November Around Here

This month is neatly bifurcated – the first half full of busy stress or stressy busy leading up to the second half spent decidedly not Around Here.

I got through October by putting my head down and focusing on the 23rd – this month, I need to make it to the 14th when, after four consecutive days of meetings with members of admin, I can finally check out for our trip to Belgium. No meetings. No work email. No such thing as a library emergency, at least where my job is concerned. I’ve been at a breaking point for the last two months – it’s good to take a break before an actual break happens.

On my last working day for awhile, I leave early to drive to Champaign, there and back in a work day, powering through with coffee and podcasts to fulfill the final in person obligation for my professional development cohort. Champaign in the throes of Autumn is a liminal space for me, so many layers of memory in the leaving and returning. At lunch, I take a walk past familiar places being unmade and remade, and leave town feeling unexpectedly fragile.

A new chair friend joins us just before we leave town but with plenty of time to become the most coveted spot in the apartment. Mina utterly abandons our bed in favor of the newfound pleasure of a truly cozy spot.

The preparing for being away feels like a job unto itself. There are lists to be made and groceries to be used up and favors to be asked and anxieties to be quelled and children under foot and crucial items missing, but somehow we make it to Monday and deliver a key to a neighbor and the cat to wonderful friends and we’re off!

September Around Here

The month starts with a spontaneous trip to the Arboretum on a gray day. We’re members, but have barely visited this year because the baby couldn’t (wouldn’t) tolerate the car. Weather and naps mean that we can’t stay as long as we’d like, but it’s a lovely excursion while it lasts.

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At work, we shut down the intranet that I somehow came to manage nearly seven years ago. The shut-down was supposed to happen in mid-2016. We have a party to celebrate, and I bring a glazed vanilla cake from Simple Cake baked in my grandma’s Bundt pan.

My work isn’t typically tied to the cycles of the academic year, but this year I’ve volunteered for a number of things that keep me busy as the academic year arrives with a roar. I make exhaustive lists in my planner and on my whiteboard. Both are completely filled with text. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning. Deep breaths, and one foot in front of another until the end of October.

We implement Falafel Fridays. The falafel can be accompanied by an exciting veggie side, or by homemade hummus, or by anything we need to use up, or by whatever looks good at the grocery store. We can eat in or get take out or meet at one of several falafely restaurants near us (though regrettably not Beni Falafel – see you in November!). Anything to put at least one meal per week on autopilot.

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We work on making room in our budget, in part because we need to, and in part because we want to, and in part because we’re going to Belgium in two months and travel is always more expensive than anticipated. One week into this new focus on belt-tightening, we notice that our AC is making a strange noise. It stops working completely just in time for a brief but miserable heat wave. Fall is almost in sight, but not soon enough to postpone the repairs, particularly since we still can’t open most of our windows and the new windows, expected in August, still have no ETA. Sorry, landlord. Sorry, eating out budget, but we just can’t cook when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Another month with too much time spent on the road. At the beginning of the month, we drive out to Rockford to celebrate the a number of birthdays (my mom, two siblings, and the big kid) and take family photos with all of the siblings and their kids. A week later, I drive to Iowa to meet my mom and aunt at my grandparents’ house – one last visit to pick up furniture and odds and ends before the house goes on the market. It’s an exhausting out-and-back with an excessive amount of ice cream in the middle.

And then the following weekend, another trip to Rockford to celebrate the big kid’s birthday. His actual birthday is spent doing low-key fun things: pancakes and a special birthday balloon, a farmers’ market walk in the morning, then a run: five whole kilometers, one for every year. Pizza lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, his pick, then meeting his friend at the playground for cake (chocolate, with marshmallow frosting, both from Simple Cake – he requested chocolate with blueberries which I failed to deliver due to frosting miscalculations). A movie on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. More pizza and cake the next day with his cousins, and many hours of solo time with his grandparents. We can’t deliver much on the present front, but hopefully the happy memories will make up for it.

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September Reads

Also somehow I forgot to tell you that I read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy this summer, which I LOVED. Also The Egypt Game, for my book club, and Big Little Lies, just because.

September Eats

From the NYTimes:

Five minutes of appreciation

1. I am the current chair of a local professional development group, and it has been an absolute pleasure. We’ve just wrapped up a search for new members of our steering committee, and at every step, my colleagues on the committee have proved themselves to be thoughtful, generous, and engaged. I don’t know how I happened into such a wonderful bunch of colleagues, but Library UX Chicago, you guys are the absolute best.

2. My Brain Pickings book club is also the best. We met today to discuss our most recent book, but were interrupted in the middle of a really personal conversation about how reading about death has informed the ways we are choosing to live our lives right now. It takes vulnerability and openness to return to that conversation and go even deeper. I am so grateful for these friends – long-time and new-to-me – and our ongoing engagement with books and each other.

3. I am also extremely grateful for a number of thoughtful colleagues (local and distributed) who regularly challenge and support me in all facets of my life. Whether it’s texting about data points during a meeting or inviting me to a running group or sharing very personal beliefs or talking about why goat pupils are unsettling or just bringing donuts – I can’t believe how lucky I am to be surrounded by such fantastic people. If you’re wondering if I’m talking about you, I probably am. Thank YOU for the gift of you.

This is what is different.

Today is the end of my second week back to work. Now that the holidays are over and everyone is back in the office, I’m being asked regularly how it is to be back, how we’re managing, what life is like as a working mother.

I’ll tell you:

There’s all the normal day-to-day stuff from before: waking up with an alarm, making coffee, hunting for parking, endless meetings, trying to avoid ordering take out at the end of a long day, wanting to watch another episode of something but giving into sleep instead.

Add to that a layer of baby activities: nursing before getting out of bed, changing two diapers in the hour before work, keeping the baby entertained while trying to make coffee so that Nicolas and I are both a little more awake before I leave, rushing home to happy snuggles and more nursing, hoping the baby doesn’t fall asleep for the night an hour after I walk in the door.

Also add the angst of separation. And the weirdness and frustration of needing to fit 2-3 pumping sessions into an already busy work day. And half a dozen photos or video of the cuteness (and crying) happening at home. And the constant calculation of whether anything extra – a doctor’s appointment, stopping for groceries, a workout – is worth the extra time away from the baby.

It’s amazing how quickly your priorities change. I was told this would be the case, but I didn’t understand it until I experienced it.

We’re in an incredibly fortunate situation: I like my job, and my salary is enough that Nicolas can be home – full time and indefinitely. We don’t have to bundle the baby and all of his accouterments off to daycare in the morning. Nicolas is great with the baby and also isn’t subject to the sort of cabin fever that would be killing me right about now. Pumping is easy for me. My employer is supportive of families and has a very flexible leave policy. I get to work from home one day/week.

It’s hard to be back. But it’s also good to be back. And there’s not a damned thing that will get between me and the door at the end of the workday now that there’s a sweet little boy who needs his mama waiting at the other end of my commute.

2013 Resolutions in Review

Now that it’s firmly 2014, let’s look back on last year’s resolutions:

1. No pants in public.
DONE. For a while, I took daily photos of my tights to prove that I was toughing it out through the Chicago winter. Then I got bored with that, and then the weather got nice, and not wearing pants didn’t seem like that much of a challenge. Then it got effing cold again, and I resumed the countdown to the end of the #yearofnopants. There were days when I desperately just wanted to throw on jeans, and there was at least one occasion of layering yoga pants over tights under a dress because I was freezing and didn’t have any other clothes available to me (thanks, unseasonably cold and rainy May weather), and there were several times when I ran errands immediately after a workout and so didn’t change out of my running kit, but I made it from Jan 1 – Jan 1 without leaving the house in pants of any non-workout type. I suspect that I will wear pants every day for the next week, and then I’ll go back to wearing skirts most of the time.

2. One really big race: either the Chicago Marathon or a triathlon.
NOPE. But I did do 7 half marathons and a 5K, and destroyed my PR at both distances, and did my first true destination race. I also plateaued halfway through the year, making each subsequent race an exercise in discomfort and frustration. I wish I’d done better, but have accepted that I didn’t.

3. Ride a goddamned motorcycle.
NOPE. No matter how often I ask the internet, no one wants to give me a motorcycle ride. Maybe this year I’ll just man up and take my colleague’s motorcycle class.

4. Get out of debt.
NOPE. But I did make progress, and committed to monthly financial accountability, and feel good about the progress that I’ve made.

5. Leave the country at least once.
DONE. Karen and I went to the Bahamas in February, and Nicolas and I went to Canada for the afternoon in May.

6. Run 1,000 miles and bike 2,000 miles.
NOPE. I ran 783.66 miles and biked 1030.84 miles. The running distance wasn’t unreasonable considering the number of races I did, but between sickness and injury, I had to cut way back in the last 3 months of the year. Had I biked as much all year as I did in the last 3 months of the year, I would have made the distance in spades, but I didn’t, and so am happy with the distances I did log. In 2014, I’d like to do more of both, but I’ll be happy with whatever ‘more’ ends up meaning.

7. Figure out this career stuff.
DONE. Well, sort of. I spent a lot of the year wracked with work/life balance angst, a lot of which resulted from a loathsome commute. I made and continue to make my peace with it, and am resolved to stay where I am for at least another year or two – which is further out than I’ve ever felt like I’ve been ready to commit to any job in a while.

8. Keep living with my heart wide open.
ONGOING. Much of the year required trusting my gut and doing my best to say yes to whatever the universe decided to send my way. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the work.

9. Be more like Leslie. Always.
ONGOING. Forever.

“And besides, feelings are totally full of shit.”

I woke up last Sunday adorned with the previous night’s glow sticks and feeling like someone had dropped a load of bricks on my chest. Such is the weight and effect of running into one’s own unhappiness.

The last two months have been endlessly stressful: holidays, moving to Chicago, moving out of our apartment, moving into my Unnamed Hippie House (which I’ve decided is its name, by the way), my uncle’s death, drunk people drama, sickness, job hunting, job interviews, the beginning of the semester, winding down a job, and living apart. It’s all fucking hard! Hard, hard, hard.

I’m a person who thrives in chaos, so times like these usually see me rising to the occasion. Five years ago, we launched Moodle at the beginning of the semester while I was also a full time doctoral student and a new gyne instructor – so I was essentially working two very demanding full-time jobs while taking on an emotionally and physically challenging part-time job while also maintaining a relationship and starting to focus on losing weight after four months away from the gym (and my bike) with a broken arm. Literally the day before Shane moved to DC, I had unexpected minor surgery after receiving scary lab results from an abnormal Pap and also got an estimate of $2400 to make the necessary repairs to my car so that I could move to join him – while also gearing up for the beginning of the semester and actively job-hunting. I’m not alone in my experience of shit stacking up in impossible ways, or of being able to put my head down and knock through it all to come out on the other side smarter and stronger.

But in and around the stress and stressors of the last two months, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The time and space and distance have allowed issues to rise to the surface that I’ve been ignoring or just haven’t been brave enough to face. And one of those is my unhappiness, a thread of pain through so many aspects of my life.

It’s no secret that I’ve been profoundly unhappy in my career in the last few years. In job interviews, I’ve spun it as “a series of right turns” – from instructional technology support at Illinois to reference librarianship at GW to web development at UM. From a position of authority and trust to the bottom rung of a soul-deadening bureaucracy to manual labor, working in a call center, finding ways of stretching 5-8 hours of work to fill 40, and then ending up in a position where I’m challenged and respected, but which is still tangential to any of the goals I can loosely define for myself.

I’ve been tremendously lonely in my relationships. I’ve focused my energies on my marriage to the detriment of my relationships with others – perhaps appropriately so, but still a stark thing to realize. I’ve been trying to change this in the last few months, but I know I have a long way to go.

I’ve tried to direct this loneliness and frustration into positive channels: running, the garden, cooking, blogging, teaching, and connecting with friends online. What I haven’t realized until recently is the extent to which my loneliness and frustration has been self-reinforcing. I’m lonely, so I go running alone. I like running alone, so I opt to continue with this solitary activity, even though it could be a great opportunity to meet other people and build relationships around running. Shane is often busy with hobbies or friends, and I respond by soaking up the much-desired solo time, which then leads me to support (rather than complain about) more time dedicated to hobbies, which then leads to more time alone.

Which leads me to this place: waking up on a Sunday morning feeling crippled by sadness. Grinding away on the track to meet a training goal but also to focus my mind on something other than the intractability of my feelings. Struggling to remember happiness, or to picture what happiness might look like. Knowing that the easy answer is more meds, or changing the meds, but being unwilling to accept that as an answer YET AGAIN.

I want to be happy.
I don’t know how to be happy.
I don’t know what has to change in my life for me to be happy.
I’m afraid of my own unhappiness.

Posts and Pages in WordPress

I spent a couple of hours yesterday puzzling over a WordPress mystery: how exactly a static page could, without being told to do so, display a series of posts.  I found several ways to make it happen with custom templates, custom functions, and custom fields – but of course, none of these were what was happening on my site.  I was told to “perturb the environment” in an attempt to break the behavior, but with no luck.

That is, until this morning, when the combination of a quick email and a file changed to “THE BLOG 2: Electric Boogaloo” caused me to notice a feature whose existence I had been searching for all afternoon:

Can I tell you how dumb I felt? Pretty dumb. But also pretty smart! as I’d figured out and tested several other ways, one of which being the way we’re going to actually implement this feature.

So, in case you’re interested, this is how you make a static page display posts:

  1. First, create the page you wish to have display your post content.
  2. From the WordPress admin screen, select Pages then Add New. Create and publish your page.
  3. From the WordPress admin screen, click on Settings then Reading.
  4. By default, the Your latest posts will be selected.  This will result in your posts being displayed on your homepage, which is standard blog behavior.
  5. If you would, instead, like your posts to be displayed on a particular page on your site – replacing the content of that page, select A static page, then select the page you’d like to use from the drop-down menu.
  6. Specify the number of posts you would like your page to display, then scroll to the bottom and Save Changes.
  7. Et voila, a page of posts!