Happy (Re)birthday to Me

Hello, dear readers! Today is a day that always fills me with deep thoughts and gratitude. It’s the day I’ve been calling Miracle Day for years, which my husband has re-branded cutely into “Amanda Day.” Just over a week away from my actual birthday, I realize it could also be called my rebirth day.

Fourteen years ago, I was a passenger in a near-fatal car crash that left me with a traumatic brain injury, an uphill battle of relearning absolutely everything (walking, talking, eating, seeing, balancing…etc.)–and a huge sense of purpose. Three years ago, another horrific car crash (rear-ended!) left me with another head injury and a renewed sense of purpose and love.

I beg you to consider it more the literary nerd in me rather than total egomania–but part of what’s helped me piece together the puzzle of my life is realizing that many literary heroes undergo an epic quest and ultimate rebirth to become a new, leveled-up, wiser version of their still former selves–not a transformation into a different person, but a better version of themselves. These epic heroes have traded something dear to realize their destiny. There is usually an element of loss, but for a greater gain and a greater good. They don’t give up because things have changed; they move forward, realizing they are better equipped, even if it’s difficult, and even if they must get to know themselves anew.

I reflect on this often, blessed as I am to have made a “full recovery.” I put it in quotes, because a brain injury is permanent. However, the brain is FASCINATING in its ability to rebuild new connections, new workarounds for how things used to be. Just because an area of the brain was damaged does not necessarily mean that a function/skill is lost–the brain can often accommodate, especially with great rehab like I had at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine (where I proudly work!). Now, 14 years after my major trauma, I certainly think/work differently before–but I don’t (usually) think of it as a bad thing. Things that are perhaps a bit slower for me now are certainly offset by the enormous perspective, compassion, and sense of purpose I gained. I feel like I see the world completely differently now; that my unquenchable sense of carpe diem has unlocked a thousand lifetimes for me, that my equally heartbreaking and heart-filling sense of empathy is a network of a thousand souls.

I was blessed to recover as I did, in a completeness that many are not lucky enough to reach–and let me tell you, that survivor’s guilt is intense. As much as I LOVE volunteering, donating, mentoring, giving back–I will never feel equal to the love and support God, my family, friends, and strangers showed me during my recovery. Recovery for me was an enormous hug with a soft, warm blanket of love that has only grown since those hard days.

November is an interesting month for me–and again, it’s the literary nerd in me that seeks themes–but I could not think of a better series of holidays to celebrate: Rebirth Day/Miracle Day/Amanda Day; Thanksgiving (SO MUCH to be thankful for); and my actual birthday. Thank you God, family, husband, friends, coworkers, and again, strangers–for making this life so beautiful and blessed.

Today is sometimes melancholic for me, reflecting on how lucky I have been to be saved twice on November 21 and wondering what it all means. More than anything, it is a day filled with gratitude. My husband and family make sure it is also a fun day for me. Tonight, Dave and I played a word game (my favorite!) and I had pizza (also my favorite!) and am soon to partake in some dark chocolate (another favorite–see a theme?). I’m writing on my new laptop I’m already obsessed with that Dave got me as an early present for Amanda Day/birthday/Christmas (who gets presents for the anniversary of their medical events?? This lucky wife! 🙂 ) My wonderful boss made sure I was able to work from home today so I wouldn’t have to be on the roads and could stay comfortable–and she gave me many hugs and such compassion, along with several other coworkers yesterday.

I am absolutely blessed with this life. Even the dark moments led to more beauty, more growth, a deeper existence–a rebirth. 🙂

Happy International Dog Day

Hello, hello, dear readers! I have missed you and this blog! I have so much to update you on, and it will take several posts to do so.

But today’s post is dedicated to the apple of my eye, Leia.

Leia came into my life as the fur-child of my husband (!) (I know, I know, I promise to devote several posts to our love story–I find it quite epic and romantic, but of course, I am biased).

My husband, Dave, and I met online, and one of the first things that caught my eye was the picture of this little Maltipoo cherub. Dave adopted her from a local shelter years ago, and she just celebrated her 10th birthday last month. Can you believe it? Just six pounds, and the perfect little ball of love on your lap, she is our forever puppy.

Leia has changed our lives for the better. She is spunky, clever, and so loving. She always has tons of kisses and snuggles to give; she is the perfect antidote on any *ruff* day (sorry not sorry, I can’t resist a good or bad pun). I can’t tell you how many times she’s kissed away tears or comforted me with her fluffy cloud ways.

She charms anyone she meets, from tough biker dudes (I loved watching one melt into a puddle when he saw her on the sidewalk) to little kids having temper tantrums. She just has a way about her.

Leia has also been our mascot for fundraising for one of our favorite local rescues, Red Door Animal Shelter. We have done a few 5ks with them to raise money for the thousands of animals they rescue–dogs, cats, and bunnies, primarily, but all sorts of other animals, too. We were proud to walk and fundraise under the name Team Leia.

Because Leia made me a proud dog mom, I also got the pawportunity (#sorrynotsorry) to become a writer for DogTime, an online resource with tons of articles for dog parents–much like a magazine, but updated more frequently. I love getting to research, learn, and write about dogs, in a freelance writing position that is very flexible and allows me to focus on my full-time healthcare marketing job. Not to mention, the head editor is my friend from college–it is so cool to watch your friends achieve their dreams, and even cooler to get to work with them after being classmates. I just started this summer, and you can read my first published article here: “Can Dogs Eat Bread? Is Bread Safe for Dogs?”.

Although Leia has introduced me to a lot of neat new experiences, my favorite ones are just being around her. I love gazing into her expressive eyes while we have deep conversations. I love feeling her calm breathing while we cuddle and watch TV or read together. I love her jaunty little steps while we take our walks together in the sunlight or starlight. I even love her occasional mischief. She just makes life better, and I couldn’t be more blessed to be her mom.

Happy International Dog Day to all you dog owners and fans out there! How has a dog made your life better? I’d love to hear your stories!

Love and Mortality: Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday 

Good evening, readers! I am writing a quick reflection for tonight. 

What a beautiful, meaningful, sad, joyous day. My heart is heavy for the losses my loved ones and our country (and world) are feeling lately. But my heart is full with the love I am blessed to have in my life. 
I’d like to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day. To me, it is a day to celebrate love, not just a romantic love. It’s why we give each other valentines as kids (I  think adults should do this, too!), practicing kindness and appreciation.

I’d like to share this reflection a chaplain shared with me at work. (She put ceremonial ashes on our forehead—such a humbling, beautiful experience that fills me with grace.) She said she was reflecting on the meaning of Ash Wednesday, a day reminding us of our mortality, coinciding with Valentine’s Day, a day reminding of love. She thinks it is a reminder to celebrate our loved ones as much as we can, as often as we can, because tomorrow is never promised. What a beautiful thought and way to live. ❤️

So…go out and tell your loved ones that you love them—even if they don’t know it. Even if they do. Because tomorrow is never promised. Happy Valentine’s Day; I wish you love. 

What Harry Potter Taught Us, 20 Years Later

Hello, dear readers! I have missed you! Life since my last post has been thrilling, heartbreaking, amazing, rather epic and ultimately beautiful…but that’s all for another post (or dozen). Today, I’m going to be talking about an anniversary important not just to me, but to millions of readers around the globe. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter publication. I think it’s just as popular and relevant now as when it first debuted.

Despite J. K. Rowling’s battle to get Harry Potter published, the work was so instantly a pop culture smash hit that I initially shied away from it. (I’ve since learned that rabid book fans are the best fans and usually of good taste.) I’d developed my book snobbery at a very early age (likely in utero), and thus anything with mass appeal seemed unappealing to childhood me. Had I known one of the main characters herself was just such a snob, I might have been open to it earlier.

It took until the third book came out–at my sister’s utter insistence–for me to pick up the series.

I was instantly hooked, so much so I couldn’t even pretend not to be–nor did I want to. Even in a blurb, the story appeals to all: underdog finds self, triumphing over daily hardship and ultimately great evil, with a lot of love and help from quirky friends. Add magic into the mix, and it makes for a spellbinding (pun always intended) read.

Rowling is credited for “getting the world to read again,” and it’s no wonder why or how. The universal message appeals to all, but the world is so chock-full of heartwarming and quirky characters, there’s someone for everyone to relate to.

For me, that was Hermione Granger. Not since Belle (Beauty and the Beast) did I come across a character I loved so much because she was me. She was unabashedly brainy, always choosing justice over popularity. Her devotion to the pursuit of knowledge, to speaking her mind, became central to her heroism. She made it cool to be smart and opinionated.

Wingardium Leviosa! Hermione is one of my favorite cosplays!

Another aspect of Harry Potter I cherish is how it showed the world that the power of friendship and love can overcome anything–that there’s nothing more powerful than those. It did that throughout the plot in the whole series. It also did that, beautifully and unpredictably, through the fandom that linked the world together through the series. These books inspired people to be themselves, and at impressionable ages, showed teens they weren’t alone or strange. What could be more pure than a love of books (perhaps I am biased)? A Harry Potter book in someone’s hands is a universal symbol of community, of the message, “I value love, friendship, and courage, too.” It brought my community of friends and fellow bibliophiles closer, too. While my sister and I were already at maximum sister closeness, it was so much fun to celebrate every book and movie release together, having someone right in your own house with whom to discuss every plot twist and inkling! 

Sisters cosplaying for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” book release 10 years ago!


What a unique experience it was to grow up with this series as it was coming out! It is one of the only book series I know of that “matures” as the characters get older–a neat experience for a girl paralleling the ages of the characters as the books were released (but then–children nowadays can get the same effect if they space out their reading year-to-year–but the addictive quality of these books makes that a difficult feat!). Indeed, the books became more dark and angsty as the characters grew up, which I found a fascinating and intriguing concept.

Something else Harry Potter taught us: to see magic in the everyday–that it’s all around us. Twenty years later, this is a lesson I use every day. ✨

Happy Father’s Day


(My first Easter, adorned in custom-made gown and bonnet, with my dad <3)

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 Thank you for the huge difference you make in your children’s lives.

As I grow older, I realize I rely on my dad just as much now as I ever have. Maybe the reasons have changed–I’ve now learned how to tie my own shoes, for instance–but he is still the steadfast pillar in my life I turn to when I fall and cry. It’s not skinned knees anymore (well, sometimes it is)–it’s more like a bruised heart. He is the man who has always been there for me, even as my romantic relationships come and go. Through his loving relationship with my mom, he has shown my sister and me how a healthy relationship should be. Through his support and encouragement of our dreams, my sister and I have realized we don’t need a man to accomplish anything we want–though we are lucky to have our dad, blowing air into our sails.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, but especially mine. ❤

If you’d like to read my letter to my dad about his crucial role in my recovery from my TBI, please visit my previous Father’s Day post: Happy Father’s Day.

One Voice: Orlando Shooting

What can one voice say in the midst of such a tragedy?

The largest mass shooting ever in the history of our country:
49 dead, 53 wounded. Countless loved ones devastated. A ripple effect of fear throughout the world.(If you haven’t read the news story of the Orlando shooting at Pulse on Sunday, you can here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/12/us/orlando-nightclub-shooting/ ).

I’ve never understood the hatred against the LGBT community. Live and let live, I say. Love and let love.
Love is always good. Love is peace.

As a writer, I am always seeking to make sense of things. I think that’s everyone’s draw to stories: to find the cadence of meaning that drums through a course of events. It resounds through our own lives, helping us understand our own biggest challenges through symbolism, allegory, dragons.
And, as a writer, it’s imperative to get into the heads of villains–to understand their motives. My own villains, when not abstract, are usually damaged beings that have been hurt by the one(s) they’re trying to retaliate against.
This massacre is so senseless it would make for bad fiction. The more I learn, the less sense it makes. These innocent people did nothing to the shooter. They were shot at random. They were there to have fun, to find love–not to be violent.
What I do understand is the light shining through the darkness. (“Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers tells us. “You will always find people helping [during tragedy].”) We can’t let one extremist’s hatred control us, reverse us, put us back into the dark ages. I’m humbled and touched to see the response of the world in the wake of this tragedy: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/health/orlando-shooting-acts-of-kindness-trnd/

(Photos of mourners from Pulse Nightclub’s Facebook page)

Here are the ones who were lost: http://fusion.net/story/313038/orlando-shooting-victims-names-pulse-massacre/

This story is all of ours. We own it. Gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, atheist–this grief, this fear–it’s ours. Orlando is one of my favorite cities. Several of my friends are gay, including one of my very best. It could have been me in that club. It could have been you. It could have been anywhere.
Let us shine a light and show that good people will unite and shine brighter than hate. We cannot devolve into fear and counter-hatred–remember that Muslims stand with us in love and sorrow, and that it was an extremist who committed this atrocity.
Be the light–be that kindness you want to see in others. Only love can overpower hate.

What can one voice say in the midst of tragedy? When one voice joins another, and another, and another…praying for love, praying for peace…we will be louder than the ugly shouts of hatred and violence.
We stand with Orlando. We stand with the LGBT community. We stand for love.

Happy Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Most Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope all of you around the world are having a great day, regardless if you celebrate our American holiday or not.

It’s been a difficult year, but I’m blessed to have so much to give thanks for, anyway. I decided to take a quick break from helping with meal prep (a minor assistant role to my Master Chef mother!) to jot down a list of what I’m most grateful for.

Apple pie from scratch! I try to save most of my stomach space for this and the pumpkin pie. 😉

  1. My family.

    They’ve been there for me since day one. I’m so lucky we get along so well. With them, every day is amazing fun like a party, but every second nurtures and fills my soul. They’ve helped me become the woman I am. They’ve believed in me so strongly I’ve had no choice but to believe in myself, and they’ve built that confidence and drive in me since infancy. I love you, guys. ❤

  2. My friends.

    Like my family, they have helped me to become who I am today. I can’t believe I’ve had the same best friends for 20 years. How lucky am I? We’ve gone from children to adults together, sharing every important moment together and supporting each other when we needed extra strength. I love them more with each day. We have just as much fun now planning weddings and navigating transitions as we did building snowmen and playing Barbies as kids.

  3. Oreo & Chad

    Even though now, they are both our angel babies, I am grateful for their huge impact on my life (and the world at large, of course). Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

  4. My Faith & God

    This grows stronger for me each year, as I witness miracles and kindness, even in the midst of tragedy. He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

  5. My Writing & Speaking

    Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. I always feel like I have more to do; it’s a never-ending quest to listen and speak, through voice or written words. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey.

  6. Books

    Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

  7. My Job & Coworkers

    I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become very dear friends.

  8. Nature

    I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us. I’ve been lucky to have several adventures in forests, mountains, and oceans, over the last year, and I’ve truly learned that every leaf, rock, and sky is uniquely awe-inspiring.
    On a less poetic note–or perhaps, since it’s Greek mythology, it is poetic still–I was even a Dryad for Halloween this year, wrapping my limbs in vines and hair in flowers. I feel my full integration into nature is progressing well.

  9. Love

    Life is funny, and relationships don’t always work out how you plan them. Despite the pain of when they end, I’m still grateful to have had the experiences. They’ve taught me what I need and want out of life, and they’ve helped to shape me in important ways. As a writer and reader who adores love stories, I’ve learned to adore true love, even if I don’t know where it will lead. 🙂

  10. My Health

    Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day (so many days), I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto. I’m looking forward to having it long enough soon to donate. I am blessed and very grateful.

 

Thanks for reading my list of gratitude, readers. What are YOU most grateful for? Have a wonderful holiday season; talk to you soon. I think I smell some pies that are ready for my sampling. ❤