Category Archives: family

in de boter vallen…

A dutch-speaking friend recently told me that, based on recent happenings in my life, “met zijn gat in de boter vallen,” which translated literally would mean something like “I’ve fallen into the butter.”  The connotation of this idiom is that I’ve had an unexpected amount of good fortune.

She’s right, in so many ways. Most days bring delight and adventures that exceed anything that I would have predicted for myself a few years ago.

Perhaps the richest part of things right now is the expansion of my world to include strong ties to Europe, and a growing feeling of my second home being in Brussels, here:

BrusselsThere is much fortune that comes from being linked to places that are located on nearly-directly opposite sides of the globe–I feel an expansion of experience and possibilities that’s unlike what I felt when my world was more tightly tied to SoCal.  There’s deep satisfaction from having a suitcase always at the ready, and to feel at ease hurtling through the night and shaking off the jetlag that follows.

But some days it’s hard to have a heart that spans longitudes.  When I’m here, I long for there.  When I’m there, I miss out on so much that’s here.  Those days, like today, I stand in my closet and bury my face in clothes that still carry that damp smell of a home built of stone and plaster.  Where there is a loaf of bread from the local bakery on the kitchen counter.  The loaf is half-gone and there are crumbs scattered on the cutting board.  I take a slice and spread a thick layer of butter, then sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper.  I take a bite.  And another.  And another.

Easter, redux

I tend to feel very reflective on Easter weekend.  Perhaps because it’s spring, or perhaps because every Easter seems to mark a milestone in my life.

The past two Easters I’ve been in the Bay area, and enjoyed that long drive across the state alone–giving me time for reflection (I do love me a roadtrip!).  But this year I’ll be with the kids again, which makes me pretty happy.  Gameboy is home from college and I never do seem to have enough time with Catgirl.  We’ll also be with a group of Friends–sitting in silence and eating wholesome food and enjoying the mountains.

I’ll be bringing along my good camera, to capture a few photos of daffodils as I wandel around in the woods (that’s dutch for “walk”–isn’t that a great word?), and will post photos of this year’s Pysanky eggs as soon as they are revealed.

What I wrote on Easter weekend in 2012:

Last Easter weekend was momentous for me–during my long drive to northern California I did a lot of important thinking, and made some significant decisions about what I wanted from my future.  To see the consequences of decisions made that weekend play out in the year since, is a remarkable thing.

Though I no longer celebrate a Christian holiday at this time of year, it remains an important time for renewal for me.  A time for daffodils and decision-making and peace.

Image above is of the Pysanky eggs that Catgirl creates each year while at the Quaker Easter retreat.  That she spends her Easter holiday among F/friends makes me happy, even if it’s a time that she spends with her father and not with me.

2012 Retrospective #2 (simplicity)

Post #2 in my 2012 reflections…

Simplicity is one of my core values, one reinforced by my Quaker beliefs.  The best way that I’ve incorporated simplicity into my life in 2012 has been in the home where I live.  It’s uncluttered and open, and thus it’s easy-to-care-for.  It rarely looks messy just because there isn’t much stuff to pile up.  In general, my fridge and cupboards and closets are sparsely-filled.

When I moved, I got rid of stuff.  As I packed, before any item went into a box I asked myself whether it was useful and whether I loved it.  If it wasn’t either of those two things, it moved on.  Broken stuff was discarded.  Anything that I hadn’t used in more than a year went to the goodwill. Also, if something had a bad memory attached to it, it didn’t make the cut.  That last element is an important one–I realized that bad memories can clutter my home just as much as piles of physical objects.

One lesson that I’ve learned from my recent travels, is that there’s very little stuff that you actually need on a daily basis.  So I’ve incorporated that lesson into the ways that I’ve organized my surroundings.  Also, I learned from some of the hotels that I encountered in my travels that sparseness makes feel more comfortable than a space full of many things. (note: I took this to an extreme during christmas when I realized that I couldn’t stomach piles of gaudily-wrapped packages under the tree.  Instead, I used the soft white packing paper that we’d recycled from our move to wrap our gifts)..

Another way that I “keep it simple” is to arrange all of my financial documents to be delivered online (no more paper!), to shop online, and to keep my google calendar updated.  When I bring in the mail each evening I sort it immediately and try to deal with each piece of paper then, instead of letting them linger somewhere in a pile.  That, and I try to keep stuff in the same spot all of the time so it’s not hard to find when I need it (no more searching for shoes and keys and phones).

Most importantly, and this is related to my first retrospective post about finances, is that I resist the pull to accumulate more things.  When I’m tempted to buy something new, I first consider how I might meet that need in some other way besides accumulating more stuff.  Maybe I can netflix or ILL that movie or book (or buy it on kindle).  Maybe I can use a slightly different-shaped pan instead of buying a new one with a specific purpose, or maybe I can downscale my giftgiving to a small thoughtful thing rather than many unnecessary things.  Or maybe I can wear some sparkly earrings with that favorite older dress to a special event instead of buying a new one.

Overall I’ve learned that a quieter simpler life feels better than one filled with busy-ness and things.  Sure I am still often crazy-busy (lining up one to-do after another each evening until I’m exhausted just thinking about it all).  But…I still feel as though this year has taught me much about what’s really important.  And what that is is something that rarely has a shelf-life or a price-tag.  Instead, it’s time spent on the porch swing with a book, or giggling with the kids over a meal, or singing too loud while on a road trip, or a ramble on the beach on a windy day as I am squinting into the horizon.

This sweet hedgehog bell hangs in the doorway to our home.

Retrospective Post #1: Finances


Not the final Christmas family photo, but I sorta like it anyways…it feels good to be keeping the tradition (even the part where you look at all the photos and realize whenever three of us look great, someone has a zombie expression).

And you know what else?  I just love that Catgirl took the best of the bunch and is working some photoshop magic on it right now.  That girl has skillz  🙂

creating the post-divorce Christmas card

I used to send out Christmas cards every year.  In fact, it was one of the things I most looked forward to about the holidays.

Composing the newsy letter with updates about each family member and a photo in front of our family tree, meant so much (although in the one below, we are so much bigger than our tree, you can’t really even tell that we are standing in front of it…).

About 5 years ago the cards stopped.  Mostly it was because of graduate school–all Christmas break I would be feverishly applying for grant monies to fund my next year of studies.  Cards fell by the wayside.  That, and I never was quite sure how to explain that our family had left the Mormon church and that my (now ex-)husband was excommunicated.  How would that fit into a tidy narrative that included my kids’ swimming lessons?

Then after the divorce I wasn’t really sure that there would ever be a cute family narrative again.  The kids were teenagers anyways, and not very interested in wearing a Christmas sweater or a velvet dress and posing in front of the Christmas tree (although I have to say that I do like last year’s “goofing off in front of the tree” photos very much).

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”pilgrimgirl” id=”72157628152003563″]

The other issue that was rolling around in my head, is how best to discuss my new partner in my Christmas card.  Do I make some type of official, “hey, guess what,” sort of declaration, or do I just include him in my family update without any mention of the change?

Though the card is still in “draft” stage (pending approval of the kiddos, who haven’t yet seen yet what I wrote about them), I opted for fairly brief text, listing just a few recent highlights on each person.  It’s succinct, but it also catches everyone up on the exciting happenings of the past year (new address, new schools, new jobs, etc).

The photo part of the card was a bit harder than the text.  I messed around last night with a bunch of photo collage templates to see if I could do something artful from our travels this past year.  But after I did this for over an hour I realized that no one that I was sending this card to would care much about a view of the alps or of Tuscany.  I am pretty sure that they’d like to see us and not what I ate for dinner in the Netherlands.

So…my plan is to herd everyone in front of the tree after Gameboy returns from college on Thursday evening and snap the annual holiday photo.

Because it feels like some traditions should stay the same, even in the midst of so much change.

Note:  I recently opened up my Christmas card address book and realized that it’s five years out of date, and so many of you have moved in the meantime.  Please email (janaremyATgmail) me your new address if you would like a card and you’ve moved since we were last in touch via post.

things I like…

At my daughter’s suggestion, reading one of her favorite book series (the Protector of the Small trilogy, my entree into Tamora Pierce’s oeuvre).  And then talking about the characters and the feminist themes at the dinner table.

It’s such a simple thing, but it’s been making me very happy lately to have my daughter share a bit of her literary world with me (that, and I love bouncing my writing ideas around with her–she’s one smart cookie!).


making a fist

Perhaps one hard lesson of the last few years of my life has been to learn to express uncomfortable feelings–the coping mechanism of so many years of suppressing sadness is hard to undo.  But what I’ve realized is that I can tell when there’s something I need to express…because my left hand will be balled into a tight fist. Generally I don’t even know that I’m doing it, but I will look down and see the knuckles white and fingers tight and know that something is awry.

(It’s been interesting to peruse my photos from the last few years and to see how many of them include that tight fist in the frame.)

Today, I am finding my hand in a fist because of that hug that I gave my college-bound son at the side of my car just before he walked away with two suitcases in hand.*   That moment recalled many similar hugs that I’ve given in the past.  Hugs meant to hold on to someone who was leaving.  To keep them close and safe, despite distance.  To offer a memory for me to grasp on days when my hands are empty.

Making a Fist
by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

*He’s not gone to college quite yet, but will be with his Dad for a few days until he leaves

but happiness floats…

This poem expresses much of what I’ve been feeling lately–so much deep satisfaction with my life’s happenings.  Sometimes it feels almost wrong to be so pleased with things, to have so many elements fall into place.  But at the same time, I also believe in the line of this poem that “You are happy either way…”  Because I’ve nearly-always chosen happiness, despite the difficulties of my life circumstances.

Still sometimes I wonder if because I’ve had challenges in so many things for so long, what I will do if things are just good?  Will it cause my life to be boring and predictable?  Will I create small and unnecessary dramas because I don’t have big ones anymore?  Or will I start getting itchy for the open road and new possibilities (and dangers)?

Two nights ago (my first night sleeping on my own bed in our new house), I woke up realizing that I’d slept better than I had in years–deep, restful, peaceful sleep.  And now I’m looking forward to so many more nights of that ahead…and thinking that whatever the future might hold, for now I will just relax and see how things unfold from here…

So Much Happiness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

how long…

This past weekend was wonderful.  I got to spend time paddling, with friends, and getting caught up on home things (i.e. laundry and packing).  But mostly, I spent time with the kiddos.

We cooked all of our meals together (I’m giving them basic cooking lessons as a prep for their soon-to-be living on their own), watched movies, and just talked.  And talked.  We ate our meals on the back porch surrounded by the bird chatter (I loved that moment that GameBoy looked up into the trees and exclaimed “There are a lot of birds up there!”  And maybe finally understood why I like taking my morning coffee and afternoon tea out on the deck).

As the weekend came to an end we were up late talking once again and I told them what a wonderful time it had been.  I asked them if they noticed how different this weekend was from the other ones that we’ve had together the past few months.  And for a moment they thought about it but didn’t grasp what made this one so special.  Then I reminded them that it was our first weekend together since I’d graduated, and recounted just how stressful my weekends had been in my final push to finish writing my dissertation.

Then Catgirl asked, “Mom, how long has it been since you’ve been doing schoolwork on your weekends?”

“Ten years.”

(she was five then)