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! 

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...)?

Marriage questions

Yesterday's New York Times article "13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married" poses some terrific questions for couples to ask each other--either before marriage or in the midst of one. (As Robert Scuka reminds us in the article, "If you don't deal with an issue before marriage, you deal with it while you're married.") They're all great questions but here's a sampling:

  • Did your family throw plates, calmly discuss issues or silently shut down when disagreements arose?
  • What's the most you would be willing to spend on a car, a couch, shoes?
  • Can you deal with my doing things without you?
  • Do you know all the ways I say "I love you"?
  • How do you see us 10 years from now?

I would add a few more:

  • How important are holidays and gestures (gifts, birthdays, etc.) to you?
  • Are you an upholder, a questioner, or an obliger? 
  • How did your parents/family divide the household/family work? Do you expect it will be the same with us or different?
  • Will you love me like Calvin loves Alice?

Which brings me to my Throwback Thursday selection: If you're a long-time reader, you'll remember that one of my lodestar couples is Calvin and Alice Trillin, whose 35-year marriage was the subject of his love letter/elegy of a book About Alice as well as the topic of many of Calvin Trillin's essays through the years.  I'm not the only one who has a Trillin marriage crush. Calvin writes of the many condolence letters he received from readers after Alice's death:

"[I]n the weeks after she died I was touched by their letters. They might not have known her but they knew how I felt about her...I got a lot of letters like the one from a young woman in New York who wrote that she sometimes looked at her boyfriend and thought, 'But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?'"

Original post: Like Calvin and Alice

Edited to add some more great questions suggested by readers:

How willing are you to make sacrifices for each other? How messy/tidy are you and what degree of tolerance do you have for a change in your style? How will you divide the chores, tasks, etc.? What percentage of your time do you want to be in solitude? with one other person? with groups? What activities are really important for you to do with me and which ones can we do on our own/don't need (or have to have) our spouse to do with us? How much emotion do you each attach to money and its management?  "What is money for?" 


Okay, friends, what questions would you add to the list? (And who are your lodestar couples?)

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.

24

BYU 1992. After two years of  marriage, we both graduated college.

BYU 1992. After two years of  marriage, we both graduated college.

Monday marked my 24th wedding anniversary. I know it's cliche, but I don't feel old enough to have been married for 24 years. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my oldest child is 20. Time is a wondrous, amorphous thing. It stretches and expands and condenses with such complexity that at times I find myself unsure of what end is up. Also, I'm notoriously bad at calendaring.

I don't want to paint some weirdo picture that our marriage is perfect, because it's not. The times I get the maddest are when I feel like he is trying to be the boss of me. Then . . . watch out. And sometimes he becomes so consumed with work that he kinda sorta forgets about me for a while, and then I have to jump around waving my arms wildly screaming, "I'm here. It's me! Your wife! Remember?" He stands there looking stunned.

However, by and large, my marriage is one of my greatest sources of strength. The really cool part about being married for 24 years is the incredible amount of history that we share. It's been me and him, for 24 years. Woven throughout those years of shared meals and worries and laughter and sorrow, I've learned some incredible lessons about relationships and, surprisingly, about being my own person. Here's my top 5 marriage lessons from the trenches:

1. Focus on the good. In the first years of our marriage I often thought I needed to correct habits or practices that I didn't like. I had the I-certainly-can't-live-with-this-for-10-years mentality. So, if I thought I couldn't live with it -- I tried to change it. Essentially I think I wanted him to fit some crazy, made-up mold in my head labeled 'husband.' Now, after more than 20 years, I KNOW that I can live with all of his stuff, so I'm free to sit back and just enjoy and love him. My advice? Focus on all of the good things about your spouse and gloss over petty annoyances. Who has time to be petty when there is so much good Netflix to enjoy?

2. Talk nice. Words are powerful little missiles, so choose yours wisely. Even when we argue we keep our language civil and avoid name-calling or issuing threats. I can honestly say I see this practice as a cornerstone of our happy marriage -- we always try to show respect regardless of how we are feeling in the moment. Take a moment to cool down if you need it. If you do this, you will eliminate SO MANY hurt feelings.

3. Don't play games. This nugget is a hard-earned piece of wisdom. Sterling is NOT a game player, but I had this tendency to avoid talking to him when I was mad. If I was angry or upset, I wanted to punish him AND get his attention (it's called a two-fer), so I'd pout or play the drama queen (stomping off to my room just before we sat down to dinner). I know. It's silly. Finally, after we'd been married about 18 years we had a great conversation where we talked about game playing. Sterling told me he hated the games, and I told him I often felt the game-playing was the only way to get his attention. We made a conscious decision at that point to come together on the issue. I stopped the games, and he became more willing to face any disagreements head on. And it worked! At first I found myself saying, "Hey! I'm not playing games, so I need you to discuss this." And then he would. And yes, I'm in my 40s. I'm a slow learner.

4. Be thoughtful. EVERYDAY. It feels great to be acknowledged and remembered. When Sterling jumps up to do the dishes after I've prepared a meal, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling that starts in my toes and shoots out of my head! When I'm at the grocery store, I'll pick up his favorite ice cream and hide it in the freezer for when he's had a rough day at work. We try to do something nice for each other every day, even if it's just a foot rub while we watch tv. Be mindful about this -- include it in your daily to-do list -- one nice, unexpected favor each day generates a ton of goodwill.

5. Find happiness in yourself. Probably the biggest lesson I've learned in being married (since I was a wee babe of 19) is that I'm responsible for myself and my own happiness -- not Sterling. Having a fun date night, or long, lingering conversations, or family outings with the kids can add to my feelings of happiness and well-being, but ultimately it's up to me to be a content, fulfilled person. Our relationship flourishes when we bring our strengths together rather than expecting the other to "fill us up." Because the "filling up" or "completing" can't really happen -- not in the long term anyway. A Blog About Love does a great job teaching about working on ourselves so we can be better spouses. 

Alright folks. That's the best of my happy marriage arsenal. Go forth and build happy marriages. Also? Include carbs. Carbs enhance everything.

 

Spicing it up

One of the things we'd like to discuss on N&L is marital relationships after kids leave the house. Without the time constraints of sports and music lessons and orthodontist appointments and school EVERYTHING (plus the time I spend nagging), its seems like we might just come untethered from the earth and go floating . . . somewhere. I'd prefer it to be some place like Paris or Milan or hey, Maine would be cool. But even now, as our kids march out of our home one by one, Paris takes a back seat to college tuition and all of that expensive grown up stuff. Which means at the present, I'm just ruminating on what I want my life and marriage to look like once all the chickadees have flown the coop. 

When this commercial came on the television a few nights ago, I almost fell out of my chair. 

You know, just a little something to brighten your Thursday.

Love,
Sarah