Archive for the ‘a good day… so far’ Category


October 12, 2012

I’m sitting in a library – an actual library – on a crystalline-cool fall morning, wearing my “student” clothes (worn jeans, long-sleeved striped shirt in grey and black with faux button-down collar and cuffs, denim ballet flats) with three solid hours to work on a paper I’ll be presenting at a conference just over a month from now. Also on my to-do list: apply for absentee ballots, find time to hang with friends we haven’t seen in two years and won’t see for another five, take a nap with Oz in the afternoon. On my “done” list: long-overdue checkup at the dentist (THREE cavities!!! Boooo!); picked up visas for Colombia.

Shifting and overlapping identities. Adjust the lens and a different layer comes clearly into view, then recedes into blurred dimness. The colors and patterns of my life, my self – there’s something stable through the ebb and flow. Academic, adult child of missionaries, advanced maternal age. Liminally Latina. It all comes together behind these dark brown eyes. These are the eyes through which I see the world.

Who will I be today?

I feel so happy right now. The sunlight poured into Millie and Phil’s living room at a slant through the blinds this morning, the kids played contentedly with the smorgasbord of toys and puzzles at their disposal there, Gimli and I drank our coffee and talked over the schedule for the day. “Not in a hurry to get to work, are you?” he asked. I started guiltily and said, “I’m just enjoying this.” He said “Yeah, I am too.”

So many unknowns in front of us. We have (furnished) housing and child care lined up for us already in Bogota, a team anxiously awaiting our arrival as it will ease their workload significantly (they’re in an interim situation since the previous national director left in June – although she’s still around, is now regional director, and will actually be our supervisor!), and a Skype conversation last week cleared up a lot of our questions about what will be happening the first few weeks at least in logistical terms. But the biggest unknown for me is, how will the kids cope? How quickly will they learn Spanish? What will school be like for Illyria? She loves it here – loves it. Will she like Colombia?

So that’s where I am right now. It’s been haaaaard without regular, scheduled child care to make time for blogging. Now that Gimli’s picking up the slack a little more, I hope to be more present here.



October 7, 2012

So busy. So tired. Happy, though.

We’ve been living in the family room at Millie and Phil’s for a month now, and just now it is finally beginning to be a little bit annoying. Ironically, I noticed a shift when my husband arrived – with him here paying attention to the kids, I was freed up to do more housework, and I keep tripping over my lack of orientation to Millie’s systems. I put the dishes in the dishwasher the wrong way, handled the recycling the wrong way, pulled the blinds the wrong way. I’m in her space and I need to do things her way, and I’m trying. I don’t recover from mistakes very gracefully – too hard on myself, I suppose, and then I get resentful of the standards. On the other hand, Gimli’s a good buffer because he doesn’t take their quirks very seriously and loves to kid them all the time.


Earlier this week I traveled alone to a Prairie city for meetings related to our new position in Colombia. It felt good to be taking a lead role, leaving Gimli home with the kids for two nights, but [insert expletive of your choice here] I had no idea how much milk Oz was getting from me until I was away from him overnight. (Yes, I’m still nursing my 27-month-old.)

So. Much. Pain. I didn’t have a pump, I was trying to hand-express milk in random restrooms, and spent a good hour in my hotel room the second evening lying in the bath trying to ease the pressure and pain. By that time I felt weak, almost feverish, light-headed – and couldn’t tell how much was from the pain (almost a bit of shock, maybe) and how much was from lack of sleep and travel fatigue. Or both combined. In any case, it was AWFUL.

The second day I wore a different bra, and was slightly better. When I got home finally the kids were asleep in the big king-sized bed we’re all sharing. I slid in between them and when Oscar stirred I gladly gave him the breast. It took him maybe 5 minutes to drain one side completely. I can’t even describe the relief.

It took about 3 days for the pain to go away totally, so I think I might have had a plugged duct situation going on on one side.

When I leave them for 5 days in November, you can bet the farm I’m taking a pump.


August 27, 2012

My body is registering stress, even though I’m not consciously aware of it all the time. I’ve had a chronic headache off and on, and some tummy twinges this morning. We’re just over a week from leaving Albania and my to-do list is ticking along pretty well. My to-do list for our 2 months in the US is filling up frighteningly quickly, too, though. I want to work in at least 20 visits to Barnes & Noble. 🙂 Somewhere between replacing my driver’s license which I lost here, getting our visas for Colombia, working in doctor’s appointments and traveling to NY to meet with my dissertation committee, I hope to find some deep wells of down-time with friends and family. My mind is operating in three spheres at once – living and moving and being here, trying to be fully here as much as I can; dreaming and daydreaming about our 2-month Stateside sojourn; planning and strategizing for the move to Colombia.

Even despite the stress – I like it.

What she wants

August 10, 2012

Throughout our seemingly endless and recursive life-decision-planning discussions, Gimli kept circling back to this question: “But what do you want?” We would talk and talk and then he’d say, “I’m still not getting a clear idea of what you want.” And I would feel so stuck because I couldn’t see why not.

In our life-coaching conversations, my SIL commented more than once “I’m hearing that you don’t know what you want.” And again I’d feel stuck and bewildered because I just couldn’t see why she was saying that.

I just want everybody to be happy.

This is what I say when pressed, more often than not. I want everybody to be happy and content. But does this just mean everybody else? Or am I included in “everybody” too?

There have been times in my life when I was very, very clear what I wanted: where I wanted to go to college (I only sent in one application), my major, my internship program, volunteering afterwards. I knew I wanted to kiss Gimli about a year after we met, and then I knew I wanted to marry him a year after that. I knew I wanted to get a PhD in Anthropology – although I can’t necessarily say I absolutely knew I wanted to go where I ended up going. I knew I wanted to have kids. I knew I wanted us to come to Albania. And now I know I want to go to Colombia.

Gimli keeps asking me if I’m doing a Gift of the Magi thing in postponing the academic career I once said I wanted, and really at a gut level this question makes no sense to me. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me to be going a different route right now. It did feel like a sacrifice – one that I have grieved – to agree not to return to our home in Virginia. But the life itself, and the work – I’m terribly excited about it.

He wrote me this in an e-mail, and I still tear up when I read it:

[During the orientation for the new job] I could see you feeling valued for who you were – feeling that you belonged and had something to contribute – it’s different from when I see you sort of crinkle up in that sort of “I don’t want to bother anyone with my presence” that I see you do here sometimes – such as when I suggest that you ought to have coffee with Zana or Fjoralba.  Or that “I’m faking it so that the evangelicals won’t turn on me” that I’ve also seen at church with the subsequent self-loathing after that.  Or the “I don’t want to spend the time and energy finding real friends” that I’ve seen you sometimes lapse into here.  At the leadership seminar, it felt to me that you felt that you could be real, and that even real that you were worthy of love, and that you belonged and were competent.  Seeing you like that was wonderful emotionally for me.


So my SIL suggested that invite myself to the conversation. Ask myself, Self, what do I want? Because that knowledge is there; I just need to access it.

I love the imaginative work she prompts me into doing. I had no idea what life coaching was going to be about. Her approach, at least, is very right-brained and gestaltic, all about exploring symbols and metaphors as a way of unblocking creativity. I imagine that it’s not unlike what a good tarot reading might accomplish. Or contemplative prayer. It’s powerful stuff.

So after our last conversation, I tried a new approach to my daily to-do list. Instead of writing down tasks, I wrote down the answers to the question “What do I want today?” Things like: to feel rested (so I took a nap this afternoon), a clean floor (I mopped), a new idea (I read several chapters of social theory and almost immediately had an idea of approaching data analysis succinctly). I could see and feel myself in motion, not spinning my wheels all day and then feeling annoyed that I had accomplished nothing of substance.

And I wrote a poem, of sorts, pulling together some of the imagery I’ve been working with as a result of her prompts. Hesitantly, since I know there are actual real poets whose blogs I comment on who might read this, I’m posting it here:


What does this woman want?


Ask the lady in red.

Invite her to the table

With her knitting needles, her books

ablaze in flames that do not consume.

See her serious eyes, set between

Smile lines and worry wrinkles

Strands of silver in her hair.

She is wiser than you know.

She holds wisdom in her womb.

An lotus blossom opens

At the base of her skull,

Behind her neck.

She is a brown-skinned warrior

Spear and fishhook made of bone.

She is clothed in llama wool.


Ask her what this woman wants

Today, this moment, even

In this lifetime.

She will know.

Minor Annoyances

April 12, 2012

Next year I want to do a March Madness bracket* of Minor Annoyances. When I can’t sleep for whatever reason I start brainstorming possible entries:

  • stone in your shoe
  • mosquito bite
  • crumbs in the sheets
  • pimple
  • hangnail
  • hair-trigger car alarms
  • fingernails on chalkboard
  • people who make noise when they chew food (I’m looking at YOU, Gimli!)
  • SPAM
  • [your ideas here]
What are your pet peeves?

*For readers outside the US, March Madness is an annual basketball tournament. For fun, some people create competitions that mirror the structure of the basketball tournament (worst dressed celebrity, favorite Muppet, etc.) – this is one of my favorites.

Blessed (children mentioned a lot)

March 27, 2012

I’ve been weepy and hormonal all week – more so than usual. Two or three days ago I was nursing Oz, looking at his little round cheeks, stroking his soft hair, and I started to cry as I thought about how shattered I would be if anything happened, if I should lose him. He is such a gift. I’m still stunned to know that he is my son, that I am his mother. At times it hardly seems believable. Mine? Really? This isn’t some incredibly solid and persistent dream?

Illyria feels so much more like a part of me, an extension of me. Oh believe me, I know she is her own person – the shape of her nose is all hers, the stubborn will, the little wheels turning in her mind – but the connection I feel to her is qualitatively different for some reason. I can’t explain it, really. She is no less a gift than Oz is. He is no less a part of me than she is. But it’s almost like I feel as though she and I are made of the same stuff, the same color play-dough, and he is made of something else entirely instead – the softest velvet cloth, perhaps.

I still can hardly believe they are mine. And I am so deeply, deeply thankful that they are.


Our life plan decision conversations continue. And it feels like an embarrassment of riches – we have the education and experience and social capital to create multiple potential life paths… I was at an internet cafe the other day and the guy at the desk asked me where I’m from. He said he longs to go to the US and couldn’t believe that I like it here. People are dying – literally – to live and work in a place where I own a house, where I claim citizenship. I start to think about these things too much, and I go a little crazy. I have so much more to say about this… the thing I wanted to notice is that instead of getting bogged down and angsty about making the “correct” choice (because I don’t think there is one), to be grateful that we HAVE a choice. We HAVE options. GOOD options. To be thankful.


February 17, 2012

“You fall in love so easily,” he said, somewhat wistfully, the guy to whom I had just confessed my crush. He picked up the end of my long braid and brushed it against my cheek, and I thought for a second he was going to kiss me, but he didn’t. Maybe it was the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the clatter of dishes in the communal kitchen beyond the lobby area where we sat. Most likely he was – to crib the infamous phrase – just not that into me.

Sometimes I think he was right; it’s easy for me to gloss over flaws, to give my heart over despite misgivings.

Early yesterday evening I walked across the main square in Tirana, where I could see an enormous red flag unfurling the two-headed black eagle across a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, and I felt that familiar romantic pang of affection I get for a place. It’s like a pre-nostalgia, anticipating leaving. Gimli calls it the “smell the loons” mood. I have loved and left so many, many places. Pieces of my heart are scattered around the globe – South Africa, Bolivia, of course Peru, New York state, Virginia (oddly enough, I can’t seem to form an attachment to the US as a whole, just parts of it), and now Shqiperia.

I’m glad we came to Albania (so far). The aspect I’ve enjoyed more than any other, by far, has been learning the language.  I’ve learned that I really am good at learning languages. I never actually had to learn a language from scratch like this before; I studied Quechua, and did very well, but I grew up hearing it spoken and the rhythms and a lot of words were familiar, so I attributed my rapid learning to that familiarity instead of innate ability. It’s been really flattering, I guess, to hear from so many people so many times that I speak Shqip really well. I’ve certainly nailed the Motherese register, anyway. Gimli’s vocabulary and grasp of grammar is better than mine, since he actually studies and reads every night, but my accent and ear are far better than his since I actually talk to people.

But I don’t think we’ll be staying on. The implications for Gimli at the university in the US are not favorable for staying on here, and I think he feels just enough ambivalence that it precludes him from taking a drastic, proactive measure – which is what it would take for us to stay. Staying another year would be nice – but in the end, we’d still be leaving, and dealing with all the same issues and questions as we are now, just a year later.

I think the hardest part about leaving will be saying goodbye to Dhurata. She pours love on my kids, and Oscar especially is attached to her. I feel incredibly bad about leaving her, actually – just as I felt incredibly bad about leaving my BFF in the US when we came here. I know Dhurata is my employee, but she’s also a friend. We borrow each other’s clothes, we gossip about people we both know from church, we do “troubles talk” (which, according to Deborah Tannen, is a primary way women bond with each other). I don’t think I could find a better nanny anywhere in the world, and I’ve told her so. She in turn has thanked me again and again for the employment we give her. I know our leaving will not only be personally hard, but economically hard for her family as she is the primary wage-earner (her husband has been unemployed for six years now), cleaning house and babysitting for missionaries and Christian expatriates. Our departure will leave a big hole in her roster and budget.

So I feel bad. I wish we were staying another year, just for her sake. But then… a year from now, what would be different? We’d be having the same tensions, sadness, anxieties, and fears anyway. Just a year later.

So yeah, I feel myself shifting – with a mere six months ahead of us here – into early departure planning: mentally sorting out the toys and books – what to take, what to leave; mentally marking small items to gift to Dhurata and her family (a sweater for her, a backpack for her older son); thinking about whom to contact in the US about preschool recommendations, thinking about how to organize our home back in the States. We’re toying with the idea of moving to a bigger house, maybe somewhere in the county, although if we stay in the city we might be able to get Illyria into a dual-immersion bilingual kindergarten program the year after next which would be FABULOUS (English/Spanish).

And this is familiar too; this living with one foot in either world, neither entirely here nor entirely there. I have to be careful not to do it so much because then I’m never really present where I am.


February 13, 2012

Today in Tirana it’s pouring rain; dignified old men walk under black umbrellas, and chattering schoolgirls cluster under flower-colored ones. Here in our little Balkan hinterland unprecedented quantities of snow are falling on the high mountains in the north; it’s almost a Grimm cliche, but wolves have even been coming into the villages in advance of the ten feet of snow that hit this weekend. Corruption having siphoned off the diesel for the snowplows, people are homebound and without electricity. But here in the capital it’s just rivers of rain and more rain.
My mom left in the pre-dawn hours five days ago, and I miss her. But I’m also trying to tease out why her visit was somewhat disappointing. It was good to see her, to hear her voice, to hug her closely. But I didn’t feel the joyful contentment I imagined that I would. She seemed low-energy and tentative, on unfamiliar ground, and spent a lot of time reading novels. I couldn’t help but compare her to my MIL who was a bundle of non-stop energy playing with the kids. And my mom did play with the kids, but it seemed like she would usually wait until I asked her to. And while I appreciated her help with little household tasks I also felt bad when she did things like wash the dishes – I felt like I should be waiting on her instead.

She had an awkward experience in the grocery store early on, when she went by herself to look for chicken breasts and left without buying anything when she discovered they didn’t carry fresh meat there; two men followed her across the street and one came with her all the way up to the door of our apartment – it scared and upset her – when I opened the door, the man said he was looking for the dentist. So strange. She said she thought they suspected her of shoplifting. So I went back with her a little later to buy something or other we needed, and to gauge the owner’s reaction to me (they know us well there) – sure enough, he looked at my mom, looked at me, and got this “oh shit oh shit oh shit” look on his face. Then he said “Excuse me for the men following her, they just wanted to offer to help her if she needed anything.” Right.

It doesn’t matter that she has a US passport, she is small and dark and speaks English with an accent and will never be treated – save by family and close friends – the way someone would be who looks the way people expect an American to look, to sound, to move.

After some thought, she said of the incident “well, it’s right that they should be careful and should check on people who come in and out without buying anything.” And she had no more problem with it. But I still kind of do.

Ugh, I don’t want this blog to just be gloomy and negative. Although it is kind of my repository for those moods, a place I can put all that dark stuff and feel the release of getting it out of my head.


We had a lovely mother-daughter lunch out one day, just the two of us. I took her to a nice place that serves “typical” Albanian food as well as the Greek and Italian fare that has become standard on most menus here. It was so relaxing to be out without the kids, to actually be able to have a conversation. I realized that I’d been spending a lot of my time with her here trying to gauge her evaluation of my parenting and wifing and life in general here, but that judgment was the farthest thing from her mind. A lot of her thoughts were with my dad, back in Peru by himself. He is not well, and hasn’t been well for over 20 years, and it’s hard on them both to be apart. They’re hoping to come together in April, hoping he will be strong enough for the trip. And one evening, late, as she hugged me goodnight, she said “tu eres una buena mamita.” And that – such simple words – made such a big difference to me.


A commenter suggested some time ago that one reason I’m perhaps more tense when Gimli is around is that I’m looking to him for approval, especially of my parenting. I’ve been watching this, sort of monitoring my inner state, and I think it is to a large extent true. His default mode of conversation and interaction is teasing banter, largely of the insult genre, and I know, I know that it is his way of showing affection. But it can be hard for me, when it comes to something that consumes me 18 hours a day and that I take extremely seriously, to respond in the same vein. I think I was looking to my mom for the same thing.


In the “perfect moment Mondays” vein, I’ve been trying to pay attention to the small perfect moments with the kids as they come. Like when Oz pointed at the red circle of light on the ceiling from my headlamp one night and said “sun.” Or the way he throws his arms around my neck, leans back and kisses me, then lunges in again for a surprisingly strong squeeze. And the way he’ll – how can I describe this? – he’ll see something that charms him, and he’ll go into this little crouch with his hands in front of his mouth, squirrel-like, smiling squint-eyed and wrinkled nose, fingers out like little birds’ beaks, and chirp.

Illyria’s favorite game is “boing-boing” – she jumps on the bed holding dad’s hands, then he’ll give her a little push and she’ll fall back shrieking in laughter. She also likes to play “try again” – dad will lie on his side on the bed, and she’ll jump up, kick both her feet into his butt, and then bounce down again. Three year old exuberance. She has mastered a 100-piece puzzle, and is actually learning to read – around 40 words she knows by sight, and can spell out with blocks. I was astonished yesterday to look at her magnetic drawing pad and see that she had written the word “fox,” completely without prompting or guidance whatsoever. When I lie down with her at bedtime she’ll throw an arm around my neck and say “awwww.”

So there’s my Monday morning brain-dump. To those of you still reading – a heartfelt thanks for sticking around. I’m so behind on commenting it’s not even worth commenting on (ha ha). There’s been so much really good, thought-provoking stuff coming through my reader in the past couple of weeks, I have a bunch of posts marked to respond to more thoughtfully, soon, I hope. Now tell me, if you’re still here – just as a way of saying “hi, I’m here” –

Salty or sweet?



January 23, 2012

My mom is here!

My mom is here. Right now she’s playing puzzles with Oz and Illyria while I play hooky from my Albanian lesson. This morning Illyria saw her, paused, and then broke into a shy smile of recognition as she climbed into my lap. Oz was very suspicious, until my mom began to play a game of peek-a-boo and then did a little dance step – he was charmed.

I’m bottomed out in my sleep reserves; her flight came in around midnight and I went to the airport to pick her up. It was strange to be out so late at night by myself. Then of course Oz greeted the dawn at 5:30 a.m. even though he didn’t fall asleep last night until after 10. Very unusual for him – I think both kids sensed something was afoot because neither of them went down easy. So I only got about 3 hours of sleep and am just counting down until nap time.

Over the past few weeks, I didn’t let myself believe she was coming. I never said “my mom is coming,” I only said “my mom is planning to come… is supposed to be coming…” It wasn’t up until the very last minute that I even began to behave as if she was coming – making up her bed, finding clean towels to lay out, buying extra house slippers. It was like how you hold off on buying baby thing until the 9th month (or even later).

It’s so good to have her here.

The requisite post about goals and resolutions

January 5, 2012

Welcome to 2012!

I’m still sort of mulling over in my mind the requisite retrospective on 2011, meanwhile penning multiple (albeit short) lists of resolutions.

Yesterday morning at 7:45 I headed down the hall to wake Gimli up for work. Oscar was stomping along in front of me in his sister’s shoes, and I scooped him up in one arm and swung him into my hip so he wouldn’t make quite so much noise. As I straightened, the walls tilted and spun and I caught myself with the other arm against the wall to keep from falling over.

It scared me.

I took a deep breath, then hefted myself away from the wall, took two steps and had to find the wall again. The word “swoon” comes to mind as the perfect word to describe the feeling of the room spinning around me, the way gravity went out of balance/alignment, the way my head felt. Vertigo.

I waited a little longer this time, and when I stood up again I was fine.

I’m not sure if it was from lack of sleep, dehydration, or wonky blood pressure – or all of the above – but it scared me and scares me still when I think about it, especially because I had Oz in my arms.


This year, my top resolution is to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol through diet and exercise. I don’t want to become dependent on medications to keep my bp low, although I will if I have to. I’m too young for that (so much for aging gracefully). One of my college frenemies has become an ardent vegan, and thanks to his persistent posts and links on FB I’ve decided that my second resolution is to decrease consumption of meat. I don’t think I’m ready to go vegan, or even vegetarian at the moment, but I’ve realized that my favorite 3-4 dishes to cook are, unintentionally, vegan. But I still enjoy the occasional steak, and we can’t get stuff here like tofu that would make me feel better about the kids getting enough protein (Oz won’t eat eggs or cheese so that kind of limits us as well). So I’m not sure where I’m going to fit the exercise in – ideally I’d like to work in a combination of yoga and pilates somewhere – but I think the first two resolutions do dovetail nicely. And will hopefully preclude any further dizzy spells. Because that – did I mention? – was scary.


I sat down this morning (back at Cheers! Yay!) and added up my work hours over the past year, working out the monthly average for the year, and quarterly. The encouraging result is that from the first quarter to the last I more than tripled my monthly average of work time, and overall showed a steady increase. My best month was August, when we didn’t go anywhere and didn’t have any visitors. I have an abstract to write for this year’s professional conference in November, and I HAVE to finish transcribing my interviews so I can do some proper data analysis. I have about 7 hours’ worth to go. And I realized that I really should start thinking about job applications… it’s early, to be sure, but I need to be in a position to start interviewing at the conference in November. Gimli has said he’s willing to relocate to any place I can find a job, and is encouraging me to look outside the US (of course). But on the other hand, a friend of ours who teaches at the big state university in our city in the States sort of gave me a tip that there are plans afoot to dramatically expand the humanities and social sciences programs there in the coming year or three, and my specialization would position me extremely well for a strong application there. So there’s that. Lots to think about in both the short and long term.

I was mulling over Magpie Days’ post on goals (she’s an American poet living in Switzerland), and what it made me think was that even though one might not have reached or exceeded one’s goals for the year, there is still value in setting the goals – let’s say you only achieve 60% of your goal; what if you hadn’t set the goal at all? Or what if you had set a much more modest goal? 60% of a more modest goal would be much less than you actually achieved, and 60% of zero is zero. So maybe it doesn’t matter if I failed – by a really long shot – to meet my original goals for 2011. I did a lot more than nothing, and I am a lot closer now to my ultimate goal of a PhD than I was last January. So I’m choosing to think positive about this one and not beat myself up about it. At least for today.


And I do have another goal for 2012 – to read every post on the 2011 Creme de la Creme list (and the 2010 one because I missed that one almost entirely).


Best to all who stop by here, for 2012. May your deepest wishes come true.