Pursuit of Happiness

Source: http://worldaccordingtomaggie.com

I think a lot about male-female dynamics and roles in a marriage or partnership. My husband and I have what you might call a “traditional” set-up–he goes to work, I stay home and do the child-rearing. But truth be told, this is an economic decision. If I worked in a field where I made a lot of money, Henry would be the one to stay home. Alas, I am a teacher and he is a systems engineer, so he will always have more earning power than me. But with this reality comes a heavy burden on his part. There’s a lot of pressure to work hard to support a growing family, and sometimes that means taking jobs that don’t make you excited to go to work everyday.

I feel pretty strongly that it is not healthy to sacrifice for your family at the expense of your own happiness. An unhappy spouse and parent is toxic to the whole family. This doesn’t mean being selfish but it does mean that it’s okay to take your own needs into consideration. When I was pregnant with Alice, I was profoundly unhappy at my teaching job and Henry supported me when I left that job, even though I had many months left before the birth. I’ve always encouraged Henry to take trips and vacations without me, if that was something he wanted to do. One year, he went to Italy for a week to a friend’s wedding. It was too expensive for the four of us to go there together but I felt that he should be there at least, and so he went alone, with my blessing, and had an amazing time. Much better for him than staying home, and wishing he were in Italy, celebrating his long-time friends.

When Henry was laid off two years ago, he found a new job pretty quickly but that job turned out to be at odds with his own professional goals. He was offered an amazing opportunity to interview for what is basically his dream job. The catch? The job was in San Antonio. (If you missed it, we live in Connecticut.)

For a variety of reasons, I was not willing to relocate. I could tell that Henry was really excited about this job, so I urged him to ask about a remote position. Lo and behold, it turned out that the company was just beginning to open up remote positions. He did a whole mess of phone interviews, he flew down there for a face to face interview and killed them all with his intelligence, talent and passion. So, of course, he got a job offer. But there was yet another catch: the offer required him to be in Texas for a year. I definitely was not willing to uproot our lives and the kids just to move to Texas for a year. So, I told him to go–we’d wait for him here. He didn’t want to do it; he worried about leaving me here alone with the kids, he worried about missing us and being lonely but I told him he couldn’t go on being stuck in jobs that didn’t make him happy or excited. And he knew it, too. At this stage in his career, he deserved a job that would utilize his strengths and encourage his professional growth.

A lot of people think I’m nuts for encouraging him to go. But why is it nuts to want your husband to be happy, to take an opportunity to pursue something he deserves? A year is nothing in the grand scheme of things, and if it all pans out, the payoff will be huge for him, for us, for our family. When we get married, we don’t suddenly morph into a single person. I’m still very much the same person I was before we got married and had kids, with the same need for independence and solitude, and I take it upon myself to make sure those needs are met. In fact, we both do. We look out for each other. I think that is the key to our marriage–it isn’t perfect by any means but we work hard to understand each other, and support each other, with varying degrees of success.

So, we’re here, and he’s there. To get his emails describing his days at the company, all the things he’s excited about makes my heart swell, and tells me that this is worthwhile, this sacrifice that we’re making as a family was the right thing to do.

Family Mysteries.

My great-uncle Al was a packrat and a copious and mostly accurate notetaker. After his death, my mother uncovered boxes of photos and documents that Uncle Al kept all his life, along with a mystery! It seems that when my great-grandfather Naif emigrated to this country, he left behind a wife (and children?) in Lebanon. Naif, in the 50s, returned to Lebanon and there are photos of him there with the people he visited.

Are these people our family? Are they friends? We don’t know! It’s all a mystery. We also discovered, from looking through some papers, that our great-great grandmother was actually born in France. (A Lebanese friend explained that Lebanon was colonized by France at one point in history.)  I loved the part of the novel, Bittersweet, where the main character, May, is holed up in the attic, delving into old family documents, trying to make connections between all the details she uncovered because my sister and I try to do the same thing! Our story is hopefully not sordid, as the story of Winslows turns out to be. 

Naif and Sarah

I love looking through these artifacts with my mom and my sister, and trying to put the story together. We have quite a bit of research to do but we have a good beginning. My sister and I now live in the town where Naif and Sarah settled, and where my grandfather and great-uncle were born. Here’s a story we were interviewed for: http://helloreddingct.com/2014/04/09/sisters-return-redding-roots/

And just for kicks, here is a baby picture that reveals the origin of Micah’s crazy hair:

Baby Al
This post was inspired by Bittersweet, a novel by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore that exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider’s hunger to belong. Join From Left to Write on May 20 we discuss Bittersweet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.

The Stories

I have a strong recollection of my grandmother telling me that she was a fur coat model when she met my grandfather. She said my grandfather used to come into the shop and she wouldn’t give him the time of day.

I have no idea now if my memory is true. I don’t question whether my grandmother was confused or got the details wrong because she pretty much always had her faculties but I do wonder if I misremember our conversation because to everyone else, she was a shoe model!

Clearly, the moral here is to write everything down or get it on tape. My grandmother isn’t here to back me up and quite frankly, my word doesn’t count for much! I’m notorious in our family for either not remembering something at all, or for remembering it wrong. Throw in the inevitably of my not hearing something correctly and my credibility is shot when it comes to family stories. I pretty much never get the benefit of the doubt.

As infuriating and annoying as that is, I get it, I really do!

Whether or not this is you, it still pays to write the stories down and have a record. These stories, these little details are what makes each family special and give each family it’s place in history. Sometimes the stories are hard. The great-grandfather I was named after, he committed suicide. I wish I knew more about the circumstances but I never felt like I could ask my grandpa about it. I don’t even know how I know about it, and right now, I’m not even certain that someone won’t chime in to tell me that I’ve got all it wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 but when you’re a teenager, hindsight is not even a concept that exists. If I knew then what I know now and all that jazz!

My great uncle Al was a meticulous note taker. He was also a record keeper and a hoarder. Thanks to him, we know so much about my mother’s side of the family, enough to figure out a lot of the missing pieces through research. I was not as close to this side of the family growing up, so I love discovering fascinating details like my great grandmother being a caterer and the fact that my great grandfather left behind a whole other family (wife and kids!) in Lebanon when he came here. On the surface, these are details that are unique to our family but dig a little deeper and they become artifacts of history. My great grandmother’s catering business was key to surviving the Great Depression, and she was part of an era in which people did whatever they needed to do to make a living. It was also fortunate that the family lived in a factory town, with jobs available during wartime, and between wars as well. The family that my great grandfather left behind is a clue to the emigration patterns of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Emigration to the US, from certain regions, was also an escape from something–usually oppression or economic depression.

All our individual stories can be threaded together to form a “big picture” view of our collective American history in a way that complements and deepens our understanding what we learn in history class. Understand history to make sense of the present and create a vision for the future. 
All this to say, become a record keeper and story writer. Your future selves will thank you. 

Beyond Unitasking

The more I mull over this word I’ve chosen, the more I realize that it goes beyond just unitasking. Choosing to focus on something or someone also means that I’m choosing NOT to focus on something or someone.

I realized this today, home for our second snow day of the week.

The kids were outside, doing this: 

I wanted to be inside with this: 
 (and if I’m being totally honest, with my computer, too)
But instead, I decided to not focus on my wine and my computer. I went outside for this: 
and this: 
and this: 
Doesn’t it look like Olaf is hugging Alice? 

I have so many things that distract me from what’s going on around me, in and outside of my house. And really, a lot of these things can wait– responding to emails, leaving comments on blogs, checking Facebook, Googling, pinning, looking for a job. Even the wine can wait, sometimes. (I’m drinking it now!) So yeah, FOCUS is also about priorities, about focusing my attention on the things that matter, on the moments that I won’t get back again, like watching my three year old try to walk through snow that comes up to her knees and my 5 year old being buried in the snow by our neighbor.   How awful and mortifying would it be if the only thing my kids could remember about me is that I always had my nose in my phone or my ass on a chair, with my face in my computer?

No, I want them to remember me as the mom who joined them outside to help build a snowman (who are we kidding? I built the thing, they stuck sticks in it…).

That is meaningful, don’t you think?

Oh, and here’s the snow we got Monday and today. Between those two days, we ended up with a foot of snow. No filter on these photos. In today’s picture, it is snowing,  hence the haze, if you can’t tell…


These are weird, in-between days. Henry has been on vacation since last Monday, the kids are out of school, of course and I still have all my regular mommy and housewife things going on, but at a slower pace.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

1. Alice was inspired by my 2013 reflection to write her own list. 2. I started off my 2014 Amazing Life work by looking back on 2013 in pictures. 3. My mom is an audiologist, so of course, I got hearing aid batteries in my stocking. 4. My younger sister got all the kids this awesome assortment of winter sports equipment to share! 5. Henry and I have wanted to get the girls MagnaTiles for a long time. We made it happen this year! 5. On Christmas Eve, we watched Christmas in Connecticut with my mom. 6. This little guy is such a dream. 7. It took awhile but I wrote down 100 things I want to do in 2014! 8. Alice was one happy kid on Christmas morning, thanks to Grandma! 9. I was so happy to be able to see my little brother before he leaves us for 6 months to study in Spain. 

I went to bed on Christmas with a little tickle in my throat that I chalked up to too much wine aggravating my acid reflux, but woke up in the middle of the night feverish and my throat on fire. I lay there thinking, I’ve got strep–I’ve got strep–I’ve got strep on a constant loop, unable to sleep and looking at my clock every 5 minutes to see if I could get up and drive myself to urgent care. Morning finally came and I was still alive and oh my god, so uncomfortably SICK because now all my joints were aching and my back was killing me. I texted my mother (of course) and begged her to drive me to urgent care but I finally came around to accepting that going to a doctor would do nothing, so I stayed under the covers. My mother took the girls for the day, leaving Henry and Micah to tend to me. I can’t remember the last time I spent the whole day in bed. If I was going to get sick, I’m really glad I got sick when my mother was in town and Henry was off from work. Good timing there!
The problem with being so sick is that it feels like you’ll be sick forever and you can’t remember what it was like to not be sick and you don’t know when this sickness is going to be over and couldn’t it just be over already? Won’t I wake up the next morning and feel like a new person?


Each day has seen a gradual improvement but it is only today that I’m able to turn my neck–my lymph node was so swollen that I could barely look to my right or left. So, yay for that.

How about a closer look at that book pile?

From the bottom: 
1. This is a FL2W read that I still need to finish. It’s really good but I had to put it down to start another book. 2. I’m looking forward to reading this one. I received it as gift from The Fund for Women and Girls Fairfield County. 3. This is my current read for FL2W. I can’t wait to blog about this one. 4. I’ve been reading LoPate’s book on personal essays for awhile, a chapter at a time, working on my personal essay skills. 5. This is another FL2W read that I need to finish. I can’t wait for the Downton Abbey premiere! 6. I’ll be participating in a blog tour for this book, and it couldn’t come at a better time since Stella at three years of age is really knocking me for a loop! 
Speaking of books, I am woefully ashamed of my poor book reading record this year! According to GoodReads, I only read seven books this year. Can this be right? If it isn’t on GoodReads, does that it mean it didn’t happen? My memory is in such bad shape that I’m just going to have to take GoodReads at it’s word. I resolve, I do, I do, to read more than seven damn books in 2014. Jeez. 

And a happy new year to you, too!


Alice worked on this flip for a long time, taking quite a few spills in the process. I love how proud she is when she finally sticks it! 
As soon as I saw these pencils, I knew I needed to have them
This baby is 3 now. In a big way. It’s kind of kicking my tush at the moment but her spontaneous “I love yous” and kisses make up for it. 
My sister and I started a garden. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

Keeping It Real, In the Kitchen

As a follow-up to my last post, I thought I’d write about my less-than-Utopian kitchen. In a dream world, everything in my kitchen would be from a garden outside my door, or from farmers up the road. Alas, living in the Northeast means that I am limited in my selection during the cooler months. Plus, let’s be real. I am just too plain tired to cook everything from scratch, every single day. Everyone has a different threshold as far as the food they feed their families. The threshold is based on personal values, budget and taste.
Here’s my threshold:

  1. Personal Values: Whenever possible, I choose organic/locally grown/non-GMO food, fresh or not. These things do not always overlap. I am more likely to choose locally grown over organic but my choices vary from product to product. (Here’s why.) I also buy full-fat dairy products. (Again, here’s why: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/05/21/why-you-need-to-avoid-low-fat-milk-and-cheese.aspx). 
  2. Budget: I try to spend no more than $150 a week on groceries. This is slightly higher than the USDA’s low-cost plan estimate but lower than the moderate-cost plan estimate. I didn’t know this until I was compelled to compare our budget to some kind of national measure. You can see the whole chart here and find out how you measure up: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2008/CostofFoodFeb08.pdf via The Simple Dollar.  I keep our budget in check by as buying few convenience/processed products as possible, shopping sales, and making food from scratch. I also make a lot of choices based on how much I’m willing to spend on the organic version of a product. For example, organic apples don’t usually break the bank but organic berries can be expensive, so I go for the apples over the berries unless I really need the berries! Sometimes, I just go without if I can’t find the organic version or if it’s just too expensive. 
  3. Taste: In our family, we consume meat probably one to two times a week, or none at all some weeks, depending on how much money I’m trying to cut from the grocery budget. With red meat, I look for  organic whenever possible, and occasionally, I buy grass-fed beef but I find it harder to cook with. Same goes for chicken–I look for the  most natural option available to me, and usually end up buying Bell & Evans chicken, which I used to only find at Whole Foods but now can find at Stop and Shop. Bell & Evans isn’t organic but I approve of their practices, and I trust them more than I trust, say, the Stop and Shop organic line. I buy fish probably two times a month, and I look for wild-caught, sustainable fish. If there isn’t any, I just go without. 
So, what the heck do we eat? I plan a menu every week before I go grocery shopping. Here’s last week: 

In case you can’t read it, last week, I planned to make sweet potato tacos, a pot roast, omelets, and bean burritos. I ended up buying a pork roast because it was cheaper. I also didn’t make the bean burritos… I was out with the kids all day and we ended up eating out. This is a typical menu in the sense that it’s mostly made from scratch (not the french fries. :)), and it’s nothing too complicated. The menu varies a lot, based on the season, and what each family member requests on any given week. Alice, every once in awhile, will ask specifically for macaroni and cheese or Henry will request spaghetti and meatballs. We also usually have pasta at least once a week, but I didn’t make any last week.

As far as where I shop, in the winter months, I do all my shopping at Stop and Shop, other local groceries or Trader Joe’s. In the warmer months, I get as much produce as possible from local farms, farmer’s markets, and this year, hopefully,  from my own garden! I also buy milk and eggs from a local farm. I’ve been known to make my own yogurt and bread. I would like to make more from scratch but… I’m lazy. (Told you I was keeping it real…)
Probably the biggest expense and health challenge in my weekly shopping is snack-y stuff for the kids. We eat our fair share of Pirate Booty around here, along with crackers, and other carb-y/healthy junk stuff. I try to offset that with apples (and other in-season fruit), baby carrots, hummus, and homemade popcorn.

So, there it is. I’ve probably missed a few things here but this is the gist of how we do it around here. Share your version in the comments, or write your own blog post and link to it in a comment.

We Didn’t Get Any Snow.

A friend shared this great idea on Facebook: dropping colored vinegar into baking soda. Little mini volcanoes! 

We woke up in the morning to 16 inches. 

Camping out in front of the fireplace and wishing for the real thing. 

I put Alice to work sorting coins for rolling. 

Our cat took a step, and would’ve ventured past the threshold if I’d let him.

And there’s another storm predicted for Wednesday into Thursday. I’ll be more prepared this time around, food-wise. The past two days have been an exercise in pantry shopping… but it’s been nice having Henry home. I got some reading done (I’m currently reading The People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks.) I should’ve gotten some sewing done, as I have crayon rolls on order for Wake Robin, reopening in Croton in March (yay!), and some writing done, as I’m behind on my assignments for The Power of Writing but two kids with cabin fever are no match for two adults. And now one of those kids has a fever. Looks like we’ll be homebound a little while longer.