Monday, August 31, 2009


With the prospect of having our own household again dancing tantalizingly in the near future, Donald took me for a walk. Walks have often been our time to discuss our hopes and dreams, to plan for our futures and consider important truths. This time, he wanted to reconfirm that our previous sense of balance between parenting, careers, and maintaining our marriage, was still something that I agreed with.

Donald outlined what we had agreed upon before: he would work full-time, I would work until our first child was born, and then (assuming financial stability) I would be a full-time mom. Raising our children needed to be first priority and extra activities should not detract from it.

I kept walking, but my mind was racing. Did Donald want my identity to be solely that of mother and devoted wife? Was he asking me to never have a career or to have my own interests or activities?

Donald, familiar with what my silences mean, asked me to tell him what I was thinking. I started talking, brainstorming as I went. I said that I would always want to be involved in the community and to make a meaningful contribution, but that I did not have to have a paid job or a traditional career. I said that I wanted to put our children first, but that I also wanted to develop myself as an individual. I might get involved in things like the PTA, which is child-related, but I might also seek out a book club or historical society to challenge myself mentally and emotionally. I encouraged Donald to think about doing the same, to avoid spending all of his time only on work and kids. He needed guys' nights out and activities only for him.

As we were talking, I realized that we had left something out. We had talked about our roles as parents and as individuals. We had not yet said anything of our roles as spouses. I know that my own parents neglected this part of their relationship when they had children, and thirty years later are just now trying to put the pieces back together. This kind of thing happens too often. I will not allow it to happen to Donald and me because of neglect.

I truly think that making time for each other will be the most challenging part of our relationship when we add children to our lives. It is so easy to focus on the things that scream (literally) instead of on the things that suffer silently. We will need to work hard to provide opportunities for ourselves and each other to grow together. I will need to learn how to stop being silent and to ask for what I need, for what our relationship needs.

Now is the time to practice.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Motivation

After writing Compassion and Grace, I shared some of my thoughts on the subject with Donald. He asked me some delving questions and I feel like I need to explore my own motivations a little more.

I have written about my own struggles with conflict and making assumptions and striving to be a better person. I have also written about my desire to help other people handle conflict more appropriately. It is in the context of helping others that I am concerned about my motivations for wanting to do so.

It would be incredibly presumptuous and arrogant of me (1) to assume that anyone else wants my help, and (2) to believe that I know any better than anyone else. I should not be motivated to have fierce (or any other kind of) conversations in order to prove that I am right. If I approach someone, even with a well-crafted question, with obstinate disagreement as my motive, I will not create an environment in which any positive change will take place. I must not approach a conversation with the motive to change someone else. I must engage in conversation instead with the willingness to change myself.

I think one reason many of the difficult conversations outlined in Susan Scott's book are so successful is that the people being challenged by Susan's questions invited her to help them. They asked for her help.

I also think that I have missed an important lesson in the book. In order for me to engage in a fierce conversation, I must "come out from behind" myself. The point is not to force someone else to do this, it is for ME to do this. The conversation may also bring someone else out from behind themselves, but the point is that I change what I do, not what someone else does.

So if I come out from behind myself, how do I encourage a fierce conversation when I disagree with the other person? How do I express my dissent without shutting down the conversation or making someone else feel that I disapprove of them? I need to know more about what coming out from behind myself really means. I also need to practice asking questions that lead both of us to a better understanding of each other. The final result of the conversation should not be anticipated; the conversation should not be directed in any particular direction. It must evolve as the participants develop their relationship.

After all, "The conversation is the relationship."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Compassion and Grace

I am still inspired and driven by Fierce Conversations.

Are some political issues especially contentious because no one is listening and no one feels heard? What would happen if there were more (any?) fierce conversations in politics?

Would birthers be able to explain why they want to deny the legitimacy of Obama's presidency? Would the American public be able to have an open and honest discussion about health care?

My thoughts on the subject, I'm sure, betray how very optimistic I am. Donald suggested that in order for this kind of conversation to take place, especially on hot-button issues, a significant amount of logic, patience, and understanding must be expressed by the participants. I believe that each of us is capable of having engaging, patient, and fierce conversations about any issue. The first step is learning how.

My first step is to actively live what I believe, to put what I want to do with my life into action in every context. My biggest hurdle seems to be avoiding making assumptions. It's harder than I realized, because I do it all the time, to the detriment of others and myself. I not only have to listen to myself when I speak, I have to listen to myself when I think.

This is an exercise in compassion and grace. If I am a better person, do I make the world a better place?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I have written before about our desire to have children. We may have made a decision that gets us one step closer to that goal.

We have decided that after my next pack of pills, I will stop taking them. Maybe forever.

This means that as of October 7, I will be on my way to clearing the path for pregnancy. My doctor has said that we should wait three months between going off of the pill and using no birth control at all. This would mean that we could start 2010 with a bang!

I'm trying not to let this mean anything. We haven't decided that it's time to have kids. We've just decided that it's time to be ready to have kids. I haven't told anyone. Telling people gives it weight it shouldn't have, at least not yet.

My mom would certainly be one to make assumptions. She read me the riot act a few weeks ago when I confided in her about my baby fever craziness. She went off the deep end, ranting about how silly it was for us to be so responsible and that maybe I should listen to my body instead. I understood her point and I think the ferocity of her words took us both by surprise.

Even though none of them have stated it, our four parents are ready for grandchildren. I have watched my father, a reserved and thoughtful man, ogle at young babies to make them laugh, his face lighting up when they smile at him. When my in-laws visited family a few weeks ago, including the relatively new children of Donald's cousins, they returned home full of stories about how cute the kids were and with comments about the cousins' parenting styles. And clearly, even though I haven't witnessed my mother making eyes at babies lately, she feels the need too.

The thought of making them grandparents makes me melt. The only thing that trumps it is the expression I picture on Donald's face when he holds his children for the first time. That image keeps me going no matter what lies ahead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Finding Myself

I'm trying to find myself.

One of my tools is the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. She's one of my heroes. Her company's site is listed as a source of inspiration on this blog. Here are some reasons why:

(1) Her book challenges me. It reminds me of the importance of authenticity and integrity. It encourages me not to place blame. It asks me to be patient. It pushes me to listen to myself.

(2) Her book confirms things I value. It conveys the importance of getting many perspectives in order to see the whole picture. My background in history taught me that, too. One perspective is never enough; individual truths overlap and contradict each other and are still truths.

(3) Her book requests that I not use the word "but". To instead use the word "and". I'm trying really hard to follow this one.

Through much soul searching and guidance from Scott's book and others, I have discovered that I want to spend my life making the world a better place. I want to help people find the answers they are seeking. I want to provide people the tools they need to improve their own lives. The real question is "In what way? In what context?"

I have spent most of my life terrified of conflict. I have almost never witnessed an example of conflict handled with positive results. My parents never fought. My sister, free spirit that she is, caused so much conflict and turmoil in my otherwise stable childhood that I subconsciously became a third parent, inadvertently increasing the level of conflict between us. I had no idea how to handle disagreement. I would shut down or remove myself from the room. I would lower my eyes, shrink my body, and back into a corner. You would think I was being threatened with physical pain. I was unprepared for conflict; I didn't know how to react appropriately.

Ironically, I loved to study conflict. Peace and war. History. I think it fascinated me because I knew I was disadvantaged when it came to handling conflict that involved me personally, so I obsessed about conflict that involved other people. I tried to learn from others, to gain from their experiences. Unfortunately, this did not give me any personal experience in handling conflict, so even now, I still need practice.

I did make some progress. I enrolled in conflict mediation training. I looked for ways to make the situations around me better. In several places of employment, I created policies and procedures to promote clear expectations and better communication where such things were lacking. When I participated in meetings as a note-taker, my write-ups included action items that had not been made clear by the meeting participants, encouraging progress before the next meeting so I wouldn't be tempted to throw up my hands in desperation when the exact same things were discussed for the tenth time in a row. While this was an act purely intended only to maintain my personal sanity, it demonstrated to me that guidance was needed and that I might be good at providing it.

At the same time, I still rarely had a conversation that involved bringing disagreement to the fore. I was always diplomatic to the point of being ineffective, so terrified of saying something critical that I ended up avoiding the real issues altogether. The actions I described above were executed in a very passive, e-mail centered environment. I rarely needed to speak to anyone directly about my thoughts, perspective, or disagreement.

Fierce Conversations has helped me see that conflict does not have to be negative. Conflict is an impetus for change. Change is good. The challenge is to actively participate in a conversation that facilitates change by engaging the participants, to present ideas and suggestions and criticism without shutting people down.

In graduate school, I studied Public History, which includes such fields as historic preservation, museum studies, oral history, and archive studies. Its study includes such themes as identity, memory, sense of place, and civic engagement. It essentially teaches the skills needed to present history (often very contentious, emotional, and sensitive topics) to the public in a way that engages them and makes the material relevant to them.

Fierce Conversations are about engaging people the same way, just with potentially different content. My "way" and "context" are in helping people handle conflict more appropriately. I haven't figured out the right career path yet, whether it is public history, human resources, community activism or consulting, but I have faith that when the right opportunity shows up that I will be ready to dive in.

Scott also discusses the idea of "ground truth" in her book. The similarity to my interest in history is clear. Both promote the need to get to the root causes of a situation in order to understand the results and consequences. Finding the ground truth of a situation is necessary to avoid putting out fires (or putting on bandaids) and to discover the true problem that needs to be solved. The skill comes in asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we stop telling people they are wrong and instead find out why they think they are right?

The Adventure

I'm back from my anti-personality adventure. It was a roller-coaster. I am completely in awe of my sister for handling it so well. It was three days of excitement, fear, tears, decisions, tears, and disappointments. And tears. I'm almost able to say that my trip was "good" when people ask me how it went.

I arrived on Saturday, picked up the rental car, and drove home. On the way, I lightened my purse and my soul by handing an apple to a homeless man on the freeway off ramp. I arrived home to be greeted by my mom, dad, and sister. Somewhat frenzied piling, packing, and planning ensued. We packed the car with most of her stuff and fell into bed.

Sunday morning we left only fifteen minutes later than we had intended with a car full of my sister's life and snacks for the road. The drive was beautiful and relatively uneventful. My sister took lots of pictures along the way. We bonded and gabbed. I felt free and daring and strong. The familiar landscape became unfamiliar.

We arrived safely and checked into our hotel. We visited a prospective room for rent. We decided it wouldn't work. We made a list of more places to visit the next day. We made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for dinner. We slept.

I took her to her first day of work on Monday and returned to the hotel to do more research on rooms for rent. By the time I picked her up in the afternoon, we had a solid list. We went straight to the best looking one and were pleasantly surprised. This was absolutely the one. We let the owner think about it and left to find dinner. The owner called and said it was a yes. We cheered. We called all of the other ones and said "no thanks". We called the owner to see what time we should bring my sister's belongings over. No answer. No return call. No nothing.

It became 8:30 pm. We had no idea what had gone wrong. We had to make a decision. We had to put my sister's stuff somewhere. We put everything back in the car. We drove to the owner's home. It was dark. No one was home. We tried not to cry. We got back in the car. She called a co-worker (whom she had just met that day) and asked if we could put her stuff in their apartment for a week or so. They said yes. We drove to their apartment. We were almost done emptying the car when the owner called. Something awful had happened and she had to delay renting her room for two weeks. At least. We finished emptying the car.

We drove back to the hotel, struck. Now what? We had done everything right. Where would she sleep tomorrow? How would she find somewhere to live without transportation? How long would she be without her stuff? How could I possibly leave her alone the next morning?

We cried. We called our parents. We hugged. We strategized. She could walk to work the next morning. She could throw herself on the mercy of her co-workers. She could couch-surf. She would be fine.

When I got up the next morning to leave for the airport, I was a mess. All night I had dreamed about rooms for rent, phone calls, homeless people. I got dressed and packed my bag. I went to the bed to say goodbye to my sister and I burst into tears. How could I leave her? We had become so close that I felt like I was leaving part of myself. It felt like the hardest thing I had ever done.

She was so strong. She hugged me and said it would be okay. She didn't ask me to stay. I left. I cried in the car. I made it to the airport. I called my mom to check in and I cried some more. I talked to Donald on the phone and cried then too. Then I ate a bagel and texted my sister. She was up and already researching more places to live and sounded positive. I got on the plane and came home.

She texted me last night and said that she had found a good place to sleep for the night and had at least two room options that seemed good. She was fine, maybe more than fine. I tried not to cry with relief.

This trip changed my life. I flew by the seat of my pants for three days and I survived. I had fun! I bonded with my sister in a way I never had before. I will never see her the same way again. I challenged myself to do something new and unknown and it all worked out. I feel strong enough to try it again. I have an increased faith in things working out eventually. I conceded to recognizing that I had a positive role on the situation, even though I don't feel that my objective was met.

I decided that Donald and I must have more than one child because siblings are too wonderful to live life without.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Different Kind of Waiting

Donald had a fantastic interview today. He called me sounding very enthusiastic and excited. He even said that he wants to work for this company for any amount of money. They're actually considering him for a position higher than the one they originally had in mind. It was amazing to hear so much happiness in his voice. I wept tears of joy and relief.

I have written about the painful waiting process when an interview is over. This time I am not dreading it. This time I am calmer. This time they have clearly said that it will take about a month to be able to make an offer because of funding availability. This says to me that they want Donald, but it's about money and not him. This is a much more tolerable reason to wait for more information. I hope my sense of calm endures. I will certainly share when we know more.

Thank you for your supportive messages.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Personality Challenge

I am a plan-a-year-ahead, control-freak, anticipate every contingency kind of person. I like to be organized and I don't fly well by the seat of my pants. I don't like last minute changes. I am not spontaneous.

Despite my inflexible personality, I made an uncharacteristic decision on Wednesday. I was chatting online with my sister when she expressed great anxiety about having to move herself 8 hours from home for a job she had just accepted, by Monday. Yes, this Monday. The idea to fly there and drive her to her new home popped into my head, flowed through my arms, and out my fingers into the ether. She jumped at the offer. My stomach dropped to the floor. What had I just done?

I bought plane tickets two days before flying. We found a hotel room three days before arriving. I was suddenly faced with the reality that I had to pull myself out of my comfortable and familiar routine and put myself on a roller coaster with very little information and no hand brake. I tried not to panic.

I shouldn't complain, really. My sister is the one I could not trade places with. She has no place to stay. She's going to pack up her belongings and arrive in a place where she has never been before, knows no one and has to find somewhere to live and transportation to work before I leave with the rental car on Tuesday morning. I'm really hoping I don't end up leaving her on the side of the road with her belongings piled around her, with no plan in sight.

The only thing that keeps me from backing out is that I trust her to handle that part. She has no problem with couch-surfing and won't actually have that much stuff, so she'll be fine, right?

Besides, I have to go. I have plane tickets. And she's really excited. I can't tell if my stomach is doing back flips out of excitement or out of sheer terror. Donald thinks that my sudden decision is awesome. He knows how hard this is for me and I think it impressed him that it even occurred to me to do something so spontaneous and daring. He loves challenging me and loves it even more when I challenge myself. We are both on a continuous quest to encourage each other to be better people.

My in-laws and coworkers were stunned when I told them I was leaving on the spur of the moment. So were my parents, when I told them that they didn't need to worry about getting my sister to her new place, that I was coming to help. Granted, I live far away and there have been periods of time when I haven't been home for two years or when I only see my family once a year. This year has been different for some reason. Why is it that when we have a lot less money available, we end up traveling more? Travel is not cheap. I guess family is more and more important as things get harder. So we make it happen.

I feel empowered. I feel like I can stretch myself. First, handling raw chicken, and now this? I'm really pushing the things I have control over. Hopefully my personality won't snap under the strain of trying new things. I'm testing my flexibility. I'm putting myself in a new situation to see what happens. I'm preparing myself for many more unknowns in the future. I'm training for whatever comes next. It feels good.

I'll let you know how it goes. I'll try to Tweet some updates. Please keep Donald in your thoughts on Monday for his interview. Maybe everything will be different when I get back.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I saw this painting on Bill Guffey's blog site and on his home page and I am touched. I don't want to post a copy of the image here without his permission, so please check it out on one of his sites. It's called Olives.

I get lost in this painting.

My eyes delight in the way the sunlight dances on the blooming trees. I gaze into the depths of the image, trying to see the mountains more clearly. I want to kick off my shoes and saunter barefoot down that dirt road. I want to have a picnic lunch on the soft grass in the shade beneath the trees. I want to head towards those peaks in the distance with nothing but time on my hands. I want to see if the colors on the slopes are wildflowers, and if they are, I want to pick some and put them in my hair. I want to smell the air as I walk down the road, clean and damp. I can already feel the warm breeze tousling my hair.

I am found.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Donald has been depressed. I'm not sure how long. It came on gradually, as the stress and frustration and rejection piled on.

Before his depression, Donald tended to procrastinate, but always got things done on time and with quality. He performs well under pressure and putting things off certainly didn't hold him back from success and good grades in college and grad school. When something needed to get done around the house, I didn't usually have to ask him more than once or twice as long as he had a sense of when it needed to be completed.

I probably first started to notice that Donald seemed depressed when I'd come home from work and the shades were still drawn and he hadn't gotten dressed or showered and had spent all day playing video games. The first couple of times it didn't bother me. I've certainly had my lazy days and they can be quite enjoyable once in a while. But it started to turn into a pattern. I'd ask him to take care of things and they wouldn't get done. I started to assume that he wasn't even job searching, that he was doing absolutely nothing to make the situation better. I increased my controlling factor by ten. It backfired. I asked for progress reports daily. I felt like I had become a task master or his parent. Not good.

After we moved in with his parents, I relaxed a bit. I knew his parents would provide some level of motivation simply through the fact that there were three of us now who would ask Donald questions, make suggestions, and otherwise expect progress. Some days were good and some were bad. Some days Donald would hole up in the basement (where our office is) and wouldn't come out all day, content to stay in the dark, solitary coolness. I knew that I needed to be his safe place, his sounding board, and I focused on being available to listen rather than demand results.

I mentioned in passing to his parents several times that Donald was depressed. They were slow to accept it. They thought he was just having a string of bad days. They didn't have the benefit of the observations I had made. They eventually accepted it, especially after Donald sat them down and told them. He asked for help. He found a psychologist that he sees almost weekly.

Lately, he has seemed better from day to day. He has pulled himself out of the darkest places where he used to spend a lot of time. He gets responses from job applications at least once a week. People are interested in him. His spirits are up. But his motivation (beyond applying for jobs and following up, which should be applauded) has not returned. Maybe it is because there are no deadlines, there is no structure in his daily life, and maybe it will improve once he returns to regular employment.

His doctor offered to give him a short-term prescription of anti-depressants to help him get through this rough patch. I don't know what kind or what dose or what the side effects might be. He'll be responsible for finding all of that out and deciding whether it's worth a try. He and I normally are hesitant about any medication and anti-depressants have quite the media coverage. But handled correctly, perhaps this is a tool to help Donald regain the last bit of confidence and give him a boost to remember who he is and that he can surmount any challenge before him.

Members of my family have also dealt with depression, and I believe it runs in my family. I have dealt with it before, but was never really diagnosed. I know that dealing with depression might be something we address for the rest of our lives. I just want to be prepared and informed and open. It's too bad it's such a stigmatized condition.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Being A Wife

What does it mean to be a wife? What roles does a wife fill? What are the expectations and where do they come from? Am I meeting these roles and expectations?

These questions have been percolating at the back of my mind ever since Donald and I got married, and have been pushing to the front more recently because of our current situation.

My mother told me that when she got married she had no idea how to be a wife or what that meant. She carried the image of her own mother in her head: in the kitchen, bearing children, hostessing, and staying in the background. My mother assumed that getting married would turn her into whatever being a wife was supposed to be. I don't think she and my dad ever talked about his expectations of her, or her expectations of herself in this role. My parents separated after 30+ years of marriage and are still working things out. For obvious reasons, I don't want to wait to ask these important questions.

Donald and I mused about these questions last night before bed. I explained that my sense of being his wife had two parts - being his partner and performing certain tasks. As his partner, I am his best friend, a listener, a motivator, his soul mate. I know that our current situation has pushed me to focus on this part of my role as Donald's wife and we agree that I am meeting our expectations here.

The part I worry about is the tasks. These include cooking, doing laundry, buying groceries, running errands, being a hostess, setting up a house, cleaning, and being a mother to our children. With our current living arrangements, I don't cook him dinner - his mother does. I do the laundry and clean our own space, but I don't buy groceries or run many errands. There is no one to host and no house to set up. We're not ready to have children yet. What makes me his wife when we're living with his parents? Are we still married first and our parents' children second?

If any of you are making the assumption that I believe that all women belong in the "chained to the stove, pregnant and barefoot" category, please take a deep breath. I am a feminist (varied definitions for this term abound) and I believe that women should decide for themselves what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. I have actually surprised myself in my desire to fill what look like old-fashioned gender roles in my marriage to Donald. I have discovered, though, that the most important things are not what I spend my time doing, but how my relationship with Donald evolves, that we are on equal footing and that we communicate.

In fact, Donald reminded me that even though I'm not cooking him dinner, I have shifted my role to breadwinner and health insurance provider. I have adjusted to meet a need. I have given Donald the freedom to spend time job searching. I have given myself further career opportunities and a growing bank account. I have also taken the opportunity to learn more about myself and how I can express the things that matter to me in any context.

Donald loves The West Wing. I'm the Leo to Donald's Bartlett. They are powerful partners and make a great team, and they operate in different ways, in different contexts. It makes for a very balanced power setup and plays to their individual strengths. They are honest with each other and provide a swift kick in the pants when it's needed. Their underlying friendship and trust gets them through the rough times. I'm flattered by the comparison.

I can finally see that I am meeting my own expectations of being Donald's wife and that I'm also meeting his expectations. It doesn't matter that I'm not cooking dinner. It really comes down to whether I am being fully myself, not trying to fit myself into an abstract image of "wife". The only way I can be the best partner to Donald is to be the best partner to myself.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dinner and Dessert

I had two culinary successes this weekend!

Dinner was Chicken Kebabs with Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad from Real Simple Magazine. I did everything except man the grill - I decided that could be Donald's job.

I mentioned in my other post about the weekend that I handled raw chicken for the first time in years to make this recipe. In the past, that has also been Donald's job. For whatever reason, I have had a hard time dealing with raw meat - sight, texture, etc. - and I had gotten in the habit of passing it off to him. This time I was determined to do it myself, without using tongs!

The meal was a huge success! Donald and I had never had grilled corn before and it actually tastes different than boiling it. Donald remarked that the charred kernels tasted a little like popcorn. The only change I would make is to skip the salt on the tomato salad. Oh, and I used cherry tomatoes from the garden, of course.

Dessert was Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, posted by Cookie Momster on Tasty Kitchen. The batch I made resulted in about 4-dozen cookies, which was awesome when I calculated the calorie count at 137 calories per cookie. My finished cookies were about 2-3 inches in diameter. I followed the recipe exactly and used shiny (not non-stick), un-greased cookie sheets. I also had to leave them on the pan for about a minute before trying to move them to a cooling rack. They needed to harden a little and not crumble into happy little bite-sized pieces (Oh dear! nom nom).

These cookies will forever be in my recipe book from now on. Donald's parents had some after dinner last night and they both scolded me for bringing something so delicious into their home. I enjoyed that very much.

Hopefully there will be some left when I get home this evening.

It's Not Enough

The weekend is over. The in-laws have returned. Please return to a dependent state of living and buckle your seat belts.

Our independent weekend was actually quite good. But I had a minor breakdown on Saturday when I realized that I was just pretending. That having a few days alone didn't really mean that we were independent adults. My high crashed hard.

It started to pick away at my happy excitement when I went through recipes to decide what wonderful goodness I was going to bake for dessert. Reading through the recipes on Tasty Kitchen, I felt a creeping sense of melancholy.

And then, while looking through dinner recipes (oh yes, I was going to cook dinner too!), the only things that appealed to me were vegetarian and Donald is decidedly a meat eater. That just made me feel inadequate and un-wifely and grouchy. The dark clouds gathered. Donald came home with his parents' dog and I escaped to take a shower. The hot water and steam hid my tears. Clean, my mind was clear and I finally realized why I was upset. Our weekend was already almost over. It wasn't enough.

As Donald comforted me, hugging me close against his t-shirt clad chest (cotton is so wonderfully soft and absorbent - sorry, love), I was able to explain that I missed my mixer, I missed being fully his wife, I missed having a space of our own. I was grateful that Donald could comfort me without letting my tears increase his sense of failure.

I pulled myself together, made a grocery list, and headed out to run errands. My second time in a grocery store in as many days! I took my time, browsing the shelves, breathing, reveling in the control over what to buy, the comforting sense of making a decision. Indulging in some new pink nail polish. Putting containers of fresh berries and chocolate sauce in the cart, even though they weren't on the list. Spending money on needs and wants.

I came home rejuvenated. I made cookies. I prepared dinner. I handled raw chicken for the first time in many, many years. I took charge of the things I could control and let the rest go. I made the most of my opportunities. I breathed. I didn't let the weekend end sooner than it had to. I painted my toenails.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Return to Adulthood

I mentioned on my Twitter feed yesterday that Donald and I have the house to ourselves until Sunday. I was so excited that I was giddy when I came home from work. I was overjoyed to:

Go to the grocery store because
(1) I hadn't set foot in the store for at least a month, probably more;
(2) Donald and I used to have a weekly ritual of going to the grocery store together;
(3) I had planned our dinner menu for the night and I couldn't wait to try a new recipe.

Cook because
(1) Except for the dessert I made a couple weekends ago, I hadn't cooked in months;
(2) I was making a new recipe;
(3) I feel like I'm fulfilling my role as Donald's wife (more on this in another post).

We also got to have a quiet dinner for two, something we never get to do when the in-laws are home, and something we won't get to do once we're lucky enough to have a family. It's something to cherish.

It also helped that dinner was fabulous! Ree, if you read my blog at all, you should know that I also love your favorite burger. It tasted like heaven last night. The caramelized onions were the perfect complement to the blue cheese. You'll laugh though - we used less ground beef than your recipe called for, but still used the same amount of salt and pepper! We'll fix that next time! I have never had such a juicy burger. I will be making this again (and maybe next time I won't make Donald handle the meat. I know, it's something I need to work on).

The thing that made me most excited though, was a return to adulthood. My in-laws don't treat us like children, but the simple fact that we are living under their roof means that we cannot be independent adults. Last night, we were completely responsible for ourselves again. No one would do anything for us. We had to do it ourselves. I felt liberated. I jumped up and down and whooped and shouted "I love my husband!" I felt whole again and so did he.

Before we went to bed, we laid down on our backs outside and tried to see the Perseid meteor shower. Despite the light pollution from the big city nearby, I saw one and made a wish. I won't tell you what it was.

Recession Blog

Just a quick post to mention the blog I most recently started following. It's called Recession-Fabulous and is a shared blog with several writers contributing (in addition to maintaining their own individual blogs). The content includes discussions about clothing, school supplies, food, and entertainment. The writing is clever and witty, and seems to find a balance between being realistic and supportive at the same time.

I'll be watching this one from now on.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Marriage and Unemployment

I have been doing some research to see how other people are dealing with the recession, especially other married couples. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speaks directly to the impact the recession has had on marriages. Elizabeth Bernstein's article notes that young couples who are partially or fully unemployed are experiencing what retired couples face. More time together, a change in routine, an increased reliance on each other.

I also came across The 405 Club, which is running a series called "Living With The Recession". I also liked Garrett Dale's article this morning about his unemployed routine.

If you've recently been followed by me on Twitter, it's probably because you mentioned recently that you're unemployed and you're trying to figure out how to stay positive or how to adjust to this new circumstance. I'd love for my blog to become a resource for you or that it will give you some positive support. For example, I found Cindy Burns on Twitter yesterday, who was asking for tips on how to stay positive while being unemployed. While I'm no expert, I do believe that a community of people with a shared experience and different perspectives can be a source of strength and support.

How do you get through the day? Has your marriage been changed because of unemployment? What resources do you rely on for support?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grant Me Strength

Donald has an in-person interview next week.

You'd think that would simply be a happy thing, but it's so much more complicated than that. Donald has had a lot of interviews, by phone and in-person. We don't get excited about the phone interviews anymore, but the in-person ones are promising enough that it's hard to resist the temptation to hope. Over the last year, Donald has probably had about five in-person interviews, and each time, they have said no.

The worst part is after the interview is over, even worse than hearing "no". All we can do is wait. Each day, Donald waits for the phone to ring. He hopes he doesn't get an email, since those usually say "No, thanks." We protect ourselves by assuming that it will be at least two weeks before they make a decision, before we know anything more. Those two weeks crawl by so slowly. Our nerves get frazzled and we get snappy at each other.

Sometimes we dare to get excited. The in-person interview goes well, it's only a matter of time, so we start researching the area, looking at apartments, what the town/city is like, where the good neighborhoods are, what our next favorite restaurant might be. We look forward to the future. We start dreaming and hoping. The truth dashes it all to pieces and we go back into protective mode.

I don't know whether it's better to have those few days of pure joy and hope or whether it is better not to have them at all. About a month ago, Donald had a very promising interview and we got excited and carried away. We were looking at dog breeds and talking about what kind we'd like to adopt. Donald said that I could go off the pill if he landed this job. He was the happiest I have seen him in the past year, a true departure from his depression. Suddenly he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I cherished and fiercely protected his good spirits. When his mother tried to inject some reality/negativity about the fact that he might not get the job, he instantly lost the hope and started saying "I didn't get it." While they were both eventually right, I resented his mother's undermining of his happiness, even thought I understood her intentions. He was devastated by the news either way. Did getting excited make it worse?

I think it makes it worse for me. I start to peek over the wall I have constructed between where we are now and where we want to be. I start to imagine what it's like over there, where we'll live, what our kids will be like, what our life will be like, what Donald will be like when he feels a sense of purpose again. It's harder for me to be a rock for Donald when I'm also hurting, feeling the wall go back up and saying goodbye to those dreams once again, putting it all away for someday.

The hurt is worth it though, when I see Donald happy and excited, and looking forward instead of backwards. I'll do anything to make that happen because I know that his happiness is inseparable from mine.

How do you handle disappointment? What do you do to stay strong for the people who need you?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Musical Inspiration

When I'm feeling unrooted or unsure, I turn to music to give me strength and inspiration. Over the last year, I have made a point of seeking out strong female vocalists, music with powerful melodies, and a beat that moves me. I love Pandora Radio - it has helped me find new artists and songs and it is very responsive to playing what I want to hear. If you want to listen to one of my Pandora stations, just send me your email address and I'll share it with you.

I tend to like rock of many types - country rock, pop rock, Christian rock, hard rock, 80s/90s rock, alternative rock, folk rock. The only kind I don't like is the songs without melody, with screaming and yelling and no actual music. I really like songs with spunky/angsty female vocalists. Their power and emotion channels through me, and I feel stronger knowing that I am not alone.

I also love the game Rock Band. My husband and I play all the time and it's an amazing bonding experience. He usually plays the guitar (sometimes drums) and I tend to sing (although I'm learning the guitar). It feels like teamwork to get through a tough song together, with the crowd screaming all around us. I know the game is a far cry from being real rock stars, but it still feels wonderful. And I think I've strengthened my voice and my ear for tone by playing the game. Music definitely has a strong role in our lives.

Do you play an instrument? Do you play Rock Band? What are your favorite songs?


I need to come clean about something. I'm using pseudonyms in this blog. I'm purposefully leaving out details that will tell you my name, where I live, my occupation. I am protecting myself and protecting my husband. I want my blog to be completely open and honest, and in order to have that freedom, I cannot tell you my name.

I started blogging because I admire the honesty and openness I have found in the blogs I follow. I cherish knowing that I am reading about real people with real lives, who are not candy-coating their experiences. I trust them to tell me the truth.

When it really comes down to it, I guess I don't care whether I know their real names. I only want their writing to be authentic, to know that they are writing about reality, about their feelings, experiences, hopes and dreams. I am doing that, too.

Some of the things I will write about are deeply personal and will often be about people close to me, who want to maintain a certain level of privacy. I will not betray their trust in revealing who they are, but I know that their experiences are important to share because they are not the only ones. I derive great strength from shared experiences and shared stories. I turned to blogging to connect with a vibrant, supportive, and honest community.

I hope you will forgive our aliases and that you will continue to read my words believing that everything is true except our names. And I hope that you feel free to leave comments and feedback, with or without your real name. Thank you for reading.

Monday, August 10, 2009


The Pioneer Woman just made me hungry. I must try this burger. I was browsing the Cowgirl Food recipes on The Pioneer Woman Cooks and my taste buds will not rest until I have feasted on its awesomeness.

PW's description of her high maintenance burger preference hit home with me too, especially because she and I are both former vegetarians. When Donald and I met in college, I didn't eat red meat and only ate chicken occasionally, for a protein fix. Donald, of course, was a happy meat eater, and we politely agreed to disagree.

I definitely blame Donald for my return to eating red meat. It started gradually. I'd catch a whiff of meat cooking when we drove by a restaurant on a road trip, "Mmmh! That smells good!" He would laugh and look at me out of the corner of his eye (his eyes were on the road, of course), and reply "You know that's meat, right?" I had no good response.

The best part was the first time I ordered a burger at a restaurant. Donald looked at me like I had just given him the keys to an Aston Martin. He was so surprised and giddy that when I actually enjoyed the burger I had ordered, he would have proposed to me all over again. Since then, I think it still surprises him when I order a burger, but I'm quite picky about them. They must be medium-well done (I can't handle pink). They must have something fancy on them (like blue cheese). And they cannot be fast food.

The ONLY exception I have made to this burger rule is In-N-Out Burger. Those are heaven, I don't care what you say.


I have heard the word "resilience" more in the last week than I ever have before. I don't know whether it is a sign of the times, a word that comes to mind when people think of their stock portfolios in the face of a difficult economy, or just a fad usage that will be gone next week. Regardless, I think it is a very powerful word, one that should be given some thought.

When I hear someone speak of resilience, other words spring to mind, like preparedness, self-reliance, and survival. Resilience is the ability to spring back, to roll with the punches, to maintain the ability to move forward even in the face of very difficult circumstances. Preparedness can help us build resilience. Survival is the goal of resilience.

I worry sometimes when I realize how dependent I have become on society, technology, and the all-knowing internet. I grew up in earthquake country and my family always had a container in the garage filled with emergency supplies - canned food, water, first aid kits, flashlights, etc. I carry a first aid kit in my car. My peace of mind relies on knowing that if something bad and unexpected happens, I have backup. I don't have to wait to be rescued. I can help rescue those around me who also need help.

Natural disasters and other violent occurrences remind me how valuable basic skills and knowledge can be. If we were all to lose power, sewer, water, and gas tomorrow, what would you do? Do you have what you need? For how long? What skills or knowledge do you have that would help you be more resilient? What are the consequences of not being prepared, and therefore, not being resilient, and potentially risking your survival?

It's hard to think about these kinds of things because we take so much of our surroundings for granted. Donald is very interested in reading about, watching, and playing through apocalypse scenarios, where ordinary people are put in extraordinary circumstances and have to figure out how to survive. We have discussed our backup plans, what we would do if something catastrophic happened, what our priorities would be, how we would change our lives in an instant to adapt and adjust to whatever new realities we faced. Of course, you can never be prepared for everything. Ideally, many prepared individuals would create a resilient community.

In a strange way, our decision to move in with Donald's parents was a move of resilience and survival. We weren't escaping from a dire situation like a massive natural disaster, but we were rearranging our priorities to adjust, to make sure that we were thinking about our long-term viability and survival. People do this more often than we realize, especially now that the economy is uncertain and jobs are hard to find. Families faced with a sick or disabled child have to adjust to a sudden new reality. Families faced with unemployment of one or both parents have to dig deep into their resources and re-prioritize.

Change forces us to adapt, and the more prepared and resilient we are in the face of change, the better we will survive whatever comes our way. How do we encourage each other to a higher level of resilience and self-reliance? How do we supplement or resist the assumption that we will be rescued (by local, state, or federal authorities)? What are the costs if we do not?


Gardening makes me happy. I love the feel of dirt under my fingernails, the quick, satisfying jerk of pulling out weeds, and the nearly immediate gratification of rearranging a tomato plant to make it happier and healthier.

This image makes me happy:

Home grown tomatoes, pepper, and green beans

So does this one:

Cherry tomatoes growing on the vine

I just cannot get enough of how rewarding it is to be able to grow food. It tastes better. It doesn't take that much time to maintain. It lets me get my hands dirty. And I get to wear the cutest sun hat.

Do you garden? What do you plant? What is your favorite part? Least favorite?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Monthly Reminder

Donald and I want to have children. And while we know that we will never have enough money to afford to have kids, we still want to be responsible about being able to take care of them. So we say, once Donald has a job, we can have kids.

It would be nice if I really thought it would be that easy. And every month that goes by, I hear a voice in my head saying, "There goes another one!" Hopefully also a monthly reminder that I'm capable of bearing children.

I have been on the pill for over 10 years straight and I have no idea what my body is going to do when I stop. Some of our friends have had children with no trouble. Many more of our friends have had trouble of one kind or another, some eventually successful, and some not. Some have adopted. Some have stopped trying. All of them have struggled, and hopefully all of them will eventually make peace with whatever life throws at them. I will not judge other people's reproductive choices here; I simply want to acknowledge that the ability to conceive, carry to term, and bear children is something that should never be taken for granted.

I'm also acutely aware that many children are not born healthy and I try to prepare myself mentally for that possibility. Donald and I have faith that we can handle whatever we are handed, but knowing that doesn't quiet the voice that says, "What if...". Which makes me all the more determined not to jump into raising a family too quickly, to give us time to prepare for any child that comes into our lives and for the process of making that happen.

So, that's the rational Daphne talking. The irrational Daphne, who tends to burst through at inconvenient times, says "I felt nauseous this morning! I could be pregnant!" and "What if it takes us six years to conceive? We need to get a MOVE ON!" I often feel like my uterus and my brain are having an epic battle, one trying to sway the other, tugging on my emotions and my sanity. I convince myself that I could be pregnant because I was two hours late taking my pill the night before. Or that we could somehow forget that we want to have children and twenty years later we'll suddenly remember. It feels like pure madness and while I make jokes about it, I worry that when we actually are ready, when it actually is possible for me to get pregnant, that I'll pressure myself into sterility.

I've been "baby crazy" for about two years at this point. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows (Ha!), but most of the time, it's a calming feeling, a sense that I know that part of who I am will be in full bloom when I become a mother. I just have to keep my internal organs from fighting it out until that can happen.

Do you have baby fever? Did you have trouble having children?

Cookie Monster!

My last post about counting calories made me hungry!

I have enjoyed baking since I started living with Donald, mostly because he loves eating everything I make. That sometimes derails our desire to manage our weight, but I'm ok with that. I used to bake blueberry scones every Saturday, especially in the winter when it felt good to stand in an oven-warmed kitchen. I learned how to make pie crust shortly before hosting my family for Thanksgiving. I made an apple pie and a pecan pie, my first ever! And they actually turned out well. I loved baking cookies, especially when we could take them over to a new neighbor or to work for someone's birthday, or just because. For me, baking is about sharing.

Baked apple pie cooling on the stove

Since Donald and I moved in with his parents, however, I haven't had the same opportunities. My pans and mixer and utensils are boxed up in storage, and even though Donald's mother has a well-equipped kitchen, it's not the same. It has also taken several months to feel comfortable using her kitchen as I would my own. I also didn't know that I missed baking until I came across one of my favorite blogs, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, a piece of the entire Pioneer Woman blog (which I also highly recommend, especially her story of how she and her husband met - I was riveted for several days).

So last weekend, I whipped up a wonderful thing called Earthquake Cake. It's a very easy recipe and the whole family oohed and aahed over it. We cut the 9x13 pan into 16 pieces (only 218 calories per piece!) and it was gone within three days. Donald says it was especially good with a little vanilla ice cream on the side. I will definitely be making that again!

Now to figure out what I should make next! Any suggestions?

Calorie Counting

I mentioned controlling my calorie intake in my last post and I wanted to follow up with a tool that has really helped me. It's an iPhone application called LoseIt! It's super simple to use and it has taught me a lot about the calorie content of what I eat. You can set it to help you lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, and it calculates the number of calories you should eat per day based on your height and age. Donald and I have been using it for a month or two now, and coupled with a little added exercise, we have lost at least 20 pounds together.

The most important thing it taught me was about portion size. Now that I'm paying more attention, I feel good knowing that I'm taking charge of my health and that makes me feel good and in control. Our weight loss is likely to be maintained because we have educated ourselves about what we eat and how many daily calories are healthy. AND, we don't have to skip dessert if we don't want to - just take a walk or eat a little less for the rest of the day.

Counting calories is not everything of course. This app doesn't judge whether your daily calorie allotment is spent on donuts or salad. It's simply a tool. Debates rage about the best way to evaluate the food we eat for nutritional value, as well as how to calculate a healthy weight for someone - BMI, waist circumference, etc. - especially because of recent news on the obesity "epidemic". Hopefully there will be more and more tools and information available to the public so we can all have what we need to make good food choices. When in doubt, though, moderation is key.

Do you struggle with your weight? What would help you? What are your biggest challenges? What can we do to help?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Clean Laundry

I miss the smell of clean laundry, or rather, the smell of laundry detergent. My mother-in-law prefers unscented cleaning products, including laundry soap. I used to mark every Sunday with happily-scented clean laundry and now that I don't smell that scent, I miss how comfy and calm it made me feel.

It's surprising the things I miss now that my husband, Donald, and I are long-term guests in his parents' home. I haven't been grocery shopping more than a few times since we moved in. I don't pay utility bills or rent. I don't cook meals. I don't have a large living space to clean. You'd think most of these things would not be missed, that I'd be happy without them. The thing is though, the loss of responsibility makes me feel like less of an adult, like I'm living in a fantasy and I'm losing touch with reality. I worry that I will have a hard time adjusting back to real life, to taking those responsibilities back.

The responsibilities of adulthood are actually somewhat precious. They represent independence, self-reliance, and freedom. When we don't do these things for ourselves, it means that we are dependent, closer to children than adults. It's not that I am ungrateful - I do appreciate how lucky we are. It just surprises me that I actually miss these things, that I still long to be an adult, even though it's un-fun and difficult sometimes. I know Donald would be happier being less dependent too.

It does something to one's self-esteem, this sense of dependence on others. I find myself seeking out ways in which I can be independent. We do have our own private space at the house, which I take great pride in being responsible for keeping clean. We take care of our cats. But this is not enough for me. I need control over more than that. I started spending a lot of time looking for things I can control, like my calorie intake, for example (more on this another time). I have had sudden urges to bake and cook, and to do home improvement projects, to reclaim some of the things I used to do. I need to find ways of expressing who I am as an individual.

I have also found that my sense of myself as Donald's wife depends on these things, on these responsibilities. My father, in his infinite wisdom, said to me when we first moved in with Donald's parents, "Make sure that you are a married couple first, and children of his parents second." My knee-jerk reaction was "Yeah, Dad, of course," never thinking that our status as a married couple would come into question. But, I made a point of sharing what my father had said with Donald, and it has given us an awareness that we otherwise would not have had until after we had fallen into the ditch of confused identity. We have been able to maintain our couple status as primary, although I know it is easier for me than it is for Donald, since these are his parents, after all, and not mine.

We are very lucky that Donald's parents are actually quite respectful of us and so giving. Even though we are in a very good situation, under the circumstances, we know that we are not happy, we are not content. We need control over our future, over our responsibilities, over our laundry. We need to do whatever it takes to get our own lives back.

So the question is, how do we do that? How do you claim your independence when you find yourself in a dependent situation? What do your responsibilities mean to you? What does adulthood mean?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jimmy John's #12

This is my favorite Jimmy John's sandwich, #12 (hold the sprouts):

Jimmy John's sandwich #12
I walk to my local Jimmy John's for lunch every few weeks or so for this delectable treat. However, I'm also watching my calories so I avoid what some refer to as "Secretary Spread". Therefore, I enjoy half of my #12 on the first day and the remaining half the next day. It keeps pretty well (refrigerated) and then I get an awesome sandwich two days in a row. It's especially helpful when I don't feel like making my lunch.

If you have never been to a Jimmy John's, I highly encourage it. The staff are always upbeat and say hello and goodbye and the sandwiches are made lightning-quick. I also recommend getting a pickle to go with your sandwich. Enjoy!

One Year of Searching

It has been one year since my husband, Donald, started his full-time job search.

But let me back up. Like many people our age, Donald decided that his chosen career would not make him happy, so he went back to school. I happily accompanied him since I was also looking for a change and I was excited that my husband would not settle for a job that wasn't a good fit for him. We had been married for only a year and were still in the throes of "we can do anything"-itis, believing that we would be different, that we would be happy with everything in our lives.

During his program, Donald grew and changed and explored and learned. It was wonderful sharing the experience with him. He was often excited about new ideas and was energized by the ways in which he could make the world a better place. He met some friends who would get together once a week to throw ideas around. They ended up latching on to one particular idea, raised funds, filled out all the legal paperwork, and launched the company, all before graduation.

Running a company, his company, suited Donald completely. He was tireless and determined, motivated and capable. We would go for long walks through the neighborhood, talking about his ideas, looking at houses and imagining what kind of house we would buy, how many kids we would have. He believed that he could not fail, that the idea was good, and his team was good, and the market was ready. He and his team traveled to give presentations to angel investors and other groups who invest in start-up companies. He is an amazing public speaker and I know he did justice to his endeavor. But the money never came. And then the economy took a dive and we knew that we were headed for something new and unexpected.

Donald tried to save his company, but there was a point at which he knew that an income was not in the near future and that my job was not covering our living expenses. He let his dream company go. He polished his resume, still fresh out of school, and started looking for a job. His parents seriously-jokingly said that we could move in with them. He had interviews. He networked. He consulted with his dad. He consulted with me. No jobs. When our financial situation was clearly heading down a bad road, we decided to take his parents up on their offer and move in with them. We never thought we'd actually have to take them up on it. We are grateful we did.

Before we moved in with Donald's parents, Donald spent his days alone in our apartment while I was at work. I didn't pick up on it right away, but it soon became apparent that Donald was having a harder time than I thought. The job search was frustrating; he was mourning the loss of his company, largely blaming himself for its failure. He was deflated, angry, and, I eventually discovered, depressed. Spending his days alone in the apartment was only making it worse, especially when I would come home from a long day and pester him about whether he had made any progress. And then we would argue about whether we had enough money to order pizza for dinner on weekends. It felt to both of us like a circle of the same conversations, never ending, without help in sight. At the time, it still felt like a stigma to talk about one's spouse being unemployed, so it was hard to reach out for support from our friends and family. We wanted to be able to take care of it ourselves. We wanted to be adults. We wanted things to be the way we had pictured.

Now that we're in a new place and have Donald's parents around (they are retired), things have improved in some ways. I was able to find another job after about 2.5 months of searching (boy, was that a topic of frustration for Donald), so now when I go to work during the week, I know that Donald is not home alone (most of the time). I don't want this to make him sound like a child, but time alone for a depressed adult is not healthy or helpful. Donald has loving and supportive parents, and they have helped him enormously in maintaining his motivation and helping him stay on track. Obviously, there are drawbacks to being long-term guests in someone's home, but I'll write about that another time. The bottom line is that we are deeply grateful to Donald's parents for taking us in and for giving us somewhere to go when things got tough. And, as news media has covered, many singles and couples our age are doing the same thing - returning home to parents.

How are you and yours faring?