August 31, 2011

All's well that ends well

My big projects for work are done and therefore, I've been avoiding the computer. It's been lovely! Well, except for what I've been doing now that I'm not tied to my desk: trying to get a Texas driver's license.

In every other state I've lived in, you trek to the DMV and wait in line and they deal with everything all at once. Perhaps you have to get the car inspected, but they can handle everything else with one stop. Not here in oddly bureaucratic Texas (Republicans AND lots of red tape? Seems contradictory...)

When moving from out of state before one can procure a driver's license, the car has to be registered! And before registering you need car insurance and an inspection. THEN you have to go downtown to register the car and pick up the plates. Only after that can you go through the traditional DMV hell. Which is in an entirely different location.

Unfortunately for me, not only did I have to do all that, my California license expired on my birthday in late July, so I had to do the written and driving exams. At 2:30 yesterday, I passed the written test, but they said I didn't have enough time to take the driving test before they closed at 4:30. Back I went this morning.

"Go wait in line 10, ma'am."

I walked to the back of the building and saw a line of 10 people waiting in front of counter 10. There were empty chairs in the middle of the room, so, being 5 weeks away from delivering a big-headed baby boy, I pulled one into the line so I wouldn't be on my feet while waiting. Apparently, the rule that people in Texas are nice ends at the door to the DMV. The woman running station 10 called over the counter, "Ma'am, I need you to put that chair away and stand in line." I raised my eyebrows at her and shrugged as I followed instructions. Everyone else in the line gave me a sympathetic look.

When we got to the front, the older man in front of me gestured for me to go ahead of him. I smiled and shook my head and indicated he should go ahead. He tried to argue, but Bossy Lady called him forward.

While he was still standing in front of her, she beckoned to me. I went to the counter and started to put my Kindle away and get out my paperwork. "You don't have your paperwork ready?" She beckoned the guy behind me to step up to the counter. I stared at her in disbelief as she proceeded to handle all his stuff, answer two phone calls and then finally process my stuff.

I wonder if it was racial. I was one of only two white patrons in the building the whole time I was there. The guy behind me was her race. Could have been she assumed I was presuming on white privilege, or could have been innocent, but the combo of incidents was NOT pleasant.

THEN, it was still going to be over two hours before I could take the driving test! I went home, made lunch and then headed back down to purgatory. To take the driving test, I had to wait in my car in a line of cars, in the lovely temperate Dallas weather (105 degrees in the sun) for over 45-minutes. I thought my air conditioning was going to die.

When it was time to take the test, I was super careful, looked both ways at every intersection, slowed down and looked both ways when crossing the railroad tracks and thought I'd aced it. The tester told me I hadn't looked both ways (I guess just using my eyes wasn't enough, I should have turned my whole head each time), I'd not used my turn signal when parallel parking (fair), and hadn't stopped at the line for the stop signs. Thankfully, I passed anyway.

She then told me to go back to line 10 to get my license.


Fortunately, there wasn't a line.

August 24, 2011

A Christian conundrum

I just read a post on Gifts in the Journey that sparked this (long!) comment in reply. Since I rarely make time anymore to be philosophical, I wanted to share it with the rest of you as well.

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a Christian family, but because we chose voluntary poverty and chose to live in a 'rough' area, I also grew up where prayer was super practical. Mom and Dad, not knowing where the next meal would come from, praying for food and there would be provision. At the same time, we also grew up surrounded by death and violence. (in the same year--I was 4--our Pastor's grown daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend and my godfather was hit in the head by a kid with a baseball bat and died 6-months later.) So my parents could never give us a simplistic version of faith where God would always make everything better. In fact my Mom often struggled with the idea that as much as she loved the Lord, she didn't trust him to "do her good". Toward the end of her life, while dying of cancer, she got a revelation of God's Father love that really changed her. She wasn't healed, but her joy in the midst of dying was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Part of what's hard about prayer is that (at least in the Christian version) it's as much a reflection of the relationship as it is about a formula or set of words. There's a reason that Jesus' revolutionary prayer begins with "Our Father". Not "My Father" not "Our Holy Director". It's about community with others and communion in a loving relationship with God. The problem is that when we go through really crappy life events, it's really hard to reconcile that with a loving Father and, and, frankly, the 'gimmee' faith that I've seen in many American churches makes that wresting match all the more confusing. It also makes it harder to find a community where honest struggle is welcomed.

My husband has been wrestling with these sorts of questions for much of our marriage. For three or four years I gave him a string of rah-rah answers, the lines that had been fed to me. In the end, I did a study of the book of Job where I went through and underlined in one color the things I heard him saying, in another color what people from our church told him, and another for what I was saying to him. It seemed like there were three approaches: God IS responsible and I want him to answer (Job/Jrex); God is always good and this bad stuff has happened because you deserve it (Job's three friends/church); and It's a mystery, we just have to trust (Elihu/me). In the end, God did answer Job, but the answer was mostly a non-answer where God basically says, I'm really big and most of what I do is beyond your capacity to execute or even fully understand. Somehow in the end, that glimpse of God's reality is enough that Job says he gets it. I don't fully understand it as an interaction, but it seems like there was something in that to reconnect the relationship enough for Job to return to a trusting relationship.

Again in the NT, Paul comes to the point where he questions why God does what He does and again, it's a non-answer, "Who are you to question God?" I find that one of the really difficult things about the Christian faith: the reality that Why? won't necessarily be answered. Perhaps Who? and What For? might get clarified, but going down the Why? road seems to lead to a lot of despair. There is a lot in the NT about counting suffering as joy and being thankful in all circumstances that I still don't understand. That somehow mixes into the life of prayer and the living of life in a way I don't often see modeled in the States.

For me, I've had enough relational encounters with Jesus/God that I can't walk away from the reality of his existence. Some of the theology/philosophy around who he is can be confusing, but the core of knowing he's real and trusting that somehow, somewhere along the road he'll use all this still feels true.

I found this verse last night in Hosea: "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." As much as Jrex isn't sure about a lot of the Christian faith, he trusts that Jesus died and rose and that heaven is real. Somehow that's been the thin thread that he's held onto and that verse spoke to me about God's attitude toward that. The person who chooses to not completely walk away is someone of great worth to Him. I think of that in your honesty and hope that maybe there's something worthwhile in prayer, there is great worth.

August 23, 2011

Working from home

I mentioned (whined) about the air conditioning breaking three times in the first month we (I) were in the house.

Part of the huge impact on me was that I really need my desk. I'm a bit quirky in that I need an organized environment in order to be truly creative. Even in college, I'd have to clean and organize my Art Barn space before beginning to paint. (I also have to do that in the kitchen before cooking.) Being 'homeless' and not able to work in my office made it that much harder to hit the insane deadlines that were being thrown my way. My brain felt fogged and it was hard to get into right-brain mode.

Since the second-floor AC still worked, I ended up perching on the loveseat in our room (not such a bad place to work, but it wasn't my custom built desk! Plus baby-belly hunched over a laptop=not comfy!) (I know, I know, "first world problems", right?)

Now that the AC is fixed, I love our office (bonus: replacing the fan motor got rid of the floor vibration completely). I say 'our' because Jrex is sharing the room with me. It's not as bad as it sounds. As you can see in the picture below, I intentionally set up my desk so that I won't see any visual "distractions" while working. (Let's just say one of us needs clean surfaces to have a calm mind and the other prefers the 'geological' method of organization. That is, finding where something is in the pile based on time of deposit.)

No office is complete without timezone clocks. The black frame is for me in Dallas, with the others for coworkers in Boston and California. It must be the visual thinker in me, but it really helps not to have to 'translate' what time it is.

As of September 6th, Jrex will have an office at UT, but since so much of his impending work will involve writing grants and responding to emails, it makes sense for him to have an office at home. Upon arrival here, we realized that even though the master bedroom closet IS huge, it's not THAT big. Fitting a desk would have been tight (and hot). Having this home office for Jrex also means he'll be able to come home early, play with the kid, and then continue working.

He has 1/3 of the room to the right of the arch while the daybed (for overflow guests as well as a place to brainstorm, sketch and edit) and my area take up 2/3rds.

Thus far, I'm enjoying the expected perks that come with working from home: wearing comfortable clothing, being able to sleep in, being able to take breaks to deal with contractors and repair people, not having as many distractions, and being able to take a nap as needed. The surprise is how aggravating it is being two-hours ahead of my coworkers. It messes up my mealtimes and means I don't get an evening. I often finish work at 8:30 or 9 pm and then have to figure out food (which keeps me up late, wakes me up late and costs the morning as well as the evening). That part should be better in September when there's not as much going on, but there's no guarantee in this business.

It's good to be able to check off another life fantasy ("if only I could work from home and make a good living, everything would be better"). This solution has been great for our transition to Dallas and should be good for the first year of the kid's life, but I don't see it being a long-term solution. It works out well since my company is nuts and burns people out faster than a six-year old boy who's found a box of matches. I'm really hoping to get the brain space to stop talking about my job so much and be able to LIVE outside of work.

August 21, 2011


She knows the routine. If we get in the car and she doesn't have her collar on, we're going to the airport. In general, she's just happy to be in on the action and doesn't care who we're picking up. Most of the time, as someone approaches the car, she starts wiggling and wagging her tail and getting excited. It's only polite in the doggie world, right?

At the airport, I saw him waiting at the curb with a big grin when he saw us pulling up. In the back seat, she froze like a pointer dog on a hunt. "Is it? Could it be?" YES! The wiggle waggle shook the car. I got out to open the back while the two of them reunited through the car window. When it was my turn, I didn't wag quite as much on the outside, but I was just as happy.

He's already claiming his man kitchen. Veggie egg scramble and buckwheat pancakes for brunch. I think my quality of life is about to improve a hundred-fold! Or at least the quality of what I eat.

As promised, he gets this week mostly off from social obligations, but I'm lining them up for the week after. I ran into our neighbor in the grocery store and got her phone number (she doesn't know it yet, but I'm grooming her for my 'adopt-a-grandma' project), another neighbor is going to come over to look at our dysfunctional garage door tomorrow, so we'll likely invite him for dinner, and then we have the couple with the two young kids to invite. Also on the docket are the two couples we knew before moving here.

Let the games begin! (or at least the home fires on our awesome cooktop stove)

August 15, 2011

When procrastinating might be a BAD idea...

I mentioned that I'm waiting for Jrex to get into town before we deal with baby stuff, right? (He's coming Saturday, I'm SO excited to have him back!!!)

Anyway, this morning I had a sonogram. At the 21-week anatomy scan, the tech noticed that the baby's kidneys are a little enlarged and they recommended a follow-up scan at 32 weeks to make sure everything was fine. Basically, the kidney size was at the high end of normal. The issue is that if they are too enlarged, it may indicate that there's a blockage and fluid isn't draining properly. In the worst case scenario, that could mean kidney tissue is getting damaged.

In today's look/see, the kidneys were still at the high end of normal. Everything else was fine. The Kid continues to hide his face with his hands, keep his head down and flaunt the rest of himself. The tech estimated his weight at 4 lb 10 oz, which freaked me out, "Wait, I have eight more weeks to go! How big is he going to get!? Is his head big?" She went back to measure the head and said it was definitely big, but not overly so. I think I've mentioned that Jrex's Mom loves to tell me how he was so hard to get out and almost killed her cause of his big head? So, a big head does NOT sound fun.

On the plus side, I've only gained 20 pounds so far! One of the strangest surprises in this pregnancy has been how weirdly body-obsessed I've become. I'm not dieting, I'm just eating normally without doing much 'eating for two'. Knowing how hard it is to lose weight in one's 40's, I think I've been terrified of gaining 60 pounds and then having to fight to lose it again. The thought of conquering that mountain, but then trying to get pregnant a second time and having to fight it AGAIN (yes, I think too much, is that a problem?) freaks me out.

After the sonogram, I had a chat with my doctor, let's call him Dr. Kind. Based on the kidneys being enlarged, he wants me back in two weeks. "What's the worst case scenario?" He laughed, "Yes, that's always the question, right? Worst case is that if they are too large and might be getting damaged, we'll go ahead and deliver the baby early. He'd be premature, of course, but he's at a good size and it shouldn't be an issue."

"Two weeks?! I haven't even really started thinking about baby stuff! I was going to do that in September. We don't even have a mattress for the crib. Holey Moley. I guess we'd better pull this together."

He smiled and nodded, but added, "You've had a lot going on this summer, haven't you? It's highly unlikely an early delivery will be necessary. Enlarged kidneys is very normal for boys, it's just something we're going to be watching carefully."

On the bright side, I've found a local diaper service (thanks for the idea, Dad!) as well as a stay-at-home Mom who runs a great store out of their garage--she's got all the diaper covers, 'snappis', great nursing bras, and assorted intimidating paraphernalia. I like the idea of being able to go there and ask her questions.

Jrex is greatly comforted by the diaper service concept, so I think that helps tip him toward cloth diapers. Basically, we have to buy the diaper covers, but the service will not only wash the cloth inserts, but any covers or other stuff we want to throw into the bag. We just fill up a Diaper Genie with dirty diapers (no need to rinse or clean them) and every week we get clean, sanitized, lovely diapers back. Totally helps decrease the intimidation factor on the cloth diapering. The other bonus is that there have been great strides since the '70's and we don't have to mess with pins at all. There are little plastic thingys that pull the sides and front of the diaper together. Nice.

Thank you for all the advice about buying as needed vs going out and getting all the latest greatest stuff. That said, we do need a mattress and a changing table. Sigh. I guess another IKEA run is in my near future.

August 11, 2011

I think he's going to be a night person

I've heard from a few people that the stuff the baby does in utero echoes what they do when their out. Don't yet know if it's true, but if it is, this kid will NOT be a morning person. In the mornings, he doesn't move AT ALL. Right now? As I'm finishing up yet another long day of work (two events that both open August 30th and I'm cranking out look/feel and signage elements for both of them), he's pretending to be John Travolta in Staying Alive.

We've progressed from him feeling like a fish flopping around out of the water, to distinctive body parts protruding in alien fashion from my belly. The first time it happened, I was on the phone with Jrex. I was absentmindedly massaging my belly when I felt a hard knob. Without thinking about it, I started feeling it to see how big it was, the way I used to massage the cyst in my wrist. When it moved, I screeched a little. Poor Jrex, "What's wrong? What happened? Are you ok?"

I laughed as I explained that the "cyst" moved and freaked me out. Earlier in the pregnancy, I'd worried that this phase would give me the heebie-jeebies, but it's actually turning out to be somewhat amusing. I'll massage my stomach and then notice something hard and feel around to see if I can pinpoint if it's a butt, an elbow, foot or knee. As I push a little, he moves away, and then half the time kicks me. What's really weird are the times when, through my shirt, my entire belly looks like it's in motion. BI-Zarre. Somehow though, it's transitioned me from feeling like the baby deal is theoretical to feeling like there's a person in there and I'm looking forward to meeting him.

I'm SO, SO grateful that thus far, this has been an easy pregnancy. Especially with Jrex gone for six weeks, it would have been hard if I couldn't do what I needed to do with relative ease. I get heartburn, but a TUMS deals with it. I'm totally able to sleep, despite the pee breaks. I am getting weird pregnancy dreams (in one, half my ear cracked off and I wandered through the rest of the dreamscape with it in my hand looking for someone who could fix it, in another I gave birth to a little dog that looked like Muttola), but that's nothing bad.

As much as I tend to be a planner, I have a reluctance to get sucked into the baby whirlwind. I don't really feel like doing an intensive birth plan, I figure I'll go with what seems best at the time and not get too stressed about it. Between my doctor and Jrex, I feel like I'll be in good hands. I'm overwhelmed when I think about going into BabiesRUs and trying to figure out what we need. We have a sling, cosleeper, two car seats and crib, isn't that all we need? (all hand-me-downs) Once Jrex gets here and is past his potato week, we'll dive into all the baby stuff. Any "must haves" that you recommend? I'm hesitant to buy things we don't really need.

August 8, 2011

Mama Nabi slept here

With Jrex being gone for six weeks and this big old house all to myself, I've really been enjoying having house guests. Last night, I got to host fellow blogger, Mama Nabi. No, we'd never met in real life, but it felt like I was welcoming an old friend and her family despite that. She and her husband, daughter and dog are moving from Florida to California, so Dallas is along the way.

When they arrived, I was chatting with my next door neighbor and her son. I figured it was better to do the doggie meet up on neutral ground, so I was outside with Muttola. Their dog is 1.5, so I knew that Muttola would do her (in)famous puppy take-down at some point. Sure enough, in our front yard, she pounced with a huge growling bark. It always sounds like the beginning of a dog fight, so I try to warn other dog owners what's coming. After that, the dogs were off and running. Literally. We got them into the backyard and they tore around. All night, all morning, they kept chasing each other in circles around the house. I could tell that Muttola has become middle aged cause she kept trying to just lie down for a while, but couldn't resist their dog for very long.

It's so interesting to meet people who's lives you've shared via blogging. In some ways you know them well and in others, it's all new. Filling in the details around the known narrative is a lot of fun. MN went to a college that I'd visited and applied to, I got to hear more about the school where Sansangnim will be working and I got to meet MN's daughter. After seeing so many pictures, it was fun to meet her in person: fearless and playful with the dogs, shy yet eager with me, she quickly warmed up and asked for a house tour.

For dinner, I'd made a new recipe from Sunset magazine with mixed results. What had sounded like a refreshing salad with mango, shrimp and herbs was spoiled by mint that turned out to be really zingy and almost too hot to eat. Not very fun. Thank goodness I'd been seduced by the lure of Central Market and went a little crazy with the charcuterie platter (see all the weird terms I've learned living in wine country? I had no idea what that meant until I went to a wine tasting and found out it was just a sampling of cured meats).

In any case, I saw them off this morning and am now back to the grindstone with lots of work deadlines. Not so fun. Especially since the downstairs AC died AGAIN this morning. The guy who fixed it Friday already told me that he's ordering us a new fan motor, so at some point this week, he'll just call and say he's 10 minutes away and can he come over. Makes it hard to plan to do anything away from the house!

At least there are only 12 days left before Jrex will be 'home'. He's packing in all the final farewells, lab work, closing down his lab stuff, figuring out the shipping for his samples and his mice, trying to get last minute writing done, giving a talk on lungs to his lab (this just more thing to do, Jrex!) as well as trying to sort out his Texas medical licensing.

I've told him that when he gets here, he gets to have a 'potato week'. For the first week, he doesn't have to think about baby stuff, house issues, or anything demanding. He can sit around and watch TV the whole time if that's what he wants to do, or go exploring, or do whatever. I figure he's earned a rest! (plus, I can always use more wife points, right?)

August 3, 2011

Just the FAQs, Ma’am

Since many people I’ve chatted with have similar questions, I thought it would be good to gather my answers in one place.

Where have you been!?
The cable has been out since Thursday and JUST got fixed, so I haven’t had much blog time. Techs came yesterday and figured out there was a power outage at the pole next to the house. Apparently, we’re the only ones on that pole!

Is it hard to be there without Jrex?
Short answer: yes, very.

Longer answer: having various houseguests has helped (three visits so far). I’m looking forward to Mama Nabi and her crew coming by next week on their move from Florida to California.

Here’s the real irony, after giving pep talks to my single friends about how hard marriage is and the things to be grateful for as a single person, I’m having to call them and tell them I was an idiot. It’s hard to be alone. It’s especially hard to be alone in a big house where things keep breaking! (Did I mention that the AC is out AGAIN. Sigh)

Are you lonely?
Oddly, this is different than feeling Jrex’s absence. I’ve had lots of interactions with neighbors and local friends, so I’m not feeling particularly lonely. It feels like our lives here will begin to fill up very quickly once Jrex gets back into town. Our realtor wants to have us over for dinner, I met a family a block away who want to do a potluck Asian dinner, there are neighborhood b-b-ques starting in September, and I got a link to a local elementary schools’ PTA. They set up Mommy play groups and seem very active. On a day to day level, due to the house falling apart around me, I seem to have daily visits from technicians or our contractor.

Plus, I’m frequently on the phone with people from work. So, no, overall I don’t feel lonely.

How’s the heat?
I’ve been cheerfully reporting that dry heat at 110 degrees Fahrenheit feels better than 90’s with humidity, and there’s some truth to that, but it’s still hot. Being in the sun in the middle of the day is definitely oppressive, though walking the dog once the sun is going down is doable. This neighborhood has lots of big, old trees and usually has a breeze, so it’s not terrible. In terms of heat plus third trimester, I don’t feel like I have an extra oven with the baby. I guess I thought I’d be super aware of an extra heat source, but I haven’t felt any differently pregnant than if I wasn’t. All that being said, when the AC isn’t working, my cheerful speech goes up in smoke!

I’m hot, the house is hot, the animals are hot, and I don’t like it! Whine...

How’s the pregnancy/baby/bump?

Seems to be going well. I found an OB that I like and have a follow-up appointment next week. The baby is moving around a lot and while it freaks me out (cause it feels SO weird), it’s also comforting every time I feel him moving. I have mild heartburn, but it goes away with a TUMS. In terms of sleep, I discovered on our cross-country drive that my camping pillow works great for a between-the-legs pillow. Makes turning over much less arduous than with a big pillow, but it gives me the knee separation that I need. All good.

With all the house drama, I’m waiting until Jrex is back in town to really focus on the baby. I’m getting every other room set up, except the nursery. I want to share that experience with him, plus it’s all very overwhelming and I want someone else in on the decision making process.

I’m definitely showing, which is leading to all sorts of interesting conversations. Met a woman who told me about a day care center at a local church. Visited the church this past Sunday. It was a fine church though not a ‘fit’ for me/us in terms of a spiritual home, but it was full of nice people. Happened to sit in the same pew as the woman who runs the daycare. She asked when I was due, I mentioned that I’d heard about the daycare, she told me she runs it and asked when I was hoping to start. I said January, she said, “Whew! We’re really full, but come on by and check it out. We’ll see what we can do for you.”

I’m sure it helped that I looked like a single mom all alone in church!

Do you have a name for the baby yet?
We have a first and middle that we both like, but it’s turned out that the first name is one of the most popular baby boy names of late. Once Jrex gets back, we’ll get a book of names from the library and see if we can find an alternative. If not, we’ll just be trendy...

What do you think of Dallas so far?
I’m actually pleasantly surprised. People told me it would be easy to make friends here, and that feels very true. Culturally our quirky corner of Dallas seems full of interesting people, so I’m enjoying that. The downtown farmer’s market (easy to get to from our house!) has great fruits, veggies, local honey, and grass-fed beef/pork/chickens--so I don’t feel like our foodie streak will be thwarted. Added to that, there’s a crazy, huge grocery store called Central Market that has organic foods, a huge cheese selection, basically all the pretentious foods we’ve discovered in California and many more that I had no idea existed.

I’m looking forward to exploring the cultural life in Dallas, but at the moment, have been overwhelmed with trying to get the house in shape while staying on top of my super-intense work deadlines. I did get a membership to The Modern art museum in Ft. Worth.

While not being a huge museum, it has fun architecture and a great collection; plus it’s an easy 40-minute drive from our house.

Junior will be indoctrinated in art appreciation from a young age.

Best quote so far about Dallas. My friend Art Instructor came down for my birthday (that’s a whole ‘nother story. GREAT weekend.). We went shopping at Central Market and were both completely blown away and overwhelmed.

In the checkout line, she mentioned that she’s visiting from upstate NY and the cashier asked what she thought of Dallas.

“I’ve got to admit that all my stereotypes of Texas have been blown. This is a neat city full of interesting people. Haven’t seen a single cowboy hat so far.”

The cashier laughed, “Just head over to Ft. Worth and you can get all your expectations fulfilled.”

The guy bagging the groceries nodded agreement, “Truer words I have not yet heard today.”