Adulting. And stuff.

My daughter’s biggest challenges in the last year have come from learning how to adult. I feel her pain.

Although I am firmly into my 6th decade of living, when it comes to adulting I feel I could be the Imposter Syndrome poster child. I look like a fully-functioning adult. I know all kinds of things about a lot of things–you don’t even want to debate me about the Oxford comma–but I am sometimes shocked by how little I know about the basics of maintaining a life. You really can wing it/kinda fake it for a lot of things. For a really long time. Or, at least, I’ve been able to so far.

This is not an adulting desk.

But it bothers me that I don’t really know how a lot of things work and feel I have very few practical life skills. If the zombie apocalypse comes or the grid collapses or the bottom of privileged, western life falls out in some other way, I’m toast. I can function pretty well in a world with big box stores and electricity and YouTube and take-out, but I will definitely not be the fittest in any kind of basic survival contest.

I’m not really worried about doomsday scenarios, but I descend from farmers and fishermen and machinists–all self-sufficient people who knew how to grow and make and do with their hands. It bothers me to have so little skill in taking care of my own needs. I’m tired of feeling mildly (or majorly) incompetent a lot of the time, especially when it comes to feeding myself and keeping house. Also, I really like it when I occasionally do something well in these arenas.

I didn’t grow any of this not-organic food, but I made this grown-up meal all by myself.

So the other day I checked this book out of the library:

At first I thought it was going to be another lifestyle porn kind of book–and it does have gorgeous pictures with rustic tile, simple linens, and lots of things in glass jars–but it’s got a lot of substance to it:  philosophy, practical strategies, and concrete tools. Most pages look like this one:

There are a few things I particularly enjoy about Erica Strauss’s philosophical approach to food and home. The biggest one? “…don’t be afraid to take it slow at first.”

This is one of the few books I’ve read that makes me think I could actually learn how to do food and home, which makes me want to jump all in. I want to do it all–grow vegetables, can, make my own household cleaners, revamp my household routines–and I want to do it all right now! But this is what my kitchen looks like right now:

And the only way it’s going to look better is if I spend a substantial amount of each day for what’s left of the summer working on it. I’ve also got family to love, and some work to do, and….  I appreciate Strauss’s stance that “this is not an all-or-nothing thing” and that the “ultimate goal of a hands-on homekeeper is to be proactive about shaping your own healthy domestic life.” In other words, she’s not an insufferable purist about the whole thing. In fact, she’s pretty damn funny (as you can see in this post from her blog).

So I’m starting with something simple:  making natural household cleaners. I’ve wanted to do this before, but I got stymied by not knowing where to find borax and castile soap in the store. (I kid you not. I still don’t know where to find them, but if I can’t figure it out this time I’m just going to break down and order them from Amazon.)

Baby steps, baby.

Once upon a time I wrote a blog in which our basic premise was that how we do home is how we do life. I still believe that. For three years, life has been an on-hold, up-in-the-air, what-the-actual-fuck, one-transition/calamity-after-another affair. Home has been slap-dash, make-do, get-through-the-day-however-we-can-and-call-it-a-victory sort of thing. Making my own household cleaners might be only the first step on a thousand mile journey, but at least I’m finally moving, and it feels like the right direction. George Eliot wrote that “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I generally think that’s a crock of hooey, but when it comes to this I think she’s right.

Now this is a guy with practical life skills.

 

Doing home, doing life

Summer in a nutshell:

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Beginning of summer

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End of summer

Back in June, struggling with tremendous change and uncertainty (which is where I’ve been living for at least two years), I gave myself permission to stop. Stop trying to figure everything out. Stop trying to make things better. Stop doing things unless they truly had to be done–so that I might figure out what it is I even like doing any more.

I think I had some idea that if I’d just stop, all the dust clouding my vision would settle and I’d find some kind of serenity and things would become green and shiny again. Or, at least, I would be able to see what is still green and shiny. And, well, yeah…what you see above is fairly indicative of how things look right now.

Most of you who read regularly followed me here from the home blog I used to write with Cane, where we (hopefully, optimistically, enthusiastically, joyfully) proclaimed that “how we do home is how we do life.”

The internets is full of people waxing philosophical about the meaning of home. My friend Laura pointed me to this (rather pedantic, privileged-perspective) piece last week that annoyed but also intrigued me a bit. In it, the writer posits that home “is a place where personal ideals are externalized or personal failures made visible.”

Well, clearly mine is more about personal failures made visible than anything else these days.

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This summer we did fix some things that have long needed fixing. We finally gave up on doing anything cool/creative that we love with our entry and painted everything the same shade of brown and covered the stairs with a boring, serviceable carpet.

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We got rid of yellowed vinyl flooring in a bathroom, painted the walls, and took out a plastic-covered vanity that surely replaced a solid wood one in a previous owner’s quest to attain a different sort of domestic ideal than any we ascribe to. We put in a new one that’s probably a lot like the original one.

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Some of you might remember when we put some lipstick on the pig of the room that it was when we weren’t ready to replace the flooring and cabinet:

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The bathroom needed new flooring and the new cabinet takes up less space, which is good, I suppose, but I’m not in love with it. I’m in meh with it. And though I don’t like to say it out loud, given the time and money we put into the changes, I think I  liked the funky lipstick version of it better.

Unlike so many of our earlier house projects, these were not labors of love. These projects were done not to make a home but to fix things that would need fixing if we decide to sell the house. (Kind of amazing how that shows, huh?)

When Cane and I wrote that “how we do home is how we do life” we saw it as a statement of power:  We can choose how we do home, and a complementary life would grow out of that choosing:

Want a simpler life? Create a simple home.

Want an authentic life? Create an authentic home.

Want a connected life? Create a home with routines and traditions and rituals that connect its inhabitants with each other and those who enter it.

What I’m coming to understand, though, is that this question of home/life might be a chicken/egg sort of thing:  Which comes first, home or life? Maybe how we do life is how we do home–and many of us struggle to do life the way we want to.

Some of us live in poverty. Some of us live with abuse. Some of us are living out the inevitable effects of multi-generation oppression. And, even those of us who are relatively privileged sometimes get thrown a curveball that we just can’t hit with anything resembling grace–if we can manage to hit it at all. Sometimes, life throws us not a curveball, but a series of fastballs discharging from a pitching machine set to its highest speed. Then, we end up doing life the best we can, swinging furiously, knowing we’re going to miss more balls than we hit.

Sometimes, life has us so worn out that caring about home feels really beside any point that matters.

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I really miss caring about such things as growing vegetables and sewing grocery bags and planning meals and restoring banged up furniture that no one else loves any more. I keep trying to “act as if,” thinking that maybe I can make the equation work the other way:  Maybe if I just start doing the stuff, the caring will return and the life will follow suit.

So far, it hasn’t been that way. But as so many on the internets constantly remind me, we’re all just living in one season of life at a time, and they all pass. I’m hoping that as summer fades into fall, this one I’ve been living in for the past few years will move on, too. I’ll keep you posted.

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This is not a dead pig. It was a live pig at the Clackamas County fair, which we visited at the end of the last month, and it has no super-important meaning to this post. I just like to end posts with a photo and couldn’t bring myself to use another dead plant one (although I have plenty of dead plants that could be up for the task.) Going with this because there was a reference to pigs in the post, and, to be honest, there is something in this photo that speaks to my current state of being. Especially that food trough is resting on the pig’s head.

 

 

 

Taking the long way home

Twenty-five summers ago, I lived in a sweet little house in a charming old southeast Portland neighborhood. It was the first house I owned, bought not long after I married and started my first teaching job.

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It was only a few blocks from a park where I walked every day with my dog, Billie. The previous winter we’d gone to the mall one Sunday morning to buy a Billie Holiday CD (remember those?), but the record store was closed. The pet store wasn’t. This was before I knew about puppy mills. Before I knew the first thing about taking care of another living being. Or about making commitments.

That summer, Billie and I went on many walks, traversing up and down the sidewalks of our neighborhood’s tree-lined streets. I remember looking up into the trees, thinking that their branches looked like canopies. I wrote that into a poem I worked on later that fall, thinking that no one else had ever seen how trees looked like canopies. I didn’t know, then, that many people have seen canopies when looking up at trees that flank both sides of a street. These were so different from the trees of my childhood neighborhood, which was filled with Douglas fir and cedar. We had no sidewalks, nor any tree-lined streets. It didn’t occur to me that these new trees were common, or that my perception of them might be.

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I was lonely that summer. I had lived in that charming neighborhood less than a year, and in that city for less than two. I had spent most of those months working the long days of a first-year teacher. Although there were people at work I was friendly with, I hadn’t made any real friends, there or anywhere else.

My husband worked during the days and studied for the MCAT in the evenings. I spent my days walking the dog, working out to an aerobics TV show, sanding (probably lead-filled) paint from the woodwork of our 1920’s house (I didn’t know about lead-based paint then, either, even though I should have) while watching soap operas, planning dinner, and waiting for the hour or so I’d get his company when he came home. I made the uninsulated attic into the kind of private space I longed for as a teen-ager, not realizing that it would always be too hot up there in the summer and too cold in the winter, or that I didn’t need such a space because the whole house was my space. There was nothing I needed sanctuary from within its walls.

That husband–he was a smart, funny, earnest, kind, and gentle person who, like me, had no business getting married or adopting dogs. He was as good to me as any good person can be who is too young to get married. I was not as good to him. Or to myself.

Instead of facing the chasm within that my loneliness illuminated with blinding intensity, I ran away from it. I ran away from him, and our dog, and the house, and the neighborhood, and the park filled with geese that Billie loved to bark at. I ran away from all of it, too blind and scared to see that I had everything I’d ever wanted, right there:  a good person who loved me, a safe and cozy home, meaningful work, the promise of children with a man who would be a good father to them.

I didn’t know that many, many people had looked up into the same void and seen the same thing I’d seen, and given it the same wrong names I gave it.

*******

The weekend before last, Cane and I drove through my old neighborhood on our way to spend a late afternoon on the river. As I always do when driving through there, I felt nostalgic and wistful. The aftertaste of regret lingered at the back of my throat.

I thought of my house project, my recent fascination with small, working-class houses. My first husband and I bought that first house with the salaries of a first-year teacher and a lab tech. Although Cane and I both have equity in another home and advanced degrees and decades of work in our field, this neighborhood is out of our reach now, even if we could make our lives fit within its geographic boundaries. That is due as much to our respective (poor) life choices as to Portland’s gentrification, and we know the sting we feel is nothing compared to the pain of those whose communities are lost to them through the effects of systemic racism and other injustices. Still, it hurts.

As we drove through again on our way home, I thought about the home of a colleague I’d recently visited. Her lovely Portland house sits in an even more charming neighborhood, and it is filled with photos of her family. I could see how all of them have grown, together, through two decades or more. I imagined, briefly, the home and life I might have had if I’d faced my demons 25 years ago, if I hadn’t left that kind boy I married and we’d done the hard work of growing up together.

“I should never have left here,” I said to Cane as we drove back home. “I had everything I wanted, but I couldn’t see it.”

“Well, then, you wouldn’t have had your children,” he said.

“Oh, I know. I know. That’s what I always tell myself. But as my daughter reminds me whenever I say that’s why I’ll never regret marrying their dad, I probably would have had different children I love as much as I love them. I’d never have known them, so I wouldn’t have missed them.”

“You can’t know that,” he said. “You might not have been able to have any children at all.”

He is, of course, right. We can never really know where a different choice at a fork in our life’s road might have taken us. We always imagine the best-case scenario when we’re punishing ourselves for the choices we didn’t make but wish we had. In mine, I somehow get to have the same children I have now.

“Well,” I said, reaching for the hand of the smart, funny, earnest, kind, and gentle man who loves me now and takes no offense when I suggest that perhaps I should be married to someone else, “I know I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, so I guess I need to just get over all that.” I squeezed his hand, hoping he knew I meant it, hoping my daughter knows that any life I might have had without her and her brother would have been a lesser one.

******

On one my friend Jill’s recent, always-wonderful weekly list of Something Good, I found this post by Austin Kleon, about bliss stations. In it, he writes:

“It’s felt impossible lately not to be distracted and despondent. I’m trying to spend as much time at my bliss station as I can.”

Between events in the world around us and those in my own private world, I know more than I’d like to about being distracted and despondent. But what is a bliss station? Kleon, quoting Joseph Campbell, says that it is

“a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation.”

Kleon wonders if it is enough to have either a particular place or a particular time, and reading his words I realized that in this summer I have been lucky enough to have both:  Time almost every morning, and my own, dedicated creative space.

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Although I found solace in this space during the spring, over the weeks of this summer I have entered it only to iron clothes or drop off junk I didn’t want to take the time to find a real home for.

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I thought of another post by another friend, Shannon’s musings about how hard it can be to get started again after a creative dry spell.

I thought about how I have, right now, things I wanted for years:  time and space to create. I thought of all the times in my life I’ve been blind to what is in front of me, and how I don’t want to be that way any more.

I thought about how good it would be to spit the taste of regret out of my mouth.

*****

I went back to my old neighborhood, to take photos for my project. To take inventory. To confront my regrets. To see.

The old park, which once had a big, flat, grassy open field, swing sets, and a square, man-made pond, has been transformed into a natural wild space.

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I didn’t see any of the geese Billie used to chase, but a stream was home to delightful ducks.

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I walked the neighborhood sidewalks I used to walk with Billie, remembering the young woman I was 25 years ago. Trying to figure out how to forgive her.

I took photos of houses I might want to do something with.

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You can’t see the older woman sitting in a chair in front of the window, reading a book. But she’s there.

I left when I felt a migraine coming on. I went home and took a nap, grateful for the time and space to do that.

******

A few days later, I went into my creative space, wondering if I could cultivate bliss there. I pulled out my scraps of text about houses.

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I set aside a few that spoke to me, when I thought about my first house.

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I sketched it.

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That was enough for one day.

*****

I had coffee one morning with a friend who is also sending a child to college in a few weeks. The day my daughter flies out, she will be heading south with her husband and son in a car packed with the college supplies that have been accumulating on her dining room table all summer.

We compared notes on the unfortunate places we’ve been overcome by tears.

“I couldn’t stop crying in the detergent row at Target,” she said. “Another woman took a tissue from the box in her cart and gave it to me.”

We laughed.

“I’ve come to understand,” I said, “that as much as I’m crying about how I will miss her–and I will, terribly–I’m also crying over my own mortality.” She nodded. We struggled for words to capture what it is, exactly, we’re mourning.

“Their lives aren’t going to be about us any more.”

“It’s just gone so quickly. I’m not ready to let it go.”

“Our time has passed. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“And it’s too late now to do some things right.”

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*****

I saw my therapist.

“I don’t want to talk about how things are going,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about Cane or his daughter or my daughter leaving for college or what’s happening with my son. I want to stop dealing with the surface of things.”

“OK,” she said. “What does that mean?”

“Here,” I said, handing her a book open to a poem. “I wrote this maybe 20 years ago.”

A Map to the Future

You try not to despise her.
You know it isn’t really fair:
What more could be expected
of one such as she,
growing in the twin shadows
of anger and expectation?

She was the kind of girl who ran
to the edges of cliffs and jumped,
just jumped–
not because she was daring
but because she didn’t know
there were cliffs and once there,
jumping seemed the only option.
She was that blind
to her own geography.

You walk away
when you sense her
wandering through the dark
valleys of memory, wish
she could be forever exiled.
You can’t help but regret
all that she lost or wasted,
and you can’t seem to forgive her
for what she never knew,
want only to put that floundering
child away from you, forever,

do not see that you must
carry her with you
if you are ever to climb
from your desperate canyons
and lie upon the grassy meadows
that frame those gaping holes.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

“I want to know how to do it,” I said.

*****

Last Saturday I returned to my bliss station again.

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That morning, my daughter found me there. As she settled into the corner chair, I stopped what I was doing. I sat on the floor, and we chatted for a good long time–about the election, and how different some things were when I was her age, and about college, and the effects of growing up with dysfunction in your family, and the meaning of life, and what kind of life she wants to have.

“My therapist told me the other day that it takes three generations for a family to fully recover from addiction, abuse, trauma,” I told her. “But it gets better with each one.”

It was just the two of us home together all day. I vacuumed the floor of her room, which she (and sometimes I) have been cleaning out for the past two weeks. It is still filled with her clothes, her toiletries, her scent, but it is empty of the things that made it hers. I did cry some, alone in there, but not the way I did the morning I took all the bags of stuff she no longer wants to the thrift store–her cheerleading uniform, her many school spirit t-shirts, the vampire series books she devoured as a young teen, the photo display thingy she wanted when we re-did her room a few summers ago, the pottery she painted over the course of many trips to visit her grandparents.

“Do you think we’re ever going to paint pottery again?” I asked her as she put those things in the bag.

“If you pay,” she said, grinning. I kept two small pieces and let the rest go. She thought I was being silly to keep them, that I should let go of all of them. Thinking of the clay monster I made in third grade that resides, still, in my parents’ bedroom, I told her that it’s good to be silly sometimes.

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After vacuuming, I thought about doing more of the things on my never-done to-do list, but she wanted me to watch Gilmore Girls with her, so I did. Somewhere during the second episode, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any of those things that day. I was going to just be, with my girl, all day long.

We might not get this again before she leaves, I thought, just the two of us alone for the whole day.

We puttered around a bit before going out to get pedicures. We had dinner at our favorite noodle place. We came home and made popcorn and watched Legally Blonde, an old favorite of hers. She deconstructed the feminist messages she sees in it. She left before the movie ended, to accept a last-minute invitation from friends.

I watched the end of the movie by myself, feeling the emptiness of the house settle around me. I didn’t let myself shrug it off my shoulders. The weight of it was uncomfortable, but I could hold it.

I thought about how I have, right now, things I’ve wanted for years. I felt grateful that the woman I’ve become is  stronger than that girl I was 25 years ago. That I knew it wouldn’t be nighttime in an empty house forever–that the next morning I would wake up to a day filled with light and the return of people I love, where I could enter into a bliss station and begin this post and keep working on projects with eyes that are becoming increasingly clear.

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Poem ©2002 by Bellowing Ark Press.

 

 

About those darling succulents…

Remember these?

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Back in February, inspired by lo the many, many images of cunning little succulent pots I’ve seen online…

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I decided that turning these sweet little 70’s coffee cups into such planters would give me justification for buying them.

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Here’s what they don’t tell you in all those blog posts:  If you do even a half-way decent job of nurturing your succulents, they will grow out of those adorable little pots:

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And it will happen far more quickly and spectacularly than you ever thought it could.

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As you see new shoots budding, you realize that the charming vision you had about those pots is going to have to be abandoned. You are going to have to let it (and them) go. If you want those succulents to keep living, you’re going to have to find a new place for them to grow. Because–of course!–they have to keep growing. The only way to not grow is to die.

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And you don’t want that:

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So you look for new pots, ones with more space. You prepare to transplant. You let their old life, in the little cups on the kitchen window sill, go. It’s hard. They were so sweet, and you loved them even more than you thought you would. You know how empty the sill is going to look without them.

In not unrelated news, this song–released the year my daughter was born (yes, that was really 18 years ago!)–has been playing on repeat in my head the past few days:

 

dream, dream, dream

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In 2009, I decided that I wanted to become a school librarian. Media specialist. Teacher-librarian. Whatever you want to call it.

After 19 years of teaching English, I was tired of being the person others feel they must watch their grammar around. I was tired of the red pen jokes. I was (really, really) tired of reading essays no one wanted to write and no one wanted to read.

Instead, I decided I would leave the classroom to become what I’d long wanted to be:  A school librarian. I wanted to be the person who worked with teachers and kids as a conduit to information literacy. I wanted to be the pusher who got teens hooked on my favorite drug: books.

Please note the date:  2009. Most of the rest of the country was already well aware of (and experiencing) the biggest economic crisis since the Depression, but it takes awhile for economic shifts to really hit schools. That spring, we were bracing for budget cuts. But honestly? Other than a lovely, brief little spell in the 90s, my whole career has been bracing for budget cuts. It felt like business as usual.

So, even though many of the districts in my area had already gotten rid of their librarians, I enrolled myself in a library-media certification program. “They can’t fire all the librarians,” I said. “They’ll have to have some, and why not me?”

Oh, but I didn’t stop there. Oh, no. I then left my very secure teaching job, where I was buried so far down the seniority ladder that I would never be laid off. I took an instructional coaching position in another district, never imagining that I would become the last one hired there for years. “I’ll gain skills to become the kind of librarian I want to be,” I said. “It’s worth the risk.” This was a year after my divorce, when I was struggling to make ends meet as a single mom.

Two years later, the spring budget season felt like a bloodbath. In two years our high school staff went from 90+ teachers to 60+. “Do you know there’s no one above you on the list?” my principal said. “Like, No. One. You can’t bump anyone.” (Bumping is when a person with more seniority and the right certification can bump another teacher out of their job.)

I knew.

My position was reduced, but I was grateful to have one at all. Two years after that, I traded in some of my coaching for a half-time library gig, over-seeing all 10 of our district’s school libraries. I am the only certified teacher-librarian we have.

It was not the job I’d dreamed of. Almost no student contact time, and almost no time to work with teachers. Occasionally I do anyway, but it’s really not in my job description. And I haven’t had full-time employment for five years.

Now, however, three years later, some districts are bringing back positions that look a lot like the job I dreamed of. And I saw one and I applied for it. And I got it.

It was truly a dream position. A small (<800 students) magnet school. Grades 6-12. Diverse. High achievement, even with students who typically don’t achieve. A global lens that celebrates multiple cultures and perspectives. A chance to integrate the favorite parts of both my library and coaching roles into one, full-time position. When I walked through its doors, I could feel what a good fit it would be for me.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

It was not where I’d like to live. The commute from where we live now would be horrible–more than an hour of mostly stop-and-go traffic, which is something I do not tolerate well. The community the school is in is just fine, but it’s not the kind of place I want to live and I could not afford the kind of home I’d like to live in. And I’d be living there mostly by myself, as Cane’s job is close to where we now live.

As Cane and I have gradually come to understand and accept that we likely aren’t going to be able to live together full-time again for a long time, we’ve been wrestling with what it means to be family, and what constitutes home. This job offer raised the questions to a fever-pitch.

In the end, I turned down my dream job.

It was hard!

Really, really hard. But here’s the thing:

It just wasn’t the right one, dreamy as it was. As I realized a few years back in the area of clothing, almost-right is still not-right. As I wrestled with this decision I could look back on my life and see all the compromises I’ve made on important things, taking the almost-right thing that was available because I feared that it was the best I could get.

No more.

I’m holding out for right. I want the right work AND I want good work/life balance. That means living close to work (and not spending hours a week in the car). I want an affordable home that I both love and can care for with the resources I have, in a community that is a good fit. I want a life close to the people I love.

The job offer was a huge gift, in that it helped us clarify some important questions. It’s helped us move out of the limbo we’ve been in since November, when Cane found an apartment we thought would be temporary, to live in part-time until the situation with his daughter stabilized. The challenges we’re living with are not temporary, and this opportunity helped both of us see and know what we each need to be OK going forward.

So, we are meeting with our realtor this morning, to talk about selling the house. We’ve been visiting open houses in other places we might want to live. I’ve applied for some other jobs. I’m holding out for the right thing, maybe for the first time. Despite the change and upheaval and all the things that have happened that I never wanted, things are good in a way they haven’t been for a long time.

We’re going to find a place where our eggs won’t roll away. That’s the dream, anyway.

Of tunnels and respite and light

2016-03-29 20.19.48Raising teenagers is hard. Combining families is hard. Raising teenagers in a combined family? Hard². Throw in some cognitive difference, some mental illness, some career challenges? You’ve got hard to the nth power.

Back when our children were younger and parenting time agreements with our former spouses were different, Cane and I had every-other-weekend mostly to ourselves. We used to joke that we didn’t understand why everyone didn’t get divorced, because it was so nice to have some grown-up time while the kids were being well-cared for by other people who loved them. It was the kind of joke you tell to help yourself feel better about things that hurt, but like all jokes, this one contained a kernel of truth.

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Last Friday it was not an exaggeration to say that we really couldn’t remember the last time we’d had a few days at home with no kids. It had been so long that we’d forgotten what it was like. We’d forgotten what we were like–just the two of us, at home, doing at-home things.

Last weekend, we got to remember.

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It was the first, glorious weekend of sun in the northwest, which may just be the most magical weekend of the year here. Flowering trees were in full flower, and shoots of all kinds were shooting.

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I got early morning time in my studio, which has become the happiest of my happy places.

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There were hours at the nursery and in the garden. We swept the deck, and cut back dead foliage, and planted onions and herbs and flowers.

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We hit up an estate sale, which prompted good thought and discussion about possessions and collections and how we’re spending our lives’ energy and the fruits of our work.

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We strolled through some favorite Portland neighborhoods so I could take photos of houses, for a creative project that is becoming my new obsession. (More on this in another post.)

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We remembered days when lying on a blanket in the park was the most luxurious of pleasures, so we stopped at a thrift store for a park blanket. We found a wonderful corduroy quilt and then took a short nap in the park.

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I also found there this perfect, tiny cup for a small cacti that’s been waiting for a home. Cups with plants might be another new obsession.

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We missed our children and talked about them a lot, but we also realized how much we’ve missed us–the us that made us jump onto the train of our life as a family.

There is still so much transition and upheaval and unknown in the terrain we’re traveling. We know that this weekend we were just coasting through the easy valley of a welcome and much-needed respite. I sometimes say that I wish I could fast-forward to the fall, when I know we’ll be in a different place with more certainty to it, but I’m trying to stay present and take as much in as I can during these last months of living with my children. Because we can’t know what’s really around the coming turns, I am trying to appreciate everything I have and cherish it right now, today.

Still, it was nice to see a flash of light at the end of my parenting tunnel, to remember an important part of why it is we’ve been working so hard to stay on the rails.

Hoping you are getting what you need in these first few weeks of spring, too. Would love to hear how things are going for you in the comments.

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Trying on for size

As mentioned in my last post, Cane and I recently stayed in the most wonderful house we found on Airbnb.

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It rekindled every fantasy I’ve ever had about living in a small, cozy, perfectly imperfect house.

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The main floor was all one room, with a tiny closet-sized bathroom. I like to think that if I lived mostly in one, unified space, I would have one, unified life.

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There was an upstairs, too…

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It was an open bedroom with skylights and slanty ceilings and a pie-slice view of the water. Lying in bed, I could hear the trains and seagulls and rain on the roof.

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There was also a wonderful bathroom, with a claw-foot tub (I swear I will live in a house with a deep, claw-foot tub before I die) and a sink carved from wood.

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Yes, a sink carved from wood. It was clear to us that much of the house was handmade, probably most of it from salvaged items. If you’ve known me long, you know how I love such things. To have a whole, perfect home like that? It made me want to move in and never leave.

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We were able to stay only two nights. I loved getting up in the morning and putting on a kettle for tea and sitting on the couch with a book. I loved studying the way its owners had crafted it, the way nothing really matched but everything seemed to go together. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a home like that? Or a life?

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I loved pretending, just for a short time, that I lived there. For two days, at least, I did. It’s really something wonderful, to try on a different sort of life in that way, kind of like when you go to a clothing store and try on something you’d normally never choose, and it surprises you how much it suits you.

The best part, of course, is that you don’t have to buy anything. Even though it all looks and feels really good on you, it might not work for the things you have to do, the choices you’ve made about how you are going to live. That’s OK, though, because it’s not about buying. It’s about the looking, the trying, the testing out that’s important. Seeing what you really like, so that when choices do need to be made, you can make good ones.

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Telling it raw

Last week, I traveled to Bellingham, Washington, to see my grandmother.

As we drove the last stretch of I-5 that carves into the foothills bordering Lake Whatcom, my mind was filled with a hum that sounded like homehomehomehomehome.

I’ve never lived in Bellingham, but it was home to both sets of grandparents, assorted cousins, and loads of family lore. The happiest days of my childhood were spent there, and I know it felt like homehomehome because it is the place I have felt most safe, most free, most me. As a young adult venturing out on my own, Bellingham was my safety net. My other grandmother’s house caught more than one of my cousins during a tumble, and I always knew I had a place to go if I really needed it.

That grandmother’s house was sold the year I was pregnant with my twins, and the grandmother I was visiting isn’t doing well. Although she’s still in her home, she’s not in a place to have company. Cane and I stayed in a lovely, funky little house we found through Airbnb, close to Bellingham Bay, near the house that has been sold. Through the night, I could hear the sounds I heard when I slept there as a young girl, the trains’ whistles and gulls’ cries. They, too, sounded like homehomehome.

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Bellingham has changed since the years it was a regular part of my life. It feels much smaller, as places from childhood tend to do. But it was still homehomehome, and although I didn’t cry when our car moved again through the foothills, this time heading south, I felt heavy inside.

Too heavy to cry. I have lived away from the Sound and my people for more than 25 years, and I want to go home.

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This wonderful bookstore wasn’t there when I was a kid. I spent a happy late afternoon here.

Until last fall, our house in Oregon felt like home to me, but it really doesn’t any more. It is just a house now, one my children will be leaving within the next 6 months. I am feeling untethered, and I am asking, again, questions I feel I should have answered long ago.

And so, this is why I am mucking about with words about home.

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I can’t say much about my process. I spent more time than I’d like to admit over last week’s spring break just moving strips of words around on a piece of green paper, not getting anywhere. I am not sure why I decided to make houses out of pieces of maps, but I did.

To make the houses I first sketched some house shapes, and then I looked at some images of house drawings. (Do a Google image search for “house graphic vector” if you’re in need of house drawings to help you see the shapes of houses.) Then I just started cutting out boxes and triangles and putting houses together. I did that for a day or two and left the words alone.

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Then when I returned to the words, I realized I needed the bit about looking on a map–because the houses are made of maps. I decided to take out anything having to do with building/creating a home.

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During yesterday’s early-morning, 4th day of migraine insomnia-fest, I realized that, perhaps, the open space needed to curve on the page the way Bellingham Bay curves into the town. And that I definitely need the water words. I might need to think more about water.

At any rate, this is where I am now.

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I’m not that thrilled with this.

I want the houses to look differently. As I’ve been driving about the past two days, I’ve been seeing the shapes of houses. I think these houses may be just practice houses. I know the words aren’t right, either.

But I am attempting to practice stripped-back storytelling, which Jill introduced me to this week. I like the idea of it, raw blogging.

This is pretty raw, all right. Just like my feelings these days. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of any of it.

 

 

Wednesday words 3.23.16: Home

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I think most of you who read followed me here from my now-defunct home blog. If so, you know that questions of home have been at the core of my being for a long, long time.

I suspect I have much to say again on this topic, but not yet.

The images above are from something I’m working on. I don’t know yet what it will be, what form it will take. I don’t know what it will say–about home or anything else.

Sometimes, I start to write because I have something I want to say, and I work hard to get the words to convey what I mean.

Sometimes, I don’t know what I mean, and I work hard to get the words to help me figure it out. Right now is one of those times. This is a different kind of “writing” than I’ve done before. It feels almost like reading Tarot cards, or looking for meaning in my dreams. (In other words, way more woo-woo than feels comfortable for me.) Instead of producing words and looking for some kind of sense in them, I’m looking for words and seeing what kind of sense they make. Or might make.

Clearly, I am not far enough into this to articulate anything clearly–about my topic or my process. But one thing I’d like to do here is share process. I wish I’d been able to see much more of others’ processes when I was younger. So here it is, nebulous and messy as it is:

I’m looking through books and cutting out words that seem connected to my questions of home–what is is, how we make it, what we need from it, how we will know when we’ve found it. 

I’m trying not to think too hard right now, not to force anything. I’m trying to trust my process, and myself. Like so many things right now, it feels both very uncomfortable and necessary.