Tag Archives: home

How Does Your Garden Grow?

All little kids know that crashing your parents’ bedroom first thing in the morning is inexplicably awesome. When I was that age, I couldn’t wait to invade my parents’ room to get my first hugs of the morning and snuggle. My mom set up a password system for me, though: she’d say, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” And my response: “With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” — this in a certain half-singing way. If it wasn’t just right, I had to re-do it in order to get my pass to enter.

Of course, gardens are an all too familiar part of my reading life, starting with Adam and Eve, moving to The Secret Garden, and most recently in Standing at the Crossroads. But up until recently, how actual gardens grow in my life is not well; my black thumbs have killed successfully just about anything that comes from a seed, including one or two cacti (!).  The only green item that survived my care was some lucky bamboo purchased for my first apartment, and it lived on for at least seven years before our move to Alaska.  (Maybe the bamboo and I had a special Asian connection?) Continue reading


This word and I have been getting to know each other very well over the past few years. Transition: n. The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. The Latin prefix trans- means “across,” “beyond,” or “on the opposite side.” When I was teaching English, one huge marker of writing maturity to note was when students were able to transition smoothly between ideas within and among paragraphs. At school right now we talk all the time about how we are helping students transition from 6th to 7th grade, or from 8th grade to high school. In classrooms, experienced educators are aware of a need to budget transition time into lessons and plan how to transition from one activity to the next.

The transition from California to Alaska has been nothing short of an adventure. Last June, when I arrived, my only goal was to get here in one piece and try to stay in one piece while I adjusted mentally to leaving life in California behind. That turned out to be about as hard as I expected it to be, as it became very clear exactly how many miles I was from my best friends (excepting Husband, of course) and my family. We had the support of Husband’s parents as we crashed on one side of their house, but last summer still felt like limbo. Going into town regularly to work out at Crossfit Fairbanks was one of the few things that kept me grounded.

As summer faded (transitioned?) into fall, I could feel myself starting to get antsy. Because I hadn’t wanted to job hunt seriously when I initially showed up in Alaska, I started to worry that I had set myself up for a miserably dark, purpose-less first winter. Over time, thankfully, things fell into place, as they have a way of doing. All it took was for me to say to Husband, “I’m afraid I’m going to be bored,” and in a matter of weeks, seemingly, I was back to being in a normal state of busy-ness (which is sometimes better known as being over-committed). Working, coaching, curling, consulting, and more.

In mid-November I thought that I might attempt to harm Husband for bringing me to a place that is so physically demanding. This seasonal transition was abrupt: from a lovely extended fall season, we fell off into a week of 40-below temperatures and rapidly extending darkness. Were it not for curling and a real reason to get out of the house and socialize in the evenings, who knows how we would have survived the looooooong winter season. By early March I thought I was going to lose my mind and promptly planned to take a vacation to see friends in California late in April.

At last it is starting to be summer. They said on the radio yesterday that the official temperature in town was above 70 — yahoo! Today was the last day of this school year, and in about ten days we should be homeowners, barring any unforeseen complications. One would think that I should be relieved and overjoyed about getting closer to this elusive idea of “home” and being more settled. Somewhere under the layers of stress, I do feel those feelings. I am proud of myself for toughing it out this past year, at times very gracefully, and at times in tears. I get that all of those moments are a part of who I am and that they just are — neither good nor bad.

When I contemplate this Next Step, there is the exhilaration of finally renewing our independence and getting to fill a space with our energy, our love, our style. Along with that comes a reality check that we are investing in this location for a little while — who knows for exactly how long — and that is an idea that is still settling with me. I always thought that I’d grow up one day and have a house of my own, though I never pictured it way up here in the 49th state. But here’s what I have come to understand in the past 11 months: me being uncomfortable does not equate to me being unhappy. Being uncomfortable, being pushed outside of the box (whether it’s imagined or real) is often a necessary part of growth. Being unhappy usually has something to do with being afraid (of making a decision, of dealing with something, of not knowing what will come next, of what others think, etc, etc.)

This current time of transition is not easy, and I am working on giving myself the space to think about why. In the meantime, I will keep the following thought in mind, from another quote from Neale Donald Walsch in Conversations with God:

“Know and understand that there will be challenges and difficult times. Don’t try to avoid them. Welcome them. Gratefully. Cultivate the technique of seeing all problems as opportunities. Opportunities to…be, and decide, Who You Really Are.”

Packing & Unpacking

Anyone who has ever gone anywhere on a trip — even a little kid who goes to a sleepover for the first time — knows how difficult it is to pack a suitcase. Personally, I am a notorious over-packer because I’d rather have too many choices of things to wear than not enough, which includes having shoe options as well. I find unpacking to be equally unpleasant upon returning home, because it’s the final sign that whatever trip is over, and usually there’s laundry to be done, clothes to be rehung, etc. Not to mention staring at my suitcase sitting somewhere inconvenient (in the hall, next to the bed, by the door) until the unpacking is finished.

Last week, Husband and I — with the help of his parents — semi-frantically packed up all the belongings we had brought to our winter house-sitting gig in the span of under 48 hours. Earlier in the week it had started out fine as we slowly began staging boxes in the garage, but when our timeline was compressed unexpectedly, it quickly became painful.

Painful because the packing up process reminded me of doing the exact same thing less than a year ago. A year ago the majority of the packing up of our apartment in California was a solo gig, and Husband physically couldn’t be there to help because he was already working in Alaska. In my mind I kept thinking, “How many more times will we have to do this?”

Painful because I know in the end that it’s all just stuff… that all I really “need” is Husband and Wonderpup and probably the computer, too. But my clothes and shoes and accessories and other girly stuff — all the things that are possible to do without —  actually help me feel good on the outside. Most of the time that outside dressing simply matches me on the inside, and sometimes feeling good externally can change my mood internally.   It was hard to lose track of seemingly everything last week and worry about how I was even going to find something to wear  — even pajamas. Part of me feeling like myself is getting to choose how I present myself to the world each day.

Painful because I have a strong need to control my environment when things are happening that are beyond my control. This explains, in part, my typical level of organization. Lacking control around the packing process because of its speediness led to multiple meltdowns in the space of one afternoon.

Thankfully, the packing part is over for now. With any luck, in a few weeks we’ll be moving into a home of our own and be able to savor the process of unpacking and settling in. It just never ceases to be an emotional experience for me to see life wrapped and packed into stacks and stacks of cardboard and paper or thrown into baskets and crates. The visual mini-inventory of life in this form does not even begin to capture who we are as people or how much we grow and change in the time of living in a certain place.

But this is part of the process of being a grown-up, yes? Every once in a while, to take stock of the homes we’ve created, pack up the important stuff to take with us, and purge the things that have outgrown their use or no longer matter. To prioritize — sometimes re-prioritize — how we will value the people and things that populate our lives.

While it is not likely that I will ever enjoy the process of packing or unpacking, I will try to remember that it is  the act of traveling to new places and spaces — both physical and emotional, and however temporarily — that allows me to gain perspective.

Temporary Spaces

Once upon a time, I grew up on a corner lot in Cincinnati, in a four-bedroom, 2.5-bath house that my parents bought before I was born and still live in now. Did I mention that it also has a two-car garage and a finished basement? And a yard? I didn’t know for those many years of living at home pre-college  that all of those things were taken-for-granted luxuries until my own process of house-hunting with Husband got started in these past few weeks.

In college, living in the same dorm room or sorority house room for nine months is not a big deal, because everyone on campus does that. My senior year, I actually moved in and moved out every quarter — moved in prior to fall quarter, moved out before winter quarter because I was studying abroad, and moved back in before spring. Then moved again in the summer for grad school. Not a fun process, but what is packing up one room — and only one room — of stuff? Not a big deal.

As a Bay Area apartment renter upon entering the real world, I was lucky enough to have lovely, long stints in only two locations over the course of seven years — three and four years, respectively. Those lengths of time sound like eons compared to the living “sprints” of college.

What I hadn’t truly prepared myself for, upon moving up here to AK, was living out of boxes for more than a year. Not bueno. Before Husband left last March to get started with his job, we started packing. And I kept packing up our apartment after he left, all the way up until June, when I finally left too. Our boxes and cars were shipped up… and at this point I have zero clue — in spite of my meticulous labeling — what is inside some of the boxes. I’m not even sure where all of our boxes are! Some at his parents’ house, some in storage, some with us at our current house-sitting gig. It is unsettling, at best. It makes me wish that packing up and moving were as easy as dealing with Barbie’s home and office module (you know, the one with the Murphy bed and the desk that also folded up into the wall).

My sister had this when we were kids and I LOVED playing with it.

What is difficult is this sense of living temporarily, like we’re never really settling into a space because it doesn’t belong to us. It’s one thing to charge forward in life and career, but there is a sense of stability in having one home, one place that feels safe and sacred and… regular, for lack of a better term. Like even when all of the craziness of a day or a boss is inside your head, going home is an escape from that. Right now, being half in and half out of a combination of boxes, baskets, and suitcases is consistently disconcerting.

I am sure, as with all things in life, that “this too shall pass,” and it won’t be an eternity until we have a place of our own. And at the same time, I am a wee bit anxious to find a home that will anchor us a bit more securely to our life here. I need that in a physical way — I miss some of our furniture and all of our art. But I also need it an emotional sense, because living in temporary spaces makes it seem like we can just pick up and leave at any time, so I keep looking in the rearview mirror and wondering, even while I am happy with Husband and the possibilities of our life here. For me, part of living somewhere is investing in the community, and that is so much easier to do when I know I’m going to be around for a bit, like not just for a few months here and there.

I also think that both of us (Husband and I) are excited about this “grown-up” endeavor of buying a house. Not to say that we are rushing into anything, because God knows we have seen some absolutely terrible properties, but it certainly feels like a solid, logical next step in our married life together. We started on the process of building our relationship many years ago, and building up the life of a home together is something we have been looking forward to since we moved up here. In fact it was a motivating factor in deciding to move, because we knew we could afford a real house with a yard up here (as opposed to renting forever in the Bay Area, probably, short of winning the lottery).

For now we are enjoying the house hunting process, and every time we walk into the front door of another place, I know we are trying to picture ourselves plus our dog plus future kiddos inside. That’s a good feeling, one that will get us through living in these temporary spaces and places.


Husband recorded this movie via DVR somewhat recently — December, I think. I knew vaguely what the movie was about, and I had read about The Scene (that is, the stunning montage of the couple’s life together, from childhood throughout all the years of their marriage) in The New Yorker, so I sort of knew what I was in for. Husband was excited because we enjoy Disney movies, and he thought it would be a fun one to watch before bedtime. We were particularly excited about the dog character because of our own beloved Sounder. The movie started, we made it through The Scene within the first 10 minutes of the movie, and both of us were in tears.

I cannot do The Scene justice in trying to describe it, so I won’t. I will say that the movie itself and the simple essence of their life together has been on my mind lately. Yesterday we went to a seminar for homebuyers so we can start that process in the near future. It seemed like the right thing to do, since we will be first-time home-buyers, and as we sat through all of the important information, I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t want to be doing this with anyone else. “Doing this” being thinking about a home and getting ready for a family of our own someday. I know that part of the reason for our tears when we were watching Up is because they grow old together so easily and with such joy. I knew that we would get married even when were dating long-distance, because I used to have dreams where we were both old and crotchety and still side by side, talking and laughing and bickering as usual. So watching this animated, hyper-speed length of a married life somehow seemed familiar, like we are already on a similar happy together road.

Suffice it to say that I am lucky, and we are happy, and that I am thankful each day that we belong to each other.