Some days I catch myself thinking of her, eighteen and at her high school graduation rehearsal, learning in a sea of classmates that her father has died. Suddenly and unexpectedly.
She must have felt like her life was just beginning. And then, not anymore.
It must have felt like nothing mattered. Like her life was ending too.
Some days I think of myself learning similar news. At 8 or 13 or 22.
How grief sneaks up on you and even though the wave has already crashed, the news already broken, it can take days for the rumble of the wake to shake your legs and pull you down.
I think about those three days of disbelief in 2003. How on Day 4, the floodgates opened. How I couldn’t close them back up. How hard it was to push push push that door closed, the water streaming in.
Those are crossroads moments. Some of us catch them and some of us point as they drive past. Some of us lock them up tight and some throw them to the wind.
I was always a locker. A keeper. A carrier.
And though it might feel heavy at times, mostly I like it. Mostly it reminds me why I do what I do. Why I am who I am.
At sixteen I was messaging this guy back and forth on AIM, and I remember him saying, “you’re a very emotional person.” I don’t remember what prompted it or if anything did at all, but it’s stuck with me.
When bad news comes and the clouds roll in, it might seem harder. But then it’s the reason we feel so much for the people and things we lose.
All those moments that add up to a life well worth it. Because they mattered to someone like me. Or you. Or him or her or them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m at that age in my life where I want my money to stretch to meet all my goals and needs. And every so often, I’ll talk to someone and realize it’s not just me. It seems like it’s everyone around me. And maybe it’s just because it’s December, but it seems like it’s more apparent right now than it has been before.
We want to save for a fun vacation or weekend getaway, save for retirement, save for the big life purchases, save for wedding expenses or babies. We need to pay off student loans and car loans and mortgages. We need to pay rent. We want to treat ourselves once in awhile. And maybe even test out the investment world.
I’m constantly leaning on apps and websites to help me, and sometimes I’ll be in conversation with someone and mention one of these below. So I thought I’d do a quick roundup of some apps and sites that I absolutely love that help me automate saving, or get a little back for the purchases I’m already making, or get me points toward future purchases. This is definitely not an ad, but a few of them have good referral codes so you get a bonus for signing up that way, so I’ll include those below. Some of them will also give me something if you sign up.
Get Upside – Before you shop for gas or groceries or takeout, you can go to this app, open it up, and see if you can claim an offer for cash back from a local gas station or grocery store or restaurant. Mostly I’ve used it for gas. You can cash out and have it go to your Paypal account. I’ve gotten as much as $0.20/gallon off the price just by using this. You also get “upside credit” which can be used for $3 off a car wash, for example, or a percent off an in-store purchase like food at the attached convenience store. Use code “KALEIGH227” for an extra 20 cents per gallon cash back on your first gas purchase.
Ibotta – This might be my absolute favorite. You get rebates for items you buy (mostly groceries and health/beauty products and alcohol). James LOVES it for beer because you get like $3 or $5 back on a case of beer. If you drink wine or liquor, the rebates are really good for those too. Like GetUpside, you have to search by the store you’re going to and then select a rebate based on what you’re planning to buy. Use code “jejvgqh” for an instant $10 bonus. You can cash out to Paypal once you hit $20. They’re doing a lot of deals where you get a 10% back on shopping via your phone too. Like 5% cash back on Target purchases, for example.
Qapital – Hannah Brencher Sheats raved about this to her Instagram followers back in the summer so I checked it out and I’m hooked – full credit to Hannah. You basically create basic rules that trigger the app to pull small amounts of money from your checking account into a separate goal account – so I used it to try and slowly save for Christmas, for example. You could do this for vacations, to save a little more towards your mortgage or student or car loan, etc. For example, I set it to round all my purchases from my credit cards to the nearest $2 and to also send $5 if I walk more than 2 miles per day. You can have as many goals and as many rules as you want. You can also set certain rules for certain goal accounts. I love the idea of using it for extra mortgage payments or other loans. Use this link for $5 when you create your first goal.
Checkout 51 – Same concept as Ibotta. Just another place to look for rebates before you go shopping.
Shopkick – This one’s hard for me to remember to do, but if you open the app before entering a store, you get “kicks” for that store if they have a “kicks” deal that day. Target’s usually got a 30 kicks deal. You can also get points for purchases at various stores and for scanning items (not even buying them). It’s an easy way to get points toward gift cards without even making a purchase. I have enough for a $10 gift card for Target and I didn’t even make a purchase to get there. Use “SHOP621802” to get 250 kicks for your first walk-in to an eligible store (as long as it’s within 7 days of you downloading the app). You have to have Location Services on your iPhone when you’re using this app.
MyPoints – This one’s not an app (it’s a website) but I love it. Casey, my college roommate, introduced me to it in 2008 and I’ve been using it ever since. You get emails with bonus points for clicking through or for making a purchase (XX points per dollar). Just go to their site and log in and then search for the retailer and click through to it to buy and get points per dollar. You can also do surveys to earn points. Then you redeem points for gift cards. I’ve earned a bunch of $10 Target cards over the years just by doing surveys or clicking on the email links. They also offer coupon codes and grocery coupons.
We lost my grandpa suddenly, five years ago today. My husband James never met him.
“He would have loved you.”
I tell him that sometimes. When we’re watching baseball, when he’s curled up quietly reading a book, when he starts singing made-up songs, when he peels open a banana, when he falls asleep in the armchair watching something he really loves.
I tell him that because it’s easier than saying, “I wish he had had the chance. I wish he had known you. I wish he had just one shared moment with you in my mom’s dimmed kitchen after dinner, hands wrapped around mugs on the table, quietly conversing about the world.”
My husband, he doesn’t know what he missed. How can you love someone you never met? If he’d come into my life a year earlier, he would’ve maybe had the chance. Maybe.
And so I look at it with a grateful heart. Less than 9 months after my grandpa died, this blonde-haired blue-eyed Italian-Irish boy parked outside the Cheesecake Factory and walked me inside. He reminded me about the love of baseball, the agony of 9 innings, of hard years and sticking with your team. He taught me that quiet can mean thoughtful. That words can be measured.
My grandfather lived three blocks from my aunt’s house. He showed up every day. In his actions and on their doorstep. He taught me what it means to give yourself to your family. And then, something changed, and he didn’t anymore. But we don’t remember him that way. We remember how he was for most of his life, how he loved his grandkids, the simple man he was.
I remember that cold first day of December, sitting on my knees with the kids, looking up at that video playing. Photo after photo. Song after song. When you’re the first grandkid, you see yourself over and over in those eulogy videos.
I cried the loudest in that room packed with people I hadn’t seen in years. In those photos, I could see all the time I’d had with him, all the things we’d done together, and how in the end it never felt like enough. You’re never ready for it to be over.
And so my husband shows me that sometimes God knows you’re hurting and He hands you a little piece of someone else. You catch yourself looking at your husband and remembering with sweetness what you once had, aching at the same time because you know they would’ve shared something special together.
You remember that quiet small actions matter. Love matters. Family matters. Showing up matters. On your doorstep or in your phone logs. However you can. However they need.
All the voices in my life, pouring through car radio speakers and ear buds and screens and pages and phone lines, all of them have told me that love comes when it wants to. It sneaks up on you, taps you on the back, and whispers something sweet in your ear. You might be shucking corn over the kitchen trashcan or painting your toenails or joining a pair of socks when it happens. Whenever it happens, it isn’t because you sat quietly on the other end of the computer and waited for it to find you. It isn’t because you went online, and made yourself into a profile of a human, and pursed your lips together and closed the computer and paced your living room and wondered what the hell you’d done.
I committed myself to it, this online dating thing. I mean really gosh darn wholeheartedly. And it took a few weeks, but one night last August, I stopped midway through my barefoot kitchen floor dance to WHAT I WOULDN’T DO by A Fine Frenzy, and said, “God I am so in trouble. God, am I in trouble.”
Because in my head, I knew this was it. I was kicking those people and ideas and movies and books in the butt and saying, “You can find love online. You can make a profile, and be proud of it. And you don’t have to wait until you’re 35 or 57. You can do it now. Now. Now. Now. Now, you can do it.”
And God, that’s a terrifying thing to jump into. But I’ve learned, over the last year plus, that it’s worth it.
Last August, I had a feeling. I had a feeling about a boy with blonde hair + blue eyes + a big smile. The kind that crinkles your eyes when it means something. I had a feeling he was somebody important in my life, though I can’t tell you why, except that I could tell, in the span of a few days of messages and texts back and forth, that he was sweet. For the first few weeks, when people asked me about him, I’d say that: He’s like, really, really nice. Really sweet. And that seemed odd, because it felt like the most generic thing to say about a guy – except that it wasn’t generic at all. It was the truest thing. It still is.
When you want to share your life, when you want to open yourself up to the world, it’s freaking scary. I watched ONE DAY, the movie adaptation of the book by David Nicholls, the night before I joined the growing community of online daters.
All because that movie wrecked me. For half an hour, I sat cross-legged in sweatpants atop my pub-height kitchen table, ceiling fan whirling above me, and wrote a blog post. It was a promise to myself that someday, somewhere, I would stop apologizing for the person I wasn’t and start loving the person I actually was. It was a promise to let go of waiting, to turn on my computer, and open my heart to the single men in Maryland + DC + Virginia.
It’s been more than a year, and I’ve stopped waiting to apologize. I’m not sorry I don’t have a romantic Barnes & Noble encounter to share. I’m not sorry the Wegmans Self-Checkout didn’t hold within it my future boyfriend. I’m not sorry the stationery aisle at Target didn’t find me bumping into some beautiful boy who needed help locating a Mother’s Day card.
This jumping, and trusting, and putting-myself-out-there thing was worth so much more. God knows I have friends whose hands I’ve never shook, whose driveways I’ve never backed out of. God knows I was built for connection, just not over red grapes and Italian bread.
My favorite story is from last December, our bodies wrapped in light-up Christmas sweaters, cold drinks in hand. His oldest brother leans over and tells me a line that I think will stick with me forever: “They don’t make ‘em like him anymore.” I nod because it’s true. It’s true and it’s true and if you don’t decide to jump outside your comfort zone and cross into new territory, you don’t get those bone chilling true moments, where you lean back and realize this life has been good to you, but only because you let it. Only because you opened up and let it pull you forward.