Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Christmas Debrief

I have returned from our holiday trip and I have generally good news to report!

Donald and I were pleasantly surprised with a small gift exchange on Christmas Eve, in front of a fire with cookies and tea and a genuine giving spirit in all of us. The Christmas Eve church service in the church where we were married was quite moving and just the right thing. The incense made me cough, so I chose not to sing. Instead, I listened to Donald and my brother sing the harmony lines to familiar Christmas carols and my heart sang with them.

I regressed into a habit of talking about myself more than listening or asking questions. Donald helped me snap out of it. I have often experienced a conflict between who I am away from home and the person I was before I left, although this time I think it was easier to remember who I am now. I have more confidence, I have learned to express my needs and preferences more often, I tried to see everyone with new and fresh eyes, without the clouds of the past altering my perspective.

We had the traditional big Christmas morning breakfast and then visited with family friends for a large and celebratory Christmas dinner. It was there, while catching up with friends I hadn't seen in several years, that I clarified my understanding of my job and my career goals, a wonderful holiday gift to receive.

We gave my brother the game Settlers of Catan, which if you haven't played is well worth it. It was a huge hit and we played a game almost every day. Donald gave me a luscious pair of red high heels that I had been wistfully desiring - I danced around the living room trying not to squeal like a schoolgirl.

We spent a lot of time outside in the sunny California air, the skies mostly clear after some winds came through just before we arrived. We hiked in the mountains of my youth, although on new trails, and it all came rushing back to me just how important these vistas and views are to my sense of wellbeing. This is the source of my yearning for the West, these mountains are what I think about when I seek confidence or a sense of who I am. I have no idea how to meet this need of mine when mountains like this are not to be found where we will be living. Luckily, I have many people I can visit in wonderful lands such as these, so that will have to do for now.

The terrain I grew up in helped support me in my new being, to be present in the moment, to appreciate where I am, and to ask hard questions and be open to hearing the answer. On one walk, completely on a daring whim, I slithered between two parallel rocks sitting at a 45 degree angle to the steeper slope of the hill. I braced myself between them with my knees and made my way upwards, finding handholds in the rock above me and letting the one below me bear the weight of my back and feet. My siblings and Donald were impressed with me. It felt wonderful. There were a lot of bonding moments like that on this visit.

On another walk, this one with just my mom, a question popped into my head and fell out of my mouth, "Do you think I have compromised my values because of my relationship with Donald?" She was behind me on the trail so I could not see her face. She said yes. I asked her to tell me how. It was important for me to understand her perspective, even though (or because) this question is linked to my pain about whether she is able to support my marriage to Donald at all. Despite the difficult content, it was a wonderful feeling to have open conversations with her.

Donald left two days before I did because he had to work (I am still so overjoyed to be able to type those words... he had to work - can you see me jumping up and down with joy?). I was amazed at the change that came over me when I returned to my parents' home after dropping him off at the airport. I sat down to the table to eat and the silence was overwhelming. I felt like I had lost something very important. I think it was connected to who I am at home and who I am away. The loneliness departed and left me with a better understanding of myself.

How were your holidays?

I hope all of you end this year with happiness and celebration and start the new year with at least as much of the same. Happy New Year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 - Year in Review

This year has been filled with activity, difficulties, changes, and growth. I thought it would be nice to reflect here and to share my hopes for 2010.

January brought our decision to move from our apartment to live with Donald's parents. The money was running out and my income alone would not sustain us. Donald had been unemployed and looking for approximately 5 months.

In February, I left a job that was probably the best one I had had so far, yet was not even close to meeting my potential or challenging me to improve. We packed and moved over the course of a week, settling in just before the end of the month. We left good friends behind who were expecting a baby in the first week of March and missed being a part of his homecoming.

March saw us through a lot of adjustments, getting settled in our new space, unpacking some boxes and storing others. I hung out for a couple of weeks and then dove right into job searching for myself. Donald continued his search. We also took the opportunity to visit my family while we both had no obligations.

April came with more job applications and an interview or two. I also increased my involvement in a volunteer organization I work with to meet returning Veterans' needs. Donald tried to keep his head above water. May delivered me a new job, a happy thing and a frustrating thing for Donald because I had found one so quickly. I was happy to see that this job actually connected with some of my values, despite my overqualified status.

In June, my insurance kicked in and I got updated with doctor, dentist, optometrist, etc. I made Donald do it too - I'm a big fan of preventative medicine. I started getting involved in my in-laws' garden, pulling weeds, harvesting anything that had ripened, and getting my hands dirty. I also traveled for work for the first time in my life, an interesting experience. July brought me the pleasure of more gardening. I started expanding my knowledge at work, getting through training and making some good connections with helpful people.

August was the beginning of Donald's communication with the company he's currently working for, the beginning of a very long process that is still ongoing. I started learning more and more about my job and the needs of the Veteran population, gaining motivation and energy from the knowledge that I was contributing to creating solutions. I made a last minute travel decision and helped my sister move to her new job. Most importantly, I started my blog. I began the journey that has had the greatest impact of the year on me.

I was so excited about blogging and getting started that I wrote 28 posts in 27 days in August. My first comment was from Jessica at booshy and I was thrilled. I have no idea how she found me. I wrote about so many different topics, including marriage, depression, cooking and baking, gardening, and what it was like to live with my in-laws. It was the beginning of my journey into personal development, the beginning of my blog as a little more than just an online journal. I think my adventure with my sister is a clear indication that by the end of the month, I was open to change and ready to grow.

In September, I branched out in the blogs I was reading for more inspiration. Some days I would post three times. When I posted about other blogs, linking to them and writing about why they had impacted me, I significantly increased the number of comments on my blog. I immediately recognized the value of community, of sharing, and of spreading helpful information to anyone who read what I had to say.

In October, I reduced the number of posts I wrote and tried to focus on themes and quality, sharing my innermost thoughts in search for comfort, support, and encouragement from my readers. I was not disappointed. When I hit a low point, I had the largest number of commenters I had ever had before.

November and December have been very light posting months for me. I think it's partially because of the holidays, because of my workload picking up, and because I have been making an effort to say less and think/listen more. I am doing more than I am talking about doing, and that feels sublime. I'm also in a somewhat more confident place now that Donald is working. It has given me time to think about other things in my life that can be improved and I am happy letting those evolve slowly.

If I haven't said it clearly before now, the community I have discovered and grown with through my blog has had a very positive impact on me. I have grown more in the past few months than I have in several years. I know that I can depend on my readers for a hug, for support and encouragement, for wise words, a kick in the pants, and perspectives based on many years of experience. I am so grateful for all of you and I am excited to see what the new year brings knowing that I have all of you in my life to help me and cheer me on.

In 2010, I am looking forward to quite a few things:
  • Improving my relationship with my mom
  • Improving my communication with my family and friends
  • Moving out of the in-laws' home and into our own, setting up a home
  • Adding a dog to our family
  • Moving forward on adding children to our family
  • Decluttering as I unpack the boxes that have been in storage for almost a year
  • Writing in my blog about my experiences and observations, reading the blogs I love
  • Doing something just for me at least once a week
  • Traveling with Donald before we have a family
  • Setting up a clear budget based on our values and priorities
  • Starting my own garden
  • Cooking and baking and trying new recipes
  • Adjusting my job/career to further align with my values and passions, allowing me flexibility and making a contribution 
  • Standing side by side with Donald and making our marriage flourish
How was your 2009? What are you looking forward to in 2010?

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My First Blog Award

Kate over at Newlywed and Unemployed gave me my first blog award yesterday, the Happy 101 Award.

The rules are:
1. List 10 things that make you happy.
2. Try to do at least one thing on the list today.
3. List 10 bloggers who brighten your day.
4. Those of you to whom I give this award are to link back to my blog and perpetuate the happy with your own lists and recipients and whatnot.

I don't normally do things like this, but it's almost a new year, so here goes:

10 things that make me happy:
1. Donald
2. My kitties purring
3. Thoughts of our future children
4. Sunshine
5. Being productive
6. Gardening
7. Eating healthy, quality food
8. Clothes that make me look good
9. Trying something new and succeeding
10. Mountains

I will have numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8 in my day today.

10 bloggers who brighten my day:
1. Lisis at Quest for Balance
2. Peggy at Serendipity Smiles
3. suzen at Erasing the Bored
4. Barbara at Blogging Without A Blog
5. Colleen at Communicatrix
6. Wilma at Wilma's Blog
7. Jessica at booshy
8. Kim at Thinking Out Loud
9. Tess at The Bold Life
10. Lance at The Jungle of Life

Personally, I don't have a stake in whether my 10 bloggers do this on their blog or not - I think it's a personal choice. I am happy to have given them some recognition though. They are all worth a read.

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

To Gift Or Not To Gift

I’ve been struggling this year about giving and receiving gifts. After going through a decluttering phase (the first of many), I realized that I don’t want more stuff. I want experiences and memories and a few quality things that I enjoy. I want to give with those values in mind too.

My family has been weird about Christmas since my mom left my dad immediately after Christmas a few years ago (it wasn't related to the holiday directly and had been a long time coming). Donald and I will be with them this year (we switch between families each year) and we have no idea what to expect. It has nothing to do with the gifts – we’re trying to recreate our own family traditions now that things have changed so much.

However, since gift giving (and receiving) tends to be such a big part of this country's celebration of Christmas, I've been paying particular attention to the emerging online discussion about giving fewer/less expensive/no gifts this year.

I don't know if it's just because of the tough economy and the unemployment rate, certainly things Donald and I can identify with, but it seems like there is a developing trend over thinking more about the gifts we give, or deciding not to give any gifts at all. I think this is a wonderful development. For example:
With all of these things in mind, Donald and I still ended up buying material things for our immediate families this year. We put serious thought into making sure that what we gave would be appreciated by the recipient and would show that we know the person well enough to support what is important to each of them. Our recipient list consisted of ten people only (besides each other), which kept our budget small. I think we found a good balance between giving something meaningful and giving something material.

As for our changing holiday traditions, gift giving is a small part of the way we have spent Christmas in the past, yet there are elements of the overall scene at Christmas that are related. For example, if you're not going to exhange gifts, do you still get a tree? What do you put under it? Do you do stockings? How do we accommodate those members of my family who are uncomfortable about giving and receiving gifts and still allow those of us who want to give thoughtful gifts to do so?

When Donald and I arrive in California next week, we know that we will be picked up from the airport by at least one member of my family. We have no idea whether there will be a tree or whether it will be decorated or whether there will be Christmas lights on the house. We're bringing stockings (replacement ones - our real ones are packed somewhere) and we have no idea whether we'll need them or not. We're bringing a gift for each other that may end up being opened on Christmas morning in our bedroom without including anyone else. We're sending gifts ahead for other members in my family and we have no idea when they will be opened or whether they will be appreciated.

I'm mourning a little for the loss of the routines and traditions we used to have, despite the fact that I agree with reducing the materialistic feeling many Christmases have had. I'm also aware that my reaction to these changes is likely related to the circumstances through which they have taken place (my parents separation).

I can, however, likely count on our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. I'm planning a day trip for all of us to get outside and enjoy the amazing resources California has to offer. We'll play games and go out to eat and cook and take walks. The most important things will happen - spending time with family and sharing meals and appreciating what we have.

This will definitely be a test for me to see how able I am to let go of the things I cannot control and to focus on the most important aspects of the holiday season. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Marriage Is Perfect

When Lisis hosted Zeenat of Positive Provocations on Quest For Balance, the resulting conversation sparked an idea for a post about marriage. In my comment, I said,

"I often wish it were easier for married couples to be open about the difficulties of marriage and to be able to ask for help without always having to pretend that everything is perfect."

Lisis responded, saying,

"Daphne… you’ve brought up a major issue I’ve been thinking about lately, regarding marriage. Why do we always have to give the appearance of a perfect marriage? Lots of people I know who are divorced might have been able to save their marriage, or get out sooner, had they been able to talk to each other or their friends and loved ones openly about what was going on. But no one wants to admit that THEIR marriage is difficult.

I’ve got news for everyone out there: EVERY marriage is difficult at times. The only way it isn’t is if you aren’t really IN it… if you don’t have skin in the game, and just coast through it protected by indifference. But what kind of marriage would that be? We need to get over ourselves and our desire to pretend everything is perfect and start talking, REALLY talking about what is going on."

This is a HUGE conversation and it starts now.

(Originally planned as a guest post on Lisis' blog, we have moved the venue here because of some recent very interesting conversations on another topic happening at her blog right now.)

Marriage is hard. So many of us buy into the idea that a good marriage is supposed to be perfect. This unattainable standard dooms many marriages to failure. When we pretend that our marriage is perfect, we lose our ability to ask for help.

It is a difficult balance, however, between privacy and openness. The survival of a marriage hangs in that balance and somewhat, too, upon the quality of the support network surrounding that relationship. Our support network must be willing and able to ask us "How are you?" and truly want to hear the answer. In return, the married couple must know that their support network can be trusted and must be willing and able to share the truth.

Challenges and conflict in a married relationship do not necessarily equal an unhappy marriage. The way we handle those things are what defines the relationship. Each day we make choices that will either improve, detract from, or flat-line our relationships (courtesy of Susan Scott at Fierce, Inc.). Honest and open conversations with each other and with our support network are one of the keys to a successful and happy marriage.

This means talking about everything. Nothing is off limits. Get to the meat or the heart of the interaction. Nothing will change if it is not identified and spoken about.

There are too many examples in the media of failing marriages and not enough good examples. I would like to share with all of you some resources that I have found that encourage these kinds of conversations and open communication.

First, a story in the New York Times about Barack and Michelle Obama's marriage. It is an open and honest story about struggle and survival and happiness in marriage, valid no matter your political leanings.

Second, some blogs that touch on the reality of marriage in ways that don't read like Cosmo articles:
Zen Family Habits
The Marry Blogger - check out their finalists for the top 10 marriage blogs here
Confessions of a Young Married Couple
Simple Marriage
Wilma's blog - especially the posts about communication
Through The Illusion - Hayden's posts about her marriage here and here

Let the conversation start now, in this safe space, and let us become part of your support network. 

If you knew that there would be no negative consequences from a conversation you want to have with your partner/spouse/significant other, what would you ask or say? 
How are you? 
How is your marriage? 
How is your sex life? 
Are you happy in your marriage? If not, why not?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Update

Dear Readers,

I'm still here. My time devoted to blogging (and reading your lovely blogs) has decreased recently with an increased workload and the holidays.

Donald's new job is going as well as it possibly could. He is happy and excited and has energy and confidence. He is the man I married again, with added experience (is that like saying "Now, with chocolate chips!"?). I am so happy for him, for us. The long-distance part stinks.

I am so grateful that my relationship with my in-laws is so wonderful. I know that I have complained about it a little here before, so I wanted to clarify that I am beyond lucky. The love and acceptance and support that they give so freely is something I will never take for granted.

Donald and I had the opportunity to test each others' readiness for children. The day before Thanksgiving, the condom we were using broke. We looked at each other, discussed our options, and decided that we were just going to wait and see what happened. Even though I started my period two days later (no alcohol on Thanksgiving for me!), it was a wonderful experience, knowing that we had so much faith and trust in everything working out and that we are both completely ready for kids. The time will come.

My struggle with my relationship with my mom will be ongoing and I will continue to write about it here. Thank you for the support and encouragement you have given me so far. I will definitely be communicating with her and the rest of my family, with as open a heart as I can muster.

I'm also working on writing about my thoughts and observations about marriage in general. I'll be kicking off the conversation with a post on Lisis' blog Quest For Balance. I'll let you know when that happens.

My work supporting Veterans is ongoing. I hope to share my thoughts about this with all of you as well. If any of you have questions about this, please let me know. While this can be a very personal topic, please feel free to speak up, even if you don't know whether we agree or disagree.

I observed something important in the last week or two that I want to share with all of you, that I think will be touching everything I do for some time.

When you think something is impossible to fix, work backwards until you find something you have control over, and fix that. All of the little "fixes" we do will help the big thing get fixed as well.

When we recognize the negative things in our surroundings, we should take action to improve those things. Or, we should decide that those things are not important enough to fix, and then stop bringing them up. No one person can fix everything; each of us should find our niche and work within that, knowing that all of us together will address most of the world's problems. You will find what you care most about and you will make a difference.

With faith, love, and peace,