Friday, September 22, 2017

Doing It All

Stock Ultrasound Image (not mine)
Somewhere between November 1st and November 29th (the doctor says November 15th but I don't put too much stock in due dates), a little baby boy will come join the Irvan household. We are thrilled to become parents -- after all, we'd been planning this for a while! -- but also a little nervous. Having never been parents before, we're going into this thing like we're preparing for the apocalypse: reading every pregnancy book under the sun, taking a 10-week Bradley class and an 8-hour Lamaze class, and grilling our friends and family on best practices for labor and delivery. I stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine, take a prenatal vitamin faithfully, and annoy the hell out of my doctors with my never-ending list of questions. 

But here's the thing: we've only got about eight more weeks before the baby comes. It's time to quit stressing about the pregnancy and birth part, and start thinking about what's going to happen after the baby gets here!

Good and Bad 
From Google

If only we knew what to expect! Back in the '50s, you only ever heard of the beautiful and exciting side of having a baby. Moms stayed home, raised their children perfectly, and still baked a pie a week. 

(Note that families were also perfectly able to sustain themselves on one salary back then. With student loan payments as much as your rent or mortgage, two-income families are almost a necessity now.) 

Nowadays, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way: you only ever hear about the terrible side of raising children: the sleepless nights, the ceaseless crying, the thankless days of drudgery. I think there are more negative child-raising experiences on the internet than positive ones -- or at least, that's what it seems like. Talking with friends about their child-raising experiences have caused some shivers to go down my back!

I'm sure this backlash is in retaliation to the "everything's rosy" picture that mothers have had to hold up over the years. Raising children is not all sweet, and there are definitely times when you wish you could return to your pre-kid existence. But is it really all bad? It can't be, can it? Otherwise, why would anyone keep having them? 

(Seasoned mothers can insert here, "Oh, Jaimie, Jaimie, Jaimie, you have no idea . . . " You're right. I don't.)

Work or Stay Home? 

There's also the ever-present dialogue in the back of my mind: what happens after my allotted 12-week maternity leave is over? Do I go back to work or stay home with the baby? I know I'm lucky even to be able to consider the possibility of being a full-time mom. So many women don't have that luxury. 

If I go back to work (my only option is returning full-time; there aren't any open part-time positions now), I'll: 
  • pay someone to watch the baby for nine hours a day, which will essentially cut my salary in half
  • pump at work every couple of hours and maintain a stash of bottles
  • come to work sleepy those days he's up all night
  • feel guilty for leaving him in daycare 
If I stay home, I'll: 
  • feel guilty that I'm not contributing to the household income
  • potentially feel lonely and isolated and need to join a group of other moms to keep my head on straight 
Of course, those are just the negative sides to both options. I know there are positive parts to each, too. If I stay home, I get to raise my kid just the way I want to. If I go to work, I'll have a break from the "thankless days of drudgery". Luckily, I've still got five months to decide what to do . . . 
Culture

Because of all these issues surrounding new-motherhood (work, money, chores, sleep), I've been thinking a lot about the Big Picture. About how women have been doing it all since the 1970s. 

Plenty of books and articles exist about the issue of mothers working (just Google it) so I won't rehash too much. What's mostly been on my mind is the way women are told they can have everything: a lucrative and satisfying career, deep friendships, fast, healthy meals, a spotless house, perfectly behaved children, and great sex, too. (Or, as this article put it, "you need to be leaning in as far as you can at work and creating a Pinterest-perfect family tableau at home, replete with foraged-pinecone centerpieces and smiling tots happily eating their homemade quinoa cakes.")

I'm sure it's not impossible and millions of women do it. It's just that I'm not sure I want to try. It seems like too much trouble to try to have everything. It seems like you just hurry all the time. I want my children to grow up feeling calm about life, not like they just have to hurry from one thing to another, as they see their frazzled mother do. 

Where's the balance between the stuck-at-home 1950s mom and the stuck-in-traffic 2017 mom?! Do I go move to the country and make homemade bread every day, or stay in my trendy neighborhood and buy a jogging stroller? 

This much is for certain: Kyle and I will have another human living at our house in just around 55 days. We don't have to decide the rest of our lives right now. For right now, we just need to welcome him in and give him lots of love.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go Beach Camping


Are you thinking about going on a romantic camping trip on the beach with your significant other? Sun, sand, love, and laughter? Don't do it. Go get a hotel. You won't regret it.

Twice (2015 & 2017), Kyle and I have gone to the campsite at Cape Lookout, taking the ferry across the water and spending the night in a tent. Twice we have had experiences that make us wish we would have gone somewhere else.

Here are the issues we encountered:

#1. The trek. You've got to pack everything you'll need for two days into bundles that can be easily carried by two people. The tent, backpack, and sleeping bags aren't too bad. But fill up a cooler with ice and food and suddenly the quarter mile walk over hot sand from the one side of the island where they drop you off to the other side where you camp suddenly expands by about 100,000 miles. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, you don't need a cooler. You're cool eating PB&Js and drinking 85 degree water for two days.)

#2: The trucks. If you don't feel like walking you can always drive your truck out on the beach. Until it gets stuck in sand and eight more trucks come to bail you out, and some of THEM get stuck. Kyle and I didn't drive. But some guy tried for an hour to get his truck out of the sand directly in front of our tent at sunset, and that sure ruined the mood. We ended up going for a walk instead.

#3: The wind. A beautiful day at the beach. All you want to do is lie on the warm sand, soak up some sun, read a book . . . except you can't because the wind is so strong it blows stinging sand on you like it wants to scrape off your skin. Even the birds are having trouble flying. And you don't have anywhere to go but in the hot tent or in the sand next to the tent, which does a poor job of blocking.

#4: The waves. OK, so you can't sunbathe. At least you can enjoy the water! Oh, just kidding, you can't get in the water because every wave is pummeling the shore with all the wrath Mother Nature could ever summon. No one is in the water. Everyone wades in up to their ankles but is afraid to get in deeper for fear of being swept away into a rip current. (Also because the ocean floor is covered in shells that will lacerate your feet.) High tide, low tide . . . the ocean keeps trying to bite you. 

#5: The wind at night. Neverending. Never ceasing. Constant, constant force shaking the tent, flapping the flaps, scurrying under the tent to lift your feet in the air. 

#6: The waves at night. Neverending. Never ceasing. Constant, constant noise that is inescapable. I don't know what decibel level waves are at in real life, but they seem much less calming in real life than the ones you listen to in your headphones.

#7: Your gross skin. After all day outside, you're sweaty, you're sticky from sea mist, and even if you jump in the ocean to rinse off, you just end up salty and sandy again. Even with showers on the island, you never feel really clean. 

#8: Sand in everything. Do you like your salad, apples, or water sand-free? Do you enjoy sleeping on blankets that aren't covered in sand. Then you're in the wrong place, because here, sand is ubiquitous. 

#9: Flies and mosquitoes. When we camped out in 2015, I thought I'd go crazy from the buzzing around my head all night (no tent that time). This time we brought insect repellent, but not until we'd been bitten incessantly by those big green flies that hang out at the beach in the evening.

#10: No escape. The ferry drops you off in the afternoon and doesn't return until 8 o'clock the next morning. There's no shade except your tent. If you forgot something (like, ya know, bathing suits), you're just SOL. 

A few good things can happen, though. The wind died down a little during our evening stroll at high tide, which made the walk much more enjoyable. (We also found an abandoned cooler full of empty beer bottles and dead fish.) The sunset was beautiful, and the sunrise, seen after a restless, sleepless night, was also spectacular. 

But honestly, mountain camping is so much better than beach camping. I don't mind sleeping in a tent: I've done it dozens of times in my life, more than I can count. But camping on the beach in July is just a bad idea from start to finish. 

I hope you have better experiences than we did! We will never do it again! 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Christians and the Environment

Tennessee, 2009
In preparation for our potential move outside of the city, I'm reading up on country living. I grew up in the country, but never had to do the decision-making myself there, so I feel I need to read up on how to can vegetables and feed chickens before we get there. We love the neighborhood we're living in now, but we are definitely priced out of buying here (by several hundred thousand dollars), so we're considering going somewhere farther out: Granville County, Person County, or maybe somewhere between here and Greensboro. We haven't quite decided yet. But I'll have to do some reading no matter where we go.

When I was a kid, I used to browse through my dad's copy of Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book, leafing through the pages of how to dry greens, wash clothes by hand, raise milk cows, and keep warm in the winter with just a wood stove. (Although we didn't do all of those things when I was a kid, and I may never, I guess it doesn't hurt to be prepared.) 

As I was reading through the book today, I came across a passage that really struck me. Carla Emery first published her book in 1971. She's about the most down-to-earth person possible: rural, self-sufficient, confident. Salt-of-the-earth. I respect a lot of what she says, and I'd like to follow in her footsteps and live off the land some day. I love what she says about the world we live in (italics hers, bold mine) and pray that everyone who is lucky enough to have a tiny of slice of nature hold the same conviction:  

"YOUR LAND IS A SPIRITUAL RESPONSIBILITY

"I believe we should live morally and spiritually as if Jesus were coming in the next five minutes, but economically and ecologically we should live as if He won't be here for 5,000 years more. I think it's a crime against that precious heritage God promised Abraham and the rest not to cherish and try to preserve this earth -- His splendid creation. If it is going to come into destruction this should be no doing of any Christian hands. So please brothers and sisters let us struggle to preserve in health, beauty and usefulness this planet that God has given us and our descendants to be our home until that last day when we shall indeed be raised to be with Him. Let us be able to report our stewardship proudly" (1977 ed., p. 34). 

Amen, sister. Amen. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gratitude to Mrs. K

I'm getting married in a few days, and it's all because of Mrs. L.K., my 11th grade Spanish teacher.

If scheduling hadn't prevented me from taking French in Fall 1998, I never would have taken Spanish.

If I hadn't taken Spanish class, I never would have fallen in love with the language.

If I hadn't fallen in love with the language, I wouldn't have wanted to study Spanish at Milligan College.

If I hadn't gone to Milligan College, I never would have reconnected with J.S., who never would have introduced me to J.F.

If I hadn't met J.F., I never would have gotten married in 2005.

If I hadn't gotten married, I wouldn't have gotten divorced.

If I hadn't gotten divorced, I wouldn't have moved to Japan.

If I hadn't lived in Japan for the same two years Kyle did (2010-2012), I never would have joined the Japanese Meet-Up when I moved back to North Carolina.

If I hadn't joined the Meet-Up, I never would have met Kyle.

And if I had never met Kyle, I'd never have married him.

Grateful I am for all of my life experiences that have brought me to where I am now.

As Kyle told me, "There is only one road that leads to the present, and we have traveled it."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Counting Down to April 9th

. . . It seemed natural: it seemed genial to be so well-loved and caressed by him. 

"Jane, you look blooming, and smiling, and pretty," said he, "truly pretty this morning. Is this my pale little elf?"

"It is Jane Eyre, sir."

"Soon to be Jane Rochester," he added: "in four weeks, not a day more. Do you hear that?"

I did, and I could not quite comprehend it: it made me giddy. The feeling, the announcement sent through, was something stronger than was consistent with joy -- something that smote and stunned . . . I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, "Are you happy, Jane?" And again and again I answered, "Yes."

- Charlotte Brontë, "Jane Eyre," 1847


In two and a half weeks, I'll be taking my beloved's name as well.

In two and a half weeks, all the months of planning about what color tablecloths we need, where to get a cake, what song we should dance to, and all the other unimportant wedding details will all be over.

And I'll think only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Year of the Dog Fortune 2016

I checked my Year of the Dog Fortune in January 2016. It says:




As the Japanese would say: 合っている! (Atte-iru-- it was absolutely correct!) 2016 brought good fortune in love, as my long-time crush and I got engaged, and a direction for future development: after 15 years in ESL teaching, I switched to career counseling. Here's a month-by-month breakdown of all the fun things 2016 brought.


North Carolina Snow
 January - I was in the middle of the 2015-2016 school year at Wake County Public Schools, teaching ESL at two elementary schools during the day and twice a week at Wake Tech at night. (As well as giving statewide ESL trainings once every few months and taking online classes to get my teaching certificate.) Kyle's lease on his apartment in N. Raleigh was up, so he moved to a farmhouse in South Durham on a 6-month contract. We spent New Year's with friends in downtown Raleigh, then traveled to New York the 14th-17th. We also had a few snow days between the 22nd-23rd. 
Still working on that quilt

February - Kyle went to Virginia and came back with the flu, which he soon gave to me. We were both out of work for a week. Other than that, we visited my mom, toured Korner's Folley, and ate at Pegg's Tea House. We hosted an Oscar party/Clarissa's Going Away Party on the 28th. 


Michigan Beer
March - Clarissa moved to Germany, and left Kyle and I super sad! We watched House of Cards a lot. Then Kyle had to go to Germany (but different city) so I stayed home and ate a lot of chocolate in his absence. From the 25th to April 1st, we visited Kyle's family in Michigan and my sister in Indiana. 
Field where he proposed

April - We signed the lease to our new house on April 15th, and a week and a day later, on April 23rd, we took a trip to Bath and got engaged on the lawn! We got the keys to our house on April 30th and started moving in.
Waiting to transplant

May - On May 5th, I finished my last night teaching with Wake Tech. A few days later, Kyle started building a garden bed. The mulberry tree started putting out berries, so I made a mulberry cobbler and mulberry jam. Kyle went to Las Vegas for work from the 12th to the 19th. And on May 21st, we had our first official night in our new house!
Mountain lake

June - Got some squash and cucumbers from the garden. Made homemade laundry detergent. On June 16th, we went to Cary to listen to the symphony in the park. Then I traveled to Tennessee to spend the 22nd - 25th at a lake in the mountains celebrating the 15-year anniversary of friendship with my Milligan girlfriends! At the end of the month, on June 29th, I turned in my badge at WCPSS, left my teaching license half-done, and so ended a 15-year career as an ESL teacher.
Famers Market

July - A busy month! When it got to be 87 degrees in the house, we finally decided to run the air conditioner. In the hopes of meeting more people in Durham, we started taking dance classes at Ninth Street Dance. My dad and stepmom came to visit on the 9th and we visited Duke Homestead to attend the Pork, Pickles, and Peanuts festival. On July 11th, I started my new job at the NC Works Career Center as a career counselor. Kyle and I took a trip to the Outer Banks the weekend of the 16th to celebrate our one-year anniversary. On July 24th we became the parents of two adorable kittens. And we won second place playing trivia at Fullsteam's brewery!
Birthday Present Bistro Set

August - I turned 34 on the 2nd. Kyle threw me a surprise party at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Durham. My brother and sister came from out of state to spend the week at Lake Gaston and attend the family reunion on the 6th. At the end of the month, Kyle and I traveled back to Michigan for his brother's wedding on the 27th. 
Crinolines 

September - On September 10th, we went to the National Folk Festival in Greensboro. On the 24th, we went to the Liberty Antiques Festival (but didn't buy anything). On September 25th, we went to La Fiesta del Pueblo in downtown Raleigh. Lots of festivals in September. 
Lake Jordan

October - Hurricane Matthew came pouring in on October 8th and totally ruined our engagement portraits' schedule (along with thousands of people's lives. . . ). Kyle and I started listening to The Black Tapes podcast and couldn't quit. We went to a couple of weeks of Thursday night game night in Durham to meet more Durham folk. From the 14th-16th we went camping with friends near Mt. Mitchell and then went apple picking. Kyle turned 30 on the 21st. And finally on October 29th took our (rescheduled) engagement portraits.
No Longer Kittens

November - November 6th was the Renaissance Festival in Huntersville. Kyle's old car finally gave up the ghost, so we bought a new car on November 12th. We won second place playing trivia at Fullsteam's brewing (again). On Thanksgiving weekend, we visited my mom in Winston-Salem and saw some extended family.
Dickens Coffee

December - I spent a weekend visiting my dad's side of the family: went to see my aunt in Littleton December 2nd and 3rd. We saw the Littleton Christmas Parade, and I bought too many books and linens! Later at my dad's house, I learned that my stepmom went to high school with Roy Cooper. To get in the Christmas spirit, Kyle and I hosted our 4th annual Christmas Feast on December 10th. We attended a Christmas Lovefeast  (not as risqué as it sounds: it's just coffee and bread) at Raleigh Moravian Church on December 11th. And we spent Christmas and New Year's in Michigan with Kyle's family.


Yet to come in 2017 - Wedding! Honeymoon! Kids?! A dog? Oh, the surprises that await us!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts at the Supermarket

Why is grocery shopping so stressful? As a kid, I just eat what I was told, in college I'd eat three cheeseburgers at 2:00 a.m. and not think twice, but once I became an "adult" I started seeing shopping as a responsibility both to my health and to the planet. 

I was pushing a cart down the aisles at Kroger the other night, picking things up, reading the ingredients, and putting them back on the shelf. Everything seems to have either too many preservatives or too much sodium or too many calories or something that makes me feel like I'm poisoning myself or the environment. Because I scrutinize everything I put in the basket, shopping becomes stressful. A few weeks ago Kyle and I were standing in the refrigerated section, vacillating between a commercial chicken for $1.99/lb. or a free-range organic chicken for more than twice that. After a difficult debate between our conscience and our wallet, we put them both down and bought dried beans for the week's protein. 


And take coffee creamer. I luuuuuuuv that stuff. But now when I see it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, I think, "Oh God, those artificial flavors and colors are going to give me cancer and ruin my health for good." So I have to content myself with boring old milk. 


The main culprit for this freak-out is the novel "
Sweetness #9" by Stephan Eirik Clark, which I first heard about on NPR in August 2014 but didn't get from the library until October a year later. That book traces the rise of artificial flavors in U.S. food products from the '70s to the present -- and it's depressing, even if it is fiction. 

I guess I could shop at Whole Foods or Fresh Market, but it's so expensive. 


In my head, I have long debates between the virtues of there being a million choices of things to eat, and the virtues of only having healthy choices. They've both got their pros and cons.


But dang it, it's about to be Thanksgiving! It's the time of the year to eat marshmallows on a sweet potato casserole, and gravy on everything. So I'm going to throw all of my sensibilities to the wind and enjoy my stepdad's famous mac and cheese, fried turkey, and pecan pie and all the other goodies of the season. 



I can worry about the negative aspects of mass-produced food later on.