Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Puppy

We promised the girls a couple of years ago that when we next moved to a developed, stable country, we would adopt a dog.  At the time, we were living in a place where dog food was tough to come by, as was vet care, and healthy puppies.  So, when we learned that we were moving to our current country, the girls were immediately fixated on getting the long-promised dog.

We adopted the puppy in September, at about 8 weeks old.  Our last dog was a shelter dog, and I generally prefer to adopt from shelters.  However, this is the first time we've adopted a dog since we had kids, and I wanted a dog that grew up in our house, vs. one that would have personality quirks that we had to learn about.   I was particularly fixated on the girls getting bit by a dog that wasn't up to their antics.  So, puppy it was. 

From the earliest days, she has been a terrific addition to our house.  She is exactly like my children:  loud, exuberant, loving, and fun.  She is black and white with curly fur, and will grow to be about 50 pounds, which is the perfect size for us.  She has cost us a fortune in vet bills (dear lord, the ear infections and chocolate eating and apparent corn allergy!).  And although she looooooves the girls (her favorite thing to do is come in from her morning romp outside, paws and face dusted with snow, and run upstairs and jump on them in bed to wake them up), she has definitively become my dog.  We walk, we train, we play (although, she still prefers to roughhouse with the girls, if they are around).  She has been a wonderful source of stress relief for me, and wonderful for my mental health--something I would not have predicted when we got her.  It has been lovely to have her around.

I feel like we are living a somewhat normal suburban existance for a while.  We have a dog.  We have a lovely home.  We live in a nice neighborhood.  Our commute times are short (except for T, but more on that soon).  Life is goodish.  Now if we could just get T's work situation worked out so that he was living in the same city/country as the rest of us. . .

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Little Things

It's been months since I've written anything here, so this will seem like an odd post, but I want to talk about. . .groceries.  Well really, all of the little tasks that seemingly don't take that long, but collectively vacuum up loads of time.  Like grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, laundry, cleaning the house.  I revel in doing some of these things when there is time (ie, cooking--never, ever laundry), but in recent months, there has not been much extra time.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, T is living in a different city a few hundred miles from here.  It is far from ideal.  We decided to move to the country we are currently living in because we thought it would be easy for him to work here.  That, and the fact that it is relatively stable, were the primary factors in our decision making.  We thought we would have a pleasant few years living here, and it seemed like a good time to get out of America (and holy god, that was an accurate assessment--but I'll save that subjectd for another time).  Unfortunately, getting him the legal permissions he needs to work here turned out to be waaaay more complicated than we anticipated, possibly because they changed the rules after we started this process, but that, too is a story for another day.  He likes his job in the city we were living in before we moved here, so we decided that he would keep it until everything got cleared up here, which we thought would happen within a few months.  Unfortunately, "a few months" stretched to 6+.  So, he is there and we are here, and he comes and visits every couple of weeks.  It is not ideal, but we are making it work.

Which gets to my lack of time.  Because I am on my own with the girls, I have tried to streamline basic tasks.  I want to spend my time with them, not doing things around the house.  They complain pretty regularly that I am too busy doing THINGS, vs. spending time with them, and it's true that I am having a hard time balancing it all--work, kid activities, mundane chores, SLEEP.

It got especially bad with meals.  There was no incentive for me to make creative meals, because they kids simply turned their noses up, and it didn't feel worth the trouble to make elaborate meals for myself.  But then it felt like we were eating nothing but pizza, pasta, and chicken, and something really had to give.  I was feeling terrible, too.  A friend told me about a meal box service she was using, and invited me over one night to try one of the meals.  It was pretty good, but I still wasn't sold.  I've tried all of the major meal boxes (ie, the ones that deliver groceries and recipes each week) in the U.S., and while some of the recipes were good, I'd found them a) expensive, and b) still time consuming.

BUT.  While I was checking out the meal boxes offered in this country, I found one that offers the ingredients ALREADY CUT UP.  All of the meals can be made in 20 minutes or less.  So I thought I would give it a shot.

It has turned out to be a godsend.  First of all, the meals are delicious, and there is huge variety.  Second, the portions are generous.  A two person meal easily serves the girls and I, AND there is enough left over for my lunch the next day.  That alone is saving us a ton of money, because I had been unable to get my act together to make my lunch every day, and now it's done in one fell swoop.  The girls are trying lots of new things, which is great.  The meal kits are flexible enough that I can generally make the meals a bit blander and plainer for them, while still making my portions spicier and more complex.  And here is the real kicker:  my grocery bill is waaaay down.  When I meal plan, I typically end up with more leftovers, and/or leftover ingredients (ie, you don't need a whole container of basil, but you spend the money on it, and then it goes bad before you can think of another way to use it or remember to freeze it).  With this, I'm not paying for all of the ingredients I'm not using.  And there are not too many packing materials with this particular service, either, like some of the ones I've used in the past.

So, dinner is fun again.  And it's quick.  And it's easy.  And I'm eating better.  And I'm saving money.  I would have never thought all of that was possible.  I thought that by spending the money, I was mabe making my life a little easier, but it turned out to have a whole host of benefits that I did not even realize, including actually saving me money.

Now if I can just find a hack for the laundry and the cleaning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

I'm in the process of reading Seth Godin's book What to do When It's Your Turn (And It's Always Your Turn).  It's not a book that you sit down and read all at once.  The book is written as a series of short pieces, all of which fit together and move toward the central theme.  But each piece is meaty and thought-provoking, and must be contemplated and savored before moving on to the next.

The central premise of the book is essentially that NOW is the time to step up to the plate and do that thing that is inside of us that might not work, but which we think is worth doing.  The book includes a piece entitled "When is the right time?," which I thought was beautifully written.  He writes of a talk he gave to a small group of youg, privileged interns at an investment bank.  He was advising them about "their freedom, about how they could choose to do their very best work, to become more than a cog in a (profitable) machine," when one of the women raised her hand and made the point that with their student loans, it made sense to hold off, to wait to take risks and find their own paths in life when they are at a point when they are better established.

He writes that it is never the "right time," and says

     We have a thousand perfect reasons to give up our freedom in exchange for the illusion of safety.         All of them are based on a misunderstanding of fear vs. freedom.  This is the chance of a lifetime,       our lifetime.  Not someone else, us.  Not later.  Now.


P.S.  I have probably mentioned before, but I read Seth almost daily, and generally find his short pieces to be deeply profound.  I highly recommend his blog, and the book, as well as his podcast, although truth be told, I don't like the podcast as much as the blog or the book.

Monday, August 20, 2018

My Year of Living Productively

I just had another birthday recently, and I've moved into the latter half of my 40's.  On the one hand, I feel okay about where I am in life--two great kids, a relationship that has stood the test of time, and a career I enjoy.  I have an advanced degree, and had a first career that I also really enjoyed.  I learned a language after I turned 40 (Spanish), achieved a respectable level of proficiency, and have worked in it professionally for about five years.  I am currently learning another language (French). 

But still, things aren't exactly where I want them to be.  There are some other things that I want to do, that nip at the edge of my subconscious like annoying little dogs.  For many years, I have pushed them back, waiting for the "right" time--when I was a bit more settled, my kids a bit older, when I had more time.  Of course, that time has never come.  And here I am, entering my late 40's.  If not now, when?

So I am going to dedicate this year to living productively. . .to simply showing up, and putting the time in where I can.  Regularly.  Steadily.  It will be a year of living like a tortoise (slowly, methodically) and seeing what happens.  I don't have a million hours to devote to my projects.  This will be a year of just chipping away, bit by bit, where I can do so.  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why Hello There

It has been a very long time since I have written.  I have thought about this space, and what to do with it.  I like that it exists here, detailing the trials and tribulations (let's face it--mostly trials, because I never write about the good times, really--this blog is fueld by too much coffee and lots of anxiety!).  We spent essentially the last year living in what I call the "in between"--we moved back to the U.S., but we knew that we were in a place that we would live only temporarily, and we knew that we would move again at the end of the school year.  When you are living like that, in a place that is not your own, with the ending just over the horizon, it is hard to feel settled.  It is, in fact, quite unsettling in some respects.  On a positive note, we were living in a city we know well, and got to do all of our favorite things again, as well as fall in love with some new ones.  We also had friends there, which made it emminently more bearable.

One might think that I would have written more in this year of much transition, but honestly, I think it is just that I was busy surviving, and unlike many other points in my life, it didn't feel like writing about it was going to help.  It was not a bad year.  I did interesting work.  I started learning French, and have an okay level of fluency--it's still a work in progress.  T went back to his old job, and has been fairly satisified professionally.  The girls had a decent year--particularly SB, who settled into a new school nicely (her fifth, and she is six years old!), and made many wonderful friends.  Miss M had a bit of a more difficult year, shockingly enough with a mean girl in her class who bullied her a bit--a dynamic that other parents tell me has been going on with this child for several school years, and of which the school is well aware.  She was anxious to move on again, actually, which was a first.  But still, she was relatively happy, on balance, and we started to learn some important life lessons, whether we wanted to or not.

And so, after school ended in June, we packed up yet again, and moved internationally for the third time in 18 months.  It sounds horrible, but while there have been some bumps along the way, it was actually wonderful to move past the "in between" space of the last year and get settled again.  We are in a safe place--well, as safe as the modern world can be.  Our new house is fabulous.  It is sun-drenched and in a wonderful neighborhood, and we have a small yard.  We are getting a dog in a couple of weeks--the girls' first pet.  The girls had a wonderful summer, and made a bunch of friends.  They are happy, and that is the most important thing.  They have also been able to spend a fair amount of time with family this summer, which is particularly important to Miss M, who deeply values her roots. 

I still have way too many unopened boxes in this house, and I am weary of unpacking.  Our things showed up in drip and drabs, so it feels like I have spent the last six weeks doing nothing but washing move-dusty things and finding new homes for them.  But it is coming together, and it looks pretty good.  And now, I am off to organize the playroom, as all of the toys have arrived, and are in a high state of disarray.  I still have not found the lamps, so organization of the room must be done during daylight hours.  Or maybe I just need to break down and buy new lamps!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Angst

There are soooooo many stories. . .where shall I begin?

Let's start with Christmas, because it's nine shopping days away, and 'tis the season for family drama.

It is still my strong preference to spend Christmas in our own home, with our own traditions, but somehow things got away from me this year.  We are awash in our own Christmas traditions all season long no matter where we are--an advent calendar full of crafts, trinkets, and activities; a Christmas radio that broadcasts daily from the North Pole; the tree up in November, and Christmas music permeating the house for months.  But. . .but, the girls and T prefer to spend actual Christmas day with family in New England, vs. wherever in the world we happen to be living, and so I am rolling with it, even though it is utter chaos to get us to and fro with a holiday's worth of gifts, to say nothing of the actual day, which always involves lots of running around to different houses.

But let me back up about the decision about where to spend the holiday this year, or the lack thereof.  It is a much longer story, but we returned to the U.S. this fall very unexpectedly--like, with a couple of days notice.  Since our move was very unexpected, it was also quite chaotic, and we've spent all fall just getting the girls settled and trying to recreate some semblance of normal life for all of us.  As a result, we never really made a conscious Christmas plan, and I'm not sure T and I ever even discussed it.  It is just not where my focus was, for sure.  Almost all of our family is in New England, so there generally is not much debate about where to go if we are not spending Christmas at home, and since we are living in a temporary home until we can get better sorted out, no one really wants to spend Christmas here.  Somehow, it just came to pass that we WERE going to New England for Christmas, and that we'd stay with my husband's mother, who has plenty of room and a lovely home.  She is really our only comfortable option for an extended stay--there are lots of places where we are welcome, but not everyone has enough beds and/or can tolerate the chaos of a young, slightly unruly family.

Anyway, the notable exception to "all of our family lives in New England," is my mother, who lives closer to where we are living now. But apart from us, HER entire family is also in New England.  I didn't actually talk to my mother about our holiday plans, because a) I assumed she would go to New England as she generally does, and b) we never really made a conscious holiday plan, and I'm only now starting to focus on it, given that it is now imminently upon us.

You know where this is going, right?

My mother texted me a few nights ago, saying she wanted to talk about the holidays, because she wants to see us.  Now, I had heard recently that she did not plan to come to New England, and that she was going to spend Christmas alone with her husband.  I think that's depressing, but it's her choice.  I didn't have a chance to call her, and this morning she texted to say she wasn't coming, and she wanted to come up with a plan to see us. What she really means is that she wants me to figure out a way to come to her house to celebrate with her. . .before Christmas.  I probably would have cheerfully done so despite my reservations about making it work with our travel schedule, but she informed me via text that she was unable to join us for Christmas, because she has no one to feed her cats. 

I bristled. 

Her CATS? 

I would have taken anything plausible as an excuse for not spending Christmas with the rest of our family, but her CATS?  I very helpfully texted a link to an automatic catfeeder you can control with your phone.  (Let's pause for a moment to marvel at modern technology.  You can feed your cat from another state, using your phone!)  Also, her cats are very fat.  She could leave them for food and water in big bowls for two days, and they would be JUST FINE.

(It is probably not the cats.  But you can't choose cats over her only grandchildren and think that I am not going to take offense.  At least don't say it out loud.)

She demurred on buying the catfeeder, and accused me of not considering her when I made my plans.  It was a total drama queen moment, complete with a "no one will even miss me" line.  Then she implored me to rearrange our travel plans so that she can see the children before Christmas. . .by traveling to her house.  BEFORE Christmas.

I have three days off before Christmas, and it will take us a full day to get from here to New England.  While we COULD make a side trip, it will add another day to day and a half to our travels, and it will mean that we have to stop overnight somewhere along the way (we can't stay with my mother, because she has other guests for the time period we would be there--her husband's daughter).

On the one hand, I feel bad for my mother.  She is a very lonely person, married to a difficult man who doesn't allow her to do much.  He is probably the reason she is not traveling to New England.  On the other hand, she is a grown woman with choices, and she always casts herself as the victim.  I am ALWAYS the one who has to accommodate her "difficult situation."  She makes me feel sorry for her so that I do what she wants the vast majority of the time.  I should also note that my mother is not elderly--she is in her mid-60's and in good health.  She just retired last year, and she has no trouble getting around.

If it had been a normal year, I would just cave, as always--spending money and time and tying myself in knots to make it work.  But this year, I am really tired.  The move back to the U.S. was very unexpected and due to a potentially dangerous situation, so it was stressful.  We have managed to iron out a lot of wrinkles since then, and everyone is healthy and thriving.  I was looking forward to peaceful, happy holidays.  But my tank is low, and I know it.  I am not feeling as resilient as normal.  I am exhausted.  And this feels like a Dr. Phil episode.

My husband wants to invite her to come to visit us the week after New Year's, which happens to be Miss M's birthday.  He thinks we celebrate both at once.  When I step back, this strikes me as a very logical solution.  But I know that is not what my mother wants.  She wants to shower gifts on the girls BEFORE the holiday, when it is still exciting and new.  She wants to have celebrated FIRST (before my mother in law.  Sigh.). 

I haven't responded to my mother's last text, in which asked me to rearrange our travel plans and come to her house before Christmas.  I need some time to stop being frustrated, so that I don't snap at her and make things worse.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Long Time, No Post!

Why hello there!  It's good to be writing again.

I have been on a bit of an unintentional hiatus.  The fall was really busy with getting the girls settled in their brand new and utterly fantastic private schools, and then in January, we moved back overseas.

I know.  We are nuts.

The thing is, things were going smashingly well for the girls in the U.S., but lousy for us as a family.  The grownups were working crazy hours, and we were always rushing around, and it was no fun at all.  And then I got a pretty great job offer in a cool tropical place with terrible Internet service.  And we were off.

It's been really nice.  We have a lot more time together as a family, and our quality of life has gone way up.  I had a lot of angst over moving the girls again, but they've had an easy transition and are happy.  Their new school is decent.  They have friends and activities, and we have a big yard.  And we can go to the beach on the weekends.

All in all, things are really good.  Not perfect, because life isn't, but we are happy and well.  What's new with you?