On Why We Have Been Gone

 

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Part of the reason that we have been quiet here lately (me especially) is because of the unfortunate events of last year. I am hurt and angry, still, and fundamentally offended at having been given an ultimatum to choose who gets to be my family.

I have been angry, and I have used it as an excuse to hide. That was wrong of me, and I am sorry. Writing for this blog has been incredibly difficult while working on sorting out the turmoil of the last year’s occurrences. We have spent countless hours talking about love, and the lessons we have to learn in this. I love having the outlet that this blog provides. It’s just a little hard to write about love while your own wounds keep bleeding.
It hasn’t all been terrible feelings, though. Part of why we have been quiet has been really good stuff. We came to Columbus, Ohio, and we fell in love. I saw it all the time, but when Carlos suggested Columbus, I thought, “there’s no way this little city far from the ocean is going to be as cool as he says.” Naturally, I was totally wrong. It turns out that I have a dormant love of rust-belt architecture, and there really is a difference in how people interact with strangers here. We have been actively engaging in finding and becoming part of our community. We’ve been practicing the skills needed to make friends in a city where we knew exactly no one.

As to the question of how long we’re planning to stick around here: we bought a house, which came with a whole assortment of new challenges. We own a basement! We also have tenants, and with them an opportunity to walk our talk. We spend a lot of time on house projects, on creating a space that is ours and that is welcoming and inclusive of the people who are already here. We have new loves, new draws on our time, and, oh yeah, an adorable-as-all-get-out two year old with his papa’s energy and his mama’s tendency to run away when asked “what are you doing?” A lot of the energy that might have gone toward writing about the ways that people love has been diverted into putting our beliefs into practice, especially giving our kiddo the best of ourselves.

All these things, they take up time and energy, and I have let myself let them push this project out of priority. Carlos has kept us moving forward, taking on a lot of the childcare burden while I’ve been working, ripping the hideous pink carpets out of our house, keeping up his own work. This blog, and the associated project, have been my responsibility, and I have been laying down on the job. I owe it to you, to Carlos, to Rock, and myself to do better on this thing. Thanks for sticking with us. I am incredibly lucky to have such a community of support, and I am eager to get back to doing my part in it.

 

Happy Day

We are in a place that we want to stay in. It’s different than anywhere I’ve lived before, and I am very happy about it. This past weekend was the autumnal equinox, and this place does not waste any time making the switch to fall. The leaves are turning, and it is positively crisp outside, even though it’s also supposed to be in the 70s today. I love it.

It has been cold at night, and in the morning when I’m walking the dog. It’s time for me to be knitting again, post-haste. Last night I pulled out the hat I started for Carlos, and Rockford gave me a solid demonstration of the level of challenge I’ll be facing. It turns out that my toddler is way more efficient at project destruction than my cat ever was. I spent half an hour untangling the mess he made of my yarn, only to do it again this morning.

Also last night, I dreamt of an epic Thanksgiving dinner, with so many pies and gravy and potatoes and single-serving injera and duck confit. As I’m writing it out, this sounds a little more like a glutton’s paradise than even I want Thanksgiving to be. But it did remind me that I need to restock my spice cabinet and buy some butter. And now I’m thinking that a turkey doro wot might be in my future. I’m about to write the most epic grocery list of my life (ok, maybe just this year).

I feel really happy today. My amazing kid is super cute, even when he’s on a monstrous tear. It’s clearly autumn, and while there has been rain, it’s the exception rather than the rule. I’m feeling like it’s time to buy some furniture and give the cat a name, so to speak. I think it’s only fair to warn you that this blog may date a dramatic turn back to cooking-related, at least briefly, as I celebrate/inaugurate my kitchen by cooking ALL THE THINGS. I cannot wait.

Someone’s In The Kitchen

My kitchen is 16 inches by 36 inches, made up of a single-basin sink and a two-burner propane stove. I have two pans (I mistakenly left my third pan in Portland, d’oh), four coffee mugs, four bowls, a french press, and a whole gaggle of water bottles. Needless to say, I don’t get a lot of hard-core cooking done in there, though I do usually manage to keep us fed.

I expected that giving up all the pots and pans and tools and accessories from my kitchen would be a lot more traumatic than it has turned out to be so far. I live in the kitchen, but I also hide in the kitchen. The kitchen is a convenient excuse, a refuge. Giving up my own kitchen has forced me to let go of ideas about myself that seemed so deeply ingrained that I imagined they were immutable. Letting go of my attachment to the kitchen feels like a good practice for examining my other attachments, questioning how they came about and what they’re actually bringing into my life.

Living on the road and spending our time in other people’s houses has meant spending a lot of time in other people’s kitchens. Many a day, I start our routine on someone else’s stove, in someone else’s toaster, with someone else’s tools. More than their tools, though, I enjoy seeing the way that other people organize this critical part of life, the kind of priority that they give it (or don’t). Which things are most carefully cared for? Which things are absent? Which are present, but neglected? The kitchen is not exactly a window into the soul of a household, but I think it can be a telling snapshot.

Most of the people who welcome us into their homes have done so intentionally, knowing who we are and what we’re about. They’re like us, in some way, or they simply do like us. Spending time in their kitchens feels like a gift, like guidance for how to take the good things and the necessary things and stop worrying about the rest. The task of purposefully rebuilding our life is immense and often feels overwhelming. There are plenty of lessons we’ve learned from our loved ones that that seem impossibly far removed from where I am now. Coming back to the kitchen gives me a tangible place to start reshaping our life to take the best care of our needs.

Old stuff

I have a lot of stuff. I have always thought, “I wish I had less stuff,” while simultaneously accumulating more things. I don’t really know why I have always had such a hard time letting go of things, but I always have.

Because of some recent unpleasantness, Carlos and I have had occasion to open and sort almost every box that I have had left over from all the times I’ve moved as an adult, starting in 1999. From the time that I left my tiny home town to go to college, I have moved 19 times. Nineteen!

Among the many boxes that we sorted were photos I took in middle school, memorabilia from high school, textbooks from my time at Reed. I didn’t have very many things left in Patagonia when I left Portland for Yakima, and the things that I accumulated in the time I spent there before going to Olympia were few and had mostly already been purged. But still, my straggler boxes and Carlos’s together filled a 10×4 storage unit to bursting.

I don’t know why I have kept so many things, and why so many of the things that I have kept are such junk. I think that I have held on to so many things as a way to hold on to my past, to make some part of my story permanent.

I am not permanent. Permanence is not real.

I am afraid of change, and I am afraid that in changing, I will completely lose touch with where and who I have been in the past. I have held on to detritus with a belief that it is somehow magical, that those sophomore text books hold within them some secret essence of what mattered to me about that experience.

As I went through those boxes, though, I realized that all the things that I had been dragging around were not the magical totems of my life experiences that I had hoped they would be. They were just things. Now I wonder why I thought that they would hold that kind of power — I have never been a sentimental person, or an especially nostalgic one. As much as I have been prone to getting stuck, I am not much of one for looking backwards. In fact, the lack of desire to look backwards is probably part of how I ended up with so many boxes full of silly crap to begin with.

I can’t tell you that going through all those boxes was easy. I cried a little before we started, and spent a lot of the time cursing my many failings. But like the events that precipitated the Great Box Purge of 2013, there was liberation in the pain. I no longer feel like I have to hold on to parts of my past that weren’t really great the first time around. I had an opportunity to give all those tchochkes a moment of closure, and set them free. I did it with my core team, working together to build a new foundation out of the things that we each brought to our marriage (ok, Rockford didn’t actually help that much, but there was a surprising amount of second- and third-hand baby stuff in all those boxes).

I don’t know whether I’ll be better about my gravitational collection of junk in the future; because we are living so intentionally minimally, I think that I will have to be. I have written before about trying to occupy my physical space as a reflection of the way I want to be mentally and spiritually. I hope that this exercise in letting go can be the foundation for a better path in my future.

All work and no play

It feels weird to start another post of the subject of hobbies, but dudes, they’re important.

We’re at the point of really refining what gets to come with us in the Chinook, and it’s not going to be a whole lot. One thing that IS coming, though, is the Art Box. (Other Boxes of note: Dog Box, Tool Box, Office Box.) At first glance, I think the Art Box seems frivolous, like there’s something more important that could go into the space that it’ll take up.

But the thing is this: Art is important. It’s important culturally, and individually. I can’t thrive when I feel like I don’t produce anything. Working on creative projects helps keep the brain flexible, in the same way that riding a bike makes the body better able to do the work of carrying a baby.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I always read this as meaning that Jack was dull to be around; that having no fun outside of work meant that Jack couldn’t relate to other people. I still think that’s true, but it’s not the whole meaning. All work and no play makes Jack less sharp, less shiny, less bright.

I think that people who make a craft (rather than a “fine art”) as their creative output get a little more leeway from the judgment that “art’s not important.” My friend’s dad is a recreational cabinet maker; another friend has gotten deep into tailoring her own clothes; occasionally I finish a knitting project. These creative outputs tell other people that we’re “doing something” when we’re doing something creative.

Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up on Saturday morning and putting on my trail boss pants, driving the men of the house outside to work in the yard. Part of it is necessity – five adults in one house gets to be overwhelming, and making the backyard habitable relieves some of the pressure of close quarters. It’s practical, too, beyond just necessary: clearing the ivy from the broken fence so it can be replaced, taking last years fallen leaves to the compost, reducing the number of hazards to both children and unprotected feet. But even beyond that, I do it because it enables me to force them to work on something good.

After days of hauling out leaves and unneeded branches and that stupid ivy, I dragged my dad out there after work one evening. “Come to the yard and let’s talk about your trees.”

“I don’t want to talk about the trees!” he said, as if that were even remotely true. But it didn’t matter, really. The trees are there because he planted them, because he needed them, and they still need him. So I dragged him out (that may be a little melodramatic, yes), and made him spend a few quiet minutes discovering what the yard has been up to while he’s been busy elsewhere. I showed him the tiny, perfect red maple seedlings hiding under the crab apple (RIP, crab apple). We talked about the trees after all.

I do the same thing to Joe – I drag him out of the house, into the sunshine, into the yard where he gets to climb and destroy things and find weird shaped pieces of wood. I drag him outside because it’s really hard to force someone to paint, but it’s easy to say “I need you to help me with some work.” “Come keep me company while I clean the garage, and oh, incidentally, let’s talk about art projects!”

I don’t think of myself as an artist, particularly not a good one, but I love nourishing the artist in other people. During an argument with Carlos, I told him, “What I want is for you to finish the ukulele you’re building me!” It wasn’t because I need that ukulele, but because I want him to spend time making art.

I want all of us to spend time making art, in ways that are appropriate to ourselves. We cannot go live our life on the road without bringing with us the tools to improve and maintain our souls. So we’ll bring fewer pairs of shoes or whatever, and make a little extra room for the screenprinting gear. It’s a trade that is entirely worth it to me.

Apropos: As I was writing this, a smart friend shared this video. I LOVE IT!

Watch Mayim Bialik: Blossoming To Science on PBS. See more from Secret Life of Scientists.

Some handy tools

I thought it would be nice to do a little round up of some of the tools that we find useful on a pretty regular basis. Some of these are every day tools, some are things we’re still trying out, or that have been useful in the past but maybe not right now. It is in no way comprehensive. These are mostly focused on keeping shit in order, one way or another.

Superbetter You’re a hero, recovering from an illness or injury. Build a network of friends who help support you on your journey to conquer bad guys and get better!
unfuck your habitat “Terrifying motivation for lazy people with messy homes,” pretty much sums it up. Except it’s really not bad. Realistic goals, accountability, and support, proving that yes, we can all take better care of our spaces.
monthlyinfo No-frills online menstrual cycle tracking, with customizable email alerts. I get one that says “your period is coming, be nice!” and Carlos gets one that says “Throw shiny things at Rose!”
epic win Make your to do list an RPG. You set your own goals, and make progress by taking care of business.
sleep cycle Everything is better when you’re sleeping well. I swear it to you. Sleep cycle is a phone-based app that tracks your sleep pattern and wakes you at the optimal point in your cycle.
Donna This is not yet publicly available, but Carlos has signed up for the beta. It looks cool!
Astrid Another to-do list tool! But this one lets you team up, delegate, send email to-dos, and it has a cute octopus mascot.
google calendar Sometimes you need to set aside time in a hardcore way. Want to make sure that you’ll actually meditate on a certain day? Schedule that shit! Spouse time: put it in the calendar! Having the ability to create events on one another’s calendars is really useful for Carlos and I, because it allows us to help keep each other on the right track. I can make an appointment for him, set up email reminders, and never have to (even kind of) nag him. And he can do the same for me. Brilliant.

Clear floor, clear mind

I think that if you told me 15 years ago that I would be finding comfort and calm in cleaning up other people’s mess, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am, covered in dust and happy as a clam.

I’m writing this from a break in my bi-annual (no, tri-annual?) expedition into cleaning my parents’ garage. Last year I spent some (but not really enough) time fighting through a friend’s basement, and the year before that I put a beat-down on my sister’s patio/miscellany-pile. While it wasn’t the highlight of that vacation, it was still a satisfying morning.

The garage is easy for me because none of what I’m cleaning is mine, and there’s a big pay-off. Cobwebs, sawdust, plaster dust, cat hair, everything goes into the shop-vac.

One of my elementary school teachers had a sign that said something like, “If a messy desk means a messy mind, what does an empty desk mean?” The implication here is that an empty mind is a bad thing, of course, but there’s another side to it. An clear desk isn’t really empty, and neither is an clear mind.

For me, remembering to meditate helps keep my mind cleared out of cobwebs and dust. I can’t meditate for anyone else, but I can help make a little space in the world feel clearer. Part of this is purely selfish – I’m storing a bunch of stuff in that garage, and our life literally always benefits from less cat hair in the environment. Beyond that, the nature of cleaning (engaging the body in action while making few demands on the mind) is an easy meditative space for me to enter. But it’s not only selfish – I have the resources (time, strength, non-attachment) to take on the challenge of a dusty garage or overflowing patio, and applying them makes one corner of the world clearer and more functional. “Clear floor, clear mind” is a goal that we often use, especially when things are feeling chaotic. It’s easy to get started, and highly impactful, and transferable. Of course, I can’t clear your mind, but I can clear the way to your toolbench so you can do your own mind-clearing meditative thing.

Is it possible that we can apply “many hands makes light work” to the intensely-personal work of meditation? I do really love to sit in a group setting, much more than sitting on my own. More research is definitely called for!

Friday I’m In Love

Friday is my favorite day.

Today, it was sunny, although not warm. I swam ten (10!) laps.* Rockford put himself down for a nap!

I get to see my husband so soon! We ate lazy dinner and took Rock on a grand adventure to the grocery store, and washed umpteen loads of laundry.

Friday is taking-care-of-business day, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines day. It’s clean all the floors, get out of doors, baby dinosaur, four on the floor.

It is not, however, the easiest day to get my brain and body to settle into writing. At least, not in a way that fits well into the flow of the day. I get caught up in doing, and thinking-meditating-breathing while doing, and can’t quite get a hold of writing.

Just now, I’m writing while Rock is roaring around the living room, and Joe’s keeping an eye on my cookies. It’s not late, but I’m tired. Happy, productive tired, but still, tired. So I have a bit of a conundrum on my hands; how do I come to writing so that I can give it the love it needs?

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*only 10, not 10!, math sticklers.

Wheels Down, Yakima

I realize that “wheels down” is an inaccurately avionic metaphor to describe arriving in my destination, considering that this is a road-tripping blog, but I just woke up from an epic, much-needed nap, during which I dreamt that I got trapped on a 747 driving down an unknown highway. So, there’s that.

Despite having slept close to three hours, maybe, this afternoon, I’m still feeling pretty exhausted. There wasn’t enough sleep in any night last week, and a couple of them were dramatically too long. Except they really weren’t too long, because they were spent with the best people, or y’know, moving almost all our our belongings internationally.

As I tweeted earlier today, I’m pretty sure the only other time I’ve been this exhausted was when I gave birth to our baby. This is actually significantly better than that, though. I didn’t sleep in a hospital at any point in this exhaustion, and I’m in way less pain than I was then, and I came away with a nice guest bedroom and feelings of being well-loved. And there is no meconium poop in my future. So; winning!

Today, Rockford petted a cat for the first time ever. It was all going so well, the three of us sitting on the couch together, practicing our gentle touching, when he decided that standing up to look out the window was more interesting, and promptly fell over onto the poor cat. I found the whole thing very entertaining, and the cat came back for more, so, again, winning!

I have about a million things that I need to get on with doing, starting with turning some chicken thighs into dinner. It’s been a long and crazy weekend and I have a lot to catch up on. Sadly, this is it for today’s blog post, but there will be more, better stuff later this week! I owe several people a song, and many more thanks, and all that is coming. Until then, be excellent to each other.

Rose’s boyfriend and Carlos’s frenemy

This morning, Carlos and I both had dates with our long-time other significant others. He took the train to see to his, and I’m taking care of mine on the living room floor. As I write this, RJ is napping, but he’ll be part of my date once he wakes up.

In general, I don’t love talking about stuff I’m working on. This is an old habit of mine – my mom describes catching me practicing faces in the mirror as a baby, testing them out before trying them on other people. I want to have a finished product before I share with people, but the truth about life is that sometimes there just isn’t a product at the end of the process. Sometimes we just do a thing every day, because it’s what we do, and we have to talk about it while it’s in process, because there is no end to it.

What does that have to do with my Monday morning date?

In my process of growing more comfortable in my own life, I have this lesson that I keep learning: everything in my life needs some care, and what that means is different for everything. Dita Lily needs food and exercise, adventures outdoors, cuddles on the couch, and to be reminded that she’s part of our pack. The kiddo needs the same things, but the way I deliver them to him is totally different (well, mostly). Carlos has needs, my relationship with him has needs, I have needs. And critically, I need to recognize what those needs are and how to address them.

One of the needs that I have struggled with mightily over the last, well, forever, is taking care of our home. Before I shared a home with Carlos, I struggled with taking care of my own home, my parents’ home, The House of Doom, all of the homes I have had. I like having a calm, clean house, but I have a hard time with the work that goes into it. That was a major motivation for me in going to Shaping Home. And it has been important in the conversations that Carlos and I have around relationships. Even in the most traditional, monogamous marriage, there are things outside of the primary dyad that require attention and energy, which are acknowledged as important by all parties. The most obvious one is children, and other family. Your love of your children doesn’t come between you and your spouse, it’s just a fact of family life.

And the same is true of the significant relationship I am tending to this morning. It doesn’t take away from my love of Carlos, though it can be a point of difficulty (just like kids!). Neglecting it makes our life harder; giving it a little time and attention makes things easier all around. As much as I struggle with it, I know that I need it, so I make the time. Sometimes it can be hard to do that, but it’s worth it.

So, what’s all this about, then? Who is this mystery that matters so much!? It’s laundry. In today’s case, three loads of clean laundry, sitting on my living room floor, waiting to be folded and put away. And Carlos, you ask? What’s his date about? Work, out of the house, in someone else’s quiet office.

I kind of hate that laundry is my boyfriend (yes, we do refer to it that way all the time). But I have power over this relationship, if I’m willing to exercise it. I don’t think Carlos feels as grumpy about work as I do about laundry, even though he describes it as his frenemy. We get different kinds of things back from the energy we put into these relationships, and that’s just a fact of life. Every relationship you have is different, has different needs, pays out different dividends. We don’t always get to pick our other significant others, but we always have to choice to make our relationships with them the best they can be.