Saturday, February 27, 2010

clarifying: what i figured out

So after saying I don't want to blab about inner-workings, I still think I need to add a bit:

The couple of months that I spent questioning the course of my life, past decisions and future unknowns, were a cruddy couple of months. I think most people do this - overanalyze and wonder what if...? - and while that introspection can lead to valuable realizations and deeper personal or spiritual insights, being in the middle of all that thought can be difficult. You can lose perspective or shift events, or rely on current feelings of doubt or despair rather than recalling moments of sureness or clarity. Muddling around. And the thing is, I tend to keep most of these muddling thoughts to myself, and that can be a dark spiral.

I do have a few close family and friends that can show me light when I sense only dark. And sometimes they say what I don't want to hear, but what I need to hear.

As for being a shy Christian... My sister-in-law Joie posted a comment about acknowledging God in everything we do and that for her, "that means being deliberate in expressing His presence in my life so that He gets the glory for anything good that comes of it." After being raised in a Christian home and growing in that faith at a young age, I am only just beginning to return to earnestly seeking God. Despite being familiar with the tenants of Christianity, and despite having lived a faithful life for a period, I now feel like a child relearning how to believe and trust and hope and pray and walk. And so I am keenly aware of all my imperfections, my "not-quite-Christian-enough" parts. I do wonder if others know that I am a Christian by the way I speak and act. Sometimes. And sometimes not.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

nice first day off

Long weekend: needed, wonderful, anything possible.

This morning started with blueberry pancakes and peach/raspberry/banana smoothies. Then we walked to a playground and Claire ran around and climbed and giggled and fussed enough that she was close to snoozing in her lunch when we got home. Justin and I vegged during Claire's naptime, watching too much tv. And I just got back from a girls' night playing Apples to Apples. Just a nice day, you know?

And we still have four more until we're back at work. Ahhh.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

what i figured out

The past couple of months have been difficult for me. I have spent a lot of time doubting every major decision I've made and, looking at my course over the years, feeling as though I simply let life happen without any sense of direction or purpose. I lay in bed absolutely paralyzed by regret, thinking about might-have-beens. Closing my eyes to an image of withering grass: my time here, now, soon forgotten.

It was a real party, my head.

Last week, I put it into words for Justin. I chose my university because they offered a small scholarship; I planned to transfer after two years. I didn't. Instead, I cycled through a few majors and tacked teaching certification to an English degree because it seemed practical and I'd always wanted to teach, right? (If playing school on the stair landing with your siblings counts as a natural interest in the field of education). I was painfully naive, didn't fit in with any one group and could have used a gap year to sort myself out.

During college, I studied creative writing, wanted to pursue that into grad school but didn't because I'd met this guy Justin and it seemed a smarter idea to find teaching jobs near each other rather than for me to leave the state and end our start. I wasn't even sure what we'd started until after a year of long-distance dating - first year teaching jobs did not land us near one another - when our second year of teaching found us in the same district, classrooms across the hall from each other. Aww.

So I'd lay in bed thinking of all these turns as utter mistakes. I should have gone to grad school. Justin would have found someone else to carve decades away in Wisconsin, more pleasing to her in-laws.

And then I'd continue: we chose Colombia but could have gone to Egypt. Truth: we just had to leave Wisconsin before I went batty. I'd already sunk grad school, married young, and the thought of axing a central desire - to live abroad - made me panic. That's how it seemed then: urgent, life half over already, missed opportunities piled in the gutter.

You see what I was doing to myself? I was finding fault, eating regret and seeing nothing ahead but bleak years unfolding by chance. No purpose, no achievement - just an eventual end to uneventful days.

So when I finally talked with Justin, he said, "I don't think you just let things happen, Sarah." And then he said something about God's direction, which I was in no mood to hear.

I am a Christian but I don't talk about my faith very often. I hold it like something fragile when it is my source of strength. I used to talk very openly about my beliefs and I remember not understanding my Mom when, sometime during my high school years, she said she wasn't comfortable talking so openly about her faith. "It's private," she said. And so I began to respect that my Mom shows her faith in ways that are stronger than words.

I try to do the same, partly because I think that saying "God will provide" or "Let Him comfort you" to someone in the middle of a big fat mess can seem more glib than promising. So when Justin said God and direction in the same sentence, I wanted to close my ears.

I have not always made the best decisions, but I cannot lump all parts of my life in the mistake category. Much good has come of choices that seemed just to have happened. As slapdash as my teaching certification seemed, I have grown because of my years in the classroom: learning human nature, compassion, endurance, and the endlessness of refining self. Painful growth at times. When Justin and I landed jobs in the same district, we began premarital counseling, decided to get married; why would I undo a relationship that has sharpened us both? And Colombia was more than a place for us: it was a starting point for a new sense of confidence as individuals and as a couple.

We prayed through many of our decisions. I want billboards and marquee lights and writing on the wall, but more often, we know our right direction by a sense of peace. And sometimes it seems that whether we turn to the right or to the left, we will learn and find and give and enjoy. Justin challenged me to reframe my thinking about my decisions and our decisions and when I did, I could better see the path leading us here - not through missteps and lack of options, but through turns and crossings that taught us a little more about trust, faith, failure and redemption.

I am not going to pretend that now I am entirely satisfied with everything my life is about. And I am not interested in posting all the inner workings of my heart and soul, revelations that come in pieces. Those are still very private to me, shared with few. But this - my last couple of months privately choking on doubt - now that I am finally tasting promise, how could I not share?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

good things

So you don't think I'm going over the edge:

1. I really enjoyed this week's episode of This American Life. Producers of the radio show asked their parents for show ideas and then made a segment out of whatever idea they were pitched. Would you ask your parents for an idea if you knew you had to do it?

2. Good run this morning. I cut my usual runs to eight miles, my old magic number for everyday runs until Mr. Nine took over. It's just enough shorter: I still run for a little over an hour, but I'm not spending the last ten minutes going When will this be over!? Soon enough, my daily run will be seven. Seven is a nice number.

3. Claire is endlessly entertaining. At night before bed, she gets a sippy cup of milk and lately, she's been sharing her milk with Bear. She makes little slurp noises while Bear drinks his goodnight milk. Justin and I absolutely melt over this. She also shares with us, points fingers in our eyes, and grabs our noses. We're learning face parts!

4. My parents took a little minibreak with my younger siblings and I've been spending this week excited to hear about the adventures! Things like this make me wish I could climb in the family van and hang out at an indoor waterpark, staying up late watching Gilligan's Island or Cartoon Network.

5. Class size. I have never been so grateful for small classes! I teach three sections of students, alternating Literature and Language by A/B days. Two of my classes have fourteen students and one has thirteen. Perfect for discussion. Perfect for manageable paper grading (Lit Analysis due soon! Research paper due soon!). And I know their first names, even if I still hesitate on pronunciation and have given up on learning all the last names.

6. Swedish massage. We have a long weekend coming up at the end of the month and I'm spending my sub money on an hour of loosened knots! I'd better make an appointment soon.

7. Another vanity: pedicures. I've been wearing shoes for three weeks now because my toes aren't so lovely anymore and I'm too lazy to take the iridescent blue polish off. (I was daring on my last visit to the salon). Tomorrow after school, a couple of friends and I are getting pedicures. Sandals soon, since the weather is turning warm.

Well, isn't this nice? I could actually keep listing good things. But seven is a solid, odd number and I'll stop there. Ah, I feel better.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I have been so worried with this pregnancy. When we found out we were pregnant with Claire, we'd just decided waiting a few years to start a family might be nice. We were so excited about a baby, but I also was surprised and if I'd miscarried, I'd have taken it as a sign to just wait a bit. If I'd miscarried then, I wouldn't have know what I'd be missing. So this time, I know all that I'd be missing and I know that I want all of that to be mine.

So I worry over every twinge. I worry if I don't feel as nauseated today as I felt yesterday. I worry about stress, even though I'm not feeling particularly stressed. (I'm busy, yes, but I get less riled about less than I have in the past).

I am very, very tired of worrying. I lay down for a nap and pray and rest and hope and then feel as though I will never figure out anything. But I am: figuring a few things out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

pregnancy comparison & contrast

I woke up from a dream and knew I was pregnant with Claire. I just didn't know she was Claire yet. I took three pregnancy tests, until my doctor confirmed that, yes, I was pregnant; he told me to quit wasting my money. I'd just wanted to be sure. This time, I didn't have a dream or wake up sensing a shift in my body. I didn't think pregnant until I was already a few days late and then I thought of course! Two pregnancy tests this time, scrutinized: the plus on the cheap brand was just barely there so I went ahead and bought another at full price. Yup, pregnant.

Already, I was starting the pregnancy with a different body: one that had been there before. Meaning: knew what it was to be stretched. Only nine weeks along and my belly shows the littlest baby pooch. Which means that by May, everyone will be shocked when I say the baby isn't due until September. My mornings, as with Claire, are by far the best. I can eat and run and have energy enough; by afternoon and evening, I'm scraping the barrel.

I'm still running, though not quite as much as with Claire. I'm getting forty to forty-five miles in a week and am pleased with that! My pace is slowed a little - just me being conscious of my breathing and making sure not to stress my system. I run in the early mornings before school, which means I'm in bed by quarter to eight at night.

Sooo tired! I was tired with Claire, but then I wasn't coming home to a busy sixteen month girl. I was coming home to an empty apartment with my husband and he understood if I just wanted to lay on the couch and not do anything. Claire isn't so accommodating and I don't blame her. We come home after a day of school and she's got things to tell us, laps to climb, books to read. Justin is kind enough to let me nap if I need a short rest - I don't remember needing naps so often when I was pregnant with Claire, even though I was also teaching then.

Nauseated. Ick. Because I get up early (four in the morning) to run, shower and be out the door by six each morning, I am starving by nine in the morning. This is after a full breakfast - two bowls of cereal some mornings and orange juice - and a post-run snack (even if I don't run!) of hot cocoa and a banana. Still, nine a.m. and I am banging at the cafeteria door for lemon salted corn (surprisingly mmm) or a cheese bread (I still keep getting the Arabic name wrong).

I've learned to fill my belly during my morning break because by lunchtime, it is all I can do to eat half a sliced apple. Fruits and veggies are unappealing. I was like that with Claire too - carrots tasted like dirt and broccoli, well, broccoli can be overwhelming when you aren't pregnant. So I eat my mid-morning lunch and suffer through the real lunch and feel pukey by the end of school. Soda water helps. The bumpy bus ride home does not.

Dinner is - dinner is a lot of things right now. a) Unimaginative b) Standby pasta c) Steamed frozen veggies. Oh, it pains me. It really does. Sometimes we order a pizza and even that isn't good. We've started buying meals from a chef who lives in our building and his cooking is amazing, but I'm looking forward to really enjoying it. (Perhaps I need to eat his meals at nine o'clock in the morning?)

So right now, most everything I eat after one o'clock is followed by a gaggy feeling. But I don't throw up. I didn't throw up with Claire either. I gag a lot, to myself. I scrunch my face at icky smells. Sometimes I suspect Justin doesn't believe my stomach. Since I'm eating, I must be okay, right? I'm eating so I don't pass out, so I can continue running, and so the baby gets something, even if it is leftover cold cheese pizza. (Ick). I think Justin might get it if I barfed on him. Last night he was eating these delicious/noxious Lay's Yogurt and Herbs potato chips and then talking to me and his breath was wafting and I said, "Please. Please stop." And he looked at me and said, "What?" all chewing and breathing and I thought: If I could just hurl on his shoes, he'd really believe me. Instead I left the room, brushed my teeth gagging.

So that's my pregnancy so far. Quite similar to the first. I'm waiting for second trimester's burst of energy, but enjoying first trimester's bladder. Now for my nap.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

whose house for summer?

When pioneer families headed west, they went knowing that they might never see the family and friends they left behind. Perhaps a sibling or cousin promised to follow the next year or perhaps they planned to meet a neighbor who had already settled new land, but more often, mothers said goodbye to daughters and fathers to sons and families understood that this goodbye embrace was likely their last. Letters and photographs would keep the family ties but Sunday dinners and celebrations were now separated by a thousand miles. Wedding and birth announcements came months after the event; even news of deaths traveled slow.

I thought about these pioneer families when Justin and I moved abroad. I wasn't bold enough to think we were doing anything quite so daring or risky, but I sensed what they must have: this call to explore, to go somewhere new. Our decision was made easier by the fact that we'd have the luxury to remain in immediate contact with family and friends we'd left behind. Email, blog posts, Skype - it all connects. In fact, we can't really escape, can we?

After we began talking about this - living abroad - becoming our life for awhile, Justin and I had to think about our visits home. If we were going to make a new home for ourselves in a new country, did we need to traipse back to the States once a year to spend a month or so visiting the old home? We began thinking about our obligations to parents and siblings and friends. At what point, we asked ourselves, do we say: You need to visit our home? At what point does the visiting responsibilities fall to the family and friends we left behind?

A lot of expats ask these questions. When we had Claire, I began looking at what other families abroad do to keep their children connected with North American relatives. Some visit annually. Some trade off: Grandma comes this year, we go next year. I don't think there is only one way to settle this for your family. But we've been trying to find our way.

When we moved to Colombia, my father-in-law said, "No one will ever visit you there!" He was angry when he spoke, but he was also right. No one came to visit us there. One of my friends was saving money for her wedding, my sister's husband was a little nervous about her visiting Colombia. Plans fell through. We understood. But we watched other expats host their family and friends and thought: how do we get there?

You don't get there by moving to Kuwait. Come to visit and we'll enjoy our time together, probably take a side trip to Jordan or Egypt to see Petra or the pyramids. But we aren't holding our breath. The truth is, we want to share our life abroad with family and friends. We want people to see where we are and to understand our daily life and to enjoy what we enjoy about the places we know now.

So we decided: we're putting our foot down. Let's go home this summer, we said, and then spend next summer in Ireland or Germany. We'll rent a house, we said, and invite our Stateside crew to join us if they want. We get a visit, and they get somewhere more romantic than Kuwait. What a good, reasonable solution we thought: every other year. On the off years we go somewhere fabulous and new to us and likely won't bleed as much money as visiting the States. Family and friends can visit places that they don't have to explain to their coworkers why, exactly, they decided to go to _____.

Wonderful. Settled. All we had to do was tell our parents.

Then I got pregnant. Also wonderful. But this pregnancy means I absolutely will not travel home this summer - no desire to experience jet lag twice and drag my tired third trimester self all over Wisconsin. So we thought, let's go home for Christmas. A week with my parents, a week with his; and then we'll still get a rental in Ireland for the following summer.

Trouble is: I don't think anyone would visit. My parents are still raising five kids at home. Just flights for all of them to Europe would be astronomically expensive. Justin's parents are reluctant to travel, though they did just take a trip to Hawaii. Perhaps we'd snare a few friends with the free place to stay, but most of our friends are also in the middle of raising babies or planning to begin very soon. So very likely we'd enjoy a restful, green vacation by ourselves. Now, I like that idea, I really do, but I'm also keenly aware that Claire and the new little one will miss most family events as it is. And a week at the height of holiday season just doesn't seem to allow for a lot of grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle/cousin/grandbaby bonding.

I thought about this for a few days before telling Justin. He'd been sending me links about valleys in Germany and travel destinations in Ireland. I rained on his parade. Maybe, I said, we owe it to our family to bring the little ones home for a few more summers. Afterall, if this is our life for awhile, we will hike in Germany and I will run in Ireland. He understood. We still aren't entirely settled on this. Selfishly, we want our month in Ireland whether or not anyone visits. But we also want lazy mornings eating blueberry pancakes at my house; I want to run while my Mom bikes along; Claire needs to chase her aunts and uncles and grandparents; Justin needs to find time to spend with his father. At some point, our family and friends will very likely come to us. But perhaps it's still on us to go to them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

mixed bag

So I've taught four days now. All is well. It's busy, but I knew it would be. The students are responding to the abrupt change well and I think the classes will each be enjoyable.

I miss Claire though, and I knew I would. I get home in the afternoon and crash while Justin takes her for a walk or out to play. Then I pull together dinner and sit at the table sad that I have no appetite for anything. I eat but I don't enjoy eating right now, especially later in the day. Then we've got the bath and bed routine and half an hour after Claire is down, I'm down.

In the early mornings, I stand over her crib and whisper love, sometimes pick her up for a quick snuggle, and then I'm out the door.

Though I can manage this schedule for a semester, and though I actually do enjoy teaching here, I don't think I was made to mama a short three or four hours a day.