Friday, March 28, 2014

The world is quiet here.

Lemony Snicket
I bid farewell to the boys this morning. Kiddo's class boarded a tour bus to Washington, D.C. at the crack of dawn. Mario is chaperoning, which means I'm flying solo for a few days. I stood out in the freezing rain waving goodbye, going mostly unnoticed among the excitement, until I couldn't feel my toes anymore. Kiddo gave me a bear hug goodbye, classmates watching be damned. It's those moments I live for. In those moments, all the frustrations of motherhood melt away and all that is left is the good stuff.

My 5:15 wake up call came too soon for my taste, yet I'm not regretting my early start. Perched in my favorite coffee shop, I'm blogging as the sun comes up over the horizon; maple latte in hand. The barista in charge of the tunes is on my wavelength, so I'm typing to the blissful sound of "Cruisin'" by Smokey Robinson. Zen moments happening. 

After CrossFit, I'm heading on an adventure of my own. Instead of holing up in the house, I'm taking this mini break to, well, break away. We are still very much in New England's off season so hotel rates are a steal. There are many more nautical photos that must be taken before we bid this area adieu. I've chosen two oceanfront destinations in quaint villages, and my camera will not be on auto once this weekend. The quality of the pictures may be questionable, but today is a very good day to start shooting in manual.

In the spirit of good mornings, here's a glimpse at what is making life glow as of late:

1 // Every mom thinks their kiddo is the greatest kid in the whole world and I am no exception. This particular child is spectacular in the best ways possible. He thinks on another plane and those wild, amazing thoughts will change the world one day (or create a real-life tardis). // This week he tied for 3rd place in his fencing tournament. He is no longer classified as a novice, and has been quite pleased at that fact. // He has had his heart set on a pair Chucks for a while and last night we picked out his first pair. He couldn't look cuter. Upon getting them home, I realized they are the same size as I wear. Those stop and catch your breath mom moments are coming more often these days. // At least once a week after school we camp out at our favorite coffee shop and talk or play games. Boy I wish I had the power to freeze moments in time. (Fingers crossed on the tardis?) //
2// Some friends invited me to a morning of mani-pedis. I wasn't feeling it earlier in the week, and thought about opting out, but I'm glad I went. Even though I stuffed my feet back into socks and shoes to brave the freezing cold wind raging outside the nail salon, I felt better with a little sparkle on my piggies. 2// Coastal New England is pretty serene. Here I come. 3// My buddy Jack Sparrow has been tagging along with me a lot lately. Sometimes a high-energy dog and a kiddo feels like a lot, but I love his sweet disposition. No matter my mood, I get nothing but unconditional love from this guy. 4// Is it weird to celebrate eggs? My friend Jill, unprompted, showed up to coffee yesterday with a dozen of these beauties. Fresh from her chickens. I was so excited! Another friend, Jenn, commented that the blue eggs are the best. She's not wrong. //

Happy Friday! Linking up with Lauren.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

There is no knowledge so hard to acquire

as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.

Michel de Montaigne


In all of biology, living things follow a growth curve. The first is typically called Exponential Growth and is a linear upward climb. Next comes a plateau: the maintenance phase. Then there is the final decent toward death. The way in which we live our lives seems to follow the same general growth curve, and the whole concept has been on my mind a lot lately. 

Mario came back from a marathon work trip last Friday night. He had back-to-back meetings, and our 3000 mile distance from his company headquarters only compounded the issue. Flying from one side of the country to the other to see us for six hours is far from practical (though he'd do it if I asked... a gem, that one). He missed Kiddo's parent-teacher conference. I single-parented and slept alone for two weeks. I am married, after all, and the hard work that goes into a sustainable relationship should entitle you to co-parenting duties and nightly spooning. Not to mention that he returned home a tired, empty shell of a man. He turned around and left for another meeting at 4a Monday morning. The fact that others sacrifice much, much more does not escape me, but this particular platform is saved for my thoughts and perceived troubles. (Gosh, though, my hat goes off to those who serve and their families.)

I am in the fortunate position, living in the place, time and circumstances I do, to decide my own fate. How I want to live this existence. To define my personal standards and write my own constitution. Although the past few years have felt a little out of my control, we are making great strides toward changing that. We are moving in July to a place of our choosing. A place where Kiddo and I can get the educations we need and want. Closer to friends and family. A place where Husband's commute via air will go from 6+ hours down to two. I should be satisfied with our progress. These are big changes! But I want more. Which brings me to my central question:

When does exponential growth end and the maintenance/stationary phase begin? And how do you know when you get there?

We've spent ten of our eleven years together actively building Mario's career. Nurturing his talents and seeing him through promotions. Which has called for a lot of sacrifice. At what point do we come to the conclusion that he's "made it"? Will he ever feel that way? (For the record, I thought he "made it" a long time ago. I'm beyond proud.) He makes a good living and loves what he does, but more often than not at the expense of his personal life. We have one child and our time left raising him is now in years, not decades. I want both of us to be there for every school event, personal accomplishment, and to send him off to college together. And I want to be there most nights to make sure he earns a spot in the college of his choice. I want to know the other parents at the school and to feel a sense community. I want all that for Mario, too, and I know he feels the same way.

Lately I've been pondering the rabbit hole that is grad school. My goal is still to apply to a physician assistant program in the coming years, but I'm not ready yet. I want to work in healthcare for a bit (a prereq for PA school, anyway) and spent some time not feeling overextended. Although I don't intend to pursue a PhD, I'm keenly interested in a master's. I like research and earning a graduate degree in the meantime carries a certain appeal. I wouldn't accrue any more student loan debt, but there are many programs that will pay me a stipend and allow me to achieve something beyond a bachelor's degree.  Then perhaps I'll feel more prepared to sacrifice my personal life for a few years so I can achieve my dream career. But I always come back around to the same issue: when does it end? After a master's? After PA school? How long will my education drag on? When will I feel like I have accomplished enough?

We are still young. But we've also worked really hard. Nose to the grindstone us two. When do we get to the stationary phase of our lives? Will we ever? And by stationary I don't mean stagnant. I'm talking about the point where we go to work every day doing what we love (so it doesn't feel like work), while earning enough money to be debt-free and travel and perhaps have a small getaway home. A time in our collective life where we can set down roots; something that has evaded us thus far. Where we experience not only financial freedom . . . but personal freedom as well. Because, at the end of the day, nothing matters aside from those two boys. Strip away the money and house and things and I will still be blissfully happy if all I have left is them. 

Are these lofty, unrealistic goals? I don't think so. You write your own story, for the most part, and I want to write mine a certain way. A way in which I get to watch Law & Order with my husband before bed every night. Where we date each other with abandon. I am incredibly fond of my husband, you see, and I want to spend the majority of my life looking at that ruggedly handsome mug. A life where my hard earned education is the ticket to a fulfilling work life. But only to the point that it facilitates an even more fulfilling family life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.

John Wayne


I'm an over-thinker. A ruminator. Someone who seldom lets sleeping dogs lie. I analyze situations and work to figure people out. I like predictability which requires an exhaustive understanding of the world around me in order to anticipate the what ifs. When I can't figure it out, I'm frustrated. And this rather fatiguing trait is not confined to others. I seek to understand my own motives, too. Why did I snip at Husband? It wasn't really about the dishes in the sink, was it? Nah. You're upset because he's leaving on a 12 day trip and you don't want him to go. But don't tell him that. Just be miserable and bring him along for the ride.

Many times I want to stew in my own juices with abandon. To be wretched because I'm tired or in a sour mood. I don't want to have to admit I'm not a morning person. Or that I'm overwhelmed. Or feel guilty. I always dig deeper, whether I want to or not. Also, sometimes I want to be annoyed with another person. I don't want to consider the root of their behavior. I don't want to understand them better let alone relate. I want to be unabashedly perturbed! But alas.

Mario says I'm the most self-reflective, emotionally evolved person he's ever met. I don't know how much truth there is to that. I can be quite irrational, after all. But I'm pleased that he sees me that way.  People are complex creatures; but not really. There are fundamental emotions we all share, and a little reflection usually leads to understanding. Whether or not we agree with others and their actions, we can usually relate in some capacity... even if we don't want to draw certain parallels.

What's my point? That's a great question! This week I've been thinking about a certain trait I possess, along with so many others: I apologize too often. But not always when I should. Confused? Let me explain.

Last week I had an unfortunate interaction with an online shop owner who had taken my money but failed to deliver. She treated me terribly. The whole time I kept thinking, Just say you're sorry! Admit you messed up! It's okay, just apologize! I was screaming at her telepathically through the computer screen. But a funny (but not funny) thing happened: I issued a mea culpa of sorts in my email response. Something along the lines of I'm honestly not trying to be difficult.

I have a professor I conducted research for for the better part of last year. In truth, I organized her lab, wrote a protocol, researched my bum off, and overall kept things afloat. My work is done and I left her with all the information necessary to set sail on her own. But she insists on meeting with me anyway so I can hold her hand some more. I don't mind helping her, but at some point she needs to let go of her dependency on me. I'll be 3000 miles away in mere months, after all. I'm not getting paid, nor does this benefit me in any way, so why am I bending over backward to accommodate her inflexible schedule? And yet I issued an apology last night, via text, for my lack of free time this week.  

What's wrong with me?

I can dig in my heels like no other. A trait my son obviously inherited from me. (Oh the standoffs we've had. My poor flexible, easy-going husband.) I've sacrificed things I really wanted because I didn't want to admit fault and move on. I couldn't move on. Because somehow admitting I am wrong or flawed or irrational feels a lot like weakness in certain situations. The ability to acknowledge guilt and patch things up is actually a sign of strength, and I know that logically.

So why do I have this unnerving inclination to apologize to people who don't matter (or don't deserve it), but wage an internal battle when it comes to making things right with the people who do? Why do I care what they think but can so easily disregard the opinions that matter most? I'm not sure I have a clear cut answer to this dilemma, and that bothers me. But I'm working on it. Every. Single. Day.

Last night I took a moment to tell Mario how appreciative I am to have these few months to focus on myself and being a really good mom. To thank him for making it possible.

This morning that one barista at my favorite coffee shop messed up my drink for the umpteenth time. And I didn't say Sorry! when I brought it to his attention. I was polite and understanding, as usual, and that was enough. But it didn't feel at all instinctual.

This goal is threefold: work on my own penchant to apologize unnecessarily; apologize sooner when one is owed; and stop expecting them from others.  Not everyone abides by universally accepted social standards. I shouldn't need one to move on from an uncomfortable situation, nor should I have to issue one to diffuse the discomfort. 

Just some thoughts on this fine morning...

Monday, March 17, 2014

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

I am, I am, I am.

Sylvia Plath


The Dude has been gone for a week and we will not lay eyes on him again until late Friday. During prolonged business trips such as this, I become keenly aware of how much I like seeing his face and hearing his laugh. Though separation can have its lonely moments, those sort of realizations are good for a marriage, I think. In the meantime, I've been living a rather third person existence. Like I'm sitting in front of a projector screen watching a reel of my life. The old kind of film with the brownish tone of a Polaroid picture and the lines that dance across the screen. And it's not unpleasant. I feel a slight distance from the world around me, looking back on the past few days, much like I was simply going through the motions of daily life. Nothing has set these days apart from others, which is likely the root of this whole thing. No melancholy here; just peace. Acceptance. Reflection. A quiet calm.

// I can't remember where, but I heard about this Secret Garden coloring book a short while back. It's grown up coloring. While at our favorite bookstore the weekend before last, I inquired about it and took its in-stock status as a sign I should buy it. // A couple days later I met Mario for lunch and he showed up with a set of gel pens for me. Because he remembered that crayons and colored pencils would be too imprecise and markers would bleed into one another. Gosh I'm a lucky girl. // As I got started I realized I'd need more colors, so I sprung for a bigger set with more variety. But the smaller set is far superior, in my opinion, for the obvious reasons. // Kiddo was feeling a bit envious of my new creative endeavor, so now we both have our own coloring outlets. // Buying a coloring book is so unlike me, but I really love it. Sometimes I'll walk by and color in a leaf or a flower. Other times I'll sit and finish a page. If I'm not feeling it, I'll abandon an unfinished page in favor of another. Because you can do that with grown up coloring books.//


// We got an email late Thursday night informing us that a couple wanted to look at our house first thing Saturday morning. Because we have 4 feet of snow in our front yard and it is most certainly not house-hunting weather (among a zillion other reasons), we haven't been keeping our abode staged for buyers. I had a momentary melt-down on the phone with Mario, who can do nothing but listen to my rant from 3000 miles away, then I pulled it together. Kiddo and I put on some tunes and moved our way through the house together, room by room. Upon reflecting on our cleaning session later, Kiddo said "Dare I say that was enjoyable?". He was right. // The lookers did not turn into buyers, but our house is sparkling clean and we had a nice mother-son breakfast because of it. I'm also feeling a little more optimistic that the spring season will incite more interest. If and when spring ever comes. //


// Speaking of spring, we've had a couple lovely days nestled between the bitterly cold norm. I sat outside and soaked up the sun at Kiddo's ski lesson last week; staying until the very last of the sun had set behind the mountain. // Vista has also been sunning more, opting to sleep in windowsills instead of his usual place on our bed. // Fresh heirloom tomatoes at the co-op made me feel so very cheerful. // As did a bright bouquet from the boys. No special occasion, just a sweet gesture. I've never been one to keep fresh flowers around, but I think I'm changing my tune. A colorful bouquet of flowers on the kitchen counter has served to brighten my mood on more than one occasion. (Plus it was a nice touch for the house showing.) //

// I set a new personal record on my deadlift last week: 265 pounds. That's 25 pounds more than my last record set in early January. Although I am never set on a particular number, nor do I get competitive about it, seeing regular improvement is so darn important. I went 5 days last week and was feeling sore and run down, so this couldn't have come at a better time. // On Saturday night we went to a dear friend's house for her yearly maple sugar boiling/Christmas tree burning party. She has one of those cozy houses where you instantly feel at home. And she's the best kind of person. // I've become a bit obsessed with moccasins. Especially the ankle booties. Mario thinks I've lost my mind and does nothing to hide it. I am undeterred. (Has anyone noticed how narrow the Minnetonka ones are? Or maybe it's just the style I tried on above? I have normal feet and felt like I was putting on children's shoes.) // On impulse I picked up this Alex and Ani compass bracelet while we were in Portland, Maine. It symbolizes a new direction and I thought it entirely appropriate. I've worn it every day since. // I finished The Night Circus on Saturday morning after starting it over a month ago on our Brazil trip. It was unlike anything I've ever read. I had a few more chapters to go, so I sat on the couch after we got home from breakfast and read it through to the end. I'm so glad to have rediscovered reading for pleasure. I put down a book last month in favor of this one, and I'm now about a hundred pages from completing it as well. Sarah's got her groove back. // February was a crazy month and we were gone more than we were home. Feeling bad that I hadn't visited a grocery store in weeks (yes, weeks plural), I went on a produce-buying bonanza. It seems so obvious, but I do eat better when the first thing I see upon walking into the kitchen is food that grew in the ground or on a tree (or a bush or a vine...). Plus, I was afraid Kiddo had forgotten what an apple looked like. //


I tried a new cookie recipe. And while I don't turn to chocolate often, nor do I crave it with any frequency, I thought I'd give them a go. Geez were they good. We used Earth Balance sticks instead of butter since we are dairy-free 'round these parts, and I opted to use two of our favorite dark chocolate bars with mint which turned out to be a sound decision indeed. I first saw them on Siri's blog, but you can find the original recipe for these Quadruple Chocolate Soft Fudgy Pudding Cookies (say that three times fast) on Averie Cooks. They were super easy and you won't be sorry (guilty, maybe, but not sorry).

I'm going to round up this hodge podge post with one final tidbit: I went full-on Photoshop. I've been using Elements for over a year (another kind gift from Mario), and only for the most rudimentary projects. I've started learning about Photoshop Actions which allow you to tweak your photos with less effort and more consistency. I tend to like vivid colors and occasionally an ethereal feel. These allow me to do it without spending hours editing photo by photo. I've found photo editing to be the most cumbersome part of a photo-heavy post. By the time I finished editing and sorting through images, I have often burned through my blogging window for that day.

After a little research, I learned that Actions can typically only be downloaded to Photoshop, not Lightroom or Elements. Lucky for me, Adobe is currently offering Photoshop CC and Lightroom for $9.99/month (which includes Bridge, which will help me organize my photos). After getting Mario's opinion (he uses Photoshop for work), I pulled the trigger. I'm eager to streamline my photo editing while taking things to the next level, but I have a lot of learning to do. Ebooks, YouTube videos... I'm going back to school. Because this time around I'm aiming for proficiency. Wish me luck! (P.S. Adobe has never heard of me. Or my blog. I thought I'd do you a solid and share... in the event you're in the same photo-editing boat as I am.)

Happy Monday!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rio de Janeiro: Part II


This is the second post I'm writing in one day. Before heading to CrossFit. Holy smokes!

I'm delivering on my blogging goals, if not a week late. One priority is to generate a couple more Rio posts before the details become less vivid. It's already happening, I can tell. Real life has a way of creeping in and shrouding memories... making them feel much more distant than they actually are. I want to be able to look back and reflect on this trip with striking clarity. To reread my words months and years from now and feel myself back in the moment. 


A major part of our trip happened on only the second day. At sunrise we loaded our exhausted, travel-weary bodies onto a bus and headed up to the Christ the Redeemer statue that perches atop Corcovado mountain in central Rio. Whether or not you answer to a higher power, or believe in one at all, seeing this incredible piece of art is a religious experience (and likely different for everyone). It's hard to convey its greatness through photographs, but the pedestal is 26 feet tall and the statue itself looms another 98 feet above that. It is composed of concrete covered in an unfathomable number of tiny soapstone squares. I can understand why it was deemed one of the new Wonders of the World.

A bus ride, tram ride and about 200 steps get you to the base, and the climb is worth it. The views of the city are astounding... and a sense of peace radiates from the mountaintop. Although a bit hazy, the view was unrivaled by any other location visited during the rest of the trip.










I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Confeitaria Colombo, the place we had lunch later that same day. Upon walking in the door, I had to physically stop in order to take it all in. The molding, the decor, ornate floor-to-ceiling mirrors... it is steeped in history and rather awe-inspiring.









More to come. There is a picture of a monkey (a monkey!) and photos of this and that from around the city. Until next time...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.


Eleanor Roosevelt

I wrote my second Rio post yesterday. I edited it. It's in the bag. But my thoughts are elsewhere today and I want to talk about what's on my mind now. So Rio will have to wait until tomorrow.

Back story: Last June I ordered some jewelry from a (former) fellow blogger. I'd ordered from her before and loved her stuff; going so far as to give it a glowing review on my blog. I paid for it... and nothing. It never showed up despite her reassurances that she was working on it. Numerous emails over many months went unanswered. She closed her shop. At some point it was no longer about the product or the money. It was the principle. I didn't deserve to be treated that way! So last week, after receiving a request to rate my experience, and a final unanswered email, I contacted the website where her shop resides. They emailed her and elicited an immediate response. Upon checking my email for a weather update from Kiddo's school early this morning, I found two very abrupt messages from her. The gist was that because the transaction was over 60 days old so she felt she didn't owe me anything (I'm still having trouble with that logic). After asking for the product I was told in no uncertain terms that she would not be making anything for me. She finally agreed to issue me the refund, but only after treating me like I was some sort of unreasonable jerk. 

Logic says she has zero insight into her own behavior. She either realized she goofed and became irrational and defensive rather than fessing up, or she honestly believes I was totally and completely out of line for pursuing this. I was kind, respectful and more than patient. She stole my money! And I'm guessing I am not the only one she's done this to. 

So why do I feel awful? So often in life I let things slide for the sake of peace. Don't rock the boat, Sarah. And yet on the rare occasion that I assert myself I was villainized. She certainly let herself off the hook, so why have I been ruminating over this since sunrise? Why does it seem like the person who denies all culpability, no matter how wrong they actually are, walks away emotionally unscathed in this scenario? Although this incident is but a small blip on the radar of life, it has me thinking a lot about my approach to things and my subsequent reaction to the outcome. Why can't I wash my hands of the situation while taking comfort in the knowledge that she was totally out of line? Acknowledge I was within my rights and leave it at that? Why do I need to think, think some more, then blog about it?

I think I have come to a conclusion: I care what people think of me more than I'd like and I'm not sure how to fix it. A certain healthy desire to be liked is a good thing, but when I can't remove myself from an irrational situation that really has nothing to do with me personally, it's an issue. It tainted my day. I really wish I could have prevented that from happening. I can't control the people around me, but I should have more authority over how inevitable situations affect me. This is where being the "good girl" can be detrimental to the health of my head space. I gave this person way too much of my time. And now yours. Sorry about that.

Because this was a rather heady post, and not what I intended to write about when I started out, I feel that I should end it with something more light-hearted. Like the cutest monkey I've ever seen. He looks like an ewok. I love ewoks.

source

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Portland (Maine)

 

I've been thinking a lot lately about my penchant for swooning over other towns. Despite pondering over this matter, I'm not sure if it is because I am so incredibly over the town I currently live, and itching for a new start; or simply because there are so many great places I am open to living one day. Places to have a second home! That's it! Finish grad school, Sarah, and a vacation bungalow can be yours! Mario actually asked me the other day where I'd like to live after Portland, Oregon. Clearly I'm not the only one feeling the rut; even I, oh restless one, hadn't gone quite that far in my thinking.

Because New England believes that children should be in school well into June (July if the snow days keep piling up), the last week of February was Kiddo's winter break. (There is a Christmas break, winter break, and spring break you see.) Mario was teaching a class up in Portland, Maine so we decided to hitch a ride and enjoy a change of scenery. Gosh. I love Portland. Mario kept saying things like "I could live here.", "I love it here." and "Would you live here?". The truth is I would. Portland has the funky, hip vibe we crave. Which is probably why we are also attracted, and thus moving, to the other Portland. This Portland is nautical and historic. Every time we are there we spend at least one afternoon walking around downtown. The shops are unique and less touristy than most New England towns of its kind. Perfect strangers smile as you pass them on the street, which hasn't happened since we left St. Louis.

A lot of young, career-driven professionals have moved to Portland from New York and Boston. Tech, biomedical... all kinds of industry has moved in. In Portland you can get the earthy, small(er) town vibe and still pursue success. Portland is a have your cake and eat it too kind of town. As I drove down the main stretch I watched people my age walking to the local coffee shop and co-op restaurant on their lunch breaks. I wanted it to be me with all my being. I want the office and career and coworkers and local hydroponic lettuce salad on my lunch break. I had my finger on the let's move to Maine... it would be so much easier trigger. (A 150 mile move vs. a 3000 mile move is tempting for sure.) But I didn't pull. Mostly because I need a bigger change. Something unfamiliar and new. It helped that at this juncture I can't imagine living through another New England winter without a break. A long break. Had it been June, I might have caved. Portland is definitely at the top of my vacation home pipe dream list. 


"This is an ACTUAL piece of the wall, Mom!"


We MUST place a lock on this fence before we leave.
The first place we picked our own lobster, sat on the deck in the sunshine and ate it fresh.



This is hands-down one of my favorite toy stores in the world. It's like a mini Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. I enjoy spending time there as much as Kiddo. Maybe more.
This is Walter. He came home with us.










Kiddo and I sat inside Starbucks and warmed up while casually watching the hustle and bustle outside.




During our first house-hunting trip to New England, we bought lobsters here and brought them home in a box on the plane. As checked luggage. True story. We then had a lobster boil with our neighbors in St. Louis. That particular trip sold us on New England.
On this trip there was also the obligatory jaunt up to Freeport to visit the L.L. Bean flagship store. Kiddo got his first Swiss Army tool and I bought my wishful-thinking flip-flops as I have done every year we've lived here.

I often wonder how our experience would have differed had we moved to Portland instead of rural New Hampshire. Perhaps my career will bring us back to Maine. Or Mario's will. Who knows what the future holds. My gut, heart, and every other clairvoyant organ knows we are making the right move. But we will always have Portland. Maine, that is.