Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post-Frankenstorm Update

I still have not started work, because first there was the hurricane, and then the power has been out at my new office.  Because there was no work, Miss M also has not started preschool.  Tomorrow is the big day for both of us.  Tomorrow is also November 1, so I will also be starting NaNoWriMo tomorrow.  For NaNoWritMo, I have an idea that I really like, I have some thoughts on where I'd like the story to go, and I am super excited about starting writing.  But starting a new job, starting preschool, and starting NaNoWriMo all at the same time?  I must be losing my mind.  Oh, and a friend emailed and said he's in town tomorrow and Friday, and would we like to get together?

We survived the storm just fine.  We never even lost power.  We did, however, suffer some leaks.  This building must need a lot of work, since it appears to be made from stone/cement.  We had about five leaks, to be precise.  Leaks 1-3 were around the windows, and leaked onto the sills. . .no big deal.  I put a bowl under one, and mopped up the other two.  Leak #4 was from the ceiling, and leaked onto carpet.  This one is a little more problematic.  We put a bucket under it once we discovered it, but the carpet was already wet at that point.  The plaster in the ceiling is starting to come down.  Leak #5 is the doozy, though--a giant section of our living room carpet is soaking wet, as is the rug pad underneath it.  The wooden baseboard is rotten all along the area, so clearly this is a long-standing problem.  I need to inspect more, but it also appears that the bottom of the tv cabinet is moldy.  They sent a guy to vacuum up the water, but that did little/nothing to remedy the problem.  The carpet and carpet pad are both soaked.  I think this is going to require me being a pain in the ass to get it all fixed. . .ie, writing a letter that cites the relevant state laws about wet and mold and what their obligations are.  I hate be heavy-handed, when we have just moved in, but they don't seem to be in a hurry to fix things, and I don't want moldy carpet in my house with my two kids.

I have been trying to unpack and get settled with these three extra days off from work, but we mostly used the extra time to mess around.  Why unpack when you can procrastinate?  Actually, it's not going too badly.  Everything is organized and put away except for part of one of my suitcases, and then the girls' things.  The girls' things are taking over the house, though.  I need to buckle down and get it done.  We had three suitcases full of clothes and toys for the two of them, and then we were given loads more stuff every time we visited with friends and family.  Miss M's bed is a mountain of stuffed animals at this point.

Miss M and I went exploring in the neighborhood today (which was MUCH more fun than organizing her toys).  It's funny, you generally see your neighborhood through the life experiences you are having at the time you live there.  The last time we lived here, Miss M was too little for playgrounds, so I never noticed any.  This time, we spied one while on our way to the grocery store a few days ago, and we returned today to test it out.  However, upon closer inspection, we realized that it was a playground meant for older kids, not toddlers.  There weren't any swings, and it was sized for bigger kids, so much so that it was hard for her to climb on the equipment.  After we played for a bit, I told Miss M that we'd look around for another one that was meant for kids her size.  Thirty second later, just after buckling her back in the stroller, she yelled out "I see one--there it is!"  Sure enough, a football field away there was another playground.  I thought it was hilarious that she spotted it so quickly.  When we got there, it was just perfect--sandbox full of communal toys, swings, correctly sized playground equipment, even bathrooms!  She had a blast--so much so that we were late for the Halloween celebration in our building.

We went trick-or-treating after the playground, and Miss M had so much fun running around.  She kept saying "it's fun to see their costumes" (as we saw other kids) and "this is fabulous!"  After we finished, she told me that she wanted to go again.  The trick now will be the candy.  We don't usually let her have any, and now she has an entire bucket full.  She started with a lollipop tonight, but spent more time playing with it than eating it, until I made her wrap it up so she could eat dinner.

There seem to be a lot of (young) families in our building, which is eight kinds of awesome.  I'm hoping we meet some cool people soon, and also hoping that they have (nice) children who can be playmates with my children.  It will be great for Miss M to have some local friends to hang with.

Finally, I'm nervous for preschool tomorrow.  What if they're not nice to her?  She's a bit bossy, but she is a very kind child, and she really focuses on it when children are mean to her.  Some kids were mean to her a few months ago, and she told me all about it when I got home from work.  She was so sad about it that it broke my heart.  And she is still refusing to use the potty.  What if they make fun of her? Oh, I hope this goes well.  We've shielded her from bullies and mean kids, and I worry about her being exposed to them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

We moved into our new place today.  Actually, our old place--we lived in this building the last time we were in the U.S..  It feels like home, which is strange when you consider that we only lived here for about three months the last time.  But that was the start of this grand adventure that we've been on for the last few years, the beginning of our new life, and so it's home.  It's nice to move to a different city, and yet know the neighborhood.  A few things have changed around here, but in mostly good ways--we discovered a great, cheap burrito place; there's a great newish playground; there's a new bagel place.  It was fun to walk around today with Miss M and talk to her about how we lived here when she was just a baby like SB.

We did a bit of unpacking, then some grocery shopping.  Is it just me, or have grocery prices REALLY gone up?  I know we are in a big city, but we just paid $8 for a jar of peanut butter, and $7.50 for a tub of greek yogurt!  I've been joking that we are going to commute to buy groceries in the suburbs.

Tomorrow we are going to go and visit Miss M's new school, just to prepare her for Monday, when she will start (as long as the weather cooperates, that is).  We've been talking with her a lot about starting school, but in all of the recent chaos, I forgot to get a book to prepare her.  For all of our other big changes, like SB's birth and the move and potty training, we bought books and read them every night to help prepare her, and it worked really well.  In hindsight, I wish we'd done the same for school.  Still, we've been talking about it every day, about how mommy and daddy and SB will go with her, but then we'll leave her there with her new teacher and her new friends and she will play all day.  Today was the first day she voiced some concern about this plan.  Before now she's always been really excited.  I reassured her that I would be nearby, and that her teacher could call me and I would come back if she really needed me.  Hopefully, it will go smoothly.

I'm looking forward to her going to preschool, because I know she needs the stimulation, and I'm excited for all of the new things she will learn and be able to relay to us, but it's bittersweet.  All of a sudden, she's almost THREE.  How is it possible that she's been with us three years already?!  My little baby is growing up.  She's been at home with one of us her whole life.  She's never stayed with "strangers" before.  Her whole world has been created by us up until now.  When she has said something, we know exactly where it comes from--we get all of the references, because we've been with her every step of the way.  And now, all of that will be different.  I know it's a good thing and a healthy thing and a necessary thing (at some point), but it's also a little scary to let her out of our sight, out of our care.  But then, it's clear that she's also ready.

And then, there is Frankenstorm.  We tried to buy water today, and the grocery store was completely sold out.  There was a half an aisle that was completely empty.  I am still hoping that the storm just turns and goes out to sea.  Nobody needs a freak hurrican/nor'easter/storm!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SB at 7 Months and Change

Dear Little SB,

Oh, what a joy you are! You are a happy, smiley, cherubic baby, and I love every minute that I spend with you. You have the most wonderful little personality.

It has been a long time since I have written you one of these posts, because it has been a very busy couple of months for us as we moved from Europe back to the U.S. (and in fact, we don't actually move into our own place for two more days--we are at Grammy's house right now, visiting). But you've weathered it all like a champ, charming everyone along the way.

You started rolling both ways back in August, and have now progressed to the point where you can turn yourself in the direction that you want, and then roll over and over again until you get there. It is pretty funny. You'll now get up on all fours as though you are going to crawl, and then rock back and forth, but you aren't quite crawling yet. You sometimes raise your arms and your legs while balancing on your tummy, trying desperately to crawl. You'll get there soon. You are not yet sitting up, and don't seem very interested. You can sit up when we put you in the position, though, resting on your arms. Your legs are very strong, too--you have been able to stand for more than a month, while holding on or leaning on something.

We started feeding you solid food at six months, and you have been eating very well. The only thing you don't like are peas. Other veggies and fruits and oatmeal and rice cereal have all gone down just fine. It is wonderful to have a child who eats! You are growing like a weed. We put you in the 9 month old clothing a six months, and you'll need to be out of it soon.

You were wonderful on the flight from Europe. You slept the entire flight, which was just amazing to me. The airline wouldn't let me use your carseat (the same carseat that Miss M flew over in when she was a baby), so you had to sleep in my arms. You just slept and slept, waking occasionally to eat, and I know everyone around us was impressed by how good you were. You are actually a pretty good sleeper, and will even sleep through the night occasionally. When you first starting turning over from back to tummy about two months ago or so, though, you'd wake yourself up and get upset, and out of desperation to get some sleep, I started letting you sleep with me. I swore that I would do things differently from how I did them with your sister, but I am a softie! You love to snuggle in with me and eat. It's working out just fine, and we are both getting plenty of sleep now. You wake and eat as you need (like?!), and I barely even wake to feed you. It's working for both of us, and I love our cuddle time. You are just a wonderful cuddler!

You are also, unfortunately, a terrible pincher. You have a lobster grasp. For a while, my breast was covered in little bruises from you pinching me while you nursed. We have worked on "no pinching," and you've gotten a bit better, but while hugging you sometimes give people a big pinch. It REALLY hurts, much more than I would have thought possible! You are crazy strong. Even thought it's painful, it cracks me up, because I cannot believe that such a little baby has that strength.

This month, you've had a chance to meet pretty much everyone--great-grammy, grampa, your uncle, and loads of cousins, friends, and other relatives. Everyone just loves you so much. You give them your big grins immediately, smile, giggle, and full-out belly laugh. You are just so full of joy and light. You even smile with your eyes.

You and Miss M already have a very special relationship.  She just adores you, and constantly gives you hugs and kisses.  She talks to you in a high-pitched voice that drives me a bit batty, but which you absolutely love and immediately respond to by smiling and laughing.  The two of you get quite a kick out of each other.  She is very protective of you, too.  When we went to get each of you shots back in August, she went first, and cried bitterly when given her shots.  When she realized that you were going to get them to, she tried to prevent us from taking you into the examination room, saying "no--no shots for my sister!"  It was adorable.  She always thinks of you, like this morning--"SB wants milk, too," when she got a cup of milk for herself.  I am looking forward to seeing the two of you play together when you get a bit bigger.

You and your sister are the two best gifts I have ever been given. Every day with you is a wonderful adventure. I know that your daddy is looking forward to next month, when your sister will begin school, no only because it's a grand new chapter for her, but because he will get some special one-on-one time with you just like he had with your sister when she was little. I know you both will enjoy that time together.

I look forward to watching you grow and change, and seeing your little personality develop in the coming months. I love you so very much.

Love, Mom

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Did It!

Do you ever have those moments when seemingly disconnected or vague thoughts that have been floating around your head all of a sudden gel together into a clear path that you obviously must follow? That happened to me today. I was reading this post by the always-awesome Mel today, which references NaNoWriMo, and something just clicked for me. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Basically, thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I'd heard of NaNoWriMo before, but never paid much attention to it, because that seemed a bit. . .ambitious. But today. . .I signed up to do it!

I have bits and bobs of writing stashed all over the place. I like to write. I constantly put together snatches of dialogue and imagine characters and plots and beginnings and endings. However, I don't actually end up with much. I overanalyze and tell myself that everything is crap, and I basically kill the piece before it even gets started. I am someone who wants to be good at everything I do. With writing, I want everything to be so perfect that I get nowhere. It's ironic, because producing nothing is the ultimate failure.

But this month, I was reading something that really spoke to me about giving yourself permission to be less than perfect, and getting out there and doing what you want to do--that by simply giving yourself that permission, you free yourself up to accomplish far more than you otherwise might. Then, I had a funny conversation with my brother about his creative use of facial hair, which prompted me to think of a plot for a story (hey! wouldn't it be funny if. . .). Plus, I've been thinking about how I'd like to write more, and how I could carve more time out of my schedule to write. Then, I read Mel's post, in which she referenced NaNoWriMo. Cartoon lightbulbs went off over my head. I raced over to NaNoWriMo's website, read much of the material posted while the girls napped, then signed up. Hot damn!

So, I give myself permission to fail. I give myself permission to be less than perfect. I give myself permission to write utter crap. I give myself permission to do it simply for the joy of doing it. I give myself permission to give up, even.

There basically could not be a worse time for me to be doing NaNoWriMo. On Saturday (as in, September 27, as in five days from today), I am moving to a new city. On Monday (as in, September 29), I start a new job (which, er, also involves me brushing up on my Spanish, for that assignment that I have in South America next year). Miss M also starts preschool next week. Then NaNoWriMo starts on Thursday. It cannot possibly work out. But that is the beauty of it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post Mortem

One of the great things about the last few years is that my "new" job (the one I took on 2+ years ago) permits us to live life in chapters. I take on work for a finite amount of time, so there are clear beginning points, end points and transitions as I move through and between assignments. Somehow, I feel more connected to my life as I live within this framework. I am more mindful of the passage of time, and of doing all I can to spend it well. Looking back on the decade before this job, my career was a speeding car, whizzing by the scenery of my life so fast that I barely took it in. I literally cannot pinpoint even the year certain things happened, because those years are such a blur. I don't regret them for one minute, but it was hell on my personal life.

I pick up odd bits of insight and wisdom here and there, sometimes from very unlikely sources. Years ago, I read an interview with Julia Roberts, and she was quoted as saying something that has always stuck with me. I think it was from a time period after she had met Danny Moder. I can't remember if they had kids yet. Anyway, she said something like "I feel like I am in the harbor of my life." I liked the sound of it, and now I'm finally living it. I feel like I'm finally in the harbor of my life, too.

Despite being in the harbor, there are still occasional storms, and I've been thinking a lot about how to create a strong family life and how to make myself happier. We are in transition now, home from Europe but not yet settled in our new city. This time has proven to be an excellent opportunity to not only reconnect with family and friends, but also to reflect on what has worked for us over the last two years and how I would like to do things differently in the next chapter. When you are still living in a situation, it can be much harder to critique it and to figure out how to make changes. But when you have already left your old life and have no choice but to reestablish yourself professionally and personally in a new city/country/continent, the bit of distance makes it easier to look back and appraise. I like that I will have a fresh start at the end of the month, a chance to start anew. It feels easier to make changes when you are in a new home, in a new city, making new friends and working at a new job.

I wrote this a few days ago, but never got to finish the post:

We've had the most perfect day today. It is one of those crisp, sunny fall days. Despite the cool weather, Miss M and I put on our swimsuits and went swimming in the lake, then took warm baths. After that, we got dressed and went to pick apples at a local orchard. Miss M had on a a beautiful new sweater that my MIL bought for her. The orchard had pumpkins and mums and cornstalks everywhere around the farm buildings, and I took some quintessential fall pictures of her.

It really was the most perfect day. The air and the water were both far too cold for swimming, but she really wanted to go swimming so we went in anyway, and had a blast. At the orchard, a tractor hauled us in a wagon full of hay up to the picking fields. We picked three kinds of apples from the trees, then went home and made an apple pie. The fall leaves were at their peak. Miss M picked out her very first pumpkins (she at first insisted on selecting one for each of us, but we ultimately settled on just the two for her and SB). The grandparents were there. It was just such a HAPPY day.

We've had a number of those days during this transition. It made me think a lot about what makes me happy, and how to make my life even better. In no particular order, these have been my thoughts on what I'd like to work on:

1. No complaining. Two years ago (for an entire year), I had no one I could complain to at work. I was working with people who I simply couldn't complain to, for one reason or another. You know what? I was blissfully happy. It was one of the happiest years of my life, actually. I was happy for a lot of reasons, but there is no denying the complaining/commiserating factor. When I can't complain, I let it go and move one. Complaining/commiserating is like fast food: you think it tastes good, but hours later you feel like crap. You vent and get it all out, which can relieve tension and stress, but then it festers. I need to get better about this, because the proof is in the pudding that I am actually happier when I don't do it. It's a hard habit to break when you are in a high-stress environment/situation, but I know I can do it, because I did for a whole year!

2. Budget I want to get better about budgeting. When you are living abroad everything feels like it's a "once in a lifetime opportunity," and I tend to want to gorge on travel and experiences. It's easy to overspend. I want to work to create better habits over the next six months while we are in the U.S., so that when we go abroad again we will have a good system in place and can be sure we are meeting all of our financial goals. We are meeting many of our financial goals, but perhaps are not doing as well as we should be in some areas. A better budget should help us reach our goals.

3. Project Positivism I tend to be fairly focused and reserved at work, and I hate to bother other people. Unfortunately, that sometimes causes people to conclude that I am stuck up, rude, or worse. It can be hard to mend fences even when the damage was inadvertent, particularly when you are working with foreign staff. I want to be sure that I an outgoing and positive ray of sunshine as I start this next phase of my job, because that's the kind of employee that people want to work with, and it will generally make my life easier.

4. Date Night! T and I have been stretched pretty thin over the last year. We haven't had a reliable babysitter, and have only had one dinner by ourselves in the last year, which is terrible. We need to make a standing date night, and then honor that. It will be really fun, and good for our relationship. I'm a bit anxious about leaving Miss M and SB with someone, especially SB (who is not yet verbal). But especially with little kids, it is super important. It can feel like every ounce of spare energy is focused on them, but we need to carve out time for us.

In another week, I will be heading back to work and putting all of these things to the test.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I've only spent one week in the U.S. in the last two years. There are two things that I'm finding incredibly weird: one, there are many, many people, places and things that are exactly the same. It's like I only ran to the store, and have come back to find things just as I left them. I mean, really, NOTHING has changed. Many of my family and friends are quite literally doing exactly the same things, living and working in the same places. It's. . .weird. I know that if we were here, it would be true for us, too, but we've made all of these changes and lived so much in the last two years, and it freaks me out a little to think that if we hadn't left, we would have simply aged two more years.

The second thing that I am finding weird is how emotional I get over the little things I've missed, like the guy at the gas station telling me to have a nice day (people in Europe don't tell you to have a nice day--ever; customer service with a smile is largely an American concept), or the fact I can buy chipotle peppers in adobo in my small town grocery store in northern New England, or how far $10 gets me here. America, how I have missed you!

And so it is good to be here, but also a bit. . .melancholy, for some reason. I don't know what I expected. I guess I expected something to be different because I am different, we are different. I expected more, although I'm not quite sure what that might be. Did I expect it to be more special? I suppose that is it. We've been gone for two years; we've come with two children, one of whom had never been to the U.S. until now; we are older and wiser and have had all of these great experiences. It feels rather ordinary. It also is a bit depressing to me to see how little people have spread their wings since we left. I think that is the hardest part.

That's not to say that we are not having a nice time. It's been nice to see family and friends. The kids are having a good time, and everyone seems to be enjoying them. We've been eating our weight in things that we've missed (candy corn; barbecue; American Chinese food; American breakfasts; pastries from my favorite scratch bakery). We've been doing fun stuff, too--a bit of shopping (new jeans!); long walks through the woods admiring the foliage; trips to the children's museum; swimming in the lake; playing with new toys; and generally mucking about. Tomorrow we are going to a country fair.

I suppose the beauty of this trip home really is in the ordinary-ness of it all, and that this is what we have missed and this is what we are here for. I just need to embrace that more fully. It will probably be easier as a bit of time passes. The transition is still fresh and a bit jarring, and I am still sleep deprived. Changing time zones with kids apparently takes days!