Category Archives: Choose Happiness

Road Trip

We drove back yesterday from visiting both parental households. Q. and I spent most of the drive discussing the current state of my parents (mother very stressed but long-term prospects are still good; father’s situation provokes rage and despair in equal measure). There was a lot of ranting (not all of it from me) and some serious talks about what to do next, all buried under loud music for the sake of the little pitcher with huge ears in the back.

Meanwhile, it the backseat, the drive looked a lot like this:

Five scenes from a six hour drive

Scene 1. Turia is driving. P. is asleep. E. is telling a story to himself.
E.: *unintelligible* “Don’t worry, I borrowed it from the solar system! The Earth said it would be all right.”
*muttering*
*sound effects of crashing and explosions*
E.: “And all the planets were consumed!”

Scene 2. Turia is driving. We are thirty minutes away from stopping for dinner.
P. *shrieks of laughter*
E.: “Pick up the monkey and throw it back to me, P.!”
*flurry of motion in the rear-view mirror*
E. & P. *shrieks of laughter*
Repeat scene with everything within reach in the backseat

Scene 3. Q. is driving. We are trying to get back on the highway after having to take a detour to avoid an accident right before our on-ramp.
P.: “P. Door. Car.”
E.: “How far away from home are we?”
P.: “P. Door. Car. Out.”
Turia: “One hour and forty-three minutes, according to Google, once we get back on the highway.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
E.: “I meant, how many kilometres?”
P.: “P. DOOR. CAR. OUT!!!”
Turia: “One hundred and sixty-eight.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!!”
E.: “Oh, ok. I will not start to look for the [very well-known building] yet.”
P.: “P!!! DOOR!!! CAR!!! OUT!!! MUMMY, MUMMY, MUMMY!!!”

Scene 4. We are listening to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Greatest Hits. Q. is driving. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is playing.
E.: “You know, I think there are other versions of this song where they are eating things other than chicken and dumplings.”
*song ends*
P.: *very quietly* “Choo-choo.”

Scene 5. P. is asleep again. Q. is driving.
E.: “I still feel sad when I think about P. [our cat who died in April of 2016] just like I still feel sad when I think about Grandpa I. [my stepfather, who died in August 2016].”
Turia: “It’s ok to feel sad, E. You feel sad because you loved them and you miss them. I still feel sad when I think about them too.”
E.: “Remember after Grandpa I.’s funeral and I said that maybe at night he would get out of the cemetery and go geocaching? Maybe our cat gets up at night too.”
Turia: “Do you think she’s the one who makes our floorboards creak when L. [our other cat] is asleep on our bed?”
E.: “Yes!”
Turia: “Is she a little cat ghost?”
E.: “No! She is a cat zombie! She gets down off the shelf in her box and goes all around the house.”
*long pause*
Turia: *very quietly, to Q.*  “We really need to make time to bury her and get the box off of our bookshelf.”
E.: “Brrrrraaaaiiinnnnssss!”

Happy chaos.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Dormant

Dear bulbs,

Thanks for joining our garden. I’m sorry it was so late in the year before you were planted, but luckily we’re pretty far south for such a northern country; winter hasn’t really arrived yet.

You might be wondering what kind of a life you can expect here. Perhaps you noticed the relatively haphazard way in which you were planted- at high speed, not evenly spaced, and at inconsistent depths. No one was thoroughly watered, like all the packages recommend, but it’s supposed to rain soon, so that should help. Those of you who are most likely to be eaten by squirrels over the winter (tulips- I’m looking at you) did receive a dusting of cayenne pepper before the soil was swept back over, but otherwise you’ve largely been left to fend for yourself.

The good news is you’re in good company. I planted around 250 of you this year, and I’m certain I’ve planted close to 1,500 bulbs over the last seven autumns. You probably noticed some of your older and more experienced neighbours when I accidentally dug them up while trying to find space to plant you.

That happens a lot. Every spring I tell myself I’m going to mark the areas in the garden where there aren’t enough bulbs to make things easier in the autumn, and every spring I’m too busy keeping one step ahead of the weeds to do so. Some of you had a taste of what that feels like when I accidentally dug you up the same day I planted you because I’d forgotten where I’d been digging.

I have a lot of sympathy for squirrels who can’t find their acorns.

Not all of you will grow, of course. Some of you I’ll have planted too deep, and others I’ll have planted too shallow, and some of you will be eaten by squirrels or dug up by squirrels and abandoned on the surface. Some of you will bloom next year but then never again. You at least have the advantage that I’ve learned not to cut off your leaves until they’ve died back, so you’ll be able to store up all your energy for the following year. I got a little snip-happy one day this spring, so it might not be as colourful next year as you would expect given the number of bulbs in the garden.

Some of you will get to meet my kid. He spends a lot of time keeping me company in the garden. When he was younger he used to like helping me plant bulbs. I’d dig the hole and he’d drop the bulb in, telling each one, “Night, night, bulb. See you in the spring.” These days he doesn’t plant or weed much but he loves digging for nature. The rule is he can’t dig for nature where there’s an established plant, so he digs in the empty spots which also happen to be where you hang out. He’s very good about putting you back in the ground when he fills in the hole, but he doesn’t always pay attention to which end should point up.

Lest you think the life of a bulb in the garden is unfairly difficult, I hasten to point out that, in my garden, the general attitude towards plants is one of benign neglect. I water perennials the first year they’re put into the soil, but after that they have to rely on rainfall and the occasional full-garden sprinkler. We mulch semi-regularly and I do weed, although you’re likely to have died back by the time I really get started on my annual battle against the bindweed that’s hiding almost everywhere. I’m pleased to say that I’m finally winning the war there.

I make the same mistakes with my perennials that I do with my bulbs. I forget that I’ve planted them and pull them out in the spring, thinking that they’re weeds (icelandic poppy and red coneflower, I am truly sorry). I let other plants overgrow them and block out their light (lupins, if you’re not dead, I promise no more calendula incursions next spring). I dig them up and move them around if I don’t think they’re thriving (and sometimes the digging up and the moving around guarantees that they won’t be thriving).

Plants in my garden have to make flowers (sorry, ornamental grasses, I’m not very sorry that you all died). Most of them need to attract bees and butterflies. They need to be pest resistant as the sum total of my pest control strategy is occasionally sprinkling baby powder on the oriental lilies so the red lily beetles don’t eat them. There are a lot of worms in our garden, so I hope you like worms (there are also lots of grubs and larvae and centipedes and snails and pill bugs and ants, to judge from the results of my son’s digging for nature expeditions).

The good news is that most plants get to just keep on growing. I’m always looking to fill in gaps, and block out the bindweed, so it’s rare that I make the decision to uproot or even divide a plant (although, salvia, your time is coming; yours too, prairie coneflower). I know I should pull out tulip bulbs when they only send up one leaf and no flower, but I often just cut the leaf off instead when I’m weeding, and the bulb survives to grow again another year.

You don’t know this yet, but you’ve become part of something very special. The corner where you now live used to be a terrible eyesore in the neighbourhood. It’s taken a lot of time and energy, and there’s been a lot of sweat, some swearing, some crying, and even some blood, but I’ve turned our little patch of earth into something I can be proud of, something our neighbours always comment on when they walk by. When I was out this week planting you and cutting back the frost-wilted plants, nearly everyone who walked past stopped to ask what I was planting and to tell me how much they were looking forward to the spring.

The garden is beautiful in almost every season, but you, my bulbs, you are the heralds of spring. The indigo and yellow and lavender of the crocuses is the first promise that the winter is ending, and every year I count the blooms as they emerge. Yes, daffodils, I know that when the tulips are at their peak they are a riot of colour and everyone is drawn to their showy exuberance, but I love you best for your cheerful yellow faces and your steadfast loyalty in returning every year. Irises, you are a new experiment this year as I adore your larger cousins. And snowdrops, you’ve been a dead loss in the garden every other time I’ve planted you, so hopefully you’re game for a challenge.

I may grumble and complain about planting bulbs in the autumn, when the days are too short and the wind is too sharp, but when spring comes I am reminded, again, that every bloom was worth it.

Night night, bulbs.

See you in the spring.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Choose Happiness, Daily Life

Not my favourite month

I am not a huge fan of November.

At the start of the month the clocks go back, which means it suddenly gets dark in the late afternoons. By the middle of the month it’s back to being dark in the mornings as well, so the time change never seems to have achieved anything useful (as opposed to when we spring forward and suddenly it seems like there is so much daylight in the day).

It is usually grey and often rainy. I like rain and I like jumping in puddles, but November’s rain always seems colder and more miserable.

It’s late in the semester, so I’m tired and my students are tired. They struggle to focus and take in the new information (if they’ve come to class at all), and we’re not even halfway through the year.

Most of the leaves are down but we usually don’t have good snow yet.

All of the weather that lifts my spirits in the spring (above freezing but below ten degrees, lots of rain, bare trees and sleeping gardens) does the opposite at this time of year, because I know we’re sliding forward into the long dark, rather than emerging from it.

And yet, I also know that I wouldn’t love spring as much as I do, wouldn’t feel that overpowering sense of awe, that riotous joy, that strikes with the first flush of green on the trees and the first flowers in the garden, if we didn’t have the winter that came before.

E. is excited about winter. He’s looking forward to Christmas. He’s desperate for snow.

And so I am trying to mentally rehabilitate November. In the spirit of “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, I’m testing out “there’s no such thing as a bad month, only a bad attitude”.

Today it may feel unbearably cold outside (-13 at the moment with wind chill) compared to the weather we’ve been having, but the sky is clear and the sun and is bright and I walked through a carpet of still-green leaves dusted with snow on my way to work this morning.

Do you also struggle with November?

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Filed under Choose Happiness, Daily Life

An Anniversary (sort-of)

Yesterday marked 15 years (FIFTEEN!) since Q. and I went on our first date.

I was 23, and Q. was 25, and we were both graduate students in the UK. I had just started my M.Phil and Q. had just submitted his dissertation for his D.Phil and was waiting for his viva. We’d met a month or so earlier and had started to spend a LOT of time together in the graduate common room, at lunch in hall, and in pubs with friends, etc.

I asked him out. I was pretty sure he’d say yes (see above).

We saw 28 Days Later, which turned out to be really scary and all about zombies (I still sometimes have nightmares about it), and then we went for a drink at the pub. The next day we went out for sushi and then went to a party for our faculty, and the day after that he cooked me dinner in my flat, and coped admirably well with my four excited flatmates constantly finding reasons to visit the kitchen to inspect both him and the dinner (we ate in my room).

After that we were pretty much inseparable.

So, bad movie, great date.

Q. actually forgot yesterday that it was our dating anniversary. He’s done this at least once before, I think because our first date was on the 6th of a month but we got married on the 8th of a month (not the same month) and E. was also born on the 8th of a month (a different month again). He was horrified when, after we finally had both kids in bed and the house returned to order, I appeared with a card and a snuggly lightweight sweater from Banana Republic.

I didn’t mind. Q. shows me every.single.day that he loves me. Yesterday he’d been home with P. (because I’d given him one of my workdays a couple of weeks ago when he was up against deadlines) and he cleaned out the fridge (twice, after accidentally spilling milk over half of it once he’d already cleaned it), mopped the floors (partly because of the milk but also because they were long overdue), washed the cloth diapers, took P. for a walk, took E. and P. to the park after picking E. up from school, put steel-cut oats in the slow cooker for breakfast the next day, and (simultaneously) made dinner, made quiches for lunch for the week, and made an apple pie from scratch for pudding, while listening to E. read and keeping P. entertained.

He’s amazing.

On our third date, the one where Q. made me dinner, he impressed my flatmates no end by cooking tortellini, which he’d made from scratch.

Q. is horrified to think about that now. What he remembers is how he didn’t have a rolling pin and he had to use a wine bottle to roll out the dough. He’s convinced they must have been gluggy and heavy.

Here’s what I remember:

He made me tortellini from scratch on our third date.

He still cooks me delicious things to show that he loves me.

I still feel so lucky every time I sit down to a meal he’s prepared.

I never want to see 28 Days Later again, but it will always have a special place in my heart.

Tell me a good story about one of your first dates with your partner! Do you celebrate (or even notice) your dating anniversary?

 

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Filed under Choose Happiness

Microblog Mondays: Thankful

It was Thanksgiving here north of the border a couple of weekends ago. Q. and I opted to rent a cottage for the weekend, rather than making the drive to see my parents, partly because we couldn’t face the idea of driving in holiday traffic in both directions after the abject horrors of said drive the previous year and partly because we realized that we hadn’t gone anywhere without friends or family since August 2014, when E. was three.

It felt both wrong and right to put my little nuclear family first, even though we found another weekend this fall where we could go to see my parents (E. has the Friday off from school and we’ll pull him out on the Monday as it’s not feasible to do both houses unless we have four days) and there’s the possibility that my father might be actually moved into his new house by mid-November. Gaining an extra five hours to visit (instead of sitting in traffic) and avoiding the horrors of visiting in the ICU with a toddler in tow seemed like a no-brainer, but I still felt guilty knowing that my sisters had made similar decisions and this meant that all the parents would be alone over the holidays. Our family is not in extreme crisis any longer, but it would be a lie if I said either situation was easy at the moment.

When asked if I was looking forward to the cottage, I said that I expected it would be not remotely relaxing but that it would be a nice change of scene, and (surprise, surprise) I was right.

There were some excellent moments (E. learning to kayak, discovering a tree castle on an island in the middle of the lake that E. could climb, watching the storms blow in and blow out again, E. catching tiddlers off of the dock, P. sitting up on the big outdoor benches eating her lunch) and some less than perfect ones (having both kids screaming within ten minutes of going outside because E. had fallen off a wooden swing and hurt his tailbone and the swing had then swung forward to smack P. in the head, not going hiking with our friends because the car couldn’t get back up the driveway that I had told Q. on arrival I didn’t think we should drive down, but which Q. thought would be fine, and then taking two hours to get said car up the driveway, breaking a taillight in the process). P. struggled with the slope of the ground between the cottage and the lake (read: fell down a lot), and tried to throw herself (or any toys within reach) off the dock at every opportunity.

E. had a blast.

Q. and I each managed to get in a bit of solo kayaking, and Q. even braved the lake for a (very) brief swim. I didn’t get much time to play with my camera, but I did what I could.

 

 

 

A cottage will be easier next year, when P. is older, and even easier the year after that, but I am trying not to wish away the phase of life that is my present. Two years ago we went to another cottage with friends for Thanksgiving. I had learned I was pregnant the day before we left. We didn’t yet know how it would turn out, but now, two years later, here was P., giggling and smiling and climbing into the kayak when she thought we weren’t looking.

I am so thankful.

How do you balance vacation time between your immediate family and your extended one(s)? Does anyone else find this incredibly difficult?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, Microblog Mondays, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

Microblog Mondays: A decade from “I do”

Q. and I celebrated our tenth anniversary this week. The traditional gifts are tin and aluminum, because a marriage that has lasted a decade has had to be both strong and flexible. Q. bought me a tin lunch box with envelopes in it with menus for restaurants in our neighbourhood, along with the promise to take me out to lunch at one of these restaurants each month. I riffed off of Love Shack (the “tin roof, rusted”) and promised to buy him (and me) new pillows once we get home.

We left both kids with Granny and one of their aunties and escaped to a restaurant with a spectacular view and amazing food. We drank an entire bottle of wine over lunch. It was wonderful.

Earlier in the week, we’d been woken up at midnight to the sound of E. vomiting. We went in to discover that he’d been sick all over his room- his floor, his mirror, his sheets, his duvet, his pillow, his favourite stuffed animal. And we fixed it. I stayed with E. while he threw up again (in the bathroom this time) and then cleaned him up. Q. dealt with the linens. And then I washed his stuffed animal (repeatedly) in the bathtub while Q. mopped the floor and remade E.’s bed. Then I got into bed and snuggled with E. until he fell asleep and Q. disinfected the bathroom. Finally, Q. and I crawled back into bed, wondered aloud to each other what had set E. off, and then fell asleep, until we were woken up a couple of hours later by E. vomiting again (thankfully this time into the bucket we’d left in his room after the first round).

It’s that night I keep coming back to when I think about why our marriage is still so strong, why we’re still so happy. It’s not about the fancy gestures or the creative presents. Ultimately, what it boils down to is respect, kindness, a willingness to compromise, and the knowledge that when our child is covered in vomit in the wee small hours, we’re both going to get up to fix it.

We’re a team. Always.

(Although the occasional really amazing lunch doesn’t hurt either.)

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, Joy, Microblog Mondays