Tuesday, 29 November 2011

It starts with Turkey

Three years ago, Pete and I called our families and friends from a hotel in Istanbul to tell them the moment they had been expecting the past 3 years finally happened.  We were engaged. 
It seems a long time ago and at the same time, not so long ago.  We had spent the previous summer apart.  Our second bout of long-distance relationship-ing.  For those of you that still are long-distancing or have ever long-distanced.  My heart goes out to you.  It is tortuous. 
My lovey returned home Sunday afternoon and we are immediately back to what feels like long-distance again.  It feels like ages since I have been home and taking care of business.  We left for Morocco on October 8th.  When we returned 18 days later, I had two very busy, non-usual, weeks before leaving for The States for a month.  When I return home on December 6th it will be almost two months since I have had a regular schedule for housewifing and writing and working. 
On my first run after the gluttonous event that was Thanksgiving  week(end) I was thinking about how much I missed my usual running route but also about how much I missed my life. 
Being away from home and routine can sometimes feel like being in a kind of limbo.  I’m not talking about vacations, but more those necessary trips so common to us expats like family visits, visa visits, admin visits.  Those visits where you return to a place that should feel familiar, that is a part of you, but doesn’t really fit who you are anymore.  You hang between your past and current self.  You spend the days continually negotiating the space between these identities.  Or at least I do when there is nothing on TV and the cats are responding to my attempts to play with them. 
I find it next to impossible to get anything done during these trips.  This may be due to my own lack of self-motivation, but mostly I spend my time trying to come to some routine that works.  Routines are very important to me.  I find it very hard to function without one.  That’s not to say I can’t roll with it when I must, but on a day to day basis I like to know what I am doing when.  This doesn’t happen when I am away. 
Getting back to the Turkey.  It was appropriate for Pete to wait for Thanksgiving.  First, it’s one of my favourite holidays, right after Halloween, second, it is the time my family traditionally celebrates my birthday along with my Dad’s and Aunt’s.  I went into my thirties an engaged woman.  An identity I never expected or wanted until I met Pete.  Of course, I spent my actual birthday taking care of Pete and then eventually puking myself because we were foolish enough to drink the water in Istanbul, but let’s skip over that. 
I was thinking of all these things as I ran and I was thinking that I could never planned the life I am currently living.  As a young girl in Sheffield Lake I don’t know if I dared to think this kind of life was possible.  I know I had wistful dreams of being an explorer or a dancer or an actress, but I don’t think I ever really took those seriously.  Sheffield Lake is not a place that nurtures dreams. 
Today I am going back to Sheffield Lake to be a guest teacher in my old middle school.  I am teaching a class about Geography.  I know it is only a day, only one class, but maybe it will help a student dream of something bigger than Sheffield Lake and take that dream seriously.

Three years ago, I was in Turkey for Thanksgiving (which until that point had been just a joke on Everyone Loves Raymond) and was living a life that seemed impossible to a younger Ariel.  I was also embarking on a life that I hadn’t even gotten around to dreaming about as a younger Ariel.  Somehow, that moment I said ‘yes,’ and those few days in Istanbul, have come to mean so very much to me and who I am.
And here’s the thing, for as much as I like my daily routines, my larger life timeline and history happened almost entirely by chance or spur-of-the-moment decisions.  In the last year, as I slowly come out of a very dark time in which I thought I was a huge failure and life was one big screw-up after another, I have begun to realize that my obsession with planning everything is a bit of a an anchor.  When I just go with ‘it,’ ‘it’ seems to produce benefits, whereas when I attempt to plan my life, I end up in Limbo.  On the couch, trying to produce something and spinning my wheels. 

This Thanksgiving, and the end of The Days of Thanks, I am thankful for all the unexpected and unplanned moments and decisions in my life that have led me here.  Despite all my complaining, I am very happy.  Perhaps more happy than I have ever been. 

Turkey for all!!!!

I hope your Days of Thanks have been equally as illuminating and wonderful and send you into the holiday and end of year with a big smile and goodwill toward all.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a large pimple on my nose that needs attention.  It’s like my body knows I’m going to a middle school today and wanted to make sure I fit in, or at least knock me down a peg.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

To the Finish*

12-11.  Old Friends
I spent the weekend catching up with old friends.  Except calling them old friends seems off somehow.  They have been my friends for over at least 10 years now, and some have been around my entire life, so I guess that qualifies as ‘old’ but I still keep in regular contact with them via the wonder that is the internet.  The term ‘old’ friend brings up images of people you haven’t spoken to in years and are surprised, on meeting up, that they have grown or shrunk or have three kids hanging off them. 
It’s funny, though.  We don’t have a lot to catch up on.  Life is just puttering on as usual.  There are no great adventures to detail or relationship drama to discuss.  We have all settled into that part of life where it is an even keel with occasional swells here and there but nothing really to write home about.  That’s not to say we don’t enjoy hearing about the gentle sways of domestic life, but the meet-ups become more an opportunity to see each other.  To remember what the voice of your friend sounds like and to recognize the familiar gestures, again. 
That’s a lot of babble and just a long way of saying that I am very thankful for the friends that have stuck with me despite my ‘foreign’ resident status. 

10-9.  Mum’s foot
Well, not really.  But her unexpected sprain on Friday night provided the opportunity to do some returns Monday morning which resulted in some Christmas shopping as well. 
We still aren’t sure how she did it.  One second she was fine, the next she was on the ground.  I would say too much wine, but she didn’t drink any (as far as I know, maybe she was sneaking some on her trips to the bathroom).  Luckily, due to the pack-rat tendencies of the house (or the ability to see prop/scenery potential in every item) there were a few foot related medical supplies (a ‘moon’ boot and crutches) around the house to keep her mobile.  The doctor says she should be good to go in a few weeks and added yet another item to the medical-themed costume/prop shop in the basement.
However, this does mean that there is only room for two people on the couch in the TV room, but I watch too much as it is. 
So, I am thankful that I was around to get her to the doctor on Monday and look forward to seeing how the new addition to the costume shop turns up in one of her classroom productions.

8.  Cheap tickets
I am the first to lament the days of classy travel.  I physically shudder whenever I see adults in a velour tracksuit, or any such attire that could classify as pajamas, checking in at the counter.  I’m all for comfort and I understand that the seats are getting smaller and comfort is less and less important in Standard class flying, but take a little care.  Please!! 
However, that being said, I am thankful Pete can get a cheap-ish flight (it’s all relative, really) to come over for Thanksgiving weekend.  It is a big sacrifice on his part. It’s a long way to go for just a few days and he is taking a red-eye back to work, which I know will bite him in the ass, but I am overly excited to pick him up from the airport. 
I think the family is probably excited to see him too.  (Maybe more than they are to see me).

*I am ending the Days of Thanks on Thanksgiving.  It seems appropriate as my head immediately turns to my birthday and Christmas by Saturday.  Also, let's be honest, I will just assign the last few days to Pete like I did last year.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Risking my neck

13.  Scary stuff

OOOHHH!  Lucky 13 on a Friday.  This could go horribly wrong. 

You know that Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do something that scares you every day.”?  I have been thinking a lot about that idea for the last few weeks.  Ever since I participated in an online course about ‘finding your path’ in life.  I know, it’s a bit heavy, but it was an interesting exercise.  I didn’t learn too much I didn’t already know about myself, but I did come away with this idea of doing something that takes courage every day. 
I’m not talking about slaying dragons or jumping off cliffs, here.  Although if the opportunity presents itself and you’re mildly interested, go for it.  I’m talking about simple things that can sometimes feel monumental. 

Making the phone call you have been putting off.
Wearing the ‘too loud’ colour (even if it’s just around the house).
Attempting the impossible recipe.
Writing the long-shot application.
Wearing the red lipstick.
Declaring your occupation ‘Writer’ on the immigration form.
Hell, on some days just getting out of bed can feel impossible.   

Because you might fail or feel uncomfortable, but what if you don’t?  This is the part that I try to concentrate on, ‘What if I don’t fail?’  What if that burnt orange colour looks fabulous on me?  What if that application is noticed this time? 
Until recently I have been making decisions about my life in the opposite manner.  I would only attempt things I knew I could accomplish (or was too cocky to think I couldn’t).  And this served me well, but it also limited me and taught me to be a bit afraid of hard work. 
Don’t get me wrong, that bloody PhD was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I knew when I started it that I could do it. 

Yesterday, I went to a new yoga class.  I was a bit apprehensive.  I haven’t properly practiced in months and these ladies looked serious.  I mean they had all the gear and the outfits and the leader had arms like carved marble.  Within a few minutes I knew this was going to be a challenging class.  I started to freak out a bit.  Up until now, I have been one of the more ‘advanced’ students in all my yoga classes.  This was not going to be the case here.  I was behind in the sequence and my arms were already wobbling.  I kept breathing and moving and I began to feel a bit more calm.  I remembered that yoga isn’t about pushing into crazy poses, but listening to your body and finding its strengths or flexibilities.  It’s not about force. 
I don’t buy into most of the spiritual side of Yoga.  What can I say, I’m full up.  But I did find a freedom in not being the ‘advanced’ student.  I was able to concentrate on my own practice and body with the knowledge that no one was looking to me as an example.  I was able to take the posture further if I wanted, but could also take it easy if I wasn’t comfortable.  I really connected with what my body was capable of and also pushed it a bit. 
But apparently not far enough.  During a ‘camel’ sequence I was taking the easier pose (which to me felt difficult enough) when the instructor approached and gently suggested I go a bit further.  I was apprehensive and she could tell in my body, I tensed up.  But she also saw in my body that I could go further and when I started to freak out a bit (about falling on my head and cracking my neck in the process and then being paralysed and unable to return home….) she offered support, physically and verbally.  ‘I know you can do this, I can see it in your body. I got you.’  It was such a simple thing. 
And I did.  I did it fairly easily.  I was scared (in a mild sense) but I did it.  And it felt really good.  I remembered why I practice.  I didn’t push it and attempt the headstand, one potential neck injury is enough, thank you.  That one instance in that one posture was enough. 

Today I am thankful for the potentially scary stuff each day brings.  I don’t always succeed at tackling them, but I always learn something.  For example, I shouldn’t wear red lipstick. 

*still house-daughtering, not nearly as fun and rewarding as housewife-ing (see, scary stuff)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Getting it right, finally

14.  Grooming
I know it sounds superficial and flighty. 
Yesterday I went to renew my licence.  I was dreading it all morning.  I just knew the picture would be everything I hated about taking pictures.  The fluorescent light has a way of picking up on my barely-there wrinkles and making me appear to be a witch in some Grimm fairytale, greasy hair and all.
When I finally sat down for my picture, after walking a few windblown blocks to find an ATM that wouldn’t charge me a ridiculous fee because I forgot the DMV doesn’t accept debit cards and the $15 I had on me wasn’t enough for a new licence, I was not holding out much hope for the photo. 
I attempted a quick finger brush of the hair and re-application of some lip gloss.  I appreciate the tiny hand mirror they place there on the wall, but unless I can see my whole face in it, I’m really just guessing. 
I sat down in front of the blue curtain with my best guess of a smile (not too happy, not to stoic and not frowning, seriously, because sometimes when I smile it looks like I am frowning.  I don’t understand how my face does it, but it is all over the wedding album)
and ‘3…2…flash…1’
Did you get that?  She took the picture before she said ‘one.’  How fair is that?! 
Regardless, the result didn’t turn out bad, with the exception of some wider than normal eyes, the flash caught me unaware. 

Today I am thankful that after at least two decades of daily fussing with my hair, skin and make-up I finally have a routine and assemblage that allows me to take decent DMV photos. 

It really is the little things.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The fabric of my life

15. Pack Rat Tendencies
When push comes to shove, I can rid myself of quite a few material possessions without too many tears or anxieties.  (We’ll just forget that moment a few years ago when I had a crying jag about my life being sold for 25 cents.)  However, there are always some items too saturated with memory to stuff in the charity bag or display on the yard sale table.  Among these items are old toys, school rewards, ancient research and T-shirts. 
Lots and lots of T-shirts.   
These things, too precious to sell or give away, are currently stored in my parents’ house.  They claim they take up too much room, but I have been down in that basement and the theatre/teaching detritus easily outweighs my few boxes and trunks.  And don’t think I haven’t noticed a few of my personal items turning up as party props…
Regardless, yesterday I identified a particular bag of clothes and decided it was time to go through it and make some decisions about what to do with the ancient items. 
Here is what I found…

It’s my life, from 16 to about 27, in T-shirts.   Kind of interesting to see it all laid out like that.  Ten years of my life, in which I became an adult (sort of) condensed down into about 15 T-shirts.  Some time periods are more prominent than others, but there it is. 
I posted this photo online yesterday and immediately got the reply back, ‘There’s a paper in there!’

Ahh, Academics.  Always mining for the next paper idea.  Publish, Publish, Publish.

I told my friend, he can have the paper.  I’m taking a different approach. 

But he was right, there is a story there.  Actually, there are a lot of stories there.  They span family vacations across the country to University activism to my first job and even all the way to the African continent. 

Lately I have been feeling words have left me.  I struggle to find a story to tell.  Sometimes I think the PhD stole all my words and stories. 
In finding that bag of t-shirts, I find there are plenty of stories still to tell and words to be found.*

Today I am thankful for the inability to throw away these T-shirts so many years ago and my parents’ ‘willingness’ to store them.  I am thankful to find the stories and words returned to me. 

*In the coming weeks and months I hope to share some of these stories with you in an attempt to revive my other blog, Rummaging in the Attic. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My passport says American

16. the American Way
This might be a bit flippant in light of the NYC activities last night, which I am only just catching up with on twitter, and which make me a bit ill, but……they also mean that I have transport for the rest of my time in the US and that makes me happy. 
A dear family friend has an extra car just sitting around and has offered it up. 
An extra car just sitting around.  How awesome is that?! 
I knew America would pull through with its rampant consumerism. 
That’s not to say that our friend is a rampant consumer. 

But I guess I am also thankful for the American Way that is being played out in squares across the country.  I have to be honest, I haven’t been following the Occupy movement.  Somewhere along the last five years I have lost my activist fervour.  I’m no longer as aware of the great issues of the day as I once was when I desperately tried to get bored Freshman to look beyond their weekend plans and campus borders. 
But I am immensely thankful that the youngish people of the US (at least some) have finally stepped up and decided to be heard. (although I guess its a mix of ages involved in the Occupy movement) At my height of activism (about 8 years ago) I was so angry that the youth of America would not open their eyes, get beyond their petty personal dramas and see that the country was going to hell.  I remember the old hippies coming out in droves to protest, reliving some of their glory days, but not many yutes (youths). 
I’m not glad of the state of the nation and I am guilty of having fled my nation and not really looked back (although it’s not heaps better in London but at least I can get my healthcare for free)  but I am thankful that the youngish people of America, even a minority, are finally speaking up and attempting to make a change. 
And who knows, maybe one of those protestors being manhandled down on Wall Street was once a bored Freshman with a really enthusiastic Geography professor.  It just took graduating and facing those student loans with no job to wake up to what she was on about back then.
A teacher can dream. 

Today I am thankful for both facets of the American Way.  There is still good in the idea of America.  We just have to find it again.
For my part, I will stop pretending to be Canadian when I travel. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Catching up

19.  Harry Potter marathons
This one has a bit of a double edge to it.  Of course I love watching Harry Potter, I will even deal with the billion commercial breaks which turn an hour and a half movie into a three hour time-suckage.  What I don’t love as much is trying to explain the third and fourth Harry Potter movies to someone that is only barely watching and interested in the first place.  Yes, Mum, I’m talking about you.
Saturday, jet-lag hit me unexpectedly and I had to cut short our ‘City Hop’ around Cleveland.  On our return home, it was late enough in the day that I didn’t want to take a nap and then wake up at 9 and be wide awake until 3 and then try to sleep.  Getting the body clock right in the first instance is hard enough.  Luckily, there was a Harry Potter marathon in progress and my favourite of the early movies was just about to start.  I settled in with a blanket and a kitten and let the wonderfulness of Harry Potter and Gary Oldman wash over me.   Who needs dinner when Harry Potter is on the telly.
I am more than happy to try and explain the intricacies of Harry Potter if you are truly interested in getting sucked in.  I would be so happy to that I could probably whip up some PowerPoint slides and timelines to aid in your education.  However, looking up from the knitting from time to time and asking a constant stream of questions and providing commentary about  the unbelievability of the scenes before you (of course it’s unbelievable, it’s a story about kid wizards!) is not so welcome.
Regardless, Harry Potter offered a bit of comfort and home when I was wiped out and there is always room for a little dose of the Weasley twins.  And yes, the identical red-haired boys standing with the red-haired family are part of that family.  So is the red-headed girl.  (Sorry Mum, I couldn’t resist.)
18.  Weight Watchers
But not because of the lost weight, although that is nice.  Sunday I was thankful for Weight Watchers because of the renewed connection with my physical self.  What I gained from Weight Watchers was a respect for my body and health and an understanding that taking care of my physical health contributes greatly to my mental health.  About a year ago I was in a deepening hole and there were so many things I was unhappy with that I couldn’t see any way to grab hold of something to be happy about.  I felt I was failing in so many ways.  Shortly before my birthday last year I read a blog post in which a woman encouraged her readers to try Weight Watchers if they were feeling unhappy about their weight due to a change in the point system.  This was one of the facets of my failure, in my eyes.  So I decided to pluck up the courage and find a meeting near me and just show up and sign up.  If nothing else, I thought it could provide me with some social contact.  I don’t know if I can explain how hard it was to make that decision and actually get out the door and on the bus to the meeting. 
The first week was hard, but at the first weigh-in I had lost three pounds.  It was only a drop in the bucket, but it was something.  It had been hard, but not impossibly hard.  It was more about paying attention.  So I kept on and eventually I was at a stone lost!  
I headed off to our Cruise feeling fabulous and healthy.  In the past three months I had lost 14 pounds and started running.  I was also happier.  Not just because of the smaller sizes in clothing but, in hindsight, because I had gained control over some aspect of myself.  When I joined up in November, I had not felt in control of any aspect of my life. 
Yesterday, almost a year since that first weigh-in and a few pounds from my ‘goal weight,’ I was running my 5K and could feel my muscles moving in synch and could feel their strength and was very thankful that I took that first step 12 months ago.  It was a catalyst for so much healthy change and I was feeling so good I decided to go for 6K (which I have only done twice before).
I did it easily enough and celebrated by wearing my new bright red trousers to the theatre that afternoon! 
(the rest of the day I was completely wiped out and could barely enjoy the matinee with Grams and Gramps, but we’ll focus on the positive.)

17.  The bookshelves
In my parents’ house there is a room with floor to ceiling bookshelves.  The books displayed here are not, by any stretch, all the books in the house, but it is the critical mass of the collection.  There are artefacts from their hippy days and travel guides too old to be useful, legions of children’s storybooks and old theatre texts, a complete set of the Illustrated Classics and of course the Tolkien series from Silmarillion to Return of the King, two Complete Works of Shakespeare, a vintage Our Bodies Our Selves and even a pocket Declaration of Independence. 
Having finished the book I brought with me I turned to the shelves with a mind to find something new to read for the next few weeks.  I ended up grabbing Gone with the Wind.  Not so new.  As a teenager I read this book at least twice.  The one I read had onionskin pages and was printed with text in two columns on each page, ‘like the bible.’  Not a few days ago I had been telling my Mum I had recently watched Gone with the Wind again on TV and it had lost none of its magic. 
After the first few pages, I can tell you, the book hasn’t either. 

Friday, 11 November 2011


20. Veterans

Not much housewife-ing going on here.  A bit of reluctant housedaughter-ing, but that is a story for another time.

Is it auspicious or superstitious?  Should we be hording water and canned goods?  The retail industry in the US is putting on massive sales for the ‘holiday’ and the ‘once in a lifetime’ date and hedging their bets either way.
Is this really the way we want to celebrate our veterans? By massive sales?
If I was home in Britain we would be wearing red poppies and observing a minute of silence while snuggled into the couch with a duvet and coffee.  Or at least I would.  Pete would still be trudging off to work. 
When did the poppies disappear in the US? As a kid I remember old men selling them outside of the grocery store.  I had no idea what they were for, but I remember those men standing, painfully, in the cold, selling these tiny red flowers. 
We have a few poppies floating around our flat from years past.  I don’t know how they survive, by the end of the winter they are usually crumbled, curled, faded bits of red paper, but they are there in a drawer somewhere.  I can’t bring myself to throw them away. 
Do you know how I learned about the poppies?  Black Adder.  The last episode of the fourth season.  No one had ever explained the significance of these red flowers.  When I actually think on it, it makes my heart weep a bit. 

If you know me, you know that I am anti-war through and through.  But I will never be anti-soldier.  I may not agree with what they are ordered to do, but I will always be thankful that there are people willing to step forward and do it. 
Now if only we treated them better on their return.  If only we thanked them with services instead of sales. 

On another completely unrelated note, it’s my Dad’s birthday and as with last year, I am thankful for his example.  On this birthday in particular.  On the eve of his retirement from decades of wage slavery, he has returned to the stage, his first love.  At a time when many people give up their dreams, he has reached out and taken this one back.  It has not been an easy road.  He is still working everyday and doing rehearsals every night, memorizing Shakespeare’s words, and fighting off a wicked cold.  But he has done it. 
The veteran player has returned to tread the boards again and found that he’s still got it.  This particular dream is not ready for the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ shelf just yet. 

Today I am thankful for those veterans that are willing to sacrifice their lives and those that rescue an almost sacrificed dream. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Home-made memories

21. Public transportation
Give me the tube, strikes and all.  I forget how difficult it is to get around in the US without a car.  I know people manage but it really is a bummer. 
Sure, the big cities have public transportation and a car is unnecessary, but the majority of the population in the US need a car to get anything done. 
This morning I drove my mum to work so I could have the car for the day and run some errands.  The first few times I get behind a wheel again I am always anxious.  It is a far cry from my driving style prior to the great migration across the ocean, but I find slow and steady allows me plenty of space to be cautious.  In the busiest lanes and at the busiest times, I find if I go the speed limit I am usually left behind the rush and have all lanes to myself and can take time with my driving decisions.
This is what happens when you stop driving for two years, drive a motorhome for six months, and then return to not driving.  You become that woman who grips the steering wheel in the 10 and 2 position and sits bolt upright. 
I can’t have music in the car anymore until I know where I am going and get the new map straight in my head. 
It is an odd thing to be unfamiliar with the place you come from.  Cleveland still stirs an emotional response in me, but it is becoming increasingly unfamiliar the more I make a home for Pete and I in Greenwich.  But that’s part of the process of growing up, yes? 
It hasn’t got to the point where everything suddenly looks smaller.  Although I have yet to return to the Lorain county suburb where I went to High School.  I haven’t been back there in close to a decade.  Wait, that’s a lie.  We went there during the wedding extravaganza for a minor league baseball game.  But as that stadium is brand new and we didn’t venture any further, I don’t think it really counts.  There was no nostalgia attached to the event.  Part of the reason I have avoided this area of town is because I am a bit fearful of what I might find there.  I am sure it no longer looks the way I remember from my childhood and bursting those memories will not be an enjoyable experience.  I like my sunny, sparkly memories of Dunny Ave and Ferndale Park and Shoreway Shopping Center as they are.  Reality might be a bitter pill.
I know memory is a relative thing.  Hell, I wrote a doctoral thesis on the shifting nature of memory (among other things) but knowing it and seeing it are two very different beasts. 
I would like to keep my memories of my childhood home as they are, for now. 

Today I am thankful for public transport, not just because I miss it, but also because the missing of it makes me mindful of the two very different places that make up my idea of ‘home.’  The one I came from and the one I am making. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Jet-Lagged Thanks

Are you still with me? 
Apologies for my absence.  The past weekend and week were a bit hectic and I didn’t make writing a priority (bad blogger/writer).
Now I am safely ensconced in my parents’ house in SouthWest Cleveland for the next month.  Without transportation.

Lord, what have I done?

Why did I think leaving my husband for a month would be a good idea? 
When I booked this trip, I thought a month away on my own would be a healthy and empowering experience.  And maybe it would if I had actually made some plans.  In an unexplained brain-dead moment I pictured spending my days catching up with old friends and doing some writing, maybe starting on that project I keep thinking about. 
But then I realized all my friends and family members have jobs and/or children.  I am the only ‘carefree’ housewife around with time to spare. 
So here I am, hanging out with the cats in my parents’ house, all the time in the world and nothing doing.  The cats make very boring housemates.  All they want to do is sleep.  Until I decide to make something to eat, then they want to fight to the death for my sandwich. 

Days of Thanks

I am behind.  Let’s see if I can get caught up quickly without too much waffling.

26. Internet Friends
This is a weird one, I know.  But in the last year I have made a few wonderful girlfriends all thanks to the internet.  Crazy.  On Saturday I met up with a few new friends in a pub to enjoy some cocktails and talk about a book.  Or at least that was the premise of our meet-up.   We didn’t do a lot of book talk.  We mostly just got to know each other and find some common ground.  Many of the women are displaced Americans which is always interesting to me.  I find it fascinating to see how other expats are blending culture and identity.  But what I found more fascinating was how many of us were currently identifying as housewives and feeling a bit ashamed about it. 
To be fair, I was ashamed about it at the beginning as well (as many readers will remember).  But the more women I met and the more I throw myself into being a housewife, the more uppity I get about that shame.  In the context of the book on the table and its thesis of declaring yourself a feminist because the work isn’t done, I will no longer feel shame or less-than for being a qualified woman that enjoys making a comfortable and happy home for her family of two.  And yes, I do enjoy it most days.  Sure there are days I resent the constant routine of housework, but how is that any different from my husband resenting the office he goes to every morning.  It is work that must be done and I am doing it.  Because it is ‘behind-the-scenes’ and unpaid it can be easy to fall into a trap of feeling like I’m not contributing.  And lord knows I have fallen into that sticky trap quite frequently.  But that trap is one that needs to be avoided.  If recent world financial history has taught us anything it should be that money does not equal ‘important’ or ‘meaningful’ contribution. 
I will not fall into that trap anymore, and I thank my new internet friends for showing me that I am not alone in my distress/enjoyment at this turn of events.  I see many housewives unite! meet-ups in our future.

25. Coupledom
Or more specifically, couple habits. 
This was our last day together for a month and between my string of minor freak-outs about packing at the last minute, we managed to throw in a few regular weekend activities to make the day seem a little more usual and spend some quality time together. 
The day before I apologized to the ladies at book club because I wanted to duck out early to spend some time with my husband before I went away.  I guess I felt that I was betraying my sex a bit by wanting to spend time with my ‘man’ over them.  They put me right straight away.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the company of your husband.  Why did I feel I needed to apologise? 
(do you sense a theme developing here?)
There is a narrative out there that after a few years husbands and wives transition from loving partners to tolerating co-habitators.  I don’t know where this comes from, but I suspect TV is to blame (it’s always a safe assumption).  How many sitcoms have we watched in which the main comedic arc has to do with some ‘relatable’ domestic argument/misunderstanding? 
Just as I will no longer feel shame at being Dr. Housewife, I will no longer be ashamed of preferring my husband’s company over anyone else’s.  We chose together forever for a reason.  Each couple has their way of operating and Pete and mine simple habits are an important part of our coupledom.

24. An extra two feet
My Monday morning flight to Cleveland via Charlotte was made all the more easier by gently encouraging my seat neighbour to take advantage of the other empty aisle seats dotted around the plane. 
This may have been a bit selfish, but I see no reason why I (and my seat neighbour) should be miserable if there is a way to make us both comfortable.  I politely refused to give up my aisle seat due to my usual travel sickness and a need to be able to escape my seat when necessary for my tiny bladder.  Luckily, the elderly gentleman to my right was just ornery enough to not ‘carry on’ in the usual British fashion but take some initiative to secure an empty aisle seat for himself a few rows up. 
The extra two feet of personal space made all the difference in that eight hour flight and made coping with a 3+ hour layover in Charlotte slightly more bearable.   I arrived in Cleveland exhausted, but in a much better mood than usual following a trans-Atlantic flight.

23. Unexpected good weather
My first day in Cleveland was an unexpected sunny and mild day.  After waffling around for three hours in the morning and finding it was still not even 9am yet (thank you body clock?) I decided to take advantage of the weather and head out for a run.  It was Tuesday Fit-day after all and I thought some morning exercise would be a great way to get into the right time zone and flush out any residual bloating from the plane. 
It wasn’t my best time or effort and the scenery along my route through a southern suburb was not as impressive as the Thames, but exercise is exercise and I was very thankful that I was able to keep up my fitness without having to find a gym.  And, if I’m completely honest, I was surprised and proud of myself for taking the initiative to make my fitness a priority. 
I’ve come a long way, baby. 

Which brings us to today…

22. Trinculo
My cat.  He resides with my parents so I only see him when I visit and it takes him a few days to figure out who I am, but he is a cutie.  We are still in the remembering phase right now, but we had a good cuddle yesterday and he is slowly resigning himself to repeated interruptions to his day-long nap. 
He has also provided a particular poignant illustration in the complex relationship between parents and adult children.  He gets grumpy with me when I relate to him in the same way I did when I left him here as a kitten.  He has obviously matured into a grumpy old cat/cheeky adolescent with new habits and preferences and I am ignoring the changes in an attempt to relive/reclaim our past relationship. 
He is only a cat, but in order to have any relationship with him I have to pay attention to his new ways and preferences and accept that he is no longer my little boy. 
Today I am thankful for my cat and the lessons he continues to teach me about family dynamics. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Two for One

You thought I forgot about you.  Not so at all.  I also did not forget about my promise last Friday. 
However, yesterday I was having one of the those great days where all your effort is validated.  I was too busy celebrating with baked goods and wine to put my gratitude into words. 
So today, you get two stories of gratitude and a soup recipe.  What a deal.

28.  A really great day
Yesterday was my first day of volunteering.  It has been a long slog to get a volunteer position anywhere and we moved our Moroccan holiday back so I could attend the interview for this position.  The slightly embarrassing part, for me, about this volunteer interview is that I applied for the position of the woman who interviewed me.   We also did our PhDs at the same university at the same time.  Regardless, I have the volunteer position and yesterday I walked to ‘work.’  It was a great fall morning.  The morning rain shower was over and it wasn’t too cold.  In a fit of optimism, to go along with my excitement about this first day, I packed a bag to hit the gym on the way home. 
The day went well.  It is a very self-directed position, but I got to show off my people skills, handled some Tudor artefacts, and proposed a new project.  Perhaps a bit overkill on the first day, but my boss sent me a very excited email at the end of the day, so I think I am on the right track.  It felt good to be back in this particular field and it validated my choice to step away from traditional Academia.
On the way home, I talked myself into actually going to the gym for my run.  Which at first I was regretting because running on a treadmill SUCKS HARDCORE after running on the street, but I sweat more than I have in a long time, so I figure that is a bonus.  When I got home and immediately ate a brownie and the last slice of pumpkin cheesecake, I felt completely justified in my snack choices. 
When the days are getting shorter and you feel your mood dimming with the sunlight, a day like yesterday is needed to remind you that it is just the season that is going dark, not your life choices.  It gives you something to talk about when the day goes dark at 3 instead of desperately looking for a re-run you can stomach watching, yet again. 
Yesterday I was thankful for this great day and the validation it brought to a very hard decision.

27.   Homemade soup
Another great part of the day was making dinner.  There are some days when I can’t be bothered making dinner.  It doesn’t usually come from exhaustion, but lack of inspiration. 
One of the contributors to our travel exhaustion at the end of Morocco was linked to food.  We were exhausted with the lack of choices.  For almost as long as we have wanted to go to Morocco, we have wanted to own a tagine.  A conical baking dish and the meal prepared within.  We kept ignoring the ones that would pop up at TK or at John Lewis.  We were determined to get an authentic one from Morocco.  After about Day 7, we were over it.  If I never see another tagine in my life, it will be too soon.   Don’t get me wrong, we had some wonderfully flavourful tangines in our 18 day adventure, but we also had a lot of not-so wonderful concoctions. 
On our first day home we made Potato Leek Soup.  It is an incredibly simple recipe.  But for some reason it is also a magical one.  I am not alone in this thought.  Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia, cited Julia Child’s version as the spark for the year-long cooking project which ‘saved’ her life.  In my kitchen it served as a bit of a saviour as well.  But for our stomachs.  I was still throwing up from my last round of Moroccan Malaise and this stayed down nicely. 
Creating this very simple meal revealed to me perhaps why I was so reluctant to eat in Morocco near the end.  I had no hand in the creation of the food.  In this last year (and a bit) as a housewife I have found much joy and inspiration in cooking.  I complain and moan and pout, but overall I find it very calming to go through the motions of creating meal from scratch and watch it come together just as it should.  When my timing and rhythm is right, the plate-ing of a dish is the equivalent of a circus TA-DA.
Today, I am thankful for home-made soup. 

2 Tbl olive oil
1.5 tsp cumin
.5 tsp coriander
.25 tsp cinnamon & red pepper flakes
1 medium red pepper (de-seeded and diced)
2 medium carrots (peeled and chopped)
850 ml veggie stock
225g split red lentils

Heat the oil in a soup pot.  Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon & pepper flakes for about 30 seconds.  Mix with the oil.  Add the pepper and carrots and cook until tender (about 5 minutes).
Add the stock and lentils and salt.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are tender (about 20 minutes).
Blend in whatever way works best for you.  I do batches in the blender with the steam vent open.  Others use a food processor. 
Serve with either a dollop of plain yogurt or onion bagel & Gruyere croutons.

* these are the measurements from the original Weight Watchers recipe.  I don't measure anymore and just sprinkle spices and salt flakes until it looks and smells right.  The spices are usually are a bit more equal in my version.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Showered in Gratitude

29.  a functioning shower*

It’s not much to ask for, is it?  It’s a very privileged thing to be thankful for, I guess.  Especially considering that many people of this world consider safe drinking water a luxury. 
But it was a rainfall showerhead with 5 trickles of rain that prompted me to turn toward Pete and say the following words.

“I think I might be an adult.”

Shocking, I know. 

This was at the end of 15 days of Moroccan Motoring.  We had returned to the cockroach hosting riad from which we began the journey 14 days prior.  At the time, 14 days earlier, it seemed exciting and exotic and the pitiful excuse for a shower just one of those quaint aspects of travelling that seem unimportant in comparison to the experience that lies ahead.  14 days later, I was recovering from my second round of ‘Moroccan malaise’ and arriving to yet another room of questionable cleanliness was heartbreaking. 
As I predicted in my final post in the Guest Series, Pete did wander the streets of Marrakech alone for the day.  But I wasn’t stressing about packing and to-do lists.  I was watching second-rate rom-coms, family-friendly comedies and a documentary about a basketball player on a TV Pete rigged to get the only English-speaking channel.  When the heat and stillness of the room got to me, I crawled to the bathroom and looked in dismay at the shower.  (I was crawling, not because I was that ill, but because the TV rigging required the room to be criss-crossed with cables that were precariously connected to various outlets and antenna.)  Surprisingly, this shower had a lukewarm setting and five streams of rain, so an improvement, all in all. 
In the course of the 15 day tour, I can remember about 3 passable showers.  Passable here had two requirements 1) luke-warm water 2) pressure greater than spit.  One of these three showers did not pass muster for Pete, as it apparently only had enough warm water for one shower that morning.  So that takes it down to two. 

I must take time out to tell you about one of these passable showers in particular.  It was in Ait BenHaddou.  For those movie buffs out there, this is the small market town on the edge of the Sahara that historically served as a stopping point for desert caravans to pay tax on their wares on their way to the bigger cities to the north.  Now it serves as a movie set.  First, for Lawrence of Arabia, in more recent productions, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven.  Back to the shower.
When we arrived, Pete was suffering from his second round of ‘Moroccan malaise.’  On first viewing the shower attached to our room, I was not hopeful.  The showerhead was held together with grey tape.  As I was viewing this repair from the toilet I had to use side-saddle because the room was too narrow to sit properly without my knees pressing painfully into the opposite wall, or smacking my head on the way as I got up, I did not hold out much hope for this shower to bring any relief to Pete.

Turns out, the grey tape was to keep the shower head down, not up.  The pressure was so powerful that within 30 seconds of beginning my shower, the showerhead migrated upward so that the water was basically shooting out horizontally from the wall.  I had to stand about three feet away from the shower to catch the water as it arched back downward. 
Fabulous!!!!!!  I won’t mention that each shower threatened to flood the little closet that was our bathroom.  Oops!

So back to that last shower in Marrakech which prompted me to wonder at my arrival at adulthood on the eve of my 33rd birthday.  It was a rude awakening, really.  On our first wedding anniversary, Pete and I made a list of things we would like to accomplish by our 5th wedding anniversary.  One of those items was completing another expedition like the one on which we met. 
That day in Marrakech, we looked at each other and came to the realization that we may not be able to complete that list item in the way we hoped.  We were at the end of a 15 day tour which had many more luxuries than our previous African adventure, but we were much more exhausted mentally and physically than we ever remembered being 6 years ago. 
We have become accustomed to our home comforts.  We like our pillows and mattress just so, and we like our showers hot and pressurized.  It’s true that the drug of new love and adventure may be softening our memories of that first adventure to a cheery rose-hue, and we don’t wish to seem like spoiled city folk that can’t take a little grime in the pursuit of adventure, but after 15 days in a cramped car and two rounds of sickness each, we just wanted a proper shower. 

Today, as I prepared for another day in our home sweet home, the hot water suddenly gave out and I was immediately reminded of the beauty of the ‘developed’ world. 

Today, I am thankful for functioning showers and the revelations that sometimes come with the ability to bathe.  Or not. 

*I realize now that this must be very  important to me, because I was thankful for it last year as well.  I also realize that I am not alone in my desire for a functioning shower and as Lyn so very funnily relates, functionality doesn’t have to be flashy.