I Want the Village

We were never supposed to move to Houston.  My husband and I agreed when we got married that we would never move to Houston; we were united in our sense that it was the wrong place to build our lives, in spite of his professional opportunities there.  Geography has been a tricky puzzle for us from day one, but we believed we would eventually find a way around it.

That was seven-ish years ago.  The surprise we have felt at not hating life in Houston, and even rather enjoying it, has been noted on many occasions in this blog; and has been accompanied by multiple other surprises since moving here.

Either way, I thought that the decision to leave, when it came, would be a clear and simple one; that it would be easy and obvious.  I was wrong.  We have found a way around the location-versus-job roadblock, but it is not without emotional and logistical risk.  I am able to make a clear list of reasons why it is time to go home to Minnesota.  My instincts say that it is finally the right time and for the right reasons, and possibly even under sustainable circumstances, but I do not feel the sense of elation that I expected.  I feel good and positive about it, but I also feel a little sad and a smidge nervous to move away from the one version so far of life with oil that has felt largely pleasant and seamless.

Creating a family has always seemed a slightly curious endeavor to me.  My husband and I both have parents who raised kids that grew up and promptly moved far away in early adulthood, so a little part of me thinks, 'Really?  That's it?  Raise kids who then take off and that's it?'.  It could definitely happen to us.  So if you're not sure whether or not you love kids before you take the plunge, and you know there is a good chance that you will spend outrageous amounts of time and resources for many years raising children who you will then rarely see, then why do it?

The answer to that question came from my gut.  I can report that the reasons to do it are complex and intangible, but real.  Ultimately, our baby, besides just being a tiny human that I love, has also given us the drive and the clear picture of why and how to go home.  The baby and I spend too much time alone while my husband is at work in Angola.  My husband likes his job, and I have come to appreciate the quality time we have with him when he comes home, but the long weeks and weekends alone while he is gone are too hard.  We have great friends in Houston, but they are busy, too, and anyway it is not fair to them or to the baby that they are the only safety net we have here for weeks at a time.  We could hire help to resolve this, but we could also go home.  

In short, in caring for our family, I want the village.  I want the baby to know his grandparents.  I want him to know my other family members.  I want to raise him alongside my other friends at home who are having babies and not moving every couple of years.  I want him to play outside in air that I know from experience is fresh, and learn to ride his bicycle on streets that are (mostly) unbroken.  I want him to swim in the lake that I know to be clean, the one that I swam in growing up.  I want to launch his education in a quality system in which I already feel safe and confident.  I want to be able to drop him off with my parents for the weekend so that my husband and I can have time to ourselves once and a while, as grown-ups are meant to have.  We have put the pieces in place and if we don't do it now, I believe that we will always wonder if we should have gone for it.  We could get a nanny, but we can also have the village, so at least for now, we choose that.  

There is a chance, and indeed strong likelihood, that we will not want to, or will not be able to, stay in Minnesota for the long term.  If it doesn't work out, we will face another move.  If that happens, it's a hassle, but on the other hand, what's one extra move at this point?  A small price to pay in order to test out a long-held dream, and to improve the quality of both our baby's young childhood and my nascent motherhood.  

I'm ready to stop thinking about this old nagging problem so that I can save my energy for the fresh new ones.

Happy Fall

Three weeks!  Shameful, I'm sad to have not been writing all this time.  Everyone is busy, and I know that busy is a lame excuse, but I have to be honest when I say that September went entirely missing in the face of the move, and the first half of October wasn't much different.

Since we completed the move into the house, we have had a trip, a family wedding, a wedding anniversary, houseguests, intensive tackling of home-ownership-related tasks, a surprise visitor with fresh-caught redfish from the gulf of Mexico, and even a little (minor) surgery.  Uff-da, as we say up north.

So now, heading into the best part of fall, we are looking forward to some routine, borderline boring, possibly uneventful days.  Here's what's on the short-term agenda: setting up Third Coast Stitch Lab, doing some fabulous fall cooking, carving some pumpkins, and checking out Texas Wine Month events in Hill Country this weekend.

Happy Fall!


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 there...you 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 places...it 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. 

Long Haul

My husband and I drove back and forth between the New Orleans area and Minneapolis/St. Paul during our few years of him working in Louisiana.  Those were the hardest road trips of my life.  Twenty hours total drive time and driving conditions that were less than ideal during the seven or eight hours closest to Louisiana.  My first clue that driving through Mississippi would be a test was when I saw a sign for a rest area which read "Security Provided."  The gas stations were no better; I learned to roll up the cuffs of my pants to avoid the filthy floors.  That was also the era where I started traveling with hand sanitizer, a precaution I'd always found silly in past travels.  We found ourselves avoiding water and coffee until we were almost through the state, but it was impossible to clear the state completely without stopping for fuel.

We did that drive maybe two or three times a year during that period, and it wore me out.  So when we were transferred to Canada, at first I refused to drive home.  We were one 3.5 hour flight from home, why would we drive?

Then I watched flight prices skyrocket.  Ever since we arrived, flights have remained consistently between $700 and $1000.  I got really homesick and started to research a little.  How hard would it actually be to drive?  There was a border in the way, which was a new hurdle for me in a car.  The trip looked to be, per Google, around 18 hours.  In eighteen hours, if I remember correctly, you can fly from Atlanta to Dubai. Or you can drive from Calgary, AB to Detroit Lakes, MN.

Turns out, it's not that hard.  Approximately $400 for fuel, much better than the price of two flights.  Another $100 to make it to the Twin Cities and back, but also the freedom of our own car during the trip.  And, the nice surprise is that I like this drive better than the Louisiana-Minnesota route.  People wrinkle their nose in distaste at the idea of driving long distances. However, I don't find this one very hard.  Driving the length of Mississippi felt much more strenuous to me than driving across North Dakota and a little bit of Montana.  I like to revert back to my naughty college days and crank the music while sucking down caffeine. I force myself to listen to songs and podcasts in their entirety, in order to practice patience and to find unexpected inspiration.

My husband and I have road trip in our DNA. His grandfather drove trucks many years ago, before starting his own trucking business.  My own parents chucked me into the backseat for many, many trips to the cabin.  Most of these trips were only three or four hours, most weekends of the summer, but for about five years, they were about twelve hours, only one time per summer.  I was expected to entertain myself and not make a fuss.  I have never slept well in the car, so mostly I read, in between occasional rounds of Alphabet game, I Spy, star gazing and license-plate watching.   I learned to report my need for a bathroom break well in advance of the situation becoming an emergency, and also that parents are very susceptible to requests for McDonalds on a Friday afternoon after a few hours in the car.

Driving satisfies my curiosity; now I can picture the space between where I live and where I'm from.  I am comforted knowing that I can get home of my own accord if necessary.  I also now know that there is a town called Bloom, North Dakota, and that the National Buffalo Museum is in Jamestown, North Dakota.  I know that when you cross the border from North Dakota to Saskatchewan, you can buy a sweatshirt with the logo "Saskatchewan: Hard to Spell, Easy to Draw", and that there are badlands in North Dakota.  and that there is also a stretch of highway near there called the Enchanted Highway, and the metal sculpture sign for it features enormous geese.

Driving home and back helps me undersand where I am in the world.

Lake Days and Horse Thieves

My husband and I are on a whirlwind trip to Minnesota.  We are out and about together, at home, and home feels amazing.  It makes me a little nervous to be here, because I just started feeling happy in Canada, and I'm worried about this upsetting the balance.  I wavered today, but a trip to the neighborhood bookstore helped.  Regardless, while I can't say that we are on vacation, because my husband has been working most of the time, I can say that I am on vacation and he has been stealing relaxing moments as often as possible.

Friday was a perfect Minnesota lake day.  Such a day includes the following: 80F with a slight breeze, more time on the boat than on land, no time in dry clothes, stops on land only to move people or to replenish food and cocktails, frequent submersion in the lake, sunbathing which does not result in ruinous sunburn, and lots of family and friends around, all doing the same thing and resulting in spontaneous mayhem and afternoon intoxication.

This weekend we have been in St. Paul visiting my husband's family.  We spent some time today with his grandpa who is old-school and very cool.  He is 92 and still lives independently in his home, with a fair amount of support from his attentive daughters.  He is sharp as a tack.  He gave us advice on two topics: family and luck.


As we discussed family roots and backgrounds, at one point he said, "Well, don't shake the family tree too hard, because you never know what's going to fall out."  Pause.  "Horse thieves," he chuckled, almost as an afterthought.  I secretly hoped that there was something so interesting and scandalous as horse thievery in my family.

We also talked about his career in the trucking business.  He drove trucks for ten years before starting his own trucking business, at a time when there were far fewer rules and regulations, so he has some stories from that as well.  His advice on the topic of work is that the harder you work, the luckier you are.

My husband has to go back to work already tomorrow, and I know he hasn't had enough time with his family.  I'm fortunate enough to be able to head back to the lake for a few more days before driving back up north.  I plan to squeeze as much Minnesota as I can out of these coming days, before I have to go back to Canada and make some luck.

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.

Special Edition

Editor Note: This entry was written originally in 2007.

I'm still here. Not exactly here, not in Houma, but here, on the map. A flurry of activity…a move…an engagement…a vacation…a job search.

I'm here, back in St. Paul, and thrilled about it. It sounds funny when I just reviewed the last Houma Report and realized that the last time I wrote, we were on the New Orleans plan. Mostly the real estate market decided that one for us. If you have an empty house, common sense kind of dictates maybe you should live in it. Since we had that in St. Paul, and not in New Orleans, we went with that. And anyway, that has turned out to be a great thing.

The cats and I have settled in and embraced the neighborhood. They stalk the bunnies through the windows, and I stalk neighbors for jobs in the area. I've joined a neighborhood advisory council to see about the possibility of luring a grocery store and a coffee shop to within two blocks. I've interviewed, been disappointed, interviewed again (stay tuned). My boyfriend has been a rock star, supporting, cajoling, pouring champagne, proposing.

Yes, proposing. I'm thrilled to announce that we got engaged up at the cabin on the Fourth of July. It was, so far, the best day of my life. Above an 8 on the FDLS, for faithful readers. He is a brave man and was not cowed by the presence of neighbors or parents. He wasn't even swayed by my general non-cooperation (pre-ask), which is probably a fair representation of our relationship thus far. We visited parties, located champagne, and were treated to a wonderful toast by my parents in the spot on the lake where they met.

A few days after that, we went on our previously planned trip to Dubai, to visit my old friend from New Zealand. The trip was a crazy experience…Middle East Light is how we think of it. A measure of the conservative, covered-up desert culture, with a huge dollop of decadence and none of the shame Westerners like us might have anticipated from a community run by a Muslim dictator. We partook of the five-star experience; night-clubbed with the naughty, repressed Saudis, and felt self-conscious when passing busloads of wildly underpaid Pakistani laborers. If Dubai wasn't such a long flight from here, it would become a favorite warm-weather winter vacation destination for North Americans. Restrictions and guidelines around alcohol consumption make it very family-friendly, and it is also very safe. Outstanding service leads to incredible pampering. Ultimately, though, Chip and I could not escape the feeling of guilt about being somewhere so unsustainable. All of that luxury, all of those crazy man-made islands, all of those skyscrapers, all of that underpaid labor…right in the middle of the sand. It doesn't make sense. The incredible speed with which things get done, however, has piqued our curiosity about the potential of dictatorships.

And then we came home. Back to the job search, back to the business of life. And to the business of figuring out how to get married.