Should you find yourself in Charleston

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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. 
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Any questions? Happy to answer! 

Launching notes: This is love to me

It's kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years today since that snowy day in Logan, Utah, when these two kids launched into the crazy glorious challenging leap-of-faith venture of marriage. The snow had closed the canyon by the end of our reception so we were stranded in the valley and delayed in leaving on our honeymoon. Instead, we stayed in our newly rented tiny tiny basement apartment on 4th North and the next morning we went back to my parents' house and ate leftover reception cream puffs with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins and opened presents, complete with mildly raucous comments from the spectators. Love and happiness was all around and we felt it.

As my kids get closer to marriage age (but not that close, mind you) I think as much about them on my anniversary as I do about my own marriage: what I hope for them, how I hope they find a partnership that brings them as much joy as possible amidst the challenges and everyday work of life. In that spirit, here are a couple of passages I think beautifully sum up what I hope that most intimate, vulnerable of relationships will be for them--a kind of liner notes/launching notes on marriage and intimacy. It's about as far away from the however-many-shades culture as you can get but it's worth waiting for and hoping for and working for, the room you build together within a marriage:

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all in your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room? If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"But you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent." (T. S. Eliot)


Title stolen from this love song from The Light in the Piazza, which I loved from the moment I saw at its Lincoln Center debut. Swoon.

p.s. Full disclosure: A version of this post was cross-posted at Basic Joy. You know, for posterity.

I went to France

 Lyon, France

Lyon, France

Just to catch everyone up: The husband and I flew to France two weeks ago to pick up our oldest daughter, Jordan, who was serving an 18 month mission for our church. For the duration of her mission, our communication was limited to e-mails and real-life, written letters -- oh, and those two sacrosanct, one-hour, Skype calls on Mother's Day and Christmas. All of this to say, it had been a long time since I'd seen or even really talked to my baby. I intended to march over to France, collect my child, and eat as many patisseries as humanly possible.

A few months before the completion of her mission, we received instruction that we should pick Jordan up at the mission president's home at 9 pm on Monday, November 10th. And since I didn't want to be stalker-mom in Lyon, France, I scheduled our flight to arrive that same day at 4 pm. And folks, we made it work! Both of our flights were on time (Houston to London, and London to Lyon). We made it through immigration in under five minutes, and our luggage came flying down the shoot. We rented a car (through some lovely ladies who spoke very little English), and jumped into the car with French-only instructions on how to operate the GPS. [Also, a public service announcement: If you rent a car in France, it's going to have standard transmission. In order to put the car in reverse, you have to pull the gear-shift-thingy UP.] So, yes, we were the clueless Americans in the Enterprise parking lot who couldn't reverse their car. But I was going to collect my first born, so I didn't care one bit! I'm clueless. I'm fine with that!

 This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

And then, after months of waiting and more months planning, and many a night of anticipating, we were there -- just Sterling and I driving through French toll roads and roundabouts and then on the tiny cobbled streets leading into the heart of Lyon. We found the apartment we had rented on AirBnB quickly but got ourselves completely lost and befuddled trying to find parking. We may or may not have driven onto a square where cars are not allowed. Also, we may have driven the wrong way down a one way street (or two). But we found parking in the nick of time, and set off at a run with our luggage across a long bridge spanning the Saone River. We stashed our belongings, tidied our hair and clothes, and then ran back across the bridge to the car and set off for the mission president's home. We found it easily. Two missionaries met us outside and led us into a downstairs rec room. Two other sets of parents were already waiting. So we all stood around and made nervous chit chat, knowing good and well that our kids were just upstairs. After about 20 minutes Sterling and I were led up the up the stairs, and before I found my bearings on the next level . . . she was there. Walking towards me. Tears in her eyes. I just grabbed her up and held on. 

And then we were laughing, and the other parents started coming up behind us. We met the mission president and his wife and many of the other missionaries who were leaving with Jordan's transfer. And here's the strange part -- as she stood there next to me, my arm around her shoulders -- it was like I'd just seen her yesterday. Intellectually, I knew she'd been gone for a year and half, living an entirely different life in an entirely different country. But my heart didn't recognize those differences even one tiny bit. Maybe this is cheesy, but it was sort of like the bond between us, once stretched from Texas to France, immediately resumed it's original shape. And there we were -- the same but different. And honestly? Even though she has been forced to transition from missionary to mere mortal, I'd think she'd agree that with the people she loves . . . there is no gap in the relationship. We just take back up with our girl -- even though now she eats cheese and yogurt, which is a COMPLETE and BEFUDDLING surprise. 

 Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Up next: Part Deux: Eating our way from Lyon to Bordeux

 

Dating Tip #1: Be Selfish (A Guest Post)

I remember a conversation I had with one of my daughters once, one of those discussions that outlasts the ride home so you sit in the driveway for an hour, finishing up shoulder to shoulder and gazing out in the same direction. We had somehow navigated to the topic of dating and the someday reality of choosing (waywayway in the future) someone to marry. But I was clumsy and bumbling about expressing my thoughts that day and I don't think either of us left the car feeling very understood.

Maybe you'll understand why, then, when I read a recent post by Meg Conley I cheered in recognition. (Have you discovered Meg in Progress? If not, you are in for a treat. If yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about.). These were the words I meant to say that day in the driveway, granting absolute permission--issuing both an invitation and a license, really--to be selfish in choosing someone to date and (someday, eventually) marry. I'll read this to my kids at the right moment; maybe you will find these words helpful, too. Meg's graciously agreed to let me repost her piece here today:

I was talking to a good friend the other day about the pitfalls of dating.

There was a boy. He wasn’t that nice and he wasn’t that mean. He talked like he cared and acted like he didn’t. When she walked into a room he would make his way to her eventually. They had dated and then didn’t and then dated again. At the moment, they were back to didn’t.

We laughed our way through the ridiculousness of the conversation until she wasn’t smiling anymore,

“I don’t know. I want more. But is that awful? Setting my standards too high? Being too selfish?”

And then the laughter left me, too. I wanted to hit out at the people, places, situations and inner dialogues that have convinced so many of my sisters that “wanting more” is an unforgivable act of self-centric thinking. As if somehow the pursuit of a life partner is an act of charity and to take our hopes, hurts and desires into account betrays the nature of the enterprise.

I can remember spouting off the same misgivings and gentle questions. Anxious and sure my worth depended on the eyes and evaluations of others. Thank the Heavens for parents that slapped the words out of my mouth almost before the left it. (Well, it wasn’t a literal slapping. More of a rhetorical beating. Really, I admire their restraint.)

They’d throw their hands in the air and talk emphatically. Didn’t I know that choosing my husband, the man I would make my life with, was the most selfish decision of my life? That it was one of the last times that I could sit as a single entity and decide to get exactly what I wanted without the interference of pledge or the obligation of a shared life, shared children, shared disappointments, shared hopes? Be selfish, they cried. Seek for the best. Make yourself what you want and don’t bend for a man that can’t appreciate the god given, mortal mess you are. Find a man to partner, not a boy to parent. Walk away if it gets too hard, too hurtful, too disappointing. Right now, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. Not a week, not a month and certainly not your whole ever loving life. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only owe it to yourself to find what you want. You get to have what you want. Meggi, what do you want?

It seemed so counter-intuitive. I remember arguing with my dad over it once. At the time, I was dating a boy that made it seem like sacrifice of self was really the sacrament of love. And I believed him. How, I cried to my good dad, how can marriage – the most self-less of institutions – begin with my most selfish decision? Didn’t he know the heart hurt sacrifice of self had to begin beforehand? Didn’t that make the most sense? The good man looked almost disappointed in me. He and my mom had raised me for twenty years and these were the questions I still pondered. I have to admit, it didn’t say much for my learning abilities.

He said my name once,

Megs…

and then cleared the tears out of eyes and throat with a wipe and a cough.

…you are selfish in choosing a mate because once you commit yourself to a person you’ve decided to never be truly selfish again. Sure, at times you will take time for yourself and splurge and do all the fun stuff we do when we say we are being selfish. But you will never again be able to live your life with only thoughts for yourself, not really. And that is a beautiful thing. If you and your husband are living your marriage correctly you will always be thinking of, working for and loving one another. The selflessness of marriage is the kind that lifts each party up to a place they could not have reached alone. It is not a sacrifice of self. It is a clarification of self. Marriage should make you more of who you are. It should refine you. Both of you. Anything less than that isn’t worth your time.

I think at that point I grumbled something about him always having to be right. He laughed and then was serious again.

Listen, it is important to remember that you are not just being discerning, and yes, even selfish, for yourself. You are being selfish for the children that will eventually come into the marriage. Is this the person that will help your sons and daughters understand their place in the world? Can you both create a sanctuary of love and learning for them? Maybe you aren’t at a place where you can see you deserve that, but surely you know your children deserve it. I hope your mom and I gave that to you kids and I hope you do the same for your own.

It was an eye opening conversation. For years, my parents told me I had great worth and deserved more happiness than my inward thinking heart could fathom. I didn’t ever believe them. But that day when my dad talked about my daughter, I knew, I just knew, that unknown girl was worth the price of a star and then some. I knew she deserved the kind of joy that could crack the universe in two. And somehow, knowing that about her helped me understand it about myself. I had to give her what she deserved and the only way to do that was to get exactly what I deserved.

So I broke up with that boy. I stopped asking those questions and started asking others. Who was I? What did I want? How could I create my own happiness? And I started living the life I hoped my daughter would lead. One with query and laughter and legs that moved me from moment to moment to moment. Until, somewhere in between a good book and a little grand adventure, I found, and was found, by the kind of man that made me want to be selfish one last, glorious time.

We’re not perfect. I can’t even see perfect from the place we reside. We fight and misunderstand. We hurt and are hurt. We work and sweat and love and kiss and start over again. It’s messy and hard and there are days when I can’t wait for the morning. But I can appreciate his God given self amidst all his mortal mess and he can appreciate me and mine. And sometimes, when the light of our lives is just right, I can see us lifting one another to that gold lit place.

Sisters, stop asking if your standards are too high, if you want too much, if you are being too selfish.

Figure out what you want. Don’t settle for anything or anyone less. And then, once you and that worthy man find one another, work, love and pray for each other as if your heart and souls depend on it.

I hope you do it for yourself. I know you’ll do it for your daughter.

You both deserve it.

Hey guess what? You are completely complete even without “Mr. Right”. Read here and here.


Meg Conley is a writer that specializes in topics of womanhood, motherhood, childhood...basically all the 'hoods. Her blog, Meg in Progress, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration [and it's also where this post originally appeared]. She speaks at conferences about the glorious state of womanhood and is lucky enough to hang out on TV, HuffPost Live and Sirius XM radio routinely. When she isn't being honest about being a girl, she can often be found holed up in the bathroom sneakily eating left over Easter candy while hiding from her children. 

 

A few good gems

Good morning Friday! Glad to see you all here and ready for the weekend. My kids have a full line up of activities today and Saturday, which means I have a full line up of driving and spectating. I'm also planning on planning Spring Break. Only one more week of school!!! I can't wait. And I'm not even in school. Sleep. Need sleep.

Enough about me. Here's this week's link roundup. I especially loved this quote about happiness and love. It's so true. I think we all need to work harder on being happy for each other. That's my PSA for the day. Carry on!

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Teaching character to our children may be one of the most difficult tasks set before parents. I mean, how do you practically DO THAT? Check out this New York Times article titled, "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?" It's lengthy but worth the investment. Thanks Andrea!

Because we have missionary daughters, I had to post this NYT article on how the drop in missionary age (and surge of female missionaries) signals a changing of roles for women in the LDS church. Onwards and upwards ladies!

I'm feeling the need to beautify and organize my laundry room. It's a strange urge, I'll admit. I'm liking this one, and this one, and this.

This short article on being content really hit home with me. There's nothing especially earth shattering, but it's a good reminder nonetheless.

Here's a craft I can get behind: a deer head! Out of yardsticks! Does anyone have a collection of vintage yardsticks I could "borrow" ? I swear, collecting the supplies is what makes crafting difficult.

 image via  FindingHome

image via FindingHome

I'm bound and determined to make these Chocolate Chip Cookie Energy Bars. They look like a good pre/post workout snack, and then I could throw out Becca's sugar-laden granola bars. I have a date with dates this weekend. (Because, you now, the bars have dates in them. And cashews.)

And, in the spirit of full disclosure:

Reading: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Listening: Ingrid Michaelson's new single Wonderful Unknown . . . waiting for the rest of the album, Lights Out. 

Eating: Smoothies -- almost every day. My favorite right now is strawberries, raspberries, banana, spinach, greek yogurt, almond milk, and a teaspoon each of ground flax seed and honey. 

That's it. I'm out. Happy weekending!

It's all real life

G and I finagled a quick getaway this weekend--a road trip to Sydney for about 48 hours where went to the opera, visited the temple, ate some good food and generally celebrated the fact that we've been married for 24 years. 

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We caught The Magic Flute at the Opera House, with costumes and sets designed by Julie Taymor of Lion King fame (here's a little taste; it was fabulous). I love that G doesn't take himself seriously (exhibit a: this photo); he's enthusiastic, game for adventure and fun to travel alongside (and the very embodiment of our family's travel motto of flexipositivity).

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One of our favorite things to do when we're visiting a city is to just walk and walk and talk and explore with some nice long stretches of people watching. We got a lot of that in this weekend with the perfect weather and surroundings for it. We ended up on this hilltop near the Old Observatory and watched the sun go down.

Oh, and Modern Family is filming an episode there this week and we even crossed paths with Claire/Julie Bowen. This was kind of hilariously appropriate because somewhere along the line Maddy's Aussie friends decided G is Phil and I'm Claire (I'm going to assume it's because we're American and maybe because of our coloring?! Otherwise, whatever. Do I have to be Claire?). 

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G scored us a terrific hotel set-up, right across from the Opera House and at the feet of the Harbour bridge.

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I think it's fascinating that what appears at a distance ^ to be just a solid white surface (I always thought it was made of stucco or cement!) is actually lots of little tiles laid in an intricate pattern to create the structure that is the Opera House. The cracks and patterns make it even more interesting, I think, and highlight the degree of work and planning and commitment for this undertaking.  Here the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Kind of like a marriage, yes?


Right before we left to drive back home, Maddy texted that she wasn't feeling so well. By the time we arrived, she was suffering from a stomach gomboo. Today she's home sick, fighting the nausea with sprite and saltines.

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And so life goes. I'm tempted to say "back to real life!" but it's all real life--the weekend getaways and the sick duty. One (very short) minute you're on a rooftop pool overlooking Sydney Harbour, the next minute you're holding your daughter's hair back while she throws up. It's all part of the whole marriage thing we signed up for back in 1990.

So, instead I'll say: back to regularly scheduled programming! And laundry.