Random thoughts on wellbeing

September 11, 2018

I just finished eating a truly delicious breakfast: avocado omelette, watermelon-ginger-blackberry-peach smoothie, blackberry bran muffin, coffee. I made it all myself! And I feel a good 40% happier than before I ate it.

Tuesdays seem to be easier to handle than Mondays.

Sleep is so key to wellbeing.

I worry a lot about Illyria. My meditation app says that since I started this program I’ve meditated for 18 hours and 28 minutes (although some of that was my husband using it for the sleep meditation). I think it has a net positive effect on my overall baseline happiness level – or, to put it another way, the world feels a little lighter, a little more richly hued, softer, better. I wish I could get my kids to meditate with me more often.

But as I finished this morning’s meditation I felt a physical sensation on my chest, like a heavy flat piece of stone resting on my sternum. In my mind were two pictures of Illyria when she was about a year old, taken by her nanny at the time – “a rare smile!” the nanny had captioned it. Another picture, another day, showed her looking forlornly through the screen door, all melancholy. I think this was closer to her baseline state when she was away from me. Knowing what I know now about attachment, about my daughter’s own particularities, I wonder if I would have done the same thing trying to continue my graduate work after she was born? She still wants me to sleep next to her, she wants me to hold her hand or put my hand on her back as she drifts off to sleep. She wants to see me there when she wakes up in the night.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, but I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

I once asked a friend in undergrad if he was glad he’d majored in philosophy, since he seemed, I don’t know, pained by it in some way (I later learned more about his personal life that makes me think this pain probably came from our evangelical college’s stances on what we euphemistically called “lifestyle” issues at the time). But he thought for a moment and then said, “I feel glad in the way that you would be glad you had had heart surgery. It’s not something you enjoy, but without it you might die. You need it.”

That notion has stayed with me for a long time. How hard and painful things can be necessary for life, for thriving.

What heart surgery do I need to do today?

Baby Val


imposter syndrome (and other various things in my life right now)

September 4, 2018

[Bottom line up front – if you haven’t checked out the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, it’s amazing. Give it a listen – you won’t be sorry! Thanks Tara for the recommendation!]

We all get imposter syndrome sometimes, right? Now that I’m finally alone with myself for an extended stretch of time, those howling inner voices are really screaming – telling me my doctorate was not legitimate (my committee just passed me to get rid of me); I’m a fraud as an evaluator (I can’t do quantitative analysis worth beans); I know nothing deep about the country I’m living in; I exist on a superficial plane, all surface, no substance.

My goal for this season in my life is to get my name in print. I have a list as long as my arm of projects and ideas, all under development in different stages – a children’s fantasy, an edited volume in my doctoral field, a combination oral history/memoir, a post-apocalyptic world, several articles for journals and/or conferences coming up in the next two years.

I’m so jealous of what I see as “real writers,” anyone and everyone who is promoting their work on twitter – why can’t I be you?

Why can’t I?

It is unbelievable the amount of freedom and support I have to do this, though. My husband is working three jobs to cover our cost of living, private school for the kids, and plenty left over for travel and extras. He likes it, and he’s at the stage in his career where he’s in high demand – he has to turn down at least 4-5 projects a year because he just doesn’t have time to do it all and still be present with the family. Financially, I don’t need to work, although I’d still like to be teaching, like, one university level class.

Since moving back to Albania, I’ve embraced the stay/work-at-home mom thing in ways that have astonished both me and Gimli – especially with the cooking. In Colombia, he did basically all the cooking (to the point to where I felt like he was controlling everything I ate). Now he just cooks on weekends, and I do all the meal planning (like, a weekly menu! It’s so much fun!), and nearly all the housework. I know part of it is living in the home of an Albanian family, who are solidly traditional in terms of gender roles – and Albanian women are extremely house-proud, so this has forced me to step up my game. Even scrubbing the front steps! There is something strangely satisfying about it.

I suppose after all those years working for peace in Colombia,* it is super satisfying to do work where you see immediate, tangible results – where you can directly see the results of your labor as dirt and crud gets washed away, as a peaceful and tidy home emerges from the elbow grease.

A few months ago the kids found a video on the iPad that they had recorded in Colombia, a tour of our apartment, and I was HORRIFIED at how chaotic, messy, cluttered, and dirty it was. MORTIFIED. Just… piles of STUFF on every surface, all the pets (we had a guinea pig, two hamsters, and four birds – all in the living room), beds unmade, toys all over the floor… It reflected my inner life, to be sure.

So I’m working in being more self-disciplined now too. I stopped playing Candy Crush, stopped surfing Twitter before bed, am working on establishing a steady meditation/yoga practice in the mornings. I have a pretty good rhythm going with the housework (and, full disclosure, I have help twice a week for dusting and floors), and we’ve started the kids on a real, actual chores schedule. So, the discipline and order of their school schedule really helps give real structure to my life as well.

I’ve been listening to a podcast recommended by a dear friend, called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text; in one of the episodes Vanessa Zoltan says something about “a karmic gift you give your future self” – I can’t remember what she was referring to exactly, but it was along the lines of applying self-discipline in not-fun ways that pay off in the future. Anyway, I think about it with sleep. My sleep habits while in the US were ABYSMAL. I couldn’t stand the company of my miserable thoughts, so I would web surf til 2 or 3 a.m. (which, omg, SO DEPRESSING) and then force myself awake before 8 to get the kids breakfast. I can’t live on that. So by sequestering myself from my phone at night, and avoiding alcohol, I have actually been able to live my days with energy and alertness instead of dragging through on coffee and miserable willpower.

So, somehow I’ve managed to write myself out of the funk I was in when I sat down here at my desk this morning. Let’s keep this pivot going then – here are three things I feel good about myself for today:

~  Yesterday through two phone conversations in Albanian, and one in English, I organized a new school pick-up system for the greater good of all involved.

~  Yesterday I made banana bran muffins for snacks and meatballs for the school lunches that both turned out YUM.

~ Today I will meditate and that will make me happier.

~  I remind myself that I am a good person, worthy to be loved, capable of doing good work.

Peace out.



*If you don’t follow the news on Colombia, the peace deal that was brokered between the government and the leading guerrilla group after 60 years of conflict, well, it has not lived up to its promise for a lot of complicated reasons that mostly boil down to greed and the extreme lucrativeness of the cocaine industry, and basically nothing in recent politics points to anything hopeful. So, that sucks.  

Peace and Quiet

August 31, 2018

Finally – at home alone, no appointments, no interruptions, no big errands to run today – just a couple of phone calls – and it’s Friday so I don’t have to think about dinner and packing lunches for tomorrow, hallelujah and hurray.

We’re getting our sea legs for this school year, still. A good first day, but when the adrenaline rush was over Illyria especially has been depleted, worn out, and cranky. She possibly has an ear infection, something anyway, which we’ll get looked at tomorrow morning, which I can only assume is affecting her energy and mood (no pain, no fever, but hearing is reduced). But Oz is having a lot of fun; his biggest complaint is that I don’t salt his lunch enough.

I’m focusing a lot of energy on improving our eating habits. We all gained weight while in the US, as we always do; now we are walking a lot more again, and I started using a mindfulness app to launch myself into what I hope becomes a steady meditation discipline and practice. Illyria was so down on herself yesterday; just so much negative self-talk – wishing she was somebody else, somebody thinner, older, cooler – it hurts my heart, and so acutely reflects my own inner monologue… I want to help her get out of this spiral too. So grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and packing lunches has consumed more of my time than usual. What I’ve been doing is doubling amounts of what I make for dinner and packing half in their lunch (they have access to a microwave if they want to heat their lunch at school).

My intellectual side feels a little starved. I haven’t done any serious writing or reading in too long. I’m dredging up the dormant projects, looking to see what needs to be prioritized.

Meanwhile, perfecting my breakfast muffin game.



Mother, Scholar, Witch?

August 27, 2018

When I put the purple witch’s hat on my head, I knew it was mine. When I added a black costume cloak I felt a surge of contentment and happiness for the first time since arriving in Virginia this summer.

I don’t think I mentioned it here, but we moved back to Albania a year ago, with a “let’s see how this goes” mindset, and by spring realized that all our conversations about “next year” presumed staying on. Yet the day we left was one of the worst days I’ve had here; I got into a shouting match with our landlady’s son (who lives on the floor below) about who could have access to our flat while we were gone – about a 2-month time span. Ugh, I won’t go into the whole play by play but it was awful.

We spent two weeks in Colombia then, reconnecting with people and places – prioritizing what had been important in our children’s lives. The trip was for them, not for us. Then on our last day there, my daughter had a playground accident which landed us in the emergency room for 5 hours. She got four stitches in her heel and we were cleared to fly the next day, but it was traumatic.

So our “home leave,” vacation, summer month in the US was colored by all these things, and then Gimli left us in the basement of his parent’s retirement cottage (sharing their kitchen and car) for two weeks. I had insomnia; the voices in my head when all was quiet were unbearable and I’d web surf for hours until I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. I didn’t want to see anybody, do anything. I was walking on eggshells trying to learn all the house rules while processing the intensity of all the transitions going on.

The local library had a Harry Potter birthday party, so of course we had to get costumes to attend – it was really fun and I revelled in it.


When Gimli came back, as soon as he was more or less recovered from his jet lag, we dragged the kids north to our grad school institution; we got an AirBnB with backyard chickens and spent two lovely days seeing a few of my favorite relatives, long-time grad school friends, and my academic advisor and her husband – who took us on a walk to the nearby falls and it was like being with family; I don’t think we even talked about academia much.

That trip re-fueled and refreshed me more than I can say.

Which got me thinking – what was it about those two moments that made me feel so much myself? What has been missing that has made me feel not-myself, and if not-myself then who is it I’ve been pantomiming?

I was thinking about this again today, through the idea that we are people through other people – what was it in those moments that made me feel seen, known, understood for who I fully feel and believe myself to be? My aunt in upstate NY pulled out her genealogical charts and stacks of old photographs while we were there; perhaps that was the moment that I began to feel the unfurling of a dormant sense of self start to emerge again. These are my people; this is who I come from.

But her pages do not represent all my people; speaking Spanish with my advisor (who is my mother’s age), celebrating books and reading and waterfalls with my children and husband; being able to wear a purple witch’s hat and fitting right in… all these things mixed in together somehow.

I don’t really know quite how to make sense of all of this, just that I realized in the finding of that feeling of being myself that I had lost it prior, at some point. And I really want to hang on to it now.



August 24, 2018

So I finally hit on a new blog name that I like – “Movable Type” (see above). This is my third iteration; the original blog, titled “the I Word,” was on Blogspot, and the name gestured towards my inability (or unwillingness) to talk publicly about my in/subfertility. But family members found it, so I moved to WordPress and changed the name to Project Progeny (gesturing towards my fondness at the time of Project Runway).

Movable Type is about writing and publishing, but it’s also who I am – I am a movable type of person. I see myself as a global nomad; I was raised interculturally and come from generations of migration and intercultural marriage. I’m an anthropologist studying migration; I’m an expat; with my even more nomadic husband we’re raising our kids interculturally as well.

I feel a lot of different ways about this.

So the url here won’t change; Project Progeny and The I Word are all here in the archives. I haven’t updated my blog links in the sidebar in literally years but I’m looking to get back in the game.


August 23, 2018

I’m thinking of re-titling this blog Write Space. It’s what I really want from it – a virtual space to write in. A web-log of life.

I’m pivoting, slowly. It’s been a weird summer.

A while ago – I can’t even register how much time it has been – a year? Two? – I interviewed scores of people who have participated in a church-based exchange program for young adults, from different regions of the world. The oldest was 72, and had gone from southeast Asia to Indiana half a century ago. The youngest was 20, and had returned just four months prior. The main focus of the research was to assess notable impacts of the program in the lives of participants and in their communities. One pattern that emerged for me as I listened to story after story was that it took participants about five to ten years to really get a grip on what the impact of one year abroad had been for them. It took that long for people to be able to look back and trace the line from experiences they had had then, or people they had met then, to who and where they were now.

I think about that as I struggle to assess what the last few beats in my life have meant – achieving a doctoral degree, living and working for five years in Colombia, the return to Albania – this summer weirdly compressed all those aspects of the last decade of my life into an incredibly short time frame and I…. did not handle it well. There was drama. Add to it a tween daughter who finds me and her beloved grandmother mortally embarrassing to be around… and let’s face it, the current political climate in the US is nothing short of stressful… (blue voter here, just for the record).

So I’m trying to pivot. I have an idea for the next phase of my life; I’m just trying to dredge up the courage and self-discipline to see if I can make it work.

Fork in the Road

August 5, 2018

Welp, it’s been a while. I’m still here. I’m thinking about a rebirth for this blog; “project progeny” continues in terms of parenting my now 10 and 8 year old kids, but my life is no longer focused around procreation and as blogging genres go, it’s just not what I’m writing about here anymore.

I think I’ve pretty solidly hit midlife, with all the introspection and angst that goes with that (not that introspection and angst are anything new to my usual mode of being, I’ve just felt unusually stuck recently), and the themes of work and career as they intersect with identity are foremost in my mind. I have a lot of thoughts and I think I’d like to chronicle them – process on the page – a bit more.

So, I don’t know if I’ll keep this blog but rename it, or just start a new one with an entry here serving as the jumping off point, but I’m leaning towards the latter. It’s so easy to set up a new blog…  in terms of creating space to write, it’s also something of a symbolic step.

Don’t know if anyone is still reading… but anyway, here goes.

Baby Terror

March 3, 2017

So our pair of hamsters had babies… three of them. It was not a huge shock but still a bit of a surprise… almost immediately I became overwhelmed with fear and anxiety about these little things, these tiny translucent pink creatures with shadowy shut eyes.

My husband tells me that even if they die, even if their mother eats them, it doesn’t mean I am a bad mother. but it’s so hard for me to separate. As I shut down my computer at work, before I open my eyes in the morning, I wonder are they still alive?

I feed the hamsters bits of boiled egg, slivers of cheese, cups of sunflower seeds. I hover anxiously. Gimli says it’s bringing back memories of when our own kids were babies, the constant obsessive anxious attention.

We haven’t named them yet.

Obligatory NY post?

January 2, 2017

Last year I made a LOT of goals and resolutions. Some of them I kept, some of the time. This year I have a lot of things in mind that I’d like to do (publish an article, put together a panel for the next Anthropology meetings, perhaps begin to write creatively again) and one thing I MUST do: get a job. Our contract ends in October but we’ve told our boss that we plan to leave in June or July. What comes next is at best nebulous. There are some employment possibilities for Gimli, but none in the place where I most want to live. So I’m hunting. Impostor syndrome does a number on me though.

Some great things happened this past year; I wrote a chapter for an edited volume that should be coming out next year, and I got the opportunity to work on some really exciting (to me) projects at work that are ongoing this winter. I got to teach an online class (on NGO ethics) and loved every minute of it. I applied for and was offered a non-teaching university position, which although I turned it down (the timing was terrible and the pay was less than motivating) it was nice to be wanted.

I got to meet Pam!


As we prepare to leave Colombia, I don’t want it to be with the lingering bitter taste that threatens to overwhelm all other flavors. I was talking with my sister-in-law about this – realizing how much pain and anger there was in our work team when we arrived (because of something that happened a few months before we arrived), and it had nothing to do with us, but we absorbed a lot of it and it colored our whole experience as well as our responses to things and people. She suggested I spend some time processing non-verbally, whatever that may mean for me, to find out what I want to take with me, what I want to leave behind, and what I want to throw to the wind.

Protected: Something I’ve been trying to write for a very long time

January 2, 2017

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