The Day Before

A notion on my mind in recent months has been the feeling of that moment when your entire universe changes, particularly those occasions when it happens with no warning.  I also can't stop thinking about the hours and days right before that moment...the time when you had no idea what was about to happen to you.  Unfortunately, many of those moments involve something terrifying or otherwise negative, but sometimes they are also created by events that are wildly positive.  Maybe you find out something shocking about someone you love, or maybe a beloved pet is harmed unexpectedly.  Maybe marriage was proposed when you did not expect it.  Perhaps there is bad news about your health, or you are victimized by one of the many severe weather events that seem to come more frequently now.  Maybe, just maybe, your baby arrives a month early, but still completely healthy.  Suddenly, your entire point of view has been altered, and other problems which loomed prior to said event become minor; correctly repositioned in the grand scheme of things.

For my husband and I, the unexpected early termination of a work contract which we understood to be much longer-term was a time like that earlier this year.  What I sometimes thought about in the weeks after it happened were the hours and days before he came home with that news.  One minute I was having a normal day, and the next minute we were discussing a new contract which would likely take him overseas for four weeks at a time.  Certainly a new work contract was not a tragedy, and in fact an overseas rotation lifestyle was something about which we had already been curious, but coming hot on the heels of the slightly surprising pregnancy and the purchase of a new house, it was a monumental moment.  And still, my mind goes back to those moments before he came home...those moments when the biggest challenge I was facing that week was a little bit of morning sickness.

Also recently I was thinking of Calgary; a place where we lived for a year and a half and a place where those who know me well know that I was not happy.  However, I am aware that my unhappiness was (mostly) not the fault of Calgary, and regardless of how I felt when I was there, I would never wish on a place what they must be going through now in light of the recent floods.  Our old neighborhood, along with the entire downtown, was evacuated.  We even saw the home that we rented on one of the photos of the local newspaper website.  The street was underwater up to our front step, which means our parking garage was most certainly underwater and it is likely that all of the items in our storage unit would have been ruined, not to mention possibly our car.

Most recently another curve ball had me reflecting on the day before everything changed.  Thirteen days ago, our son was born.  Four weeks early, and with no warning.  One day I was having lunch with my girlfriend, very uncomfortable physically, but not understanding that I was sick, and the next day I was going straight from a routine doctor appointment to the hospital to have labor induced and deliver our baby.  My blood pressure had skyrocketed, a condition known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, or preeclampsia.  My body was treating the baby as a foreign invader to be attacked and the only way to treat that condition is to deliver the baby.  We were lucky in more than one way: my husband was home from Indonesia; he had arrived two days prior after a six-week absence.  Also lucky was the hearty condition of our little preemie; while only thirty-five and half weeks, at six and a half pounds, he was large and developed enough to pass all of the tests and avoid the need for any medical support for his new life outside the womb.  As it turned out, I was the one in need of support.  The first week of his life, the three of us lived in the hospital, learning from doctors and nurses how to care for our baby and becoming intimately familiar with what happens if your blood pressure is not behaving as it should.

The day before he came, I knew that I did not feel well, but I had no idea what it was going to feel like to be a mom.  I'm still learning about that feeling, but the funny thing about the way you feel the day before is that it becomes foggy and hard to remember.  The new reality of your next day: scary, wonderful, dangerous, exhilarating; will remain a part of your story forever.  You won't go back to before and you will only understand your life in its new and more vivid context.  I can't imagine not yet knowing our son even though we were not supposed to have met him for another two weeks.  I can barely remember the fears and concerns that I used to have about parenting; we have already been so lucky so many times that it seems the only thing to do is to notice each day as it unfolds and to be grateful for the simple day-before moments.


During a recent phone conversation with my sister, when I mentioned my hope that hopefully my husband and I will have some part of our lives rooted at 'home' within the next few years, my sister interrupted me, asking me where I think 'home' is.  "You've moved so many times, I just can't imagine where you feel like home is."  I was startled by the question; it's clear to me that I consider Minnesota home.  It made me wonder if what is in my head is not accurately conveyed to the outside world.

I wondered how she would define home, and it got me thinking about my own definition.  I felt a list forming in my head of specific descriptors and conditions, none of which are necessarily: "Home is where you live right now."

A place is home when it is where you feel comfortable keeping your stuff.  A place is home if you think you might want to spend a good portion of your free time there.  A place might be home if you have some combination of friends and family there.  A place is home when thinking of it makes you feel viscerally that you want to be can smell it, hear it and see it.  If you're me, your eyes might also fill with tears sometimes when those thoughts occur.  A place could be home if you feel that the taxes you pay enhance the quality of your life.  A place is home if you care about crime in the community.  When you are home, you may want to know your neighbors and you probably notice the news.  You might want to get involved and help the community.  A place might be home if you feel sad when you have to leave.  A place is home if it feels familiar.  You want to build a life in a place that feels like home.

I have felt bits and pieces of the above conditions in Louisiana and Calgary, but never all of those things, all at the same time, or with any convincing strength.  I have always loved to travel, but now when I leave Minnesota, I become sad and ornery and I feel dread.  I succumb to strange shopping urges, buying inconsequential items that remind me of home, products which if I still lived there, I would hardly notice.  I look at real estate in Minnesota and feel longing, while in Calgary I feel grateful to not be tied to a house.

In Calgary, I have a few friends, and things feel a little bit familiar.  I don't mind spending a little bit of free time here, although mostly just inside the apartment with my books and sewing stuff.  I live here in blissful ignorance of the lives of my neighbors and I care not at all for the local politics.  It's kind of peaceful and easy to be that disconnected, but there is also a nagging sensation of time passing and of financial and emotional resources spent in a place that we may never see again after we move.

I watched my parents care for two homes for much of my life.  It was a lot of work and it required certain decisions and sacrifices.  At times I thought it was silly of them to work so hard and to try to live in two seemed that they were worn out from it sometimes.  Eventually I concluded that they should pick one; conserve their energy.  I said I would never choose that path.  I have come to realize now that when I say "never", the very thing that previously struck me me as out of the question becomes at some point necessary.

Maybe home is what you gives you strength to face the most ridiculous things that the universe can imagine for you.  For the moment, my husband will continue to work far from home, and we will continue to scheme about ways that we can live both with his work and in a place that feels like home. 

Work: Getting It, Cont'd

I think I got exactly what I wanted, and surprisingly, it doesn't offer a long-term conclusion.  During this time, I have to continue to follow my gut.

Working under a temporary contract has been a surprisingly good experience.  I have appreciated the (mostly) flexible scheduling and the opportunity to get paid while I learn.  I have appreciated the chance to work in multiple departments of the same company.

What surprised me was that when there was talk of putting me on salary and hooking up my email to the outside world, I felt panicked and a little queasy.  There have been some red flags.  After my managers indicated to me verbally (in a rushed, last-twenty-minutes-of-the-work-week-closed-door conversation) that they were hoping to make me a full-time I offer, I had questions about the position, the expectations, the compensation package, and the company.  They wanted me to write them down, so they could respond with more time and thought.  Then they never responded.

There was never a formal interview, and the manager under whom I work only for the first time today started to ask me some questions about my background.  The person I have replaced (I'm already doing a lot of the work for the open position) had one week to both train me and to learn her new position simultaneously, and we weren't allowed to tell the other team members what was going on, because the managers didn't want to, didn't have time to, or couldn't, tell them yet.  It was all very awkward, confusing, and incomplete.

Deep-down, I hoped I could stay on my original, six-month, anything-goes contract, which felt like a good fit in my life. It's a good blend of learning and responsibility, with some freedom and still enough energy left over to pursue other endeavors.  It was unclear to me whether that would be possible after my team filled this open full-time position.  But today I got my answer.  It will be possible for me to have plenty of hours through the end of my six-month contract of which I'm currently at the mid-point.

The experience reinforces what I have been thinking lately, which is that it's time put my theory into practice, and to try to use our household mobility as a career-building asset, instead of a liability.

Summer: Postscript

The Canadian weather gods heard my whining, and they tossed me a little summer.  It's a touch humid, which I find glorious, and it's even warm enough that I made iced tea and cucumber water and turned on fans.  As icing on the cake, we even had thunderstorms at night.  I need to find a way to express my gratitude so it doesn't suddenly start snowing tomorrow.

Maybe I should sew a maple leaf on my bag?  That would explain a lot about other Canadians I see out and about.

No Summer

Once and a while, but thankfully less frequently than a year ago, I become desperate to get off this train.  Sometimes, particularly on Friday nights, all I can think about is Minnesota.  Lakes and good shopping, friends on patios, delightful fresh food at reasonable prices, fresh summer smells and green everywhere.

This is our second "summer" in Calgary, so one thing I've noticed is that these feelings of crazy jump-ship persuasion are stronger in the summer.  There is no real summer here, merely a nice green extended spring, which moves into a really nice fall.  And those things are good, but they are not summer.  It could be that I have it on a pedestal, because it's so out of reach, but in my mind summer in Minnesota is magical.

My yearnings cause domestic trouble.  They are hard on my husband, and they lead to questions.  We wonder (at least once every couple of months since we moved to CA) about living separately...we wonder where we could go next that would be less painful (proximity to major airports?  distance from home?  different work schedule? travel allowance available?)...all factors of transfers in his company, and all factors we believe contribute to our ability to visit (or to prevent visits) home.  We weigh pros and cons of buying some property in Minnesota, to feel more connected.

A while back, a friend suggested to me that we could quit his job and just come home.  Be baristas or something.  However, that same friend had limited her own job search to the geographic boundaries of her future husband's career, for the same reasons that we have not given up on my husband's tricky path: over a decade worth of skills, a professional network, solid compensation and work that he likes.

It feels like we need a different model.  I am someone known to take the most circuitous, most ridiculous path possible.  Witness my winding path into apparel production.  This is complicated, and we are trying to be responsible, yet imaginative and open-minded grown-ups.  Maybe I need to look at this like that...a life puzzle that just needs to ferment a little longer.

In the meantime, we are dreaming of a little land and tiny cabin in Minnesota, and I am plotting to get to the lake in August, no matter what.

Stalking the Royals

So we've been in Canada for over a year now, which is shocking.  It was our second Canada day, and then now we've just begun our second Stampede.

I can't lie, I have a natural aversion to large, can't-miss events.  I did not care for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I have never been to WeFest in Detroit Lakes, I have never been to a state fair in Minnesota, and I have so far successfully avoided experiencing the Stampede.  I think chuck wagon races sound suspect, and yesterday they had to shoot a horse because he broke his leg during a race;  I'm definitely glad I did not see that.

However, I'm strangely charmed by the Royals, who came to town to kick off said Stampede.  They were scheduled to push a button at the beginning of the parade, which would release confetti into the air.  This particular event, along with the stampede itself, all takes place within a ten minute walk from our place.  Since I've been working on my attitude about life in Canada, I dragged my husband to the beginning of this parade, so we could indulge in a little Royals-stalking.

Kate and Will are just cute.  Very easy to enjoy.  I'm not as into Kate's style as most people seem to be, but on the other hand, her hair always looks fab, and more importantly, she has a great smile, seems gracious, and like she's having fun meeting the masses.  And she has her act remarkably and consistently together for someone whose life will involve cameras pointing at her forever more.

So, for her, we walked into the mouth of the dragon.  A parade route lined with at least ten layers of people, not mention intermittent bleachers.  We stood in our little tiny portion of stolen sidewalk and waited for over a half-hour.

The couple drove by in a car with the windows up, and I did not see a thing, except for the black shiny motorcade.  Disappointed, we slunk off around the block, only to see the motorcade and the very side of the parade kick off.  We couldn't see any people, but we saw the confetti fly.  I thought about continuing the mission at their next stop, but my window on crowd tolerance had closed, so I moved on with my day.

At Home

The Nanny Diaries

February 1, 2011

I went out to breakfast by myself the other day on my day off. I sat next to two women, having a girl-brunch; one a new mom on maternity leave, the other a working mom, away from the office. They were seated only a couple feet away from me, so I couldn’t help buy overhear. They discussed, at length, some standard Calgarian hot topics: a blow-out trip to Las Vegas, maternity leave, and finding a good nanny.

It was only then that I realized that having a nanny in Calgary seems quite common. One of my co-workers at Holt had one, but I just assumed it was because her partner makes boatloads of money. Then I looked around at more co-workers who had them at my next job, and realized that many Calgarian moms who work have nannies.  For some, the nannies likely cost equal to or more than the moms made at work, so it seems that some Calgarian moms are into getting out of the house.  Rumor has it that the government subsidizes this national habit, but I have not looked into it.

Anyway, I learned a lot more about it at breakfast that day. I couldn’t help but listen, it was like that accident-watching reflex. According to the two women who were catching up, there are ways to get nannies that are both legal and illegal, and to the credit of these two, they seemed to want to stay above-board and to want to pay a fair wage. They did, however, definitely discuss which types of nannies would do more for less ($12/hr for three kids plus light housework, instead of $15/hr for one small child and no housework). The woman with the nanny advised the one on the hunt that she was having very good luck with her Philippine nanny, who was loving and effective and hard-working, and whose English was good enough.

I learned that she pays $2000 a month for her nanny. I tried to imagine a financial scenario in my life where I would find good value in paying $2,000 a month for someone else to perform daily household tasks with me or for me, or where I would feel comfortable with a new paid household resident.  I don't question the decision or the need to hire one; it sounds like a great solution for some families; I'm merely startled to notice how common it feels here compared to other places I have lived (so far).

April 28, 2017 Update...

While reviewing my blog posts, I came across this one, as a now-parent, spending a ton of money to send one of my sons to day care so that he can do interesting things while I take care of the new baby.  So now I understand better...

I remain very intrigued at how we make the priority decisions we make culturally as we navigate caregiving versus working, taking care of home versus taking care of our adult lives.  Maybe nannies are more common than I realized also in Minnesota, not just in oil towns with skewed economies?

Mountain People

January 2, 2011

Last night we went to dinner at the house of one of my husband's co-workers. We have gotten together with them only a few times, and they are very nice, but gatherings like these definitely highlight an aspect of life in Canada that freaks me out.




On my right was a woman who has two sled dogs and on my left was a woman who was arguing in favor of ice climbing during her new pregnancy (which required months of IVF to kick off in the first place). It is only when I gather with my husband's colleagues in Canada that I realize how timid and homebody-ish I really am. 

McKinley, Denali, Talkeetna...multiple other rugged place names that I recognize only from the names of garments at REI, all flow off of their tongues as they reminisce about small tents and high altitude medications. I listen and try to imagine ever wanting to experience places in such a way.

Suddenly, during casual conversation, a few of the guests realize that they have also completed the same marathon in Hawaii, and I nearly pack up and call it a night.


Work: Retail

December 6, 2010

Don’t feel like writing, but Mom and her friend that I trust told me that I had to, even if it feels like I have nothing to say.

Late for work, feel nervous.  Hate that I feel so trapped by my schedule.  Chip is in the air over Saskatchewan, we will pass each other in the air.  I am in MSP and want to stay here desperately.  I am supposed to be in YYC already, getting ready for work, but my plans were foiled by fog in Salt Lake City.

I have a pretty good job now, my second one since graduating with my new diploma and leaving Minneapolis.  I am one of the department managers opening the Calgary location of Anthropologie.  The company has not been very impressive so far, and frankly nor have I.  I have been sick since they hired me, first with a terrible Malaysian cold, and then with cluster headaches, now with strep throat.  I am torn between wanting to stick it out to show them how great I am, and wanting to run screaming away from them and their mall, never to return.

But the plan is to save some money so that we can buy a house in Minnesota and maybe someday even live there again.  So that plan has me hanging in there.

Witness Protection

June 29, 2010

I am in a situation which in my mind is similar to a witness protection program. In Canada I have no  documented history. No credit. No driving record. No network, and apparently, no work references. It’s like I’m 18 again, except with less potential this time.

I am one phone call away from being employed again, and the only thing stopping me is that someone who offered to be a reference for me a year ago today referred the caller to human resources instead. That’s it; with that one small decision, my fate next week and indeed for the foreseeable while, hangs in the balance.

It occurs to me that there is an expiration date on good work. If you did it for a little while, but not recently enough, it will not be enough.

I feel sick to my stomach.


June 24, 2010

Canadians are wildly polite. Strangers will share their email address to make sure that you find what you are looking for (that happened to me in a store), and cars on highways will come to a halt if your body language even hints that you may consider crossing the street at some point in the following few minutes. I’ve been here for one month. Sometimes it feels like the best possible fit and other times I’m sure that I would give up much of our future material comfort in order to just move to a place of our choosing and live there for a long time. Probably Minneapolis, maybe Austin. In the meantime, I plan to cook and sew, a lot. Apparently feminism has gone all the way around the block and arrived right near where it started. What was a chore and burden forty years ago is now a privilege.

Canadian Traffic Jam

June 16, 2010

I was on driving around on a wild-goose chase looking for sewing machine oil when I heard on the radio that there was a traffic jam in some part of the metro area (presumably in the outer metro…) due to a herd of moose blocking traffic. No joke. Thankfully the radio guys had the good sense to point how hilariously and typically Canadian that sounded, so I don’t think it is a daily event (?!?!).

Even funnier is that the guy who sold me the machine oil doesn’t actually have a storefront or a retail business, and doesn’t spend much time at his place of business, which is a warehouse, so he left a few liters hanging in a bag on the back door of his warehouse and trusted me to leave a check. I did, of course (leave the check), after I finally found his place.  I found his trust so charming.

Moving Sadness

June 6, 2010

Our stuff arrived, complete with unpackers, yesterday. It weighed 8,700 pounds. Another 3,600 pounds is due to arrive in the next week or so, in the form of our car. Sleeping in our bed was an enormous relief after going through the nightly re-inflation of the air mattress. Our belongings fit better in the living room and master bedroom than I expected, and worse in the kitchen. There is work to be done.

Yesterday I became really, really homesick. After several great days getting settled and feeling positive, yesterday was terrible. I woke up with a terrible headache, after an evening of salad and water and going to bed early, so that was disheartening. I had a lunch date with my one new friend, and it was fine, but mostly it reminded me of the really good friends that I already had that were in lands far, far away. Brand new friendships are hard, like new plants. They are sweet, but fragile, and a lot them don’t make it far.

My humor was not improved by the weather. On June 10, I was wearing wool tights under my tall boots, a full slip and long underwear under my long-sleeved dress, and a winter scarf over my denim jacket. And, as I was walking to lunch, I was wishing that I had worn gloves, too, because holding onto my umbrella was making my hands so cold.

I miss summer. I miss Minneapolis, including the Wedge, and the other numerous markets. I miss Common Roots cafe, and Surly beer. I miss my friends, and the cabin. I miss my yoga studio being four blocks away, and my favorite running route. I miss the lakes. I miss the smell, and the lush green foliage.

This move feels harder than past moves.


June 3, 2010

Email to Mom:

Long week, finally yesterday it was sunny enough to make wearing the summer clothes that I brought with me seem comfortable. Groceries two miles away so went on long walk for things that can be cooked in two pans with one spoon and no sharp knife. Accidentally bought a cute shirt and some shorts and then discovered cute neighborhood cafe, so that cheered me up.
Finally got word that Chip will sign at customs office for belongings tomorrow with Sat. delivery so that brought even more cheer this morning.

My hair person that I discovered in March is already gone, so that is depressing. It is a town of hustlers, people on the move. I need to locate her card in the volumes of boxes so that I can stalk her because I don't care for the person they gave her clients to at the old salon.

Went for first run yesterday, straight up huge hill behind our house. It was hard but worth it from the top; a ten min jog/walk produced a downtown view with mountains in distance. Confirmed my suspicion that we live on wrong side of tracks but also learned that we are not as far from the tracks as I had feared. River much prettier without the icebergs.

That's all I can think of for now. Hope you're good-s