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 generally as expensive as the mortgage payment on a 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 time. 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 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's that 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, love, and empathy 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, General Authorities of our church who travel constantly away from family. I might be misreading their reactions but think one of the things that makes people surprised 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 factor: 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 foresee several ways that would bring us in the same place 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! 

Self-control isn't about feeling miserable!

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Guys, I love a plan. I love a new regime. I love carefully planning each step that WILL TOTALLY CHANGE MY LIFE. So, New Year’s is generally a good time for me.

I've spent the better part of the last 30 or so Januarys working on my willpower. I have denied, cajoled, and forced myself into good choices for long stretches of time. I can go months with my head down, legs pumping, grinding my way to my goal. Until I can’t. Then I fall on my butt with a resounding thud . . . those little cartoon birds circling my head. Whomp. whomp.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, right? (Did Einstein really say that?) To change things up, I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to approach my goals in a different way -- NOT in a restrictive, force-fed, self-denying way. Much like Annie’s resolutions to do MORE of what makes her happy, I’ve been thinking that perhaps the key to real change is building upon existing strengths.

In the midst of my ruminations, the Internet fed me this little gem: “The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions” by David DeSteno. David and I could be besties -- because while he believes that self-control is our ticket to success in life, he also believes that we’ve been going at it all wrong. Me too David! Listen to this:

“We too often think about self-improvement and the pursuit of our goals in bracing, self-flagellating terms: I will do better, I will muscle through, I will wake up earlier. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t: Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable.”

Yay!!!!!! I’m all for not feeling miserable.

I’ll leave you to read the article for yourself, but let me cut to the chase. DeSteno advocates developing self-control -- the ability to put something or someone ahead of your immediate needs and desires -- by using gratitude and compassion (what he calls the social emotions) as a motivating force. Essentially, practicing gratitude and compassion encourages your mind to be patient and persevering. I love it when DeSteno says that the social emotions “give us not only grit but also grace.”

I’m still working out how to put this in practice. But here are my current thoughts:

  1. I often do my writing late at night, so there’s a tendency to talk myself out of the task if I’m too tired. But my gratitude for this space and for Annie’s contributions motivate me to complete the task. My gratitude makes me persevere.

  2. I want to be better about daily scripture study. When I practice gratitude for my daily blessings, this task seems like a tiny sacrifice of time with a big pay off. When I think about my bigger responsibilities to my family and community -- this task seems extremely consequential. Thus, more patience and perseverance.

  3. I need to eat healthier. (Yes, this again.) I’m so grateful for all of the things my body can do -- Crossfit, ski, hike, stay up all night and keep going the next day. My gratitude for my body should help me to fuel it with better foods.

Basically, this is a practice of thoughtful living -- focusing our thoughts on gratitude and compassion and utilizing those emotions to make choices for a better future. THIS is my New Year’s resolution! Who’s with me?

Practicing Parenthood: Paying Attention

Most of the time we think about parenting as something we do to influence someone else—it's what we do to raise baby humans into responsible, contributing adult humans. We scour articles that promise “pro tips to get your child to behave” or “how to produce a [kind, responsible, smart, superstar] child in ten easy steps.” Me too! I get it--I study and teach parenting for a living—the fascination is strong there and we want to crack the code for how to produce happy, adjusted people.

Lately, though, I’ve been mulling over how parenting and parenthood has changed—sometimes “raised,” other times lowered—me

When I’ve let it, motherhood has been a spiritual practice—and I mean that in the sense of my spirit imperfectly practicing difficult, soul-stretching-and-spraining things.

That’s not to say it’s always transcendent or that I float around in nirvana but rather that when I hit the most difficult (yet oh-so-frequent and mundane) times of being the allegedly mature grown up in a family, those moments invite me to learn to be a better human in general and get better at the things that matter.

Now and then I’d like to chat here about some of those parenthood practices that make us stronger people—the equivalent of doing those annoying scales and arpeggios when practicing the piano. What are those things? I don’t know. Or rather, I’m trying to figure it out.  Tell me yours: what quality or change has the practice of parenthood brought you?  What specific parenthood moments have helped stretch and deepen you as a person? Please chime in, I’d really love to know.

. . .

Here’s one I’ve been considering: attention. More specifically: paying it.  In the movie Lady Bird one of my favorite parts is a scene between Lady Bird, this teenage girl who lives in Sacramento (though is aching to leave it), and her Catholic School counselor, Sister Sarah Joan. After reading Lady Bird’s college entrance essay, Sister Sarah Joan remarks that Lady Bird clearly loves the city. “You write about Sacramento so affectionately, and with such care,” she tells her. This surprises Lady Bird, who replies that she just pays attention. Then Sister Sarah Joan notes, “Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love--and attention?”

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French philosopher Simone Weil wrote about attention as a kind of spiritual discipline: “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Parents know this. We gaze at our newborn’s faces for hours, memorizing the slopes and angles and reading their features and their cues like tea leaves. Somewhere along the line this level of attention becomes inappropriate and/or unwelcome (“Why are you staring at me like that?!”) so our attention takes covert, underground forms.

I got out of practice of really paying attention as the pace, competing priorities, and sheer number of people in our family increased. But I’m keen to build that muscle again. If you are, too, here are a few ideas for our attention practicing:

  • Write a description of each of your big kids/teens/YAs as they are now. Details. What do they look like, who do they remind you of, what pushes their buttons and makes them happy? Baby books are great and all but this is when things get really fascinating. Pay attention and document, even if just for your own eyes.
     
  • Look family members in the eye. Don’t make this creepy; try for at least once or twice a day when you stop what you’re doing, turn to them and talk face to face, no interruptions. Notice what it feels like to really see and be seen.
     
  • Pay a sincere compliment about something you’ve noticed. Or write a note. I remember once when I was an awkward, 15-year-old I took a ballet class. Short limbed and long bodied with legs more muscular than lithe, I didn’t feel graceful. I felt self conscious and internally lamented I didn’t look like the twiggy lean dancers in the class but I did love going to class, moving to the music, expressing myself that way. My mom came to one of the open house classes and said in the car on the way home something offhanded like “It was so beautiful to see you move like that. You have such a lovely figure.” I probably said “oh, Mom.” I might have even rolled my eyes. But guys. I took that compliment and tucked it into my soul pocket for years. I felt seen.

We are here to abet creation and to witness it,
to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed.
Together we notice not only each mountain shadow
and each stone on the beach
but we notice each other’s beautiful face
and complex nature
so that creation need not play to an empty house.

Annie Dillard

What's for dinner

For the majority of my adult life, I've disliked cooking. But because I'm a bit picky about my food, and I had a family who needed to eat, I cooked. And slowly (SO VERY SLOWLY), I've come to appreciate and even enjoy the process. Sometimes I even cook just because I have a brand new cookbook, and I want to see how things will turn out. It's a choose-your-own-adventure with real food at the end! What could be better?

Last week I hit on a perfect weeknight dinner. The weeknight dinner, for me, is tricky. It needs to be tasty (and sure, nutritional), but it cannot take more than 30 minutes to put together. Sterling and Parker raved about this meal. I think Parker has asked for it every day since, and IT HAS KALE IN IT. So, make this soon. It has miraculous properties.

Quick sausage, kale, and crouton saute
from Smitten Kitchen Every Day

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I feel like Pioneer Woman 'pioneered' this picture of all of the ingredients. But actually, this is simply practicing mise en place -- which means GET YO STUFF TOGETHER. This makes cooking, especially a new recipe, easier. Pull together the ingredients. Chop, drain, wash -- get all of that stuff out of the way first. Plus, it makes pretending that you are hosting your own cooking show WAY easier.

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The process is simple (the full recipe is listed below). First off, toast your bread -- this is ciabatta. You want a rustic, sturdy bread that will dry out a bit and become, well, a crouton.

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Then scooch those golden crouton to the side and brown some sweet Italian sausages (casings removed). The sausage is a bit tough to crumble at first, so this is a perfect opportunity to get rid of some pent up aggressions. Stab the sausage with your spatula! You can do it!

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Throw in the kale and contemplate what a healthy person you are -- cuz you are cooking with KALE.

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Once the kale starts to wilt, add the white beans and get them all warm and toasty. This is the part where you add the red wine vinegar to get the tasty bits off the bottom. It's important!

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Sprinkle with parmesan and ring the dinner bell! You're done! And it's soooooo tasty.

Here's the full story (check out Smitten Kitchen's website for more goodness):

Olive oil
2 cups (60 grams) 1-inch cubes of sturdy white bread (such as sourdough, ciabatta)
1/2 pound (225 grams) fresh sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
3/4 cup (200 grams) cooked white beans (about half a 15.5-ounce can)
2 big handfuls (or more, to taste) torn curly kale leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Grated parmesan (optional)

Heat two glugs of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and toast, stirring, until lightly browned and mostly crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Push the croutons aside and add another glug to the pan, then the garlic and sausage meat. Cook, breaking up the sausage into small bits, until browned all over. Add the greens and cook until they begin to wilt, then add the beans and warm through. Season well with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add vinegar to the pan and use it to scrape up any stuck bits. Scrape the saute into bowls, finish with cheese if desired, and inhale.

[NOTES: I didn't include the red vinegar part in my pictures. Don't skip that! It adds an incredible brightness to the finished product. Also, the recipe says this makes 2 large or 4 small servings. I doubled the recipe for Sterling, Parker and myself. But keeping in mind that Parker is a 16-year-old boy -- I might even 2 1/2 times it on the next go round.

 

 

 

A few good gems

For those of you just joining us, our Friday posts involve a round-up of fun/interesting/timely links. It's our very own this-week's-best-of-the-Internet award program. 

Before I sign off for some weekend revelry (by which I mean Netflix and tacos), let me just stand before you and say, "I took down my Christmas decorations." Mic drop. Now I'm enjoying my yearly bout of I-must-redecorate-my-entire-house-or-I-will-die. Hmmmm. Someone should probably get a job. Not pointing any fingers mind you.

But surfing the web is free. So . . . CHEERS.

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  • My friend Becky texted me about these long distance touch lamps, and now I'm certain our family needs them. Each person in your group has their own color. When you touch the lamp, everyone's lamp turns your color. It's like new age group texting -- but more soothing. 
  • If you're a Gen Xer like me, there's a decent chance your childhood hero is Judy Blume. So, HECK YES, I'll be signing up for her masterclass.
  • My oldest, Jordan, got me hooked on this cross stitching app over the holidays. Let me just warn you that I've found it highly addictive -- so much so, that I've had to restrict my cross stitch time to evenings just before bed. I can't really explain the allure, since you are literally just touching squares. But it's seriously relaxing.
  • I'm loving the art of Mateja Kovac. Her work is composed entirely in Photoshop (Really? How?) I'm hoping she reopens her Etsy shop soon.
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That's it guys. We made it to Friday. And we all know that carbs don't count on weekends and that's super lucky for us.