Category Archives: family

Reader, I married him

Just as I was beginning to plan our wedding a few weeks ago, this post came out from Clothilde about her simple Paris wedding.  What she said about planning her event in two months was similar to the timeline that we set for ourselves, and I felt empowered by her thoughts about keeping things simple and “100% you.” Our version of this was a bit different, because of being in SoCal, so here are the choices that we made:

-we’ve worn “wedding” rings for 5+ years (since he first proposed as we watched the sun set one evening at Griffith Park), so that was one thing we didn’t have to worry about for the marriage.  My ring is a vintage eternity band, from the ’20s.  Stijn’s ring is a simple silver band.

-for a few weeks I struggled with what to wear. I’d thought a cocktail dress would be more befitting our stage of life than a traditional white dress, but after looking and looking, I couldn’t settle on anything that felt right. I wore myself out dress shopping (note: I tire of shopping pretty easily).  One afternoon I was thinking about my favorite short story, Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page,” and it occurred to me that a simple white dress was what I wanted as I was about to begin the next chapter of my life (something that hinted at so many as-yet-untold stories):

It is in front of this piece of pure white linen that the old princesses of Portugal — worldly wise, dutiful, long-suffering queens, wives and mothers — and their noble old playmates, bridesmaids and maids-of-honour have most often stood still… 

The dress I settled on was a silk a-line floor length gown from J.Crew.  It was light and easy-to-wear for those two very long days of wedding happenings.

-we held our wedding celebrations at our 1921 bungalow-style home in Old Town Orange.  While hard in some ways (parking? food prep? one guest bathroom?), our home is so much a part of who we are, that nothing else would have felt right. We were fortunate to have perfect 75-degree weather and the wisteria and bougainvillea brought tons of color to the pergola in our backyard. Also, we used All-American Party Rental to augment our supply of party goods, and they were wonderful to work with.

wisteria

 

-we scheduled a civil ceremony at the historic Santa Ana courthouse.  It’s a gorgeous space and we both love history and this reinforces our local ties.  Plus, it was a no-hassle way to do the business of marrying.  I was surprised by how beautiful it felt to take Stijn’s hands and recite vows as I looked into his eyes.  Our family sat on rows of pews around us.
flowers and bracelets

-for our reception we served drinks (sparkling water, juice, champagne, beer, wine) and cake.  The cakes were from Blackmarket Bakery: Total Eclipse, Citrus Tang and Straight Up Vanilla.  Were I to do it over again I would double the order of the Citrus and cancel the Vanilla (which was tasty but not ohmigawd tasty like the other two).  Several guests mentioned that the Total Eclipse chocolate cake was one of the most decadent that they had ever tried, and others complimented the fact that the cakes were rich but not too sweet.

-for the wedding dinner chefStijn and chefCharlie cooked a traditional Belgian dish, vol-au-vent.vol-au-ventThey also served a variety of cold salad starters and a cheese course accompanied by loaves of Stijn’s own handmade rustic sourdough bread.  While I don’t necessarily recommend cooking your own wedding dinner(!), anyone who knows Stijn can understand why this was what he wanted to do. That Charlie was there to lend a hand (and also his partner and honorary bridesmaid Bonny) is why we were able to pull this off…

dinner time

-both our engagement and wedding photos were taken by longtime friends, who understood me and my style.  D’Arcy‘s colorful shots captured our home well (and were perfect for our event invitation) and Brenda’s classical eye matched the look of the old-timey courthouse venue.

invitation

-for my something borrowed, I wore vintage gold bracelets (handed down from grandmothers and great-aunts) on loan from some women that I’ve known for many years.  I loved wearing something so old and precious for the occasion.
Jana&Stijn_4324

-because we have just about everything we could possibly need or want, we asked guests to consider two nontraditional options in lieu of gifts.  The first was to bring books for our Little Free Library, the second was to consider a donation to RIF (Reading is Fundamental) or to First Book (see firstbook.org). Although I don’t yet have a definitive tally, my rough estimate is that about $500 was donated to these organizations as the result of our wedding.  Of course we also received many sweet cards and gifts (especially plants, wine, kitchen goods and gift cards), and we have enjoyed each one of them.

-we married on a Friday (the exact 6 year anniversary of our first date) and that night we escaped to The Ranch in Laguna Beach, where we had dinner and sat in front of the fire sipping wine and hardly believing that we were actually married.  It was a perfect relaxed but not-too-far-away setting for that first night together as a couple.

fire and wine

-most importantly, our wedding included so many beloved friends and family members and this is what made it truly memorable.  I marveled at how far many had traveled and how enthusiastic they were about supporting our union.  These past 6 years, since meeting Stijn, have held so many highs and lows, and it’s those people who’ve been ‘there’ for us (both in-person and virtually) who have made this all come together.

the crowd

As for what it feels like to be married to Stijn…I’ll undoubtedly write more about that in the future.  It is not a small thing to combine families and traditions that span the breadth of the globe. Yet for now it has hardly sunk in and I am eager to see what’s next for the two of us as we chart the rest of our lives together.

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. 🙂

20140525-111224.jpg