Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom: A Series?

[Note: Some of you already noticed this in your Google Reader, and thanks for your personal emails - I so appreciate them.  I wrote this and posted it yesterday, and then I remembered it was our wedding anniversary and, for my own sake in years to come, I didn't want to say these things on that day.  Anyway, here it is today.]

Last night while browning the pork chops I had [what at that time seemed like] a great idea.

I thought I would invite you along on this adventure with me of becoming a full-time stay-at-home mother and all the excitement and learning curves that it entails.

But the idea is not as appealing on Monday morning, although the scene is set for telling good stories.  (Meaning the baby is asleep, the fire is crackling, the rain is falling, the house is cozy...)  The reason the idea is not as appealing is because it requires me to tell you that I am not a stay-at-home mom because I really want to be a stay-at-home mom.

I am a stay-at-home mom because I cannot get a job.

There, I said it.  I feel like there are not a lot of other people who become stay-at-home mothers because they simply are unemployable.  Most women who choose to be full-time homemakers and mommies really don't want to do anything else more (which, honestly, is true of me) and set aside great careers to do this (which, honestly, is also true of me) and could get a great job if they wanted to (which, honestly, is not true of me).  Other people who become stay-at-home moms have "earned" it: they worked, they went to grad school, they had a career for awhile, what have you... and now they get their long-awaited reward: full-time homemade motherhood.

But me?  I worked my last shift as an ICU nurse on July 3, 2011.  Elliott returned on July 4, 2011, from a year-long deployment and we left a few weeks later for a new life in Sicily.

Even before we moved to Sicily I was trying to get a job here.  I tried for 6 months to get a job here and I was unsuccessful.  The biggest blow was being turned down for a nursing job I really wanted.  It was a cushy desk job in a beautiful office with a huge window.  I would have been the nurse working for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Overseas and my job would have involved seeing military moms and their children, dispensing nutritional advice and breast pumps, and teaching classes at the hospital and the school about how to eat healthy food.  I would have loved that job, I know, and I would have been good at it.

But the call came the day before our Christmas party when I was up to my elbows in flour.  "Is this a good time to talk, Rebecca?" my I-thought-future manager asked.

"Umm... yes, sure.  My baby's napping, so this is a great time to talk."  [immediately I kicked myself for such a mommy statement]

"OK, well, I just wanted you to know that we have decided to hire the other candidate for the job for WIC.  I'm so sorry."

She said the other candidate had more experience.  Well, I guess there's nothing I could do about that.  I've only been out of university for three years and so I've only had two jobs, and both of them were adult ICU jobs, not pediatric nursing positions.  So I understood that I wasn't super experienced.  And I guess I understood that I didn't get the job (even though I'd been visiting the office and sending my resume in since July to get that job as soon as it became available).

I was pretty beat up about that for awhile.  There were a lot of tears and Elliott did a lot of comforting and Lena got freaked out because her mommy was crying.  But eventually I had to pull myself together and move on.  I had tried to get a job and now there were no other nursing positions available.  There still aren't, over a month later, and I don't know of any that will become available until the summer or possibly the fall.  I might apply for those, who knows?  But right now, I am a stay-at-home mom.

I want to say very clearly that I was disappointed not to get this job - or any job - but I also was seriously conflicted about it.  I love Lena so much and I didn't want to take her to daycare on base each day (even though she probably would love being with so many other kids all day long).  I wanted to be a dedicated, thoughtful mother; I wanted to put her in cloth diapers, potty train her absurdly early, read stacks of books to her each day, take her to the market each Wednesday, set up playdates with other babies and children, and so many other idealistic things.  I love being at home, too, and I love knitting and reading and baking and keeping a tidy home.  I love the flexibility of my schedule so that Elliott and I can pack up and travel any time we get the itch.  Both Elliott and I weighed the pros and cons a thousand times of me working vs. me being flexible at home.

I said over and over that "I'm not sure I'll even take the WIC job if I get it," but after I didn't get it, I knew I would have taken it.  I would have taken it and of course complained about leaving Lena, but I would have taken it and I would have been so proud to have it.  I would have loved seeing my paycheck join Elliott's again in our bank account.  I would have loved feeling like I could do it all: be a successful professional as well as a mom as well as a wife as well as a happy resident of a quaint Sicilian town.  I would have loved knowing I was beefing up my resume, preparing for grad school sometime soon.  I would have loved dressing up for work (no scrubs!  wowzah!) and interacting with so many different people and learning new skills and reviewing pediatric and maternal nutrition and developing this subset of skills.  I would have been so proud of myself.

Well, God said nix-ay to the pride, I guess.  And now I am not proud.  Now I am a stay-at-home mom because there is simply nothing else for me to be right now.  And I'm not even that good at it!  (But I'll let you see that for yourself as time goes by.  As I share with you this adventure of being a full-time mom at home.  What do I do with my days?  You shall see...)

In the meantime, know that for all the pretty pictures I put up on here, for all the dreamy ways I talk about our life, for all the beautiful fodder I churn up to share with you... I am a little ashamed that I am doing this instead of working as well as doing this.  I am a little sad because it has been a steep, swift change from my first job out of college at the top of my game to quietly nursing a baby to sleep three times a day.  I am not used to it yet.  I do not own this transition yet.  This is not me yet.  I don't recognize myself in all this, I don't look at my life and say, "Yes!  This!  This is me!  This is who I have always wanted to be, this is where I want to expend my life's energies, this is the fullest realization of the person God created me to be!"

The truth is that I just don't know yet what God created me to be.  I know that it looks a lot different from what I imagined.  I know it is better than I could ever have imagined, not because it is more glamorous or more beautiful or more fun, but because it is right and good and true and desired by God.  I am desired by God.

That's all for now; I hear my baby waking up from her nap.

Monday, January 30, 2012

happy anniversary to us!

We've been married for two years today... such a long time, I know!  So much has happened in these two very short years.  Weddings and home-buyings and deployments and deaths and travels and births and good-byes and moves to Sicily!

I remember this day last year very well.  Elliott had flown home at last after getting caught in the middle of the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo, a terrifying 36 hours for us until he called me as he ran to board the last plane out of Egypt.  We met up with his family on our anniversary morning to have brunch at The Chesapeake Room on Barracks Row and then Elliott, Eden, and I went for a walk before we went to Bradley class.  I was 7 months pregnant at the time and stepped off a step on our walk... and suddenly I couldn't walk any farther.  I thought I had twisted my ankle, but it wasn't my ankle, it was my foot.  An x-ray the next day confirmed I had broken my foot!  What a fun day.  If it isn't one thing, then it's the other, it seems, with us.

Anyway, hopefully this anniversary will be a little less eventful.  Thus far Lena and I have spent it curled up in front of the fire as the rain pours down outside.  Tonight we're leaving Lena in the hands of a sweet Italian woman and are going out to a new sushi restaurant that our friends can't stop talking about.

Just for fun here are some photos of our beautiful snowy wedding by our awesome photographer friend:

the men get ready

walking from the carriage house to the mansion to greet his bride

joyful preparations!

first look & my sweet Grampie

 vows (we couldn't stop smiling!)

quick and cold portraits outside... snowflakes on our noses and eyelashes

 dancing the night away

Friday, January 27, 2012

100 things to do in your 20s

Once upon a time the author of TwentySomeone gave me a copy of it.  I liked the book a lot, but my favorite part of it, the part that I come back to again and again, is this wonderful list in the back of the book.  So many of these things are on my bucket list of life!  And others of them just make me chuckle.

Here, with full credit to the authors of the book, is the list.  I highlighted my favorites, whether or not I actually do these things.  Which do you like the most?
  1. See the Grand Canyon.
  2. Get the libretto, learn the words, and then take in a great musical or opera.
  3. Go to Africa.
  4. Read great books.  Pick out a list and start working through it.  (For example, read all the Pulitzer Prize winners.  Then read all the Newbery Award winners.)
  5. Meet with God every day.
  6. Get out of debt.
  7. Learn another language. (How about Icelandic?)
  8.  Go on a mission trip.
  9. Reconcile with your parents and siblings.
  10. Buy some original art and hang it up in your home.
  11. Listen to classical music.
  12. Climb one of the fourteeners in Colorado (or the Alps for that matter).
  13. Do something crazy--skydiving, swimming with dolphins, running with the bulls, etc.
  14. Invest in understanding yourself by getting some counseling while you're young.
  15. Decide to marry only the Right Person in the Right Way at the Right Time.  Don't settle for anything else.
  16. Occasionally give money away when it doesn't make financial sense.
  17. Adopt a team and root for them.
  18. Take your kids, nieces, or nephews to a game of the team you've adopted.
  19. See the castles and cathedrals in European cities.
  20. Read through the Bible several times and get ot know what's in it.
  21. Make true friends and keep them.
  22. Recycle, and start a compost pile.
  23. Learn to like Bob Dylan.  He's worth it.
  24. Paint, draw, write, sculpt, create.
  25. Know what you believe and why.  Truth matters.
  26. Pay off your credit cards every month.
  27. Swim in the ocean.
  28. Pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and walk where Jesus walked.
  29. Thank your teachers.
  30. Put some money in mutual funds.
  31. Drink strong black coffee and grind your own beans.
  32. Learn to make a dish that becomes your specialty.
  33. Write letters like songs and songs like letters.
  34. See the Egyptian pyramids.
  35. Become a member of a church and get involved there.
  36. Encourage your pastor.
  37. Visit your grandparents.
  38. Mentor someone younger than you.
  39. Take five hundred spontaneous road trips that don't have a purpose.  Just have fun on the road.
  40. Plants some roses or tulips or rhubarb or anything and then learn to take care of them.
  41. Memorize Bible verses.
  42. Vote.
  43. Read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien at least twice.
  44. Listen to Garrison Keillor.
  45. Go to a pro hockey game and sit as close to the rink as possible.
  46. Learn to play an instrument, however poorly.  Take lessons.  It will help your other creative endeavors, and you may just love it.
  47. Turn off the television.
  48. Go whale watching.
  49. Read a newspaper every day.
  50. Go to nursing homes and hang out with the elderly every now and then.
  51. Keep a journal.
  52. Record an album of original music and lyrics and keep it for posterity, even if the quality is poor.
  53. Send hand-written thank you notes.
  54. Visit your friends where they live now, and enjoy the time catching up.
  55. Learn to take good pictures and throw out the ones that are bad so they don't clutter up your desk.
  56. Join a local softball, hockey, basketball, or volleyball league.  And play nice.
  57. Build your personal library.
  58. Give away your stuff.  (You really don't need as much as you think you do.)
  59. Come up with a realistic and workable filing system so you know where important things are and you can find them when you need them.
  60. Disable call waiting and just talk to whoever you were talking to in the first place.
  61. Be mindful of the gas level in your car (and do something about it!) so you don't frustrate your spouse.
  62. If you're married, don't wait too long to have kids.
  63. Call people older than you "sir" and "ma'am" just to be courteous.
  64. Listen to good teaching tapes.
  65. Fast once a month.
  66. Clean your refrigerator and your bathroom regularly.
  67. Volunteer.
  68. Know where the best parks and used bookstores are in your town and visit them frequently.
  69. Camp out every once in a while, and enjoy sleeping under the stars.
  70. Always buy used cars.  (Let someone else pay for the depreciation.)
  71. Han up a world map somewhere in your home.
  72. Celebrate holidays for the real reasons they were created.
  73. At least once a month or so, get up early and make sure you see the sun come up.
  74. Keep a "People and Praise" file so that when you get notes of thanks and affirmation, you can keep them for when you're feeling blah.
  75. If you're single, invite over your married friends; if you're married, invite over your single friends.
  76. Eat popcorn and apples on Sunday nights.
  77. Attend community theater, no matter what the review in the local paper says.
  78. Call talk-radio shows and make good points if you get on.
  79. Allow people at least one quirk.
  80. Start a book club with nonbelievers.
  81. Be gracious (especially in public) when you don't get your way.
  82. Sew together a blanket out of all your old T-shirts so you don't have to throw them away just because you don't wear them anymore.
  83. If you have a hobby, invest in good equipment so you can do it well.
  84. Throw a surprise party for someone.
  85. Try to develop the habit of eating meals at the same times each day (this will help if and when you ever start eating regularly with someone else later in life).
  86. Get a library card and use it at least once a month.
  87. Take walks.
  88. Get to know the person who delivers your mail.
  89. Go to free art shows and pretend you're at the Louvre.
  90. Get some of your wedding pictures taken in black and white.
  91. When you eat out, forgo the chains and support local establishments.
  92. If you own a vehicle, keep it from becoming a pigsty.
  93. Go to the dentist and the eye doctor regularly.
  94. Bring doughnuts or bagels to the office for your coworkers every now and then.
  95. Sing hymns or original songs to your kids before you go to bed.
  96. Seek out someone to mentor you.
  97. Look at your baby pictures and reflect on where you've been since they were taken.
  98. Talk to store clerks.
  99. Start to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
  100. In everything you do, seek to answer the question, Who am I?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Here we come a-wassailin'..."

Before our Christmas party I did a long hard search for the perfect wassail recipe.  Well, I'm not sure I came up with the best, but I did find a delicious recipe for Christmas wassail.*  I served it to our party guests, I served it to my family, I served it to dinner guests, and I watched as every drop was drained from the pot each time.

Since then this wonderful wassail has become my drink of the winter.  I make a new pot every week, store it back in the cider jug in our fridge, and heat up a mug or two for myself each day.  It's a satisfying, spicy drink that I can tote around our house throughout these chilly winter days, sipping on it as I play with Lena or knit and read or work on a blog post.

Would you like to learn how to make it?  Well then, I took some photos of the process just for you!

First start with a gallon of apple cider.

Then add a quart (4 cups) pineapple juice.  {This 2-quart can is the least expensive way to buy it, so I just store the remaining quart in my fridge for next week's batch.} 

And now my favorite part: half a can of frozen OJ concentrate.  {Again, you only need 6 oz, so I buy the cheapest 12 oz size, squeeze out half of it, and refreeze the remainder for the next batch.} 

Toss in 8 cinnamon sticks.

And 27 whole cloves.  Note: I don't know where the original recipe came up with 27 cloves.  I just count out about 30 and toss 'em in.  Tastes the same, as far as I can tell.  Please do let me know if the three extra cloves make a big difference to you.

And that's it for ingredients!  I let it simmer on the stove for a couple of hours and savor the spicy-sweet aroma  filling our house.  After your wassail is sufficiently brewed, pour a steaming cup into your favorite mug!  Sip it and savor it, perhaps while enjoying some fresh strawberries from your local market.  Mmmm...

*Christmas Wassail
(makes about 20 servings)


1 gallon apple cider
27 whole cloves
8 cinnamon sticks
1 quart pineapple juice
1 can (6 ounce size) frozen orange juice concentrate


Mix all ingredients in a large crockpot and simmer for about 8 hours, or brew on the stove for about 2 hours. Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

life lately

Like everyone out there, I love Instagram and the pretty things it can do to photos!  I am trying not to let it replace my "real" camera, for heaven knows I have a million things still to learn about photography and need all the practice I can get.  But when the big camera isn't around, I love capturing little moments this way.

Here are a few photos of our lives this past month.

 Thursday playgroup at the park
& trying out our new breadmaker

 celebrating my Christmas present from Em and Jess: fabulous slippers!
& snacking on some cheese before seeing Dr Josh

playdate with Sam at our house  
& trying to "catch" the sheets as they dry Italian-style on our balcony

 flower power pants do a dance while watching the wash go 'round and 'round
&  in love with her new sippy cup

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lena's tricks

I thought you might like to see a few things that our little 9.5-month-old munchkin is up to these days.

She is learning to walk with her little walker, pushing it up and down our balcony and crashing into things every 5 seconds.  It makes me think she'll take after my driving skills instead of her papa's...

She can now also stand for about 0.5 seconds before quickly sitting down, usually accompanied by a nervous laugh that communicates something along the lines of, "I know what you guys are up to and I don't think so!"

And she's really into hanging upside down.  And playing with her favorite toy (my retractable tape measure) while doing so.

She's also learning to go down the stairs backwards, which is pretty adorable.  Maybe I'll take a video when she's mastered the skill and I don't have to reach out and grab her every few seconds. 

(P.S. As I quickly wrote this, Lena woke up from her nap.  I got her up and then tried to quickly finish this post, and she meanwhile grabbed a pen and wrote on her mouth with it.  Never a dull moment.  Off to do some clean up...!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

adding pieces to my Etsy shop

This weekend Elliott and I were able to finally take some photos of several items I've been working on for my Etsy shop.  Working on items to sell has given my favorite hobby a new sense of purpose.   It's also been fairly easy to work on these projects while reading, chatting with Lena as she plays, watching a movie with Elliott, or gazing into the crackling fire.  I want to expand beyond knitting as the weather changes, but... well, folks, it's still winter.  Even in Sicily.  For awhile yet I'll be wrapping my fingers up in warm wool as I turn a length of yarn into a lovely handmade garment or two.

Stop by in the next few days to see some sweet things for sale!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

a hike in the hills

We live in a house that overlooks a magnificent valley here in Sicily.  Ever since we've moved in, Elliott's been itching to explore the whole valley, not just a little traipse here and there.  Finally he had a four-day weekend and so last Saturday we packed our bags and set out for the day.

Our goal was the highest rise on the other side of the valley, which is about eye-level from our balcony and goal we've been studying since we moved in.  For a refresher, here's an older photo of that highest point:

We hiked down into the valley, past the farm in the foreground of the photo, jumped the stream in the middle of the valley, and started up the steep hillside on the opposite bank.  At last we achieved our goal!  We stood triumphant overlooking our lovely Italian countryside.  We could see the Mediterranean, the whole Plain of Catania, and the queen Mt Etna presiding over this little piece of the world.

We headed down the ridgeline until we found a quiet spot for a picnic.

 "I'd like the whole biscuit, please, Mama."

A pause for a diaper change...

We continued through sunlit olive groves.  All the olives were picked for the season, but they're disgustingly inedible right off the trees anyway.  Much brining is required before they become the  savory snack we get from our neighbors.

Prickly pears are in season.  Haven't figured out how to eat them yet.

We also found a dormant vineyard, tied up neatly for the winter season.  Little raisins hung in clusters from a few of the branches.  I can't wait to see the vineyard again when the vines are heavy with grapes.  Perhaps we could even find a bottle of wine made from the grapes grown here! 

Elliott (and Lena) spotted some local birds.  His eyes are amazing.  He'll suddenly stop and stare at something that I can't see, swing his binoculars around and study it a little more, and then announce, "Hmm, I think that's a...," and then check his book to be sure.  He's almost always right.  How does he know these things??

At our farthest point from our town (visible in the background of this photo) we were in the middle of orange groves.  Most of the blood oranges had been picked for the season but we found some discards on the ground.  They were so sweet and rich with their shockingly red flesh.  (No photos of them, though, because our hands were too sticky!)

There were still plenty of mandarins, though, and we found a few of those on the ground to taste as well.  They were so refreshing and sweet.

And finally we hiked home, weary and triumphant.  We have explored our whole valley now, from its quiet groves to its delicious fruits.  How many more hikes in how many more seasons await us in these next few years!   

Friday, January 20, 2012

and now, Albania

Getting to Albania turned out to be harrowing.  I do not exaggerate.  The drive from Macedonia into Albania required us to traverse two mountain passes in a snowstorm.  Although the sky appeared clear and promising before the journey began, that quickly changed as the temperature dropped, our van climbed, and the snowflakes began to fall.

Pretty soon we were driving on a road over an inch of snow, and more snow was falling fast.  At this point we began to be seriously concerned and implored our guide and driver to please put the snow chains on the car.  In retrospect we overreacted, but they also waited too long to even attempt to put the chains on.  By the time the first attempt was made, we were high in the mountains, stuck in a bank of snow, and getting the chains on was impossible.

We did get out of the car at that point, at which point my mom took this picture of me.  I do like playing in the snow... even in dire circumstances! 

After this pit stop, we traveled slowly down the mountain, snow-chain-less and nervous, creeping along past banks of fresh snow.  Finally on the flatland between the two mountain passes we pulled into a mechanic shop to get the chains put on the van professionally.  (See the first picture, where we all huddled around the wood-burning stove in the corner of the shop.)  At this point we learned that the chains were too small and so they couldn't go on anyway, not in a mechanic shop and not in a snowy mountain pass.  Our driver magically found a larger size, the mechanics fit them to our tires, and we were off again, feeling much more secure.

Our Lena was such a sweetheart that day, managing to smile even after 11 hours of driving.  (Note: We didn't take any photos of her screaming to get out, but we could have taken about 50 of those and it would give you a more accurate view of how the trip went!)  We took her out of her car seat at the border between Macedonia and Albania while we waited for our passports to be stamped.  She loooved those border crossings.  And we hated strapping her back into her car seat after we crossed the border in 10 minutes.  Poor darling.

After passing numerous stranded vehicles along the road while we were safe and sound with our snow chains, we spent the night in Tirana, the Albanian capital.  For such a deceptive greeting with horrendous snowy weather, Albania itself turned out to be quite peaceful and lovely.  After a well-deserved rest, we went on a walking tour the next day.

We visited a museum to get a background in the history of Albania.

 We visited a beautiful mosque with an intricately painted ceiling...

... and a very new Catholic cathedral...

... and my parents shopped for hand woven tablecloths after a delicious traditional lunch...

 ... and we posed for various photographs.  The usual.

And that, folks, was the last of our trip through the Balkans!  Epic and unforgettable.  We loved sticking through the rough times and the happy ones with you, my family, and we're ready to do it again!  Well.... actually... hmmm...

And now goodbye from Albania, Green sister-style:

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