Thursday, December 24, 2009

short run

This morning my sister-in-law Joie and I went for a short run in the Himalayas. She's thinking about training for a summer race and has a most beautiful place to run.

Soon we return to Delhi and then it's on to Agra and Jaipur. Our time on the mountain is coming to a close.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a bazaar, a tour and a hike

Life on the mountain is quiet. I enjoy that. Yesterday we had a tour of Woodstock School - a truly beautiful campus - and saw Nate's classroom, the rooms where Joie taught for a couple of years, and the class that Will and Annie sometimes join. The day before yesterday, we wandered down to the bazaar in Mussoorie and ate lunch (Rogan Josh in India mmm). Today we took a walk up to the top of the mountain for a stop at a little store before returning for tea. We've met a few of Nate and Joie's friends here too and will spend Christmas day with some Woodstock families. After a few years of hearing about Woodstock and Mussoorie, it's nice to see where Nate and Joie have made their home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

India at last!

This is the trip we've been waiting for and we are sooo happy to be at Redwood Cottage with the India Burchells! Our trip went well. Claire is quite the trooper and I can only hope she's so content when she's thirteen and we make her pack her own carry-on. My brother Nate met us at the Delhi airport and shuttled us to our hotel, took us out for buttered naan bread and paneer, led the way through the train station this morning, and did all the negotiating with our taxi driver up the mountain. We are ever grateful.

Will and Annie are adorable. Joie is a generous and thoughtful sister-in-law, making sure we're comfortable here. And we've all got awhile to enjoy each other's company. I'm looking forward to a few hikes, walking into town for dinner, baking Christmas cookies, playing with my niece and nephew - oh, just soaking this time up! Last night over dinner, I told Nate that it didn't seem that much time had passed since we last saw each other. That's a good feeling. We are happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

for the folks back home

tomorrow, tomorrow!

On our way to India tomorrow! In addition to what Nate and Joie have written about India in their blogs (and what immediately pops into my mind is that the monsoon is beautiful and way too many desserts taste of cumin), this is what I know: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald, and Slumdog Millionaire. Justin and I started to work our way through a six part epic long PBS (or BBC?) documentary on India, hosted by Michael Wood and his casually worn blue scarf; I made it as far as the Silk Road. I'll probably finish the rest of the series in January. In the meantime, I'll be on the ground.

What I am most excited about is spending Christmas with family. Will, Annie and Claire will get a chance to meet and play together. Joie and I will cook and bake together. Nate and Justin will talk about manly things together. We'll all play games, take walks, drink chai, and enjoy a rest from school. After Christmas we'll meet up with Joie's sister and then all of us will travel to the Taj Mahal, which is on Justin's List of Things To See.

We are grateful. Christmas in India. Now I'm getting giddy!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Three days of subbing sophomore English!

Four days until we fly to India!

And how many minutes until bedtime!?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

stress fracture prevention

I just read this interesting article about stress fracture prevention in the NY Times online Sunday Magazine. Considering my tibia were speckled with healed stress fractures (stress reactions, one doctor called them) at an MRI I had a few years ago, I was happy to read two basic ways to reduce my chances of getting another one:

1. Increase my calf muscle mass (even by just a little bit!)

2. Shorten my stride

I've actually been playing around with my stride for, oh, five years, trying to find a stride that will keep me running into my sixties (seventies? eighties?). It's difficult to judge my own stride. I think I'll ask Justin to play sports medicine doctor and film me front, side, and back so I can take a look. Right now, I'm feeling good with my stride but a couple of days ago (after reading an article about economical strides), I shortened my stride a bit and felt like I could run faster with just that slight change. Very interesting to the runner me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

turkey tracks

When I was younger, we would stop by my Great-Grandma Larson's house after church to visit. We'd eat a little "light lunch" as she'd call our meal of bread and butter, jam on the table, muenster cheese, and a vegetable. She'd offer 7Up and make my Dad a pot of coffee. Sunday afternoons are designed for naps and reading thick papers with special sections and coupons. Sunday afternoons are made for lazy walks or decorating a Christmas tree. And some Sunday afternoons are for playing Turkey Tracks.

Great-Grandma would find her box of dominoes and we'd spread them on the table, face down, and draw ten. (Was it ten?) At opposite corners there'd be draw piles. It's been so long that I cannot remember all of the rules, but the dominoes soon marched out in tracks and whoever went out won the round (smiley faces drawn in the zeros), while the rest of us racked up points from the dominoes we hadn't played. At some point in the game, Great-Grandma would push her chair back and get up slowly, walk the few steps to her kitchen and return with a plate of butterscotch cookies or her homemade doughnuts or a small bowl of Andes chocolate mints. We'd have refills of 7Up or milk and Dad would pour another cup of coffee for himself and we'd play Turkey Tracks through its twelve rounds. (Was is twelve?)

Sometimes I was bored out of my mind playing Turkey Tracks. Sometimes I giggled at anything. Sometimes I almost won a game. We didn't talk much during Turkey Tracks. Great-Grandma might mention some family news or talk about her friends. We'd dutifully tell her about our schoolwork or sports. I don't think I thought about Great-Grandma being a particularly interesting person until later on in high school and then I started asking her to show me all the old photos and tell me all the old stories. I took notes. I wrote down the names of the people in the photographs so that we would all remember who they were when she died. I have those papers lost in a box of my papers and I need to find them and give them to my Grandma who has all those old pictures.

There is a lot I need to do yet. Which is why, in my mind, my daily life is beginning to look like a Turkey Track game: branch off of branch off of branch sprawling across a smooth dining table, until bedtime when I scoop my dominoes into their box. I will always play another round tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

perhaps not so directionless

Yesterday on the bus ride home, staring out the window at the passing cars and sand and sand-colored buildings, I wondered what I am doing here. When we left the States a couple of years ago, Justin and I were self-righteously adamant that we weren't going to live a materialistic, tied-down, American existence maxing out our credit cards and zoning out in front of the tv. Oh, we were so totally unfair about Americans and happy to be mistaken for Canadians (because we all know that none of them are in debt or zoning out, right?).

And in the last couple of years, we've been talking a lot about how we want to live. As if, any day now, we'll start; as if we aren't already in the middle of living.

So yesterday when I looked at my desert and plastic bags floating on the breeze, and I thought what am I doing here? I wondered what it'd be like to return to the States. This is something that expats talk about: returning or not returning and all the reasons behind either decision.

There is so much of the world that we want to see yet. And I'm not sure why that is part of us now; I'm not sure why we want to see so much of this world. Where does that desire come from?

Now that we aren't living in the States, it's much easier for me to think that I could be happy there. I wasn't very happy where we last lived (think: crying every other day), but Justin and I have a wishlist of Where We Could Settle If/When We Return. It's a short list, but a good list. Right now, we're trying to decide what might be best for us as a family. We are hoping that this is the year we establish our direction. Are we planning to stay abroad for five, ten, twenty years? Do we return only to leave again (are we allowed to do that?)? Financially, how do we want to invest? Real estate around the world?

And we do think about family and friends in the States. Since this is shaping up to be our life, not just a lark, we've started talking about how often we even want to return for vacations. It's very awkward. If we stay abroad, visiting is a give and take and we cannot be the only ones traveling. A few older, experienced expats have said that to us. At some point, us being abroad does not mean it is solely our responsibility to make a visit happen. Like I said, awkward.

Kuwait is Kuwait. I'm not enthralled but I also haven't given myself a year. I don't expect to be enthralled. But we're meeting wonderful people and we're comfortable. I feel electrically alive in a desert and I certainly didn't expect that. I feel like I am learning to see people in a new way. Perhaps that alone is why I am here. Because I needed to learn to see people in a new way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

last place first (next time)

In honor of Cyber Monday, a post about shopping.

Preface my Ode to Shopping with this newsflash: Kuwait gets cold. I packed one long sleeve shirt and one three-quarters length cardigan and four pairs of pants, two of them jeans, which severely limits my work wardrobe. Layering a denim jacket over oh, everything, only works so many times. Oh, and no proper shoes aside from running shoes and a very beat up, ugly pair of Borns that I love wearing but that match nothing. So the last couple of weeks, I've been freezing. I just looked up the current temperature here: 59 degrees F. For Wisconsin in March, quite welcome. Here, quite chilly. I am told it gets colder yet.

So Eid (holiday) arrived and I was ready for a trip to the mall. Another newsflash: Kuwait is made of malls. On Friday, I found a pair of shoes after two or three hours of walking the maze of mall, finally ending up at the store I knew (knew) I should have started at: Ecco.

Lately I've been purchasing with the idea that I want to own what I am buying (uh, food excluded) for awhile. So I take awhile to find what I really want. Weeks, months, hours. I ask around. I check online. I think about whether or not I really need it.

Sometimes it's difficult to justify purchasing another pair of shoes or a sweater when you have several of each in storage. In your parents' basement. Justin and I talked about that this weekend: how we are going to really enjoy living abroad. This is what we came up with: container. Instead of rebuying every single thing (pots & pans, dishes, ottoman, bookshelf, hand mirror, toaster oven, flower pots) at every single place, we'll start making our home here and when we decide to move - should it be to another country abroad or returning to the States, we'll pack it all in a container and have it shipped. It'll be expensive but ultimately cheaper than rebuying flatware and mixing bowls at each new home. Also, it'll lend some continuity to our homes.

Also, it'll be great fun to wait three months for our stuff to arrive. Paper plates for three months? Who doesn't want that!?

Anyway, after Friday's shoe expedition, Justin and I returned to the mall yesterday to find a pair of jeans for him and long sleeve shirts for me. I hope that is the last time for a long time that I go to a mall twice in the same weekend. (Although visiting the cheese counter at Dean & Deluca twice in one weekend was glorious). Justin's jeans: check. My shirts: Gap's favorite tee is no longer mine. What is up with the tight tee shirt tunics this year? If I was a praying mantis, it might work. Long torso, you know. Instead, exasperated and already resigning myself to another week of wearing my denim jacket through the school day, I popped into one last store. Thank you, Zara.

Here's the deal: I knew that I should check Ecco and Zara first. I knew it. In my head, I thought: you know, I think they might have what I'm looking for. But I wrote off Ecco because I wanted something cute and thought Ecco might be too clunky. And I wrote off Zara because a lot of their product line is wispy and trendy and expensive. And in the end, I could have spent more time at the Dean & Deluca cheese counter if I'd just gone with what I first thought.

Question is, will my first impulse be correct next time?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

A Marslender Family Thankful List
1. Family. Of course.
2. Health and strength
3. God
4. Books (edible or not)
5. Moleskine notebooks Pentel RSVP fine line black pens (that's mine)
6. An apartment
7. View of the Gulf
8. No snow (that's also mine)
9. Skype
10. Treadmill (mine)
11. Francis, our nanny
12. Learning, becoming
13. Humor
14. Full bellies and good sleep
15. Clean diapers and Bear (Claire's contribution. Also, "Dadadada eee eeyahhh? Tucka tucka.")
16. Old friends and new friends (silver and gold Girl Scout song, anyone?)
17. Recipes that work
18. A job
19. Soccer coaching; a good JV girls' season (Justin's)
20. Hot water at any time of the day here (so far)
21. Naps (we all agreed on this one)
22. Chance to explore this world and live it
23. Insights, wisdom that comes when you are still
24. Dreams that you hold
25. Grace and mercy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

wanting words

So ends my solo weekend (plus) with Claire. All went well. I didn't lose it, crying or raging that I just sob sob can't sob sob do it any longer! I just noticed the empty spots where I would have passed Claire off while I was cooking dinner or going to the bathroom or in desperate need of some solitude. She was a gem, though, and we made it. But I did find myself thinking Words. Get some words, little lady!

Lately I've been envying the moms who can say, "Wait, honey. Use your words." And their toddler can actually tell them that they want that hairbrush or those crayons or they need a drink or they're hungry for another cracker.

Saturday night I was fixing Claire's dinner and getting ready for a Skype call with my in-laws. I was busy. And Claire was jabbering away and then the jabbering turned to yammering turned to fairly direct insistence that I pick her up Right This Minute. "Claire darling," I said, "Mama is fixing dinner and then we are going to talk with Grandma and Grandpa Marslender and then you will have a bath."

"Tucka tucka tucka ooh be guga guga tucka," Claire held my pant leg, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

"And then, baby girl, comes bedtime. Do you know how wonderful bedtime is?" I was using that bright, false voice that says I am being very, very patient. I didn't want to lose it after holding it together so well for four days. So in the middle of "Stop. Claire, stop. Please let go. Okay, honey. Alright. Wait a minute. Here we go. Stop. No, that's hot. That's too hot. Wait." and tripping over little feet and undoing tiny fists, I managed to deliver dinner, log on to Skype, and not freak out.

Okay, I freaked out a little. I also worried that Justin would be in a plane crash and the rest of my life would be me noticing an empty spot where wordless Claire's Papa should be to take her off my hands so I can just fix dinner, please.

But he's home safe. I have a nice moment to myself Right This Minute, and dinner is almost done.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

you must be counting down the days

Said a friend to me today. She was talking about the days until our December break, when I will be finished with the maternity leave sub. But, surprisingly, I'm not really counting down. In fact, I've told a few people that I'll miss being in the classroom when this stint is over.

Today I took a trip to the English department book room and gawked at all the class sets of novels. I like that book, I thought, and I would love to teach that one. I grabbed two to read for myself. The texts I'm teaching from are very good too, an updated version of what I had in Wisconsin. My last two years in Colombia, I was photocopying loads of material, didn't have a decent updated text to use, and wasn't impressed by the class sets of novels. (However, the Bolivar library was very well stocked with new and interesting titles). So I found myself thinking how smoothly I could put together units, plan lessons, with all of these available resources.

So I've just finished my second full week. Julius Caesar is wrapped up (finally) and the sophomores are about to begin Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, set in 1820s Nigeria. I'm excited about teaching it and looking forward to what the students pick up from the story.

And that's what makes me think: maybe I could teach next year. But I'm still holding firm to part-time as an ideal balance for me, at this time in my life. I thought subbing might be a good test of whether or not I'd enjoy full-time. I think I could do it (of course I could!), but I'd lose more than I'd gain. I enjoy teaching, but I enjoy being a mama more. Understanding that, I'll pursue a part-time position for next school year and be pleased if it works out and fine if it doesn't.

Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to be back in the classroom at all. Six years seemed like long enough to learn a bit, endure a lot, and quit before I really hated my job. But I'm not counting down the days and that suggests that the classroom might have a spot for me yet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

just throwing it out there

There is a Dead Sea ultramarathon in Jordan over our spring break. I'm actually considering this. Could be fun. If I commit, I need to commit without worrying a time goal: a run it to run it sort of deal, no grand illusions.

Also, it's an excuse to buy a new pair of running shorts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

grass withers

Today I am on campus and at five minutes to eleven, I am grading vocabulary tests when I hear a heavy boom. I put the pen down and listen. Nothing follows. The air conditioner is rattling and humming. I mute the music I am listening to on the computer. I get up and go to the door and debate whether or not to look in the hallway. I step out and look left and then right. I listen for footsteps.

I expect to see a terrorist. I expect to hear someone scream. I expect to hear another heavy boom, a bomb somewhere. None of this happens. I step back in my room and close the door, lock it. I turn the lights off. I turn the air conditioner down, hoping the white noise will lessen so I can hear what I need to hear. I wait at the desk, expecting an announcement telling me to remain where I am, that the campus is not safe.

Yesterday I read an article about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a year ago. So when I heard that boom, I thought: today I might die.

Yesterday my in-laws delivered sad news that the daughter of a friend of theirs committed suicide with her boyfriend, leaving behind her own twelve-year-old daughter. All morning, I thought about that daughter. So when I heard that boom, I thought: what if my baby has no mama tomorrow?

I dream vividly. I feel acutely. I ache and rejoice and weep and laugh. I am beginning to enjoy every moment of this life because I believe it is a gift. I am learning to really savor what I am in the middle of, instead of reaching for the next moment. But I am still afraid sometimes because when I think of so much that is happening in this world, I think: misplaced, broken. I want decades to enjoy and savor. I may not have them.

You don't have to live in the Middle East to realize any of that. But I am in the Middle East, and I am realizing it (again) and trying to decide what to do next. I don't think that I am made to live in fear. I think we are made to live free. So yesterday and today I have been thinking about sad things, sobering things, and understanding that not too much separates the safe, content me from what might be the fearful, nervous me. Perhaps recognizing that so much is not for me to know is enough. I need not dwell, or conjure sadness.

I called Justin, told him what I heard. "I heard it too," he said. He was in the auditorium for parent-teacher conferences. "No one reacted here. I think you're okay." Okay. I am okay. I kept the door locked. I thought about these things.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

done with people

People. Overload. At the end of a work week, I am done with people. I've spent my days talking and smiling and figuring things out and being stumped on questions and willing creativity and keeping a checklist on paper that doesn't include half of what's on the list in my head. All I want at the end of the week is to do absolutely nothing.

And yet, I made plans. And then cancelled. We were supposed to go to the Embassy tonight to have a beer. A beer that wasn't brewed in a spare bathroom. Claire was going to get to play on real grass and we were going to visit with our friends who were kind enough to invite us along. And until about five o'clock, I thought I could do it. Justin was still at a game, Claire was eating her dinner, and I thought that I could handle a night at the embassy.

Then I crashed. I couldn't do it. I couldn't even imagine how much energy it would take to call a taxi and then to smile at all the new people I'd meet and then to actually pay attention to what everyone was saying. All I wanted was a hammock.

This is my first week back at work full-time, subbing for an English teacher on maternity leave, and I'd like to think I have it in me to go go go, but I don't. I've done remarkably well, though. Classes and students are fine, but our family life is stretched thin by Justin's coaching. Next week is his last week with soccer and it will be a long week for all of us. He'll be traveling to Qatar for a tournament with his girls so Claire and I will be on our own for a few days. I have absolutely no idea what that will be like.

So. One week down. I'm enjoying the classroom. I haven't imploded. And I do miss my Claire in the mornings.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

insane earliness

Last spring I did a stretch of four a.m. mornings so that I could get my run in before nursing, before teaching, before I was too zonked to think about tying my running shoes. Tomorrow it begins again. Four a.m. alarm, on the treadmill twenty minutes later, and then out the door by a little after six o'clock.

My friend Kate once told me that she had to be on the train for her commute into Chicago by eight. I think it was eight. Either way, it was a time that made me think I'd chosen the wrong profession entirely. I dream of nine to five. One of my biggest gripes about teaching is the insanely early hours you have to get up to teach a pack of adolescents who are barely awake themselves. I don't think being done by three or four in the afternoon counts for much, especially if you're lugging prep work and grading home at night. I'd rather start late, end late. And (digression ahead) I also don't mind the idea of year round school. I think teachers and students would be much more productive and happier if they worked worked worked for nine weeks and got a week or two off before starting the next quarter. Or switched to trimesters. Or shortened the school day but added days to the calendar. I keep hearing debates about all of this but not too much about districts actually trying any of it.

Anyway, as much as nine to five sounds glorious my schedule from now until our Christmas break is: at school by 6:30 or 6:45 to begin classes at 7:15 (which end at 2:00) and home by 3:15 or 3:30. Not bad, really. I don't know why I'm complaining. Even if I worked nine to five, I'd still probably get up at five in the morning to run or write. What's an hour earlier?

The answer may be: a lot.

Friday, November 6, 2009


1. I turned twenty-nine yesterday. Today I was able to joke about the fact that Justin remembered to sing to me yesterday and that next year he'll remember a gift. The thing is we've been just buying stuff when we travel and saying, "Oh, happy birthday to me. Merry Christmas to me. Yea for St. Patrick's Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day!" Not quite, but close. But I realized: I want to open a gift on my birthday. So next year, a song and a gift.

2. Sweet Chocolate Babycakes. I made these to celebrate twenty-nine using Nigella Lawson's recipe. Not time consuming and sooo very delicious.

3. On Sunday I begin subbing for a tenth grade English teacher on maternity leave. I signed up for this awhile ago when I thought Yeah, I'll need a break by then, thinking that staying at home might leave me missing the classroom. I wouldn't call teaching a break. I'll miss my little one. The days will be long but I don't know quite what to expect until I just jump in and start.

4. This one is for DC RunningMama. I miss reading your blog! See if you can find me on FB under Justin Sarah Marslender. Can't imagine there being a lot of those Justin Sarahs out there. I didn't ever try to track down your real name so I still think of you as DC and am not sure how to find you. (To think that I would like to be a spy one day).

5. No guarantees on blogging over the next week or two (see 3). I'm working on a few mini-essays about life here that I'll post sometime and I need to get my pictures together so that I can post more of those. Also want to put up a few recipes that work well for us. Until then, happy weekend. Think of me when you're loving your lazy Sunday afternoon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

friday five: multiple choice

Remember multiple choice questions with the giveaway wrongs? One or two options were just out there. You'd sit at your desk, smug because you knew that of course the Pilgrims are not credited with developing the interstate system. Duh. When I taught, I didn't write many multiple choice tests because I always found myself really wanting to make each option seem totally believeable. It took a long time for me to write tests like that so I finally included a few of my own giveaways.
Edited to add answer & comments.

Here is my Friday Five. I offer you one giveaway, but you'll still have to figure out what really happened this week. I hope you studied.

A. We won a 50 Kuwaiti Dinar (kd) gift certificate to the Sultan Center, our local grocery store. (50kd ~ US$160)
I wish. I can't remember the last time I won anything.
B. Justin's JV soccer girls played their first game on Wednesday and lost 2-1. They were bummed but still excited about their next game this Saturday.
The girls actually won 1-0 and showed up on Saturday to play a team that didn't show.
C. On Thursday night, we went to a new mall whose stores include Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, and Bottega Veneta but, surprisingly, did not have a Starbucks.
This is actually the correct answer. Justin got a super sweet drink from a place called D'Lush, which makes so little sense in a dry country.
D. Justin uses my treadmill room and the attached bathroom as his greenhouse. On Tuesday, I caught Claire dumping potting soil into the bidet.
Our third bedroom is a copy of our master bedroom. Big enough for a treadmill, ironing board, clothes drying rack, Justin's desk and chair, and all the little garden plants he's growing on a shelf by the window. In the attached bathroom there is potting soil, empty yogurt and orange juice containers, and buckets of another one of Justin's projects: collected sea glass.
E. We are moving to Germany. For the beer. And then we are moving to France for the bread.
We aren't moving. That'd be nuts. Who moves away from a perfectly good job!?*
Okay. Post your guess with confidence. I'll let you know what really happened. Enjoy your weekend!
*When we decided to leave Wisconsin, Justin and I had classrooms across the hall from one another, and my father-in-law said a lot of things about us moving, one of them being that we might never find as good a place as where we already were. We didn't agree with him. So now the phrase "perfectly good" sounds more like settling for something that's really just alright.

Monday, October 26, 2009

the all day question

Our days are full but I don't always realize how much we actually do. Yesterday, I was thinking about the All Day question. The "So what do you do all day?" question posed to stay-at-home moms, sometimes paired with the comment, "I'd be so bored." My new friend Lina stays home with her son Brayden and she had a good answer. "What do you do with your kids on the weekends?" she said when another parent posed the All Day question. The other parent said they hang out with their kids. When Lina told me this conversation, she shrugged, "Well, that's what I do all day."

That and, well, a lot more. I made a list for myself, to see what I was actually doing all day. I made the list yesterday and maybe I lucked out there because today my head is stuffy and my throat is scratchy and all I really want is a nap. When I finished, I thought: There. Even if the wooden blocks are still scattered across the floor after Claire is in bed for the night, I can still know I did all of this.

When I decided to stay home, I set a few goals, primarily: 1. having the energy to really enjoy being a mom 2. living on a budget 3. cooking wisely and 4. writing a book. So let's check in on what I do All Day.

I enjoy being a mama. Sometimes I'm laying on my belly on the floor reading with Claire or sitting in front of the window talking about the trucks and people and birds we see, and I think: what am I forgetting? I should be doing something. And then I realize: I am.

I get my breaks when I need them (naptime!) and Justin is wonderful about helping out when he's around in the evenings and on weekends. Claire is a rather patient little person (most days) and we visit with other moms and kids most days during the week. We hired a nanny to come one morning a week to give me some time on my own (see other goals for the year) and also to give Claire a chance to interact with some of the other kids in the building - Francis takes her to go play at other apartments. I've decided to take a sub position for November and December and will really miss my mornings with Claire.

Budget is not yet blown out of the water. Setting up house from scratch is a hassle. We didn't bring much with us so we had to buy a lot. A lot a lot. We're still using the ugly plates the school gave us but I couldn't hack the cafeteria style dye-cut silverware. Last weekend we bought a duvet for our bed. We're holding out on buying plants. Green things, surprise surprise, are expensive in a desert. Groceries can also be expensive so this week and next I need to explore other stores and compare prices.

Cooking wisely. I like to cook and bake but I don't always plan very well. I'll buy a head of cauliflower for a ricotta nutmeg dish and think ick and let it sit in the produce bin for a week. Or two. So this year I am trying to use the food that I purchase, eat leftovers, and broaden my repertoire. In the space of one week, I made two new recipes: broccoli calzones and cauliflower linguine in a red cream sauce. I am also learning to bake bread. That's another post.

Writing a book while pretending one will just magically show up on my desk. In high school, I'd get up at four or five in the morning the day an essay was due and I'd hack it out on Dad's computer. I was pleased that I could procrastinate and still get an A. That worked not quite so well in college. I like to think that I've learned that any big project demands respect and preparation. Time. I am doing okay but not great on this goal. I have until the end of July 2010 to admire a neatly printed manuscript, but I need to develop better discipline if I don't want June 2010 to be frantic, haphazard creation.

So that's what I do all day. And then, some days, I throw good naptime intentions and mama/wife virtues out the window and play spider solitaire and listen to NPR for longer than is healthy or good.

Monday, October 19, 2009


We had Claire's birthday party a few weeks ago and invited only a few people but then started adding to the list as we ran into others. The truth is, at this point in the year, we're still finding friends and getting a feel for the place. There are people I think would be great to know better, but I didn't want to say, "Hey, we're throwing a party for our daughter. Come over!" Mostly because I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to bring a gift. That wasn't the point. The point was to eat cupcakes.

Anyway, a few days after the party, another mom - a really really nice mom that I am looking forward to getting to know better - said, "Claire's cupcakes were so cute" while I was waiting for the elevator. A party guest had shared the wealth of leftover cupcakes with this nice mom's kids.

"Oh, yeah, I - I didn't know how," I flubbed, "I don't know how birthday parties work here."

She waved her hand. No big deal. "You live in a fishbowl. Don't worry about it," she said.

So I didn't. But what she said is true. This is a fishbowl. The teachers here live together and work together. There can be a maddening overlap. I think I'm spared a great deal of drama and gossip since I am not sitting down in the teachers' lounge for lunch each day. But still, we can all look out our windows and see who is coming and going. If we feel like looking out our windows. And someone here told me that it doesn't take long to figure out what's going on and who's involved. Or what happened at the party (that you may or may not have been invited to). Or who is dating. Or who cheated. All the sordid details. If you really want to know.

I don't really. Well, sometimes I do want to know, and that part of me is the same part that likes reading People or Us Weekly on airplanes.

My aim this year is to live a rather scandal-less existance, swimming in circles in this fishbowl.

Friday, October 16, 2009

friday five: four are true

I love that game where you tell two truths and a lie about yourself and everyone has to guess which one isn't true. I'd always say I was fifth in the National Spelling Bee and people believed me. They didn't believe I was born in Italy. So here's my Friday Five edition. One of these things didn't happen this week.

1. The moms went for pedicures. Ahh.

2. Claire said her first word besides "Uh oh." She said "Bear." Sounded more like "Bea-ah."

3. Discovered new favorite Starbucks drink is an iced White Chocolate Mocha. Are you supposed to capitalize coffee drink names?

4. Cried when Jim & Pam (finally) got married. I know everyone else watched it a week or two ago.

5. Asked Justin if Claire really looks like a Claire. He said, "I am so glad we didn't have this conversation in the hospital." And, yes, we decided. She does look like a Claire.

Next week I'm going to hide the one real thing and make up four things because it took me a little too long to think of what happened this week. Plus, if I'm making a lot of stuff up, I can be a spy or learn a fourth foriegn language by listening to tapes while I sleep. Ha. A fourth foriegn language. I barely have a quarter of one foriegn language and even that is a generous guess. The spy bit, well maybe if I didn't giggle when I sneak up on Justin.

Happy weekend! I'll post the fiction in the comments.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

healthcare & the economy

How can you go wrong with a post title like that?

One of my favorite public radio shows is This American Life. This past weekend they aired part one of a show about healthcare. Next weekend they will wrap it up. You can listen to it online if you go to the On the Radio page of their website. Or, here is a link to the show itself, called More is Less.

Another one of their shows that was very informative to me was episode 355 The Giant Pool of Money, covering the economic crisis and tracing its roots to, well, a lot of poor decisions. Very good, clear coverage. A couple of weeks ago they aired Return to the Giant Pool of Money, a follow up to some of the people and ideas introduced the first time around.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

not from me!

Claire still isn't saying much besides "uh oh" when she drops her bear over the side of the bed or tosses her sippy cup on the mall floor. But she has a new endearing trait. Last night Justin said she farted (tooted, fluffled, whatever) and after such relief, she said, "Ahhh."

Then she did it again today. Three times while we're sitting here eating lunch. Gassy little girl. And three grateful, relishing "Ahhh"s.

I almost died.

She did not get this from me. She did not get this from me. She did not get this from me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

almost five

In the afternoon. This is what my late afternoon looks like:

Outside our building there is a stretch of sand all the way to one of the main Kuwait roads about a half mile away. On either side of the stretch of sand, there are tall apartments. Someday there probably won't be a stretch of sand left in this neighborhood. Until then, I can see the cars on their busy road and beyond that, the Gulf. Today the Gulf is almost the same color as the sky so that if you didn't know there was water there, you wouldn't see it. It isn't cloudy or very sandy, but the Gulf still isn't clear. On the days when the air is clear, the Gulf makes me very happy. I dreamed of living so close to so much water. Just to watch her white waves.

On this stretch of sand, men have marked off soccer and cricket pitches and they gather on their way home to kick goals or - well, I don't know much about cricket except that there are wickets and overs involved. Cars drive right through the cricket pitch outside our windows - the sand is snaked with shortcuts between roads - and the game stops for a moment.

Most of the buildings here are the color of sand. So much of it blows around that if apartments or offices or schools were another color, they'd just look dirty. A lot looks dirty anyway. Trash heaps, ruts in the dirt roads filled with rubbish, empty plastic bags floating by our window on a hot wind. It is very odd for me to look around and think: Well, yes, this is where we are and there is a lot of trash here. And then think: Oh well. I used to go crazy mad when I'd be out running in Wisconsin and see tossed soda bottles and beer cans, a dirty diaper on the shoulder of the road. I didn't understand why you had to toss your garbage out the car window right now. And here, I'm not crazy mad. I get crazy mad about other things, but not trash. At least not yet.

I love the color of light in the early morning and then again as the sun is setting. When the sun is setting, the light feels yellow. It feels very calm. It feels like a long exhale. It feels like you can rest now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

looking up

Usually really horrible days are followed by good days or, at least, reasonable, manageable, okay days. Yesterday was a really horrible day and today is good, reasonable, manageable and okay. Thank God.

I will not tell all that happened yesterday. Claire and I went to the embassy. That was fine. Long, but fine. Claire got smacked by a three-year-old and I had my first moment of really judging another mother as she just sat there staring straight ahead. Fast forward. We are home, eating couscous. Claire likes couscous and what she likes even better is taking the fork or spoon and getting the couscous into her little mouth all by herself. Most of the time, I don't care if breakfast, lunch or dinner takes forty minutes to eat. Last night I was feeding her with one hand and pecking keys on the laptop with another, trying to figure out exactly how to get her birth certificate authenticated by the Kuwait Embassy in the States.

Another long story.

Fast forward and I notice that Claire is dumping couscous all over. She's very good at this. It is a little after five o'clock and Justin is taking a shower after coaching JV girls' soccer practice and I have already yelled something about




when Claire tosses her couscous into the air and I find a webpage that informs me it might cost $123 for a LOUSY STAMP on her birth certificate and I turn to Claire, pick up the bowl of couscous and dump it on the floor.

"There, it's done now!" I said and burst into tears. And now, what Claire's little forkfuls of joyfully tossed couscous can do, I see, is nothing compared to what a frustrated woman with an entire bowl of couscous can do. I go to find the broom, sobbing. Justin comes out of the bathroom and doesn't even ask.

"You need to pull yourself together. Go lay down."

"I'm FINE. I just - I just - I want this to be done." I gesture at everything. Because everything is my problem of the moment. The paperwork that we should have already done and are now completing from overseas - oh, I thought it was too easy when we sent just Justin's paperwork to the Kuwait Embassy. Justin's coaching - which is a wonderful opportunity for him and I really am glad he gets a chance to coach again but it also means I have Claire to myself for twelve hours a day. Ack! Taxis were another problem of the moment, our taxi guy being quite wishwashy about whether or not I could leave the carseat in the taxi and the SAME taxi could pick me up at the embassy after my appointment. Boy, yeah, that is a problem. "I wish I had my own car," I told Shamsu, and then, "I'll pay extra. Pleeeeze."

So Justin barricaded himself in the kitchen and stuffed Claire full of bread while cooking us spaghetti and washing dishes. Wow. I was on the phone with an agency that promised fast authentications from the Kuwait Embassy in DC and I thought I was actually on the phone with the Kuwait Embassy itself when the guy said, "If you are not willing to pay two hundred and twenty-five dollars then I cannot help you!" and slammed down the phone.

I collapsed for the fortieth time that day. I called back and got a message that - I really wish I was making this up and now it's funny, but at the time I thought: Claire and I will be home for Christmas (and that thought was very appealling) - the message went something like this: We are unable to answer the phone. Do not leave a message since we will not return your call. We are too busy.

I'm gulping and feeling stupid for throwing couscous all over the floor and wondering WHEN exactly I will be an adult and not do things like tell the taxi cab driver that I wish I had my own car or sob over paperwork. I call back and beg him not to hang up and get a list of reasons why it's so expensive to authenticate a birth certificate - two of those reasons being something about power of attorney and downtown traffic. While he's jabbering on, I look at the website more carefully and find a note at the bottom saying this outfit is not affiliated with the official Kuwait Embassy. Ack!

Where do I find that number? I found it, got help from a very nice gentleman who sort of humphed when I told him who I'd been talking with, and spent another few minutes feeling stupid. I called Mom and then Dad, heroes of paperwork schlepping for their adult child, and hung up feeling relieved and, yes, still stupid.

In the kitchen, Claire was happy and Justin was draining spaghetti and I apologized about fifteen billion times and we spent the rest of the evening watching an episode of Numbers. I felt so exhausted I was numb.

This morning I looked at the stovetop espresso maker we bought here. There's a little screw thingy on its side that releases pressure so the whole thing doesn't blow to bits while pushing boiling water up through the grounds. And I thought: I need one of those. I need a little screw thingy on my side that keeps me from throwing couscous and sobbing uncontrollably about paperwork. Instead, I'll sort of pffft when the taxi guy says maybe I'll get my carseat back and then I'll just pffft when another kid hits mine and then I'll pffft when I'm waiting for Justin to please get home so that when some crazy hangs up on me for thinking $225 is a lot to pay for an authentication, I don't do pfffffffBOOOM!

Good thing I'm not committed to showing just my good side on this blog, right? So since today is indeed looking up: I got a lot done in the kitchen. Tomatoes stuffed with (oh, the irony) couscous, feta, garlic and green peas; homemade mac & cheese (freezer food!); and another big bowl of chocolate pudding, my current fix. I was really hoping to make it to November before sobbing uncontrollably. Ah, well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

big belly

Sometimes I still miss my pregnant belly. And now that Claire is almost one, I find myself thinking about the anticipation and joy and nervousness and impatience of the last couple of weeks before her birth. Justin and I have both been going through her newborn pictures (how tiny!) and I took another look at my belly shots.
Five months? I thought I looked sooo pregnant. My belly button had just popped.
This is the Grape look. Less than two months to go.
Still amazes me (and weirds me out a bit!) what the female body is able to do.
Her tiny feet were jammed into my lungs.
Doesn't he look like he knows he got away with something?
At the baby shower, Josh thought he might pull off a pregnant look. I win.
One of my favorite big belly shots. This is a maternity shirt my Mom wore when she was pregnant with me. I still had a couple of weeks to go!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


On our way! We traveled much lighter than when we left for Colombia. Which is why I keep looking for something that I left in my parents' basement.
Claire was a cheerful travel buddy. Most of the time. Just like I was a cheerful travel buddy most of the time.
Justin napping at the Frankfurt airport. Yes, that is a frankfurter we ate for lunch. I could not resist. (Get it?)
At the Kuwait airport we saw an Egyptian bride. They arrive dressed ready for their wedding, even if it is ten o'clock at night. I might have shied away from snapping the picture, but the happy couple was accompanied by a man filming their walk through the airport so what's one more flash?
Claire loves her big windows. She pats them, bangs them, slobbers raspberries on them. We look out at the sand, sand colored apartment buildings, a row of palms, the Gulf, trucks driving across the desert, and a dumpster. We talk about all of it.
Yes. I had to mop the floor by myself. Justin took a picture to commemorate. I was going for the Happy Housewife look. (Tomorrow our new maid/nanny and I will choose a day for her to clean each week).
This is our shoe pile. The shoes made me smile because of the two little pink shoes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

friday five: emmerging personality

1. October's book club selection is My Life in France by Julia Child. She writes about reflecting on her character weaknesses and says "I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was." I absolutely love Julia Child for writing that. Gives me immense hope.

She also tells about preparing a meal for a friend; when the meal was terrible, Julia decided not to apologize. That was a rule she made for herself. No apologizing for poor cooking. And I absolutely love her for writing that too. I apologize for hitting the wrong button in the elevator. Sorry for nothing. I need to save my sorries.

2. Croissants! A la Julia! I made a dozen croissants the other day and they turned out beautifully. I did not think the recipe was difficult but I had to be patient and precise at each step. When I took the first pan out of the oven, I ate one standing up at the counter. Then I shared another with Justin, and gave away most of them to friends. I have one left for tea this afternoon. Tomorrow I'll make a double batch and freeze them to pop in the oven when I'm in the mood for something French.

3. France! I want to eat and drink my way through France now. I also want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, learn to scuba dive, and drink a Guinness in Ireland. What comes first?

4. Claire. I've known her for almost a year now and I'm seeing this little person find her personality. She has a sense of humor. She's curious. She is starting to become quite stubborn. Keeping her alive and loving on her is one thing but Justin and I are both a little nervous about making sure that Claire develops into a nice person. Of course, nice isn't overnight or owing entirely to parenting but still - Mama and Papa have to learn how.

5. Temperature. The days are much, much cooler now than when we first arrived in Kuwait. A couple of weeks ago, I could have baked my croissants outside. The temperature and the humidity has dropped and I've been enjoying several clear days - I can see a good stretch of the Gulf from our windows. And bodies acclimate fairly quickly. We went for a walk to the Gulf last night and I wasn't as uncomfortable as I thought I'd be in the low nineties heat.

Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

dial up

Maybe eight or nine months ago, my in-laws got high speed internet. This was a big deal to us because it meant that they could Skype and see their granddaughter. We rolled our eyes that it took so long (after years of remaining staunch devotees to dial up, there were months of service calls and price comparisons that might have ended completely had not Claire's grandma really wanted to see her). But we were also living in the land of everything taking so long, so had a bit of sympathy for the back and forth business of getting anything done. Well, we are back in that land of everything taking so long, this time on the other side of the world. And being back in that land of everything taking so long means that we have dial up until the guys with high speed connections connect us.

I just spent fifteen minutes trying to load one (one!) picture to this blog before canceling that idea and deciding to pout. So pictures must wait.

Settle for an update. Claire has four teeth. Two top, two bottom This means she can eat a whole plum or gnaw a piece of apple when she isn't busy trying to sink her teeth into my arm or shoulder. She is also close to walking. I'm beginning to think that being close to walking might be a stage unto itself. She is also getting attached to her teddy bear, which I think is sweet since I had a little lamb I was attached to also. She is very verbal but still has more of a grasp on "uh oh" than, say "Mama" or "Papa." And even "uh oh" might be regressing since lately she's been saying "uh uh." Hm. Let's see. She also poops a lot, which isn't news but is making me rethink the environmental goody goody part of me that bought cloth diapers - when you practically need a spatula to scrape the poo off a diaper before sending it through the wash, you think it might be a better idea to just pitch the whole mess and set up a corner of wood shavings.

Well, Claire is awake and no doubt wants a clean diaper and some lunch. Despite the poo, she cracks me up. Enjoy your Saturday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

and I really am

Last night, ASK hosted an iftar or breaking of the fast, a traditional big meal that starts at sundown during Ramadan. Fasting Muslims spend their days not eating or drinking and spend their nights making up for lost meals. In Kuwait, the iftar is called the (phonetic spelling ahead, as I have no idea how it's actually spelled) fah-tour. Perhaps by the end of the meal (Krispy Kreme donuts and Arabian sweets laden with honey to finish!), you might just say what a great fat-you-are. Ha.

Anyway, we were eating and sweating in the school courtyard, and talking with other teachers and their families. Rick asked me how I was.

"Fine," I said, "And I really mean that. I'm not just saying it."

Rick wanted to know why I really meant it. I had to think. Why am I really feeling fine? There are (always, always) non-fine things to gripe about but I am feeling bouyant. Content. Not drippy happy sappy, but pleased and content.

I told him, I think it's because I'm enjoying my days. I didn't know what to expect of staying at home but it's still going well. (Still going well is such an optimistic spin, isn't it? Like any day it might not be going well at all. And when that happens, my friends, I have a stash of Ritter Sport chocolate bars in reserve). But this is what I like: I don't yet feel any nagging boredom or exasperation at being a mom. I didn't expect to feel any more bored or exasperated at this job - mamahood - than I felt at any other job - paper route gal, cat-sitter, babysitter, library book shelver, Alumni Relations envelope licker, DOT gopher and road survey editor, Pizza Hut delivery driver, teacher. Did I miss any?

And a few people here are reaching out in thoughtful ways. Last night one of our neighbors promised to send me a phone number and website for Happy Chappies, a Montessori school nearby that offers parent and baby programs. She did and I think I'll look into one of the afternoon activities. I'm also checking out the British Academy of International Arts for cooking classes and (I'd really enjoy this) printmaking. In November I might run with the high school cross country team once in awhile. So life here continues to come together. Not a bad first month.

Racking up my miles on a treadmill. I'm running early in the morning, around 5:30, so that I'm finished by the time Claire wakes. I've been managing between nine and ten miles a day, five days a week. Marcia and I are hoping to figure out a set day or two a week we can meet up for runs and another new friend, Ramona, and I have talked about finding the local Hash. And, for the first time in my life, I'm running with an ipod. I've only sent it flying off the treadmill twice. Better the ipod than me, I guess.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


1. The phone line will be fixed so that you can get broadband internet
2. The phone line will be fixed so that you can get broadband internet (soon)
3. I will post pictures this week or weekend

There. That's out of the way. We are finding routine, Claire and I together during the day and Justin in his classroom. After two years of only one teaching prep, Justin now has three different courses he teaches and six classes of students. He'll be fine. Then he decided to coach JV girls' soccer. This season. He'll be fine. We both fall into bed around nine o'clock and sleep like rocks.

I keep myself entertained learning to cook different recipes (I'll post recipes that work), making a near daily trip down to the pool with Claire (she's dunking and not screaming about it now), laughing at Claire (and with her) when she's being silly. I am reading and writing and am amazed that I have the creative capacity to generate ideas that turn into characters on the page. I think teaching - despite all the writing I did in its own context, and all the literature I read and reread - sucked a bit of my own ability to actually create.

So this is shaping up to be a good year: I found a running partner (we ran a stretch of beach just to say we did, breathing air like an oven); my feet will find their way to a pedicurist soon; the flat bread and hummus is amazing (Claire agrees) and the olive selection, oh, the olive selection (a post on olives alone, at some point); Justin is a happy man here with prospects lined up to join a desert biking club and a men's soccer league as soon as his coaching season is over; we found a church that we like enough to keep going; I don't have to encounter gossippy work stuff unless I invite it; we're making new friends, warm and comfortable people to be around (Claire is meeting new friends too, chief among them is Elliot).

We are doing well. I'll post pictures soon (third promise, mine to you) and you just hope the first two promises come through soon so I can do a better job emailing and keeping up with your blogs. Until then, I'd best go see what my Claire is up to now. Enjoy, enjoy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

what I left behind

We are in Kuwait. We traveled a total of twenty-nine hours to get here and only at one point - boarding the plane from Frankfurt to Kuwait - did I think What are we doing? We were boarding on the tarmac and I was walking up the steps with Claire in one arm and a bag flung over my shoulder and the woman in front of me wore an abaya. Not until that moment did I really absorb how totally foriegn this new culture would be to me. Neither Justin nor I had time this summer to get nervous or worry the thousand worries that tag along with any big change. But on the steps up that last plane to our new home, I thought Why didn't we just buy a house like everyone else?

I remember before we moved to Colombia, I looked at our friends and family buying their houses and I couldn't imagine wanting that. Not yet. Someday. But even then, it might be on the side of a mountain or dominoed in a townhouse. I looked at buying a house the same way a comfortable bachelor looks at marriage and kids: eh, nice, but not for me.

What I really thought was that a house would trap us. No getting out after you lay that downpayment down; no getting out after you sign up for a thirty year mortgage. (Not so. Since moving abroad, we've met several people who have sold or rent their houses while overseas).

But on those steps up, I almost wished Justin and I were back in some comfortable neighborhood happily accumulating stuff to box and label in our basement storage. I guess that sounds snarky. I don't mean it that way. Just that this time, going abroad was a tiring journey. When we were on our way to Colombia, I thought things like Finally and Free and Yea! On our way to Kuwait, I thought things like I hope she isn't poopy and If I fall asleep we'll be robbed blind (while Justin snored with his mouth hanging open, limbs sprawled over a plastic airport chair) and Still another two hours!?

But you know, we made it. We're putting out life here together. And even after just over a week in Kuwait, that house (and yard and closet full of shoes) isn't quite as vivid as that moment of doubt up the steps of our plane bound for Kuwait.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


On Thursday evening, my uncle Doug was killed in an automobile accident. He was forty-five. His friend Rich was driving and he was also killed. So these past couple of days have been sad.

Thursday evening I went to my grandparents' where family had gathered after leaving the hospital. I listened to my aunts Peg and Amy, my uncle Dan, my Mom, and my Grandma and Grandpa talk about Doug's obituary. I don't remember who said it first but the refrain for the evening and for now was He lived large. He lived life large. Because he did. And during the last couple of days we've been collecting Doug stories from people who knew him well or maybe not that well - but people remember Doug.

He worked at Kandu Industries. He rode a bike all over. He took many trips. In fact, when I realized I hadn't seen much of Doug this summer, I guessed he was probably off on another trip west or south or north or east.

Wednesday night Justin and I talked about Colombia, put together a slide show for our family. Doug and Rich were there. I had a camera. And I didn't take a picture. When you say goodbye you fully expect there to be another hello. Right now, I keep trying to hear Doug's laugh again.

Yesterday Amy was talking about Doug living life large. She said that most of us are stuck in boxes. Doug didn't have a box. He didn't have a box for what kind of people he could be friends with. He didn't have a box for how excited you should be about Christmas. He didn't have a box for games and hugs and laughs.

I didn't know Doug as well as I could have or maybe should have. He was always around at holidays and family dinners and camping trips. He was goofy with his nieces and nephews. He was just a lot of fun. I never felt ignored or hurt by him. I never felt uneasy or left out around him. Doug was just Doug. And I felt terrible that I hadn't gotten to know him better. Then Justin pointed out that just because I didn't have deep wandering conversations about life with my uncle - he was still my uncle. And I've learned from him, maybe more in these last couple of days when I've looked at his life and realized how blessed we each were to be around him.

So we are sad. But also amazed by how open, how wide and great his life was. Doug lived large. We thank God for giving him to us for a time. Even while we are sad that time was short.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Yesterday I ran eleven miles and Mom biked along. It was great. But I kept thinking about how many styrofoam cups I was putting a match to with each wasteful exhale. That's because my brother posted this on his blog the other day. Check out the Freakonomics blog post he sited. It contains the phrase "According to Wikipedia" so you know it'll be good.

Shake it off and go for a good long run. Enjoy, enjoy.

But while you're on my brother's blog, poke around. He writes well. He makes me laugh and he also makes me stop and think. About more than whether or not my running is affecting global warming.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The other morning at the end of a shared bike ride and run, my Mom said that she heard biking four miles was equivalent to jogging one. I know nothing about this except that I think I'd still prefer my ten mile run to a forty mile ride (though I haven't been bitten by the bike bug like my husband). But after yesterday, I was wondering:

How many miles is painting rooms for eight (plus) hours worth?

I volunteered to paint my parents' living room, dining area, sunroom, and back hallway - and was much relieved when another friend stepped up to help. So yesterday Kristine and I plowed through most of the walls. And at the end of the day, my legs felt like they'd been on a loooong run. Justin shook them out - he just grabs the thigh or calve and shakes up and down the different muscle groups (it's glorious) - but I still woke with cramps.

So I am passing on this morning's run. We still have a few miles to go in the sunroom.

Friday, August 7, 2009

on wisconsin, on wisconsin!

This is my little sister Ellie. This summer she got a spacer for her palate - so her front teeth are creating a big gap so that her other teeth have a chance at coming in straight. That probably isn't what you noticed about her first though. She's goofy.
Ruth and I took a quiet day at the library. She sat with a stack of American Girl magazines (so prim and proper!)...
...while I enjoyed an hour of uninterrupted writing time.
Claire likes her Grandpa's whiskers!
Here we are at the county fair! Claire loved the sheep and cows and I think Grandpa enjoyed carrying her around. Gracie, a.k.a. the Baby Whisperer, was very attentive.
Okay. So the first carousel ride was fun but the thumb was more fun.
Claire's first tractor pull held her attention better. Wonder what that means.
Stair steps. Gracie, Ruth, Ellie, David and Daniel.
Little happy family. Our time in Wisconsin is flying now that we're less than two weeks from boarding our next plane!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

summer shots from the dells

Justin got his mowing fix this summer, helping his parents out at their home and at their place in the Dells. Claire looks excited to mow too.
Cousins on a quilt. Daughters of cousins. These cousins. The four guys got married within a year and a few months of one another and then their wives had baby girls (firsts for all but one couple) in the same year! Three of those little girls were born within a week of one another!
I like you.And here is Justin with Claire, his mother and grandmother. Family reunion fun.A rural run. Much enjoyed. Justin biked along. We've been trying to get a lot of just us time this summer while we have grandmas and little aunts who are willing to watch Claire. Once we're in Kuwait, I think a date will be hard to come by.
More later.

Monday, August 3, 2009

writing blog

I just created my writing blog:

A long address, I know. But feel free to hop over and check it out. The purpose of that blog will be to chronicle my writing process as I attempt (and succeed!) at writing my first book. I will be very open about what I learn about writing, particularly about tackling a big project. I'll also share other blogs I find interesting or helpful and both online and print resources I use. At times, the blog will likely delve into my own doubts and gigantic pity parties will be thrown to lament my never having any good ideas or time or discipline or whatever. But I am hoping for a great end: 31 July 2010 is my self-imposed deadline. One book.

Follow along if you like. Send the blog address to friends who might be interested. I'd like to find some good online writing friends.

Meanwhile, this blog will remain the same for friends and family. Writing thoughts will overlap at times.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

now we can say "tomorrow"

This morning Danny was crying. I thought he was crying because Justin told him not to hit David or poke David or something.

"No, I am crying because I miss Mom and Dad," he told me in a small voice.

"You know what, Danny? Tomorrow they will be home. Do you want a hug?" I said.

He shook his head no but brightened up.

"But you still need to apologize to David," I added.

* * *
We've been enjoying our time together. On Thursday we played Apples to Apples and teased each other about what our winning cards meant. According to the rounds we won:
Gracie is: slow, juicy, cute & large
Ruth is: cold & old
Ellie is: (besides being the winner of the game): light, yucky, sweet, sloppy, creepy ("Do I have to be?"), colorful, hairy & skinny
David is: mean, exciting, sharp (he really wanted that one!) & wonderful
Danny is: helpful
Rollene is: noisy, fast & boring
Justin is: Oh yeah, he was a party pooper and didn't play
And I am: dangerous, soft ("Claire thinks you're soft"), jolly & small
Yesterday I ran away to Madison to meet up with my friends Lisa and Karla for lunch. I managed a trip to Trader Joe's (chocolate covered macadamia nuts! dried white peaches!) and also impressed myself with my stick-to-the-list-edness at Penzeys Spices. When I returned, we ordered Chinese and McDonalds and sat around the dinner table talking. This morning we had Sugar Cereal Cartoon Morning, a rare treat for this Grape Nuts Cheerios Corn Flakes crew. My favorite quote is taken from the Milk or No Milk debate, the consensus being that if you poured milk on your Frosted Flakes, all you had at the end was sugar milk.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

on our own

When I was twelve or thirteen I saw a movie about three or four siblings whose mom dies and rather than be separated in the foster care system, they run away. They were looking for an uncle or cousin, someone who would keep them together and take care of them. They had a lot of adventures along the way and in the end, the uncle or cousin turned out to be very, very rich. I used to be (still am, still am - at times) morbid enough to imagine: what if my parents died? The best I could hope for was a very, very rich uncle or cousin.

My parents are not dead, but I do get the chance to be "on my own" with a pack of siblings.

Mom and Dad left for a weekend in Washington D.C. early this morning. I am hoping for them all good things: girl weekend for Mom, good visit with an old friend for Dad. And I am hoping they don't worry too much about what is going on at home. Last night Mom said that at least she wouldn't have to pick paint colors if the house burned down. We call her Bright Side Mom. She's just always looking on it. (Me too. I'm Sunny Side Sarah).*

Rather than let them worry, I'll just tell them what is happening here: this morning Mary Grace, David, and Danny came tiptoeing and whispering down to the basement while I was nursing Claire.

"Mary Grace had a dream," one of the boys said.

"And we're scared because it started to come true." Then tumbled out a tale of arms reaching out of drains and footsteps on the roof. One of them had to go to the bathroom. "Good luck with the drain!" another one wished the brave sibling.

Now we are waiting for Mary Grace's piano teacher and my mother-in-law to arrive. "You do know," I said to Rollene when she said she'd like to visit us this weekend, to help out while my parents were away, "That our house is - our house is chaotic?" She laughed. I think she'll have a lot to laugh about this weekend. Me? I'm going to get my survival run in for the day. On on this run, I promised I'd think about things like: who gets to play games on the computer when, whether or not we'll have a sugar cereal cartoon morning on Saturday, if Gracie can bake cupcakes today, the weekend's menu, laundry logistics, and how we'll juggle vehicles tomorrow.

*Can you find the sarcasm embedded in this paragraph?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

cross country revisited

Quick running update. Running in Wisconsin is glorious. The mornings have been cool, a little breeze, sometimes a little low mist over the fields. Yesterday I ran with Curt and a few of his high school cross country runners. Early in the morning. I ran to Curt's house and sat on the curb, waiting for runners to show. It was a small group - three girls, two or three guys, Curt - and we did an out and back run down a local bike trail. Thirty minutes out, thirty back.

I ran up front with a couple of girls for a mile or so. I wanted runner girl chat but there's a decade gap between us and they were busy talking about one of their jobs or a friends' job and I felt like a tagalong.

I tried to start a conversation. I learned how long each had been running cross country. Admitted that volleyball failed me too and I found running two and a half miles in heat, rain, and snow more fun than sitting on the bench. And then we ran out of things to talk about.

The girls' pace was slow and I didn't want to be that weird-adult-who-would-not-leave-us-alone so I broke away. In front of me was a senior boy named Kyle and he kept a good clip but I didn't want to catch up because I also didn't want to be that weird-adult-woman-who-likes-teenage-boy-runners (and everything can get skewed) so I kept between fifty and a hundred yards buffer. At thirty minutes out, Kyle turned around. A road crossing was just ahead and I have this thing about intersections and corners - I really like to say I ran to North Point Drive or I ran all the way to Highway P. So that morning, I ran to Golf Course Road N.

At the turn around I decided to go for a good negative split. I picked up the pace. I thought maybe I'd catch Kyle on the way back to town. I was feeling good - strong but not pushing too much. I'm a chicken about speed training and much prefer the safer route of let's just pick up the pace a bit. I cut two minutes and change off on my return (including a quick stop to chat with my old elementary band teacher out for his early morning walk) and did indeed catch up to Kyle. Curt told me that Kyle said I pushed him. Good for him, good for me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

irritable (given reprieve)

I have been irritable lately. Justin pointed this out the other day.

"What is your problem?" he said.

"I don't have a problem," I said.

But today when Justin asked if I had seen the papers he brought in from the car, you know, the ones he put on his bedside table, I said, "I didn't move them," clipping my words and ending one tone shy of, "No, stupid."

So maybe I do have a problem.
* * *
This morning my four year-old brother Danny, who still doesn't like to wipe his own bottom after pooping, sat on the toilet yelling "Mom! Mom! Mom!" Mom was helping Mary Grace choose fabric for a sewing project and called to Danny that she'd be there soon. Danny continued to yell "Mom! Mom! Mom!" until I got up and stood in the bathroom doorway.

"Do you like to be yelled at?" I said.

He nodded.

"You like it when other people yell at you?" I rephrased.

He shook his head no. Maybe he really does like to be yelled at but decided to just give me the answer I was looking for. Leading questions, leading questions.

"I don't think Mom likes to be yelled at either. Did you hear her say she is coming?"

He nodded.

"Then wait."

I left. I could have just wiped my brother's butt but (ha ha) I am already keeping Claire's bottom clean and there is something distinctly different about big kid poo. Soon enough Claire will be yelling "Mom! Mom! Mom!" and I'll be teaching her how to wipe her own bottom. In the meantime, Mom doesn't mind helping Danny wipe his bottom since her help guarantees skid-free underpants. Not a bad trade-off for "Mom! Mom! Mom!"

But really, Danny's yelling just underscores the constant noise at our house. It isn't all bad noise - mostly play and thundering stomps up and down the basement stairs; daily races around the living room, kitchen, and sun room; piano practice in small bits, at any given time (though most of us cringe at the opening chords of "Little Indian Dance," a catching ditty that Gracie has mastered but still not gotten enough of); there's whining (David's specialty) and laughing (all) and arguing (all, not usually at once). This house is full of kids and kids are usually loud.

"It must be difficult to share your space," I said to Ruth and Ellie the other day. I wanted them to know that I know it's hard to have guests around, imposing different routines, new family dynamics.

Ellie looked like she might agree that have Justin, Claire and me around is indeed a personal sacrifice on her part - after all, I am forever asking her and David to remember that Claire is napping so please, please keep it down - but Ruth said, "No, not really."

Perhaps that is because Ruth is really good at hiding, sneaking away from the loud games to read her books. What is so fantastic about Ruth is that she might be in the living room for two hours, buried in her latest book, while the house is shaking with games ("Let's play 'fight,'" David said to Ellie and Danny) and piano plunking. And Ruth is totally undisturbed.

I need to learn how to do that again.

Instead, what I do in the middle of chaos is feel my nerves fire and snap under the strain of not yelling "Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!" That's lately, at least - and likely because our move to the Middle East (who moves there!?) is imminent and Claire is teething and and and! But sometimes I feed off the cacophony and get silly and enjoy being in the middle of this crazy family. And right when I think: I am done, I am running away - I get a break. A fantastic run or an hour to write, an empty house. Then the noise builds again. And still, I love it here.

this year I sort

Last summer we arrived home with suitcases full of junk and threw it all in plastic bins in a corner closet in my parents' basement. We dug around and took more junk back to Colombia. We didn't sort anything, not in any way that you could really call it sorted. Things were together, undivided. United stuff.

This summer I decided to organize. Organizing is not my forte unless it involves putzy multicolored post-it notes and labels and, well, I lost my post-it notes cube. But I thought: this summer, I can pack my books with books, clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes. In theory, this is a great idea. But what it means in practice is that I unpack every plastic bin and start making piles that shift and take new shapes as more boxes are unearthed and unpacked. And in the middle of tossing a shirt on this pile and a ceramic mug on that pile, I wonder why a shirt and ceramic mug were packed in the same box as my old yearbooks and an empty picture frame.

I do not want to be doing this next summer.

So. I have my winter clothes in two bins. I didn't keep much when we moved to Colombia but I have favorites sweaters and jackets and winter running gear stored, and a pair of Doc Martens boots I've worn since college. I now have a bin of maternity clothes that I will clearly label in case I need my mom to ship me stretchy pants and big tops. There is a box of pots and pans too heavy to balance the expense of shipping them when I can just buy another set in Kuwait. There are a few boxes of books, already cut to a quarter of what I owned before moving abroad.

And then there are my memories. Oh, these boxes are crammed. I keep too much. My entire high school experience is journaled in pen pal letters I never mailed. I have Valentine's Day cards given to me at third grade class parties. Movie stubs. Dried flowers. A small wooden box that my mom bought for me on a trip to Germany when I was young, its lid and sides detailed with rosemaling. One of my first chunky attempts at throwing a bowl in pottery class. I looked at those boxes and thought: no way. Instead, I'm adding a few of my Colombia memories to them: a business card for a restaurant we enjoyed, a scrap of paper with a phone number for a nice taxi driver I met, my Medellin half marathon bib number. Maybe that'll be my project next summer, to get lost in those boxes.

This summer, though, just making sure that shoes aren't tucked in the same box as my old gradebooks is enough.