The love of my life, 1,000 dollars and a dream

The love of my life

I’m not sure anyone will care about our story, but in a world where we have to navigate through a lot of daily bullshit, sometimes it’s nice to read about a love story that actually works. That, and we are trying to start a business—so that’s something. It’s strange to put this in writing, and even weirder to write about myself, but for those of you who are interested, I think Tom and I have an entertaining tale. One of friends who reconnected and started dating years after losing touch.

I don’t typically write about these types of things, but it was fun to document, and maybe you’ll enjoy reading about us. This is not as much about building my pie business, but instead, it’s about a love story, and where the decisions we have made together have led us.

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When Tom and I met, we were in graduate school in the Sports Administration program at Valparaiso University, a tiny liberal arts school in Northwest Indiana. I loved my time at Valpo, a school known by many for Bryce Drew’s last second shot during their ’98 NCAA March Madness appearance. As an athlete myself, it’s all I ever knew of the school before being recruited to play there. They upset Ole Miss and went on to win their second round game against Florida State before losing in the Sweet Sixteen to Rhode Island. “The Shot” is famous enough that it gets replayed every year during the Men’s March Madness Tournament and Axe Body Spray parodied it in one of their commercials a few years back. It was something about Axe Apollo and an astronaut showing up on the court after the shot was made and stealing the show—it’s stupid, I know, but shows that this moment in time was a pretty big deal for college basketball.  Writing this much about Axe Body Spray makes me feel like a dumbass, which I probably am. 

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This is Marion, acting as I would expect.

Valparaiso University is much more than that Bryce Drew shot. It’s a school that motivates its students to care about their surroundings and the world—I met a lot of really good people there. As college is for many, it was a place for me to figure myself out. At times I was mature for my age, other times I was very, VERY stupid, but I was able to navigate living away from home, and Valpo was a relatively safe place for me to learn to do so. I was lucky enough to get a full-ride athletic scholarship to a school that would not have been an affordable option for me. I’m 6’2” so that doesn’t hurt in the volleyball world. I also met one of my closest friends, Marion, in undergrad. We were teammates, roommates, and goofballs. I bring her up because I wanted an excuse to show this picture of Marion, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about our friendship in the future.

I was all about volleyball, had just finished as a player, and was transitioning to a graduate assistant volleyball coach for the program I once played for. Tom was also a graduate assistant—an athletic trainer. He came from northern Maryland, and Indiana was a bit of a culture shock to him. We didn’t know each other that first year, but early on in the summer, a mutual friend invited us to the Indiana Dunes to hang out at the beach for the day. I was moving out of the house I had lived in for the first year of the program, and brought up that I needed a new roommate. Tom mentioned that he could use one too, and just like that, we decided to find an apartment together.

I’ve always been spontaneous, but was especially so in my early 20’s—who wasn’t at that age—but I could also be a lot to handle, and I had a hell of an attitude when pushed. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Tom and I decided to become roommates on a whim, and from there, friends. I was curious about Tom, he was a quirky dude, and piqued my interest—I always liked folks with quick wits and strange senses of humor, and Tom fit that mould. It was early on as roommates that we went to a show in Indy together. I think it was night three that he asked me to go with him to see a band he liked called Gil Mantera’s Party Dream. 

Get up, stand up, be a soul commander.

He told me years later that he realized halfway down to Indy,  I might not be down for this type of thing. Spoiler alert—I was, and we had a blast. It was a ridiculous show, and I drank, laughed and danced my ass off. It’s too bad that Gil and the Ultimate Donny don’t  perform anymore, I think folks started to take them too seriously or something.

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Marzipan from Homestar Runner, this was all the rage back in the day. She’s a broom, and I know it’s dumb, but if you don’t get why Homestar Runner is funny I don’t want to be friends with you.

We lived in the Maison Royale apartments in a two bedroom walkup. Not sure why anyone would consider these apartments royal homes, but hell, it was a great place for two students in a graduate program, and we had a silly, fun year together. I used to drink beer with an old man at the community pool almost every day when it was warm—those were good times—and he supplied the beer so even better. This is when Tom and I became friends. Not friends with benefits, and no messing around on the side—real deal friends. We got a cat together, and named her Marzipan—she’s named after the Homestar Runner character not the almond dessert. Even today, Homestar makes me crack up, I especially love the Pumpkin Carve-nival episode.

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Tom and baby Marzipan, our Battle Cat.

By the end of our Master’s program, it was time for Tom to go back to Maryland, and I stayed in Valpo for a bit with a new roommate, my buddy Carolyn. Carolyn now has a much older Marzipan—she’s still kickin’! I also decided that I didn’t want to be a volleyball coach anymore and stumbled into the nonprofit sector. Up until this point, volleyball was an enormous part of my life. I had put so many years into it, and I was knowledgable, but tired of it, and I wanted a change. Little did I know, Tom also changed careers in Maryland. He no longer wanted to be an athletic trainer and switched to being an operations manager for a company that put on large-scale running events, lacrosse and beach volleyball tournaments.

I always wonder what would have happened if we dated while roommates in school. Would we have worked? I don’t think so. We were both immature and headstrong individuals.

Soon after Tom left for home, I moved to Chicago for an Irish bar owner who was 15 years older than me—yeah, I know what you are thinking. He was fun and hilarious, but as you might guess, too old for me, and it only lasted for a few years and fizzled out. I don’t regret a second of that relationship, it was right for me at that time in my life. I also really liked that he was a small business owner. My years after dating the Irish bar owner were a wild ride, but also a time when I needed to act stupid in the city with my friends. I’m going to fast forward through that part of the story, believe me when I say it’s best for all. 

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My single days. When I dressed up as an American Gladiator for Halloween and thought it was a good idea to light my joust on fire. My bud, Lauren, in the orange wig, encourages me to do these shenanigans.

Five years had gone by from the time Tom moved back to Maryland and when we reconnected. We hadn’t talked since Valpo, and I didn’t have his cell number, we only had Facebook as a way to communicate. I was working at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, and I traveled all over the country to meet with alumni and organize gatherings for them. Sometimes Tom would enter my thoughts, even after years of not talking. I specifically remember going to a show that was featuring a band made of robots, and thinking, Tom would like this. I guess that was enough of a reason to message him before a work trip to D.C. I was organizing an alumni outing at a Nationals vs. Cubs game, and thought, what the hell, I should ask Tom to come. I wasn’t expecting anything out of it, I just wanted to catch up with my old friend. So I reached out, and he replied. He had a big race coming up so he couldn’t make the game but wanted to find another way to hang out. We set up a brunch meet-up before I had to leave for the airport.

It was a day game, and afterwards I met a friend who had moved to the area a year before. I stayed out all night drinking in D.C., and looking back, I was a hot mess during that time period. I didn’t have his cell phone number, the hotel was an hour away, and I was supposed to meet Tom at 9 a.m. Thank goodness my friend was willing to drive an hour out of their way to drop me off. I was meeting Tom in the lobby, and I can only imagine what I must have looked like when he saw me roll up. Strangely enough, it was from this moment that something changed between us. We ate and caught up at a diner by the airport, it was fun and goofy, just like it had been back in the day. After he dropped me off at the airport, we kept in touch over the summer, and I started to think, if only he wasn’t so far, maybe we would work. Then that Halloween, he texted me that he wanted to come visit over New Year’s, and I, of course, said that he should.

So my bud, Lauren, and I planned a night out in Chicago. Tom and I didn’t care where we were or who was playing, I can’t even remember most of that night, but I do remember Tom kissing me for the first time at midnight. How cliché can you get, I know, but it was the damn cutest thing ever.

We spent the rest of the weekend watching Tim and Eric and doing stupid touristy stuff in Chicago. It was fantastic. I found out that Tom always had a thing for me, and even though I may not have understood it, I always had a thing for him as well.

I moved to Maryland less than 6 months later—I told you I could be spontaneous. I landed a job working for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, packed my bags and headed east. I went from my cute apartment in the Old Irving neighborhood to a duplex in the middle of nowhere northern Maryland. Our neighbor was a goofball and liked to collect junk and leave it in his yard. Our other neighbors had goats that ran around the back and a deer head hung in the tree, it was an interesting transition for me. 

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Actual deer head in our back yard. This is pretty metal.

After the lease was up, we moved to an awesome little house outside of Baltimore in Howard County. It was in the middle of the woods, on environmentally protected land, right on the border of the Patapsco State Park. Our nights consisted of grilling, listening to music and hanging on our deck. We loved that place. The owners of that house owned a ton of land back there, and when I asked if they would ever consider selling their little red cottage, they laughed. We knew then this was not a forever place for us, but we enjoyed it while we were there.

Then one day, an old work connection informed me about a job opening at a university in Chicago. I thought, why not try? MDA had recently closed a bunch of offices, and I was a bit worried about job security. Tom and I talked it over, and he encouraged me to go for it. He told me that he would move to Chicago with me if I landed the job. Even though I was really enjoying Maryland, there were times that I missed Chicago, and if you haven’t guessed, I ended up applying and getting the job. Now it was his turn to be open-minded and spontaneous. This is why we work so well together, he was all about it. He liked his job, but didn’t love it, and this was an opportunity to do something else so he jumped in with both feet. I think that is pretty damn cool, a man who isn’t afraid to drop his successful job to check out a new city with his then serious girlfriend.

After being in the city for a bit we decided to make it official and get married. We took a road trip for our honeymoon. Started in Nashville, off to Gatlinburg, and finally Asheville, NC. 

Afterwards, we started thinking about buying a house. Tom and I enjoyed living in the city, but he is a country boy at heart—I guess he missed the hanging deer head in the backyard or maybe the inner city pressure just became too much.

One day, while visiting my parents in Lake County we started to talk about a home that went up for sale in the neighborhood. I started to daydream about living in a cottage on the water, and when I brought it up to Tom, he was excited about the possibility as well. Sylvan Lake is a special place—it’s a lake community, but primarily middle class. I never dreamt that I would be able to own a house on the water, but with our combined incomes we could just barely make it work. The house was built in the 1930’s, we love vintage charm, and needs some cosmetic updates, but is in overall good shape. We’ve now been here for more than a year, and we LOVE lake life. It’s like being on vacation the second you come home from work. We have a pretty big yard and find ways to garden, canoe, fish, float in tubes, and the list goes on. We also have three insane cats. Sometimes we just sit in our hammock together and watch the bats fly over us at dusk, and there are owls that hang out in our yard and keep us up at a night. We want to take on bee keeping and get chickens in the near future. My parents live down the street, and it’s—mostly—fun to have them around. It’s true lakebilly living, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

12 years after first meeting and 7 years after that first kiss on New Year’s, I look back at our lives and our decisions to this point, and I think about how lucky we are. Tom is all about me being me, and I am all about him being him. We really talk to each other, and laugh a lot. If you end up with a guy like Tom, a warning, every Saturday you will wake up, come down the stairs, and 80’s wrestling will be on the TV. When I say every weekend, I mean it, and I love it and I love him. Tom is the Cream of the Crop. 

When I say Tom is into wrestling, I actually mean he is obsessed. Currently, he is really into Smoky Mountain Wrestling which was out of Appalachia in the 90’s and was run by Jim Cornette. My wrestling knowledge has increased leaps and bounds since being with Tom. Wanna talk about Mid-South Wrestling? Yeah, I can hold my own in that conversation, bring it. 

The Brewer

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When we first arrived in Chicago I started up at Northeastern Illinois University and Tom was unemployed. He really likes hockey so when he arrived in the city he started volunteering at Chicago Steel games out by O’Hare Airport. Chicago Steel is a hockey team and members of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He also got a job doing beer tastings for a local beer distributor and took on a dog walking gig (he walked dogs during the polar vortex, no joke). He started to homebrew beer, and was a natural at it. He entered his first competition and one 3rd in his category at the Charlie Orr Memorial Chicago Cup Challenge. 

Although moving to a new city with no job is scary it also gave him the freedom to figure out what he wanted to do. He mentioned that he really liked homebrewing and doing the beer tastings, and I encouraged him to find a way into the beer industry. 

Sometimes life introduces you to truly good people. Our friend, Jim, is one of those people, and so is his wife Nancy. Jim was my coworker at Northeastern, an avid home brewer and National ranked judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program. He knew me from work, and when I told him that my boyfriend was looking for a job in the beer industry, he connected Tom with his friend, Bob, from his homebrewers club. Bob was the manager for a malt warehouse in South Holland, Ill., and had an opening for a lead shift manager. Jim barely knew Tom, and did this because he is a nice person. It is our life goal to be more like Jim and Nancy. Tom jumped at the opportunity, and this was the beginning of his career in the beer world.

I know I’m talking about my husband, and that I’m biased, but Tom is a smart man, and is also not scared of hard work. After working at the warehouse for a year, he emailed a bunch of breweries asking to get in the door any way possible. He ended up landing a job at Half Acre on the packaging line, and was eventually moved to shipping. Half Acre was a great place for him. He was able to be goofy and himself—they just really embrace that there. After being at Half Acre for a year, Goose Island reached out to him about the resume he had sent when he gave resumes to a bunch of breweries the year before. They were looking for a Brewer I position to be filled, and needed someone to work in their barrel warehouse. Tom couldn’t pass this up, his goal was to be a brewer and this was the next step to be able to do that. Goose was also a great place for him, and the people were terrific there too. The brewing industry seems to be filled with mostly cool people who let you be your weird self. Not that I can’t be where I am at, but it’s not the same—sometimes I get a little jealous. 

When we moved to Lake County, the drive to Goose became intense. Tom was starting to go a little bonkers with that commute, and he decided to try to get a job closer to home. He is now an Assistant Brewer at Half Day Brewing, about 15 minutes away from our  house. This also became another step up in his brewing career. Half Day is a brewpub so it is small, and he works alongside the head brewer, Brandon—the two of them make it happen. I have to give Brandon props, the beer is really good.  

I’m really proud of Tom. Not many people can completely reinvent themselves and learn a new trade so quickly. It’s pretty awesome to watch him figure it out.

The Baker

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My home kitchen.

My story is that of a home baker. Baking is therapeutic to me. I love working with my hands, I love how precise and scientific it can be, and I love making something beautiful. I also like that it’s temporary, an art that gets eaten and enjoyed. It reminds me of the same feeling I had as an athlete—not the getting eaten part. Mastering anything takes time and practice, and I enjoy learning new skills. I am just starting to explore this as a career, Tom definitely has a jump on me, but I’m catching up quick. 

Although I have been baking since I was a child, pie is relatively new to me. I started right around 2 years ago. At first, I gave a traditional apple pie with an all-butter crust a try. It was for a friends party and it ended up OK, but I overworked the dough and I didn’t use temperature control. It was kind of a mushy mess, and when you cut into the pie it spilled everywhere. It was from there that I read, then baked a pie and then read some more. I have learned from every pie since. I would share my apple pie with everyone who would have some, and eventually started to receive rave reviews. Family and friends are nice though, and it was hard for me to know if it was actually that good, or if they were just giving me an ego boost. That’s when I decided to enter a competition for apple pies, and ended up winning. It was a local town apple fest competition, but nonetheless, my pie was tasty enough to win, and that was what really hooked me. I seriously dream about baking now, and it makes me happy.

I’ve always seen myself as a small business owner, I know this is going to be hard, but at this point, it doesn’t even feel like work. I think that has to be a good sign, and starting a business in baking is the right move for me.

$1,000 and a dream

Our story leads us to this moment. Tom and I are betting on ourselves, and we will see where this leads us. Like every decision we make together, we know what we want and like, and work to find ways to make it happen. Sometimes it evolves into something unexpected, but it’s always an adventure, and I’m lucky to have a man who is willing to join me on this ride.

We are starting off small. We have $1,000 to get things off the ground, and I’m starting at farmers’ markets and using shared commercial kitchen space so I can cater weddings and events. Tom and I are all about organic growth and providing the best product. Like I was with volleyball, I don’t want to be mediocre, I want to make the best damn pie I possibly can because it is fun and exciting to master something, and watch others enjoy what I have created. I know he is the same about beer. 

It’s fun to share why I think we work as a couple, and also why we have chosen to go into these industries. Tom and I get called “artsy” a lot, I’m not sure if that is what we are, but I do think we both find joy in being creative. I also think we don’t always fit into traditional work settings, and this is an awesome outlet for us to make a living being us, and we can be our own bosses. We are also lucky enough to have day jobs that don’t suck and pay the bills. We may be starting off with $1,000 for this new adventure, but we are taking calculated risks and we will both keep our day jobs.

Where do we see ourselves in a few years—as the brewer and the baker enjoying lake life. Whatever this becomes it will be ours, as of right now we see a small brewery and pie shop, but as always, we are open to all the possibilities.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how lucky I am to have found Tom, and to have lived the life I have.

I love our lives—Tom and I say this to each other a lot. Let’s see where this venture takes us.

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3 Comments on “The Brewer and the Baker

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