Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thoughts on Nostalgia

Nostalgia: a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Upon getting married, I fully expected to experience that short stretch of time known as the honeymoon phase. A time when you are so happy to be together that nothing else really matters or concerns you. We didn't even have a trace of the honeymoon phase after getting married. We had too many other things to deal with, and life was very difficult for us. During this time, Owen turned to childhood nostalgia as a means of alleviating the daily stress.

I felt so saddened by my new husband's yearning for a time that didn't include me. Rather than excitement for our new life together, he desired to turn to the past. I know better now that this didn't have to do with me so much as our being thrust into adult life, and with the added responsibility of caring for an extra person. As much as our society has progressed past traditional roles, many married men still feel the pressure to provide necessities as well as luxuries for their wives and children, sending many men yearning for Rosebud*

The term Nostalgia, coined in the 1600's, was first used as a medical condition for people, often soldiers or sailers, who were so homesick that they lost their senses. In modern times nostalgia has developed a more positive connotation as suggested by the dictionary definition above. Now, nostalgia is often viewed as an enjoyable way to recount the past with friends and family. 

According to recent research on nostalgia, New York Times: What is Nostalgia Good For?, it can help people feel more connected to their communities and their loved ones and can make life feel more worthwhile. At its best nostalgia isn't a yearning or a comparison to a less happy present, but a time of reflection.

I find that when Owen and I can share in nostalgia, such as in comparing childhood stories or recounting happy memories from the beginning of our relationship we feel closer to one another and happier to be together. 

For my birthday this week, Owen (not a morning person) woke up at 7:15 to light the charcoal grill. We cooked french toast and bacon over the fire, and nestled a foil bowl of strawberries and peaches under the grate. My sister found a tablecloth and set the table with pretty glass.

The food tasted so good that I found myself eating it very quickly. At some point I realized what I was missing in my haste-- I stopped eating and looked at my family and looked at the beautiful food. I breathed the image in and stored it in a place in my mind that I could look back to it years from now for future nostalgia. 

*In the film Citizen KaneCharles Foster Kane, a rich and successful businessman with two failed marriages, dies alone in his mansion uttering the words "Rosebud." Journalist Jerry Thompson spends the rest of the film trying to understand Citizen Kane's personal life and the significance of Rosebud. In the end of the film, viewers learn that Rosebud refers to his childhood sled, a symbol of the happiest, most free time of his life. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Love is Sharing the Awkward

Embarrassment is an emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others.

When I was in my early teens, my family had dinner at Pappadeaux for the first time. At the end of the meal, our waiter took our left-overs to the kitchen to package them. A few minutes later he returned with another waiter from the restaurant. He explained to us that the other waiter had lost our left-overs, and insisted that the other waiter apologize, making certain that we knew it was not his fault. It was so insignificant a moment, but my emotional response was so strong that it has always stuck with me: I felt disgusted that our waiter was so evasive of blame as to cause more embarrassment than necessary for the waiter who lost the food. It was such an unimportant thing--losing the left-overs.

This memory pairs with a later one in my mind, when I was staying with a friend of a friend and accidentally broke a ceramic bowl. I was so embarrassed and felt so awkward. My friend, one Lisa York, joined in my mistake by telling the other, "we broke a bowl," thus relieving me of my embarrassment.  That is a good friend. 

Have you ever seen it when one partner in a couple is clearly embarrassed by the other? One partner may tell a joke that doesn't go over well in a crowd, and rather than laughing anyways, the other partner rolls his or her eyes. Such a response to an awkward moment not only reveals discomfort with the hypothetical embarrassing partner, but a lack of loyalty or compassion in the relationship. I know when I see this pattern in other couples I'm usually more bothered by the partner rolling his eyes than I am by the partner telling the lame joke.

Awkward Engagement Photo
Yet, sometimes being the eye-roller is tempting. When your partner says or does something that you would never do-- maybe dancing badly or giving away a little too much personal information
-- it feels like others will attribute the awkward behavior to you, and distinguishing yourself as separate from the behavior is the natural reaction. 

When we give into the temptation to separate ourselves from something embarrassing our partner does, we create separation not only from the behavior, but from the partner (and being unsupportive of our partners doesn't look very good to onlookers either). Is trying to save ourselves from a little embarrassment really worth divisive actions?

Joining in on an awkward moment and acting as if it isn't awkward or embarrassing at all not only avoids divisiveness, but creates a stronger partnership over all. Let the world laugh. What does it hurt?

"There's a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there's not much else that can really get to ya." Christian Bale

Friday, June 21, 2013

I Will Wait For You

As popular as it is right now, Mumford and Sons' I Will Wait frequently sticks in my head. This idea of waiting for the right person is a common and romantic theme in media. There is a suggestion that waiting for the the right person, known or unknown, will lead to a beautiful, albeit delayed, love.

"“...of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”  Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

But what exactly are we waiting for? Commonly the idea of waiting for someone romantically insinuates one of two things: (1) The beloved is absent, such as in the instance of a typical WWII movie where the brave soldier goes to war while the pretty and worried beloved waits for him at home; (2) a body purity concern.

Waiting for an absent lover in our current society could be more readily portrayed in the form of long distance relationships where the partners are pulled apart from one another because of disparate career choices. Such partners have to deter other romantic possibilities as they wait to be reunited with their long-distance loves.

Waiting through absences is seen as romantic. What about waiting for a partner while remaining in his or her presence?

Sometimes waiting with a partner who is having emotional turmoil can be just as hard as waiting for an absent partner. Negative emotions are hard to carry in a relationship, and when life circumstances bring one partner down, the other suffers as well.

When life is hard partners don't always wait. In the documentary Happy one of the women interviewed reflects on a life-changing accident. The woman was run over by a truck, leaving her far less beautiful than she had been and bed ridden for many months. During this time of trial her husband didn't wait, instead choosing to leave her.

“Waiting hurts. Forgetting hurts. But not knowing which decision to take can sometimes be the most painful...”  José N. Harris, MI VIDA

In the documentary, she regains strength, she meets a new man, and has a happier life than she had before her accident. Cheerful, kind, creative, and resilient, she was a woman worth waiting for, and her first husband missed out on learning the capacity of her spirit.

Would the first husband have waited the same amount of time as the recovery period (8 months if I remember correctly), had the months been spent apart for a career concern? Perhaps waiting for an absent partner is in some ways easier than waiting for a partner to regain strength after facing emotional or physical damage.

As I put my life plans on hold to wait for Owen to finish school, I like to think of songs like I Will Wait. It helps me to remember the value of this waiting period as we continue to build our relationship in preparation to pursue our life together.

"Blessings may appear under the shape of pains, losses, and disappointments; but let him have patience, and he will see them in their proper figures."  Joseph Addison The Guardian 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Plan D

Plan A: Graduate from St. Olaf and enroll in grad school in Ft. Collins, CO in our respective fields.
Foiled: Owen was accepted to Iowa, but not Ft. Collins.

Plan B: Owen enters the PhD program in Iowa City, the following year I enter either the writing MFA program or the English PhD, and we buy a house.
Foiled: It turns out that you cannot apply to both the MFA program and the English PhD at the same time, which I only found after having applied to the impossible-to-get-into MFA program, which I didn't get into. Buying a house was more difficult than anticipated... Though we did eventually end up in a townhouse that we love.

Plan C: I work for a year and reapply to the MFA program. Owen's program progresses as usual.
Foiled: I again was not accepted to the MFA program. Owen's program proved entirely more difficult than expected.

Plan D: Go with the flow.

One of my favorite things about Iowa City:
The trees wear sweaters!
At times it feels like we have little to no control over how we spend our lives as financial, academic, emotional, and physical restraints keep us from achieving our plans. Yet, looking back, I am glad that so many of our plans didn't work. Had we both been accepted to Ft. Collins, we would be taking out student loans like crazy trying to pay for both school and rent, but the University of Iowa gives enough financial aid that we are actually paying back some debt. Besides finances, we've also discovered an interesting city full of creativity that we never knew existed. Had we not moved to Iowa, I would probably have never known about tree sweaters.

Also, living in Colorado would mean being much further away from our college friends, who have supported us and helped us through so much of the past two years.

Had we bought a traditional house, we would be in way over our heads by now, but our townhouse has fulfilled everything we wanted in a home without the stress of having to worry about the roof or the yard.

Though not getting into the MFA program was frustrating, I wouldn't trade my time working with the Arc for anything! Spending a year helping people with disabilities has made me a more patient, nurturing, and open person.

As much as we've felt like we didn't have control, we've certainly had to make plenty of choices. Confronted with difficulty, Owen had to choose to work his butt off fulfilling the requirements of his program. Faced with my own stumbling blocks, I've had to choose to keep trying new ways to find fulfillment.  By choosing to go with the flow, we've finally found a plan that can't get foiled.

We haven't entirely stopped making plans, but we don't necessarily think of our plans with the same urgency and anxiety to fulfill them. Now plans are merely a map of how to spend each day until something changes. My current plans of finding a job that allows me to use my bachelor's degree and pay off students loans has me applying to multiple jobs a week, as I simultaneously prepare to take on Arc shifts to pay the bills meanwhile.

I won't say that following Plan D is necessarily easy. The temptation to get this job or afford that item sometimes overwhelms the non-attachment attitude of going with the flow, but ultimately what else can we do? We have to choose to continue to keep moving forward no matter what does or doesn't work out for us. Until I know what I'm doing next, I'm going to keep writing, keep cooking, and maybe start learning some HTML... I don't have any concrete plans for the knowledge gained, but it can't hurt right?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Home in Colowasota

After a brief hiccup with my work schedule, I am set to leave for Colorado in three days! I ready myself to venture to my homeland with plans to spend time with family and friends, scatter Rascal's ashes, explore settings for my writing, and breath Colorado air.

Owen and I hoped to leave for Colorado together, but as often happens with the PhD program, he has to stay in Iowa City to take a class. Relief and Anxiety compete for my attention. After battling a complex and volatile schedule, I am lucky that the details are finally fixed down, but leaving without Owen will be strange. 

I have known Owen for only six years, and my parents have known him for only three, but he has become a significant member of our family. He fills gaps that we didn't know existed until he made us a little more whole.  Owen has built a website for my dad's business, golfed with my grandfather, discussed academic pursuits with my sister, and taught us all about psychology. We joke that Owen is the favorite at my family's house. 

I've spent more time in Colorado without Owen than with him, and yet next week he will be a missing piece of our home.  

Six years ago I would have never imagined that Owen and I would have a house together in Iowa. The past few days I have been working through my pre-trip to-do list: make sure that all of Owen's laundry is clean, that he has all the food he needs, that the house is clean for him, etc. As I work to care for Owen and our house, it is clear that I am home in Iowa City also.

My life is now split between Colorado, Minnesota, and Iowa. Though I often feel homesick for Colorado (usually accompanied by cravings for Mexican food, chai, sunlight, and/or Dan In Real Life), I feel glad to have so many places that I can call home. Surprisingly, my homes start to blend together as the colors of Colorado inspire our home decor in Iowa and as family and friends from our other homes visit us in our current one.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Food Ethic

Dear Readers,

I have decided to start a new blog project about ethical consumerism focused mainly on food.

My writing goal is to alter weekly posting between My Modern Marriage and Food Ethic, as Owen and I continue to explore what it means to create positive relationships between ourselves and the world around us.

I would like to invite you to join me in this new endeavor.

Thank you for all of the support you have given me,

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Daily And Not

As we approach the two year mark of our time in Iowa, we find ourselves doing less unpacking and more sweeping our dirt out from under the furniture. We're better adjusted and more confident in our abilities to do grown up things like paying bills. We aren't newlyweds anymore. Suddenly, life is daily. Though dailyness has a reputation for being a grind, it also brings routine and relaxation. I find that I don't examine my relationship with Owen as much anymore; I just live it.

The most recent and un-daily event I have to share is the passing of my family's dog, Rascal. The last I saw him was at Christmas, and even though he was grey in the face, he still had his puppy-like energy that had once been part of my daily life. It is difficult to imagine that when I go home to Colorado in three weeks he won't be there to greet me.

When we first met Rascal as a puppy thirteen years ago the people selling him claimed that he was a pure-bred St. Bernard, but that they just didn't make the effort to get papers together. In reality he was a mostly-St. Bernard.

Rascal was not a well trained dog. If you called his name he was just as likely to run away from you as to you.  On hot days he would swim in the pond by our house and then run up and thwack you with his giant tail sopping with pond scum.

His general disregard for systems and rules carried a certain freedom. His not-so-pedigree genetics were unexpected and beautiful, and he was always, always friendly. Though I am sad to see him leave, I was touched by the gentleness and care that my parents provided him in his final days while I was absent.

Rascal's passing was one of three that we have learned about in the past week or so. Today we visited the grave of a client I worked with through the Arc and were shaken to find that her mother, who I had consoled just months before, was buried next to her. 

With so much death surrounding us this week, we find ourselves dealing with heightened death anxiety. Since we started dating, Owen and I both notice that we are generally more afraid for our own and each other's safety than we were before. We've transitioned from young-hearted fearlessness in the face of mortality to suddenly having a lifetime of plans to lose.  Yet, even with the fear of losing the life we look forward to, we don't seem to live as fully as we would like to right now. Though the dailyness brings relaxation and routine, it also presents the potential for stagnation and stunted growth. 

Too often I waste entire days in a state of waiting. Constantly, I am waiting to hear back from some application that I've submitted in search of a more fulfilling daily. Yet even as I feel that some days are wasted by dailyness, those activities that are incessantly repeated are making me stronger and more capable.

With every downward dog and chicken dinner I am preparing myself for the future. With every day that Owen and I pass hours talking and thinking together, we build our relationship. So when the time comes that something is not daily, we can be ready. Having Owen in my daily means that he knows all of my emotions as they pass, and so he was ready to hold me when the un-daily news of Rascal's passing came our way. 

Daily life is boring, and it's comforting. Sometimes it feels like chains holding me down, but my muscles grow stronger from carrying them. What we do in our daily becomes what we do in our not-daily. What skills are you strengthening every day? What emotional responses are you practicing?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Simple Happiness

My grandparents' only wedding picture
This week, my grandparents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary! In 1963 Werner and Patricia said their vows in a small Texas church and headed to a nearby restaurant with a few close friends for a fried chicken dinner.  They spent the night at a Ramada Inn in town, which my grandmother described in her wedding book as being very nice.

Twenty-three years later my parents had an evening wedding that included a ceremony and small reception. Paul and Traci had a wedding cake table decorated with satin flowers that my mother had made.

They were gifted a honeymoon in Disney World, near where my great grandmother lived. (Their honeymoon included visiting with Grandma for some of the time...)

Owen and I were married in the St. Olaf College chapel in Minnesota. We held our reception ten minutes away in a tent with a formal dinner with thirty or so bottles of wine, several beautiful cakes, and a dance floor with a six-hour long playlist and a few wedding games.

Our wedding day was so stressful that I ended up crying for at least a half hour upon arriving to the reception site. We escaped to Napa Valley for our honeymoon, which was largely spent recovering from the stress of the wedding.

What has happened in wedding culture that makes us feel like we need to make our wedding days into such a show?

Fifty years ago Werner and Patricia had a wedding without a photographer, reception dinner, dance floor, or long honeymoon, but the smiles in their one and only picture are so beautiful.

In many ways their marriage continues to display the simple happiness of their wedding. For their anniversary this year they decided to take a trip to their favorite vacation spot in Estes Park, Colorado where they rent a cabin and don't leave it the whole week. When I called them to wish them a happy anniversary they were looking out the windows enjoying the view and watching for wildlife. My grandmother told me, as she often does, their story.

Because they were always seated alphabetically in school, Werner sat in front of Patricia every year starting in the seventh grade. They didn't talk to one another until the eleventh grade when they were roped into a double date. As the story goes, Werner had a car and his friend had a date with a girl who was friends with Patricia. His friend needed Werner to drive, and Patricia was brought as Werner's date.  Though the friends didn't really hit it off, my grandparents quickly fell in love and were married a few years later.

As I was Growing up my grandparents emphasized getting away from televisions, computers, and phones. They taught me how to find happiness in many simple pleasures that I now share with Owen including card games, puzzles, quilting, and hiking.

Happy Anniversary Werner and Patricia!

Friday, April 5, 2013


As I posted just last month, I love Lent, but since the Easter Bunny stopped leaving me treats I haven't cared as much for Easter. Supposedly, Lent is the time of sorrow and Easter the time of joy, but something about the running all over town visiting all of the relatives we can pack into one day and overeating feels more stressful than joyful.

This year, Owen and I decided to make the trek to Minnesota for Grandma Inga's 80th birthday this coming weekend rather than visiting for Easter last weekend. So we celebrated on our own for the first time! I baked my mom's Apple Spice Cake, which turned out about 85% as delicious as when she makes it (still rather tasty). And of course we dyed Easter eggs.

Our Easter celebration was simple this year, and we had time to reflect.

Our time in Iowa has been marked by feelings of inadequacy. I have questioned my self-worth for choosing Owen over graduate school and for working with people with disabilities rather than pursuing more glamorous career opportunities. This has caused Owen stress and sadness as he has felt responsible for my unhappiness. His sadness with my path led me to worry that he too found my achievements inadequate.

Along with my personal battle, we dealt with Owen's questions of self-worth as his counseling PhD proved more challenging than expected, and he experienced significant failure for the first time. Added to the academic stress, we faced the ill social judgements that often follow struggle. As he with me, seeing Owen face so much adversity is difficult for me.

In the midst of so much unhappiness, we forgot what it is like to feel good on a regular basis. Lent provided us the cleansing we needed. We gave up over fifty unnecessary items that had filled our junk room, worry surrounding future career goals, and self-debasing thoughts stemming from the social and academic rejection we've experienced in Iowa. In many ways we stopped trying to control the uncontrollable, and we came to a greater acceptance of who we are.

We are married. We are Lutheran (or as Owen puts it, Christian). We are not athletic. We don't always put our best feet forward. We support gay rights and don't judge people who don't. We are pro-life and don't judge people who aren't. We want to be green, but often fail. We never know what's trending on Youtube. We are imperfect, and we can't justify everything we say, do, feel, or believe.

When Easter came we were ready for rebirth. As we sat in the balcony pews of the much-more-crowded-than-usual chapel, we connected to the whole. Owen reports feeling a greater sense of independence and a greater alignment with our life in Iowa. As for me, I sensed for the first time that my purpose and my desires have aligned in the very deep down truth that I want to love God, other people, and the earth more than I want to achieve societal acceptance.  With that I have come to the understanding that what I do for a living will matter far less than what I live for.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Purr of Energy

Feeling too busy for a dog, and really preferring cats anyways, we found our four month old kitten at a local animal shelter. With a little difficulty agreeing on a name she ended up with two names: MaryMilo.

She has proven herself naughty by constantly exploring places she's not supposed to be.

One day I had spent the entire afternoon repairing my baby blanket that she had shredded and stood up from my sewing machine to find that she had spilled paint all over our shoes and floor.

The lid to the paint can was warped and she had knocked it over. I panicked, picked up the paint can, and brought it, dripping, to the garbage. 

We kept her away from the paint for three days before it dried enough for us to peel it off of the floor.

Yet, MaryMilo's naughtiness isn't entirely a bad thing. It provides something to talk about. I can remember several nights in college where I would be hanging out with a friend or two, and none of us would have the energy to create energy for the group. It reminds me of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Raymond and Deborah go out for dinner and can't find anything to talk about. Deborah gets upset and says that they've become "one of those couples."

When we first brought MaryMilo home we were in the middle of a overwhelming semester in Owen's PhD program. We had spend the preceding weeks drained of energy and it was getting to a point where neither of us could gather enough energy to cheer the other.  MaryMilo brought a spark of life into the house and provided us with the comedic relief we needed. One evening when we were both frustrated and low energy, MaryMilo bolted down the stairs jumped on the round chair and knocked it over causing both of us to laugh. Had she not been there, we may not have laughed together that night. 

Whether we're chasing her away from the countertops, throwing paintbrushes for her to fetch, or cuddling with her on the couch, MaryMilo's extreme kitten-energy is contagious and helps give us the energy we need to encourage each other through stressful times. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Open Your Eyes. Open Your Heart.

I quit my job! (Sort of) I still work for the Arc, but starting Thursday I will be considered indefinitely unavailable to take on any shifts. So, as if I were quitting entirely, I gave my two weeks notice so that they could start finding replacements. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the Arc, we provide respite services for families who have children with disabilities and household services to older adults with disabilities. I love the people, but the unwieldy schedule and constant driving between homes are an absolute headache.

The last two weeks have yielded a range of emotions. First I was sad to leave. Besides Owen, the only people I see on a regular basis are those I work with, and we have been through a lot together. I work in their homes helping them to prepare food, shower, care for wounds, and any other random task they ask me to do. I have helped them apply icy-hot to sore muscles, clipped their toenails, laughed with them, and found quiet routines in their presence. As I leave to take my own respite, I fear that the isolation may overwhelm me.

Once I had submitted my change of schedule I mentally checked out. Unengaged in what I was doing, I went through the motions daydreaming of my break to come. For the first time in a year of working with the Arc, I forgot to go to an assigned shift. My old-man-client-buddy didn't get his dinner that night, and I felt awful. I emailed him a note that I was sorry, and he responded, "It's okay. I had pop-tarts for dinner! HAHAHA!"

In the final days I find myself soaking in every minute. Though I ceased to notice it for the past several months, my job constantly offers new experiences. Within a three day period I faced new challenges, found more efficient solutions to previous problems, met new people, and talked about new subjects with the regulars. Suddenly my job had a new rush of meaning.

Why does it take an end to remind us of the novelty of the beginning?

Primed for new experiences, Owen and I decided to try out a new local bar this weekend.  We decided to talk to each other as if we were on a first date. I found that I listened better than usual. Owen talked about his childhood and family, and though I usually think that I've heard it all before, I actually noticed new details in what he said. I felt energized to share interesting stories about my family that I hadn't shared in a long time, like how my aunt used to live in a green school-bus on the Mesa in New Mexico. We didn't get bogged down in our current life issues, like often happens when we talk to each other.

Simply paying closer attention to the people around you, especially the day-to-day people, can make an average day feel like a day of new experiences and bring fresh interest in the people you see on a regular basis. In the first few weeks of working with the Arc, one of my clients shared a poem he had written with me. His words are simple, but they reflect with great depth his experience as a person with disabilities who's opinions and feelings are too often overlooked, even by those who are closest to him.
He says, "Open your eyes. Open your heart."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What If My Purpose In Life Is Lackluster?

Over a year ago, I described how my perceptions of love have changed in the post It's Not About Personality. Before, I thought love was admiration of the other person's character and enjoying the other person's personality. Yet, my love of Owen does not stem from jaw-dropping admiration so much as from a deep trust and appreciation of our partnership. In other words my love for Owen isn't just about Owen; it's about Owen AND it's about me. Our love is multi-faceted. Not only do I like Owen and think that he's pretty dang smart, I also like how I feel when I'm with him, how well we work together on projects, and how each of us has found inspiration in each other strong enough to change the course of our lives.

Though I still struggle with purpose. Yesterday I received the news that I will not be a poetry MFA student in the fall. In the folds of my mind it's a small jump from rejection letter to fear that I will not enjoy my purpose in life. As many others wonder if they even have a purpose in life, my struggle is slightly different, but really pretty much the same. I fear that God does have a defined purpose for me, but that I will find it lackluster. What if my purpose does not include writing? What if it doesn't involve my intellect at all? What if it isn't community oriented? What if it doesn't involve children?

"Life is short but it is wide--
it is so magical-- filled with mystery and wonder.
Butterflies are special to me.
Their life is the examined life--
it has passion, purpose, and a destiny."
Joan D'Arcy qtd. in Joyce Tenneson's Wise Women 
In high school and early college I had similar fears about my future husband. What if I found him boring? What if he didn't want to travel? What if he wasn't funny? Now I know the reality of Owen. Owen is not boring and does want to travel, and even though he wasn't exactly funny when we got together I do love him, and even like him.  

Perhaps my approach to purpose has been similar to my previous approach to love? Maybe I'm thinking of it too much in terms of a life I would admire: part time writing professor, writer, mom, gardener, world traveler.  I would be thrilled if my purpose in life involved achieving high credentials in the profession of writing, learning extensively of the world around me, raising children and teaching others how to express themselves better through writing. And maybe that is my purpose! Or maybe it's not. Or maybe parts of it are, but other parts of it are just societally driven desires for achievement in my life. 

Maybe no matter what my purpose is once I live it and experience it, I'll find something much deeper than admiration or achievement. As the keynote speaker at the 2011 St. Olaf graduation suggested, perhaps I'll find significance.

Oh, and about that Owen not being funny thing-- he's learned. Tonight as he grilled us some flank steak, he danced around the kitchen doing disco moves to Love Machine. Oh yes. His continued desire to make me just a little bit happier in whatever ways he can has won my jaw-dropping admiration. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For The Sake Of Lent, All Are Welcome

Typically I post my blogs on my Facebook... where half of my friends are southern baptists and the other half are either lutherans or atheists. So basically if Owen and I are honest about what we think, half will think that we are heathens and the other half will assume that we're dogmatic. Being moderate is always kind of like that.

Owen and I giving Saint Paul a high five
Thus, for the past year, I have much avoided speaking about our faith on this blog. But man, I LOVE lent. Lent would be as good as Christmas if I got to see my family. It's so pure in its avoidance of any secularism whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, I love Santa Clause and Christmas lights, but Lent is different. It's calm, not celebratory. In its quietness it is often forgotten.

Lent is the most reflective and cleansing time of the church calendar, reminiscent of Jesus's forty days in the wild and Israel's forty years in the desert. It is a time to shed all that is not of God from our lives. Thus in the spirit of Lent, I seek to free myself from the fear that has kept me from giving you the whole story.

Here is a real example of what living between two extremes looks like. After President Obama was elected for the second time, my Facebook wall filled with a crazy range of responses. Many people posted things like,
"It makes me so sad that the people of The United States don't care about life."
and many other posted things like,
"Good to see that America actually cares about women and people who are poor now!"

To complicate matters, there are people whom we love and respect on both sides of the coin. That alone is enough to isolate us from those who can't even imagine what it is to respect the other side. Yet, of the many evangelicals, lutherans, muslims, atheists, conservatives and liberals I have shared life with, I find that all experience love for all living beings, compassion, and a deep down fear that they might actually have it all wrong. In that, I would suggest that we all need to have compassion for one another and stop pointing fingers at fellow human beings.

With fear of judgement from both evangelicals and atheists, yet with devotion to our faith, this is us. Our shared desire to be nearer to God is the very root of our marriage. The purity of love is important to us. We also support our brothers, sisters, and gender-confused siblings in the LGBTQIA community, and hope that our musings on marriage will be helpful to them as well, for Jesus says, "It is not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart" (Mark 7:15).

Owen and I have a deep care and respect for the Bible. We have studied it extensively with a genuine desire to know what it has to tell us sans the cultural atmosphere surrounding it. We continue to pray that we will better understand and love God, as God knows Himself(Herself) to be. We also have a healthy respect for the Qua-ran and other sources of love and wisdom. We are of the small and usually unidentified group known as the Religious Left.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Individual Alone Time (Together)

The greatest struggle I've had since graduating, getting married, and moving to Iowa City has been the hit to my confidence. Since early childhood, I can remember a certain self assuredness that has guided me through school and friendships with ease. For the first time, I fear that I will never accomplish anything in my life, compounded by the greater fear that I will feel inadequate. I don't want to live my life always feeling that I'm not doing enough or accomplishing enough. 

So my struggle has been finding ways to advance myself while following Owen to Iowa City. I've taken a few classes, blogged, learned yoga, and continued to grow closer to Owen. All wonderful, great things that have improved my life.  Yet, on the day to day, week to week, living, thinking, feeling, doing level, all I have time for is working, making dinner, doing domestic work, taking care of Owen, and if we're lucky, spending a couple of enjoyable hours talking or relaxing together. 

This break down of life would be wonderful, if the work I am doing were the work I dream to do. Someday I hope to become a professor of writing at a private liberal arts college, like St. Olaf, involved in developing programs for ELL students. Yet I don't feel any closer to achieving that dream than I was a year and a half ago. I need to spend more time thinking and creating. I need focused alone time to work toward my goals.

Alone time has been a complicated issue for Owen and I. Neither of us really feel the need to separate from each other unnecessarily. We'd be happy to spend 24/7 in one another's company. Also, Owen, having a more anxious attachment style, has in the past felt nervous at the suggestion that I need time without his presence. Lately, as both of us have been learning to be more mindful of our needs, Owen has become more calm on this issue. So, I brought it up to him this week.

Owen in his natural state pre-marriage:
alone and learning abroad
Always understanding and supportive, Owen is ready to help me in my need for that focused time. His first suggestion: having individual alone time together by spending Sunday mornings walking to the coffee house nearby in silence, and then working in silence at the same table. Appreciative of his willingness to try new things, I accepted this proposal with the slight alteration that we would sit at different tables once we arrived. Owen didn't necessarily like this change, but he agreed. 

Sunday morning arrived rainy and cold, but we were dedicated. We arrived at Java House soaked through in forced silence, ordered some breakfast items and got to work. I found myself cold and agitated. Once alone I didn't know quite what to do with myself. This was the alone time that Owen had gifted me despite his own anxieties, and I couldn't do anything productive with it. 

I used to be an expert at alone time! I found it everywhere and enjoyed every minute of it, productive or not, and having it in my life made me a more confident person. Reflecting on how I used to be I surmise that alone time does not exist in the form of forced silence on a once a week excursion. It's a rhythm that underlies the daily tune; it's a way of life wherein you step back from everyone else's opinions and just think of what you yourself want to think about several times a day. When it's consistent it can then become productive and creative, and provide you with greater confidence in your opinions and feelings.

This is going to be a learning experience for both of us. I'm not just going to start taking myself to Java House and leaving Owen at home during those times that have routinely become moments for us to enjoy each other's company. Neither of us are ready for that yet. We are ready to admit that we each have a need for alone time that isn't being met, so we are going to start thinking of how we can bring it more into our lives.

We've determined that we want to have our alone time together, not that we're going to persist in forcing ourselves into silence, but that when we reunite we want to share what we have learned on our own with each other, so that we can continue to grow and change together. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Different Strengths Create Partnership

Recently I took a values inventory that supposedly reveals my greatest character strengths. Considering this is the second posting in a row where I refer to a psychological test, I believe that being married to a counseling psychologist is starting to rub off on me... Anyways, the test is part of Martin E.P. Seligman's Authentic Happiness. Seligman suggests that in marital relationships, being able to use your character strengths in your relationship with your partner will lead to greater happiness.

1. Mercy and Forgiveness
2. Capacity to Love and Be Loved
3. Honesty, Authenticity, and Genuineness
4. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality
5. Curiosity and Interest in the World

1. Judgement, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness
2. Love of Learning
3. Curiosity and Interest in the World
4. Spirituality, Sense of Purpose, and Faith
5. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality

Before we were dating, Owen and I travelled to Greece and Turkey as a part of the same travel abroad program. Both of us deeply value learning more about the world around us, and we are able to share in plans to live and study around the world. Our shared curiosity also shows in the tendency to go where we aren't necessarily supposed to go...

Other of our character strengths aren't so naturally shared. I can be honest to a fault, sharing every little negative thought that pops into my head, which can be difficult on Owen who isn't used to such candor. Owen's open-mindedness can prove inefficient as he examines every aspect of any decision, driving me crazy. Knowing that honesty and open-mindedness are more than just personality traits, but actually deeply held values helps us to be more understanding of these differences that arise between us. 

I know another ex-couple that never quite came to that understanding. One partner had Kindness and Generosity as a character strength; he desires to be of service to those he loves. He especially enjoys being helpful and doing favors. The other partner had a fierce independent streak and sometimes mistook such helpfulness as an indication that he found her incapable. This clashing of values eventually contributed to their break up.

For a relationship to succeed you must make the effort to understand and respect your partner's values and character strengths. The differences between you will provide a greater variety of strengths to contribute to challenges that you face as partners. Make the effort to learn more about what strengths your partner has to contribute and create a relationship where those strengths can flourish. 

If you are interested in taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths visit

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Returning to Us

When the stress of Owen's school semester ended in mid December he returned to himself, which allowed me to return to myself and us to each other. I half expected us to have some sort of resentment or frustration with each other left over from the arguments that surfaced at the peak of the stress. So often those words that come out when everything feels like its falling apart last long after the world repairs itself.

Yet, instead of resentment we found joy. We found comfort and acceptance of all that passed and excitement to move into the future anew. I felt lucky. Stress and anxiety had so taken my mind in the months preceding Christmas that I'm positive that I responded to Owen with undue frustration on more than one occasion. I know that in the midst of it all he put too much weight on my shoulders. In other words, we were more crappy to each other than we had ever been before.

So I've been asking myself how we escaped unscathed. How did we come out of it still liking each other? My hypothesis is that we hold a few overarching philosophies that served us well, and may be of use to other couples facing the potential hazards of stress.

1. We know our own flaws; we know each others' flaws. We can accept these flaws in ourselves and each other and not take each others' flaws personally.

One thing that Owen learned about me from watching me interact with my family is that when I feel very stressed it negatively affects how I treat everyone around me. I just want everyone to leave me alone, and if people try to help me they're more likely to get their heads bitten off than a thank you.

Owen, when under stress, yearns for care and compassion from those around him. Owen also has a passive thing going on, so instead of asking for what he wants he will sometimes try to elicit it by acting mopey.  You can see how it would be difficult for us during those times when we both feel stressed: the last thing I want to do when I'm stressed is be patient and caring for someone who's acting mopey as a ploy to get my attention.

In those moments when I am cranky and Owen is mopey we're not different from any other couple who is fighting. I don't think that we're more careful or sensitive to each other. But we can distinguish each others' flaws from our own. Owen knows not to take my crankiness personally. I know that I'm not at fault when Owen feels mopey.

2. We're careful not to place or take blame.

How can anyone accurately place blame when a million factors go into every scenario? No one can! Blame has no use, and only encourages grudges, resentment, and shame. It is our philosophy that life is difficult, that people have trials and make mistakes, and that it is okay.

This may sound like the opposite of typical relationship advice, but I feel that people should be careful of giving undue apologies. Owen often tells me that he is sorry for doing something that he couldn't help doing, couldn't know would hurt me, or occurred by accident. By apologizing he takes blame onto himself, which makes him feel ashamed, and when he is ashamed he withdraws from me. I propose that we should own our mistakes, and accept each others' without requiring apology.

Though I do want to be careful here. Note that I say people should be careful of giving "undue apologies," because there are certainly times when apologies are due. These are the times when we act selfishly leading to the other's harm. Yet even in these situations, placing any sort of enduring blame will destroy a relationship.

3. We're secure in the mutual understanding that we love each other and want to be together.

If you are spending time worried that your partner's responses to stress, be it crankiness, mopiness, or otherwise, indicate that he or she doesn't love you anymore, then one or both of you may have an insecure attachment style. Owen and I found this quiz helpful for understanding the sources of anxiety within our relationship: Attachment Styles.

People with an anxious attachment style may have past experiences that lead them to irrationally fear that their partners will leave them, though they actually have healthy romantic relationships. Awareness of your own attachment style may help you understand if you are someone who has this tendency.

When life gets stressful you need to have faith in each other's love. If you allow a mistaken fear that your partner doesn't love you seep into your life, you may ruin a good thing. On the other hand, be sure to make that effort to show your partners how much you love them, especially when life is stressful!

Sometimes Owen and I just pause and say, "You're awful and I love you." It diffuses frustration and reminds us of the importance of accepting each other. Stress is temporary, and if you can maintain the conviction to love each other even in the thick of it, you can retain the hope that the future will be easier.