Tag Archives: family

the truth will set you free.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

These words took on new meaning for me during the past month. In the midst of loss, I celebrated life.

The day after my uncle died, I was supposed to attend a birthday party for a dear friend of mine. I had gone back and forth throughout the day, not sure if I was up to being in a room full of people and not confident that I could hold myself together for the event. Puffy eyes and all, I pulled myself together and showed up. There were some tears, there were some hugs, but most of all, there was love. The room was filled with people who gathered to honor the beauty of life lived together. One of my favorite parts of the evening was when people shared stories of how they met the honored guest and what she meant to them. It was a timely reminder that what matters most is that we communicate our love to others in a way that can be understood and felt, not simply assuming that they know how we feel about them.

Later that week, my brother made the trek to Oklahoma to help me celebrate the big 3-0. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – no one knows my relationship with and love for Unkie better than Dave. We reminisced and laughed and grieved and did things that we know Unkie would want us to do. It was a joy to spend time with him – and a comfort. I lucked out in the big brother department, for sure.

One of my favorite moments of Dave’s visit was when I introduced him to some of my dearest Oklahoma friends. It meant so much to me to have so many of the people I care about most together in the same room. I can’t imagine what this time would have been like without the friends who have mourned with me and celebrated with me, seemingly simultaneously. My heart is still broken, but it is full. So many things bring memories of Unkie to my mind each day. I try to turn them into grateful thoughts, but sometimes all I can think of is how much I wish I could hug him again. The ones we love never truly leave us.

I’m learning more and more each day the beauty of a life lived with others, for better or worse. For so long, I’ve struggled with the self-imposed pressure of appearing that I have it all together and that I can handle whatever comes my way. And that’s exhausting. Our vulnerability is one of the most precious things we can share with others, and it can be terrifying to offer it without knowing how it will be received or responded to. But the only way to cultivate genuine relationships is to be honest, even when it’s not pretty. Especially when it’s not pretty. We’re all just trying to make it through the day. Sometimes we just need a little grace, a kind word, and a reassuring hug to remind us that we’re not in this alone. Thank goodness for that.


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the lion sleeps tonight.

“Everyone should have an Unkie.” 

What started out as my brother’s attempt at saying ‘uncle’ when he was a baby became an identity. The one-word moniker belonged to my mom’s brother, Noel. He embodied unconditional love, he made everyone laugh with his exquisite storytelling skills and the quirky ‘tunes’ he would sing (most were Unkie originals…and he did a fantastic rendition of “In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle”), he selflessly and generously provided for and encouraged the ones he loved. And just like that, he’s gone.

When I saw a text from my mom asking for me to call her at 5:30 a.m., I knew something was up…and probably not something good. A few possibilities came to mind, but this was not one of them. I called her right away and was shocked when she told me the news. Completely blindsided. How could this be?

His passing leaves an insatiable void. There will never be another one quite like Unkie. Every memory I have of him is a happy one. Whenever I tell a story involving him, I often end it by saying that everyone should have an Unkie. I had mine for almost 30 years, and he was just the best uncle you could ever imagine. I’m not ready for him to be gone yet. It’s much too soon.

Unkie always focused on others, rarely speaking about himself unless asked directly. It wasn’t until my grandfather was ill that I had extensive one-on-one time with Unkie, and we developed a strong bond in those days. We’d go to Eat’n Park once or twice a week after visits with Pop-Pop at the hospital and have what he would call ‘the only pleasant hour’ of his day. Those months were hard, but we helped each other through them. It doesn’t surprise me that when he found out he had cancer, he didn’t tell anyone. He never wanted to be a burden. For so long he was the caretaker and the supporter – I wish he would have let us do that for him.

I was so grateful to have him nearby when I lived in Pittsburgh. Our relationship deepened in my years there, and thankfully that continued after I left. He helped me through some tough times and was one of very few people I knew I could turn to without fear of judgment or shame when I needed help. Whether it was car trouble or helping me move, picking me up at the airport or asking him to meet up for dinner just because, he was there in an instant, no questions asked. I just can’t imagine what Pittsburgh will be like without Unkie. He was such a big part of my life there.

We spent a lot of time together during my trip to Pittsburgh this summer. I was so grateful for those days – and now I am even more grateful. I would give anything to have one more day with him to laugh and listen to his stories over apple pie and coffee at E’n P. I take comfort in knowing that we both knew how much we cared for each other. I guess that’s the only thing that’s helped me through this day. I know that he knew I loved him, and I know he loved me. There’s never any real closure when this happens so suddenly, but it helps to know that our last time spent together was joyful.

This is yet another reminder, my friends, that nothing in life is guaranteed. Hug the ones you love extra tight and tell them that you love them. You just never know when it will be for the last time.

Pleasant dreams, dear Unkie. I miss you terribly. Forever yours, Girlchick.


Santa and Unkie. What fun we had when he came to visit Oklahoma last winter.

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where the skies are so blue.

Last night, I enjoyed a rite of passage as a Hoadley: I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert.  This was Ben’s ninth Lynyrd Skynyrd show.  And yes, he’s really only 30.  His dad took him to his first LS show when he was 17 – Ben’s first rock concert, and his introduction to one of his truest loves.

They played a great show – and it was a beautiful night to be out in Oklahoma City.  Ben’s sister is visiting while on leave from deployment, so it was the perfect way to spend the evening before she heads back to Japan this weekend.

Some observations and lessons learned at my first Lynyrd Skynyrd experience:

1) All of the band members have longer hair than I do. (And yes, all males.)

2) There was a man near us who would raise his walking cane overhead in jubilation when they played a song he liked.  Perfect symbolism of the primary age group that made up the crowd.

3) It confirmed my suspicions that Oklahoma does not identify with “the South”.

4) Any sort of military tribute makes me a little extra sentimental.  They dedicated the song “Simple Man” (my personal favorite LS song, thanks to my college years) to service men and women and their families.  I may or may not have gotten a little teary-eyed.  I’ll blame it on all the smoke.

Boy, don’t you worry – you’ll find yourself.  Follow your heart, and nothing else.  You can do this, if you try. All I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.

5) Speaking of smoke, it’s been a long time since I’ve been around that much dirty air.  My throat was on fire, eyes irritated, and my nose tried to act as a good filter, based upon what’s been coming out of it this morning.  Yuck.

6) I feel like my life is a little more complete now that I’ve heard “Free Bird” live in concert.  And, oh my, the closing guitar solo was ridiculously amazing.

7) It’s worth walking a little further to get to the clean Port-a-Potties.  Totally worth it.

8) And lastly, there’s nothing better than seeing your loved ones really, truly happy.  My heart is full.


free as a bird now.

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so far away.

This is one of those days that it’s really hard to be so many miles away from my family.  My beautiful twin nephews, Drew and Liam, are celebrating their first birthday today!


Liam & Drew…a year ago.

Aren’t they the sweetest?  They are beloved little boys.  I’m grateful that I can look at photos and watch videos of them, getting a glimpse of them as they grow and change and figure out how to navigate this world.  It’s not the same as hugging them close and breathing in that magical baby smell, laughing with them, and showering them with kisses, but it’s better than nothing.  I miss these boys, their older brother, and my brother and sister-in-law so very much.


the birthday boys! be still my heart.

Being an aunt to these boys is such a wonderful blessing – every moment spent with them, whether virtually or in person, is so full of love and joy.  As we watch them develop their unique personalities, I can’t help but be grateful for their miraculous existence and hopeful for the men they will grow to be.  Happy birthday, Drew and Liam.  Auntie K loves you.


my three little loves.

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open the door.

Years and years ago, my beloved dance teacher said something that has really stayed with me: “You only ever get the chance to make one first impression.  Make it a good one.”  At the time, she was simply offering some constructive criticism for our dance routine, but her words are a truth I’ve never forgotten.  You only get to make one first impression.

This idea has manifested itself in different ways for me.  For years, I never left the house without looking “presentable” – meaning non-gym attire and make-up for every outing, even if it was just to grab a gallon of milk.  Ben often teased me about it.  I’ve loosened up quite a bit over the past couple years – I’ll go to the grocery store in running shorts now, no problem.  This was made easier as we’ve moved around – when you don’t know anyone in a town, you probably won’t be seeing any familiar faces in the produce section.  You could duck in and out without a soul really noticing your presence…and that you hadn’t put mascara on yet.

More recently, I’ve seen how this mentality has affected my pursuit of new friendships as we moved around.  I have put a lot of pressure on myself to make the perfect first impression – be witty and fun, kind and thoughtful, articulate but not too chatty.

It’s been difficult for me to nurture new relationships during times of struggle, which conveniently coincided with each move, which is exactly when you’re trying to nurture new relationships.  I wasn’t sure how much I could share about what was really going on with people without scaring them off.  I created this mentality that until I had it all together, no one would really want to hang out with me.  And thanks to a few kind souls, I’ve realized that it’s okay to share the hurts with people who haven’t known you for years, who don’t know everything there is to know about you.  Sure, it’d be great if they could meet the skinnier, less-stressed version of Kristen…alas.

As I’ve been savoring every word of Shauna Niequist’s latest book, Bread & Wine, a passage she wrote really resonated with me, reaffirming my newfound suspicion that it’s okay to let people know that things are less than perfect.  She’s referring to allowing people into your home, but I think these words apply just as strongly to allowing people into your life.  It goes like this:

What people are craving isn’t perfection.  People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home.  If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd…it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance.  You’ll miss the richest moments in life if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.

She nailed it.  In the moments I’m too busy worrying about the fact that I’m not exactly what/where/who I had hoped to be at the lovely age of 28, I might be missing out on some really great people and adventures.  Sure, my wardrobe isn’t what’s featured on a fashion blog, my house decor isn’t quite Pinterest worthy, and I could stand to lose a few pounds.  But I have a beautiful life.  And every part of it – the good and the bad – are valuable elements in my story.

When we open the door to others, we allow them to know us, to love us, to accept us.  When we build walls to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves from getting hurt, we actually accomplish the very thing we are trying to prevent.

Friends, I’ll gladly welcome you into my home, wobbly coffee table and all.  Our home is full of love and laughter – and that is the greatest gift.


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wake me up.

I’m just going to get right to it.

  1. I’m not sure if I shampooed my hair this morning or just conditioned it twice.  It’s that kind of day.
  2. I recently signed up for Birchbox – and I got my first box this month.  Birchbox is a great way to try new make-up and skincare products – for $10 a month, you get a box filled with samples and products tailored to your profile (skin type, lifestyle, products you’re interested in, etc.).   My favorite discovery in this month’s box is Simple’s Revitalizing Eye Roll-On.  It’s a game-changer.  If you’re looking for a way to minimize puffiness or dark circles around your eyes (or like me, just to look more awake in the mornings), I highly recommend it.  Put it on underneath your regular make-up and you’re good to go.  You’re welcome.


    this month’s goodies.

  3. My latest Netflix distraction is The West Wing, the Aaron Sorkin masterpiece from the late 1990s-early 2000s.  Charlie likes to watch it, too.  Probably because there’s a character named Charlie – little pup’s ears perk up every time he hears his name through the speakers.  I’m a big fan of Sorkin’s most recent project, The Newsroom on HBO, and I’ve long been slightly obsessed with his play-turned-movie, A Few Good Men.  I highly recommend them all if you’re looking for some thoughtful, witty, well-written entertainment.


    this is how we watch the west wing.
    (apparently my knee makes a great pillow.)

  4. My allergies have been attacking me in waves.  April has been pretty miserable for anything above my neckline.  But at least everything is pretty and green around here now.  You can move along, pollen.  Your time here is done.
  5. I’ve  been experimenting with social media lately.  I must say, I’m not a Twitter fan, except for the funny musings Harry Connick Jr. posts on a daily basis.  Twitter is a great way to find out what’s going on at local businesses and restaurants, but other than that, I think I’m pretty much over it.  I’m enjoying my foray into Instagram land, though.  Seeing pictures helps me pretend I’m getting to experience things with all of you who are so far away.  Keep ’em coming, friends!  (And let me know if you’re instagram-ing…I’ll be sure to follow you!)
  6. The Hoadley family is about to get a whole lot cuter.  I know, I know…how is that possible, you ask?  Little Nimitz will be coming home with us in less than 2 weeks – and we couldn’t be more excited.  Here’s a picture of his sisters at 4 weeks – aren’t they precious?  I’m going to be outnumbered 3 to 1 – 3 boys, 3 things to clean up after, 3 things to love…however you want to look at it.  I have a lot to learn about being a puppy owner.  Let’s hope this goes well.Tessa F3 4202013 013
  7. My parents visited at the beginning of the month.  My dad, being the quick thinker that he is, decided to take advantage of Southwest’s “two bags fly free” policy and filled a suitcase with a Kristen time capsule to bring along with him.  When I opened it, I found an old scrapbook that I had started circa 1993, old basketball trophies and awards, a DVD of home videos – including my very first dance recital, and some other treasures.  It’s been great to flip through the scrapbook and reminisce about the good ol’ days.  Thanks, Dad.
  8. And here’s more cuteness.  Double cuteness.  And great news, friends: I get to hug them soon!  I finally get to meet my newest little nephews.  I’m so looking forward to seeing these sweethearts and their amazing family.


    happy babies! liam and drew.

  9. One of the greatest habits my parents instilled in me as a child is this: writing thank you notes.  I mean old-fashioned, hand-written, snail-mailed thank you notes.  It’s a simple gesture that can take less than two minutes, but I guarantee you it will be appreciated.  Sometimes I take it too far and send a thank you note for a thank you note.  But that’s another story.  It’s good to let people know you recognize their generosity, and that they matter to you.
  10. I think Pandora is spying on me.  They know when I need a peppy song, when I need a that’s-what-I’m-trying-to-communicate-but-can’t-articulate song, and when I just need a John Mayer song.  I wouldn’t survive my work days without you, Pandora.
  11. I’m counting down the days until the premiere of The Great Gatsby.  I finally understand the anticipation of all of you Twilight and Harry Potter fans…kind of.  It looks amazing.  Simply amazing.



We’ve survived April, friends.  It was a doozy.  But we did it.  Bring it on, May.  We are so ready for you.

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the (almost) snow day.

People here freak out at the mention of snow.  Or ice.  I’m talking stock-up-on-groceries-and-movies-and-bottled-water-and-hibernate-for-three-days freak out.  It’s borderline ridiculous.  We had a lovely little storm last night…some snow, sleet, and rain, with some thunder and lightning for good measure.  In New York or Pennsylvania, this is what we’d call fair game pretty much any day from October through April (that’s 6 months, people).  All of the area schools are closed – OU had a two-hour delay.  That was the right call – the roads were fine by 9 a.m.  I had already started my morning routine by the time I got the call, so I didn’t crawl back in bed, although it was tempting.  Instead, a very sweet puppy insisted on sitting in my lap and we watched old episodes of Boy Meets World together.  I made a nice breakfast and enjoyed the quiet time.  I would have loved a full snow day, but I’ll gladly take a shorter work day.

I’ve completed my four weeks of boot camp.  And I feel great.  It’s been encouraging to see that I am capable of more than I expected.  The experience was definitely a physical and mental challenge; it has helped me regain some confidence and rejuvenate my endurance and strength.  I overcame my aversion to a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call, personal fears and insecurities, and my sometimes-hindering shyness.  I hope to keep the momentum going and continue to push my limits.

On Tuesday, my adorable new nephews were born – welcome to the world, Drew and Liam!  I’m in love already…and I’ve only seen two pictures.  I can’t wait to snuggle with you two.  They look at a lot like Josh to me…which means they’re destined to be little cuties.  Congratulations to Dave, Melissa, and big brother Joshua.  The Ortendahl name lives on.


meet Drew and Liam. born February 19, 2013.


can you guess who is who?

With moments like this, I’m torn between where I am and where I want to be.  I wish my family and friends weren’t so far away.  It’s hard to miss out on the everyday activities and the special moments.  I’m so grateful for things like Skype and iPhones, because, at least for a moment, they don’t feel so far away.  I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I just want to hug my nephews.  And I think it’s okay to want that.

….in case you’re wondering about the second photo, Liam in on the left, Drew is on the right.  Snoozin’ sweethearts.

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