and the earth shook.

For those of you not abreast of the news, we had a not-so-little-for-here earthquake in VA on Tuesday.  I had the day off from work, and was home alone.  I was actually sitting in this very spot, on my computer, when my two dear kitties perked-up mid-nap and sprinted under our bed.  A few seconds later, everything started to tremble.  I stood and gaped at the room, three stories up in our 100 year-old apartment building, as a strange noise started to gather.  Everything was shaking, and more than visual, the sensation was audible to me.  I paused only for a second and thought clearly EARTHQUAKE!  Somehow my brain recalled being told to “duck & cover” away from heavy, high objects & windows.  Under the desk I scrambled, cell phone in hand, praying that the shaking would not get stronger, that the building would stay upright, that I would be safe.  More than anything I was wishing for M.

Books came clattering off our shelves.  M’s harpsichord crashed to the floor, as did our decorative wooden monograms, and the iron that was resting on the ironing board.  The milliseconds felt like hours.  And then the shaking stopped, the tap tap tapping of wobbling objects stopped.  I instinctively dialed M.  (This turned out to be really fortunate, as cell phone towers were soon so busy with calls that no one could get through to their loved ones for a couple of hours.)  He was fine.  He’d been at a business conference.  He thought it was a train passing or loud AC unit turning on.  They’d evacuated to the grass on instinct.

Since then, I’ve felt two of the aftershocks.  My own legs trembled for a couple of hours after the quake itself.  I like to know I talked to M immediately.  I like to know that in such an emergency situation, he is my talisman.  He is my comfort and my only concern.  As if I didn’t know just how much I love him, this reminded me forcefully.  (and just in time: today we celebrate FIVE years of learning and growing and loving together.)

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to hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question

A post coming to you from the soon-to-be-wed.  In 291 days, to be exact.

I have been toying with writing this post for a while now.  After all, this is a very personal, and yet very public, decision I have been struggling with.  Here it goes: I consider myself a feminist.  Not in an extreme caricature kind of way: no unshaven armpits, here.  But, in a practical, modernist, I enjoy-traditional-feminine-passtimes-but-want-a-marriage-on-equal-footing kind of way.

I always imagined hyphenating my name.  I’m not sure why.  From a purely aesthetic place, I thought hyphenation gave a nice metaphor for the binding together of my whole identity, including my pre-marriage and post-marriage selves.  I have a very common two-syllable last name, and my fiance has a very common one-syllable last name.  They flowed together, nicely.  I could be sharing in his name, and not giving up my own, simultaneously.  But, hyphenation is not a perfect fix.  I wanted to buck the tradition of taking my future husband’s last name, which used to literally connote the transfer of women as property from their fathers to their husbands.  I am nobody’s property.  Thus far, I have even replaced the part of the wedding ceremony where the bride is “given” by her father in marriage to her husband, with a walk down the aisle by both of my parents & matching blessings given by both my fiance’s mother and father and my own mother and father.

Also, and I hate to admit this, hyphenating seemed like an obvious way to set myself apart: I am not traditional.  I am free-thinking and independent.  I am strong.  (insert: women & roaring, and the like.)  I thought it might make me “cool” in the way that feminist women are “cool.”  It might garner me respect from a certain crowd.

But even hyphenating means participating in a patriarchal lineage.  After all, the names I would be stringing together are still that of my father & my husband (& by extension, my husband’s father).  The women of our families are still left conspicuously absent by this system.  I find this frustrating, to say the least.

So, I started doing some research.  Many women adopt their husband’s name and drop their maiden name altogether, opting to become Mrs. FirstName MiddleName MarriedName.  I knew this was not an option for me.  My own mother and grandmother kept their maiden names and dropped their middle names upon marriage, signing Mrs. FirstName MaidenName MarriedName on every document for their entire married lives.  This seemed more acceptable to me for a few reasons: I am not particularly tied to my middle name, and I would still get to preserve my pre-marriage name within my new married name.

Furthermore, the more I read about the legal difficulties of hyphenation, the more it seemed like a life-long headache was in store.  I didn’t want to be pulling out half-a-dozen forms of ID every time I wanted to board a plane or prove my credit score.  The regulations on which official documents will show a hyphen and which will not are inconsistent and change completely from one state to another.  Once again, I was frustrated to learn this.

Furthermore, I knew that retaining my maiden name and not altering my name in any way upon marriage was not an option for me.  If for no other reason than that I want to have children, and I don’t want those children to be born into the aforementioned headache of having hyphenated last names; nor do I want it to appear to passersby that we don’t belong to one another because of different last names.

Then I remembered that there is another person involved in this that may have an opinion of his own: my fiance.  While I have always known him to be open-hearted and progressive, M told me immediately that he wanted me to take his last name.  He wanted to appear as a cohesive family unit, and he wanted our children to share a last name with both of us.  He then quickly told me that “whatever decision I came to would be fine.”  Hmm.

(I found the more unconventional solutions of us both hyphenating our names & our children’s names, subsequently, or creating a new hybrid last name to be too “out there” for me.  We both come from fairly traditional families after all, and I knew that kind of solution would foster more questions and less acceptance.)  After all, names are social cues.  I did not choose my name the first time (my parents did) and many people never seize the opportunity to choose their own names at any time in their lives.

I greatly admire women who fall all along this spectrum of re-naming themselves at the time of their marriage.  I have beloved mentors clinging to their maiden names (for professional and personal reasons), and family members & friends who have adopted their spouse’s name, or not, in every conceivable combination.  I reasoned that whatever decision I made would have to be right for me, and my family, because I would be the one answering by my new name.  So after careful consideration over many months, I decided:  I will be dropping my middle name, and becoming Mrs. FirstName MaidenName MarriedName.  No hyphen.  To telemarketers, my future children’s teachers & everyone I meet I will become Mrs. MarriedName.  And I will make peace with that new identity (although every time I say it all I can think is “that’s not me– that’s my mother-in-law.”).  After all, if all goes to plan, I will have this new name for many more years than I ever carried my unmarried name.

 

—–

Let me stress that whatever decision anyone makes is acceptable.  Do what is right for you & your family.

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from overindulgence to depravity, and back. . .

My most recent reads could not be more different.  I have been a bit indecisive lately about what to read.  Even though I have more time during the summer to read (relatively), I can never seem to get myself deep into anything non-fiction.  I try.  It just doesn’t stick.  I crave fiction, or at least colorful memoir.

So, a few weeks back I decided to read another Ruth Reichl book.  Her early-life memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples blew me away, and even her lesser-known short piece, Not Becoming My Mother, was strong, if not life-changing.  So I decided it was only fitting that I follow those books with her later-life memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, which chronicles her time as the NY Times Restaurant Critic.  Firstly, I love the title.  That juxtaposition thrills me.  Because both garlic and sapphires are so sensational.

As with her earlier books, though to a lesser extent, Reichl weaves wonderfully sensual descriptions of food with her own extraordinary ordinary life.  This passage, in particular, spoke to me about my new-found enjoyment of cooking:

“I have found that meditation at the edge of the knife makes everything seem better.  But while cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures.  The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce.  The thump of the knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart.  The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid.  The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes.  Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions.”

I have truly begun to feel that my own time cooking is a wonderful suspension of time.  I feel calmed and controlled, like I’m spinning many orbs on many fingers, balancing and delighting in them all.

From the beauty and sumptuous over-indulgence of Garlic and Sapphires, I switched gears completely to read Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue, the story of a little boy born and raised completely inside a room with his mother (a kidnapping victim) for the first five years of his life.  This little book had been on my radar for some time.  I thought it would be terribly dark, and waited until I thought something dark was what I wanted to read.  However, it had surprising moments of humor, and I was completely endeared to the narrating boy, Jack, immediately.  Donoghue seems to really capture what it must be like to be a five year-old boy, regardless of your circumstances.  A delightful and thoroughly fresh novel, I wasn’t ready for it to end– and was underwhelmed by the way in which it did.

Next on the docket: crossing something off my 25 Things List.  I’m re-reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  (And possibly, An American Childhood, though I haven’t decided yet.)  Expect a post soon about this strange experience, and the decision I made NOT to reread my original dog-eared, annotated copies, but to read this book digitally instead.

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culinary meditations

med·i·tate  (md-tt)

v. med·i·tat·ed, med·i·tat·ing, med·i·tates
v.tr.

1. To reflect on; contemplate.
2. To plan in the mind; intend: meditated a visit to her daughter.
v.intr.

1.

a. Buddhism & Hinduism To train, calm, or empty the mind, often by achieving an altered state, as by focusing on a single object.
b. To engage in devotional contemplation, especially prayer.
2. To think or reflect, especially in a calm and deliberate manner.

[Latin meditr, meditt-; see med- in Indo-European roots.]
(definition taken from thefreedictionary.com, emphasis my own.)
I have learned something.  I have learned to enjoy cooking.  I don’t mean everyday, all the time, can’t-wait-to-get-home-and-cook enjoy.  I just mean that somewhere in the last six months or so I realized that the act of cooking (after being at work all day) calms me.  It feels like a very spiritual, ritual practice.  I can empty my mind and just experience the sensations of cooking: smelling garlic or onions, feeling heat, listening to the rhythm of a knife against a cutting board.  It’s not that I’m a good cook.  I’m not.  Not yet, anyway.  I come from a long line of women who cook beautifully, by instinct, without measuring a thing.  As a child, my mom would let me do small, simple tasks in the kitchen: break the spaghetti and throw it into the pot, or wash the potatoes.  But, I never showed much interest.  I thought cooking was a chore (like so many other household chores, my feelings about which you can read more about here).
But, the ability to buy groceries, bring them home, and assemble them into a meal, amazes me.  Truly, I am awed and empowered by the process.  I know this sounds like lunacy.  But, the empowerment I feel at accomplishing this most normal of tasks is huge.  I think part of it has to do with my relationship with food.  I have always been thin, like really thin.  Through my whole life my weight has been a topic of conversation, and not just for my family, but for strangers too.  Lots of strangers.  As a child I was teased for being thin by other kids.  Adults always told me (still do) how lucky I am to be naturally thin.  I didn’t feel lucky as a kid, I just felt different.  And when you’re a child, different is bad.  Once I became a teenager, the teasing took on a more malicious nature: I wasn’t just thin, I was sick in the eyes of many.  To the uneducated and assuming I surely had an eating disorder.  No.  I do not.  I have never consciously controlled my eating habits, except to try and eat more, to get bigger, to feel closer to normal.  My Body Mass Index is in the 3rd percentile for my height, age and gender; I am clinically underweight.  But, I am healthy.  I come by this build naturally, genetically.
There was a time in my life, not long ago, though, when my weight was dropping as a symptom of my mental sickness.  Depression and Anxiety cause me to not eat.  I stress under-eat.  For years anything I cooked seemed unappetizing to me.  Maybe it was the stress of creating a meal and wondering if it would be any good; or, the self-doubt telling me that whatever I made would not be good.  I also think that depression robs you of the sensory experiences necessary to truly enjoy food.  Your brain simply doesn’t respond with the appropriate happy chemicals.  After all, biologically speaking, what could be more beneficial than eating?
So, I feel like putting a flag in the top of this mountain, now.  I like cooking.  I like eating.  One more sign that I am healthy, again.
From here, who knows?  Maybe I will start sharing my culinary feats on this blog?  That is, if I can ever remember to take a picture of something I cook before I eat it!
P.S.  Does anyone have any recipes they want to share?  One requirement: they have to be dairy-free or adaptable to dairy-free.  Actually, I love recipes that just ask you to sprinkle some cheese on your meal at the very end.  (M cannot have dairy, but I sure can.)

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RE: #25 (Learning to Trust My Own Judgement)

I didn’t think I’d be tackling No. 25 on My List so soon.  But, I did. . . in a BIG way.

Momma came to town for the long weekend (last weekend), armed with a few pre-scheduled dress (as in, The Dress, as in my wedding dress!) appointments.  The plan was something like this: she and I would look around on Friday, since I have never tried on wedding gowns before, just to get my feet wet.  Then, my wonderful Maid of Honor (MOH) & Future Mother-In-Law (FMIL or MOG) would join us on Saturday for the actual business of dress-shopping.  I might find a dress; more than likely, we all thought, I wouldn’t.  This was a completely realistic assumption.  In fact, No. 25 (Learn to Trust My Own Judgement) landed on My List this year in large part because thus far I had found everything wedding-related to be paralyzingly complicated.  I dragged M through over a dozen jewelers in pursuit of The Ring (which, gratefully, he picked out on his own after all. . . and couldn’t have done a more perfect job).  Then, Mom and I spent a week looking at venues. . . between the two of us, we looked at probably over 25 in all.  And I agonized over both decisions.  In fact, I didn’t pick our venue until I revisited it a second time (alone), then took M and my FMIL, then brought my Mom & Dad back to finally sign the contract, a full 6 weeks later.  I was getting really frustrated with my self.  I couldn’t even let myself feel good about the decisions once I had made them.  I started thinking that this crippling indecisiveness was just part of my personality; a part that did not at all lend itself to being a very happy future bride.

But, instead, I decided something.  I made a promise to myself that I would Learn To Trust My Own Judgement.  It’s not like I’ve made loads of bad decisions in my life, after all.  I just needed to give voice to my own gut, intentionally.  To listen to myself, and cease the pursuit of perfection that always leaves me so unhappy.

So, Friday morning we went to our first appointment.  I tried to keep an open mind.  I tried on several styles of dresses.  I thought I liked one.  I knew I hated others.  We left for our second appointment.  I tried on a couple of dresses.  Mom & The Sales Consultant (who happens to share my birthday: good fortune!) liked one.  They fiddled with it: pull this down into a sweetheart, add organza here.  I was standing around for over thirty minutes, and finally found my voice: “This isn’t it!”  I tried on the next one.  I walked out of the dressing room to get clamped up in the dress; Mom walked around the corner and literally gasped.  Everyone in the store stopped and stared.  I had found My Dress.

I could think of a million reasons not to buy it, though.  I’m over two hours from home.  I’ve only been trying on dresses for one morning.  My best friend is not here.  My future mother-in-law is not here.  This isn’t what I thought I was looking for.  It’s in the upper end of my price range. . . I’m not sure.  I’m not sure.  I’m not sure.

After half an hour, I got out of the dress.  We went to lunch.  I called M, who told me not to rush.  I ate a salad.  We went back.  I put on the dress, this time with a veil, and shoes, and flowers.  I walked, I sat, I stood on several pedestals in front of several mirrors.  Over an hour passed.  Mom started chatting with the consultant.  I looked at my self in the mirror, and saw my own face, and in it every age I have ever been.  I saw myself as a baby, a child, a teenager; I saw myself on the day M and I first met.  I knew that the dress was not overtaking me.  It was letting me be me.  I didn’t feel like I’d put on a costume; I felt the trajectory of my life building me to and through this moment.  I looked into my own face and felt sure.  “Okay,” I said, turning, “Let’s buy it.”

If this seems very dramatic, it wasn’t, outside of the drama in my own mind.  It was a quiet, seemingly quick, and easy decision.  I know that a dress is only fabric, only a garment, and one that I will wear on just one day.  But, I know too, that it is a symbol.  That it helps to connote the gravity of the moments in which I will wear it, the promise I will make, and the one I will receive.  It is the most important garment I will ever wear; and yet, it is just fabric, the efforts of the plants and people who formed it.  Nothing more, and nothing less.

I will treasure this dress for all of the many reasons a woman usually treasures her wedding dress.  It holds a lot of promises right between my fingers.  And, I will treasure it for my own private reason as well: for the moment of hearing my own voice, and listening to it, without a backward glance of hesitation.  Both the dress and the decision made me feel strong.

The rest of the weekend went off without a hitch.  I celebrated with three of the women who are most important to me in all the world.  We went on to pick out bridesmaids’ dresses, colors, my mother’s dress, invitations & save-the-dates.  Rather than feel depleted or worried by the end of it, I felt stronger, and more sure of my own voice than ever.  And so, I can cross of #25: Learn to Trust My Own Judgement, and pat myself on my beautifully clothed back.

 

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one of my favorite poets, reading about summer. . .

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

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An Open Letter to the Men I Love on Fathers’ Day. . .

 

(Clockwise from top left: me with my Daddy  & PaPa (paternal grandfather), Daddy holding me & my brother Grayson on the first day of his life, Daddy & Whitney bike-ride, Daddy & Whitney first dance (at my aunt & uncle’s wedding), Daddy rock-rocking us both to sleep, my Big Daddy (maternal grandfather) at the Cherry Grove beach house, PaPa holding my Uncle John & Daddy in his lap, a portrait of my Big Daddy, Me giving Daddy a hug on Christmas Day 2009, holding hands with my PaPa at the zoo, PaPa holding my Uncle John (his firstborn child) as a infant.)

 

 

 

I am lucky.  I have had, and continue to have, strong men fathering me.  Throughout my life, my own father, both of my grandfathers, and a score of teachers, mentors, church leaders and coaches have supported me.  I owe them all so much.

Daddy, you have taught me so much, about the world, about love.  I know that your enduring love for me, for Buddy (my brother), and for Momma has given me a whole heart with which to love Mark, our future children, the family we will create.  As a child, you are the one who took me on adventures around the yard, through the woods, naming plants and animals, and teaching me: the world is precious, diverse and beautiful.  You instilled that quiet longing in me to get to know my world.  To learn, and to grow, myself.  I thought you knew everything, and when I got old enough to find out that wasn’t true, you taught me new lessons: about grace, about forgiveness and making peace with one’s own limitations.  I watched a whole community respond to you almost everywhere we went: children you’d taught or coached, growing to make their own lives and families, and carrying a piece of your knowledge with them into the world.  Your influence is so vast.  I know deep in your heart, despite your frustrations and limitations, you love what you do.  I can hear it in your voice, when you tell me about this student or that one, about how they’ve grown or changed, or how proud you are of them, or how you’ll miss them when they leave your classroom for good.  You have given a lifetime of sacrifice and service to these kids, and I will always admire you beyond measure for that.

You are a wonderfully good listener, Daddy, and so patient.  I have never known someone so willing to listen with their whole heart.  You know me in a way that few others do.  You knew the pattern of my hair against my scalp when I was just an infant.  You changed my diapers, wiped my nose, rocked me to sleep.  You have known my body and mind since its first entrance into this world.  And this body and this mind bears such a strong connection to your own.  I hope that I am and have always been everything you hoped for me in those first moments of my life.  I know you love me endlessly.  I have always known that; and, have found comfort in that knowledge.  I try my best to return that love to you.

To my Big Daddy (my mother’s father), I wish against all odds that you will find comfort now.  I know your body is hurting, and has betrayed you.  But, I know you are brave and you are stubborn.  Know that I think of you daily.  I wish you well.  I wish you happiness now, and the strength to forgive yourself and others for their limitations.  I love you.

To my PaPa (my father’s father), you have spent my whole lifetime (and more) holding together your family.  Please know how much we all love and appreciate you.  You are understated in your demonstrations of love, like my own Daddy (your son), but I see your gestures and understand them.  You are essential to all of us.  You have created such a sprawling and happy family, and I hope we bring you joy.  I love you deeply, and thank you endlessly for all you have given me.

To my future father-in-law, “Papa Hill,” you taught the most important man in my life how to love.  I can never repay you for that.  You showed him, by example, how to work hard in everything he does.  He owes so much of his character to you, and therefore I owe so much of my happiness to you too.  I love you.

To my Mark, you are not a father yet, but you will be.  I know you will make a wonderful one.  You are so patient, and so silly.  The love that I have for you (and you for me) was first born of our parents love for us.  I have waited all my life thus far to find someone who worshipped the way my hair curls against my head, who understood the pattern of my skin, the nuances of my spirit, and who inspired that same long-lasting, trusting love in me.  You have taught me what love is.  And, I love you wholly; and from that love we can create a new family, a new life together.  I want you to know: I get you.  I appreciate you.  Happy Father’s Day, from me, from our future children, and from our silly kitty-cats.  We love you oh so much, and always will.

To my sweet brother, G, you have the world’s biggest heart.  Since we were children I have watched your limitless compassion for the world around you.  You work so hard, and you love without question, and I know that these qualities will make you a wonderful father one day.  Plus, you are silly. . . like, really, really silly.  You make me laugh.  You remind me that life is joyful, that it has never stopped being the kind of fun, imagination-fueld adventures we undertook by our “creek” so many years ago.  Just know that I love you so much, and am so proud of you.

xoxo,

your girl

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