Category Archives: family

Sunday thoughts

in the courtyard of the Mutter Museum

in the courtyard of the Mutter Museum

It’s the quiet before the storm here, a few days alone before the family arrive for the holidays.  I am still not used to the rhythm of the holidays sans children.  I put the ornaments on the tree myself, reveling in the memories of each one.

I still only use the same small batch of ornaments that we’ve collected over the years.  I wonder sometimes if the secret santa who gave us a set of cheap tin angels in 1992 ever thought that they would still be on our tree 25 years later, not to mention every ornament that I made in grade school, on our tree alongside the ones that my children made.  Though it would be so easy to buy new stylish decor, I never feel the impetus to do so.

Which reminds me of a conversation that I had at a holiday party last weekend.  I met someone new and mentioned that I’d moved to Orange just as soon as my kids finished school in Irvine.

“Weren’t they sad about your selling the family home?,” she asked.

It was a stranger, one I wasn’t ready to fill in on the backstory of my patchwork life.  I am not sure how she would have made sense of our moving eight times in those last three years while the kids were finishing high school.  While I can so easily tell the stories of the rat house, the whale house, and that time that seven sailors were sleeping in the living room, I didn’t this time.  I simply said that we were all ready for a fresh start…

I had a similar feeling a month ago when a colleague asked how I was spending Thanksgiving.  I told them I was skipping the holiday and traveling to Philadelphia to visit my daughter.  I could see that they don’t really understand why I would opt out of the TDay to wander a strange city on my own and pop in to visit Em on her campus.

But it was a lovely trip.  The weather so cold and so bright.  When she wasn’t busy studying we went to the Mutter and the Barnes and the map room of the downtown library.  She showed me her favorite study spot in the campus library and her favorite trees.  We had coffee at Hobbs and water ice at her pizza place and noodles at her noodle place.  We found a swingset by the Friends’ Meetinghouse and swang and swang.  I felt the pull in my stomach as I pumped my legs up into the air I swung back and forth and felt so young and so old all at the same time.  Remembering myself as a young girl who wanted to swing so high, always reaching out my toes into the big blue.  And remembering the hours (upon hours) that I pushed Em in the playground swings, relishing her squeals as she flew higher and higher and further away from me.

When I wasn’t with Em I walked and wandered Philly.  I stood in line for Independence Hall and went on the tour along with the schoolchildren and families, all of us rubbing our hands together and stomping our feet to keep warm while the wind whipped at us as we queued.

It was all worth the wait when we finally got inside and the tourguide told us about the signing of the declaration, reciting those famous words in a practiced voice:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

I looked out the tall windows into the courtyard where we had just waited, to see dozens  still in line.  The wind was outside was gusting, and yellow leaves were swirling and dancing in the golden light of the winter afternoon.

 

#inthegarden

wildflowers

 

The past few weeks I’ve been fairly contemplative about where I am in my life.  I passed a milestone birthday and I marked the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (or rather, I didn’t mark it at all this year, which felt alright).  Also, I visited with a few old friends recently where we discussed all that’s happened in the past few decades.

And after all that, I suspect that I just might jinx myself if I say that things are pretty positive right now.  But it also seems worth noting that while there are still some hard days and some things that I hope to change about my circumstances, for the most part it’s just really good:  my days are filled with interesting activities that are mostly of my own choosing, I enjoy my work colleagues very much, there is little friction in my family life, I have few health complaints, my home/garden are well-worth returning to each evening, and I average about 7.5 hours of sleep at night (and every once in awhile, I even take a nap).

(photo taken in my garden this weekend)

Resolutions, 2016

Feeling pensive today as I reflect on the past year and consider my intentions for the future.  So as part of that I spent some time looking through my blogposts from the past year and weighing how they reflected my memories of 2015.

Some of the larger happenings of the past year include:

And I’m writing this list as I’m snuggled up on the living room sofa of our Brussels home (photo below).  Life continues to be interesting as I straddle the cultures of continental Europe and Southern California, and as Stijn and I consider our future together.  It’s hard to predict how that will evolve as we make professional and personal choices, but what is obvious is that it’s wonderful to have many possibilities for the future.  In past years I’ve found my greatest longing was for home, and now I have two of them.  🙂
Home, in Brussels

My resolutions for 2016 are pretty simple, so far:

  • invest time and energy into our Orange home, to make it more comfortable–both inside and out
  • be a better friend, by making time to spend with mine one-on-one, and also by hosting more events at our place
  • send monthly care packages to E&C at college
  • practice Dutch and banjo, 3 days/week
  • speak French often
  • grow more food and cook more with our homegrown food
  • have some travel adventures
  • relax
  • laugh often
  • worry less

I’m tempted to also set some writing goals for 2016–I’ve totally slacked in that department in the past few years and I just haven’t felt inspired to write. So, I’ll give that some more thought and see if I feel ready to formalize a plan for writing this year (or not).

moving right along…*

grapevine

Photo taken of the grapevines on the front fence of our current home. I’m sad to know that we’ll be leaving these behind, but the new house has a huge avocado tree, orange tree, and a well-developed herb garden…

Last night my son and I were watering our vegetable/herb garden at dusk and the smell was so achingly familiar. Of lavender and tomatoes and sage and basil.  And dark wet soil. Grassy and fecund.  It was the smell of the community garden plot that I nurtured for a decade.  What rich and pleasant memories that scent evoked.

Oddly enough, our garden is not at the wee corner bungalow where we moved last fall.  Our garden is at a house down the street, where we will move at the end of this month.  After eight months of living on this busy corner we realized that it was time to seek somewhere a bit quieter, with a bit more space and no grass (because who wants grass when there are so many other lovely less-thirsty plants to enjoy?).  It also has a pergola-covered back patio for our late summer evening parties and a small back house for a robotics workshop/guest lodging.

So, a few weeks ago we moved our raised garden bed plantings over to the new place, a barrow-full at a time.  Everything survived the move and is thriving in its new raised-bed location.  We even picked our first tomatoes and peppers yesterday!

While I am over-the-moon excited about the new house, lately I’ve been wondering whether I simply move too much.  At last count, I’ve moved 14 (soon to be 15) times in the past two decades, which doesn’t even account for my sabbatical wanderings last summer. There’s no moss growing on this rolling stone, that’s for sure!  But…I am starting to think that it’s time to put down roots for awhile, rather than living lightly and moving on so readily.

Being mobile is exciting and freeing, but it also has its consequences–one never has to invest much when one knows that everything is only temporary.  In so many ways, my mobility has been a defense mechanism, to prevent me from caring too much about any one place or any specific community. It also simply doesn’t seem to fit me anymore.  After all these years of being able to pack up and move on a dime, I want to stay put for awhile and accumulate a bit too many things and let myself settle into a home and a community.  I want to know my neighbors.  And their kids and their dogs.  And whether they like red or white…so when I see them coming I can make sure that I have a bottle at the ready.

*this phrase always reminds me of Super-Sara.  I still miss her so much.

such a big piece of the pie

My spending this month

My spending this month: note, even the “travel” is going towards the kids–for their flights home for the holidays.  And the “shopping” is mostly for them as well–going towards getting them outfitted for the Fall semester  🙂

This is what your monthly spending looks like when you’re paying for two kids’ college expenses.  While I’m thrilled to be supporting the kiddos in pursuing their educational goals (and likewise thrilled to have the means to do so), sometimes I’m a bit overwhelmed by just how expensive it is.  I look at this graph and find myself counting the months until they graduate…

A tale of four birthdays…

I began the day by reflecting on my past few birthday celebrations, each of which has been special in its own way…

2011: birthday #40(!), spent the morning at the Farmer’s Market, the afternoon in Laguna Beach, and then an evening party with friends. The day marked Stijn’s first return to the U.S. after having been gone for 6(!) weeks.

2012: a morning wander around San Gimignano, then back to the Fortezza di Cortesi for an afternoon swim. Dinner was a simple meal of olives, bread, and cheese in the gazebo. That this happened in Italy was all part of a last-minute adventure that began when we boarded a train bound for Cologne a few days before, and then found ourselves bound for Zurich and eventually Italy via the Alps.

2013: a drive to LA to the Spanish market in search of spices for paella and a special bottle of Rioja. I was not feeling particularly well–with my first surgery of the summer happening a few days later–but we managed to celebrate and dream and enjoy the serendipity of finding just what we needed at the Spanish market.

2014: and today, things are a bit hectic as we pack up the house & simultaneously host guests from Europe, but I’m especially happy that there’s time for a bit of celebration because it will be awhile before I get to hang out with my local friends.

As for the future…I have no idea where or how I will celebrate my day next year….but that’s okay. I’m becoming more and more accustomed to that feeling. 🙂

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home(less)

dorm

The Middle Earth dorms at UCI, where I first lived when I moved to Irvine.

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

There is a momentum to everything that’s going on in my life right now, that seems to be spinning faster and faster everyday.  Work, home, family, friends, and self are all in the midst of change–most of it too personal or too complicated to explain here.

Probably looming largest above everything is the realization that in a few days I’m leaving the community where I’ve lived for 25 years, where I’ve raised my children, where I’ve found “home” in so many different places–from my first dorm room in Hobbiton to our current family-sized house in University Hills.  In addition to moving from Irvine, I’m taking a summer sabbatical from my work Chapman and will be on the move (i.e. homeless) for a few months.  And when I return it will be to an “empty-nest” because both of the kiddos will have moved on to college.

It’s a lot of change in a short span of time, and I don’t think that I’ve ever packed my stuff up for moving without knowing where I would be living when I was unpacking.

I’m not afraid of what will happen when I return in the fall, but I am feeling a bit melancholy about the move because I know how unlikely it is that I will find a home that I enjoy as much as the one where I live now.  The Markham quote above rings true to my feelings, that the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.  It is quite formidable not to know the where and when of what one’s life will be.

But perhaps Markham is also right by saying that it’s good to make big changes quickly and without too much time available for sorrow or worry.  To just leap ahead and know that whatever will come will be new and different and probably even better than whatever I imagined it would be.  I also know that I have a great job and wonderful OC friends to come “home” to, no matter where or what that actual home ends up being…which brings a great deal of comfort in the midst of such a whirlwind.