Should you find yourself in Charleston

IMG_6105.jpg

Driving down to Charleston from Virginia last weekend we laughed about our "getaway." I mean...getaway from what, exactly? It was the first anniversary weekend away in 24 years when we weren't getting away from the demands of parenting, busy Saturday mornings filled with birthday parties, sports practices and games, youth activities and the like. This time we weren't escaping those things. We were getting away from one place where we could spend all our time together to pay to go to another place to spend all our time together, ha! But no matter what your circumstances, a change of scenery, a road trip, a break from the chores and responsibilities of home is a good thing for a marriage.

Charleston was a dream. We stayed in a delightful VRBO spot (linked below) right downtown on North Market Street across from the famous Charleston Market. (Fun fact: it was an apartment directly above the Ben & Jerry's!) If I summed up our few days there it would be this: walk, walk, eat, walk, walk, eat, read, walk, eat, sleep. Repeat three days. Charleston's the perfect walkaround town--every street is charming and there are so many cafes, museums, shops to pop into when the mood strikes. 

On Sunday (at our friendly waiter's suggestion) we drove over to Sullivans Island--historic for both Fort Moultrie, which guarded the harbor from 1776-1945 in the Revolution, Civil, and World Wars. It was also, soberingly, the site of slavery's version of Ellis Island.  According to National Parks Traveler "About 40 percent of African-Americans alive today can trace their ancestral roots to West Africa through the Sullivan’s Island/Charleston gateway. This is, oddly enough, about the same percentage of white Americans whose ancestors were processed through Ellis Island."  

After taking in the history of Fort Moultrie we walked along the Sullivan Island beach and spent the afternoon sitting in the warm sun, talking and enjoying the ocean breeze and view. Two dolphins came close to the shore and cavorted for a good 20 minutes or so in front of us. We decided it was an anniversary blessing from them--hey isn't 28 years the dolphin anniversary?


Stay:

  • We loved the location and amenities in our VRBO rental apartment. (And the sheets were to die for!) Terri and Carl were welcoming and fantastic to work with. Honestly there are many great listings through VRBO and small boutique hotels that looked divine, too. The main suggestion we would make is that you book something near all the charm of Old Charleston: French Quarter, South of Broad, neighborhoods near Meeting Street and Market Streets.

Eat:

  • Magnolias: the book of Pat Conroy essays I was reading mentioned that Magnolias was his favorite Charleston restaurant. The guest book in our apartment also raved about it so we booked a reservation (even though the only one we could get was at 4:45!). It definitely lived up to its reputation: exceptionally delicious Southern fare and great service. We caved in to the swan song of the pecan pie to cap off the meal and did not regret it a bit.
  • Henriettas at the Dewberry; we had our official "anniversary dinner" here and it was very good. 
  • 1 Broad: we went here twice! Really great breakfast fare and bakery items. Plus live music.
  • Another Broken Egg Cafe: Good, filling Southern breakfast. I had the lobster omelet, G had shrimp and grits. Both were rich and satisfying--and we didn't want to eat again for 8 hours!

See/Do:

 

 

The here and there of a commuting marriage

 photo  via

photo via

A little background if you're new here: When we moved back to the states, G received a new assignment with his company that sent us to Washington DC. I had wrapped up my dissertation and finished my PhD while we were in Australia and I was raring to find a place to use it--ideally, a faculty position at a college where I could focus on teaching and mentoring. I was thrilled, then, when I interviewed and got that very kind of job! The catch: it was about three hours away from G's job. 

We both decided to give it a shot and see if we could make it work. We found a 1 bedroom condo to rent just a couple of blocks from G's company (best DC commute ever!) and a house a short drive away from my campus (we found that rentals in the small town were hard to come by and the monthly payment generally as expensive as the mortgage payment on a similar or even better house).  Originally the plan was to take turns driving to each other on weekends but G insisted that he enjoyed getting out of the city and over the last year usually made the drive to me, bless his heart. Even better--his company's schedule makes it so employees get every other Friday off. 

Family and friends have been VERY CURIOUS about this whole deal. I would be, too! We get asked about it a lot so I thought I'd share some of our learnings over the last year:

  • Absence really can make the heart grow fonder. With G's military job early in our marriage and his frequent travel schedule for work since then, we already knew this. Weekends are sweet and savored. It's such a treat to be together and I get giddy counting down to seeing him again. It's like a weekend away together every week! In many ways it feels like our marriage is stronger than ever.
     
  • Frequent check-ins are sustaining and essential. We Facetime every night to talk about our days and read scriptures together. It's not quite like actually talking face-to-face or nestling up under his arm on the sofa but it's a good this-will-do-for-now practice.
     
  • It gives us both the opportunity for deep focus on our jobs during the week. Starting out as a new professor meant coming up with all those lectures, activities, assignments--for 10-12 different class sessions a week! It's a lot. In some ways it's been liberating to be able to give it the longer days and tunnel focus I've needed without that pull to get home and make dinner, etc.
     
  • I've never EVER lived by myself before--neither has G! We both went from living with our families growing up to roommates at university to marriage! In some ways it's been a really good thing to feel what that's like.
     
  • Often what that feels like is kind of lonely. This was surprising to me because I am someone who needs solo time to recharge so I thought I would relish it a bit more.  The projects! The long baths! My night owl tendencies set free! Having cottage cheese and avocado for dinner at 8 pm! It's true that there are up-sides--and I've tried to make the most of it and not focus on the negatives--but I have new respect and love for people who live alone.  It's probably obvious but I find I'm happier during the week if I'm not sitting on the couch watching tv but doing things: something nice for a neighbor, a new hobby, organizing those decades of photos, taking up a new exercise.

  • I remind myself how many people do this routinely--military members, pilots, flight attendants, consultants and sales people who fly all over the country to work during the week, church leaders who travel constantly away from family.  I might be misreading people's reactions but think one of the things that surprises them is that it's me, the wife, who is instigating it. 
     
  • Spouses who are willing to reciprocate flexibility and support for their partner's goals and dreams are KEEPERS. I truly don't take that for granted. I know Greg doesn't either.
     
  • Being together is still the best mode and maximizing that is what we aim for.  Over Christmas I realized (again) how much better life is when he's be my side. G's work travel schedule has ramped up considerably this year (up to two weeks a month away) so we've adjusted the plan a little to make sure we're together as much as we can. I'll head up to DC most of the time now on weekends (and even during the week when possible) to get that time together.  It's a make-it-work situation and...we're making it work. 
     
  • Would we recommend it to others? That's a tough question--I think it depends on so many factors: your personalities, whether travel and being apart have already been a part of your history, your commitment to (and reasons for) trying it, whether there are kids still at home, etc. etc. It's definitely not for everyone.
     
  • Is this forever? Good question. Our marriage is! We can envision several paths that would bring us to the same place during the week again.  I'm sure one of those will come through sooner or later--we've always made our decisions based on the feelings and inspirations we have about them and will continue to do that. Drawing on the peace we've felt about this decision has helped us follow through. 
IMG_1285.JPG

Any questions? Happy to answer! 

To Fresh Starts, Again!

IMG_5908.JPG

Hello, friends! Sarah and I met up over the holidays when our paths happened to veer close enough to go to breakfast. We stayed hours (our poor, patient waiter: "are you sure there's not anything else I can get you?" = are you sure you're still going to sit here and talk endlessly?) and yet we just scratched the surface, catching up and making plans. And (once again, predictably) forgot to take a selfie to document it.

One thing that emerged from our chat: we are excited to revive Nest & Launch with regular posts, new features, and reconnecting with all of you. We have a lot of thoughts about nests and launches and what's next for those of us in the middle of both. 

I'll admit 2017 was a quiet year for me--was it for you, too? I think part of it was a lingering funk over current events and the bleak political/public/social landscape. I was also trying to find my feet beneath me and adjust to alllll the changes life brought this past year: a move, a new job, launching Sam on his mission, and an emptying nest (cue Fleetwood Mac's The Landslide). 

So it was a fallow season of turning inward, thinking more than talking, reading more than writing, homebody-ing more than adventuring.  And it's been good--a cocoon was exactly what I needed to process and adjust and gear up for this next chapter we're in. 

Happily, the arrival of 2018 has me feeling like I've finally emerged and found my equilibrium--maybe even my long-lost verve. I'm keen to get back to all the things I put on hold during my lovely hibernation.  Here's to us all looking ahead to a verve-filled year!

. . .
Making me happy lately:

  • do you follow The Home Edit on Instagram? Sure, they post glorious, inspiring posts of their work color-coding and organizing beautiful homes to their feed and that's great but the best part is their HILARIOUS Instastories documenting their adventures, phobias, and friendship in an Ab-Fab, Laverne and Shirley kind of way. Find Clea and Joanna on Instagram @thehomeedit. p.s. While you're at it, follow us @nestandlaunch for some additional windows into our days and hijinks.
     
  • G. You know how last year we worked in different cities during the week? I definitely do not take for granted how key he is to my happy life. I'm grateful for his sacrifices over the last year to help me move ahead with my dreams; we're tinkering with our arrangements to maximize our time together this year even as his travel schedule picks up. More about all that in an upcoming post but G is definitely someone who lights my world, still and always.
     
  • Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel seasoning. I've gone through FOUR bottles of this stuff since I started using it in July. Try it on cottage cheese, avocado toast, veggies. I (obviously, embarrassingly, truly, madly, deeply) can't get enough.
     
  • Just started listening to the Audible book format of Kelly Corrigan's Tell Me More, just released today. We have been outspoken Kelly Corrigan fans since day one and nothing beats listening to her read her own writing. Such a treat. I nominate her as the patron saint of Nesters & Launchers. (And, I just saw when I added that link, I already said that patron saint comment in another earlier post about her almost five years ago. Must be true, then!)

Ahoy! A catch up

Hello, N+L friends. It's been a minute (or a million), hasn't it?!  What a ride January-July 2017 was! Humbling and wonderful and exhausting and faith-blooming and stretchy and rewarding and can-I-do-this and yes.

I finished my inaugural profess-ing semester in May and, between that and our international move and the changes in our family I just now feel like I'm emerging from a cave into the bright sunlight. (I was going to say cocoon but I'm not sure I can claim the majesty of a butterfly at this point.) 

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 8.44.01 PM.png

A quick catch up on the cast of characters in my family life: 

As I mentioned back here, in our new setup G works in DC during the week (with, thankfully, every other Friday off).  Although we thought we would alternate spending weekends in DC and Lexington, G looks forward to getting out of the city so much that we pretty much have made Lexington our consistent home base even when (during the summer) we have both been in DC all week together. He's been traveling internationally every six weeks or so for work which has brought a new dimension to his career. We love our time together--it's definitely helped us to not take the other for granted. Life is good, y'all. Mostly, truly incandescently good. 

Lauren and Patrick live in Atlanta where they've just bought their first home, a condo in a neighborhood they love. Lauren's been doing online coursework toward her sociology degree; recently she's decided to just bite the bullet and go back to BYU for a semester to wrap it all up and graduate in December. It'll be tough to be apart for a few months but I'm proud of them both for making it a priority. She's been teaching early morning seminary and doing some good nanny gigs for several families in the area, too. 

Maddy just returned from Ghana, where she did a 3-month summer internship in microfinance. She and three other studetns lived in a village and traveled around the area, supporting and training small business owners. She had some cool and unique experiences--lively music and dancing at a series of Ghanaian funerals and listening to the fisherman sing as they pull in their nets and gleeful children dancing in rainstorms and navigating chicken soup with every part of the chicken floating in the bowl. She's back at USU this week and has a full semester ahead.

Speaking of Africa, this spring Sam received his mission call to Angola (on the west coast of Africa) and left in July for six weeks at the training center, arriving this last Friday in Luanda. The six months leading up to his mission were unforgettably dear ones. Six weeks in, we still miss him d e e p l y and yet feel simultaneously blessed by and proud of his service. I love our letters back and forth and the window they are to his mind and heart. Still, I'm in denial about how long two years will be. I just don't let myself go there yet. 

I will say this: I miss resident mothering. I have lots of thoughts on this post-parenting transition that I'll share in coming posts. Here's the deal: It's part wonderful and part heart wrenching and part lonely and part exhilarating and all completely part of the process, as much of the motherhood story as baby showers and childbirth classes are--except we don't get parties or classes or what-to-expect-when-you're guidebooks about this side of things. We need more preparation and candor about this part of the path and if I can find the words to articulate some, I'll be happy to plant a few guideposts on the map to help anyone else navigate this liminal space.

Also, I just really miss this. How are you? How's your heart at the end of this summer? What are you hatching and nesting and launching these days? Do tell--I've got a lot of bandwidth to hear about it these days :)

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...)?

Mapping what's next: Questions to ask

Lately I feel a bit like I'm sitting at the far edge of the map I've created for the last 20+ years of my life. The old map and globe makers supposedly used to say (or not) about the mysteries beyond the border "here be dragons." For me, there aren't dragons, really, just a few unknown seas and a considerable amount of horizon. As Dante said at the beginning of his masterpiece Inferno "Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straight forward pathway had been lost."  

Until now, the life I've pieced together has been filled with my own projects and pursuits and, at the same time, considerably oriented in time and energy around the raising of a family. Two things happen this year that will rock that geography : (1) Sam will finish high school and set off, ending my stint as a resident in-house mother, and (2) we will move back to the states to a place yet to be determined. 

[Watch me get all themey with this map metaphor: For years I've navigated the Cape of Good Naps, weathered the tantrum tempests, the Sea of Puberty, and the Straits of Discipline. I've helped build new boats, furnished them with the anchors and navigation systems that have worked for us, and launched our small fleet.]  So: fresh start. Clean slate. Edge of the map. The question that's been on my mind lately is what's next? who do I want to be for the rest of (or at least next part of) my life?

It's a theme I hear frequently from my friends and our readers; whether or not they have been working full time, part time, or staying at home, this transition is fascinating and altering and opens up possibilities with whole new landscapes to navigate. I'm not just talking vocation here--though that could certainly be part of it--also pursuits and hobbies, things to learn, places to visit, projects to take on, contributions to make.  

Here's one step I recently took toward figuring these things out, an exercise at the intersection of first, know thyself and when in doubt, make a list. Earlier this year on a night when G and Sam were on a camping trip, I sat down with my notebooks spread out on the bed and started to sort out my thoughts on this whole what's next situation. I made long lists answering a host of questions to start a conversation with myself (planning + lists = my happy place).

Maybe you know exactly what's next for you. If so, high five and enjoy your fantastic map!  If, like me, you're also starting to dream/scheme/imagine/anticipate what might be next for you, here's your gentle, borderland-dwelling assignment: Answer these questions for yourself, with compassion and honesty about who you are and who you want to be. Don't stop too long to analyze as you write, just nudge all of those ideas to go mingle together on the lists.  (Bonus: These could work for helping older kids and young adults figure out what's next for them, too): 

What do I love doing?

What do I love thinking about/talking about? 

What/whom do I envy? (This can be an illuminating insight. If you feel jealous of what someone does, it's probably because it's something you wish you could do!)

What am I good at/do people say I do well? 

In what kinds of settings would those things be useful, fun, or welcome?

What would I like to still improve?

What will I let go trying to improve and just accept/embrace/learn to love about myself? 

What do I typically avoid or try to delay doing?

What might I love (given some experience/time/mentoring)?

What do I want my life to include more of/be known for?

Who are my heroes, mentors + cool people to emulate? What do they have in common?

What attributes and dreams did I used to have that I'd like to recapture (i.e., will the original version of Annie please stand up?) 

What do you think--any questions you'd add to these? I'd love to hear from any of you who are mulling over the what's next question--feel free to chime in here or email me.  I'll be back to chat about further what's next steps in future posts.

One is not two (or three)

First there were just the two of us, G and I, living on love and baked potatoes in those early years. For the most part, a world of two. A cocoon, really. Then came Lauren and we happily adjusted our tethers a bit (ha! or a lot) to fasten her in and form a family of three. Then Maddy and, a little later, Sam arrived and we multiplied the bonds of our web, adding new sibling strands that were separate from but connected to the marriage and parenting ones. Each time, more connections meant more conflict, more energy, more chaos, more silliness, more work, more joy. Sometimes in the throes of adjusting we would look at each other and despair: "What have we done?!" mourning the version of life we left behind.

 Photos by Luca Zordan, found  here

Photos by Luca Zordan, found here

You know where I'm going with this. We've maxed out the "one-little two-little three-little" song and now we're subtracting. We're shrinking! It's a different business shrinking a family rather than growing one. You still adjust as a group, take on new roles. Someone new gets to be the "oldest child" for a while.  But where before you adjusted to something new that was added, now you adjust to having something crucial that was subtracted. Some days it just feels like the family fabric has simply extended over mountains and oceans--stretched, sure, but in tact. Other days it feels like there's a gaping, whistling hole in the everyday fabric of our days. Where before there were moments of "what have we done?!" now there are moments of "what shall we do?" mourning the version of life we left behind.

 photo by  Luca Zordan

photo by Luca Zordan

So we've started our third family--or sixth?--depending on how you count. This new family, the one currently under our roof now that Maddy has launched like a second family satellite--far away but still orbiting--this little family is quieter than the others. More independent. There's less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink, fewer rides and appointments and places to be, no more need for Costco (!). For the first time, I'm outnumbered, genderly speaking. This makes me feel kind of queenly but also who will watch period dramas with me now? The boys (that's how I think of my at-home family now, "the boys") outnumber me but, perhaps the strangest feeling of all, the adults outnumber the kids again for the first time since 1995. Our silly quotient has taken a dive without those contagiously hilarious moments between siblings. Now there are no siblings here, just a guy and his parents! I like to think we are pretty fun people, G and I, but still.  I miss our maximum silliness that is achieved only when everyone's here. Fewer under-one-roof connections means less conflict, less energy, less chaos, less work, more nostalgia. (Oh, the nostalgia!)

I fully confess that these are first world mama problems of the highest magnitude. I remember the days--years, really--when receiving a prison sentence of solitary confinement sounded like a pretty attractive way to live compared to the never-ending touching/eating/rocking/chasing/wiping/calming/feeding demands of a younger family still in the throes of heavy duty bootcamp parenting.  I think of dear friends whose children didn't live long enough to launch or who didn't arrive in the family when hoped for or as expected. Others have children who will always be with them for physical or emotional or other reasons. 

And, really,  I know this family gig continues for all of us. The revolving door revolves, bringing folks out and back in, and we are fixtures in each other's lives forever. But the in-house, full time setting with all my people at home together feels like such a whirring blip of time in retrospect. When I came across this passage last weekend, I underlined it and put a star in the margin to share with you. Whether your child is in kindergarten this year or 10th grade or college, you will understand all the layers--one through sixteen--of these sentiments:

"Dave was fifth in the straggled line of returnees, running easily, neither trying for a dramatic finish nor easing up, but finishing just behind the lead pack of three seniors and the tall thin sophomore. Dave's dad watched with a complex mix of feelings--unutterable pride in this son (that kid was two years old two minutes ago, and look at him now those scything legs!), a sigh that he was so damned skinny (how can he possibly compete against those kids--they are twice as thick as he is...he looks like a heron running with deer), worry about him not being dressed properly (aw, a sleeveless shirt and shorts in snow for heaven's sake), and deepest of all, beyond any words he could have summoned to drape on the feeling, a sense of impending loss and the cruelty of time and the yaw of mortality.

"Very soon, all too soon, Dave would go away--college, work, the navy, traveling, who knew? And while his dad, from layers one through fifteen of his soul, was delighted and thrilled and proud and happy that this would happen, pleased that things looked good for Dave to grow into a cool and responsible young man over the next four years, enough that he could launch into a stimulating life of his own, which every good dad wants for his kid, he also felt, silently, at level sixteen, in the innermost chamber of his heart, a terrible sadness that there would come a day when, look for him as he might, there would be no Dave in the cabin, in the school, on the mountain, and good and right and healthy as that would be, it would also be a hole that could never be filled by anything or anyone else. He loved Maria with a deep and powerful love, but he had two children, and one is not two." (Martin Marten*, Brian Doyle)

 (photo by  Luca Zordan

(photo by Luca Zordan


*Book recommendation: Okay, friends, I just finished Martin Marten and cannot stop thinking about it. It's a delightful read. Here's what you do: wait until you have the time and headspace to really savor this book and sink under the spell of the writing. Give it a few chapters to settle in and to abandon your skepticism. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy growing up in Oregon and a young marten (yes, an animal, that kind of marten) growing up in the forest nearby. Don't let that put you off, though. I've never been an animal book person--I could never be convinced to read any horse stories whatsoever, not even Black Beauty--but loved this. Though I have to admit I might have read faster/skimmed through one or two descriptive nature passages but not because they weren't fantastic--because I wanted to find out what happened next.  Masterful storytelling and an unforgettable, unique narrative voice about family and community and layers of stories and place. It's kind of hippyish, too, as Oregonians sometimes are :) but just such a good read overall--and he clearly loved commas at least as much as I do! (15+? Some language, complex themes and relationships)