already thinking I am more important than I really am. 

A year ago I lived in Bethesda, MD, worked at a nonprofit for kids with life-threatening diseases, and Adam was getting ready to start his stem-cell transplant in NY, and we were filled with hope that the transplant would leave him cancer-free for life. Now I am in Charleston, S.C., job searching, and Adam passed away. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with all the changes, and the worst change of all, the loss of Adam. Yet I find myself still filled with hope, hope that I can dust myself off, and find my new path after the chaos and sadness of the past year. I am still dusting, and find myself Sleepless in the South. 

Posted by Katie Strumpf at 6:13 PM on January 31, 2011 | Comments (1)