Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Know Thyself A Little Too Well

My kindergarten teacher called my parents to a conference.  They did not know what to expect and they were a little surprised -- what sort of trouble could I be making? I was chatty but I had an easy disposition as a child.  Mrs. Compton revealed something amazing: "I think Colette is psychic."  Every day after lunch I would announce what we were doing for the rest of the day. "I don't know how she does it," confessed the veteran teacher.

My mother does not suffer fools.  It is one of her chief qualities and the one I respect her for the most.  When wronged, she is formidable.  When it came to raising her children, she loved us and has proved (and continues to) that she would do anything for us, but she was realistic about our abilities and shortcomings.  When my oldest brother made the honor roll in spite of failing English, she single-handedly got the district to change its policy that only factored GPA when calculating its honor roll.  The principal had never had a parent complain that their child made the honor roll and was curious why she was so pushy about it. "It's not an honor if you don't do your work," she replied.  She won.  Corey was demoted.  He continued to skip his English homework but aced his tests and never made honor roll again.

This instinct of hers clued her in that something else was up.  Later that day she asked me how I knew what was going to happen.

I cheerfully replied that I read the teacher's schedule on her desk.

My mother followed up with the teacher. "You do know Colette can read, right?"

Mrs. Compton did not.  Allegedly, I took cues from the other children and did not disclose that I, in fact, read quite well.  I moved to the first grade at Christmas time. 

Despite this early brush with supernatural abilities, I have always felt a little prescient about events.  Maybe I have good intuition, maybe I'm good at reading people and situations and reading patterns, but when something big happens, I can usually see it coming from a distance.

Our well-laid plans for my husband leaving his job have just shifted.  All I can say about it is that I'm relieved.  2018 is off to a rocky start a month ahead of time, but the whole thing feels right and it's a long overdue change.  Last week I made a list what we needed to do to get things ready and I didn't do any of them.  I had this feeling that I was jumping the gun so I put it off, citing the holiday weekend. 

What to do with such a gift?  I fear becoming a Cassandra, spouting prophecy but never being believed. (A total aside: sexism is ancient.  By spurning the advances of Apollo, Cassandra's own words are forever mistrusted.  I wish I had time to run with that idea right now.)  Likelier I don't often speak up because mistrust my own judgments or get frustrated that I have trouble putting my whys into words.  Intuition is hard to explain but it's usually based in experience.

My intuition tells me that holidays mean sickness and car trouble.  Just when I thought we were in the all clear, and that maybe, just maybe I was wrong, we heard a clanking in the wheel well.  The car was sent to the shop, a Zipcar was ordered, and we waited for the diagnosis.

The good news: it was a walnut!

The bad news: our brake calipers and rotors are shot, along with a host of other things that are rattling on the underbody of our increasingly decrepit car. 

Bah humbug. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Only Open Chiropractor in Quackton

I have mentioned how our holidays usually involve some level of strife.  This Thanksgiving did not disappoint!

It was a beautiful day on Friday and I was antsy.  I had already walked the half mile of my brother's driveway and was feeling restless, useless. "Give me a chore," I asked him. "I guess you could pull my carrots, if they're still any good," he replied. "Great," I said. "I'm going to get a drink of water and then I'll be out."

I took one, two steps up to his house when I felt it pinch.

When your back goes out, instantly you are aware and grateful for the countless years you haven't even thought about how weird it is that your spine and nerves are all wrapped around each other and how extraordinary it is that it doesn't happen more often. That instant quickly passes and is replaced by choice words and hobbling.

I flung myself upon a yoga mat and began to cat/cow.  Cat was okay, cow was torture. I queued up some Pilates and cursed my tight hip flexors and my faulty SI joint.  The last time it went out like this it was 2014.  My scolding at Urgent Care back then was so effective that it caused me to take up Pilates the very next day.  I couldn't believe how good my back felt after that first class.  Later, frustrated with the breathing patterns I couldn't quite get down, I paid for an individual session where I learned what I was supposed to be doing during the Hundred.  I asked why I was getting so light-headed during some of the poses.

The answer was so nonchalant and free of judgment it nearly knocked me over with its truth. "You're anxious.  You're holding your breath along with your back muscles."

Not much has changed since 2014.

It was 4:30pm on Black Friday.  Time was wasting.  Brian furiously called any chiropractor Google could find within a 30 minute drive. None were open. "This place has more chiropractors than restaurants, and no one's working today?"

Finally one answered, replying that although they were open until 7:00pm, they were booked. Could I come back on Monday?

"Booked?  It takes 5 minutes to see the chiropractor.  There is no way they're booked."

"We're going," I grimaced. "I'm going to hobble in there and get my back cracked."

Fifteen minutes later we found the place. The lights were on, there were no other cars in the parking lot.  I limped in. There were no patients, just two people tapping on their computers. I inquired about an adjustment.

"Maybe you could come tomorrow at 9:45?"

Here's something to know about me: I am not a pushy person.  I will go out of my way to avoid conflict.  I am much craftier at finding a loophole than persuading the other party.  But on that rainy Friday evening I was willing to pay triple for someone to twist me up like a pretzel and body slam me. I stood there and blinked at the receptionist.

"No. I need to be seen tonight."

For a moment we all looked at each other and the only sound in the room was their oil diffuser bubbling while it blew vapor into my face.

"...how about you come back in an hour?"

The lack of patients notwithstanding, this was a win and I knew it. I drove back to my brother's, nursed the kid, and went straight back to the clinic, which was now crawling with people. The chiropractor massaged my glutes and seemed genuinely surprised when he exclaimed, "Wow, those are tight. What did you do?"

Three cracks later and I could walk without wincing. I got some potent Icy-Hot type gel.  I was encouraged to come back the next day for another adjustment before I had to endure a two hour car ride. I learned to be thankful for Disney World, as the only reason this business was open until 7 on the Friday after Thanksgiving was because he had just spent the previous week in Florida with his family and needed to make up time.

"How was the only open chiropractor in Quackton?" my husband teased when I got back.

"Lovely," I replied. "But I think we're in the wrong business.  I'm giving that guy $90 for 10 minutes of work."

"Too bad he's so booked."

"I'm starting to think that's a marketing scheme.  At least he was open."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Salty, Sweet

If I had written a hastily-composed post last night, it might have looked like this:

ARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH

When you think of difficult times in theory, there are many ways to tell yourself, "I won't act petulant.  I'm going to be an adult about this and do my duty.  There's no reason to throw a fit."

I wouldn't say I threw a fit, but what I'm noticing about myself is that the right kind of bad news can put me straight into a funk.  I am an over-thinker, so my brain shifts into overdrive and immediately wants to parse out every. little. detail.  I made myself a perfectly useful and do-able list on Monday.  What I did not factor in was a Tuesday full of not-great news. (Also not factored: the ability to keep watching season 2 of "The Good Place", a delightful comedy that derailed plans I had for Monday night.)

So: we're not packed to leave for the holiday and we may be losing our health insurance sooner rather than later. Oh, and my graduate school department covered up decades of sexual harassment, blamed the victims, and has, according to an consultant's report ran by a group outside the university, a "legacy of sexism" bolstered by a "good old boys" mentality.  And my house is a mess. A couple of these are my own fault, but they're certainly all related.

Let's list some positives. It doesn't fix the negatives but it sure gives me some perspective. Tomorrow is by far my favorite holiday and I recognize that we have our health, a roof over our heads, a decently strong social support network, plenty of resources at our disposal, and I have never truly known hunger.  Last night I made a fabulous-looking pie, I am looking forward to more cooking tonight, my brother is excited to host us and spoil us silly with food, I have amazing friends, ten years ago over this holiday break I sent an e-mail to this guy I had a giant crush on and he replied within the hour (and four years later, I married him), and Obamacare is still kicking.  My life is rich and full.  Thank you, powers that be.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Morning Strategy

This morning in the car on the way to daycare and work drop off* we did a lightning round of gratitude. What's there to be thankful for on a Monday morning?

A snippet of our list:
  • it's a three day work week
  • my mother is not hosting Thanksgiving
  • our colds could be worse
  • bourbon will be flowing at my brother's house, where we are staying over the weekend
  • it's sunny today
  • today will be arguably warm
  • our kid is amazing and chatty and we're still in that halcyon period, so don't burst our bubble quite yet
  • only a few short weeks until Brian is done with his job! 
But, as my dreams reminded me last night**, holidays mean more work.  If I want this week to go decently, I need to look ahead. Right now I'm supposed to be working, but my brain is being slow on the uptake this morning and I've got daycare until 3, so I might as well plan. Here we go:

Monday
  • Dinner: pumpkin polenta with black beans and chorizo
  • Passive-ish activities while I work from home: cook pumpkin, laundry
  • After daycare: library, park time before sun goes down, get cat food
  • Evening: order Christmas presents online, order photos of Reed for family, fill out application for part time job, wipe down bathroom, make list of things needed at store, meal plan ahead for when we come back through the end of the month
Tuesday
  • Dinner: falafel, tahini, and salad
  • After I work from my boss's house: drop application off, go home and vacuum
  • After daycare: park time before sun goes down
  • Evening: make pumpkin pie, send husband to store for ingredients for Wednesday's cook-a-thon, pre-pack
Wednesday
  • Dinner: leftovers
  • Work from library in AM during daycare time
  • Evening: make rolls, make vegetarian dish for Thanksgiving, last-chance laundry, wipe down kitchen, pack
All week:
  • Don't trash the house
  • Pilates on Tuesday and Wednesday night

* - We are a One Car Family, much to the chagrin and perplexment of our parents, my boss, and almost everybody else over the age of 40.
** - The premise was that we were going on a cross-country bus trip with friends. The bus was leaving at 10:30. I started packing at 10:29 and had to tell Brian to stop mowing the lawn, because for some reason we were at my parents' house. And then, once we were on the bus, I had to figure out the wifi because I had an assignment due. Come to think of it, this was no dream. Stress packing and I'm still in school? That's a nightmare. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Voice

I wrote for many years.  Journals, mostly, and some short stories.  Poems sometimes, but I mostly leave those to the professionals.  My college years were accompanied by LiveJournal and Xanga, giving a public outlet to so much real and imagined angst.

My memory is long.  I remember what I wrote and the predicaments where it got me.  When a particularly humiliating event comes to mind and I think no one's looking, I'll indulge in a physical cringe, squeezing my eyes shut and balling up my fists.  I'm not sure whether it's a helpful act, but what else do you do when your brain doesn't let you forget?

I was a mediocre college student who really should have majored in something other than Spanish, and most of those years were spent learning some sorely-needed social skills and recovering from full-blown trauma -- my dad nearly died on the job two months before I started college and my brother nearly died while I was studying abroad my junior year.

After I graduated, despite years of promising myself I'd wander the country for awhile, I stayed put and did a couple of years of AmeriCorps. I meant to write through that experience, but around the same time my voice dwindled out.  I was in situations where I felt less sure of myself, less willing to speak out.

Who will set a guard over my mouth, and upon my lips an effective seal, that I may not fail through them, that my tongue will not destroy me?

I've been attempting to write every day this month and so far it's surprised me how difficult I now find it to share what's on my mind.  I do fear destroying myself to some degree and my inner critic is strong.  Am I afraid I'm wrong or am I afraid I won't be able to defend myself?

Recently a friend of mine spoke out about some rampant sexism she'd been experiencing about her workplace.  Today the local paper ran a cover story about it.  She had tried to go through the regular channels to address it but kept getting roadblocked.  So she sought out a journalist.  I'm immensely proud of her for speaking out, but even more so for trusting her voice after so many people told her she was being too sensitive or that she should just get used to it.

I think about being in her position.  Would I have been able to find my voice as the others tried to drown me out?  I like to think of myself as someone who doesn't care about the opinions of others, but I spent a large part of my twenties silencing my own.  I'm trying to find my voice again.  Bear with me if I wobble; it's been awhile.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

It wouldn't be the holidays...

...if we didn't all get colds.

My husband came down with the man flu last night. We all have the same bug, but he's the kind who gets sick and suddenly exhibits a mood and symptoms that would have you think he just had a round of chemo or outpatient surgery.

I like to grouse him about his cold habits, but it's a gentle poke. He is credited with getting me through eighteen weeks of morning sickness, four of which were spent in Morocco, a wonderful place where my stomach refused to accept anything other than fruit, bread, and Western fast food.  I can cut him some slack for wanting macaroni and cheese when his nose gets stuffed up.

In our nearly 10 years together, we tend to keep track of holidays by what calamities befell us. The sickness came a little early this year -- usually one of us comes down with something around December 27th and we pass around germs until our anniversary in early January.  Another tradition is our car acting up the day before we are scheduled to drive across the state.  We have walked into the house to be met with shrieks of "Did you get a new car for Christmas?!" multiple times.  Then, we engage in the time-honored calming down of the mothers as we explain -- "No, it's a rental. Do you really think we'd buy a Jeep?"

This is reminding me to take the car in for an oil change this week.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Five For Friday - 11/17

1. Doing

  • Not enough Pilates
  • Getting a cold
  • Binge watching "The Good Place"
  • Doing the first two pages of Everyday Watercolor, telling myself I'll pick it up again
  • Mentally preparing for Thanksgiving
  • Mentally preparing to buy Christmas presents
  • Mentally preparing to anticipate January
  • Not actually preparing for January
2.  Reading

3. Listening

  • Should I be embarrassed to admit it's mostly ASMR videos at this point? They help me work, what can I say? 
4. Making
  • Fake pierogies. Holy smokes, is this ever great. Saute some onions, garlic, mushrooms, and a cabbage for a long time. Use butter. Use lots of butter. Throw it over some egg noodles. Add some plain yogurt or sour cream if you want to get it creamy. Shake pepper flakes over the whole thing. I poured guacamole salsa over it to reheat this afternoon and it did not disappoint. 
  • Bakewell tart
  • Lemon drizzle cake (I really should not have made this, but it was fantastic.) 
5. Thinking
  • Not much and too much, as a rule
  • Which is to say, some of the stuff on my mind for Thanksgiving is better left unblogged

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Rebel Rebel

I'm halfway through Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before.  I was about to say what a 21st century book it is -- happiness through productivity! -- but then she had to be all classy (classical?) and quote from Michel de Montaigne about habits.  I have read a lot of self-help books, I have done many personality quizzes: this is by far the best book I've read on the subject.  It's thorough, it's readable, it's practical.  Best of all, it's personal.  There are some who talk about habits as a way to work better, but most examples are individual habits in order to simple live better.

It's taking me awhile to complete because I find every chapter gives me food for thought on how I function.  Part of the reason I've been such a connoisseur of self-help books is that I am flat-out terrible at follow through. I did have a successful go at a New Year's resolution list way back in 2003, but since then it's been a downhill slump. (I wish I had kept that list. It included: eat more cheese, learn to drink tea, learn prayers in Latin, drink more water.)

There are lots of reasons why I'm terrible at keeping plans, even plans I make for myself.  I have a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder because three years ago I found myself unable to do my work, despite genuine interest and knowledge of what I was doing.  It was creating a lot of friction between my boss and I, to say the least, and I was feeling increasingly helpless.  I was also feeling the creep of a perpetual bad mood, so I found myself in therapy with a wonderful ex-Buddhist monk and got slapped with the anxiety diagnosis as well.  Considering my family history, it was not too surprising.  When I returned for a consult after going on medication, I reported that it "felt effortless to be cheerful." Clearly there was something bigger going on that was beyond my willpower.

The ADD diagnosis, though, I find myself on the fence.  When I need to work I take medication, but otherwise it's just a facet of my personality.  In fact, the "disorder" part of it bothers me.  I maintain that the only reason why it's a problem is that I live in a society where specialization is highly valued. My brain is no good at sustained high focus.  It is excellent at doing several things at once.  This is why I was able to get through high school and college with decent grades while still being sociable and having multiple jobs.  When it came time for a job where I did the same thing for hours upon end, a job where I work largely alone and that involves significant mental focus, my brain got busted. I've been trying to figure out how to trick it ever since.

Back to Gretchen Rubin. Her particular brand of personality profiling revolves around tendencies, specifically how one reacts to expectations and requests. There are four: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, Rebels.

The "You Might Be A Rebel" list goes a little like this:

  • If someone asks or tells me to do something, I often have the impulse to refuse. Keyword here is impulse; I often have to fight that impulse.
  • Other people sometimes become frustrated because I won't do what they want me to do. God help you if you ask me more than once.
  • I enjoy a challenge as long as I choose to accept it and can tackle it in my own way. 
  • If I'm expected to do something, even something fun, I have the urge to resist: the expectation takes the fun out of an activity that I enjoy. See also: why I hate theme parks and most holidays.
As I read, the insights keep stacking up. With people I've decided I like/trust/respect, I am an Obliger.    If you've displeased me in some way, or I think your reasoning is questionable, I will Question the hell out of you.

A few days ago I mentioned how I'm not into excuses. Little did I know how prescient I was being. I read tonight -- "Rebels don't make excuses to justify doing what they want."  

Maybe prescient is the wrong word.  My self-awareness about how I function is kicking in.  I'm better able to identify what I'm doing when I react rather than assume I'm going on some sort of weird autopilot. I'm enjoying the self analysis by reading this book.  Things are making sense to me.  More on it later. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Inheritance

I finished my stress cleaning today.  Perhaps it wasn't a great use of day care time, but it felt good to organize Brian's drawers, to scrub Oxyclean into the grossest parts of the carpet, to vacuum out the pantry, to refill and line up the spices in the cupboard.  Now the place is at Dishes Zero and Laundry Zero. It's a peculiar kind of bliss.

When I clean, I'm reminded of my aunt telling me about my great-grandmother. "Her house was always spotless,"  Pauline said reverently. "She took a lot of pride in keeping a neat appearance."

After a pause, perhaps realizing that this description wasn't going where she wanted it to, she added, "She was a very gracious lady."

I think a lot about this great-grandmother of mine.  She was widowed when my grandfather was nine months old, after my great-grandfather took his own life.  According to the newspaper article -- strangely graphic in its detail, compared to today -- she was living with her mother-in-law at the time.   Later a great-aunt of mine pointed out that she had converted to Catholicism in order to get married.  This was 1927, after all.

I wonder if she cleaned then, to get her mind off of it, to meditate on a way to get through the turmoil while simultaneously being useful.  Did she come to clean my grandparents' house after it became painfully clear that her son inherited that same madness that drove her first husband to his grave? Did she teach my mother how to cast an eagle eye for dirt?

These are all questions I'm a little too afraid to ask. I didn't know about the full story of my grandfather's struggle with mental illness until my grandmother was dying.  It was only then that the dams burst.  I didn't have the heart to tell any of them -- my mother, my aunts, my uncle -- that their particular brand of neurotic and codependent dysfunction made total sense once I knew more about the bigger picture.

I'll never know the full story, of course. It died with my grandmother. I think she meant for it to happen that way.

It seems these matriarchs were good at cleaning the past, too.  When I asked Pauline, by far the aunt I was closest with, whether or not Grandpa was schizophrenic, the answer was a little too offended and emphatic for me to be believe it wholeheartedly.  The newspaper archives are much more blunt about the truth, though.  My grandfather was on trial for manslaughter.  A psychiatrist found him unfit to stand trial, so instead he disappeared into a mental hospital for four years.  When it happened, my grandmother had 8 children, ages 1-13.  They remember what she did to get them by.  It nearly broke them when she passed.

I did not know about this until I was 28.  I may know how to clean, but clearly I've got a lot to learn about the art of scrubbing.

Pauline, too, cleaned to quell a weary mind.  She suffered from a host of ailments -- skin cancer, lupus, and finally uterine cancer -- but I can only recall a handful of times when she wasn't cheerful. She cleaned her own house until the end -- down to the hour, in fact.  While she napped her heart gave out, tired from decades of dutiful labor under duress.  She had just finished scrubbing her kitchen floor.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seven Sunday Takes

There are not quick takes. These are "I've got a lot of crud on my mind" takes.

{One}

I meant to write something pithy and listy on Friday.  No big deal, I thought, I'll just do it on Saturday. And here we are, one hour to go on Sunday night.  Here's what I've learned about myself recently: excuses are not my thing. I just don't care to give them or to receive them and react to them, any of it. It either happened or it didn't. Moving on.

{Two}

We are inching forward with the whole reality of 3/4 of our income disappearing in February. {It's more like 2/3 at payday, but losing the benefits are what's really going to hurt us.}  I've scribbled down a few notes on what I need to start thinking about and tomorrow night we're going to do a bit of planning.  Overall we're still pretty positive about the change but I think the rolling exhaustion we had this weekend -- sleeping 9-10 hours, taking shifts with the kid in the morning so the other could bury themselves in the covers -- may be related to us processing the news.

{Three}

If there's something I'm good at, it's dwelling.  Luckily the house was dingy so I spent the better part of my weekend cleaning it. Why and how does everything suddenly go to hell at once? The kitchen took most of Saturday.  Today I finally got around to the bathroom, dusted, took out the trash, folded clothes, grocery shopped, and even made a loaf of bread. Did it ever feel good to put things in order! Also, what a great excuse not to keep putting off this very serious planning!

{Four}

I enjoy a good epitaph or memorial.  Found one yesterday that was bittersweet:  "To the tree -- your three apples miss you." That's enough to make me miss the tree, too.

{Five}

I'm annoyed with myself because I forgot to check before I went to the store to see if we needed garbage bags. (We did.) And now I've concluded that it makes the most sense for me to stop at Target tomorrow morning because we also need laundry soap and diapers. That better be it, because I hate getting in Target cycles. It's like Target is a hydra, and every trip I take there spawns three more trips because inevitably I need something.  Blech.

{Six}

Relatedly, one of my to-list items is probably going to be "really figure out how to reduce your consumption."

{Seven}

The bread I stayed up late to bake is out of the oven.  The cats are asleep, the rest of my family is asleep, I should be asleep. Good night. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

31

I had modest goals for my birthday. I made waffles this morning and the beauty of waffles is that there's always enough for the next day.  I wanted to make a Bakewell Tart but needed ingredients. Alas -- the weather was frigid and the wind was biting. I didn't feel like bundling myself and the kid and trudging to the store. The day slipped into a malaise -- my own fault, we really should have gone outside -- and only turned around mentally after I talked on the phone with my dad for a half hour. The messages that rolled in from friends cheered me, too. Facebook's good for something, it turns out. 

I ran errands when Brian came home. Picked up some sausage to accompany my roasted root dinner, washed it down with brut apple cider. The lack of tart caused me to buy a slice of cake, of which I ate half. I will devour the rest tomorrow during nap time. I will still make the tart this weekend.

I wanted to write more about goals I have for the year ahead -- figure out hairstyles that aren't the three I usually do, remember friends' birthdays, plant a tea garden, figure out how to finish that writing project I've been picking at for six years -- but I also had a work report to finish up.  Dragged my feet but finished.  Ergo, posting this at 12:55am on November 10th and back dating it to the 9th. 

31 trips around the sun completed. Here's getting to 32!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Gales of November

I am not terribly enamored with the month of my birth. It's a time of darkening, when the evening light doesn't so much fade as it just disappears. It's also often cloudy and when it's not, the angle of the light at the right time of day can feel blinding. I get my worst headaches in November, and they are from being in the car around 4:00pm on sunny days when there's no escaping that light. 

So it should not surprise me terribly that November is typically the month where a bad job or work situation suddenly goes sour.

In 2009, Brian (then just a boyfriend) was in an organization that did lots of field organizing for environmental issues, but paired that work with lots of door-to-door begging for funds.  If you live in a college town, chances are you've seen them out prowling in your own neighborhood. The begging for funds was more important than the policy work.  The pay was abysmal.  He called from Minneapolis (where they had sent him with the other poor souls to beg) and said he quit.  He didn't even say good-bye to the people he was staying with.  There were a few true believers in that crowd, and he really didn't want to hear it. That was November 14th, I think. 

In 2012 I took a job as an independent contractor for a Farm-to-School program that was funded by the CDC.  I mention the "independent contractor" part because the woman who hired me did not know what that actually meant, and towards the end of that miserable and confusing time, told me she wasn't going to sign any contract with me and that status was just so she didn't have to deal with paying my taxes. Wrong answer.  Highlights of that job included this woman accusing me and the grant liaison of conspiring against her when she couldn't answer questions about the community group who wrote the grant and sponsored the program...because she had made up the community group.  It should not surprise you that it took me months after I quit to get paid.  November 19th, four days before Thanksgiving.  

My husband is leaving his current position at the start of 2018.  He put in his notice yesterday.  He doesn't have a job lined up for after and, frankly, at the moment we could care less.  His currently employer has a reputation for high turnover.  Most people average about two years there. He's been there seven. 

The stakes are a little different now than they were back in 2009 and 2012.  I'm grateful we don't have a mortgage to worry about.  One of the benefits of graduating college in 2008 is that I'm fairly skittish about the housing market, and will probably remain so for the rest of my life. But we do have the kid now, and with him comes worries about insurance and keeping the rent paid and all those other things that come along with adulthood.

We aren't worried, not yet at least.  His job has been such a source of stress that the prospect of finding something new seems like a relief. We have been talking seriously the past few months about shaking things up. The age old questions of "What are we doing and what is this work for?" have been nagging at us. 

I have a feeling we're going to field a bunch of "But what about Reed?!" questions from the family, as if we weren't thinking about him with the future in mind. My answer is fairly simple: he deserves a dad who isn't stressed out because his employers thinks they pay him enough to erase the work/life balance. 

I've been anticipating this change coming for some time, so the news wasn't terribly surprising. I'm still chewing on the reality of it. When you're 31, seven years seems like it's been your whole life.  It's not, but it's the only one we've known since 2010. We'll see where we go from here. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Taste

It's easy to be civil with strangers.  The real battle is family.

You know how there's the dark internet? I think my mom browses Dark Amazon, which is a place of nightmarish flashy toys scrawled in barely understandable Engrish and questionable graphics and self-published books with copyright infringement issues. My mother is an impulse shopper and her favorite target in the past year is my kid.

I'm trying very hard to be intentional about what sort of materials my children are exposed to. I'm strict on media consumption, even for myself.  I find a lot of comfort in the Montessori approach of exposing children to real materials and real things of beauty from a small age. I'm also uneasy with plastic -- I feel I have a moral obligation to dispose of it properly, and often children's toys are not made to last. These things have already sucked out so many resources for this world, caused so much pollution, and are not priced in a way that would make any of those problems real to those on the demand side of the product.

You know what doesn't mix well with spouting treatises on global economics? Pitting it against a grandmother whose love language is buying something on sale at Kohl's.

I am working on becoming a gracious gift receiver. I understand that some people are just delighted to buy small children toys, and small children are perfectly poised to always say yes to something new. But the amount of crap that's flowing into my house is getting me down. Would I have been more receptive if it was a ladybug scooter that showed up to my house this morning instead of a fresh-from-China plastic mobile (given for no reason other than "It was cute!") whose copy proclaims "Children can be arbitrary when his small drivers"? Probably, if I'm being honest.

However, this is a sticking point between me and my mother. Our tastes are different, to put it lightly. Mine stem from a bunch of values and beliefs that I've developed the past fourteen years living away from my family, and when I try to voice them, I find myself reverting to my status as youngest, whose point of view is often ignored because what do I know?

(An aside: all this wedding activity the past few weeks has me remembering my own.  Eloping, I should mention, did wonders for my parents taking me seriously.  When I got told "do what you want," in regards to our wedding and I replied "I want to get married at San Francisco City Hall," the answer came back "No, on second thought, do something else, and let us suggest many things you may not like, or even hate," the husband and I went and did it anyway. As the kids say these days, BOOM. Mic drop.)

My mother also takes inventory of the things she buys us, to the point where I hate accepting gifts from her because if there's a crowd, she will find a way to mention what of our attire or belongings she has purchased.

So, handful of people reading this thing, let me ask you: strategies for dealing with the overbuyer? Nice to ways to say "just because I got rid of it doesn't mean I don't love you"? I'm flailing here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Break

Good things from the weekend:

  • The wedding itself went well. My husband had lots of fun, an adjective he does not often use, and the baby was his charming self for large parts of the day. 
  • Sarah and Duck. I have been rather good about limiting screen time, but every now and then I need something to distract and entertain, particularly when stuck in a hotel room. God bless the BBC and this wonderful children's show it produces -- it is quiet, creative, and clever. The episodes are 10 minutes each, which is perfect. It's magical without being annoying or ridiculous. In the first few episodes, Sarah and Duck plant some shallots, bake a cake, and visit Scarf Lady's wool stash. Sounds like a normal weekend around these parts. 
  • I took two naps on Sunday.
  • And then I went to bed at 9:30 on Sunday night.
I was not kidding about being wiped out. 

Good things from today:
  • I love him I love him I love him but oh my goodness going to work this morning was a welcome respite from child care. 
  • Brian took the day off and did both day care drop off and pick up. He is also doing bedtime tonight while I am hiding out at a cafe, under the guise of working and planning. 
  • The work project I was ready to commit my entire week to is going...quicker than expected? I'll save my delight at its efficiency until Wednesday, when it will leave my hands. 
  • Scheduled baby-sitter time for myself on Thursday afternoon. It might be spent working, it might be spent writing fiction. At any rate, I do not really care how I spend it. I'm just excited it's there. 
I am being hard on myself about taking a break from the kid.  Did Ma Ingalls ever leave Pa on his own with the girls so Ma could go complain on the Internet?  No, but I'm fairly certain she would have if given the chance. I am not the martyr type.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Mush

Wedding was nice, great even. My husband did the flowers, had a blast, and we had a serious talk about what it would take to do a renegade flower business in his hometown.

I am tired, however, because my role this weekend was to solo parent Wednesday through last night.

With that, I am going to bed.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Live from the floor of my hotel room

Warning: rambles.

I'm writing in the dark waiting for my hair to dry out enough to go to bed.  I spent the better part of two hours this evening coaxing an overstimulated toddler to sleep, and then lay in bed with him until I was sure he was out, then put him in his pack and play.  I thought for a moment that maybe we'd bed share tonight, something we very rarely do, but there's the other part of me that thinks it's great to have the bed to myself.  Still, it was a very sweet moment to have him asleep next to me, clutching my shirt with one hand and touching my face with the other.  

Another thing I forget about going out of town is the "whatever" moment -- the moment where it's past the point to act on whatever good ideas you had in the weeks, days leading up to taking off.  I was pretty sure I was going to vacuum before I left home, and suddenly it was 10:30 a.m. and we still weren't in the car. Whatever, I'll do it later.  Brian mentioned perhaps buying new shoes to wear for the wedding since he's in it, but the wedding is tomorrow, so whatever, just wear the ones I brought.

Every wedding I go to I remain grateful to have eloped. 

This might also be the earliest I've gone to bed all week and there's the added bonus of being freshly showered.  Plus my husband is stuck at his parents' house prepping flowers, and will be there all night, so there's a king size bed with my name on it. 

Ha cha cha. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Haste to the Wedding

What is it about going out of town that makes me really kick it into high gear? I have to admit, it was a productive day, but if I did this on the regular I'm fairly certain I'd die. Adrenaline is a cruel master. 

I am not packed yet, nor is the child, and we are scheduled to hit the road tomorrow morning. But other things are set up and ready to go: the none-clothing items are mostly packed and in the car, the house is mostly clean (and I reserve the right to vacuum it before I go), I made lunch for my in-laws for tomorrow, there's food in the fridge that won't go bad before we get back and a feasible meal plan in place for the beginning of next week. I hate hate hate coming home to a disheveled house with no food ready. There are plenty of things worse than a grocery store on a Sunday night, but it's a depressing way to start the week.

But what is it that made me finally get photos printed so I can send them to my grandmother? Did that really have to happen today? And, after sitting there, bothering no one for weeks, I finally had it in me to put some dried herbs into jars. While I'm sitting here dealing out a hand of misery poker, I'll note that of course there was surprise work to be done, at the request of the boss, and of course that work will pick up with a vengeance once I get back.  Ergo, the feasible meal plan and the insistence that I wash and fold the laundry today. That kind of thing pays off down the road, even though it's ten to midnight and I've been saying all week that I will go to bed at 9pm, and all week I haven't seen my bed until at least 10:45.

I'll pack tomorrow morning, get a coffee for the road, and then it'll kind of be like vacation.

Kind of.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Traditional

For years, I hated Halloween.  Buying items to make a specific costume to wear once bothers my inner skinflint.  I'm bad at makeup, my hair only allows a handful of hairstyles, and it probably didn't help that I spent the better part of my twenties drifting slowly into a pit of anxiety. Fun, you say? On a specific day, surrounded by people? I'll just stay at home and wallow, thanks. 

Then I Became A Mother.™ Consider me redeemed. 

This is my second Halloween where I've dolled up the boy but the first where we went around the block in search of treats.  As an urban planner, this is the juxtaposing day of the year where I realize how much better I could be at getting to know my neighbors.  As an American, it's one of the few days of the year I think to myself that maybe we do actually care about giving kids a meaningful, wonder-filled childhood. You can dress up as you please and go door to door to collect candy from your neighbors. I'd forgotten that magic.

I understand -- kind of -- how people would prefer a trunk or treat.  And I'm sure I'll be begged otherwise when this kid gets an invite, but I'm not so sure on Halloween parties. There's nothing magical about a party.  

Plus there was the story from one of my co-workers about how her neighbor's kids had already vomited from too much candy on October 30th. 

The inconvenience of Halloween is part of its allure. It was not convenient to bundle up my toddler and drag him around the neighborhood with the temperature just above freezing on a Tuesday evening.  But my pay off was his wide-eyed wonder at knocking on doors (a favorite thing of his) and people appearing, bestowing on him treats. He clutched his basket, wondering what we were going to do with these colorful tschotchkes. Once home, he made quick work of half a Reeses. He went to bed, heavy-lidded and chirping about his day. 

So that's how I find myself a Halloween Traditionalist.  We will trick-or-treat. We will do it in our own neighborhood. And, by God, we will do it on October 31st. 


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Captain Fantastic - A Movie Review

When I watch a movie, I typically really like it or really hate it; I rarely have an in-between. I will make no effort not to reveal major plot points.

Let's discuss: was this a merely a good movie or was it a GREAT MOVIE? Is Viggo Mortenson a great man or THE BEST MAN?

I liked this flick. It wasn't perfect but it scratched a bunch of cinematic and thematic itches that I enjoy.

The opening scene introduces us to a bunch of feral kids who had the overwhelming luck to be sired by Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who is posing here as a man named Ben Cash.  (I'm so sorry, Viggo. That role is going to follow you to the grave.)  Cut quickly to their home base, which is a prepper's paradise.  These opening scenes make it obvious that someone has had long, intensive thoughts about what living off the grid would look like, down to its daily practicalities. This exposition was more than just showing how these people live. You get an insight into their values and, as you're counting heads, you keep looking for the missing person. Where's the mother? 

And therein is the plot: living off the grid has not paired well with the matriach's bipolar depression, and she's off elsewhere getting her seratonin re-adjusted. Ten minutes in to the film, we get the news: she's recently killed herself. 

Our movie then puts the family to the test. Bound by their loyalty to honor her burial wishes (and to say their last good-byes), they embark on a Great American Road Trip to where the mother's parents are holding a funeral for a daughter they lost a long, long time ago. Ben and his kids are strangers in a strange land and their presence is a foil to their bewildered family members at how American culture, consumerism, and capitalism has made us a bizarre people.

{The premise reminded me of a real-life story of a family going off the grid and trying to make it work. This Life Is In Your Hands was a great slap in the face to a younger me, and a reminder that women often bear the brunt of a move like this. There's more complexity to housewifery when you take away machines and add in growing your own foods. And, like the families in this movie and that book, when hormonal birth control is eschewed and sex is your only licit vice, you get children. If you're nutritionally imbalanced and your body chemistry is off to begin with, you get depression.}

This movie really has it all. Here's a list of things within it that will confuse you if you try to put them all together at once: graphic animal death, full frontal male nudity, Esperanto, Noam Chomsky, grave robbing, and a surfeit of precocious homeschooled children spouting ideology. 

{Ben's line -- "It's just a penis; every man has one." reminded me of this clip from Conan, with the excellent Flula Borg: "Have you not seen a man's anus before? Well, there's another one."}

The older I get, the more I can ruin a story. There were a number of things that I knew wouldn't stand up to further questioning. If the mother's will did contain language about her body after death (and it likely didn't -- wills tend not to go into that realm), then all it would have taken was a court order to halt her father from hijacking the funeral and keeping Ben from taking custody of his wife's body. Furthermore, as her husband, Ben de facto would have had rights to her body over Leslie's father. But take away that and you don't have a movie, so I guess I'll let legal details slide. And how did that family live off the grid -- in the woods, in the Pacific Northwest -- throughout winter? i did not spy a winterized yurt in those homebase shots. Was a bus really the best method of transport in and out of there? Were they squatting on land in a national forest or did they merely own thousands of acres of prime forestland? 

There were other things that annoyed me: the first and final scenes were self-indulgent. "These people live off the grid! Let's watch the eldest son kill a deer with nothing but a knife and then eat its still-warm heart!" Nope, too much. "Let's have the children sing the mother's favorite song as her body burns on the funeral pyre in front of them! And let's have the song be "Sweet Child of Mine!" Whatever takes your mind off your mother's embalmed flesh melting off her body, I guess. Stop trying so hard; we get it. They're off-kilter.

Still, I enjoyed it. A movie that tickles my senses and gives me days worth of thoughts to chew on is one I'll watch again. 

You were warned

It's easy to brush off comments about how parenthood changes you, especially when you're childless. I have a friend who bristles when it's implied that the experience would cause her to think differently.

"I can't watch anything where there's violence done to children," a friend of mine once confessed after I watched her children. We had been talking about Game of Thrones, and how she had to stop watching after the first episode, when a young boy is pushed out a window and becomes a paraplegic in the process. 

The curse of the modern world is that we can watch, in real time, as people suffer. I glance around my apartment and wonder how many refugees I could feed and shelter, and for how long. We hear of those who die and flee from war. We see the mourners bury their dead. Sometimes we see their faces, often not. There are too many faces. But we know they're there and there's a nagging in your head that you should do something about it. 

You send money and you hope that they're using it effectively. You've called your representatives and earnestly stated that we need to help. What else can you do? 

But then you see a man cradling his two babies, babies who are now nine months old forever. And you think of your own nine month old and how delicious it is to feel his heavy weight in your lap. 

Your heart seizes. You know the cost of that loss. You know the work it took to make those perfect little bodies, the hope there was in those little lives. You go to check on your own little boy and you think of how there's no difference between you and that man, only that you live here and he lives there. How there's no difference between your baby and his, except his are now gone and blessed be, yours breaths and sleeps so soundly. 

And how lucky you are for all of that, and how quickly any of it could change.

It shouldn't surprise me how much it unnerves me, how much it bothers me. It bothered me before, too but it feels different now. I was warned. 



Monday, April 3, 2017

The Very Stuff of Life

I haven't been writing regularly these past few years.  I used to keep a regular record of my thoughts and the goings-on of my life. I get flustered when I reread my journals from college -- I have a strong inner critic who is impatient with her former self.  In a moment of teenage disgust, I actually burned my high school journals.  I learned a lot in those four years, and surprisingly little of it had anything to do with the Spanish degree I eventually left with. There was a lot I thought I understood, much I wanted to understand, and lots of holding back.

I never quite got through Sophie's World, despite years of having the book and having half-hearted attempts each summer to dive in, but the first chapters were stirring enough on their own: the image of people living on a rabbit, getting so comfortable down in the fur of the rabbit that they never bother to burrow out and see the glorious ride they're on. College was the first time in years I felt I could be myself, without constant bombardment from family about how weird I was being and, remarkably, I had a group of friends who truly cared about me and I them. It was nice to let myself get comfortable in the fur for once, but it wasn't a great long term strategy. 

In the years that followed, I felt I was too busy living to document what was going on. 

Now I'm here and I'm feeling the need for words again. I'm especially feeling the need to connect. The allure of blogging like it's 2005 is the feedback.  I know enough by now that the more input I get on situations that are driving me nuts, the better. But then I'd have to do the work of finding some sort of community and even then the things going on around me are largely unbloggable. Extended family issues are a no-go, because they are touchy, have legal implications, and are guaranteed to end sadly. Changes are brewing in my own little family, ones that I've known are coming and are necessary, but are still hard and fear-producing and in general aren't mine to share. Blogging about my work isn't really something I'd like to do or should do, which leaves Reed and my hobbies. And, in generally, I want to let Reed be Reed and not be the basis about which I write, and instead of writing about my other hobbies I'd like to actually DO my hobbies. That leaves scant time for writing and not a lot of material. 

So what am I doing here? Goodness knows, but I'm going to keep it around and see where it goes. 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baby's First Household Plague

A litany:

Thursday: Pinkeye (baby + mama)
Friday: Fever (mama)
Saturday/Sunday: Colds (baby + mama)
Monday: Sinus infection (mama)
Wednesday-Saturday: Not-your-average sinus infection; terrible, wracking cough (mama)
Thursday-Saturday: Teething (baby)
Saturday: Antibiotics (mama)
Saturday/Sunday: Fever (dad)
Sunday: New tooth! (baby), collapse in a heap (everyone)

I understand that I'll want to record all the precious moments of my child's first year, and this one was rather memorable.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Horticultural Time

I had the opportunity to put on make-up and get semi-dressed up for a professional development opportunity the other day. The theme was "Making Productivity Productive" and the event was geared toward women. I felt it was particularly suited to my particular brand of disorganized. I have a keen interest in methods of productivity, yet when given the chance I'm often notoriously unproductive. Pre-baby, I found with some horror that my best working time was often after 6pm. Now past 6pm is not a great option, because I'm usually making supper and cleaning up by about 7pm, and am pretty useless by 9pm. Somewhere in there I like to talk to my husband so it's more like a marriage and less like a very familiar roommate situation. Three days a week the baby is out the door by 8am and back by 1pm, and it's a miracle if I can pull off good work before 10am without 100mg of caffeine, 10 mg of Adderall, or both.

The other attendees were, on the whole, older than me. I hoped to gain some insight as to how they keep their heads in the game. During a sharing session, the woman next to me used "synergy" in earnest. I'm too much of a Millennial not to mock that term. I refrained from standing among them, shouting to the heavens, "What does your busy-ness achieve? What are you getting out of your work?!" but I know that day-to-day life is much more than what can fit into a calendar, and these women (much like me) were attempting to figure out how to keep the wage-earning part of their life separate from their actual life.  Plus, it wouldn't kill me to learn to not be an asshole, even if it's only in my head where I say those things. 

I'm in a different place than them right now and that's okay. Getting ready for labor, I read Mindful Birthing. I credit this book with giving me the tools to get through labor unmedicated.* In it, they do a good job getting new mothers into the mindset that gets you through having a newborn, then an infant, then a toddler: Horticultural Time.

Particularly in the West, the world moves by the clock. Industrial Time, the book calls it.  Lunch happens at noon, whether or not you're hungry. The bus certainly doesn't wait for you. Conference calls start at 10am, and Lord knows you don't want to be the late attendee interrupting as you buzz in. Horticultural Time is conditional. Things happen when they're ready to happen. Babies are born when they're ready. Newborns are hungry when they're hungry, even if you just fed them a half hour ago. Flowers bloom when they're ready. Give up on the clock. Don't rush it. Results are disappointing when you do.

I have loved being on Horticultural Time. I've often wondered if my ADHD is really a problem outside the modern world in which I live, where the work that helps support my family necessitates me being able to make efficient use of time. My ADHD-brain is actually well-suited towards the complexity and repetition of motherhood: my days adhere to a Rule of Life that, when followed, makes for a happy baby and mama.  Eat, play, sleep. Explore the world, sing songs. Wash up in the evening, make lots of time for being cosy together. I can make supper and watch the baby and maybe even keep the house clean all at once. I might even squeeze in a creative project that pops into my periphery. I can take a nap when Reed naps, if that's what I need. Is the weather nice? Let's take a walk! 

I know I'm lucky to have found work that lets me mostly take care of my son and from time-to-time use my graduate degree. I only have to engage in Industrial Time three days a week, four at most. When I have to work, I need to put blinders on to my mental periphery. I cannot do it on my own; I have many, many years of learning this the hard way. Thus the Adderall, which I'm back on now that Reed is eating solids. I've also given up on whether or not I need to feel bad taking the ADHD medication. I have to work; it helps me work. I wish I had it in college and grad school, when I mystified myself by staring for hours at homework or research and not getting anything done with it. 

Being productive on Horticultural Time looks different than it does with Industrial Time. My progress is measured differently. Going from Point A to Point B is great, but if I end up at Point C it's not a big deal. One day I'll probably go back into full-time work and then I'll be a little stricter about accounting for my hours. Until then, my days more sundial than clock.

 _*_*_*_*_

* - Full disclosure: had some lovely narcotic mid-labor paired with an Ambien, because I was exhausted and they threatened to send me home because I wasn't progressing. I slept 6 blissful hours, had my water broken, and pushed out a baby four hours later. No Pitocin, no epidural, just like I wanted.  


Friday, February 10, 2017

Five for Friday - 2/10/17

1. Doing

  • Attempting the 30 Day Pilates Challenge. Again. I am Grade-A BAD at follow through, even if I like something. 
  • InCoWriMo! // Month of Letters! Which is going as well as it can given the above (re: bad at follow through). So far I've mostly caught up on my postcrossing backlog, sent valentines with pictures of Reed to great-grandma and the grandparents, and sent a package to two of my penpals who are meeting up in Rio at the end of the month. 

2. Reading


3. Listening 

What does Reed think of our music selections this week? Reed just likes it when I sing. Good point, kiddo. 

4. Making

  • Apple Sharlotka. Browsing Smitten Kitchen's Instagram is usually a good way to ensure that I "accidentally" throw together a dessert, whether or not we need it. My reasoning here was that we had apples that were starting to go bad. This was good -- the top had a nice, fortune-cookie taste and texture to it. I'm thinking I could do this with any stone fruit or berry and it'd turn similarly. 
  • Knit Baby Blocks, which I started about this time last year thinking I'd totally have them done before the baby was born. The baby is now eight months old.

5. Thinking
I should have posted this on Friday instead of backdating it on the following Tuesday. Oh well! My goal here is to remember all the little details from the week. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A disclaimer

Sure, we’re that kombucha-brewing, yogurt-making, got-a-bag-of-table-scraps-in-the-freezer-for-broth-keeping couple you know.

Unless the matriarch is retching uncontrollably, and then it’s all packaged comfort food from here until the end of her tummy troubles. Is it a stomach bug or your garden-variety food poisoning? WHO CARES,THROW OUT EVERYTHING IN THE FRIDGE, IT LOOKS SUSPECT.

{Especially you, mostly-vegetarian root vegetable and kale barley stew. You did not taste great in reverse.}

 Oh, but we only clean with natural products, like baking soda and vinegar…

Did I not just say the mater familias of this operation has been unable to keep her head up for more than 30 minutes at a time? Lysol, baby. Hand sanitizer. Those bleachy wipes. Get them all at Target, my darling. Heaven forbid we all get whatever this is, because THIS is not messing around.

{In retrospect, it was probably the goddamn salmon, which I only ate because it had been open for a while and I hate to see things go waste.}

Oh my goodness, breastfeeding triggers nausea? You’ve got to be kidding me. Thank God there’s milk in the freezer. Give him a bottle. I’m just going continue to yak into this stock pot while I pump, because I don’t think either of us wants to clean this off the baby.

 _*_*_*_*_

When the going gets tough, my principles fly out the window and they do so without shame, guilt, or a second thought. Perhaps this is something I ought to work on or perhaps this is just something I need to learn to accept.