Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Decade at a Time

A whole new decade is starting in just over twelve hours. And, still being in Christmas vacation mode in Tennessee, I haven't given a thought to next week, let alone the next ten years. What have I done in the last ten years?

The year 2000 opened propitiously. I stood downtown in Salt Lake City, and kissed the boy that I'd liked for years, seemingly unrequitedly, until a week previously when we'd finally come together.. Then, mere hours later, he dumped me, because he was best friends with my sister (I didn't understand it then, I still don't understand what all happened now). Whew, good thing that I don't believe in omens, because the year just struggled onward from there. The next day we went to my Grandpa's funeral. A few days after that, I had a severe stomach ache, which I suffered through overnight, when my Mom finally took me to the urgent care clinic. Where I was in so much pain that after the three hour wait time, as a 17 year old girl, mind you, I was rolling around on the floor of the waiting room, crying from the pain. They tested my white blood count, and it had skyrocketed, which with my other symptoms led to a sure thing - Appendicitis. I spent four days in the hospital from an infection, too.

Two months later, I was skipping backwards down a hill (yes, I know that was stupid. Now.) and I fell and broke my wrist, and had my second, and last, surgery of my life.

After that, I am happy to report the decade improved considerably.

2001 I graduated from High School, and went to BYU, majoring in Near Eastern Studies. I joined the Quill and the Sword, a Medieval Re-enactment club. All of this was very exciting. I loved the spiritual atmosphere of BYU and my own parallel spiritual growth of my first year as an independent adult. I also began a relationship with another freshman, which although did not end in marriage had a long term positive influence in my life.

2002 I became president of the Quill and the Sword, as a sophomore. I was terrified, but also intrigued. I gained my best friend, Michele, who was the secretary in the presidency, and who also worked at the Cannon Center with me. I dropped my here-to-fore double major, Comparative Literature, because I realized that as much as I liked to read Literature, I did not want to spend my life in Literature classes.

2003 I started out this year by having a flash relationship and engagement. I spent months of doubt and indecision after dear johning my missionary (what the freshman relationship had turned into), and eventually I broke off the engagement four and a half weeks before the wedding. After trailing dismally on, the relationship itself ended a month later. This was all in the first six months of the year, after which I'm happy to say the year evened out considerably. I am sure for many people a quick dating stage works fine. For me it didn't. In the fall of the year, I began my golden Junior year of College. It was my best year of the four I attended school, with a great group of friends and an established academic trajectory (good grades, but nothing so good as to interfere with any potential romance or social life). I spent one night a week, as I had since my freshman year, and would continue on until I graduated, at Cooking Guild, a subsidiary of the Medieval Club. It was my major social event of the week, where a bunch of friends got together and made medieval food together. Yummy!

2004 This was a landmark year, although I didn't know it to start out with. I met Avram in January at a Club meeting. We became fast friends. Then in March I decided to go on an Arabic study abroad to Egypt that fall. Two months later, Avram and I began dating, and spent the whole Summer in a somewhat rocky relationship, since the aforementioned missionary was coming home that August. Missionary came home, Avram and I broke up (as agreed before we ever even started dating), everything was honky dory with the Returned Missionary (hereafter referred to as RM), and I went off to Egypt planning to marry the RM sometime in 2005, although we were not engaged. Three weeks later, I wrote Avram and told him that I wanted to marry him instead. After much issues, Avram and I became engaged long distance - something I always swore I would never do. (The RM nicely recovered, and got married to someone else only four months after Avram and I married). We had a rocky long distance relationship, mostly just because it's hard to communicate across continents.

2005 Avram and I finally ceased to have a rocky relationship and ensued on our current wonderful relationship, and we got happily married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 22, 2005, which is also Earth Day. That's how much we care about the environment. For most people, I would not say that a difficult dating and engagement lead to a great marriage, but it worked very well for us. I also finished most of my college education by our wedding, with only a measly 3 1/2 credits left to go - which I finished that summer and fall, and achieved a B.A. by the end of 2005. I also got pregnant soon after our wedding, which we were ecstatic about, and spent much of the summer on the couch, sick with Lydia. That was when we weren't working full time together at DT as Window Washers, where our motto was, "Probably you won't die." We spent vast hours in conversation together, getting to know each other as newlyweds and also as work partners. When I wasn't losing my breakfast. By the fall I recovered, and we had lots of fun with our first Autumn and Christmas together.

2006 Lydia was born on March 2, forever changing our family, my job description and world. I spent a lot of time with the "Madonna Complex" as Avram calls it, where you stare lovingly at your child to the exclusion of all else. Lydia was a demanding child, needing lots of holding, and refusing to sleep well (she never did sleep well until about age two or so). But she was also darling, with lots of smiles, and an enchanting personality. Avram meanwhile continued working on his undergraduate degree in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and we continued living in Wymount, the married student housing of BYU. We loved Wymount, and living near the mountains, not to mention all of our family walks in Provo - which were still far fewer walks than Avram and I had been wont to take during our dating years. We loved Provo. I still love it, sniff, sniff. I loved that I could walk to the Library, which was a huge old building near downtown, that had been one of the original buildings of BYU. I loved going to Center Street, to the cramped yet still sprawling used bookstore where a mysterious seven foot tall (so he looked to me) man would buy our books for store credit, and prowl through the stacks as king of his domain. I loved the restaurants - Bombay House, and Lon's Cook 'n Shack, and Burger Supreme with the best fries ever. And Two Jacks, which wasn't technically in Provo, but just a short drive away in Springville and had the best pizza ever (Provo apparently has the domain on best things ever). I love that I saw it all through the rose coloured glasses of youth and I know that, but that I still love it as much as ever. I loved my college friends from Provo - Michele, and Travis, and Matt & Sarah, and Samuel (who was also my brother in law), and my Club roommates over the years. My college years, extended to six years because of Avram, were great.

2007 But it had to end sometime, and in April of this year Avram graduated with his B.A. I also had a miscarriage, which was sad, but I was comforted by the thought of having more children in the future. I started a blog, shortly before we left Provo to keep in touch with family and friends. You may have heard of it before. We prepared to go to England for a one year Master's degree at the University of Oxford for Avram, and with this end in sight we moved in with Avram's parents in Virginia for the summer. Avram went back and worked at the restaurant he'd worked at all through his teenage years, and I even took a job there part time, while Avram's family watched Lydia. Lydia charmed our hearts, as all first children have a job of doing. Despite the cruel heat and humidity of Virginia, we enjoyed our ward there, and the generosity of his family in taking us in. Shortly before we left, we suspected I was pregnant, but never did get around to taking a pregnancy test, since I started feeling sick and it was fairly self evident. So we moved to a foreign country with our little family of three, going on four. I started feeling old a little bit when I turned 25 that October. We went through lots of changes in life, but also spent a lot of time with our own little America inside of our apartment. The year ended out with Matt & Sarah visiting us, a bonus excitement, and a unique Christmas eve dinner spent at an Indian Restaurant, where Matt had the hottest vindaloo he had ever eaten. We also visited Churchill's grave. We loved our ward in England (you're going to see a trend here - we've never moved to a ward we haven't loved in our marriage), and how loving and helpful they all were to us.

2008 Another year of Change for our family (what year hasn't been in this decade?) Lydia learned her whole alphabet - to recognize it written, not just knowing the alphabet song - before her second birthday in March, not that this portended any super genius skills on her part. But as first time parents it made us feel special. My Mom and Step dad Don came and visited us around the same time, and we went on a visit to France. Lydia was a trooper of a tourist, and Avram and I enjoyed meeting the lovely French people who helped us out at every turn they could. We also liked seeing Nicolas Sarkozy from a distance of twenty feet, and exploring the random niches of the Louvre. We didn't like the endless sandwich shops, and missed the hearty meat pies and bangers and mash in England, that really stick to your ribs when it's freezing outside. We did more sight seeing in the one week in France than we did in the rest of the nine months in England, but we did get to know the English area of Oxford. Well, the daily areas we visited at least, plus our little town of Yarnton four miles north of Oxford, where we lived in the top flat of a divided Vicar's house that was 350 years old, situated on Yarnton Manor, built in the 1600s and home of some of the Spencer ancestors of Princess Diana. This was all as picturesque as it sounds, but also very isolating. Avram realized that he wasn't built for expat living, but we still plan on going back for our 15 year anniversary for a two week touristy vacation where we actually see England.

Meanwhile, Avram got into OSU with a fellowship (well, all good things must come to an end. Which in a short update, there are 60 people signed up for the class currently, so this means very good things for next quarter.), and we prepared to move to the land of Ohio. Also, on April 28, Elisheva entered our lives, born in Oxford through wonderful midwives. Elisheva had dark brunette hair, a contrast to Lydia's blond bob, and a reddish complexion. She was such a calm baby, that in her early months she earned the nickname, "Lump." We moved back to Virginia, where we sojourned for another couple of months before moving to Ohio. Avram began a Ph.d. program in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. We decided to never move again.

2009 The last year of the decade opens. I started out the decade in High School in Wisconsin, and it ends with me back in the Midwest in Ohio. Our married lives settle down for the first time since Provo, as we spend an entire calendar year not moving. Somehow I never do manage to accomplish as much as I think I will, though. Elisheva turns into an active toddler, with chubby cheeks and a killer smile. Lydia turns three and eventually potty trains at about three and a half. My life begins to be defined by my children, instead of the beginning of the decade, when it was defined by my boyfriends. I visit Utah twice this year, for the first time since we left. I love seeing family and friends. This fall I got pregnant with our third, and try and convince myself I'm not terrified of managing more children than hands I've got. Not that I struggle with managing my hands per se. After the morning sickness subsides, the terror does also, and now we're just excited for the (boy? I think?) on the way (if it's a girl, we're still just as excited).

And now I'm facing a whole new decade. The last one involved kissing six boys. Maybe the next decade will involve kissing six of my children. (well, I've got two and a half down already). Avram and I have been married for four and a half years - we'll have been married for almost 15 years. He was my best friend in 2004, and he's still my best friend now. He even lets me tell him my dreams every morning when I wake up, and always turns out lights for me, even though he's scared of the dark, just like I am. Ten years from now maybe I'll have worn him down enough that he'll even tell me his dreams.

I lived in four states and England and Egypt. I visited three more countries in addition to that - Jordan, Syria, and France (well, the train did cut through Belgium, but I never got out, so I didn't count it.) I hope the next decade doesn't involve so much moving, but you never can tell. In ten years I'll be 37. Avram will have his Ph.d. - in four years or so, and God willing he'll have a tenure track position (maybe even be tenured?) by 2020. I would like to get back to the foreign countries we've already visited, and add Israel to the list as well. I also dream of moving back to Provo permanently, but that all depends on BYU having the right opening, and Avram being the right person to fill it.

I spent the first half of the decade spending all my time worrying and thinking about myself, and feeling like I had the potentiality to do anything in the world. Now I spend all my time in my own life familial world, with Avram, Lydia and Elisheva. I don't even leave the house for days at a time, and sometimes I feel like the world beyond has no interaction with me. But at the same time, I also know that what I've spent the last five years doing has held far more lasting importance than anything I did in college, as fun as it was. And have you ever felt a child's arm's around you, and known that they love you more than anything else in the world?

So yes, it's been a very good decade indeed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No time to think of a title, must go and assemble Cheese Ball

I really ought to be getting ready for a Christmas party we're having here in five hours. (In case anyone is reading it and didn't get invited, it's nothing personal, and only related to the size of our living room) The one at our house - you know, the house that needs to be cleaned. Within five hours. Oh, it's nothing drastic, but we should have done it yesterday, and somehow yesterday morning there was a burning need in our combined foursome of a nuclear family to spend quality time together playing free demos of Peggle and Bookworm Adventures 2. And then yesterday afternoon I was called to teach today's Relief Society lesson - which went well, thanks to the wonderful participation of the sisters I was teaching - and so I had to read the lesson. And then take a nap, because we all know how sacrosanct my naps are at this point in my life.

Then there was only time to get the family ready to go grocery shopping, run from the grocery store to a baptism at the Church, and immediately afterward segue-way from a baptism to our Ward Christmas Party. Getting home, and getting the girls to bed two hours late left no room for an evening sprucing.

Which brings us to today. To now. But I'm really on the computer for a legitimate reason - it was to get a recipe for the cheese ball I'm making. But recipezaar didn't have the specific type recipe I wanted, based on the ingredients I already have in my fridge, so I'm just going to fudge it anyway. There went my legitimate reason.

Oh, and did I mention that Avram was home for twenty minutes after church before he had to leave for Hometeaching, and that his companion is barely 16 and sans drivers license (it's those 50 hours of driving experience. He could drive me to Utah and back before he had enough hours to get a license), so Avram drove to the other end of the ward to pick him up, then back to our end for the appointment, then they're going to pick us all up in a half hour from now, when we go and drop the companion off, and then go to the ward building for Tithing Settlement.

Hmm, maybe we can just have the Christmas party outside. In the freezing rain.

At least we had a moment of inspiration in the Grocery Store. We had planned to make a Buche de Noel, or in English a cake roll made to look like the Yule Log, which is a tradition I inherited from my mother, who served her mission in Belgium and France. Then, we walked passed the frozed eclairs and cream puffs, and I had an epiphany that we could just buy the food, and avoid hours of cooking. Hallelujah, although I do love homemade food when I have time to prepare it. And instead of bringing my visiting teachee the homemade bread and pie I had previously promised to bring for her when I go to her house tomorrow morning for her birthday , I'm just going to bring her the left over cream puffs and eclairs (I already passed this by her), and so it saves us double cooking.

Just to be very clear, I am not attempting to complain about nor do I dislike a Christmas Party that we planned ourselves, nor do I dislike hometeaching or Tithing Settlements. I only dislike having to clean my house, and Sundays that somehow combine all of the above into one united day of business. And this is the first stressful even somewhat Christmas related activity we've done - we're going for the so-low-key-we-don't-ever-leave-the-house Christmas celebrating this year.

Oh, dear. Now I only have twenty minutes to make up the recipe for the Cheese Ball. Wish me (and the Ball) luck!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Silver Linings

We just checked Avram's student account, and it looks like being a T.A. gives him a half tuition waiver (good thing someone actually told us about this....), which is exciting. Getting a half tuition waiver could be better than getting a full stipend, if it has to come in between the two. And if he can become a citizen of Ohio, then his tuition will only be $1250 or so, which is definitely less than the $8000 worst case scenario we were facing up until now.

Plus we had schnitzel and spaetzel and rote kole for dinner, which is just German for chicken fried pork steaks (really, really good, with lots of lemon juice over them), and special German noodles and braised sweet/sour red cabbage, and life is always more positive with yummy food.

Also, Avram is now 100% done with finals - he turned in his grades for the class he taught this evening. I helped tabulate up the grades with him, since I love things like adding up numbers on a ten key, and making lists of people. I have the heart of a secretary - I was one for two years in college, and I loved it. My dream job is to be the secretary/receptionist of Avram's department someday, and then I could work around people doing Near Eastern Things while I get to file papers and chat with students and keep a small jar of candy on my desk for people to eat.

I was amazed this evening how often a grade would turn on just a few points, just a few questions answered right or wrong, just a couple of classes (and hence quizzes) missed. Suddenly I felt I understood all those non A grades I got, that were A- or B+ where I felt I had done better than my grade showed. Lesson learned: go to class. And always do the extra credit.

Tap, Tap, "Is This Thing Still On?"

Hi, remember me? I used to have a blog? Everything is okay here - I'm feeling better and actually attempting to be productive with my days - plus take naps every afternoon. One must have ones priorities in order, after all. We survived the drive to Maine and back, and are now gearing up for our trip to Kansas and then on to Tennessee (yes, I know that's more backtracking than 'on to,' but whatever) for Christmas. We leave in a week and a half - we're practically nomadic. Let's just hope our almost ten year old car with 137,000 miles feels really nomadic too.

I'm really going to write a real post someday. When I don't have Elisheva in my lap. And laundry to fold. And when I can correlate my thoughts in to cogent sentances that form topical paragraphs. So...maybe when I'm forty. No, I really do want to blog again soon - I have lots of blog posts that never get written, but then I mentally dictate out while showering, or driving, or falling asleep. If I could find a way to directly import these into my computer, while bypassing the whole physical typing business (or even sitting at the computer and having it on), I would be a millionaire. I'd also have a blog that doesn't have a picture heading that's a whole season behind the times.

Some quick stories/updates. Avram is almost done with his finals - he's finishing his second take home final downstairs as I write. Then he just has to grade the finals for the class he taught, and he's all done with this quarter. We've been having some difficult times with his funding. He has had full funding thus far (which for those not neck deep in academia, means that he has a tuition waiver, subsidized health insurance and fees, and a monthly stipend which along with my baby sitting covers our budget nicely.) and because of the fellowship he received his first year, which strongly encourages his department to give full funding for a full five years, we were not really worried about his funding for the long term either.

But then the stock market crashed, and the recession started (hey, the recession is over - did you know that? I know lots of people that know that, but they all live in NPR land.), and Avram and I figure the old department secretary, who left after that year, must have taken all the department's funds and either invested them all in the stock market a week before the crash or ran to Vegas, and at least got free cocktails while she lost all the money. Regardless of where the money went, after the recession his department went dead broke. Avram went from having a sure class he would be teaching for this whole year to not having anything at all. The department voted to not have any more classes than had been taught the previous year, nor to increase the number of student teachers at all. Avram's wonderful advisor managed to dig up a teaching job for Avram this fall, but all he could get for the winter was as a T.A. for a class the advisor is teaching.

We are grateful for anything, but it is sad to go from full funding to not much funding at all. This T.A. job doesn't give a tuition waiver, and although it does subsidize health insurance and fees, its stipend is half what Avram receives now. And Avram is currently an out of state citizen, and unless they let him become an Ohio citizen (we are filling out the paperwork currently), then he'll have to pay $8,000 tuition for next quarter, which is three months long. As a citizen he would pay $2,500.

Oh, and as of now the Department has absolutely nothing for Avram, or anyone else, for Spring Quarter.

We've worked so hard this last year to pay off student loan debt, and have really done quite well. It's so discouraging to think that in one fell swoop, if Avram can't get in state tuition, we'll lose at least half of what we've paid off. It's like we've been digging ourselves out of debt with a shovel, and along comes a backhoe that can cover us under in five minutes or less. I know that he's still a student, and many people don't pay off student loans at all while being students, but I don't want to be many people - I want to be debt free.

I think between his Nibley Fellowship (thank you Neal A. Maxwell Institute! We love you!) and our tax refund we won't need to go into debt at all if he can get in state tuition, and if Spring funding works out, so that's what I'm praying for now. There is one possible catch - if 60 students don't sign up for the course, he won't even have the T.A. position. When last checked, there were 58 registered.

It's funny - when we decided to have another kid, his funding was looking pretty bright. Now I feel almost irresponsible having another child when we have such financial difficulties, but I suppose that one can never know the future perfectly. And in the long run we'll have enough money. I hope.

It is nice that the largest trials Avram and I have had since marriage have been financial, because really, finances are not ultimately that important. Sure, we need to be good stewards of what the Lord has given us, but no one was ever kept out of the Celestial Kingdom because of student loans (obviously this is doctrine according to Thora, and not in any way an official LDS position).

Someday Avram will graduate, and then he'll get a job, and even if, God forbid, he does not get an Academic position, he'll still make more than he does now, and he can always fall back on his Arabic and get a job with the government. And then we'll pay off all our debt, and we won't look white trash, and it will all be okay. Plus, there is a silver lining, because we just found out that forty credits from Avram's master's degree in England transferred, which means that he'll be done with coursework a lot sooner, which means he'll graduate sooner, which under all the circumstances is very exciting indeed.

Hmm, maybe I never blog because this has all been unfolding recently, and has clearly been at the top of my mind, and starting writing caused it to all spill out onto the page. In summary, though, we're doing okay, and Lydia and Elisheva have so many relatives who are starved to give presents to small girls that they won't know what to do with themselves and all their Christmas presents, and thank goodness for lots of free money coming to us via BYU and the government, because then we shouldn't need to go into more debt.

So if you feel inclined to pray for us, pray that two more students, at least, sign up for the class Avram needs to T.A., and that we get full funding for the Spring (and the rest of our lives, while you're at it).

Back to the regularly scheduled blog - updates to our lives. That was Avram (plus Thora's anxieties).

As for me, I'm twelve weeks along, and have my first midwife appointment tomorrow. It's with the only group my insurance covers, and I'm not too excited about it, but maybe I'll like them after all. I'm wearing my first all-maternity clothes outfit today, not because I look pregnant, but because my regular pants don't fit very well, and if I'm wearing maternity pants it's hard to not wear a maternity shirt, so it's long enough to cover the stretchy fabric.

Lydia is still obsessed with princesses. She spends the better part of every day wearing dress up clothing, which is usually pink. Lydia is convinced we're having a girl, so we can have three girls. (I think we're having a boy, just because the morning sickness was so different). Elisheva is obsessed mainly with Cheerios, and eats about three bowls full every morning. She also is saying more words, but usually just echoing you. She also loves to go places, and often brings you her shoes or coat so we can go on a trip.

And that's the family. If I follow recent trends, you won't hear from me again until the next decade, but I hope to be better at recording, so maybe you will.