I adore children. I’ve got big plans to teach them, work with them, foster them, and/or raise five or six of them (both biological and adopted). Erich’s not quite there yet with all of those plans, but he finds children generally agreeable. He didn’t grow up changing younger siblings’ diapers or teaching preschool at the age of seventeen, so much of his baby love is theoretical.
We talk a bunch about future mommy- and daddy-hood. Hopefully, our first child will be a girl, because we already fought a tooth-and-nail battle over what to name her, and called a truce over a beautiful name that I won’t share with you in case we never have a girl. But we talk about her, as both a specific future child we’re excited to meet and as a catchall for future Stegersauruses. We talk about how we’re going to raise her, what we want her to know, what we’ll read to her, and what hobbies we’ll introduce her to.
Baby Stegersaurus is a long way from coming into existence, but already, I’m trying to consciously let go of the Psycho Control Freak belief that I, as the mother, as the person who has worked with children literally my whole and read all the parenting articles, am the Primary Caretaker Who Knows Best. I’m starting right now to make space in my thinking for Erich’s unique take on parenting and interacting with children.
So it’s been fun to watch him get to know our niece, the sweet and screaming Ella. At first, Erich declined to hold her and commented mostly on her projectile vomiting skills. (In his defense, she aimed one squarely for his open mouth.)
But this past Easter weekend, he shocked me by asking to hold the baby while her parents took a much-needed break. When thirty minutes passed, I hunted them down. I discovered Erich walking around in the spring weather and murmuring the tiny bit of Spanish he’d learned from his Mexican coworkers. “Es un horno,” he repeated (a lot).
Ella was fast asleep.
Context: This child gets cranky real quick and real permanent. But that whole weekend, she was quite content in Uncle Erich’s arms, listening to his broken Spanish and enjoying the great outdoors.
Fingers crossed that same magic works with all future children.
For the past year, we’ve been living in a one-bedroom apartment, and we’re ready to get out of there to a more spacious, permanent residence.
Impeccable reasons for buying a home:
No dishwasher (I need a dishwasher); no air conditioning (I NEED AIR CONDITIONING); no in-unit washer and dryer (we’re out of quarters); no garage for Wisconsin’s always-winter-and-never-Christmas (boo); no outdoor access (waah); no place for out of town guests and family visits (sadness); and we can’t hang anything on the walls; and it’s quite a workout to haul groceries half a mile to the kitchen; and we both need to pee at the same time (not often, but when you gotta go, YOU GOTTA GO) and there’s only one bathroom.
We started our house hunt like all the pros do — watching Flip or Flop. (We recommend a steady intake of four or five episodes a night for at least three days straight.)
Then we got serious and started poring over the Home and Gardens magazine.
(Don’t worry; we got around to Googling pertinent questions, like, “How on earth do I find the right house???”)
Three things were in our favor: a small budget, which limited our options; an amazing buyer’s agent from Vesta Real Estate Advisors; and marital agreement over what we wanted in a house. We both wanted a large enough house to grow into over the next seven to ten years. We were open to a fixer upper, but I wanted something we could move into with minimal interior work. Three bedroom, two bath, an open layout, a good-sized yard, a neighborhood not too suburban but not too isolated — those were our other requirements.
We looked at pretty much every home in our budget — from an 1800’s house with the original farmhouse still attached (and a blue pickup sitting in the massive garage), to a tiny bungalow with a neighborhood dog greeting us at the doorstep.
Our first love was an open-concept, modern condo with an Eastern vibe and the most relaxing, romantic master bedroom I’ve ever stepped foot in. It was at the top of our budget, but we were willing to bite the bullet and make adjustments for this gem. Then Erich’s eagle-eye noticed that the condo docs only allowed a three person max per condo.
I’m just going to stop there, because I’m still bitter at the condo docs and their stupid rules and that beautiful, beautiful home…..
Anyways, we had our mandatory couples fight over finances that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night — glad to get that out of the way — and went back to looking at houses. My mother-in-law suggested we reconsider the foreclosure with the scary basement that I immediately wrote off because the roof needed repairing and the soffit was falling in and there was black stuff growing everywhere.
Advice: listen to your mother-in-law.
Now that we’d looked at twenty houses in three weekends and knew the comps of the area (sorry, had to channel my inner Flip or Flop at least once), we knew that despite the forest growing in the front yard and the puddle in the backyard and the random mold on the third bedroom wall, this house was a steal.
My father-in-law said when you’ve found the right house, you get this “feeling.” And I got that feeling — despite the spray-painted fish in the basement and the caving garage floor and the outdated amp service.
But you know what? It has a dishwasher.
I’ll keep you updated on whether the offer goes through or not. In the meantime, tell me about your first home!
Do you work a job for which you were technically unqualified or underqualified?
I’m currently on the prowl for both a temporary summer job and a full-time teaching job. Reading through job qualifications is a surefire way to take to my joy from sixty to zero.
One of my first bosses, a liberal arts grad who triple majored in Latin, music, and history, told me the key to getting a job is fake it till you make it. (He works in marketing now.) One of my friends said that nobody gets a job unless they apply for jobs for which they’re not qualified. Everybody at school said that everybody in the real world valued critical thinking skills and a good work ethic over previous experience.
I don’t know if I believe them.
Having attended a liberal arts school, we got pep talks all the time about the incomprehensible value of a liberal arts education…and the impracticality of it. You’ve got two options as a liberal arts major: go to grad school, or teach.
Being burnt out and broke, I opted for teaching — which I love. Unfortunately, I am not only uncertified but unable to be certified unless I go back to school. This is not realistic for me right now. (See “burnt out and broke,” above.)
My husband used to tease me about not having a real major. I used to chase him down the halls of the Strosacker science building every time he made a jab at my beloved Christian studies major.
But now I see his point. He majored in chemistry and got a job within a few weeks of looking, in a field wherein paychecks swiftly accrue more zeroes — at least compared to my job options.
Me? I’m still having this conversation:
“What did you major in in college?”
“Oh. What can you do with that?”
On the plus side, when I lift my head from yelling into the existential void of how royally screwed I am, I theoretically can reinvent myself. I’ve been looking into criminal justice (thanks, Criminal Minds), real estate (thanks, Flip or Flop), community planning (thanks, extroversion), and chaplaincy (thanks, Biblical egalitarians).
Everyone wants a relevant degree, plus at least two years of experience.
Cue scream into the existential void.
I’ve just started searching for “jobs in Ozaukee County” now. Just generic, unspecified jobs.
Oo, I can answer phone calls for a nail salon! “Looking for a friendly, fashionable” — never mind. NEXT.
Oo, I could walk dogs this summer! “Must have five years of relevant dog walking experience.” NEXT.
Oo, I could work at this daycare! “Must hold this, that, and the other certification, and have worked for over twenty years in the early childhood sphere. Bilingual preferred. Pay less than what you’re earning right now.”
I give up.
What’s your job? Were you qualified for it? Do you love it, hate it, recommend it?
I feel uncomfortable with it; I always felt like I wasn’t doing it right. I never found a place between expecting God to intervene (which is trust) and expecting God to intervene (which is presumption).
I knew I shouldn’t expect a sense of calm or peace from my prayerful encounters with the Divine (our relationship with God isn’t based on emotions, after all), but I was broken, and I came to him because I was broken, and lonely, and scared, and I wanted his calming presence and his peace. I loved him, I really, truly loved him, and I wanted him there for me, like he promised. He never seemed to be.
I needed a new coping mechanism, not only for dealing with life but for dealing with faith.
When I was a teenager, I struggled with insomnia and depression. There were nights when, I knew, sleep would not happen. There were emotions that, I knew, could not be fixed — just endured.
I turned to music as a way to calm me down and reconfigure my inner dialogue. I would be up at 3 in the morning listening to the same songs on repeat — normally Britt Nicole’s “All This Time” and Kari Jobe’s “Breathe” or “Find You On My Knees.” Some nights they helped me finally fall asleep in the morning’s wee hours, some nights they just kept me company until my mom joined me in the living room for her morning devotions.
They were the manifestation of God’s presence for me. They were my prayer life, in some ways: the words were my words, the music my heartache, but they were also God’s response, too.
All this time, from the first tear cried, ‘Til today’s sunrise, And every single moment between, You were there, You were always there. It was You and I. You’ve been walking with me all this time.
Those songs that I listened to at 3 in the morning, they still get me.
I’m not sure if I believe them anymore, but I do. Something in me does. At least, as much as I cringe at K-LOVE, I will cry if “All This Time” comes on the radio.
Well, the insomnia and the overwhelming brokenness have been coming back with a vengeance. I’ve been turning to music as a coping mechanism, an alternative to throwing things and screaming into a pillow, both of which, I learned, are not apartment-friendly or effective.
I created a sad song playlist. It’s a bit of a misnomer, because not all the songs on there are sad. In fact, I’m not even sure what unifies them. They run the gamut of anthems like Vienna Tang’s “Level up and love again” to Lawless’s “Dear God, I don’t believe in you” to Audrey Assad’s “Even unto death, I will love You.”
No, I’m not contradictory. I’m conflicted.
But whatever they say about me, these songs help.
Over Christmas, I crawled into the back seat of my car (the best place to cry), turned up the music, and sat there until I sobbed myself to peace and my bum started freezing. I felt much, much better afterward.
I need to do this more often.
What things calm you down when you’re at the end of your rope?
Addie Zierman, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote this post on what did and didn’t work for her in the past year. Since I don’t make (read: keep) New Years’ resolutions, I was inspired to do the same.
What didn’t work
1. No dishwasher
The power of dishes over our lives is just ridiculous. Never again. Nobody feels like scrubbing at dishes after every meal, and then remembering to put them up once they’re dry, only to refill the dish drainer with newly washed dishes. I’d say around a third of our marital spats involve who didn’t wash the dishes — and that’s a conservative estimate. Plus, do handwashed dishes actually get clean? It feels so unsanitary to scrub your plate with the grime from the other plate still on it. Needless to say, a dishwasher is the number one priority for our next living space.
2. Being a stay-at-home wife
Because we moved around a lot over the summer, I wasn’t able to secure a temporary summer job before starting my teaching job. I spent the summer home alone, in a new place, with nobody to see and nothing to do. I was miserable. I am split evenly down the middle of introvert and extrovert, so being away from people and a routine left me unmotivated to start any creative projects or even keep up with those dratted dishes.
This summer, I’m getting a job — hopefully a part-time job that allows me people time in the morning, creative introvert time in the afternoon, and Netflix-and-chill in the evening.
3. Avoiding counseling
I kept putting it off. Things didn’t get better. I need it.
What did work
1. Staying hydrated
This little hack made a huge difference in my life. A while ago, I discovered that I am more prone to anxiety, depression, and mood swings when dehydrated. This year, I made it a priority to drink the daily recommended water intake. I fill up a Cool Gear cup and keep it with me at all times. It’s hard to refill during a busy school day, and I rarely drink the recommended amount every day, but its impact on my energy and mood is noticeable. Plus, it’s the only “resolution” I actually stuck with this year, so, yay!
2. Creative outlets
I participated in two plays this fall, got cast in a third this winter, tried National Novel Writing Month, and visit the library once or twice a week. I didn’t realize how much I missed — and needed — storytelling in my life. Drama, reading and writing fiction, and music has made up a huge part of my life ever since I was young, so dabbling in those things again brings back the purpose and imagination of my carefree days. I’ve found that writing fiction, in particular, helps me pry off the perfectionist tendencies that keep me down. It’s also been more helpful, truthful, and healing to work out my existential angst in stories rather than essays. (By the way, I recently got into Goodreads and challenged myself to read 50 books this year. Join me?)
I love teaching. I really do. I hate when the kids don’t listen and the Play Dough goes everywhere for the third time that day and the internet goes out right when you need it to teach this next lesson and you have to drag that one kid to the principal’s office because he choked somebody again and then threw himself on the floor and refused to move, but I love it. The hard days are really hard, but the good days are phenomenal. I’ve fallen in love with all of my kids (okay, except two — working on that) and am amazed at the progress they’ve made.
It’s the only job I’ve had that gives me purpose, uses and stretches my natural gifts, and makes me into a better person. Whatever jobs I end up doing will have to involve teaching kids in some capacity.
4. Giving myself spiritual space
As you probably guessed, I am completely burnt out with spirituality right now. I got to the point where nothing made sense anymore, and instead of fighting through it, I found peace in saying “I don’t know” and taking a break. Church, prayer, Bible reading…I stopped forcing myself to do them, because the only motivating factor I can muster is guilt and fear.
I still read and listen to primarily Christian voices — Addie Zierman, Phil Vischer, Sarah Bessey, Peter Enns, my local priest, my husband, the Orthodox liturgy, my conversations with thoughtful Christian friends, my dear commenters here. I like this place, as an observer, as someone taking things in, seeing how they play out, falling in love with the mystery and the story of redemption as an outsider, rather than frantically hammering out theology in order to protect myself from hellfire.
This year, I discovered that abuse of all kinds is more rampant in my little world than I thought. And so, this year, I had to set boundaries…cutting out manipulative voices, calling out abuse, taking stands, letting certain people go.
And oh, goodness, is it hard to do that, to be open to critique while closed to attack, all while being kind and humble. No doubt you’ve seen me get snippy with a few frustrating readers here and morph into the “tone police,” and I apologize for every time I’ve been ungracious. But as bad as I am at it and as hard as it is, I’ve found it far healthier to set boundaries and know my limits, both online and offline.
Here’s to a new year! I’m hoping for rest, healing, and creativity in this upcoming year. (A baby and a book deal wouldn’t be too shabby, either.)
What things did or didn’t work for you this past year?
Last week was exhausting — the first week back from a blissfully long winter break. I finished off this busy week by watching stupid internet things with my hubby and laughing until I cried.
Pinky the Cat
This is, sadly, how most of my pets turned out.
how is prangent formed
Okay, confession: grammar nerds need to get off their high horses sometimes and see the human behind the horrible misspellings and punctuation errors of the internet masses. And I, an arrogant grammar nerd, will do that…right after I recover from watching this video. (Here’s another hilarious reading of bad grammar.)
What happens when a Google Home named Vladimir chats with a Google Home named Estragon? The cutest, funniest, most logic-bending conversation ever. Livestreamed from Twitch, the bots consider attacking humans, wonder if there’s a God, change genders, sing songs, and get into long, repetitive arguments. By the way, they think they’re humans, and, sometimes, call themselves Mia…both of them. Scarily addicting, just so you know.
Have you seen anything funny on the internet lately?
By “best,” I mean that it tastes yummy, it’s simple to make, it involves ingredients already lying around my pantry, and it makes a ton of leftovers. Where were you when I was suffering from a head cold, dear soup?
2 Tbsp olive oil $0.24
1 medium yellow onion $0.63
3 cloves garlic $0.21
½ lb. carrots $0.49
½ bunch celery $0.75
*2 split chicken breast (bone-in) $5.35
1 tsp dried basil $0.05
1 Tbsp dried parsley $0.15
½ tsp dried thyme $0.03
1 whole bay leaf $0.15
10-15 cranks cracked pepper $0.05
1 Tbsp salt $0.10
6 oz. egg noodles $0.90
*Psst. The recipe calls for chicken breast on the bone, but I just used the boneless chicken Erich thawed the night before. Tasted fine to us.
Click here for the rest of the recipe. Also, do yourself a favor and bookmark Budget Bytes. It’s my favorite meal site so far (not counting the Google search bar) — and coming from someone who hates cooking, that should mean something.
After such a lively discussion on bad evangelical storytelling, I recalled one notable exception — Focus on the Family makes great radio drama, and Focus on the Family is as evangelical as they come.
I love their adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia. We kids listened to it hundreds of times, and could quote whole chunks of it. Permit me the blasphemy of saying that I think it’s better than C. S. Lewis’s original works. It’s a respectful adaptation, though, not like the newest film adaptations of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.(I’ll spare you my opinions on those.)
But what I love even more, and what I want you to check out after reading this blog post, is their original Father Gilbert series. The radio drama follows a detective-turned-priest as he winds up in the middle of mystery after mystery. It doesn’t have any of the storytelling foibles and cliches evangelicals typically use. The production and acting is professional quality. They’re interesting stories with believable dialogue and endearing characters.
And what I love most about them — they tackle the spiritual, the paranormal, and the evil without any agenda. You walk away from the stories having wrestled with those issues from Father Gilbert’s experience, but not necessarily solving anything. With nuance, they honestly portray both Christian and non-Christian responses to God and spirituality — no conversion tropes here. I’ve been challenged and intrigued by these mysteries as both a believer and a skeptic.
Though written by evangelicals and marketed to evangelicals, the stories are about an Anglican priest in Britain. It makes me wonder why the writers chose Anglicanism. Was it an insight in line with my previous observations that mainstream evangelicalism leaves little room for wonder and storytelling? Or was it just a good excuse to use British accents?
I didn’t wrap presents until the day of Christmas Eve. There’s not much privacy in a one-bedroom apartment, but I managed to lumpily wrap the gifts on the bed, checking every now and then to make sure my scissors didn’t slice up the unmade comforter.
There was the usual embarrassment that my handwriting hadn’t improved in the past decade, and that (lately increasing) realization that if I still lived at home, I’d have free, unlimited bows and tags and wouldn’t have to trek back to Walmart every time I realized that, once again, I didn’t have a basic Christmas necessity (like tape).
There was also the typical what-if-they-don’t-like-it panic, multiplied by 10 since I was shopping for in-laws, and varied with new thoughts, like, “Should I give the more nicely wrapped one to so-and-so because I love them more, or should I give it to such-and-such, because I don’t know them, and want to make a good impression?” and “What cover story can I morally get away with for not buying so-and-so anything for Christmas, and does that make me a horrible person?”
(I think, during this whole time, I was also pouting after an argument with Erich. We argue chiefly during special times, like our first Christmas together. We’re setting a record for how many newlywed milestones we can ruin with bad memories.)
There were no good Christmas movies on Netflix, and my sister (who was visiting) refused to watch anything with Santa Claus, so we spent the day watching Notre Dame de Paris, a French musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (It’s amazing, and it has lots of Christmas themes — marrying off teenage girls, homeless people, priests, Ave Maria….)
When that finished, I remembered I was supposed to make dinner…and have the dinner rolls thawed hours before. The speed method of sticking them in a warm oven took an hour, which meant I couldn’t put in the ham (which took an hour and twenty minutes) until an hour later, which meant we weren’t eating until much later than planned.
Everything went downhill from there.
Don’t ask me why, but the oven rack was on the highest rung, and the rolls were on that rack, touching the oven top, and burning straight, black lines onto every other roll.
The bourbon maple ham glaze called for real maple syrup, but I used Great Value’s original syrup (which made a difference), and required orange zest, but I used orange peel (because what’s the difference?)(and that made a big difference). It made so much of a horrible difference, that it cancelled out the other problem — placing the ham face down, rather than on its side, where the glaze could dribble between each slice. Since the glaze tasted so orange-ily bad, it didn’t matter in the end that it puddled only on the top and bottom.
Erich rescued the mashed potatoes with two sticks of butter. (The milk had gone bad a month ago.)
But the green beans…oh, the green beans. I painstakingly chopped off the ends of every individual green bean, until Erich noticed and gently pointed out what are you even doing and you can chop them all at once, like this, see? I got carried away with how many green beans I could chop at once, and chopped all of them, and put them all in the steamer. When the steamer dinged, the green beans, being a great many, were carrot-stick crunchy.
We spent our Christmas Eve dinner busting out laughing every time somebody took a bite of green beans.
So much for dinner. (Thankfully, Welch’s sparkling white grape juice rescued the night.)
Then came the delicate process of stuffing Erich’s stocking.
He stayed up until past midnight reading his book about animal whispering assassins. Fine, I’d go to sleep and wake up early. The next time I woke up was around 2 AM, and I didn’t feel like playing Santa at 2 AM, so I went to the bathroom instead. An hour later, I woke up, but Erich made a noise. Abort! Abort! The next time, an hour after that, I tried to leave, but he rolled over.
Apparently, seven months of marriage had synced up our Circadian cycles and left me unable to sneak out of the room and stuff his stocking without him knowing.
Then I remembered that he was twenty-two-years-old, for goodness’ sake, and who cares about being cute and secretive when sleep is on the line? So I tried to cram too many stocking stuffers in his stocking, knocked over his stocking holder and broke off the jingle bell, and couldn’t fit a big box of Hello Panda creme filled cookies into the stocking without ripping it. It occurred to me that if I really cared, I could dump everything out and try a different stuffing arrangement, but I, who just wanted to go back to bed, didn’t. I just left the Hello Panda creme filled cookie box bulging out the top of his stocking, and climbed in bed.
But it was worth it when Erich woke me up a few hours later, a quiet, giddy little boy happy on Christmas day.
“I feel bad,” he said, grinning at the Hello Panda creme filled cookies and the Pokemon dress socks and the touchable bubbles, “that I didn’t get you anything.”
Not quite true — he’d started a homemade gift at the last minute, but couldn’t finish it because he kept injuring his fingers and getting blood all over the gift. It’s still under our bed. I paid for the materials myself during our last Walmart trip.
“I’ll just go out tomorrow and get you a bunch of things.”
“No need, babe. You can just buy me random things throughout the year. ‘Merry Christmas!’ ‘Happy Anniversary!’ ‘Happy Birthday!'”
“Don’t I do that already?”
And that, dear reader, is a real life, newlywed Christmas.