Ginger Lincoln and the throng of bands

There's a white lined index card tucked behind a jar on our kitchen counter. It looks like a wacko list of unrelated terms but it represents a mini tradition we acquired a few years ago where we create random future band names from word combinations that come up in our regular conversations. 

For example: One day Sam is especially excited as he broke open a freshly purchased loaf of our usual brand of bread in Australia (Helga's). As he takes out the first two slices he announces, "Oh, I love first-day Helgas!" We look up with a grin and say it in unison: "Band name." It goes on the list.

If future anthropologists discovered the card, I'm not sure what they would make of the kooky random word pairings. Each entry takes me back to the moment: the laugh of recognition, the race to jot it down on the card. It's one of those organic little traditions that have emerged in our midstage family life and I love how it pins down the elusive moonbeam of a moment. When we packed up to move, that little battered card was one of the few documents precious enough to tuck into my journal to bring along with me, in person.  

Here are a few of the bands--you can probably imagine some of the backstories. Others are pretty...situational and need a little explanation: 

  • First Day Helgas
  • Ginger Lincoln
  • Involuntary Doughnuts
  • Defective Tomato
  • 6 a.m. Shanks (This one probably needs a little explaining: Greg had a weekly early morning call with a guy in the US with that name)
  • Dichotomous Key
  • Sticky Figs
  • Downton Abbey on the Sly
  • Rogue Pinky
  • Time Zone Overlap
  • American Dairy
  • Bat Pee Rainstorm (after we made the unfortunate choice of sitting under a couple of trees at an outdoor concert that ended up being the home to a whole fleet of bats)

If I were fancier I'd turn it into a special journal or chatbook but that might make it too precious and ruin it. (In fact, I'm hoping that just writing about it here won't mess with the band name juju!) It's just a battered list on a notecard. But it's also more than just the paper--it's a snapshot of a laugh, an artifact of connected delight. 

What little artifacts do you save that represent aspects of your family life? What tiny, random traditions mean the most to you?

Home for the holidays

Huntsville State Park, Thanksgiving 2016

Huntsville State Park, Thanksgiving 2016

Greetings from Texas! I'm still here. Still plugging away. Definitely missing my Nest & Launch life.

I feel like I've lived a lifetime in the six months or so since I posted on a regular basis. So, I'm going with bullets -- less transitions. Sometimes I have a hard time putting together the thread of my own story. . .

  • Work. Have I told you I'm working full time? It's wonderful and confusing and downright illuminating. Some of you may be wondering about my teaching. I wonder the same thing. Where in my life does the 20th century British novel fit?  I don't know. I'm in a holding pattern on my dissertation. Right now I'm doing marketing for a software company, and I sort of love it. It's a little steady for my taste (they make me work every day!), and it's cutting in on my travels and fun time -- but it's also rewarding in its own right. I don't know if I will do this forever. But it's good for now, and I'm learning all sorts of things about the working world -- like how alluring it is to stay at work till all hours, and how daily business lunches make one fat, and how working really, really, REALLY is easier than staying home with kids. Tell everyone. I've tried out both. I know for sure.
  • Kids. My third little baby, Rebecca Kate, left for college this Fall. Like her sisters, she is far away in Utah. I thought maybe this time would be easier -- I know the ins and outs of this business of child-leaving. But really? Not easier at all the third go-round. It still left me dazed, sitting for hours in front of Netflix as I pondered my new world.  Plus, we are left with a very different home life -- just one, lone child rambling around an upstairs built for four. Sterling pitches in tons with Parker, so I'm on my own a good deal. How did I go from four children under the age of seven to this? It's amazing. And weird. And liberating. And bewildering. Hold me.
  • Holidays. The college kids came home for Thanksgiving, which made all of my dreams come true. We camped for Thanksgiving!! We saw Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Alley. We watched Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Everyone helped cook and haul tents and decorate the Christmas tree, and I thought back to the years of dragging my people through the holidays and sighed, "Yes. For this I am truly grateful."

Tomorrow it's back to work (I told you they make me go A LOT!) But I'm gearing up for Christmas (how to buy presents for a son-in-law). And skiing! Have I told you that once Parker graduates Sterling and I are going to make a major life change? Here are the current options: 1. Live in Brooklyn. 2. Be ski bums. 3. Live in Missoula, Montana and own goats.  Or, perhaps some combination of the three. And guys, I'm not even kidding. (Please vote for your favorite in the comments section.) Be back soon!

To Fresh Starts

Happy November! I'm writing this from an all-but-empty house here in Australia, where we're capping off the last four weeks of our 51-month adventure. The movers came a month ago and packed all of our earthly belongings into a shipping container to put on a slow boat bound for the US. (It's probably around the horn of Africa right about now, don't you think? I'm kicking myself for not packing a little GPS beacon in with our stuff to check in on it now and then. Wouldn't that be cool?) 

In the meantime we rented a few pieces of furniture to hold us over for the final couple of months--a table, a sofa and loveseat, two beds, and a desk and chair for Sam's studying as he takes his final IB exams this month and finishes high school. (Oh, and a ROWING MACHINE because why not? I've always wanted one. Side note: turns out rowing machines are not magic rides of joy. It's still exercise but it's not bad.) 

I keep reminding myself that while the empty house is a persistent reminder of a bittersweet ending, it also represents a Fresh Start--a capitalized, PART THREE declaration between the chapters of what came before and those that encompass the unknowns ahead.

Light on the Bulbs, Carol Marine

Light on the Bulbs, Carol Marine

In the book of our marriage, PART ONE: dating and giddy early marriage; PART TWO: parent bootcamp years and full time family life; PART THREE: is.....what? (Can we agree it's not a married couple of a certain age holding hands and watching the sunset, each sitting in his/her own (mystifyingly outdoor) bathtubs?) I'm excited about Part Three. We planned our early parenthood start with Part Three in mind. I went to grad school with Part Three in mind. I just don't know how to summarize it yet. And that's the beauty, I guess. We get to make it up. 

With this move we've crafted a new plan of what our next few years (or decades?) will look like, based on a few priorities from a lifetime collection of wishes. We've found a delightful-but-scruffy vintage home to fix up (paging Chip and Joanna, stat) in a charming college town and accepted new jobs that excite us both. It's a Part Three for us as a couple but also for each of us as individuals. We've considered and accepted some unique trade-offs to our new arrangement--working three hours away from each other being the major one--but also feel the sweet assurance of "it's-going-to-be-fine" peace (even if it perplexes some of our onlookers a bit; sorry, worried onlookers, we love you! ). The unknown can be scary. But I feel confident in our trust of each other and in those peaceful, prayerful feelings enough to brave the first steps into this Fresh (but unknown) Start.

I came upon this poem yesterday that lit up my brain. I taped it to my empty wall with some leftover masking tape. It's by the wonderful poet William Stafford, who incidentally didn't publish poetry until he was 46. Maybe that was his Part Three. 

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found: carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life.

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

-William Stafford

Do you have a looming fresh start? How do you feel about your Part Three (or four or six...)?

J&A are married!

I think I'm ready to resurface here on N&L. I've missed it terribly -- the writing, the camaraderie with Annie, hearing from you guys. In the past two months I've lived (what feels like) two or three years worth of life. It's all been such good stuff, but the days have been packed and sleep has been elusive.

As you may already know, our oldest daughter was married on May 6th. The run up to the wedding was busy -- only complicated by the fact that our son injured his hand the week before the wedding, which resulted in: emergency room, surgery, innumerable doctor's visits, and physical therapy -- which is still ongoing.

Oh, and in this same insane week before the wedding I interviewed for a job! I wasn't looking for employment at the time, but an opportunity presented itself, and I felt compelled to check it out. I interviewed on the way home from an appointment with Parker's surgeon, got the job offer while at a family dinner for Jordan two days before the wedding, and started the Monday after the wedding. No biggie. Just my first full time job in 23 years.

And then there was Rebecca's high school graduation (and prom and open house).

But let's start with the wedding. Jordan and Alex were married in the Houston temple, and their reception was at the Houston Heights Fire Station (just a historic building -- no real fire fighting). We had Sweet Paris Creperie make their incredibly delicious, made-to-order crepes and constructed our own epic soda bar. Our photographer was Sherry Ward, who I can't thank enough. She did a phenomenal job. I don't have the full collection of photos just yet, but here are some definite highlights.

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I'll be back soon with my very best wedding-planning advice. And, if you are still reading . . . thanks for sticking around. More posts are in the works! Happy Monday everyone.

Wedding Mantras for Mothers of the Bride

Over the string of months that I held mother-of-the-bride status, I adopted a few mantras to help me keep the crazy under control. These came in handy, say, when I would lie awake and sift through the midnight mental flotsam that would wash ashore in a panic of what-ifs and to-dos. Or when the low-grade stress of helping to coordinate a wedding weekend from the other side of the world eroded the joy of the whole thing. These are mindset reboots I found helpful rather than specific tips on planning a wedding--although at some point I'm sure Sarah and I will share some hints & lessons learned along with some of the details from both weddings. So here are my notes to self, wedding mantras to remember for next time. I didn't master them but they were helpful reminders:

Love, love, love: Invoke this mantra often. This whole wedding undertaking is ultimately about celebrating the love, marriage, and sprouting of a little two-person seedling of a family. Try and infuse the process with love--from your hundreds of coordinating texts & chats with your daughter to your communications with all of the families, your interactions with vendors, and your deliberations about the budget. Let go of the pressure to plan a perfect Pinterest wedding-to-impress and focus on creating an atmosphere where the couple and their guests will feel the love. They'll all remember how they felt that day much longer than they'll remember any little nitty gritty detail, anyway. 

She's the president, I'm the chief of staff: (i.e., Let it go/it's not my wedding): It's hard. In some ways this feels like familiar territory--like another party you're throwing for your child, kind of a birthday/graduation celebration on steroids. You might be used to calling the shots and making all the choices. But...it's not your wedding. Even if you're paying the invoices, it's still not your wedding. Follow your daughter's lead on how much involvement and advice to give.  She's the president, you're the chief of staff. (Also, related mantra: it's his wedding, too.)

Tiny scene in a long play: You're starting out a brand new relationship with a new son and your daughter's inlaws, don't start it with hassles over some little wedding details. The wedding day comes and goes but their marriage will last much much longer than that. Not only that, but this wedding marks the beginning of a new configuration of your own family, with a new son joining your crew forever more. When it comes down to it, choose to invest in building positive relationships over clashing or gnashing teeth on the logistics of party planning. After all...

It's just a party: This helped rein in my wedding anxiety sometimes. Hey, it's just a party! One night with friends and family. It's a big party but still. Just a party. Don't give in to the crazy.

The arrow has flown: I remember a few days before I got married my mom came home from someone else's reception and said "Annie!  we forgot to order the paper napkins with your names embossed on them!" (These were popular then. Are they still a thing? If so, we forgot to order them this time, too.) Meh. At that point the wedding arrow had left the bow and was on its way to the target; there was no point in chasing it down. Likewise, at a certain point you've done all the planning and arranging.  If something pops up in the last few days, fix it and/or forget it. It's time to just let the plan unfold and ENJOY IT. The arrow has flown. 

Serenity now!: Just kidding. That's the Seinfeld mantra. But it's a good generic one in a pinch.

What else? I'd love to add more mantras to my supply. What mantras have helped you in times of stress/planning/weddings?

photo by Chelsie Starley Photography