Mrs. Fix-It.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This just looks like a regular old door knob, right? A month ago, the door knob was jammed and wouldn't turn, preventing access to the garage. Unable to fix it,  I ended up channeling all my frustration into banging the heck out of it with any tool I could grab. The end result was that we were left with a convenient portal through which bugs could travel into the house. No bueno. 
Henry was home for a little while but I never got around to nagging him to fix it, and so the bug portal remained. 

Before I met Henry, I was an independent city girl living the city life. I did almost everything on my own. I moved furniture, I plunged toilets, I fixed broken things (one time, I replaced a ballc*ck. Heh heh.) Then I acquired a man and promptly outsourced all such fix-it tasks to him, because why not? Being taller and stronger, and more attuned to problem-solving than I was, I was more than happy to relinquish handyman tasks to him. 

But a funny thing happens when you do that. You start to lose confidence. You forget that you're perfectly capable of fixing stuff. You get lazy. But with Henry gone for months at a time, things either get fixed or they don't. Two lightbulbs blew out and stayed that way for weeks. The bug portal remained open. 

The thing was either going to get fixed or not. I was tired of looking at the gaping hole in the door and tired of the bug parade. Off to the hardware store to get a new door knob, and reclaim my independence. (My niece: Daddy can do it for you. Me: Or I can do it. Humph.)  

Fifteen minutes and the deed was done. High on that accomplishment, I went ahead and replaced two light bulbs, one of which required a ladder, so GO ME. 

{Review}: Living With Intent by Mallika Chopra

Thursday, June 4, 2015

So, that last post was really supposed to be a book review. When I started writing, I realized that before I could write the review, I needed to give some background and then it morphed into a post in and of itself.

I'm here, parenting alone with the kids (with help from my sister and my mom!). Being the sole parent 24/7 is pretty stressful and the first week Henry was gone, I did okay for a few days but by the end of the week, my nerves were frazzled, and my fuse was short. I was in the middle of reading Living with Intent by Mallika Chopra during this time.

Inspired by the book, I decided I needed to set an intent to be more patient, both with the kids and with myself, especially as we get used to this new set-up. I wrote it down in my journal: "Intent: Be More Patient" and I've been trying to internalize it. Part of being more patient means letting go a little bit. And I have. Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. Alice said to me the other day, "Since Daddy left, you say yes a lot more." Ha ha? or Mmh....?

Living With Intent is the kind of book that you need to read more than once. The first time, you kind of get the lay of the land. The second time, you start to stuff into motion. What I really appreciated about this book is that Chopra acknowledges that there is a lot of one step forward, two steps back and that though we might try to take action, we might not be ready for it and so we fail, and fail again, and berate ourselves, and feel badly. It's all part of the process and we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves.

And what is the process? Chopra devotes a chapter to each step: Incubate, Notice, Trust, Express, Nurture and Take Action, but the process is reiterative, not linear and some steps take longer than others. Throughout the book, Chopra illustrates the process with stories and observations from her own life, and each chapter ends with an exercise designed to help you practice the chapter's focus. At the back of the book, you'll find a section for recording your daily intents, a mind map, and a balance wheel to make the ideas in the book more concrete and to guide towards purposeful practice.

This is a book that I will keep on my shelf and return to, time and time again. Highly recommended for anyone feeling a little lost and looking for some direction.

{This post contains affiliate links. I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books.}

Pursuit of Happiness

Saturday, May 23, 2015


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.

You've Got Mail!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Communication is so easy and immediate these days. Texting, tweeting, facebooking. Who needs a landline anymore, or regular old snail mail? Even email seems quaint!

When my husband left for Texas, he suggested that we email each other back and forth, in addition to texting. It made sense-- we could share so much more in an email--things that weren't urgent or on the fly. One of my favorite things about e-mailing is that I find it easier to express myself in writing, to say the things that I find it hard to say out loud.

What I didn't expect was that waiting for an e-mail from him would be like waiting for a letter to show up in my mailbox! We are both so busy, and a long e-mail full of updates and the little things we share with each other means that we have to find time to sit and write the e-mail.  I find myself waiting in anticipation for a e-mail response from him. It's kind of like the early days of our relationship, when I couldn't wait to see him again and felt giddy at the prospect of it.

It's the same feeling I used to get as a kid when I had a pen pal, never knowing when the letter would show up, and wondering what the letter would say. To this day, I love checking the mailbox and wondering what surprises it might hold for me. Of course, as a grown-up, I'm more likely to find bills and other boring stuff but every once in a while, I'll get a package I forgot I was expecting or a new book to be reviewed.

In this age of instant gratification, there is something to be said for slow communication, to have no choice but wait for a response, to have something to look forward to, to know that whatever response you get, it wasn't off the cuff-- someone took the time and care to craft a letter and share their thoughts with you, to make your day a little more special.

And so I wait for my husband's response to my latest e-mail. Whenever it comes, I know it'll make me smile.

This post was inspired by The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy, a novel about two women connected by an Underground Railroad doll. Join From Left to Write on May 19th as we discuss The Mapmaker’s Children. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.This post contains affiliate links. 

Thrilling: A Series of Vignettes Inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On my pink two-wheeler, I coast down a steep ramp off an overpass, ahead of my family. Flying down, and picking up speed, I'm gripped by both thrill and fear. What happens at the bottom? Things are moving fast, the leafy trees are green blurs. I find myself on the ground, with both knees opened and blood pouring out.  I probably cried. I definitely had to finish the ride home, trailing behind my family now. 
A few years later, in a new neighborhood, I do a short run down a dirt hill that leads into a cul-de-sac, this time on a ten speed road bike. The neighborhood kids and I run down, and drag the bikes back up, and run down again. Coming down off the hill, I deftly turn into the circle and coast around before heading back up the hill. No bloody knees but the same thrill. 
Many more years later, I ride up onto the George Washington Bridge approach to the pedestrian path, huffing and puffing up a minor ascent until it flattens out somewhat and I can enjoy the view of the mighty Hudson stretched out below, snaking its way north and south, as far as the eye can see. I crest the bridge and start the descent into Fort Lee, following a pack of riders in this charity ride. It's not such a big hill and I relax a little. Then, comes a climb up to the start of a route that takes us through Englewood. I stop at the top of the hill, look down at the long slope unfurling before me, take a deep breath to gather my nerve and take off, not sure where this hill is going to end. Always, the thrill. 
2004. In a sleepy coastal town in Ecuador, popular with surfers, I borrow a bike of questionable safety from the hostel while my friends sleep. I head off down the road to seek out a dirt hill we had driven past the day before. As soon as I saw that hill, I knew I wanted to ride down it. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, on this crappy bike that probably hadn't been tuned up ever. At the top, I prepared for descent. From that vantage point, I could see that the hill was deeply and erratically rutted which gave me pause. But 24 year olds have a lot of confidence, and they feel invincible besides. And I had to get back down anyway. I took off, going slow and then picking up speed as I lost my trepidation. Then, I was going too fast. I lightly squeezed the brakes  in an attempt to slow down, but of course, of course, the brakes were shot. I leaned back, letting one foot dangle down to slow my descent. I hit a rut and I flew over the handlebars, landing with a sickening thud, my temple bouncing off the ground. I lay there, sprawled out and very still, wondering if anything was broken, besides my dignity. I gingerly picked myself and examined myself for damage. Bloody knees. Bloody elbows. But I can walk. I push the bike down the rest of the way, and drag myself back to the hostel. I return the bike, the hostel owners gasping and fretting over me. I wave them off. Back in the room, a stream of f-bombs comes pouring out of my mouth, waking my friends from their hungover stupor. I look in the mirror and realize why the hostel owners had gasped. My very first black eye. 

Thrilling, yes. 

This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

{Review} Better Than Before.

Monday, April 20, 2015

If my twenties were all about figuring out who I am, trying on different personas to see which one would stick, my thirties have been about coming to terms with the person that I’ve become, both the good and the bad. More importantly, I’ve had these a-ha moments where I recognize emerging patterns in my behavior.  I’ve never been very good at recognizing patterns and relationships. If you point them out to me, I will make the connection but tell me to look without giving me a clue and I come up empty-handed. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to self-help books?
I don’t know how Gretchen Rubin would feel about being labeled “self-help” because the genre does kind of have a weirdo, fringe reputation but her new book, Better than Before, has been a kind of revelation for me.  I needed someone to do the pattern-finding legwork for me so I could just say, “hey, that’s me!” and go from there. That’s exactly what Gretchen does in this book. First, she describes what she calls the Four Tendencies, her framework for helping people figure out the best way to break or start a habit. The Tendencies are like personalities. There might be overlap between them but for the most part, you’ll find yourself relating to one in particular. From there, the book walks you through different strategies for making the changes you want to see in yourself, in that classic Gretchen way of using herself and her friends as guinea pigs, and of course, copious amounts of research, evident from her nearly twenty pages of notes at the end of the book.
If you are looking for answers, you will find them here.  At least, that is how I felt while reading this book. There are many, many books out there with advice about habits, but they tend to take a One-Size-Fits-All approach. In Better than Before, Gretchen offers strategies that speak to specific Tendencies. Right away, I understood that I am what Gretchen calls an “Obliger,” someone who meets outer expectations but resists the inner ones. And it’s true—I hate to let people down and I am motivated by external accountability.  So, if I want to adopt or shed a habit, I need a form accountability that comes from outside of myself. I am a major procrastinator. For example, in school, I was motivated to get good grades. At work, I am motivated by positive feedback and feeling useful.  So, these motivations spur me out of procrastination. Another way that I break free of procrastination is to put potential distractions out of sight, out of reach and out of mind. This makes me an “Abstainer.”  I can never do just a little of something, I can never just eat one chip or read just one blog post. It’s all or nothing with me, and here’s the thing about Better Than Before. Instead of being told to change who I am, Gretchen says to accept who you are and change your environment to suit that.  So, I don’t buy the chips and I leave my phone or computer in a different room when I sit down to read a book.  Someday, my kids will learn that we never have Oreos in the house not because they’re unhealthy and junky (I mean, yes they are…) but because mommy can’t control herself around cookies.  Sorry, kids!
But make no mistake. Even with this blueprint that maps everything out for you, the job is still not easy. Since finishing this book, I’ve turned Gretchen’s words over and over in my mind, and I’ve gone back to the book to re-read the sections that speak to me the most but making the leap to action is a different story. Gretchen is good, but not that good. 

Fans of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home won’t be disappointed by this book, and readers looking for a different, more intuitive and gentler way to change their habits will also get a lot from Better Than Before. 

{I received a copy of this book for review from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links. A version of this post was published at From Left to Write. }

{Review} Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once upon a time, Henry and I decided to make a go of it in Western Massachusetts. Alice was just a baby then, maybe 18 months old, and I was seven months pregnant. Henry found a job in Greenfield, twenty minutes north of Northampton, and I left it up to him find an apartment. He found a newly renovated one bedroom on Bank Row, a few doors down from Main Street, facing the town green and around the corner from our favorite restaurant, Hope and Olive.

On a blustery January day, I loaded Alice and my extremely pregnant self into our little green Mazda protege, the trunk and backseat bulging with stuff that was too small to go into the moving truck, and off we went to Greenfield, where we met Henry and my mother outside our new apartment.

That was the beginning of the longest, most amazing year of my life. I look back and can hardly believe it was only a year. It feels like a lifetime. Reading Rebecca Barry's memoir, Recipes for a Beautiful Life,  that year comes rushing back. The move from big city to small city, surrounded by farmland, being poor in money but rich in friendship and love, and the natural phenomenons of the world that make you eternally grateful to be alive. Each story in Barry's memoir is redeemed by the kind of self-discovery that only comes when nothing's easy.

Be grateful. 

Hold space. 

Open your heart. 

Think small. 

Think big. 

This is hard, Barry realizes, but this is good.

Her husband tells her the book she plans to write, the book she did write, sounds like a lot of complaining. He's not wrong but for every complaint, every whine, every "woe is me," there is redemption. There is also much humor because one does not survive motherhood in the early years without a sense of humor and humility.

This is not a parenting book, but those who are in the thick of early motherhood will appreciate this book, this Not-A-How-To-How-To collection of stories that expose the sordid details of marriage and parenthood, the ones that lie behind the scenes of a life that seems romantic and wonderful and magical to everyone else. And the stories are funny because they are true. I know Rebecca Barry. I am Rebecca Barry. I know dozens of Rebecca Barrys. We Rebecca Barrys dream a world of farm shares, starlit summer skies, neighborhood coffeeshops, family nearby, friends at the ready with wine and cheese and bread and company.

Our dream ended after a year and we slunk back to New York, slightly depressed but also slightly relieved to be not-poor again. Despite our own failed attempt, I cheered Rebecca Barry on and willed her to stick it out, see it through, if only so I could live vicariously through her for as long as the book lasted.

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories by Rebecca Barry is out from Simon & Schuster in April 2015. 

{I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

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