Archive for August, 2006

Heads Above Water

Phase two of The Plan is underway: we’re both in full-time, reasonably paying temp jobs, and starting Friday, both of them will be during daytime hours.  For the last five days we’ve been passing each other in the night and communicating via a family notebook.  The only major mishap was a missed puppy feeding (they survived).  But we’re glad it’s ending when Attic Man starts his more pleasant office position.  He’s a little tired of shuffling envelopes from one place to another.  Now that I think of it, though, office work is nothing more than shuffling stacks of paper from one place to another.  At least now he’ll get to sit while he does it and there may even be a water cooler.

The first few days of my temp job were a bit rough, given that I’m much more accustomed to lounging on the couch convincing myself that the baby wants bon-bons. But today I discovered the secret to surviving the file room at Big Investment Company: manipulate the environment to your advantage.  First, I took over a big project and figured out how to organize it into steps.  Then, when two new temps arrived, I grabbed the most pleasant one and asked if she’d like to help me with it.  Third, I asked if we could have the desk at the back of the file room, and made sure that the only place it could possibly go was away from the less pleasant and/or gossipy temps and the annoying morning radio show they like.  Mission accomplished.  Pleasant Temp and I have plenty to talk about: she’s pregnant with her first and due two days before me; she was an English major in college; we both bake.  Mostly she’s just easy-going and is way better at the detail stuff than I am.  So when I ask her a detail question about the system I came up with (and she helped refine) she doesn’t look at me like I’m hopelessly incompetent.  She just answers the question and we discuss how bananas keep the charlie horses away.

I’m anxiously awaiting Phase Two, in which Attic Man lands a real job and I return to dissertation work.  In the meantime, we like having an income.  The first few weeks here were really hard and I’m glad to getting paychecks.  It’s coming together, just a lot more slowly than I would have liked.

Also, if you’ve written me an email lately and you haven’t heard back, it may be that I wrote you a very long, eloquent, heartfelt response that I could never produce again and that I lost my internet connection in transit.  So, if you’re A, I mainly said “whew!” about your thing and “hang in there, it’s going to be alright” about that other thing and told you we are doing alright and that I just finished reading another novel.

The other thing I’m enjoying here that I just thought of are the kids next door.  We have a blended family with four kids under 6 next door and they are too cute.  They love the dogs and the dogs love them.  They come in all their platinum blondeness (what IS it with all the blondes here?) to talk to the puppies through the fence.  I suspect they also come for my cookies.  Whatever the case, it’s nice having reasonably pleasant children instead of budding criminals for neighbors.  The other day we noticed a group of boys overturning wooden parking barriers and thought, “oh great, here come the hoodlums.”  Then we noticed their buckets and the careful way they were bending down to peer at the space they had uncovered, and realized they were collecting bait for fishing.

We’re becoming Iowans.


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The Cleft of the Rock

Tonight my father called, just as I had finished mopping and was settling down with my latest pleasure read, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. He had an offer for me. He’d expected a bonus at work, but when he got the check it was much larger than he had anticipated. If I want to start playing my violin again, he wants to pay for it to be serviced, if it is within his capabilities. He said he remembered the story of when his dear friends moved to Iowa from Rhode Island years ago for the husband to attend medical school. The wife, who was an opera singer (and quite good; she taught me how to sing in my first church choir) was alone on the prairie with a new baby, no friends, and no money. She didn’t sing in public for an entire year. If you knew this woman or if you sing to live yourself you’ll know how painful this must have been for her. And indeed being without music—making it, the way I used to–is painful in ways I can’t describe.

His call was just what I needed. I’ve never blogged about this before, and I certainly haven’t talked about it with many people. It’s not just that it’s incredibly sensitive and private, but because I don’t understand it well enough to articulate it coherently. What I know is that until an hour ago I hadn’t played for well over two years, and not seriously in seven or so. I can hardly speak of why it happened, but sometime during college I started having major emotional episodes when I played. I would reach a difficult passage, and instead of just steadily working through it, gradually speeding up, adjusting my left or right hand, playing a few scales, or whatnot, I’d dissolve into despair. I can’t think of how else to describe it. I’d get absolutely blocked and inconsolable.

I have my theories: I have never been able to honor my love for depth and tone and musicality with the kind of technical proficiency it longs for and deserves (can love long, or just a person who loves?) and somewhere along the line it started to paralyze me. It may have something to do with the darker side of ADD, the part that stifles the very creativity it engenders. I don’t know.

So tonight, bolstered by my father’s offer and being in a very strong place emotionally, I got the violin out. I was terrified that the sound post would be fallen, the strings snapped, the bow hopelessly warped. But it was fine, more than fine. I will take it to a shop to make sure everything’s adjusted well, and I will have to get new strings and have the bow restrung, but it’s not the disaster I feared.

I started playing from the best place I know: I pulled out my old red hymnal. I am out of rosin so I was scratchy, and my pre-arthritic wrists and fingers protested even the tuning. But I remembered everything. And it was OK.

And all of the sudden I was playing a hymn that sent shivers down my spine. And then all of the sudden I was singing it, from the very bottom of me, to someone I know who is dying, someone who grew up with Baptist hymns.

He hideth my soul
in the cleft of the rock
that shadows a dry, thirsty land
He hideth my life
in the depths of His love
and covers me there with His hand
and covers me there with His hand

I don’t understand tonight or what happened or what portals opened but something in me has healed, or is beginning to heal.

and covers me there with His hand

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Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you don’t already have three months’ living expenses in a savings account, start saving now (if you’re not just doing food and utilities, that is). Seriously—the old wisdom is good. Even if you don’t think you’ll be moving or changing jobs, things happen. Try to shave a little off your grocery bill. Forgo evening movies for matinees. Ask yourself if you really need cable. Then, when you’re in my position, you’ll not be doing just food and utilities.

We are kind of low at the moment, financially and emotionally. But there are new and interesting joys. Learning to shop frugally has been fun, actually, and I don’t think I’d go back to our old wasteful grocery store habits if we became millionaires tommorrow. We just used to waste so, so much—now we’re eating healthier, if possible, with half the money we used to. It feels good. We’re watching less TV (no cable), surfing less (no reliable internet), and reading more. We’re taking walks and baking. We’re visiting Iowa’s gorgeous state parks. We’re throwing tennis balls in the yard to the dogs, much to their delight. If I could feel confident that the ends would meet sufficiently at the end of the month, I’d be happier than I have been in a long time.

For lowering the grocery bill, try:

-dried beans instead of canned

-forego croutons and substitute more nutritious nuts for salads

-make your own salad dressing—it’s way too easy to be legal in a capitalist economy

-forget snack food—bake!—don’t worry if you don’t know how—get a cookbook and follow directions

-make your own pasta sauce—again, very easy—sautee onions and garlic, add can of chopped tomatoes and all the herbs you love and simmer–you can still have dinner on the table in 1/2 hour or less

more when I think of them…

The Snapper’s doing a little well-fed dance. He likes lentils and peas!

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This is the phrase my brother and his wife wrote on the outside of the package they gave my parents this weekend.

The gift was a framed picture of their baby’s little peanut ultrasound.


That’s THREE nephews/possible neices in one year, not to mention the second grandchild for my parents in one year, and a cousin who will essentially be the Snapper’s exact age (three months apart).

I am overjoyed for my brother and his wife.  They live just 2 1/2 hours away now, so this should be fun.


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I mentioned in an earlier post that CR seemed more diverse, at least from a spreading-out-and-mixing standpoint, than Pgh.  I also said that I’d have to wait to live here for a while to see how it all shakes out in reality, and I am starting already to get a feel for things.  First of all, there is indeed less ghettoization here; I regularly see white kids and kids of color riding their bikes together, and most of the neighborhoods I’ve been in are diverse from house to house.  But then over Saturday dinner with our new friends I got a more complex picture.  Sure, they said, you’re right about the mixing–but there are also very few, if any, people of color in positions of power.  That I can see myself already.  At St. Benedict, our church in Pgh, there were black lawyers, accountants, teachers, PhDs, warehouse workers, street people, etc.  My OB (she’s AWESOME–email me if you’re in Pgh and want a referral) was black and so was the partner in her practice.  Several professors in my department are people of color.  Certainly not a majority or even close to it, of course, but there were a lot of different ways to be a person of color from a class point of view.  The other thing that our friends have struggled with in making choices for their (white) kids in at attempt to create a diverse envionment for them is that so often the examples of ways to be black are negative.  Their first-grader recently said to her mother, “Mommy, why are you always telling brown people what to do?” which, of course, sent chills through this woman’s spine.  She thought about it and realized that when she spoke to kids on the playground about watching their language and such the kids were often of color.  So her daughter is growing up in a world in which white people are in charge and black people are unruly.

I don’t know how we’ll help the Snapper navigate these issues and even less about how we’ll help his siblings of color, but getting the lay of the land has been interesting.


Update: Attic Man has a sucky temp job at a bill-printing place and I am busy registering with temp agencies for office work.  In the meantime we’re eating out of the More with Less Cookbook and going without a couch, internet, cable, or a lawnmower.  We did splurge on a vacuum cleaner, which is more than essential with the two shedding beasts (who, I can happily report, are still insanely overjoyed at thier new big yard).  I am able to get intermittent internet connection on the wireless network at the public library, and because I am on our own laptop I can be on more than an hour.  At the moment I am typing more because I have to wait to get a connection to submit.

Being on Medicaid has been interesting–I called for a doctor’s appointment today and it turns out that the practice wants me to see a social worker first.  To make sure I’m not on meth?  I dunno.  I just want my regular four-week visit to listen and make sure everything’s on track.  Whatever.

Attic Man doesn’t qualify for a blessed thing medically, which is a crime.  Pregnant women are well served by the welfare system.  Everyone else gets a big “bite me.”

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51 Minutes

Alright!  I have just under an hour to catch up with all of you.  I’m at the beautiful downtown Cedar Rapids library (no joke–it is gorgeous, like most facilities in downtown CR–everything is big, clean, beautiful, and most offices I have visited are way more technologically with it than those in Pgh).

What to tell?  We’re in but not totally settled.  There’s still the mattress to get up the stairs and the books to put on shelves that are not yet assembled.  I hope that in the next week we can get the house in general working order.  We also need to find a way to acquire a couch, vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, dehumidifier, and portable dishwasher.  But we’ll get there.

We already have a dinner invitation for Saturday.  I met an incredible woman simply by making a phone call to Iowa for information on Iowa adoption laws.  She has a crunchy-sounding husband and two great-sounding kids.  I’m really looking forward to meeting them.  And dude!  Unless they’re total losers, which is not likely, the loneliness thing I most feared will not come to pass.

What’s good: our house is much, much smaller than the last one, but it’s laid out so much more sensibly.  There’s tons of storage and it’s generally nicely organized.  So even though it has been a challenge to find places for everything, it’s working out.  Also, the yard is huge.  It’s literally five times the size of our concrete enclosure in Pgh and has GRASS.  The dogs are absolutely in heaven.  Their anxiousness about the move dissapated in a matter of minutes when they discovered that they had a yard of their Very Own to sniff and run and pee and frolick in.  The dead rabbits were an extra bonus.  Really, though, it’s amazing how the happiness of your own animals affects your quality of life.  When I see Lenny wild-eyed with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, and it’s not because he’s in trouble, it makes my heart swell.

Another interesting/good fact about CR: I’m seeing tons of multiracial families in my travels, and some that I am assuming are that way through adoption.  This is a very good sign.

OK, so it smells like wet, hot cereal and ethanol.  But it’s a pretty nice place all around.

Attic Man and I have both registered with a temp agency and he will probably start something next week.  I got on Medicaid so the baby and I will be covered (whew!).  My computer is not working.  It is cooler now.

I’m going to stop now and read your blogs before I become even less coherent.

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