The impeded stream is the one that sings

brisbane fog.png

Back when we left for Australia in 2012, I was preparing my dissertation proposal but in all honesty not entirely sure how realistic it was to expect to finish.  I had started a PhD at Tufts several years earlier and had incrementally finished the coursework and the internship and the qualifying review, studying at the table alongside my kids and at times putting school on the back burner for a season or two when my family needed more of my time or when I served in more demanding church callings.  Pursuing this degree was important to me but it was HARD, there were many bids for my time, and often I wasn’t entirely sure why I was putting myself through all of it. 

After the move to Australia, it was particularly difficult to coordinate with my committee from so far away (and, oh, that killer time zone difference!) while working with a set of data on the other side of the world.  I came very close to quitting but as I considered it I felt a quiet but unmistakably insistent nudge to continue.  Even with that reassuring nudge, it was still arduous--in absence of any in-person colleagues or mentors to talk through ideas with me, I had a particularly difficult time articulating my thoughts and formulating my theories into written words, let alone feeling confident about their value once they were there on the page. 

Finally the time came and I headed from Australia to Boston to defend my dissertation. It was a crazy trip--I ended up getting delayed 24 hours in Brisbane due to some flukey, rare fog, which made it a 56-hour journey, my longest ever. Right on the cusp of presenting my research I had an experience that weekend that really felt like a bit of a personal blessing--a small thing, really, but something that felt holy to me. 

The dissertation defense with my committee was scheduled for 10 a.m. on a Monday in June.  I flew out on Friday and attended an inspiring Saturday evening session of stake conference (like a diocese regional meeting of several congregations) with friends in the area where I used to live. The next day I wasn’t entirely sure if I would go back up to stake conference again. I was fully in the throes of jet lag and I reasoned that I had kind of prepaid my church observance the night before. I thought maybe the time would be better spent going over my notes and fine-tuning my presentation for the next morning. Ultimately, on kind of a whim, I decided to go. 

So there I was, fresh off a long journey from Australia, in a congregation that was no longer my own, on the threshold of defending my dissertation. I felt worried and inadequate and unsure but so very relieved and grateful--almost there.  And then. The new presiding stake president (whom I had never met before; he moved in after we left) stood up and began his talk by sharing a personal, tender experience about his own dissertation process, the vulnerabilities he felt, and the poignant questions he asked and answers he received as he tried to complete that challenging goal.

What are the chances of that? I have never heard a dissertation story in church before. Sitting in that congregation, I felt known and comforted and buoyed. I was reminded (as my tear-splashed notes from the talk read) “that when we present our best efforts and include God in our struggles, He can bring light to dark things, brilliance to dull things, divinity to earthly things.” It felt like a benediction.

. . .

Recently I was thinking of this experience and how we serve as blessings in each others' lives. So many people aided my efforts to finish this undertaking. They gently guided me out of the weeds or opened doors when I was pacing anxiously at the threshold. These included big things like G's confidence and go-for-it-ness and my kids' immense enthusiasm for my goals. And small things like drive-by moments of thumbs up and encouragement and check-ins and, yes, these words in a talk given on a not-so-random Sunday.  

If you're spinning your wheels or wandering in the weeds or despairing at creating something you have your heart invested in--a book, a painting, a feeling, a study, a degree, a family, an assignment--I just want to say: dead ends sometimes turn into launching pads. Bewilderment sometimes opens us up just enough to the right questions that we begin to live the answers. Words and glances and snippets sometimes become leaps. The reward is sometimes found, oddly, in the impediments.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

~Wendell Berry

More?! You want...MORE?

Please sir may I have some more.jpg

Around the turn of the New Year, I read a post by Becca Wihite: "Instead of resolutions, this year I'm giving myself gifts...the gift of words. Mine(!) and other people's."  This sounded brilliant to me. I do love making resolutions but my goal-making persona tends to veer wildly from my goal-doing one. "Planning Annie" can be puritanical and rigid, highly optimistic about my time and willpower, and deeply disappointed in "future Annie" when she (or I--that is, regular old sometimes-tired-and-likes-her-comfort-zones Annie) doesn't comply to the high standard. 

So Becca got me thinking. What gifts can I give myself? So many of my goals are about deprivation or limiting--or at least that's how non-planning Annie thinks of them: Impositions. Style-crampers. Buzz kills. What if I thought in terms of gifts and what I want MORE of? 

So that's how I came up with my 2018 S'Mores. Of course I want serenity and wisdom and love but the actual items are concrete, quantifiable things I can give myself and others. I mentioned a couple of these in an Instastory yesterday and Sarah texted to ask what the other Mores were. Here we go:

  • More water
  • More books--real hold-em-in-my-hand-and-turn-the-pages books
  • More candles, more often
  • More cards & letters
  • More gatherings
  • More words 
  • More (camera) photos
  • More hugs and affection

What about you? What are you wanting more of in 2018? What can you give the world and yourself? 

p.s. This photo reminds me. Have you seen the 1968 vintage Oliver movie? Growing up my family used the line "MORE?!!! You want [pause]....MoooOOOOORRRRE?" over and over again to great and humorous effect. But I just went to find a clip of it and he just says "MORE?!" We must have embellished it over the years, ha!

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.

Later that same life

This caught my attention and imagination today*: In 1977, Stoney Emshwiller recorded an interview with his future self.  His filmmaker father ran the camera and Stoney "sat in a well-lit chair in a completely black studio and, like some teenaged Johnny Carson, chatted with an invisible older me. During this one-way conversation, I asked my older self tons of questions...then I recorded many different reactions to each possible answer, ranging from polite nods, to joy, sadness, annoyance, surprise, and outright horror."

The result is a poignant, quite wonderful interview between earlier expectations and later experience (and he's crowdfunding to digitally restore the original footage and improve/lengthen the film here if you're interested).

This has me wondering what my 18-year-old self would have wanted to know and what my older self would want to advise if they could actually converse. Here are a few things that might make the clip for me:

18-year-old self to the future me:

  • Are you happy? cute? impressive? 
  • Do you live in a big city with a career? is your life romantic?
  • Did you end up with ________? __________? _________? (I was a fickle 18-year-old)
  • Did you see some of the world? Other countries?
  • How many kids do you have? is it hard, childbirth and parenting?
  • Do you have any regrets?

Older self to young Annie:

  • Go spend more time with your grandparents and parents.
  • Be a better friend to your siblings.
  • Get out in nature more. Look out your window at those mountains and go! You're taking them for granted. You live in a beautiful place. 
  • You LUCK OUT in the husband department. Trust (and choose) the good, kind one who makes you happy. 
  • You'll be surprised how much you love being a mother. Maybe think about having more kids than your original plan. You won't understand this now but you even kind of love childbirth.
  • Aim high in the academic/career aspirations department. Go for it. You want to write? Write. Worry/weight/ponder less, do more. Things have a way of working out. 
  •  Don't try to be impressive, think more about being loving and connecting with people and ideas that you care about
  • Always choose the kind, loving way (and choose those kinds of people as friends, too)
  • Pssst. You know those square little apple computers that your friends have? You should invest in that company. And in like 2005 when you think they couldn't possibly think of another new invention, invest again.
  • Take a stats class. Take 5 of them.  And econ and computer programming and design. You'll be glad. Don't let unfamiliar subjects or intimidating professor scare you off--you'll regret that big time.
  • Don't worry about blending in so much. You're a pretty good chameleon but you'll find your truest friends and feel the best when you show how you really think and feel.

What about you?
(And what would you ask your future self now? what things that I think are important will I scoff at decades later?)

*found via A Cup of Jo and Kottke

Around the world in 40 days

Okay, not around the world. But halfway-and-back kind of amounts to the same thing, right? I'm happily getting re-nested after doing some serious and scattered wandering since May/June. Here's a really quick nutshell catch-up:

1. I finished my dissertation! And then defended it! In retrospect I kind of can't believe it's done. And, also in hindsight, I see how much of a barrier I was to myself until I just decided to get 'er done. Turns out writing a dissertation mostly means showing up and putting words on the page. (And, okay yes, it involved coordinating approvals and feedback with a long-distance committee, too. And data analysis.) I'll probably post a little more about the study itself another time but for now I'm just so grateful for my own personal support crew at home throughout all these years as well as those who cheered me on elsewhere. My family couldn't get away to attend the actual defense so it meant so much to me to have friends show up for my presentation and celebrate with me afterwards. And a friend (looking at you, Jen) who actually let me stay in her house in the Boston area while they were on vacation elsewhere.

Next time I defend a dissertation will you remind me to take more photos and to wash my hair that day? Okay, thanks.

Next time I defend a dissertation will you remind me to take more photos and to wash my hair that day? Okay, thanks.

2. Fun times in the NYC. I ended up with some extra time on my hands on the east coast so I talked my good (and, happily for me, spontaneous) friend Christie into a last-minute girls' trip in NYC. We had a blast, including some mighty fine meals, a celebrity sighting or two, theatre evenings, loads of walking, and (best of all) excellent conversations about everything under the sun. 

3. Family times in Utah. After that I headed to Utah for time with my parents and Lauren. The rest of the family joined us there after the Aussie school semester ended on July 3. G had his 30th high school reunion, we had a week at Bear Lake with G's family, time at Wildwood with my family, and so many good, soul filling moments that I will live off of for months. 'Twas perfect.

4. Launching countdown for Maddy. University and freshman orientation doesn't start until later in August but, since I had already been gone for almost 6 weeks, I realized I couldn't stay away any longer to wait for the actual first day of school. So we did the dorm outfitting and goodbying a little earlier. It does NOT get any easier the second time around, folks. We will miss our Maddy girl immensely but are so happy for her new stage. She's so READY.

At our family talent night, my cousin Colin sang this song he wrote with a friend. Sitting there between my two girls, it was the perfect song for the day before our goodbyes. I posted a little snippet on my instagram but here's the whole, beautiful song. Thanks, Colin. 

So what do I do NOW?

[Note: Friday gems this week are going to be Saturday gems. A post! On Saturday even.]

As Annie explained in our last post, we've been tossing back and forth the evolution of this little old blog. We are admittedly all over the map, and I think that's because our lives are, in many ways, pinging random-like amongst our family responsibilities, church duties, academic pursuits, interests, and, of course, Netflix. There's no neatly outlined game plan for this portion of our lives, which I find wildly exhilarating and mildly confusing. Some days I'm carpooling and planning birthday dinners and writing. Some nights I find myself in this house alone. ALONE. Can you even believe it? I know I can't.

And right now? Now I'm nesting.

In two and half weeks Sterling and I fly to France to pick up our daughter from her 18 month mission. The plane tickets were purchased some months ago, but now I'm finalizing places to stay, and a car to rent, and googe translating directions. Of course, once Jordan is with us she can be our translator, but before we actually swoop in and claim her . . . we have to rent a car, find our airbnb flat, AND find her mission office. Wish us luck.

I've imagined our reunion with her dozens of times. I think I'll be nervous, which seems ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing to be nervous about. I know I'll be excited out of my mind. Have you seen the YouTube video where the missionary tackles his mom? I'm thinking it might go something like that -- except it will be me . . . flattening Jordan. And then I have a million things to tell her and a million questions to ask. I want to hear about every adventure, and all of the people she has met, and exactly what it is like to be a Texan living in France. (For instance, 18  months without queso. It's horrifying.)

Have I mentioned we pick her up at 9 PM? And that we will be jet lagged?

Honestly, I try not to envision the reunion too much. It's a little too MUCH emotional anticipation even for me. So, I'm nesting. Jordan's childhood room has long ago been taken over by a younger sibling -- all of Jordan's college belongings hastily stashed in an unused bedroom. Two days ago I painstakingly cleaned out the room, dragging its miscellaneous contents into the gameroom. Yesterday the painter came. Now I have a clean, white slate and innumerable Justin Bieber posters with which to begin. (JK on the Biebs re-entering the room.)

I'm hoping for a grown-up, peaceful, eclectic vibe that rejuvenates my weary traveler.

Maybe something like this:

image via  decorpad

image via decorpad

Or this:

image via  southernweddings

My only constraints are time (two weeks people) and money (flying to France, ahem). I'm heading to Marshall's now. Wish me luck!

Nesting and launching 2.0

"The most exciting movement in nature is not progress, advance, but expansion and contraction, the opening and shutting of the eye, the hand, the heart, the mind. We throw our arms wide with a gesture of religion to the universe; we close them around a person. We explore and adventure for a while and then we draw in to consolidate our gains." - Robert Frost

photo by Charmi Pena via  The Moment Junkie

photo by Charmi Pena via The Moment Junkie

Bravo, Mr. Frost.

Yesterday Sarah and I had a good Skype catch-up session, chatting about life, good mail, kids' college aspirations, our own academic adventures, and bloggery. I think this Frost passage articulates what we're trying to capture here on ye olde blog--ideas for navigating that worn path between independence and connection, adventure and comfort that midstage families experience.

When Nest & Launch first launched we saw a gap in the existing blogs and wanted to address the particular joys and challenges of life with teens and big kids. Along the way we've realized that, for us anyway, it goes beyond that. At this point in life, parallel to the nest-and-launch process with our kids, we're each also going through our own nesting and launching process: thinking about how to throw our arms wide to the world as well as embracing our connections at home.

This is just to say that we're widening our definition of nest and launch here. You'll still see posts and ideas on midstage parenting but we're also keen to post about nesting and launching as a theme in our own individual lives--and yours. 

Cheers to you and yours! xx