La Famille

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My cup …

Sandra Bullock as Sally Owens in Practical Magic. Wearing glasses and contemplating a spell

My status as a fan of Sandra Bullock movies shouldn’t surpise anyone at this point. For me, and I am pretty sure for many Gen X women, Bullock embodies the “woman facing hardship gets her happy ending” trope. Yes. She has done more, and better, but there is a magic, charm, and relatability to Bullock that make Practical Magic, Hope Floats, 28 Days, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, and even Miss Congeniality go to comfort movies for so many of us.

Sandra Bullock from Practical Magic. Wearing Glasses, concentrating on a spell

Sure, I may have watched my share of Hallmark movies, but when I really want to dream about love, I watch Practical Magic. Dreaming about Sally Owens conjuring a man she thought couldn’t exist and magic bringing him to her at just the point when she needed him, makes it feel possible that the the man I think doesn’t exist is out there and will show up at just the right time.

Practical Magic may be the movie I watch when I need something to make me believe in love again. Hope Floats is the movie I watch when I need to remind myself that the world will right itself, and that regardless of where I am from or what has happened to me, life will right itself. I will get through. Life is long; rise up, as my tattoo reminds me.

Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats.  Just moved home, moving boxes cluttering her childhood bedroom, she looks overwhelmed and sad.

Birdie Calvert/Pruitt’s life spectacularly crashes, burns and she must return home to recover and rebuild herself. So much happens here it is a feel good movies for nearly every situation, as long as you like your inspiration to come while tears well in your eyes. For me, the hope in this movie, the message that floats above all the others isn’t about the patient and deep love waiting for Birdie when she is ready. The hope is in the way her relationship with her mother changes over time.

Ramona Calvert tries to teach her daughter is one of gratitude. At the beginning of the movie, worn down by her experiences, all Birdie can see is the way life has let her down. In contrast, Ramona embraces the joy in her life, and her most repeated line – and the lessson to Birdie – is that “Her cup runneth over,” meaning her life is full of blessings, even in hardship.

I have my moments, and I swear every time I face unpacking from a move, a part of me feels like Birdie Pruitt moving home. In the last six years, I’ve moved across the country, divorced, moved back, accepted a new job with a formidable learning curve, moved again, and find myself in a completely new region. In that time, I have also learned who I am, how to love myself, and how to accept what I deserve.

Each day, as I walk Moshe around the neighborhood, as I pass through the gates and drive into work watching the sunrise over the Potomac, my heart fills and all I can think about is how my cup runneth over. As much as I am grateful and love my life, I still long.

I don’t often talk about this, but I am still searching for a partner. Contemporary dating is a very unique and special kind of soul crushing endeavor. On one hand the options are seemingly endless (just keep swiping); yet, on the other, every swipe leaves you feeling more an more alone. For the last two years, the first item on in the Must Have portion of my Conditions list has been Love. Last year, amongst all the dating, I fell deeply in love with myself for the first time. I have no idea how this year will turn out yet. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can tell you I do not feel very hopeful about romantic love. Yet … my cup still runneth over.

a line of inspirational cards propped on a window sill

In all honesty, my life is full of love. Girlfriends from high school to those I made in moving here, have called, sent me cards, or gifts. Each gesture reminds me of just how much love I already have in my life. These women see me. They know my best, worst, and just how far I have come. They teach me how to celebrate myself; and, by showing me their love, they teach me what to expect from someone who claims to love me.

I may not have found my Aidan Quinn or Harry Connick Jr. just yet; until I do, I will hold on to the way my girlfriends make me feel. Because, for each card here, there are at least 2 – 3 more who have show their love in other ways. I carry this with me always. My cup runneth over; and, my girlfriends set the bar for how to love me.

Homesick? Friend-sick

When I was 9, my dad built a trailer to pull behind our red Malibu classic station wagon. We crammed it and the car full, leaving just enough space for my little brother’s car seat to sit in the middle of the back seat and me next to him.  I don’t remember much about that move, because I slept through much of it.  My strongest memory of that trip is the afternoon stop for coffee. Wherever we were I would always order the cherry pie. The end result of that trip was our eventual move to Aberdeen, Wa.

For the next thirteen years, if anyone asked me where I was from my first answer was always Minnesota.  My logic was that I was born there, and all my extended family was there: my aunts and uncles, older and younger cousins. When I met my cousin for lunch the other day, she reminded me of something else.  Apparently, I also used to constantly talk about moving back to Minnesota.  Someday I would live here again. Though I don’t remember talking about this in particular, I don’t doubt it is true. Well, after thirty-two years, I have apparently gotten my wish.


As with most wishes this is good and bad.

Now that I am ostensibly “home.” I feel less at home, and more homesick, than I have in a long time.  The gift of not having strong ties to particular physical space is that I can general make any place I am feel like home. The problem with this is that my definitions of home are often tied to particular groups of people.

So, while I don’t miss the job, the humidity, the struggles I faced, the decrepit house we lived in, I do miss my Southern friends, my Southern family.  Though many of my grad school friends have moved on to their careers other places, the most important were just an hours drive away. My work friends, who I never saw enough of, the most important of whom I could have worked with again this year.  My Durham friends, who I saw even less of, but who had just moved less than a mile away.  Though not ideal in so many ways, my Durham life had just coalesced in important ways; yet, between May and July I blew it apart.

Certainly missing my friends isn’t the only thing making me feel less than at home in my new location, but it is probably the most obvious and least complicated.


Compass Points

As I mentioned last week turning 40 might have been affecting my brain a little. Nothing too terrible, but some general malaise and discontent with where I am in life, you know. Nothing terrible, actually I think it is in someway just another thing they don’t prepare you for in graduate school. How, even if you get a job, it can take so long to get your life on track. For the last few months, however, I have been a little more willing to take risks and make changes, which was clearly illustrated in my last hair cut. In about an hour I went from this:

to this:

Keep in mind my hair hasn’t been shorter than my chin since 5th grade, when I tried an ill advised Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. The other thing to understand about this hair choice is that, for me, it was an incredibly fast decision. Normally, making a decision about my hair takes months. I took about a week to decide to go for this cut.

Which leads me to the next part of whatever mid-life crisis I’ve been having. For many people, the DH include and you dear readers, this one masquerades as a quick decision, because once I started talking about it I got it done. Last week was probably the first time I talked about getting a tattoo, but actually I have been thinking about this for a couple of years now. I have had the basic idea and image on my iPad for over a year. In fact when I went to the IWCA conference in San Diego last fall, I got a henna tattoo of the same general design in the same location to test it out.

After graduation I was very tempted to act on this decision, but life just kept getting in the way. With my birthday approaching, this really just felt like the right time. A way to commemorate, not one but two milestones — finishing the PhD and turning 40.

So, I began yesterday with an arm that looked like this.


And after waiting two hours at the tattoo shop, which was interesting to say the least, my arm looked like this:


The most descriptive thing I can think to say about the tattoo shop is that it was a decidedly masculine environment. I’m pretty sure your imagination can take it from there. In the end though, the wait wasn’t that bad, and I am happy to say that I tolerated my tattoo experience better than the young kid in front of me. The most disturbing thing to me was the 20-25 year old kid working the front counter that kept calling me sweetie. As much as I might not be in love with being called “Ma’am” most of the time these days, the sweetie from a much younger man is definitely not preferable.

And this morning after the swelling went down some, my arm looks like this:


Many people have already asked what the alternate letters mean. The thing is, I chose those letters in part because they can stand for any number of things. There are so many people in my life who’s name start with, or contain B’s that it seemed a natural element for the North point of my compass. At this point in my life however, it also serves to remind me of the importance of being my own North, my own guiding point on the compass.

For me, there was never any other choice but to put an H in the NW spot, because the more and longer I live elsewhere, the more deeply I know that the Pacific Northwest is my home. The DH spent some time this week probing and questioning me about my letter choices, which I was a little grumpy about at the time. In the long run, however, it was nice because it made me consider all the other “H” words that inform both my work and myself: hospitality, host, hostess, hope, etc.

Part of the DH’s probing about the letters I would choose has to do with a distinctly Grabow quirk, which is that the family seems to have a genetic need/desire for symmetry. The Captain and my sister-in-law couldn’t even look at a house down the street as they passed it without being annoyed that a decorative window in the garage was not appropriately centered under the peak of the roof. When I showed the DH the compass I wanted to use for my tattoo he was concerned that if I replaced NW with just an H, then the other NE, SE, and SW would look unbalance because they had two letters instead of just one. Yep, these are the things the DH thinks about.

In the end though, it at least got me thinking about the other points of the compass. The only other point that I would want to replace with a letter is the SE, but I couldn’t think of a letter for that — S for stroke didn’t really make much sense and would just be confusing. G for graduate school, ummm … given my current feelings about it, the less said/thought about graduate school the better. I really didn’t want it carried around on my skin forever. PhD feels the same way — plus it would put me in the same letter symmetry quandry. The other night it came to me – V. V could stand for so many things; something cheesy like Victory for my recovery from the stroke and graduation from graduate school, something a little sardonic like the vissitude and vagaries of fate, or a word I had forgotten how much I love — verisimilitude.

Versimilitude, to me captures my current relationship with the SE. It is like home in that I have developed friends and family here both in graduate school, and in my current position, but it is not really home in the way that the Northwest is. So, V it is because it does mean everything I’ve just said, and is also undetermined enough to allow for change over time.

At at the tattoo shop last night I also solved the problem of letter symmetry by having them just leave out the NE and SW points of the compass, which I think was the best choice because it kept the tattoo relatively clean and simple. And who knows where I will end up next. Maybe I will have letters to add in the future. As Ouiser said when I texted her the pictures, “It’s all about direction, isn’t it.” It is, it is about remembering where you’ve been to guide you to the path to follow.

Vacation Vagaries

The beginning of any vacation is a wonderful thing.  The expanse of days stretch out before you full of endless possibilities.  About half way through the vacation, you might as well go back to work.  The knowledge that the vacation is almost over sinks in, and you begin to realize you haven’t done half of what you expected to do. This would explain why I haven’t been able to sleep for the last two nights.

Although I’m happy that I have done something every day, and gotten some work done, on some level I wanted to do more, and now I am freaking out.  Paradoxically, that is also why I am writing here instead of the the dissertation file.  In a little while the DH and I are taking in our last vacation event – a 3D showing of Prometheus.  You will not, however, be getting a review from me because when we get home I will pop a xanax, open the dissertation document, and stare at it for the next 10 hours.

For the first glorious portion of our vacation the DH and I packed up the car, grabbed the dogs, and headed to the north Georgia mountains where we had rented a cabin.  I loved it!  We didn’t really do half the things we could have because I was writing and stuff, but we were away from home.  Also, I don’t think either of us would mind going back to do some hiking.  Below the fold is the best picture from our trip.

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Bonne Anniversaire Ma Meilleure Amie

As far as cruelty goes April has nothing on January.  Back in the day when I was a teaching assistant January wasn’t so bad.  You could always count on student loans to get you through the drought between December 20th and January 31st.  Now that I just work for a university, and there are no loans to be had as I try to stretch a check that barely makes it 4 weeks into something that will last 6.  I can’t think of an adjective to describe how poor we are – skint seems to come the closest.

As you can imagine anyone in my life with a January birthday pretty much gets the shaft.  Sorry folks.  Couple that with the fact that January is a busy, busy month for me at work, and everyone is pretty lucky just to get a text on the day.  Oddly enough before grad school January was just a prep month for me.  A respite between holiday shopping and the horror of February’s birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.  Seriously, in February it’s easier for me to count the days that don’t involve celebrating.

The assault on January began with Poppa G, my brother-in-law.  One birthday in the whole month.  It wasn’t bad.  Then my sister-in-law got married, whoops there’s another one.  My brother got married, and suddenly the month is getting down right crowded.  Suddenly, the poorest month of the year is also the one rivaling February for gifting obligations.

There is, however, really only one birthday in January that matters enough to make me regret my inability to lavish my friends with tokens of my love – January 21st is the day to celebrate ma fille, the Ouiser to my Claree, the Cajun Princess.

Born on the opposite ends of the Mississippi – literally, yet I can honestly say her people are my people, and if I could ever get her north of the Mason-Dixon I know she’d feel just as at home in Frostbite Falls.  It is strange and remarkable to think that I’ve only known her seven years; and, can in fact, remember seeing her for the first time at orientation, sitting in that stifling hot room looking around trying to figure out who to hang with.  As in most social situations by break time I ended up outside with the smokers, and I’m pretty sure that from their our fates were sealed, not by ease of conversation, but by easy silence.  It’s unbelievably difficult to find someone you can just sit with.

It is even more difficult to find someone willing to find your husbands car, visit you in the hospital every day, learn to be your “gentleman caller” as you go up and down stairs.  There is no way I would have made it through the last three years without her.  There are not enough words in English or French to describe how our lives have become entwined, or how much it blows that I can’t throw her a costume partyor bake her a bleeding armadillo groom’s cake.

Since we are stuck in separate cities today, and I suck at actually putting cards in the mail, I thought the least I could do was publicly declare my undying love and devotion for a woman who has been a sister to me.

Bénédictions et la joie de vous aujourd’hui et toujours.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s always hard for me to talk about all the things I’m thankful for; I’m never really able to get it right, so it all sounds a little over-done, and trite, to me.  This is year is going to be no exception to that rule.  What I mean and what I feel won’t really be captured, but I think there is a value in trying anyway.

Even in the minimal amount of time I’ve put into creating this space, I’m pretty sure it’s been obvious that this has been yet another in a series of remarkably trying years.  Oddly enough, what I am most thankful this year has been the struggle this year has been.  If only because it meant making a decision and getting out of the stasis we were in, I am so glad we moved.  All that had happened afterward, the house, the yard, the DH’s struggle to find a job, has sucked; it’s broken me down further than I thought possible, yet at the same time it feels like forward movement.  I guess I’m just a glass half-full kind of person because I feel like that’s something.

For a long time it felt like we were stuck, and we just kept getting hammered by stuff.  We are still getting hammered, but at least the scenery has changed a little — and, I feel like moving targets are a little harder to hit.  That is, however, probably just my nomadic genes talking, and I am really not trying to tempt fate.

Anyway there have been fruits to this struggle, it almost did the DH and I in, but I think we’ve finally learned from it all, and started relying on each other a little more, and in healthier ways. So, here’s to the struggle.


Last night as we sat on the couch talking about everything and nothing, the DH turned to me and asked, “If we ever have kids, would you want a girl or a boy?”

Let’s face it the chances of the DH and I ever having kids are slim, and slimmer.  We’ve always adopted an, “If it happens it happens” approach to the whole situation that seems to have worked out for us.  (More about how much that freaks people out another time.)

It’s not the first time we’ve pondered the question, but last night the DH asked it just after I had him read, “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit.  It also came right after the bus ride I’d spent reading the #mencallmethings thread on Twitter; and, the whole “Occupy a Vagina” thing on Facebook.

Since my senior year of high school, I’ve identified myself as a feminist.  I’m not naive when it comes to what women face in this culture.  Yet, at any other point in time I’d have answered, “I’d want a girl” without really thinking about it.  Last night, however, I paused.  Being a woman has never felt harder.  Sure, my life is not exactly smooth sailing right now, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  How women are represented in the media, and how they are treated when they speak out online or in real life. How hard this world has become to navigate if you are in any way different.  Forget, do you want a boy or a girl?  I don’t know how I’d raise a child in this environment. The whole world feels hostile.