Friday, August 8, 2014

4 weeks in: an update

4 weeks ago, I sat at a table in a lawyer's office, making a blubbering fool of myself as I (unsuccessfully) tried to hold back the tears at giving up my "first baby."  (No, not Anna; other people have been confused by my silly reference to the house, too).  If it were any secret before, the whole process of leaving our house showed me just how much that old structure meant to me.  Thankfully, the leaving was much harder than the having left, so I haven't done nearly as much I-miss-home crying in the last few weeks as I expected (only once, I think, since the tearful hotel-room post I left you with way back when).

The last few weeks have been - perhaps surprisingly so - calm, happy, and joyful.  As we were discerning our move last fall, it basically felt like God had done all but put the flashing red arrow above this town and this job, and if it was evident then that this was where we were meant to be, that sense has only grown in actually being here.  There have been several such moments, but one memory stands clear in my mind: only hours after arriving, our large crew of unloading helpers (all who sought Justin out and offered to help) made up of other University families paused for a pizza dinner.  A large group of kids, adults, and hungry teens suddenly paused and offered a loud chorus of a prayer.  Something about that moment, about a community so willing to live its faith (in lifting up prayer, and in lifting a whole lot of heavy boxes for people they'd just met) gave me chills and made me think "this."  This is what we came for. 

And so for all who have been patiently waiting, asking, and praying about our transition, I offer the following updates.  I apologize for how long I've put this off from both pure busyness and also a loss for how to think about such big changes and what exactly to say.  This post is a mix of practical updates (look - pictures of where we're living!) and philosophical musings on the ideas of home and homemaking in a scenario when our traditional concept of "home" has been turned on its head.  As a reward for making it through this wordiness, I'll post some Anna at the zoo pictures later this weekend.  :)

(1) Living Arrangements

As most of you know, we have the opportunity to house-sit for another family who will be abroad for the coming academic year.  They will leave later in August, at which point we will move upstairs to their bedrooms.  For now, we're happily tucked away into the basement bedroom.  The basement is divided into two rooms, one of which has our bed, two extra twin beds, Anna's crib, two couches, and a half-bath.  The other, larger, room is a big playroom (Anna LOVES it) where I've set up my sewing machine table and a card table for a desk.  As much as I loved our house, I have to admit that in some ways, our basement accommodations are more comfortable, or I guess I should say more practical in letting us spread out and have space for different activities (rather than me spreading papers or crafts all over our old kitchen table, or Anna's play space being limited to the space where Justin was also trying to do some work).  I'd probably change my mind after months down here, but for now it's a pretty sweet arrangement.  Given that it's temporary, we haven't really set things up (Anna's entire wardrobe is on top of a dresser, our "linen closet" is folded piles on the extra bed, and we're still using our toiletries out of our travel bags), so I think all three of us are looking forward to having some more organization and permanent storage solutions once we move upstairs, but other than that I really have no complaints.

I may have neglected to mention that in addition to one twin bed being our "linen closet," one is also our dirty laundry pile.  That's what happens when your laundry boxes are all full of miscellaneous toiletries and cleaning supplies!

(2) Building up vs. tearing down

In one of my last posts before we left our house, I lamented the fact that the process of packing our house was antithetical to my life's vocation.  I take great pride in working to create a home for our family and visitors that is a lovely and comfortable place to be, and one that provides for their needs, whether that be clean clothes, good food, or a peaceful place to rest.  Putting everything (essentially, my tools for the job) into boxes was incredibly stressful because limited my ability to provide for any of these needs, and was a direct un-doing of what I generally focus on doing.  I've found that setting things up here (even a very primitive and temporary card-table desk/sewing area) has left me feeling much more positive than taking things down at the house.  Taking apart the house and packing created disorder, and restoring order, I've learned, is very important both for my own sanity and for the greater good of our household/family.

More crafting/work space than I had at home!
It still can use some work, but it's pretty well organized for the time being :)
(3) Possessions

I had an internal debate, you may remember, during packing about whether I was a minimalist or overly materialistic.  I worried about having placed too strong a value on mere things.  Now that everything is boxed, I find myself primarily in an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality where I don't feel particularly attached or in need of our things.  Granted, our essentials (clothing, toiletries, and even our own bed) have been unpacked and are in use.  Also, we're living in a fully-furnished home that is fully equipped and decorated for a family much larger than our own, so our needs are met.  However, I worried that I would miss our dinnerware (those of you who know Justin and I know the ridiculous saga about plates that preceded our marriage!*) or things like that.  It turns out that I've missed practical things, like less common but useful kitchen tools (my food processor, for one), in a utilitarian sense.  As long as we have plates - and a way for me to serve our family dinner - it hasn't seemed to matter what they look like.  Of course, once we set up our own home again I'll be happy to have the ones that I chose, but it's freeing to know that I'm not as overly attached to them as I feared I might be.  I think the practical appreciation of things for their usefulness (including their beauty) is the healthy approach to possessions, so I'm hopeful that I'm at least somewhat in line with that ideal.

My little sewing area is to the right of this picture (if you walked past the futon and turned right), and the door to our bedroom space is to the left.

(4) Vocation of motherhood & homemaking

If the move has confirmed one thing for me, it is that I truly do have a vocation to motherhood and homemaking.  I don't say this to preclude work that I have or will do outside of the home over the course of my lifetime, but I have reconfirmed the value that I find in making a home, providing for our family's basic needs, etc.  As I've mentioned before, it was so difficult to take things apart, but to rebuild and reestablish (even temporarily) here has felt so right.  The first night we arrived, I was loading the dishwasher and wiping up the kitchen counters here at our hosts' home, and they asked me why I was worrying about the work (given that this was after a long drive and unpacking the full U-Haul(s)).  I hadn't thought about it until asked, but the process of restoring order and of doing normal, everyday work was so comforting.  After weeks of emptying drawers, packing boxes, eating take-out meals, it made me happy to be able to put silverware in its drawer and dishes in their place.  I suspect this feeling will wear off and I'll find myself often in a messy kitchen without a sense of joy in the cleaning tasks at hand; but perhaps this lesson will remain quietly inside as a reminder of the value and joy in the daily work of one's vocation.

In retrospect, I guess it's not news that I like the whole housewife thing (throwback photo to making our first Valentine's Day fancy dinner in our not-so-fancy pre-renovation kitchen!)

(5) Loneliness and community

In Ithaca, I had a wonderful group of friends - many of whom were also stay-at-home moms with young families - and yet moving here has made me realize how terribly lonely I was.  Those friendships were wonderful, but we didn't see each other nearly often enough - in most cases, there was at least a 15 minute drive between us, and that sort of distance requires pre-planning for play dates, not a quick call over the backyard fence if you've run out of a cup of sugar.  Our street in Ithaca was busy with traffic (we lived next to a bank) but people scurried in and out with their deposit slips, probably not even knowing that Anna and I were home in the house next door.  It has been refreshing to work alongside with our host, making dinner with her, chatting about recipes, and hearing stories of their interesting past trips abroad.  I've found myself less drawn to blogs and an unhealthy amount of computer time because I don't need to seek an artificial community when I'm beginning to find one here.  We met another family and visited their recent yard sale, which stretched along the block of Catholic families.  Everyone was outside, their kids playing together, the moms chatting about the blenders they were trying to sell.  It felt to me like the neighborhood where I grew up, and one that I know I want to find to fight the loneliness that can otherwise plague the modern homemaking mom.  [See my post from November: Working Alone]

(6) Siblings

I know part of my loneliness in Ithaca was that it was just me and Anna.  Her vocabulary and communication has exploded recently, and it's becoming a lot more fun (and far less isolating) by the day to spend time with her.  Don't get me wrong, I've always loved to be with her, but I know I'm not the only one who realizes that 8 hours with someone non-verbal gets to be a little tiring.  Our hosts have 5 kids in the house (ranging from 4 to 18) and while the activity level is certainly more than I was used to in our quiet little Ithaca existence, it's a very positive and lively environment that has made both Justin and I excited for the years that are to come with Anna and Julia and (God-wiling) their future siblings.  I've enjoyed interacting with the kids in ways that Anna's not yet ready for - baking a cake together, answering questions, telling each other knock-knock jokes.  It has given me a glimpse into the future, a future that some veteran mom bloggers have talked about, a future that's not quite as difficult (or perhaps just difficult in different ways) as having only very little kids.  It's more fun to make a picnic for Anna AND her 4 and 7 year old "siblings" than to get everything out just to make one lunch, not to mention how nice it is that she can sit at the picnic table outside the kitchen door with them while I make the sandwiches.  I have no delusions that my hard days are over (in October I'll have a newborn and a 2 year old and a husband with a very busy new job), but I think I'll be buoyed in that time knowing that there are less overwhelming years (we hope) to come.

This picture doesn't adequately capture how much fun all three kids were having (Anna's in the wagon), nor how comfortable I was watching with my feet propped up on a lounge chair and being thankful for big kids who are happy to pull a wagon around...and around...and around.

I haven't even mentioned how great it's been for Anna to have playmates and companions.  All of the kids have been wonderful with her, and I'm sure their example (and constant "Anna, say....") has contributed greatly to her recent verbal developments.

(7) Missing the house & finding a new home

If there's one theme you've gathered from my writing over the last 6 months, it certainly would be about my emotional process of leaving our home.  In moving, I thought the rough days were still ahead, and I pictured myself lying awake in bed crying about wanting to go home.  Short of a few dreams, I haven't thought of it that much, unless I look at our recent pictures.  We were starting to outgrow that home in some ways and feel frustrated about some of the things about the layout, so we were honest with ourselves that we would have had to look for a new place even if we were staying in Ithaca.  I'll always love that house, always feel very attached to all of the work that we did to make it our home, but the thing I miss more than the house is the sense of home.  We are incredibly comfortable here and the hosts have been incredibly gracious (and incredibly fun) during our time together.  But despite all that, there is a sense of being in your own space where your things have a designated place and you have your family routines and your family pictures and decorations that hasn't entirely been fulfilled in staying in someone's basement.  Thankfully, that sense of home can be recreated, to a decent extent here over the next year, but eventually in our future home.  Justin and I are excited about searching for that home and have both memorized most of the new listings that have come on the local real estate website over the past few months.  We frequently drive through new areas, seeking out new neighborhoods and areas we want to target for our search.  We're both anxious for the time to come for us to be in that (hopefully "forever") house, but we are both very thankful for this year to assess our needs, get to know the area, and do a thorough search for the best future home.

(8) The future of the blog

I was asked recently if I'd continue blogging now that we've moved and the renovations are done.  I dare say that we found the former glory in our old house, and in that sense my mission has been complete.  However, if you've read my updated "About this blog" section, you'll see that my search has expanded beyond just renovating that house.  I'm looking for former glory in the ideals of home and family in our society that has begun to devalue both.  I'm seeking the former glory of a lifestyle/career choice that is no longer popular or particularly respected for a college-educated woman.  I've even begun to convince Justin of my crazy ideas that an old, tired house is far more fun to buy than a beautifully renovated "turn-key" one, so we'll hopefully have plenty more renovation projects to share as well.  We'll still be searching for former glory, and I hope you'll still be following along as I document the journey on all of those fronts...

*Side note for anyone who knows the "dishes" back story, my editor Justin would like me to share that this family happens to have some of the exact Corelleware dishes that he had in his bachelor apartment.  And I'm enjoying using them.


  1. As I'm packing up our things I'm finding it hard as well. Even though I know I'm packing so we can set up a more permanent home, it's so hard to take down the pictures and curtains and things I put up to make this little place more homey. So I hear you on that one. It's so hard and so against what my "job" is every day.

    Your new living situation sounds lovely :-) I can't wait to see more pictures!

    Also, I'm glad you're continuing your blog, I really enjoy reading your posts :-)

  2. Oh man, you're going to miss those big kids once they're gone! The living situation sounds awesome though - I'm glad you have somewhere nice to stay while you wait to find the perfect house :)

  3. It seems that you have come to a crossroads, straddling between impermanence and having a home to call your own. I’m sure there's a home waiting for you out there, with a reasonable price and all. Anyway, best of luck with the search! For now, you can make the most out of your current arrangements, and work on achieving your desired goals. Good luck!

    Benny Daniel @ Finlay Brewer