uncommon marriage

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 Birthday!

My husband left today to go back to work in Angola.  Today is also his birthday, and he was feeling a little old and slightly less than awesome when he left the house at 6:30 this morning, so I feel compelled to proclaim to the cyber-world some things that are awesome about him:

He is an Eagle Scout.
He's wicked smart, even though I do have to call him on occasional BS.
He once let me take our shared family vehicle out of Canada, away from him, for six weeks.  In the middle of winter.
He not only got over his childhood feline allergy in order to date me, but is now almost as close to my cat as I am.
He says 'yes' to me when a lot of other people would find ways to say 'no'.
He understands the importance of plane tickets, road trips, and Minnesota.
He also understands the importance of champagne and sparkly things.
He's hot.
He does excellent impressions of people that amuse us.
He agreed to try living without a TV for me.
He is always up for picking up the take-out.
He's a great dad.
He works hard, even though he might disagree with me about that.
He is a soothing presence during sometimes-stressful family gatherings.
He sings the lyrics of rap songs to the rhythm of lounge music.
He goes to bed early most of the time, and makes it seem normal.
He eats in a seemingly effortless healthy, moderate way (I admit that this can be annoying, but over time I've grown less annoyed and just plain grateful as this quality does seem to be contagious).
He goes to Ikea for me, and to the Galleria with me.
He makes fun of me, he makes me laugh, and he makes me better than I would otherwise be.

Happy Birthday, honey!  We miss you already.

Rotation Mom

My husband works what is known in the oil industry as "a rotation".  More specifically, it is known as "an even rotation", meaning that he works a certain number of days, and then goes on an identical number of "days off" (oil-speak for days of separation from work, or what normal people call the weekend or a vacation).  The only way to experience the magic of an even rotation is to work somewhere that is considered a "hardship location" (oil-speak for places shitty and largely inaccessible to casual visitors or interested parties).  When we met, he was working an even rotation (two weeks on, two weeks off) on the North Slope of Alaska.  Currently he works an even rotation (four weeks on, four weeks off), in Luanda, the capital city of Angola.  Some people actually do not consider Angola a shitty place to live, and expats are apparently flocking there. Even so, since it is nearly impossible to get a visitor visa, all food has to be imported, the civil war hasn't been over for that long, and possibly other reasons, it is still more commonly a rotation location than a transfer location.

The upshot of all of this is that for twenty-eight days in a row, I am not only home alone with a baby, but I am also separated by a seven-hour time difference for twenty-eight days from his dad, who is also my husband and my best friend. We depend on a strong internet connection for voice and video communication, and catching a flight for a quick visit is not an option.  After those twenty-eight days pass, we are reunited as a family for what feels like twenty-eight days of weekend.  

I've started to leave the house a lot during that time, so he can see how it feels to be a single parent.

Just kidding.

You can't think like that if you choose to do life this way, even though I have been tempted to do so on the rough days.  I imagine thinking like that is trouble and can only lead to bad blood and hurt feelings.  I said that I would give this an honest try for a year, and I am doing my best to support our choice.

Rotation life is tricky, and I'm still not totally sold on it.  It scares me to think of what could happen to our son if I got sick, and it's a bummer to not have a co-parent to check in with during a bout of screaming or a suspicious unidentified inflammation.  At times it feels that we are living two entirely different lives, which in my opinion is not conducive the team-building vibe that marriage requires.  Additionally, we have not yet figured out how to balance our needs for couple-time, family-time, friend-time, extended family time and maybe a non-family related vacation once and a while, all in exactly fifty percent of his days.  As a result, I find myself clingy and cantankerous prior to his departures, which is not at all my way when times are normal.  Also, it's just considerably less fun for twenty-eight days, plus a few awkward transition days on either end of the rotation.

I often wonder what others would do if they were in our shoes.  If they reviewed the same math, weighed the pros and cons, and considered the true impact of the circumstances of their work lives, would they be tempted to try this, as we have been?  What is their price?  Everyone must have a price.  We have weighed options, numbers, and calendars, and on some level we must have determined that his particular day rate was worth the pain of the separation, at least temporarily.  We have considered his schedule and concluded that having approximately 180 days off a year together without other obligations is worth living in separate countries for the other 180ish days.  We have reflected on the fact that a full-time job for him in Houston would give him more frequent and regular time with our son (i.e. most evenings and weekends), but not necessarily more quality time with him since mornings and days are when the baby is the happiest and most interactive.

However, in spite of my doubt, I can report that some of the rumored perks of rotation life have surfaced now that I am emerging from my newborn-care cave.  My husband has been home for a few weeks and many of the days have felt like a nice long weekend days with all of us spending time together and with him being a full-time dad, while giving me some breaks from my daily grind activities.  We enjoy breakfasts out on weekdays and we share parenting duties very equitably.  He gives me breaks to be crafty and get back in shape, I give him breaks to study for his master's degree.  The other fifty percent of the time, we both have full-time jobs: his job is to support us financially and my job is to sustain the home and family operations.  I'm still not convinced that I want this for the long term, but I hate it less this "hitch" than I did last time around, so who knows what our conclusion will be.

I'm curious who else out there who would try it.

Like a Rolling Stone

I am not technically a fan of the Rolling Stones. Their music is fine to me, not bad, but just not necessarily what I seek. However, there is a song that has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of this strange year.

"I saw her today at the reception..."

My husband left a few days ago for his first four weeks in Angola. I have a range of emotional and mental responses to this, but admittedly at the moment they are mostly negative. I was not ready for him to go this time. I probably wouldn't have been ready a month from now, either. When we first discussed his possibly working on an overseas rotation, it was never coupled in my mind with being home alone with our newborn baby. I find this circumstance both logistically tricky and deeply emotional.

"A glass of wine in her hand..."

The people who read this blog and know us know that my husband is not a mean man. He is, in fact, quite caring. He tells me that many families like rotation life because the end result is that fifty percent of his time will be spent at home, as a full-time dad, not working. And also that the freedom of that schedule will allow us to spend more quality time with family and friends in Minnesota, the way we've often hoped to.

"I knew she was going to meet her connection..."

I believe him. I'm not immune to the positive aspects of his unusual work circumstances, but at the moment the intensity of the year has left me feeling overwhelmed and truly wiped out.

"At her feet was a footloose man..."

The day that he left felt like one of those really terrible days in life that you don't forget. He was busy preparing to go all day, and I was busy trying to care for the baby all day.  I sobbed when he got in the taxi.  Tears dropped from my eyes without warning throughout the days and nights surrounding his departure. Certainly pregnancy followed by newborn-induced sleeplessness exacerbated my intense feelings.

"You can't always get what you want..."

I, and we, had big plans for 2013. Big sewing plans, big professional plans, big travel plans, big financial goals, big plans for our new house. The curve balls were relentless though, and ultimately here I am, nursing our son in this dark nursery half-way around the world from my husband. It is very different from what I imagined having a family might be like.

"You can't always get what you want..."

It's not that I'm not thrilled about our beautiful baby, or blind to the positives of my husband's work. But it is true that I believe families should try to be together, and that the way this year unfolded is what has caused me to believe that more firmly. Tricky.

"You can't always get what you want..."

It is scary to think about the coming solo weeks after my Mom leaves. On the other hand, a lot of people have gone above and beyond to make sure that I don't feel alone or overwhelmed right now. One friend in particular has babysat more than once, brought ice cream and Chipotle, kidnapped me for a baby-free afternoon outside the house, helped me navigate my insurance coverage while I was stuck in my hospital bed, and even helped me improve my odds at continuing to breastfeed in the face of tricky circumstances when she saw, well before I did, how close we had come to not being able to do it. Other friends have dropped off food or helped watch the baby, and still others have sent things in the mail. My mom has not only baby-sat, given up sleep, and just sat still loving our baby for hours; but she has also helped me finish setting up and decorating the unfinished nursery by framing items and sewing bits that I had planned to do but had not completed prior to delivery.  All things considered, we feel loved and lucky, and I know that there are people I can call if I am truly struggling after my mom leaves.

"But if you try sometimes, you just might find..."

We are lucky for other reasons. My husband could easily have not been able to make it back from Indonesia for the birth of our son, but he did make it back. Also, we were able to be together from much of the pregnancy, and even more importantly, his strange job allowed him to be at home with us, full-time, for the first five weeks of our baby's life. Even though I am not quite yet able to feel happy and cheerful about the way this week and this month feel, my brain recognizes that it will all work, because it keeps doing that anyway, no matter what happens.

"You get what you need..."

I can't deny that we have what we need: love, health, each other, and some extras. Just like the song says.

Third Trimester: Monitoring and Adjusting Accordingly

I have dropped some balls during the last couple of months.  If my husband was here, he would very kindly tell me that it is not true; he doesn't like to hear me critical of my own accomplishments (or lack thereof).

But here I am, deep into my third trimester, and still so much unfinished business!  After our period of extended waiting came to an abrupt end, my husband's few days in the Gulf of Mexico in May turned into three weeks, followed by forty-eight hours at home, and now over a month in Indonesia, with the return date still fuzzy but possibly occurring in mid-July.  All of that is helpful from a financial point of view, but less so from a physical and sometimes emotional point of view.  Who knew that the end of pregnancy was so tricky?  Obviously lots of people, but not me; I can't say that I had a full understanding.  Seeing other people do something, and then doing it oneself are two very different animals.

I have had many kind offers of assistance, and it's not that any particular one thing is impossible, yet.  But everything is just slower and clumsier.  I have only one speed, and it is not the one to which I am accustomed.  It takes longer to get dressed and get organized.  I have to take breaks and put my feet up a lot, otherwise I morph into Shrek from the hips to my toes; it seems I'm one of the lucky ones who experiences edema (significant swelling of the legs and feet).  These are small things and I am grateful to not have other more severe concerns, but these things also mean that my high hopes for getting lots done before this little guy comes into the world have been edited to a more moderate altitude.

I was not a particularly gifted teacher.  Most of us that have tried teaching are not.  Like any profession, many of us were fine, having some good days, occasional great days, some bad days and lots of average days in the middle.  Lesson planning was not an area of strength for me, but on the other hand, I was usually adept at changing the course of the lesson on the fly if I could see that the students were not with me.  The education term for this technique was 'monitor and adjust' and it was something that came naturally to me from the beginning.  What's funny to me now is how much I need that skill in my daily non-teaching life.

We have to monitor our home life and adjust plans regularly, as the course of my husband's career takes unexpected turns.  I have had to monitor the impact of all of that on my own goals and adjust my decisions accordingly.  And this year, we have had to monitor our expectations for happiness, togetherness, parenthood, and financial health and adjust appropriately.  The outcomes and structure of the next couple of years are still fuzzy, but our emotional health so far remains firmly intact.  Luckily this feels like a winning adjustment.

In the meantime, some of my other activities have been monitored and largely forsaken as a result of adjusting to the limitations of late pregnancy.  One example is shaving.  Sorry if this is T.M.I. to any male readers out there, but how would you like to shave your face if you couldn't reach it or see it?  I haven't given up all the way, but I can tell that my days are numbered.  Another activity is cleaning the house...it still happens, but very gradually, in stages.  Sitting at the dinner table or in a restaurant for very long is also getting very uncomfortable.  According to the medical people in my life, when I'm sitting up with my feet on the floor, my baby, bless his sweet soul, is cutting off the blood supply that is trying to flow back up from my legs to my heart, which is what causes the extreme Shrek-style foot and ankle swelling.  Traveling is definitively out these days, as is sitting in the sun, which also triggers the swelling switch.  

One more activity has had to be adjusted, but not necessarily just because of the pregnancy...I have slowed down a little on the bread and cooking goals for the year (I was aiming for one new loaf a week and one new recipe a week).  Turns out that being home alone with a lot of baked goods and cooked food just leads to me eating more than I should and to running out of room in the freezer.  I'm still cooking, but I just had to slow it down and not worry about it for a bit while I caught up.  Now that things are kind of caught up, it might be time to start cooking again to make a supply of meals for when we first bring the baby home.

So have I dropped some balls, or just made some appropriate adjustments?  Not sure.  But I can say that now that I'm finally putting together the nursery, there are some sewing projects for the baby that are behind schedule.  Will they get finished?  I don't know.  If they don't, I'm sure the baby and I will both adjust accordingly.

The Art of Waiting

I'm home alone, which is weird.  I don't think I have been home alone, at least not for more than a couple of hours, since sometime in July.  In the past, home alone was a relatively common occurrence, as my husband was called upon to be away for work days or even weeks at a time.  In the last few years, it has been a more minimal amount.  In the last few months, it has been not at all.  We have been waiting.  A lot.  Not waiting for him to leave, so much as waiting for his next contract to start.

It seems like we get wrapped up in a waiting period like this every couple of years; far more often than I would have imagined when I was younger and considered what the life of a grown-up entails.  In my late teens and early twenties, I was vaguely aware that momentous events would occur in adulthood.  I knew that I might get married, or choose not to...I knew that I would likely move to another state or country...I knew that I could experience illness or the loss of a loved one.  There was a strong possibility that I might change careers, or face the disappointment of not landing a certain coveted job.  I did not spend as much time imagining or planning my future as I now think I should have, but I suspect that even if I had, it would have never occurred to me to plan for how to handle long and relatively frequent periods of waiting for outside forces to ascertain major parameters of the timing and geography of my daily life.

This particular stage started in February, which was the month that we were told to expect that my husband would begin in his new contract, working every other 28 days in Luanda.  As the weeks passed, we were then told to expect him to begin working in March.  As March neared to a close, we were told that his work was being delayed by the visa paperwork process of the Angolan government and that we should expect delays of at least another couple of months.  In light of that, my husband was next offered an immediate and shorter-term contract in Indonesia, which would occupy him until it was time to start work in Angola.   A flight was booked for him for April eighth.  April eighth came and went, and every week since then, his estimated departure date for Indonesia gets bumped forward a week or two.  Luckily, in the even shorter term, he has been assigned to a brief local contract here in the Gulf of Mexico, so at least he can work a little while we continue to wait for a rig in Indonesia and a government in Africa to make progress.

As the weeks have gone by, I have passed through a variety of stages.  Shock and disbelief at such wild inefficiency and misinformation...utter calm in the knowledge that eventually the slow wheels of bureaucracy would complete their revolutions...frustration at knowing that there is work to be done and that my husband has been ready to do it for ages but has instead been working to fill his time in other ways...anger that there is a cloud of schedule uncertainty that has spanned almost the entire length of my pregnancy, preventing saving, travel, life, budget and nursery planning...and  then ultimately acceptance: the knowledge that this is what it is to live with oil and gas, and also to be the partner of an independent contractor in the oil and gas industry.  The choices we have made for his work provide us with many privileges, and this is the price we pay for that.

Of course I have angry or worried days, but they are mostly surrounded by calm days.  We have made the most of our time and in this I feel proud of us; past periods of waiting have cultivated outbursts and moodiness on my part, as I struggled with the feeling of powerlessness.  I have come to the conclusion that it is the loss of control which feeds the feelings of madness; to have the fate of your day-to-day existence so completely in the hands of others for unforeseen lengths of time can truly make you feel wild.  Also not helpful are when timelines are moving targets, mere suggestions of an optimistic final outcome.  When you are told that you will have information next week, and next week comes and goes, you are also under the impression that the information must be around the corner.  We have been told "next week" every week since February.  At this point we know better than to believe anyone.  Now that we have lowered our expectations that also helps us manage the stress.  It makes me angry of course; we maybe would have treated the last couple of months differently if we had understood that we had several months ahead which were completely unscheduled.  Who wouldn't?

What I know is this: I'm getting better at waiting.  Of all of the waiting periods, this has been the most high-stakes, due to factors including: a break in income, preparing to begin a lifestyle of significant periods of separation, being pregnant, and trying to "schedule" his future work around the arrival of a baby.  In spite of that, we are the calmest and least frazzled by this particular endless stretch of time than we have been by any of the other periods.  I tell myself that this intense loss of control feeling is probably good practice for parenthood.  We have also worked to use this time to strengthen our marriage instead of letting the stress separate us, an accomplishment at any point in time but one that I feel is even more significant in light of the close quarters of our home.

Who knows what will come next, but at least I can say that this period of waiting has produced a husband who has been able to attend all prenatal appointments so far (and felt many kicks lately), lots of home-cooked food, a healthy lawn, a decent amount of laughter, lots of gratitude for a physically uneventful pregnancy and quiet time together, and people who are getting better and better at waiting patiently.  Not to mention a wife who used to love being home alone, but has grown so used to the constant companionship of her partner that she felt surprisingly sad when she dropped him off at the airport for a separation of only a few days.


Confession: Last week, in the grocery store check-out line, I purchased my second issue of Garden & Gun.

To be clear, my position on guns has not changed.  I understand guns for hunting, and I can support that, with sufficient regulation.  The idea that guns should not be traceable is ridiculous.  Guns for non-hunting civilian pleasure are a recipe for mayhem, and Americans are not proving worthy of the responsibility.

However, Garden & Gun is good.  It feels similar to my favorite Twin Cities publication, Metro Magazine.  It is a fresh and hip report of southern food and lifestyle, and is proving to be a handy resource.  Aside from advertisements, articles about guns are far outnumbered compared to lifestyle, food, and culture articles.  The only reason I haven't yet subscribed is that we are still in the throes of finalizing next year's address.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, in spite of August weather that drags me down, alligators in garages, and over-abundances of churches, guns and crazy Tea Party people, Texas is creeping into me.  I'm happy here.  How can you not love a place that harbors such enthusiasm for chili peppers and cowboy boots?  I even like the little lizards that skitter around on the sidewalks when I run past.

For whatever reason, I'm in.  The call of home was strong, but living there at this stage would mean significant separation from my husband, and for now, we like it here enough that it doesn't seem worth signing up for that unless we have to.  Luckily, it doesn't feel like a sacrifice to settle in right here for a bit.

Migrate: Read About It

Moving to places that don't make it onto ten-best lists, and trying to embrace what makes them tick, was the impetus for starting this blog.  It's easy to love a place where the priorities of the community match mine.  Thriving and finding happiness in places where people don't share my values has required developing new mental and emotional muscles, along with a willingness to more accurately identify priorities.

As mentioned in recent posts, in recent weeks my husband and I have been working to decide our next step.  For a period of time, maybe the last month or two, heading for a home base in Minnesota seemed both sure and sure-fire.  In the last few days, the pendulum has swung back to a grey area as we learn more about possibilities that exist if we remain in Houston, and I'm also feeling unsure about signing up for another immediate upheaval.  The benefits of taking our time heading home in order to make the most of the opportunities right here, mixed with an uneasiness about committing to separation for fifty percent of our time (which basing our lives in Minnesota would require), have risen to the surface of our planning efforts.  In all honesty, I'm stumped by this decision.

In this era, it is amazing to even have multiple good choices, so while I remain truly confused, I don't want to sound ungrateful.  Still, it feels like a true chicken-egg conundrum.  It feels like I am required to choose between a better relationship with my husband, or one with a large portion of my friends and family network.  A significant body of sociological research reflects both the value of a dense and supportive friend/family network, and the value of mobility, which serves as a tool for improving both the quality of our lives and our economy.  My husband and I have lived the ramifications of both of these notions.

At times I have worried that it would be impossible to ever feel happy while living almost entirely without roots.  But I have just finished reading a book that was so full of amazing coping mechanisms, that I feel far more empowered, and even more optimistic about not only remaining on the no-plan plan about where we live, but also about having a family of our own.

The Immigrant Advantage, by Claudia Kolker, culls some of the best coping mechanisms that new members of our nation use to not only survive, but thrive, here.  It is not a book that troubles itself about whether immigration is right or wrong; it stays firmly within the boundaries of how immigrants from all over the world use cultural tools from their backgrounds to improve the quality of their lives here.  I swear it is apolitical, and even more exciting, it is full of great ideas that people from any culture would benefit from reflecting on in a quest to improve the quality of daily life.  Additionally, the author lives in my neighborhood, and I feel that she has captured in this book some of the feeling of diversity in Houston that I think is one of its best features.

When I taught English to refugee and immigrant students, I often felt compelled to defend them to those who had harsh words for their existence here.  Many people feel uncomfortable with immigration right now, and it was hard to explain to them how if they knew my students like I did, they wouldn't feel as upset.  They would see people working hard, supporting themselves, and making excruciating daily decisions in order to improve the quality of the lives of their families.  They were doing exactly what Americans have always done.  What amazed me about my need to defend them is that by and large, my students had much more conservative values than mine or most of my other American, middle-class, well-meaning peers.  Immigrants often show examples of being better at saving, less likely to use services, more connected to faith, and more committed to taking care of their families than American caucasians are turning out to be.  Obviously, there are bad seeds in all groups, and clearly breaking laws to do these things is still problematic and burdensome.

But in the meantime, read this book.  It makes me more optimistic than anything I've read in a long time.  And if it feels compelling, follow it up with the Summer 2012 issue of Good magazine, which is also devoted to the topic of migration and how it's affecting the world.

Pros and Cons

When my relationship with my husband starting getting serious, it seemed like big decisions would be a common occurrence, since he moved so much for his work.  So I bought this pros and cons notepad for us, half-jokingly, but also to bring some order to the process of planning next steps.

We recently had to break it out again, not to decide about leaving Houston next year, which we already view as a likely scenario, but to decide if we should accept an opportunity to move out of our current home as early as August.  We have wrestled hard with this decision; we love where we live this year, but it also a bit of a splurge while we are saving for a home purchase.  The early release offered by our landlord would afford more flexibility and more financial savings as we make our plans for next year.

But it also would produce a massive upheaval, six months ahead of schedule, and just after the dust settled from the last big life disruption.  Making this decision has been exhausting and a little confusing, and brings to mind a recurring area of reflection for me: how we use our head combined with our heart to deem as acceptable the cost of some opportunities, but to reject as too expensive the price tags other ones.  It is difficult, but necessary, to quantify in dollars stress levels, comfort, convenience, togetherness, free time, and general satisfaction.  In order to make daily decisions we all do it continuously.

Our first instinct in this particular situation was to seize the opportunity, live with the temporary chaos, and try to save as much money as possible in the next six months.  Further consideration, however, revealed my own considerable fatigue with regard to rapid-fire moving.  While we don't want to live here forever, it is relaxing and pleasant and perhaps something to savor until it comes to a close.  I do not want to race away without enjoying and exploring a bit more of Texas, nor am I convinced that the financial savings reaped from this possibility would validate the stress of the resulting circumstances.

So we made our list this weekend, and for now, it appears that we will slow down instead of speed up a departure.  Probably.

Life Hangover

I've been working on flexibility and attitude during the last year.  Life married to oil has a lot of sudden twists, but also has many, many opportunities.  Learning to navigate the high-frequency moves and sudden upheavals has mostly been a fair price to pay for the adventure and good fortune that we have.

All the same, even at the height of gratitude, I feel worn out right now.  The new home buzz is waning, and there are still piles here and unfinished life bits there.  The holiday season combined with rapid-fire expenses of moving the household, additional furnishing for the new place, and setting up services, mixed in with unexpected feline dental surgery, has also left me nursing an extreme financial hangover.

As the dust settles, I'm faced again with the question of what kind of life to build here, and how to figure out what's next.

Thanks, I'm in Norway

"Christmas tradition" has been an oxymoron since my sister got married almost seventeen years ago.  We started going to her house for Christmas, but then sometimes they were with her husband's family, or they didn't want to travel when we couldn't, so suddenly sometimes we were just three, or with other friends or family members.  All of the ways of having Christmas have had their charms, but I do not feel a great sense of tradition anymore when I think of Christmas.  Since I got married four years ago, that experience has continued.  My husband's work is filled with unpredictable calendar trickery, and I have become accustomed to the fact that one of the things we give up are classic, scheduled holiday itineraries.  

This year was no different.  Preparing for and executing the move absorbed most of our energy this fall, and it wasn't until I busted through the boxes and came up for air last week, that I finally could focus on locating my inner elf.  We had originally been aiming for a quick holiday weekend in Minnesota, but it turned out that my husband was on call for work.  Foiled by oil again.

Here is the upside of these holiday snafus though: the craving for orthodox is wearing off, and the non-traditional is feeling more fun.  This year, knowing that we would be here cooking a meal regardless of whether or not we were two people or eight, we checked around for other holiday orphans in the area.  Turns out there were a few; medical and oil types.  We extended an open invitation to them, curious what kind of Christmas Eve celebration would develop.  Most of them ended up doing other things.  One of the invitees told us that he wasn't sure if he was staying here or going to Mexico.  We texted him the day before to check on his availability, and his response was "Thanks, I'm in Norway".  Again, tricky for planning, but also intriguing to us that we know someone who thinks he might be headed to Mexico in a day or two, but then is suddenly in Norway instead.  For a long weekend.  The world is amazing to me.  We ended up hosting our new landlord-slash-friend, and it was very nice.

Without really thinking about why, this year I did traditional things that I don't normally: bought a Christmas tree (with no needles) and hung ornaments, put out lights and decorations, roasted a turkey (for my husband and near-strangers), and even went to the mall on the day after Christmas (and ogled professional Texan luxury shopping).  It was the most traditional non-traditional holiday ever.  I feel tired and relaxed and spoiled and at ease with the world.  It's also time to get back to work, in some way or another.


This morning my husband and I were sitting at breakfast, and he looked at me and said, “We’re like Voltron,”. I was stumped, in addition to being more a little dazed from the events of the last two weeks. Often I follow his thoughts seamlessly, but not this morning.

We left Calgary on October 30, with the car and the cat. After a visit with my parents, and making sure that the cat was cozy at their house, we carried on to Minneapolis, where we visited more family and friends and prepared to find a place to live in Houston.

The trip was phenomenal; we fell in love with a townhouse and we were hosted in the home of close friends that we had not seen for a year. It was much more comfortable than it would have been to operate out of a hotel, with the added benefit of getting to know our friends’ new puppies. We secured our new place, met my husband’s new co-workers, and indulged in emergency cocktails and laughs after the puppies tore up another new dog bed and managed to ditch their i.d. tags.

Then things got serious; my husband’s grandfather has been quite sick for several weeks, and it was becoming clear that he was in his final days. There was no way for us to finish the move together in Calgary and also be at the funeral in Minnesota. So here we were at breakfast, on the morning of my flight back to Calgary, preparing to split up for the week.

I feel good about our decision, and know I will be able to finish the packing and the other bits of business left. But I can’t lie, I felt sad this morning. I have missed other important funerals, and would really prefer to be at this one. My husband’s grandpa was old-school; the kind of man that you look up to and don’t want to disappoint. He fought in WWII and owned trucking companies.  He was the kind of man who approached life with calm, wisdom and a sense of humor. At 92, he remained in hospice care in his home throughout his illness, and seven days ago he refused any more food. In spite of that, he lived another full week, and only passed this afternoon. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever known someone stronger.

And so, breakfast and Voltron. I had no idea what my husband was talking about. I had tears in my eyes. I was tired and emotional, about the death, the move, the separation. We were at a coffee shop in our old neighborhood and I just wanted to stay there, with him, forever. I asked him what Voltron was. It’s hard to convey the charm of this if you don’t know my husband, but it turns out that Voltron is a Japanese anime character, a powerful robot machine creature that is actually composed of five robots. Voltron operates as one force when it’s appropriate, and divides into five entities when the situation requires. It might sound ridiculous that I found this comforting, but to be honest, the fact that this is how he imagined us at this moment is one of the things that I have come to love most about him.

One of the things that my husband's grandpa used to say is that it’s a long road without any turns. I keep thinking of that this week, and about how grateful I am to have had someone like him to remind me of that in a time like this.  Aside from my sadness about his passing, I have never felt more peaceful or lucky in my life.  I will be thinking about him and his life while I pack.

At Home

I'm Never Moving to Houston

When my husband and I got together, it was clear that for most people in his company, and indeed, many in his line of work, all roads lead, eventually, to Houston.  The idea was horrifying to both of us.  Louisiana, fine, but Houston?  We had to draw the line somewhere.  Houston represented (in our minds) everything that we found abhorrent and disappointing about American culture.  The Bush debacle.  Urban sprawl.  Outrageous heat.  Gun-loving Bible people.  Big hair and country club life.  We laughed at our little private joke.  Houston, the very idea.  So when we got engaged, and he continued working in oil, my general message was, "I'm so thrilled for our life together, our partnership, and I love you very much, but I just want you to know that I'm never moving to Houston."

So what's crazy is that we're moving to Houston next month, and I'm not drawing up the divorce papers, or even having a meltdown.  To be honest, I'm even a little bit excited.  It was hard to let go of the Africa fantasy, but in my heart, I know that going to Houston gets us closer to home on multiple levels.  Africa was "adventure", but Houston allows us a real life.  I think.

In the last few weeks, as the news of this move has unfolded, I have been developing an arsenal of bright-side-of-moving-to-Houston notions.  Here are some reasons that I have to look forward to Houston:

1.) The food is probably outstanding.
2.) The people are warm, passionate, and refreshingly direct, compared to Minnesotans.
3.) A few of our friends already live in Houston, or within a manageable roadtrip.
4.) There is likely to be great music around.
5.) Heat is not all bad, and I actually like humidity.
6.) The food should be out of this world, and much more affordable than food in Luanda.
7.) Did I mention that I have high hopes for the food?

One of the best things is that several of our friends have been transferred there over the last couple of years, so there will be a reunion of sorts, and so won't have to start over completely in the friend-making department.  Also, see above list; with regard to food.  Mexican, barbeque, avocados everywhere, I can hardly concentrate right now thinking about it.  Austin, one of our favorite cities, is only a few hours from Houston, making it a fun and easy weekend getaway.  And, Houston is the 4th largest city in country (!!!), so there has to be some creative stuff going on, right?

Fast Company named Houston city of the year this year, so my fingers are crossed.  Also, now I can develop a much healthier attitude to the month of February, since it is possible that that is when the best weather of the year will occur.

So, we're headed to Houston, and while it wouldn't have been my first choice, it was also not even close to my last choice anymore.  Don't tell me that people can't change.

Yesterday I was Houston, Today I'm Luanda

I'm not as easily flummoxed by major life decisions as I am by the ones I face in the course of normal daily life.  I fret about farm conditions involved in cheese production when I buy a block of cheddar, but not so much about a career change.  It's a quirk of my genetic makeup which has been put in stark relief by circumstances of my married life.

However, Houston vs. Luanda (See No-Plans Plan if you're confused) has me stumped.  Only one other decision, the question of whether or not to procreate, has provoked such utter indecision in my heart.  I spend a few days imagining life in Houston, which used to be impossible to picture but is growing on me.  Then, I wake up and overnight, I have shifted into an obsessive curiosity about the Luandan adventure, which lasts a day or two, before Houston hijacks my imagination once more.  I have no illusions of life in Luanda being easy or glamorous, but still, I can't completely shake it off.
In the course of trying to make an informed decision, in case we are lucky enough to have a choice, I have sought and received and counsel from a variety of people.  Some are friends who have traveled and worked in similar places, for work and study.  I have asked people who stay home, and people that move frequently like we do.

Here are some responses that stand out in my current teeter-totter thoughts:

My friend's co-worker, as quoted to me by my friend over Skype: " 'Houston?! [with a funny look on her face] I'd take Luanda!"

My former colleague and also former school counselor: "I would go for Angola as long as I didn't have to fear for my personal safety 50% of the time."

My friend who is also married to moving madness: "I can hardly imagine what my pre-child self would say to this. I think she would say that it depends on how long the assignment it, how much R&R you get, and how good the pay is. If the answers were short, a lot, and a boatload, I would say go for it."

One of my very close friends: "It [Luanda] could be life-changing."

An employee at my favorite neighborhood grocery store in Calgary: "...but then you have to hang out with expats, and they're kind of weird...".

Although to this I would add that hanging out with Texans could be equally troubling.

No-Plans Plan

The most challenging aspect of living with oil and gas, for me, has been the absolute unpredictability with regard to schedule and life-planning.  For a while I assumed that my husband just wasn't that great at planning because he is a man, a theory which was supported by years of dating other men.  But time has gone by, and I notice that it's not just him.  The people from whom he gets his schedule information are usually also days, weeks, and even months off target.  Again, I can't lie, I attributed this to the fact that his is an industry run largely by men.  It seemed plausible that if men were bad at planning and time calculations, then an industry made up of thousands of men would produce schedules and predictions that were totally off.  On the other hand, I may have to cut him, and them, some slack, because I have also learned that everything hinges on wells.

As it turns out, drilling a functional well through layers of earth is messy and imperfect.  So, for years I've been living with no-plans plans.  I lived in fear that my husband would be trapped offshore and miss our wedding.  I worried for years about him missing flights home.  I have despaired trying to plan gatherings or verify our attendance at family holidays.  I have also finally realized that this not knowing is what explains my husband's reticence.  He doesn't want to let me down, but he doesn't know the answer, so he is quiet sometimes.  He doesn't like to guess, because he knows how far off an educated guess could still put him.  It used to make me wild and crabby, but I've been working on improving my attitude about it.  It's no fun to feel anxious for months on end, and it's hard on both of us, so I'm finding ways to redirect that energy.

At the end of August, I found out that we may or may not be moving to Houston.  Or Luanda.  At any rate, I would not have predicted our imminent departure from Canada, but here it is.  We thought it was two years away, but instead, here it is, probably before Christmas.

Here are some things to do if you may or may not be moving in a month or two: talk to your landlord, stop working (unless you love your job), do more of the things you have been meaning to do in the place to which you are unlikely to return after you leave, do lots of the things that you enjoy in that place, and make many lists, including a list of accounts to close or addresses to change and items that the movers should or will not move.  Then, celebrate the adventure. With champagne and/or whatever other adult beverages you have around that you have to use up before the relocation.

Sometimes people find me intense; when I make plans, I always want them put on the books immediately, and executed as soon as possible.  I want to book the flights today, have the dinner together tonight, sign up for the event on the spot...it's because in the five years that I have known my husband, this is the third time that I have experienced unexpected long-distance relocation.  This is the planner in my nature, not wanting to miss a minute of possible fun and companionship in every place.  If we don't do it today, I might be gone tomorrow.  My attempt to plan seemingly tricky things on short notice can sound preposterous to people, but I just want to see them, and spend time together, before the window of opportunity closes again.

So, for the last few weeks, while we learn more and make plans, I have spent a lot of time in my sewing room, feeling fall coming to Calgary.  There are lots of ways to enjoy the view in Calgary, but the view from this room is outstanding.  We're having beautiful fall weather, crisp and colorful, with lots of sun, and just enough gloom to satisfy me.  I won't get this weather, or probably this lovely back patio, in Houston or Luanda, so right now, I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing: sewing shirts suitable for the tropical weather of my future, enjoying the chill of the right here right now, and indulging in frequent cinnamon buns from Vendome Café.