November 20, 2012


It's happening again. High School. College. Baltimore. Here. I'm not sure how it happens, but I seem to end up collecting friends who don't necessarily connect with each other. I did have a group of friends in high school, my art room/punk rock crowd, but I had others who didn't fit in there.

In college my four closest women friends were each in different circles of friends, but didn't click with each other. Through them I'd hang out with their circle, but I wasn't consistently part of the core.

Why the pattern? I'm using this blog to try to puzzle it out.

Thanks to my parents and our unusual 'third culture' upbringing, I learned to get along with many different people. I don't fully understand it myself, but I'm able to go deep emotionally with people in different arenas. In college, one friend was a prayer partner and someone who helped process dating relationships. Another discussed music, the creative process and books (and also dating relationships). A third asked intensely perceptive and challenging questions and we shared deeply about our family histories, spirituality, fears,  hopes (and guys). My fourth friend grew up in another country and we talked about race, about how to communicate, about family, religion and food (and relationships). 

The exception to the pattern was Rochester, I moved there after graduating from college to see if Jrex and I should get married. He was already part of a close-knit church which I joined. He had roomates who each married within a couple years of us and we hung out with them and their wives (and eventual children). When we switched to a different church, we hung out with groups of friends from that church. One of the joys that came out of that last year in Rochester was becoming best friends with two women who were also best friends with each other. Jrex called us "The Triplets". It was refreshing to have close friends who knew each other, too! All exceptions to the overall pattern.

In both Baltimore and California, most of our friendships came as I got to know people and initiated relationships. The exceptions were Jrex's group of fellow residents and lab mates. With them we'd join an overall group, but otherwise, we had a motley and fun assortment of friends.

Our developing friendships here feel like yet another collection. We have couples we really enjoy who don't necessarily enjoy each other. For Thanksgiving we tried to do an Orphan Thanksgiving gathering with two other couples, but I don't think the two couples want to hang out with each other. Instead, we met with the one couple this past weekend and will also see them next weekend and will do Thanksgiving with the second couple. It means we get lots of variety, but we don't have a default 'crowd' to see on a regular basis. Obviously, my church hopping has only added to the collection pattern!

I wonder if it relates to the part of me that always wants to find out what's next. I was always nervous to even audition for a play because, if I got in, it would confine my social world for 2-3 months. I'm not sure why a default group makes me feel a bit trapped (any ideas?).

I can't regret being a relationship magpie since our lives have been profoundly enriched by our wide variety of friends, I'm just trying to figure out if it's driven by healthy or unhealthy instincts. Why do I feel trapped if I'm only going to see the same people all the time? What am I protecting myself from? (I was in a toxic 'group' in junior high. Have I been avoiding that ever since?)

Curiouser and curiouser...

November 16, 2012

This Old House

"It's beautiful!"
"What a wonderful house!"
"You must love living here!"

This house certainly looks beautiful, the location is perfect for us, the flow and ability to entertain are amazing.

"Ma'am, I have to tell you that what's happening with the wires in that crawl space is dangerous. We need a whole day down there to fix it."
"Ma'am, I'm sorry to say, I can't tell what they were thinking in how they did the plumbing for that bathtub. I've seen home owners do a better job themselves. This is terrible."
"We can't tell if we should build the deck to match the house, which doesn't have a straight line, or just do it right."
"Ma'am, we cayn't put gutters on thayat porch. Looka the line thare, your whole roof is droopin'. Lewks like thay removed a support post to get a betta view out of the livin' room windas. Ya'll need to add a steel beam up thare to reinforce thayat roof first."
From what we've gathered from neighbor gossip, here's the recent history of this 100-year old house:
  1. Mother / daughter lived here with the house in the Mother's name. Mother gets Alzheimer's. Daughter comes home from work to see the house on fire and mother sitting on the porch roof. Mom set the fire. No insurance coverage since the home is in her name.
  2. They sell to a Flipper. Flipper runs out of money to even get the house back in sellable condition.
  3. DIY Cabinet Maker buys it. His Mom lives a block away and she and her daughter stopped by and told me that when he bought it, there were holes in the front porch, the front door fell off when they tried to open it. He lovingly rebuilt it from chaos. What he knows well, he did well: the redone hardwood floors are gorgeous, we have an amazing coffered ceiling in the foyer and the oak cabinets all over the kitchen are bomb-proof. What he didn't know and shouldn't have touched? Electric, plumbing and roofing. One neighbor said, "Oh you bought one of DIY's houses. He put them together with duct tape and bubble gum!"
  4. He sells to a gay couple. B&M completely redo all the non-wood interior surfaces. They get rid of an upstairs bedroom and put in a RIDICULOUS Master Closet. We don't know who updated the Master Bath, but assume it was B&M. All finishes and fixtures are gorgeous.
  5. We buy an old house that feels totally updated and move-in ready. Based on the home inspection we knew we had to do some foundation work and get the roof replaced. We also wanted to tear off the porch and put on a deck.

We're slowly having to replace and repair essential yet hidden parts of the house. Doing things right that will add NOTHING to the resale value of the house (rebuilding the front porch, redoing the electrical system in the crawl space, etc). We don't know if B (M left him) knew all this and didn't declare it (and is therefore open for a lawsuit) or if he really just left because his heart was broken. Jrex is opting for the conspiracy theory as the evidence mounts. We're not into suing people, but it's a nice mental valve to think we could.

The latest drama is that we found a huge water bubble coming down the back wall. Long story short, the plumber just left. He found the leak in the spa tub in the master bath (how pretentious that sounds!!!) and was able to shut off the valve. He got to that via a small access port in the side of the tub wall. However, some bright person put structural beams right in the middle of the opening. Our home warranty covers the plumbing repair, but not the cost to create access. Our home insurance has a $3000 deductible. We doubt that the cost to repair the downstairs ceiling and wall and repainting will add up to that much so it becomes an out of pocket expense. For this month that's in addition to the out of cost expenses for my second round of hernia repair and body work on the car (which are also out of pocket).

My sister was wondering why we feel poor given our total salary as a couple. Well, every month has involved a few whammies like this since we moved here. We keep having to dip into savings rather than add-to savings. It's very stressful.

Talk about first world problems, right? Yet all this means that we can't afford the vacations to the mountains that we promised ourselves as part of surviving a move to Dallas instead of Portland.

Am I overspiritualizing if I'm hoping that the big picture story of this house and our time in it will be one of redemption? I was hoping that would come in the form of us doing foster care, or at least being a safe place for Brex's future neighborhood friends. Before we can get to all that, it looks like the house itself is in need of redemption and healing! We keep hoping and praying that the money pit will stop growing and that we'll be able to dwell here and enjoy the house without always feeling like we're on shifting sand.

So far, not so much... Try to ignore our grimaces when you come to visit and say, "What a lovely home, you must love living here!"

November 14, 2012

Bad patient

I'm profoundly grateful that I don't live with a chronic disease.

Yesterday afternoon I grabbed a bowl of cereal for my late lunch/early dinner. I used the last of the rice milk. The same rice milk I've used in smoothies which I've shared with the baby.

Ever since, the 'stomach flu' is back...

I can't remember when I started using that particular container of rice milk, but I'm wondering how many of our symptoms have been food poisoning! Fortunately, I haven't given any to Brex for a few days and his appetite is back with a vengeance.

All day today it was all I could do to just lay around and concentrate on not running to the bathroom. There was no energy left for creative work, it was hard to sit looking at the computer for very long, and I got nothing done for work (another round of being hugely grateful that I get to work from home!).

How does someone in chronic pain manage to get stuff done? I'm in awe at the parents who are living with MS or other conditions yet who manage to love their kids and keep working. Heck, even if they are on disability and able to love their kids well, I'm impressed. Jrex offered to bring the kiddo home since he said I sounded awful on the phone.

Speaking of the making of a hypochondriac, I love how kind Jrex is when I'm feeling under the weather. It bumps me up on his very long priority list!

One final random thought, the hippies who believe in colon cleanses as a key to better health are smoking crack!

November 13, 2012

How I make working from home work

I've had various people ask if it's hard to stay disciplined while working from home. As long as I treat it as a job, it's not hard. On the other hand, graphic design is a deadline driven business and I am very good at hitting my deadlines. If I were a writer or fine artist and it was all up to me when 'it' happened, I don't think getting work done would be as easy.

Here's what makes it work for me:

1. I have a separate room.
Yes, it's shared with Jrex, but his stuff is tucked away behind me so I don't have to look at it. In 'my' part of the room, in addition to the custom desk I made myself, my huge monitor, laptop stand, scanner, bookshelfs and balance ball for a seat, there's a daybed. Not only does the daybed give us extra guest space, it's where I go to brainstorm and sketch. In order to generate creative ideas, I need to turn away from the computer with a stack of yummy (ultra smooth & thick) paper, a smooth pen, good music and time to sketch and just let my right brain loose to play. The computer tends to require left-brained mode (logic, order, language) and is therefore less conducive to true creativity.

2. I go into that room by 9:30 AM and leave by 4:30 or 5 PM.
It takes much less time to get work done when I don't have anyone to chat with as I go to and from the bathroom or kitchen. I also don't usually do laundry or clean the house while I'm 'at work'.

3. I dress for work.
Contrary to popular myth, I'm not working in my pajamas (or bunny slippers). If I don't take myself seriously, why should anyone else? Now, I DO tend to wear hats a lot and I don't usually bother with makeup, but I get 'ready' to 'go' to work

4. Unless required, the computer stays off during the evenings and weekends.
It's too easy to let work and home life blend together. Shutting down the computer signals that I can relax; it gives me a clear 'your time is your own' feeling (well, my time is Brex's time, really, but it's still a happy feeling to hit 'shut down' and walk away). The downside is that without the computer, it's hard to keep up with others' blogs, or play Scrabble on Facebook. All of that happens during 'office' hours or via my phone. When work is busy, I don't have time for any 'extras'. (November is obviously slow so far!)

5. The baby goes to daycare.
Having had him home during the workday while Mom K was here, I don't think a nanny would have worked. It's too distracting and he's too smart. If he knows I'm here, he wants to find me and be with me.

Ways that working from home has been a wonderful gift as a working Mom:

I don't have to tell my boss I'm working from home when the baby is sick. (Well, unless he barfs during staff meeting.) If we were still in California, I would have had to work from home over 20 days this year. As it was, I was able to juggle work and baby nap times most of the time.

It IS easier to take a nap.
When the kiddo has a rough night and my work is slow, I turn up the volume for email notifications and fall onto the daybed for a nap.

When I have to, I CAN get stuff done around the house.
As I said, I don't usually do this. I try to give the time for which I'm paid to my employer, but when we have a ridiculous mound of laundry, it's amazing to be able to get some of that done during the day. Or when decorating for a baby's birthday party (a purely hypothetical example!)...

November 12, 2012

Temper, temper

I think I've mentioned that when Brex hit the one-year mark, he also hit a key developmental milestone: wanting his own way. I keep thinking of the G.K. Chesterton quote from Orthodoxy, "Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." It's the idea that we each come out wanting our own way above all others and have to learn that life doesn't work that way.

Well, Brex is learning. I've figured out a few consequences that seem to work very effectively for his current behaviors. For each of these I give him a "When/then" statement as I see the willful moment approaching.

"When you touch that, then..."

"If you keep pulling those out, then..."

1. Move him
When he sits there staring at and scooting closer....and closer...and closer to whatever I've told him not to touch, I just say, "If you touch it, you get moved out of the room." He looks up at me and then back down. Slowly his fat little finger oozes toward the object of desire. As he touches it, I swoop down, grab him and move him out of the room. Not in any mean way, but not in a cuddly way either. He wails and gnashes his eight teeth as I leave him there to go back and finish whatever started the conflict. Then I come out and say, "I'll pick you up when you stop crying." He whimpers up at me with tears in his big brown eyes. Sniffs. Gets quiet. I pick him up and he grins and all is well.

2. Let him go
His other favorite reaction is to arch his back away from me if I say he can't touch something. (Example: we're in a store and he wants to touch the display items. God FORBID he can't touch them. What do you MEAN, 'it's not for you'?! The outrage! The horror! AAAAGGGGHHHH!!)

I have zero tolerance for that kind of tantrum, so I just put him on the floor as he's arching. (I do it gently enough that he doesn't bang his head, but quickly enough that he knows he started the motion) I leave him there to wail and again say, "When you stop crying, I'll pick you up." He usually stops fairly quickly. Yes. I've done this in a store. No, it's not fun. I figure the fits will only get worse, so it's worth it to do now when he can't yet walk away.

3. Walk away
He's just recently started shrieking if he's not getting something he wants (usually me).  I refuse to pick him up and reward the shriek. So I repeat, "When you stop crying, I'll pick you up" and then walk out of the room. The volume increases exponentially of course! When it winds down to a low whimper, I go in and get him. As soon as I pick him up, he grins like none of it ever happened. For some reason that's when I think, "Little punk!"

I figure all of this will have to be adjusted again once he can walk with confidence (since he will get up and run after me). That day is coming soon! Yesterday he had multiple times where he took 10 little robot steps (mostly towards the dog. Must. touch. her. Must. not. get. licked. in. face. Must. stand.)

So, as in most parenting thus far, as soon as we figure out a working system, we are due to enter newly uncharted waters.

For Halloween, I dressed him appropiately as a 'curmudgeon'. The shirt says "This is my costume".

November 8, 2012

Hypochondriac in the making?

How soon can a kid get himself to throw up? Last week, Brex genuinely had a stomach flu. This week?


Daycare called me yesterday to come pick him up since he had a 101-degree fever. I brought him home and let him sleep. When he woke up, I fed him (we're still using formula thanks to all these illnesses!! Sigh), then took him over to the park to go on the swings.

The trick with our little punk is that he's totally cheerful in-between his barfing episodes. He wants to explore, climb around, come to 'home base' (me) for a quick snuggle, then head off on his own again. It's hard to keep him occupied in the house. On the other hand, he's also really, really into me holding him ALL. THE. TIME. If we're outside, or he's in the stroller, he's fine, but inside the house, he wants to be touching me most of the time. Makes working a bit challenging if he's awake. I'm totally into him being independent, but after a few weeks now of various illnesses, he's turned into a velcro baby.

This afternoon I started to get my hopes up that he might be fine to go to daycare tomorrow. It's totally embarrassing to have it be my turn on the conference call and have him interject! Last week was horrible. During our studio meeting, it was my turn to fill in the team about my current projects. I'd told them Brex was home sick when we started talking. As I talked, I held Brex who then started to barf all over me! I cursed into the phone and told them I had to go (A bit later, I sent an email explaining what happened).

Another staff meeting today, another incident.  He woke up and started crying while it was my turn—so not that terrible, but still feels unprofessional. One of my coworkers calls these my "bunny slipper moments"—when the other person is reminded that I work from home (supposedly in my pajamas, right?).

Thus far in a year of virus after virus, Jrex has only had to be home from work one day. I have no idea how I'd handle this if I wasn't working from home, but it's really wearing on me (thus the hope that I could take him to daycare tomorrow). 

At dinner, he hurled all over the table. While I do my best to be very calm and soothing on the outside, "It's ok, buddy, get it all out. It's ok. Yeah, I know that hurts..." on the inside I'm screaming, "NOOOO!!!!!"

Got him all cleaned up (at least he loves baths), diapered, into his pajamas, read him his book, and he did it again! Bath number three for the day...

I love my kid and love spending time with him, but it's 10:45 pm and I just finished my work for the day. Since he's so attached to me these days, it's tempting to develop a conspiracy theory that he's getting sick on purpose so he can be with me.

(I offer this whiny post as an explanation for why I've posted nothing deep today!)

November 7, 2012

Public vs Private

My Mom was the oldest of 10 kids: her, one brother, then eight sisters. Without going into too much detail, her father was an alcoholic and there was abuse in the family. Some families respond to abuse by hiding it and pretending it never happened. In that pattern, you blame the victim when they want to (need to!) expose the trauma. In Mom's family, the sisters opted instead to not let secrets have power over them. As a result, in our immediate family, the greatest sin was lying or hiding something.

On the positive side, I watched over and over as Mom would share her story in various settings, and God would use it to open the door for other people to let out their secrets. She was an amazing agent for change and healing in many, many lives. When looking for an image to illustrate this post, I came across another man who is doing the same:

Another truth teller
I left for college with that as one of my deepest core values: no secrets. No shame. If I did something embarrassing, the easiest way to take the sting out of the memory was to turn around and tell someone about it. I shared deeply and openly with any of my friends. If it was happening in my life, it was fair game. As an artist and a writer, it felt like my life was fodder for my art. I joked that I felt sorry for anyone I married since they would join me in the fish bowl.

Well, it didn't work out that way.

Instead, I had to paint over parts of the glass, choose to not talk about certain things, become a participant in silence. Part of me hates it. I sometimes feel violated by my husband's need for privacy. Yet he felt violated by my need to share private things.

During a bad phase of our marriage, for a class project, I made a book that was supposed to represent the river of pain in my life. To be fair to Jrex, part of the pain was from my Mother's death, but some of it was due to issues in our relationship. I folded a long strip of blue paper, torn along the top and bottom edges, accordion style into a book. I'd written an essay that had no specific details, nothing shaming yet voicing my emotional journey. Over a couple of days, I wrote it out onto the blue strip in calligraphy. When I showed Jrex, he didn't want me to share even the little that I'd written. To honor him, I went through and wove in quotes that masked the text, tore out pieces, and basically shredded my art piece to help him feel safe. It's a stunted piece that grieves me when I look at it.

As I write this blog post I'm realizing how much it's hurt over the years to have to shut down as much as I have. And yet...

I love and respect Jrex a lot. He truly works hard to give me room to be who I am and not try to control me or pin me down. It's just this one area. Where MY story intersects with HIS story. He doesn't want his story told. At least not yet. Or at least not by me. He sees no value in telling other people the private things in our marriage. On top of all that, he's an introvert. He doesn't need to process his emotions by discussing them out loud with someone else. It's a nice to have not a need to have.

In addition, there's a huge culture gap between us. He's been raised in a culture (or at least in a family) where no one talked about 'private' things. No sex talk. No discussion of dreams. No analysis of negative family background. With a culture that believes the ancestors come back to check in after they're dead, the idea of not speaking badly of the dead is visceral. Going to therapists or counselors is unheard of! It took five years of begging, praying, pleading, crying and prodding to get Jrex to agree to go to marriage counseling.

So I've struggled to find a balance. My need to share vs his need for me to not share. I'm sure that much of the time, I've opted to just shut down so I won't need to process things. Apparently that's not working anymore. What do you do in a marriage when you each have gut level core values that violate each other? You have to compromise. This blog is an area where Jrex let me do something that dances close to his violation zones. Butchering my art was a way to retreat from hurting him.

Trying to do a series of delving posts in the context of this dynamic tension is going to be challenging. Yet, based on what I've seen, as we share our pain with each other, we give each other permission to be real. Reading Kay's blog this week about reviving her dead marriage is a reminder of how beautiful truth telling can be.

I need that like a parched, transplanted tree that needs water in order to put down roots.

November 5, 2012

From a letter that Paul wrote to his young pupil Timothy:
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."
This is a letter written by a Jew living underneath a Roman occupation. This isn't some benevolent, loving, social-justice king he's talking about. Roman dictator. Jewish despot. Those were his rulers.

Yet each time we've had a democratic president, I feel like a section of my Christian family get up in arms about bringing down the evil despot who is Ruining America. This election, some of the rhetoric I've seen via Facebook has really saddened me.
  • Obama is not a Muslim.
    He's talked clearly about having a salvation experience with Jesus. Do his politics align with some interpretations of the Bible? No. Nor do many other Christians'. 
  • Romney is not a Christian.
    I've been fascinated by Mormons since visiting Palmyra in upstate New York. It's the place where Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, supposedly found golden plates with the Book of Mormon written on them. Among other things, as Mormons Mitt and Ann believe they will inherit a planet when they die where they will be gods. They think that Jesus came to the Americas in the 1800's. That Native Americans are the 12 lost tribes of Israel (which did lead the Mormons to treat them with FAR more civility than any other settler group). Yes, the Mormons I've known are incredibly nice, moral and kind people, but as a faith, it's not just Christianity with a few extras.
  • The rabid anti-Obama rhetoric spouted by people as respectable as Franklin Graham make me really sad. Is Obama perfect? Of course not, but he's a sincere man who seems to be doing the best he can under incredibly harrowing circumstances. Whether you agree with his policies or not, why would any Christian treat any leader of our country with anything less than respect, prayer and honor?
On the flip side, when there's a "Christian" president (i.e., Republican...), the liberals whom I love, are happy to treat him as an idiot. Just saying that the lack of respect is throughout our culture. I'm sure much of it goes back to Nixon and is an outgrowth of general cynicism, but shouldn't the rhetoric sound VERY different from those of us who profess to follow a  homeless man who "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself, taking on the very form of a slave..."?

Jesus never said anything bad about the Romans. He told the Jews who lived under the occupation to pay their taxes to the oppressors. He healed a Roman soldier's slave. His harsh words were reserved for those within his faith and culture who no longer cared about people and cared more for rules and figuring out who was crossing the wrong lines.

I've been really convicted lately about some of my areas of bitterness and lack of love (more on that later), so I don't have a moral high ground here. Just wanted to reflect on how sad this election has made me. I don't like it when it's hard to respect people I love dearly.

I pray that whoever wins tomorrow will be given grace for the days ahead. And that we would stop participating in character slaughter as a holy duty.

November 2, 2012

Promises, promises

Since Brex's birth, I've been skimming along life's surface. In my time with him I feel deeply alive and love being with him, but the rest of the time, there's too much to do to really feel or think about much more than the daily to-do list. When work gets busy, I don't even have time to read other blogs or do any thinking.

I had time to read some blogs today and two posts  got me thinking about the need to delve into the emotions I'm avoiding. I don't know if I'll be able to do a post each day, but I think I might try.

Snickollet is trying to do a post a day. It sounds like she's in a similar position where the busy moments of life get in the way of introspection. Until she got hit by a truck.

One of my local friends has been blogging about her time in the Solomon Islands as a missionary. They were there to craft a New Testament in the local language. She raised and home schooled four kids while her husband worked on the translation. After many years in the field, she found out her husband had a porn addiction. Then, the organization found out. That story is unfolding on her blog:

The problem for me is that much of my emotional journey right now is intertwined with stuff with Jrex. He's a private person and I don't want to air any of his dirty laundry while trying to wash mine. Yet we don't have much time together to discuss any of this (part of the emotional pain). It's been part of the complex brew that I've been avoiding.

The stuff I've avoided thinking about and therefore the topics I'm hoping to explore:
  • honesty/openness vs 'secrets' vs privacy: where's the line? What's a healthy boundary given my personality and Jrex's?
  • my feelings around church and attending it without Jrex
  • how to raise a kid in a family when the answer to "aren't you both religious?" is "it's complicated"
  • the logistics of balancing any church commitment with family commitment when they don't happen in the same place at the same time
  • dealing with discipline for a one-year old
  • the craving to do something totally non-demanding and how that saps whatever time I have to do anything constructive
  • how to do family time when one's husband just wants to watch sports on the weekends
  • how to do couples time when babysitting is expensive and being house poor impacts our comfort in spending any money
  • how long it takes to achieve emotional intimacy with other moms (time together being full of the distractions of little destructos)
  • dog neglect and the accuracy of Jrex's predictions on that score
  • continuing insecurity that if it's not funny or witty, it's not worth publishing it on the blog 
  • overall blog identity crisis: who is it for? Given the FB option for getting news out, is there a purpose? I'm hoping that using it to do some emotional delving will help give it a reason to exist again

The only way to begin is to begin, right? So. This is the beginning.