Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Sense of Place

Yesterday was Queen's Day in the Netherlands, one of the biggest (or the biggest) celebrations of the year in Amsterdam. Looking at a friend's pictures of it, I couldn't help but miss the strong sense of place that Amsterdam has.

Considering myself a sensitive artiste, I like to be in a place that has a strong sense of self; that when there, you know you could be nowhere else in the world other than that place. Amsterdam has this. Love it or hate it, there is no place I've been with quite that sense of place that Amsterdam has. It oozes with...itself. Skinny tall buildings, skinnier and impossibly steep staircases, bikes chained everywhere, trees bending green over the canals, and that particular Dutch spirit.

It can be harder to find in the U.S., which is so much newer and built so much faster, especially in Colorado. We have a handful of buildings dating all the way back to 1942! But so many have been built in the past 20 years that neighborhoods haven't had time to build a character, and the always new and always transient nature of our population makes it hard to build a character of any sort.

There are exceptions, like Boulder. And it is amusing to see a glimpse into what the outwide world thinks of Colorado, as shown on the Office this week: Rocky Mountain Oysters, altitude, and bears that gnaw your legs off. As far as I know, only tourists and ranchers eat Rocky Mountain Oysters, though we do have altitude. And, now that I think of it, there are some amusing bear hijinks around here. (Last year, a little bear disturbed the U.S. open at the Broadmoor by walking through the course, and on the more destructive side, a bear trapped itself in the car of a friend's neighbor and tore it to shreds. Is that culture?

In any case, it's what we have. Rather than decry and bemoan the Springs' lack of character and culture, I will choose to focus on the positive and find gems of a sense of place in what I have.

My boss, from Canada, forever won me over when he said he liked our architecture - a certain neo-mountain architecture, which I like too, even if it's only employed to house Smashburgers and Coldstones.

I haven't had a bear gnaw my leg off, or drive my car, but this gang did visit us yesterday. There were about 10 of them. This is why I don't plant flowers. My neighbors do, and that's why gangs come to visit them.


I especially like this picture of the gang moving down the street, knocking down trash cans in their wake.

I don't have history, but I have deer. In fact, most of the sense of place I can name was God-given and not man-made. We have the mountains and the wildlife. Yesterday I found the head of a fox (and only a head) on my daily walk through the neighborhood. Ah, culture.

We never see the sunset because the mountains at our house block off the sun 2 hours before it sets, but in the day time, we enjoy the clearest, bluest skies imaginable. We live in a microclimate that starts roughly two blocks from our house. We will have snow in our neighborhood, when two blocks away it is dry and sunny.

For fun, people here walk straight up a mountain - 2600 feet in one mile - and destroy their knees for life on "the Incline." (I don't do this because I have a sense of sense as well as a sense of place.) For my city park, I take a walk through what is arguably the most spectacular free city park in all of the country.

So, although we may not have much in the way of historic buildings or centuries' tradition, its' a pretty swell place.

What is your favorite thing about where you live?

Friday, April 29, 2011

18 Weeks

I posted a picture a couple weeks ago of me at 15 weeks. Now I'm at 18 weeks, the beginning of the fifth month! There's still not much action on the belly front, but I'll post it anyway.


What I should have taken was a before shot to prove that I really do look different. My belly is at least 3 inches further out...which might not sound like a lot on someone else, but when it's you, it sure feels like a lot!

I put this outfit on first thing this morning to make my chances of working out slightly higher today (so I wouldn't have to use energy later to change. How sad is that?). I've been failing on that front the last two weeks, but I'm determined to get up off the couch!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Openness

I am perhaps not the best person to preach openness because I'm naturally a very open person, and that's like a person who's never been fat preaching about how you should be skinny. For some reason, it has always been easy for me to spout my flaws publicly (perhaps self-protection by lowering expectations). For example, today I was really short with a telemarketer. I wouldn't be surprised if when I hung up, she called me the b-word. I repent. I'm going to be less short with telemarketers tomorrow (a new-found struggle of working at home).

Mike, on the other hand, isn't a naturally open person. He's very Asian. He doesn't ever like to deliver bad news but would prefer to keep you happy by keeping you ignorant. I, not being very thoughtful, often don't realize if something is wrong with my enigmatic husband because he usually won't say it. But when I've seen him be vulnerable and open himself and his flaws and struggles to other people, it is one of the most endearing things ever.

This week at small group, we shared a little about our struggles with unemployment (as I blogged about earlier this week). One of the couples had never heard about our experiences and was touched by it. They, too, had been going through a long season of unemployment. It would be easy to keep this secret or quiet. It's hardly fun for a man to talk about. But by the simple act of being open, we were able to let another couple know that they're not alone, that someone understands and can relate to how hard their situation is.

By being open, even if someone doesn't share your exact struggle, it creates a sense of authenticity and vulnerability. If no one on your small group ever shares their personal struggles it would be easy to begin believing that the others are all perfect, balanced people (which they aren't). It becomes harder and harder for anyone to ever admit a struggle because the status quo is to feign being "fine." I believe it is even more important for Christian leaders to be open. If you never share your own struggles with the people you're leading, you create a top-down environment that will not feel safe or reciprocal.

What often keeps us silent is fear of rejection. Struggles like unemployment or lust or eating problems are embarassing and keep us quiet. What if people are disgusted by us or look at us shamefully and click their tongues or, even worse, silently shake their heads at us?! But for all my fears, I've never been treated like this when I shared a struggle with someone. I've always been offered love and compassion.

Another reason we keep silent is self-preservation. We hurt too deeply to open our wound to the air and others' sight. It's too painful to trust that others will be gentle with our hurts. And it is wise not to open certain hurts wide for the wrong company. But although sometimes people can be very clumsy around our wounds, hiding them also means that no one can help nurse them. Sometimes it can be almost as if we are a dog, licking our wounds in solitude in the corner of the room, rather than seeking out someone who can help us tend to them properly.

My own personal fault is not always wanting the help of others. Although I might be open information-wise, I'm not necessarily open emotionally. I can repel any offer of advice quicker than a flash of lightning. But in the end, even prideful I need the help of others.

Especially once our wounds have begun to heal, we can begin to nurse others in turn. As they hear what you've gone through, they'll be relieved and say, "Oh, I've felt just that way, I'm so glad you can understand!"

A coworker of mine wrote about her experience losing a child, and she closed, "We all have something in our lives that we feel safer by not sharing it with others. I encourage you to ask God to help you remove your mask and share with others your fears, joys, hopes and struggles. We are all in this together and Satan would like nothing more than for us to hide."

Amen! When was the last time you were open with your struggles with others? Are your friends or fellow church members suffering under the illusion that you are perfect? Disabuse them of this lie and begin a realtionship of mutual vulnerability.

What Is It You'd Say You Do Here?


Name that quote!

So sometimes people ask me what it is I do in my new job, and if it's different from what I did in my last job. And I'm here to tell you! Not that you care. But maybe my mommy does. So, mommy, here goes:

(Note for the technologically challenged: There are hyperlinks throughout this post, but they're hard to see unless you have eagle vision. Just hover your cursor over the text and you should see them.)

I write or edit stories for the web site that promotes Compassion's Complementary Interventions, like this story about a farmer who was helped out of debt with a microloan.

I write or edit stories for this web site about the impact of our programs, like this one about three different graduates from our sponsorship program in Ethiopia.

I write or edit stories for the print magazine.

I take reports from our field about various projects donors are funding and turn them into something to send to the donors. Like this one, which was adapted from a 39-page engineering report. It's not exactly riveting reading.

I sometimes interview people for stories. Here's a short little piece I just wrote. An 84-year-old great grandmother and her son went on a sponsor trip and wanted to share their story, so I interviewed them and wrote it up for the blog.

I also wrote this one day, but this is a small part of my job.

I write the prayers of the day. (This actually takes me a long time, finding all those verses.)

I write/edit progress reports from our Child Survival Programs for the donors who support them. (Sorry, I don't have any online examples of those.)

I write other random stuff for whoever asks (like letters or press releases). I read marketing books that make me dislike marketers.

And that's what I'd say I do here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Contentment

I'm still contemplating the topic I posted about on Friday. I had a long conversation with a woman last night who is pregnant and due in late June. Her husband has been unemployed for over a year. His situation sounds like Mike's: he's applied for every conceivable position but can't get any call backs. Recently he has gotten a part-time job, but it's still not enough to live on.

She is hoping God will change their situation, but also having to face that she may have to go back to work, with her commute of 2 hours and 15 minutes a day, when her baby is 6 weeks old. I can't even imagine how difficult that would be. (Caveat: I know many working moms who do go back to work and do an excellent job. I just know the inner anguish for a woman whose deep desire is to stay home but can't is serious.)

I think sometimes when we think of contentment, we can tend to downplay what we are discontent about as silly. And sometimes our discontents are quite silly. (I have until recently been very discontent with my grass itself. My neighbor's lawn really is greener, and my mulch all blew away and my plants are piddly and pathetic and my tree was eaten by a deer.)

In my own discontent, I'm sometimes reminded of a quote from Bridget Jones Diary 2, a horrible movie, but with just the best quote ever (and which I may have shared before; I can't remember). Bridget is in a Thai prison, commiserating with the other girls about their hard lives and their stinky boyfriends. Several girls share about their boyfriends: "My boyfriend, he make me do drugs and then he make me steal for him." Another shares: "My boyfriend, he hit me and he make me be a prostitute." Both very horrendous but realistic scenarios. Then they say, "What about you, Bridget? What your bad boyfriend do?"

And Bridget says, "Well, we went to this event where I didn't think he showed me proper respect and....(realizing how ridiculous her complaints sound)...you know, he hits me and makes me take drugs."

Sometimes I'm like Bridget, complaining about what, put in perspective, is really not what one would class as a major world problem. For example, grumbling to God about my husband who didn't have a job when Mike is the most loving, hardworking, persevering and affectionate husband I could ever dream of and when at work I would regularly read stories about husband's who abused or abandoned their wives.

But often our discontents are very real and hard. Like I said, I can't imagine how hard my friend's situation must be. But then if we look at what Paul said about contentment, his trials weren't silly either:

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

He was sometimes beaten, sometimes imprisoned, and sometimes starving. I wouldn't consider those light afflictions. But he still knew how to be content: He could do anything through Christ who strengthened him (next verse, 13).

Contentment isn't about stopping being silly and gritting your teeth and just being happy. (I don't think that works.) It is realizing that because of Christ we can face all things and through his strength, we can do all things. We aren't alone in our world full of problems and discontent and situations we never wanted to be in to just buck up and bear it; we have the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter, and who gives us power to overcome; the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

So, tell me, what do you struggle with being discontent about? Do you tend to a. complain about it, b. buck up and bear it, or c. ask God for strength to overcome it?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A New Paradigm

I don't know if you've noticed, but there's this whole recession thing going on. Mike and I started experiencing a recession two years before the real recession began, so I'm now watching my friends experience what I experienced several years ago. In short, our old paradigm of the American life and the American family seems to be a bit defunct. At least for some of us.

I sat around with two lovely ladies recently and we all discussed how our lives have not exactly gone as planned. I have long been the primary breadwinner. One of my friend's husband is unemployed and looking desperately for a job, while she is the breadwinner. Another of my single 30-something friends has an amazing job and keeps moving up and up the ladder, when what she really wants ultimately is to be a wife and mom.

Do you know many women in these positions? I haven't been an adult before, so I can't truly compare, but it seems like I know so many women and couples in this situation. The traditional American household of Ward Cleaver leaving for work while June stays at home with Wally and the Beav is ellusive to many of us.

I occasionally hear people say that this is because women have become too focused on themselves and their own careers or that they want to have too high a standard of living, but this certainly isn't my experience. I know amazingly gifted women who are just trying to pay their bills while hoping for their husbands (to either get a job or find them and propose). I know that in all my success, I would have traded places with Mike in less than a second if I could have given it all to him. I've never been career driven; I've always just done what needed to be done. And I know that my friends feel the same way. Not all women simply want to be wives and mothers. But a whole lot do.

For whatever the reason, we find ourselves in a situation when our Leave it to Beaver dreams are no longer realistic for some of us. If you happen to have married a big earner (or even just an earner), awesome, enjoy it. But for the rest of us, it's a quandary because of the expectations that surround us. So since Mike and I have had to go through this several years ahead of the curve, I will now presume to share our own advice to those that find themeslves in this new paradigm.

To Men: Mike shared with me what he learned over the past several years: Be willing to work and/or contribute in whatever way you can given your circumstances. Some men are awful caught up in what they think is men's work. When they can't find work, some then do nothing and wait. But what a true show of character (and I would say manliness) when a man is willing to work/contribute however he can in his limited circumstances. If that means doing laundry and shopping and cooking and cleaning, then do the work. If your wife has a job right now and you can't find one, then man up and take care of the children to the best of your ability. Some would say there is shame in being a stay-at-home dad. I would say that in our culture and current time, it's an incredible show of character.

Find a way to contribute even when there seems like there is none. Mike, who when I married him was the least handy man alive with, one could argue, the least propensity for it, has become amazingly handy. He knows how to fix our sprinklers, install flooring and tile, fix the plumbing, install crown molding, and on and on. Although he had no job for several years, he put in thousands of dollars of sweat equity into our house. And the long-term benefits of that are that it gave him the confidence (which is often on short-supply for unemployed men) to start his own business.

To women: My heart goes out to women who grapple with unmet expectations (which is all of us, really). I've already written about my own grappling with expectations here. It's so hard when we don't get what we thought was simply a given. I cried and pounded my fists on more than a few nights. But it never helped. The only thing that helped me find contentment was giving up my sense of "rights," assuming that the cultural norm was what God had indirectly promised me. God's promises are vast. But they don't include a normal life. When I gave up my rights for normalcy and instead embraced each day I had for its own small beauties, my distraught heart was replaced with peace and joy.

I don't say that pridefully, like, "I've got it all figured out!" But I consider it one of the greatest mercies in my life and God's victory in my life that he turned my weeping into joy (before Mike ever started the business). Isn't it wonderful to know that we are not static, but that God can change our hearts for the better? I'm sure glad I'm not just stuck in my own mire.

Perhaps this is an appropriate thing to write about on Good Friday. Today is a day of sorrow and grief. The disciples and his mother and the women who followed him, saw Jesus die, and with him so many of their hopes and expectations for the future. What a dark day. We've never lived through it not knowing what would come on Sunday. For some of them, perhaps they believed that was it. Their hopes and expectations were through.

But on Sunday, he rose. He rose and shook the world and all of its expectations. He rose and offered fogiveness. In light of his outstretched hand and offer of new life, all my material expectations seem dim and paltry. We cry, waiting for a normal life, when Jesus is offering us the life that is true life. In all of our very real pain, remember that one day Jesus promises to wipe every tear from our eyes and lead us to springs of living water (Rev 7:17).

"Take hold of the life that is truly life." 1 Timothy 6:19

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making Progress

We, by which I mean Mike, has been working very hard on the baby room. Our room no longer has to have a closed door, because what did look like this:


Now looks like this:


Ah, much better. He painted the room Windchime (Benjamin Moore) and replaced all the trim with white trim. Here it is in the opposite direction, below. He also replaced the closet and entry doors. The doors only cost about $25 at Lowes and make such a difference. I love how now when you look from this room into the hall and into our bedroom, you see lovely white trim and colors instead of dark oak.


Mike also refinished the hardware on the dresser. The brass was looking very banged up, and I just don't like brass. We didn't want to pay for new hardware, so he painted them with a bronze tone enamel we had leftover from another project, and then glazed it with copper paint leftover from our kitchen table. So what looked like this:


Now looks like this:


What do you think? I think the brass matches oak better, but I wanted to modernize it a bit and have the hardware match the doorknob and fixtures.

Mike also used fancy trim, kind of like a mini-crosshead, on top of the closet and door. I like the grander feel and height it gives the room. Here it is being modeled by Edwin the Sock Monkey.


Candace found Edwin the Sock Monkey galavanting about Estes Park and decided to bring him home to live with us.

And the baby room saga will be continued once Mike regains some of the energy he has spent!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunrise and Sunset in Colorado

Yesterday, I drove up to Bellvue, Colorado to spend a little time with my friend Candace. I got to stay in her sweet cabin at the base of Rist Canyon.

In Fort Collins, we had lunch at Austin's and shopped at my favorites: the Cupboard, a Sense of Place, etc. Then we had an evening in at home. Early the next morning, I joined her on her daily ritual of taking the dogs for their morning walk around Watson Lake and along the Poudre River. When we first arrived, the fog was still hanging low in the pinky sunrise and several silly little white tails were there to greet us.

I'd never been to Watson Lake, but it's a beautiful little spot.

And, of course, I always love the Poudre. Perhaps because I'm simple-minded, it always strikes me how amazing it is that these beautiful places exist day in and day out regardless of whether we notice them, silent sentinels of God's grandeur.

Jack stood sentinel watching out for the white tails. (Do you see Grey Rock there on the far left?)

And Bella ran around wagging her tail and looking adorable.

After the brisk morning walk, I settled down to work a bit in Candace's cottage. Such a lovely little place. ("Lovely," "beautiful," "sweet"...am I getting sentimental or what?)

Afterwards, I was able to connect with three dear friends from Laporte to Fort Collins to Loveland.

Tonight driving home was the perfect sunset. I rounded the curve on I-25 just past Larkspur at Greenland Ranch just as the sun had colored the clouds nectarine and Pike's Peak looked like baby's breath, all delicate in the gentle sunset light. Perhaps it sounds ridiculous to claim a huge mountain peak looked like baby's breath, but there it is. A John Denver song was playing on the radio, and I was thankful for both my sunrises and my sunsets in Colorado.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Rist Canyon

Because I'm a romantic, ever since I began contemplating working at home I began thinking of how lovely it would be to use my freedom to work from interesting and beautiful places. So today, I am fulfilling my dream of working from my friend, Candace's, cottage. She lives up the Rist Canyon, just north of the little town of Bellvue, Colorado.


I'll also get to visit some of my favorite haunts in Fort Collins, which reminds me that I'm growing up. Because when we first moved away from Fort Collins, I had a hard time cutting the apron strings, and every time we visited, I would become depressed and ask the universe, "Why, oh, why did I ever leave!" But now I have, amazingly, found contentedness in all situations, as Philippians 4:12 says, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in Fort Collins or in Colorado Springs." (ANV version)


So now I hope to visit Fort Collins, not to mourn all the good I've left behind, but to remember all the good God has given me in life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Outside My Window

I haven't done one of these for awhile, so I thought it was about time.

Outside my window: I can see the new Radiant crabapple Mike planted in our front yard to replace this one (and by the way, I still hate gardening). The tree is on the cusp of bursting out in pink spring song. The dandelions, on the other hand, have already burst forth as bold as Athena burst fully formed from Zeus' head. Mike decided to dub our new tree "Fertilitree" in honor of our baby.

I am thinking: Thoughts.

From the kitchen: Buckets and buckets of food. I cannot stay full. Today by 4, I've already eaten: a large serving of oatmeal generously festooned with raisins and brown sugar, 3 glasses of chocolate milk, a whole grapefruit, a generous chicken/almond/cranberry salad sandwich, roughly 4,000 almonds, a tortilla generously festooned with mozzarella and provolone, and I'm still going and it's not even dinner. I'm still waking up hungry in the night. I'm a ravenous beast.

I am wearing: Maternity jeans. These things rock! Why has no one told me about them before? It's like a mullet: business on the bottom, party on the top. Basically they look like innocent skinny girl jeans that at the hip bone balloon into stretchy material that allows one to eat roughly 4,000 almonds. They're so comfy, I plan to wear them the rest of my life and even start a trendy new line of "Paternity Jeans" for men who want comfort too.

I am reading: Just finished the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the Jungle Book. Today, because I'm feeling rather tired and have spent a goodly amount of time in bed, I picked up Peter Kreeft's essays on moral relativism and a collection of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple short stories. (It didn't take that long for me to move from Kreeft to Christie.)

I am hoping: For more yummy food. For firmer thighs as I do my prenatal workout video. For May 9th to get here quickly so I can start considering baby names in earnest.

I am hearing: Nothing. I love silence. It's always silent here.

I am creating: Nothing. Or, I suppose you could say a baby, if you count lying in bed all day like a lump of lazy flesh "creating."

One of my favorite things: Words. Like "Fertilitree." Isn't it catchy? I've been saying it over and over in my head. Because it's silent here. I have to amuse myself somehow.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Tomorrow I hope to wrangle Mike into replacing our mulch (that blew far, far away months, months ago on this windy blasted mountain) with rock. Now I understand why we were the only house on the block with mulch. Mike will be continuing to create the baby room while I "create" the baby lying here pretending to read deep philosophical essays while really just reading mystery stories.(I can't paint in my delicate state and I don't possess the technical skills for the saw work, so Mike gets to create the baby room all by himself.)

A picture thought for the day: Me at 15 weeks. Today I'm 16, but I still look the same. Maybe I don't look big to you, but I look awfully funny to me. I look like I'm standing like a sway-backed mule, but I am standing straight, I swear. I'm eager for my belly to pop out a little more purely for vanity: I'm at that stage where I simply look like I have a thick waist and shirts cling to my stomach unnaturally. As it turns out, pregnancy really brings out the vanity in me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Secret Advantage of Nerds

This post was prompted by the following interactions on Facebook. (For those of you not on Facebook, see all the scintillating discussions you're missing out on?) While a brilliant and beautiful woman, Krissy's comment reveals her ignorance of the secret advantage of nerds. So I will write this post to enlighten you cool people out there about why Mike and I hope to raise a nerd. Be assured that all of the below reasons are highly scientific and thoroughly researched.

(I think it's fairly certain we will raise a nerd. Mike has already planned the one-month old baby's Halloween costume: Yoda on his back as Luke Skywalker. I've already planned my baby's first portrait session: we will not pose the baby with fuzzy baseball bats and basketballs, but will pose him/her with a pince nez, pipe and Shakespeare anthology.)

Nerds Develop Character. It's true! It's even biblical: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4) No, at the time, Mike didn't thoroughly enjoy being stuffed in lockers or trash cans (I didn't think kids really did that except for on Saved by the Bell, but apparently they did.), but because of it I have the mature and complete man I have today. Yes, perhaps this adversity made him a bit lippy and scrappy, but it also made him compassionate to the weak (which I adore in him) and sensitive to the underdog, while also being incredibly resilient.

Nerds Don't Get Invited to Parties (and therefore don't develop destructive behaviors). While your cool daughter was busy going to parties where there was drinking, drugs and heavy petting, the nerds were bowling or playing Settlers. I've never done pot because I was never cool enough to be offered pot.

It's Vicious Being Popular. To some degree, all kids are cruel, but no kids can out-cruel the popular. Popular kids, and especially pretty girls, can have to face just awful social experiences - lies, rumors, backstabbing. It's ugly out there in Mean Girl world. In the meantime, those nerds are ignorant while role-playing in their parents' basement.

Nerds Are Nice. OK, pretty people are nice too, but I've met a number of a really attractive adults who are humble, unassuming, kind, compassionate, interested in other people, funny, etc. So often I find out that they were the biggest dorks alive growing up. For example, our small group leader. He's a tall, well-built, nice-looking guy who is a smart engineer. (Don't worry, Mike agrees so I can say this.) He's also extremely kind, loving and interested in others. Why? Because he used to carry a briefcase to school in the 7th grade. He had no friends. (OK, so I should make an exception, kids with no friends don't have all that much fun.) But because he was a nerd, Eric couldn't skate by with his social circle; he had to develop a personality. I say, if you have to be pretty, at least start out nerdy. The world will be better for it.

Nerds Can Just Enjoy Themselves. OK, I don't fit into this nerd category, because I was obsessed with what others thought, but it's something I've learned being married to a nerd. While popular kids are worrying about what will make them cool and accepted and what activities are acceptable and which aren't, the nerds are often just enjoying themselves. Sometimes, this is what makes them nerds. i.e. They refuse to give up their love of Star Wars graphic Tees even in high school and get teased by all the kids. But that kid, by being secure enough to hold onto his likes despite popular opinion is in so many ways more balanced and happy than the cool kid who is only focused on what is cool. (Editorial note: Some lines do have to be drawn. For example, when Mike married me, his Darth Maul boxers hit the trash. Those weren't coming into my house; no way, no how.)

In conclusion, if you are a nerd, embrace it! If you have a nerdy baby, then remember, there are a lot of advantages to the secret life of nerds. Here's a parting video to remind you of the awesomeness of nerds.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bits and Pieces

I haven't gotten around to writing the last couple of days. In my stead, here's a post from my friend Brandy about what the day in the life of a professional writer is like. This totally is not how I write...although I am writing a blog post right now instead of researching rates of clean water in Andean Ecuador...Hmm...

And here is a quote that really struck me from a blog I recently stumbled upon:

Wisdom is not law. And wisdom is only wise when applied correctly in the right situations. You can't read Proverbs the same as the 10 Commandments, yet in our fight against moral relativism, conservative Christians fear situational wisdom. The result is silly, one-dimensional conclusions.

The answer to our fears of moral relativism as we apply wisdom in ways that are actually wise is the indwelling Spirit.

Not much else to report on the homefront, other than I am very proud to say that Mike and I cleaned out our ridiculously cluttered baby room and Mike is buying paint today. We also went to the doctor yesterday, where nothing more of note happened than that we made our next appointment, at which we will hopefully learn the gender of the baby. Woohoo! May 9th is circled on my calendar, and I'm counting down the days.

We also went to a huge maternity consignment sale that reaffirmed how much I hate shopping and crowds and dusty warehouses. But we did get a couple of good finds. Mike got a baby carrier on the cheap that he thought looked sufficiently manly for him. I got a pretty floofy purple Gap maternity dress. Only it looks ridiculous without a baby bump, so I'll sadly have to wait to wear it. Two other women at the sale said they were going to "jump me" to get the dress from me, so you just know it's cute.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Our Master Redo

The last update I gave on our master bedroom, we had just finished with the ceiling, painting and trim. We had extra pressure to finish up, now that we have to create a baby room, so we finally got it complete (for now). Here is what it used to look like:


Since we were going with a Hawaii/beach theme, we got some beautiful flower photos from Marla, a friend from Kauai. We put an orchid picture up in the corner. I like how having the photo and the new bench makes this corner feel like a whole new spot in the room.


And of course, here's the window seat that we built:


I guess I should also mention that we bought new furniture. Baby Vanny will be using Mike's childhood set that was in the room.


We haven't yet hung this orchid picture of Marla's over the dresser, as Mike isn't sure about the placement, though I like it here.


That conch shell is from my grandma's house (my aunt got it on a trip to Jamaica). The birdhouse is actually what my Christmas present from my parents was wrapped in this year. (They should be professional wrappers.) I still need to find a cheap white pillar candle for it. And the blue/green jar I got with a gift certificate from Pier 1. Hooray for free!

And here is looking in the other direction:


The middle picture is Marla's, and the other two I took on our last trip to Kauai. I love all the bright colors. We still need something above the nightstand, but we don't know what yet. (I'd love to find some wood-carved palm frond or Polynesian oar...But that sounds unlikely and expensive.)

Here's a closer look at the pictures:


Mike and I are both technically in the photos. That's my shadow taking the picture on the left and Mike's hand is barely discernible in the photo on the right.


We got the mirror for $50 at Lowes (instead of $250 at the furniture store!). I found the cute green flower thing in Moab last week for $7 (on top of the obligatory stack of pregnancy books). The pillars are candy dishes we got on clearance at Chef's Catalog a couple of years ago, and I filled them with shells Mike's mom has picked up in Florida over the years.


And that concludes our tour! I hope you have enjoyed this tour of our new bedroom where we can now relax and breathe easy. Whew!

Home

As I write this, Mike is measuring and hanging our pictures for our bedroom. Mike is an immaculate measurer. He makes infinitesimal calculations to ensure that every last piece on our wall is absolutely perfectly symmetrical and level. Therefore I get a free out whenever it comes to wall hangings of any kind, because he thinks I'd do far too sloppy a job. We are finishing up our bedroom, now that we have to move on to cleaning out the closed-door rooms, and I've been thinking about home.

I take immense pleasure in decorating my home with Mike. I thrill at picking colors and fabrics and interesting knick knacks. But at the same time, I have an overactive guilt mechanism. The ascetic side of me whispers, "Maybe you shouldn't be enjoying this so much." Sometimes it's hard to distinguish genuine conviction from my unwarranted guilt complex. (Does anyone else have this problem?) I work surrounded by people who have a lower standard of living than I do, and yet one of my favorite hobbies is home decorating, which seems so vain, doesn't it?

But I do believe that this whisper I sometimes hear is guilt, and not conviction, leftover from the mistaken idea that any kind of enjoyment of wealth is evil (although I do my decorating on the cheap). (Here's a good article on the topic.) Mike has helped me to embrace my homey side, especially since he highly values a wife who enjoys making his home beautiful. (He has a much stronger aesthetic sense than most of the men I've known.)

I've also thought of how much I have loved the homes that my mom and both grandmothers have created. All three of them are life-long home livers, by which I mean all of them have lived in the same home for 35 to 60 years. I have such wonderful memories of visiting my Grandma in Denver and my Grandma in Pampa.


(Not actually my grandmother's house.)

That is Mike and my goal with this home. We bought a place where we wanted to grow roots and raise children and build memories. As a child and even as an adult, it has been so meaningful to me to have this sense of home that my mother and my grandmothers have created, that there is always a lovely, familiar, inviting place that I could go back to to be safe and taken care of. And I'd like to create that for my children.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Guide to Safe Conversations for New Parents


One thing you learn when you are around lots of babies and new parents is that there are a lot of strong opinions out there. The simplest conversations can be fraught with landmines of vehemence. An object as benign as a binky can have otherwise sweet young ladies wrestling in the aisles of Babies "R" Us.

It can be hard for a new parent to know what topics are safe and what you need to have a dissertation prepared on, including sources and references, before delving into small talk. Mike's approach to the battleground of parental principles is to remain aloof. He is way too hip to ever get "into" anything, such as a parenting fad. I, conflict averse as I am, prefer wholesale avoidance. If you too like dislike confrontation or contention, here is your guide to safe conversations for new parents.

Seemingly Safe Conversations that Can Bite You in the Tuckus

-Pacifiers. Or plugs or nuks or whatever you like to call them. They are not just cute little plastic binkies, to some parents they are a way to shut up and emotionally cripple your child. If the topic of binkies comes up, I prefer to leave the room altogether.

-Strollers. They're not just transportation systems. The type of stroller or other carrying device you choose (front facing, back facing, ergo baby, sling) can very well determine how many hours your child will spend at the psychiatrist each week. I plan to never bring my baby anywhere, so I won't have to deal with this topic.

-Cloth or Disposable You can't win this one. You're either going to get eye-rolling or quiet superiority. I've decided to simply go with these awesome split pants I found in China and hold my baby over a trash can every time she needs to go.

-Are you going back to work? Another one you just can't win. A simple request for information can leave a woman feeling either judged for being a working mom or judged for being a stay-at-home mom. I prefer to stay ignorant of my friends' lives in order to avoid conflict.

-What's Your Baby Girl's Name? Even the most benign of questions today can lead to awkward silences in conversation. Because these days, they're likely to respond "Buxton Jedidiah," and you have to pretend like you think that's OK.

Obviously Unsafe Conversations

-Breastfeeding (or feeding of any kind, for that matter). Breast or bottle? Organic or not? Homemade baby food or store bought? There are a lot of strong feelings on all matters regarding ingestion. Something as simple as whether or not you heat an older child's bottle can give mothers a serious complex. If you plan to give your toddler Goldfish (as my husband no doubt will), you better be ready.

-Midwife, Doula, or Doctor. The method of delivery is an ever touchy topic, eliciting scoffing, guilt and indigestion.

-Natural or Epidural. This fake article on the Onion gives just a hint of the moral battleground awaiting you here. By the way, my sister-in-law knows the couple in this photo, which teaches us a very important lesson: Never, ever sign off on the rights to photos you have taken in a studio. They might just end up on the Onion one day.

-Home Births. Recently, there was a post on a Christian web site that advocated for hospital births in the developing world. The firestorm of ugly comments about home birthing versus hospitals was a thing to behold. The Christian lady fangs came out. This one isn't a joking matter in Mike's family, health professionals as they are. Mike's dad told me last week, "Amber, people are going to give you opinions on a lot of things, but you just do what you think is right." So I facetiously replied, "I want a home birth!" He quickly revised his stance on me doing what I want.

So what are safe conversations?
Trick question. There are no safe conversations. I've heard even the question, "Isn't your baby just a miracle?" can get some ladies riled up. Just stick to the weather.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Closed Door Rooms

Now that I'm in my second trimester, there's nothing too exciting to report about pregnancy, other than the odd bodily quirk. (For example, last week my nose swelled up externally for no apparent reason.) So, to concentrate our baby excitement, we are working on the baby room! After we worked so hard on our master bedroom (which we're still not finished with), we were hoping for a bit more of a break between projects, but c'est la vie.

So the rooms that have been our closed door rooms, never to be opened in polite company, now must be opened to the light of day. So here is the closed door bedroom:

As you can see, it is our storage room where we put everything we don't know what to do with. When we first moved in, there was a lovely teddy bear and horsey wallpaper border, which was promptly removed. We also removed all the baseboards, so now the room sits waiting to be decluttered, painted and trimmed.

We decided to have a Loving Giraffe Family, at least for our bedset. We can complement it with our various mementos of family safaris. We're going for a fun, jungly adventure kind of room.

And then there's the bathroom.

Mike thinks we can delay the finishing of this room, but then where would I bathe the cute little thing? So our bathtub must go from storage bin to actual working tub and we're going to have to turn the water back on. We also had removed the doors to the cabinets to practice staining on (for our kitchen project), so now we'll have to find some alternate cabinet doors.

Just looking at these photos gives me a headache, but I suppose I must say: Let the work begin!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Moab Days 5 & 6

Saturday was our last full day in Moab. After not doing much on Friday, we were ready for a nice full day, but then the spring pollens hit. Moab is rife with scrub brush, which Mike is most allergic to, so he woke up Saturday morning with one eye swollen shut.

He medicated himself, and we thought we could make it on a jaunt to Canyonlands National Park. But we didn't make it far before we needed to head back to town to pump him even more full of drugs. (If you look closely at this photo, you can see that Mike's right eye is swollen shut.)


So we spent the rest of the afternoon napping on our bottom bunk bed. On past trips, our low activity level would have probably frustrated me, as I'd be itching to get out, but pregnancy made me pretty mellow this trip. We were able to at least make it to our dinner that night at Red Cliffs Lodge on the Colorado River. I have such great memories of this place from dinner 5 years ago with some girlfriends and dinner 2 years ago with my family. It has an amazing view of Fisher Towers (which we are blocking in this photo).


Today we woke up to rain in Moab, so we headed out early to go home. Rain turned to sleet in Grand Junction and to snow in Glenwood Springs. It got worse and worse, and they closed I-70 before Vail Pass. We tried taking the highway down to Leadville, but it was just too bad. So we stopped in Avon for the night with Mike's parents, who also couldn't get through.

We got rooms at the Westin Hotel on the cheap, which are super nice. We had to wait about 2 hours before our rooms were ready (because there are so many stranded people), so we took a nice walk up the Eagle River, enjoyed a ride up the gondola, and stood around the fire pit in the courtyard. And now, we've been enjoying a night of feeling like we're on vacation at a ski resort, sitting on the plushy bed, wearing the plushy robes and sitting in the hot tub overlooking the river.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Moab Day 3 & 4

The last two days were nice and relaxing. On Thursday, Mike and I worked. We took a walk along the river through town. I went shopping with my mother-in-law. At night, Josh showed us Saturn on his telescope, and we played Ticket to Ride.

Krista and I compared baby bumps.

Kista might be winning.

This morning, I went to a coffee shop to work. But as I was standing in line, I nearly passed out and thought I might throw up on the shoes of the guy in front of me in line. So I came home. Krista said she routinely nearly passes out in Walmarts while pregnant, so I guess I'm all right.

So I rested for most of the day while Mike worked. John and Janie came for a visit from Grand Junction and we took a short walk to Courthouse Wash. Tonight, Mike and I went to Zak's for dinner and ate on the patio. Then we went to Slickrock to watch the sunset, one of my favorite things to do.

Then the paparazzo proceeded to take a billion pictures of me, which ended in pics my father-in-law dubbed "Earth Mother" photos, but which turned out looking like good baby bump photos. So here's my official 1st day of 2nd trimester baby bump picture.

Now we'll just have to travel here once every month to take the next bump photo.