Monday, January 30, 2012

Turning 30: Jordan's Month of Me Part 1

I’m turning 30 in less than 30 days. I decided a while back that the best way to ring in this major milestone was to follow in the footsteps of blogger Julie (of Coffee with Julie) by having a “Month of Me”. Julie took a month for herself and indulged in self-affirming activities for thirty days…my month has accidentally become protracted somewhat, however, and has really turned into “Six Weeks of Me”, but that doesn’t sound as good so we’ll call it a month.


What is my Month of Me? It’s the month where I treat myself with all the care, love, respect, and fun that I…well, that I should have been showing myself for the past thirty years more consistently. It’s my month to reaffirm that I deserve attention, love, generosity, and indulgence—from myself, not relying on anyone else’s affections or attentions. It’s a reminder that everything I need is already inside. I am my own best friend. (Now let’s see if I can learn to actually live like that.)


The month began this past weekend, with our housewarming party. Well, ‘party’ may be a big word for a small gathering of, in the end, six people. We’d had a number of last-minute cancellations, which at first saddened me until I remembered that Brian likes big crowds, not me—so really, this was happier for me anyway. As the evening progressed, our family and friends engaged in conversation about everything from deer hunting to the Celestine Prophecy; I took a moment and just drank in the happiness. I think it’s a good sign when you can bring friends together who don’t know each other, and all of them like each other right away. It makes me feel like we’re on the right track. And coincidentally (or not), the people that came were ones that have been recently playing some important roles in our lives as confidantes, playmates, and spiritual comrades. So: house is officially warmed.

I also took a job offer for a new full time job that will replace both my part-time jobs. This wasn’t technically part of the Month of Me plan, but it worked out and allowed me to justify buying some new work clothes. I’ve worked for ten years with youth, so my wardrobe had narrowed down to include three pairs of jeans and a slew of printed tees. While I love clothes and fashion, the teens I work with feel I’m more approachable in casual digs, and I haven’t protested because I love being comfortable. But my goal is to rediscover my personal ‘brand’ and have it combine a professional image with my Pearl Jam-loving-gypsy-ragamuffin-rocker clothing personality. More on this later.

I was also supposed to go for a pedicure, but I spent my pennies on a lip waxing instead. I could go into great detail explaining, but suffice it to say, age brings more hair...and when the wax girl apologized for taking so long, explaining, "You just have so much hair!" I knew I'd made the right choice. Few people see my feet, but a lot of people would notice crumbs stuck in my mo.

The rest of the month is still being scheduled, but the plans so far include:
-high tea at the Tea Party with Mom
-a late Christmas dinner with my cousin (and former bridesmaid) Suzie
-a felting workshop with Annie Bananie
-a craft tweetup mid-month (I’ve never done this before and I’m STOKED)
-dinner at a Mexican restaurant for which I have a Groupon
-getting my hair cut
-using our prize for ARC the hotel: we won a 2-night stay last year and are going to use it
-a special piece of jewellery for myself from Magpie (more on this later)
-dinner and a comedy club with my parents
-dinner and a movie with my friends

I feel funny looking at that list. Normally in a given year, I might do that list of things over the course of 12 months, not 45 days. But, where hitting thirty years may be an indicator to some people to slow down and start taking responsibilities more seriously, etc etc etc, I am the opposite. I lived a very austere, serious, and self-sacrificing first three decades, and I’ve promised myself more fun, self-care, and fancy-free time from here-on out. I mean, of course I still check to make sure that we have the resources to support these things…I’m not flying out to Cuba tomorrow for a month or anything…but I am committed to learning how to give myself a dose of the love and generosity that I have always been so willing to give to others.

So if you hear me justifying and rationalizing and defending my Month of Me, please comment and tell me to stop it. I will try not to rebut with equally defensive replies. And if you have suggestions of more things to do, comment below, or email or tweet! I should note, however, that all demands of bungee jumping or skydiving will be ignored. I’m thirty, not twenty-one.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reflections on marriage: guest post reshared.

Photos by Adam Pap.
Fridays with Bri is postponed this week, as Brian is otherwise occupied with a truck full of sleazy body pillows. That sounds worse than it is; he’s helping out our friend with a convention, and…well, I wasn’t lying about what was in the truck. Anyway, it worked out quite well, as there was a post I wanted to share and this turns out to be a great day for it.

I wrote a guest post for Wedding Republic’s blog this month, and it was up in two parts, for those who follow our tweets and got to see it. But I know that many of you didn’t, or might have only caught one half of it—which makes my inner author cry out in pain. I wrote this post far more candidly than I usually feel free to do, and I think the end result is pretty phenomenal. When I read it to Brian to proofread, we both got teary-eyed and started cuddling in Starbucks like a pair of teenagers. In any case, here is the post, whole and unabridged.

So…we’re married. We had a ten month engagement; we planned a fantastical free wedding (see our first blog) in that time, then had the party, and after a week of hanging around town on vacation, we began our new life as a married couple. After the new pots were put away, the dress was stowed, and the decorations donated to the next frugal bride, we were left with what we started with: each other. And more blogging, of course. 


Does your relationship change after the big day? I think it does, though I’d argue that it changes slowly over the course of your engagement. Maybe the change is more apparent when one has a shorter engagement, like Brian and I did—I imagine the experience is different for some of you out there who are planning weddings 2-3 years into the future. But I could feel the change not too long after Brian popped the question…it was a subtle shift from being two entities, tied together by time spent in mutual activity, to becoming two entities, tied together by…well, everything.

We had a health scare last March, and Brian ended up in the hospital. That was probably the first time I realized that, as our engagement moved along, we were becoming two halves of one whole. Holding my sweetie’s hand as the doctors drugged him into oblivion, I found myself picturing the horror of going home to our apartment, alone, to a place that was supposed to be ours. Thank the heavens, Brian got better, but a few days after this ordeal I called one of my best friends and blurted out that I was calling off the engagement. Patiently, she asked me why, and I said that this was too hard; I hadn’t expected to feel like my life would end if my partner’s did. I told her I wanted to call it off because I didn’t want to face the sorrow of ever losing him. My friend, a long-time married woman herself, laughed and pointed out that I would effectively then be losing him right now. I could see her logic, and reluctantly agreed to carry onward with the wedding, eventually laughing at my own panicked reaction. But it was a significant moment, realizing that going home without Brian would be like going home without half of my self.


That’s a pretty intense example of how marriage—and the journey of engagement—changes a relationship. There were more subtle moments, too, like the very last time we fought about leaving clothes around on the floor. I had been fighting with Brian about this for months, in particular because I was tired of discovering entire beaver dams of smelly socks tucked behind end tables and under the sofa. I found myself always saying that I couldn’t see how we could move forward with this marriage business if we couldn’t even get the sock squirrelling under control. Time and again, I heard myself threatening to break things off if these types of issues didn’t improve, because, “I wasn’t ready to stand before an officiant and swear to forever follow you around picking up your socks.” But that last time we argued about it, something shifted slightly and I had a new idea. I was on my handsfree mobile, driving home from work, as I chewed Brian out for the sock nest I had one again found behind the bathroom door in the morning, and I was about to warn him again about calling the whole wedding off…when I realized what I was going to say instead. “Brian, I’m not going to leave you if you leave your laundry around,” I said. “You’re not?” he asked, suspicious. “No,” I said. “I’m going to marry you like I said I would. And then I’m going to be with you forever. Forever, Brian. And you know what that means? It means that I will be there, every day of your life, nagging you to insanity about those socks. I will be there forever to drive you crazy. And I will never, ever leave.” There was dead silence from Brian, an eventual meek, “Okay,” and we haven’t had a sock nest since.

Now that we’ve been married for a few months, there are more subtle changes I’ve been able to observe. First off, arguments are entirely different. I find we’re both more passionate about them, because we’re establishing the interpersonal boundaries that will exist between us for a lifetime. When you’re dating someone and haven’t made that ultimate commitment yet, you may fight pretty hard, but some part of you knows you can walk out any time you want to…whereas once you’re married, the idea of divorce—with its expenses, legalities, stigmas, and alimony payments—means that you’re going to stick to your guns and demand that you get to keep (and display) your limited edition 300 Immortals mask, even if the resultant fight means you sleep on the couch for a week. (Note: it is Brian who owns a creepy mask collection, not me.)

That same fear of expenses, legalities, and stigmas will sometimes be the only thing that stops you from strangling your spouse and throwing the hideous masks out the window.


There’s a deeper intimacy that comes with marriage, too, though. I think we were married about a week before we started peeing while the other person brushed their teeth. This is something I swore I would never do, but Brian likes to groom in the mirror and my bladder likes to go precisely when it wants to. For the first month, I insisted he run the water while I go; I have since then stopped worrying about it. It’s funny this was a concern in the first place, as we have already both nursed each other through stomach flus that were ‘cathartic at both ends’, to put it lightly…but peeing in front of each other was on a different level. Shortly after I took the plunge, Brian decided he’d do it, too; he undid his fly, started his business, and had to shove me out of the room with his free hand because I began nervously giggling. I’m over it now, but I think he took my tittering a little personally, as he gives me the evil eye if I so much as smile when he lifts up the toilet seat.

Every day seems to bring new matrimonial adventures. Amalgamating our student loans onto one credit line nearly made me puke, because this was the first time I would ever have shared finances with another human being, let alone with a man can’t even remember to brush his teeth before bed. I’ve discovered some of his less cutesy habits, like his uncanny knack to produce toxic flatulence at the worse times…like when I’m trying to sniff a questionable sock, or just as my boss walks over. Some of the infatuation magic now gone, I also get to observe with more candour some of his behaviours; for instance, watching Bri struggle with sweaty nether regions makes me glad I don’t have the type he does, and also makes me wonder why we women mate with those who do have them. I’m certain that Brian has seen beyond the infatuation magic, as well, and has even recently mentioned that he thinks it’s pretty crazy when I brush my teeth in the shower.

There are other moments, too, that are definitively ‘married’. One I like is when Brian walks me down to the bathroom at night after we’ve watched a scary movie, and I know that for the rest of our lives, I will have someone to keep the zombies away. Or when he disappears to his computer for a while, and I find him surfing through the real estate sites looking for a house that matches my dream wishlist. When he knows just how to make the perfect cucumber sandwich, and when we can bemoan a bad batch of Kraft Dinner, but promise we’ll get it right the next time. The key part there: “the next time”. When you’ve made your vows, you can always say “next time”. We will talk it out better next time. We will compromise on that next time. We will go there next time. We will forget about it next time. Because that person is sticking around, so you can do it better/faster/smarter/right the next time. It’s one never-ending work in progress, this relationship.

And then there are the perfect, naturally perfect moments that are yours, together, forever. My favourite: nuzzling into the crook of Brian’s armpit at night, legs layered over each other’s like Jenga pieces, my hand on his chest, his breath on my head. Knowing that he will hold me like that, every night without fail…it fills me with a peace and gratitude I have never known before.

It definitely makes up for the socks. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The homemade granola brick failure: it's hard to be a hippy.

Sunday afternoon, we decided to try making homemade granola bars at my parents’ house. I found this recipe, adapted from another recipe, by the very funny author of Meats, Roots, and Leaves—a food blog. I encourage you to read his post, as it’s very witty in a very short number of words. And somehow, because the post was short, and he was relateable, I got it in my head that I could pull off this recipe.


We followed the instructions carefully. In a moment of brilliance at Bulk Barn, when we were buying our ingredients, I grabbed a measuring cup off the rack of ones for sale, and measured each thing as we went so we wouldn’t have too much or too little. As big granola bar munchers, we were curious to see how the price compared for homemade vs. store-bought. Our only difficulty was in measuring the honey: it was sold by weight (grams) but the recipe measured it in volume (cups). I Googled the rough conversion on my smartphone, and bought what appeared to be just enough or slightly more than needed.

Berry and chocolate chip mix.
At my parents’ house, my mom was excited to try the recipe, as she’s really into oats. I don’t know if she realizes this yet, but when oats are involved, she’s right on board. I read the recipe out to everyone, and Mom and Brian carefully measured out each amount into two separate mixing bowls. We could have done a simple combined double-batch, but Brian insisted we put white chocolate chips in ours, and Mom only wanted fruit. I figured a handful of chips wasn’t a big compromise: if Brian is eating a bar made of whole foods and healthy sugar levels, I’m okay with him adding a little cheat into the mix, though it did feel like we’d sort of ruined the whole point of making these things homemade. Ah, well.

We started off baking the oats, sunflower seeds, and almonds in our two CorningWare baking thingies, stirring every 3 minutes. I thought this seemed redundant, but later when we tasted our final product, it was totally worth it. We also used Mexican vanilla; we learned about this vanilla when we travelled to Mexico one time, and it is now something we ask friends to bring back for us. It has a rich, almost creamy flavour and makes everything ten times yummier. I don’t know if it technically matters, but the brand we get is Los Cinco Soles.


Anyway, after melting the honey/butter/sugar mixture on the stove top, pouring it over the dry mixture, and mixing it all together, we baked the trays for the suggested 25 minutes. Mom and I then tried to sample our wares but found that they were crumbling into granola flakes; this is when Brian found us, swatted our hands, and said that the directions clearly stated the bars must cool. Unfortunately, between the honey and the density, the bars were still warm after dinner, and we ended up taking home our tray to cool in the fridge overnight. 


And how did they turn out? Well, let me tell you. I woke up the next morning briefly, when Brian got out of bed at 6am for school…I get to sleep in ‘til 7:00. I usually rouse just enough to notice he’s getting up, then roll back over for another hour of dead-to-the-world sleep. This morning, however, was going to play out a little differently. A few minutes after Brian headed downstairs, I heard a strange scraping sound, which I assessed as being the sound of someone scraping the ice off a windshield; I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But the sound kept up, scriss, scriss, scriss, making it impossible to doze. I lay there, half under,  not sure what to do, until the sound changed to scrack! Scrack! Scrack!, like the sound of someone whacking something brittle. “Brian?” I called, “What are you doing???” “I’m trying to cut the granola bars!” he hollered. “Give it up!” I said, and he grumbled but stopped his hacking. A few minutes later, after he’d left and I heard the door lock, I closed my eyes for my last 45 minutes of sleep, only to hear our pug Mr Darcy downstairs, licking furiously at something. 

When Mr Darcy licks—which he does constantly, licking the air, the floor, his nose, or his feet; or if you’re lucky, after picking his ears with his back paw, you may catch him sniffing his earwaxy toenails like a connoisseur before licking each one clean—he licks long, hard, and loud. Usually if I yell at him, he snaps out of it, looking startled and nonplussed; but this morning, he refused to stop. Forty-five minutes of incessant licking later, with no extra sleep for me, I climbed out of bed and headed downstairs. What I found explained everything. There was the hacked-at dish of granola bars: Brian had made a valiant effort to saw through the mess, but had succeeded only in dislodging chips and small layers of the concoction, most of which went spraying across the kitchen. Naturally, this is what had kept Darcy busy all morning: he had been meticulously and joyously licking up each and every oat, almond, and sunflower seed off the floor.

At least I didn’t have to sweep, though mopping up the pug drool seemed a non-negotiable.

Mom: always cleans up ASAP.
We’ve been eating the ‘bars’ as chips and chunks, or like this morning, when I poured a handful of the loosened flakes over my yogurt and blueberries. It’s still a filling, tasty snack, regardless of whether you can carry it in your hand or must employ a sandwich baggie when travelling. The tray would have yielded about 20 bars, and we made 2 trays…so that’s 40 bars for $23.00. If we were buying the premade bars of equal nutritional value, 40 of them would have cost us about 35.00, so there’s a savings there, no doubt paid for in time. (Certainly, I would have paid someone the extra $12.00 to reclaim my hour of morning sleep.) But what can’t be beat is the incredibly delicious flavour. I really don’t like the majority of granola bars on the market, but this stuff we made tastes like really crunchy blueberry crumble.

Mom and me!
I had to laugh, however, when my mom texted me the following day and said, “Did you manage to cut up your squares?” When I wrote back no, she ‘LOL’d and pointed out that homemade granola was still a tasty treat. I’m not sure what exactly we did wrong; I suspect my honey measurements were wrong and we needed way more, or we should have greased the pans better, or perhaps Mom’s oven, a notorious over-cooker, just was too hot. My best friend MJ recommended we line the tray with waxed paper next time, but I pointed out that that only would have allowed us to remove the entire brick in one motion, providing us, in the end, with nothing better than a home protection device with which to brain an intruder.

It was a good recipe, but I feel we’ve failed at becoming new-age hippies. Which is too bad, because I really want dreadlocks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Turning 30: What the hell does it mean?

I’m turning 30. It’s pretty overwhelming, moving from one rite of passage (marriage) to another (getting old). Of course, I’m exaggerating for effect here, but only just a tad.

Is this the face of '30'?
Turning 30 is a big deal. Thanks to our infantilization of young adults, turning 20 doesn’t seem to mean a thing anymore, nor does turning 18—an age which our culture used to imbue with so much special meaning. Because we are now delaying leaving the nest by several years compared to the generation before us, there’s no clear transition from child to adult at the turn of our second decade. But 30 has maintained its clout and it stalks the 20-somethings like a sort of leaves-you-living Grim Reaper.


The truth is, I am finding myself the owner of a number of new labels, none of which mean a damn thing to me, but all of which mean a ton to the people around me. Last week at the start of a meeting with some major stakeholders at work, I mentioned I was recently married. This is a group of people who usually see my youthful face and my tattoo peeking out of my sleeve, and spend the next two hours doubting everything I tell them because I’m ‘so young’. (Note, for those who don’t know my appearance: I still get carded to get into Quebec bars, where the drinking age is 18.) But at the mention of my marital status, I could see their eyes retracing my face, trying to re-establish their first impression of me. Surely she can’t be older than 25, their eyes say; when I tell them how long I’ve been in the field, they squint at me again, realizing there’s just no way I was working professionally at age 15.

Does this constitute 30 yr-old behaviour?

And now I’ve got a new label to add to my repertoire: thirty. It is truly the end of my youth, and you cannot argue with me on this one: even the government of Canada has capped the word ‘youth’ to apply to people 29 and under. At 30, my read is that I’m expected to have my sh*t together, and I should be on some sort of clear and established path. A successful 30 year-old, in my mind’s eye, has found her ideal hairdresser. She wears business attire to work that manages to appear professional while still being current and accentuate her figure. She wears understated pumps, has thrown out her last pair of novelty tights, and has discovered her own personal perfect shade of ‘nude’ pantyhose. She attends a fitness class two or three times a week, aside from her strict running schedule, and she drives a sensible car that is well-maintained. She and her mother meet up for lunch once a month, and she sees her father about as often, when she and her spouse stop by for a Sunday dinner. She has a pet befitting her work schedule—a work schedule that she knows she can only maintain for another couple of years, but she pushes her way through it so she can accomplish her goal of reaching upper management by 35. She knows the right kind of cleaner to use for every surface in her house (which is an adorable starter house in a neighbourhood that borders the city and the suburbs). She wears matching bra and panty sets, ones with satin and lace. She drinks white wine at dinners and martinis on holidays, and she has regularly scheduled Girls’ Nights at a trendy local lounge. She sleeps seven perfect hours a night, and supplements with wheatgrass.

Oh my god. I think Sex & the City has damaged my brain.


'30' would never be this undignified. (Apple stuck in teeth.)
The reality is, I’m a month away from 30, and this is my life: I do not have my sh*t together. I’ve just realized that my education-designated profession isn’t fulfilling me, and I’m doing a 180, aspiring to be a social media/marketing/PR pro full-time. I found my ideal hairdresser, but she’s on mat leave and after another stylist mucked my hair up, I recently tried to fix it myself with devastating consequences. I hate business clothes and find that I’m attracted to a clothing style I’d best label as ‘ragamuffin’. I don’t wear pumps because I like to walk fast, so ballet flats or motorcycle boots it is. I cut up my one and only pair of pantyhose to make a piecemeal pair of compression shorts when I found my thighs were rubbing together in the summer. I do work out a lot, but I think I’m flunking out of pole dancing because, turns out, I’m terrified of heights, and eventually you’ve got to start hanging upside-down off the pole…and anyway, pole dancing isn’t what that ideal 30 year-old woman would be doing. I also hate running.

My car was made the year I graduated high school, and if a CSI team ever found it, they’d be able to determine my personal eating habits for the previous 30 days based on all the wrappers and chopsticks under the seats. My mother and I have never had a lunch date, partially because my job makes me work over the lunch hour, and partially because she already sees me at least once a week, when I stop by, overwhelmed with life and needing advice. My dad and I are the same story. I take Brian there for dinner often so he can have a properly cooked square meal.

I do have a pet befitting my work schedule, but once my tumorous, narcoleptic pug dog finally passes on, I am adamant that I want a border collie…one of the most active dogs you can buy. My work schedule is, I grant you, intense, but I already hate it and I don’t want to keep it up for another five years. Oh, and my crazy work schedule doesn’t promise any promotion is coming up, either.
10 secs after this shot, I got hit on by a teenager. I look young.

I don’t know what kind of cleaner to use on each surface; in fact, if a reader could please direct me to a food-safe counter cleaner, I’d be much obliged. My starter home is several years away still, and our starter apartment lists disturbingly to the left. My bras and panties never match, and in fact, most of my underwear has whales, flowers, or plaid printed on them. I can’t drink white wine, and martinis are gross, and I don’t know when I’d ever choose to spend a night at a lounge instead of spending it on the couch with a box of Jr Mints and reruns of 30 Rock.

I sleep past my alarm every single morning. And I barely remember to eat vegetables, nevermind remembering that wheatgrass is even a thing.

'30' doesn't use her face as a brake in snowboarding.
Okay, so I admit, my image of ‘30’ may be a bit extreme; but I’m relatively certain that the average person’s image of a 30 year-old woman isn’t me, wearing my ‘PUGS, NOT DRUGS’ tee shirt, roller skating to the Candy Store to stock up on licorice pipes (the admission price for advice from my dad). I have no idea how to be 30, and I don’t really want to say that there’s no difference between this year and the last. I’m ready to move forward into adulthood; I just don’t know how to do it.

What I do know for sure is that I’m not really ready to give up my whale-print undies.

To Be Continued….

Author's note: this post has inspired some other lovely bloggers to talk about their own experience with turning 30; read Lara Wellman's post here, and Amy Boughner's post here. Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fridays with Bri - 5 tips for guys


I have learned some things now since being married and I wanted to share these with all of you out there, they are simple things you can do when your married or dating that will make your life so much easier... trust me:
  1. Pick up your socks and underwear, don’t leave them in little piles squirreled away all over the house. By doing this simple thing it can make all the difference; as a man we are able to live in a bachelor apartment where the bed is a mattress placed on top of beer cases and all there is for a kitchen is a tap and a hot plate and one pot. Our wives and girlfriends are much more evolved life-forms, so by taking steps to keep their nest clean it means so many less fights and it really means less cleaning on the weekends. 
  2. Be open to their way of doing things. As both halves of a partnership you need to adapt and try things their way. This was the hardest thing I had to do; you get set in your ways of doing things and you need to be ready to change, especially because all of your decisions affect the other person now. If you are going to be out late call home so your wife doesn’t worry, if you want to make plans for the weekend, talk it over: maybe there is something more important or already planned that you need to do. 
  3. Never take your partner for granted. When you love someone so much it is very important that you appreciate them. There is a lot of give-and-take in a marriage and it is very important to say thank you, and let your partner know that you appreciate them and everything they do. This is especially important when I notice amazing things around the house, but I have basically just started to say thank you every time I see her because I know that I am thankful every day I come home and see her, and there are so many things in a day that go unnoticed but that really make our lives better. With that, be ready to do things to support her too.
  4. Spend time together. It is one of the simplest things to do but always seems to be the hardest to achieve. Everyone has busy lives and they aren’t always going to line up, but by making sure that you spend time with you partner, everything on the home front will be so much happier. Yes, this means giving up going to the game with the guys; maybe instead take her out to a restaurant and sit where you can glance over every couple minutes to check on the score, or sacrifice it all together that one night. It means you're more likely to get the freedom to see the “big game” in the future.
  5. Communication is the key. Men and women communicate differently and this can be one of the most important things to learn. When a woman talks to you, try “active listening”; this will save your marriage. When your wife wants to vent, do not under any circumstance judge her...she wants you to be there to listen. That’s it, don’t give advice, and don’t try to fix it--unless she specifically asks you to. Women process emotions differently than men. Men get angry, punch the guy, then buy him a beer. We are much simpler…whereas women are all about playing mind games, seeing all sides, over-thinking every point, needing to talk it out, while being emotionally-driven the whole time. These are just facts and when you can learn to accept it, then listen actively, you’ll be the one who she runs to to be listened to.

Now, there is one last piece of advice I can give you: every person is different. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another and that is what you need to accept during your first year of marriage. The first year is the exciting time and certainly has been the hardest time of our relationship, so taking these steps to make things work are seriously the best things you can ever do.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Update: on newlywed bliss and feathering the nest

Old tenants used this room as a messy dining room; we're making it a living room.
We’ve been in our new place for six weeks now. Believe it or not, I think we’ll be throwing the last cardboard box out this Monday. Despite the grander size of the new place (or at least, it feels bigger because it’s two storeys of a real old house in Hintonburg), it took a long time to find homes for everything. I am typically unpacked from a move within two weeks, but it just wasn’t possible this time; because the new place is laid out so very differently from the old place, it wasn’t the usual simple matter of unloading a ‘living room’ box into the new living room.  Each item had to find a proper home, sometimes in odd locations—my bakeware is in the living room closet, for example—and many ‘homes’ had to be built or rigged.

Old tenants left holes and chipped paint.
Brian really took the lead and shone as my housewarming hero by putting up a pot rack, new shelves in the bathroom, and various other hardware/hardwired things involving screws, nails, and levels. This freed me up to focus on layout, organization, and style, and consequently, we’ll be settling into our new digs, box-free, with about 50% of our decorating vision already realized. Without Brian, I wouldn’t have made it this far, I can tell you. As the various troubles we inherited came to light over the first week (holes in walls and ceilings, crooked floors, no heat, etc), I would find myself despairing, but Brian would be there in a flash, with a hammer and drill, distracting me with more spacial planning details. Thank god for Brian, or I would probably be sleeping on a pile of dirty laundry surrounded by boxes, whimpering quietly.

We patched and painted...looking good!
It’s taken me six weeks to realize that Brian is best left to these ‘broad stroke’ type of tasks, and that it’s self-defeating of me to put him on small detail duty. Yesterday I stuck him in the dining room and told him to sort through and stash a bunch of computer cables, a socket set, and a tangle of extension cords. I came back two hours later to find he’d wandered off after sort of nudging the piles around the floor. I realized that these last finishing touches will be my sole responsibility, even though it inevitably means that Brian will one day go looking for those computer parts and will be pissy when they aren’t where he left them…yes, in the middle of the dining room floor.

BEFORE shot: Old tenant's junk room (above) is becoming my office.
But it’s important, I’ve found, to establish what your teammate is good at, and then just let them be good at those things. For example, if Brian had met me, dated me, and then upon marrying me, had demanded I become skilled at geometry, we would have had quite the fight. I can no more measure an equilateral triangle than I can perform my own dental work, and the same is true of Brian and little details. He is a big picture fellow, and the sooner I embrace that, the better we will both feel. This is easier in word than deed, of course; naturally, I am weary of labelling storage boxes and arranging knickknacks, but I am more weary of harping at Brian for not doing these things well himself.

New Years - nice to get out, finally!
In the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you this is not quite what I’d thought that our ‘honeymoon period’ would look like. Currently, I’m working about fifty hours a week, winning the bread that keeps us going as Brian works his butt off back at college, where he (thank the heavens) is enrolled through a government grant for EI recipients. Between Bri’s school, my two jobs, blogging, volunteer work, and unpacking the house, we’ve been stressed out and not really enjoying each other’s company very much. My television upbringing tells me that the first year of marriage should start off with me as homemaker in a circle dress, baking casseroles and welcoming Brian home, his skinny tie and briefcase indicating his status as a young executive climbing the ladder. At night, we should light candles to eat by, then go out dancing or at least out for drinks, before curling up in bed together…and the camera fades to black. Wink.

So far, the first five months has started off with me running all over the city with two jobs that have a lot of travel, coming home to a half-time house-husband who is stressed out with studying and way too distracted to do much cooking or cleaning. I come home, throw on his old shirt and PJ pants, and attempt not to burn a tofu stir fry, then we both spend the evening arguing about how we’re going to store a Christmas tree when we’ve already squished all my linens onto a shelf with Brian’s ratchet set. We do fade to black in the evenings…but not with any winking innuendo. I mean, we literally pass out, sometimes still wearing the wrong pyjamas.

Strangely, though, as I write this out, I don’t feel despairing or distressed; I feel kind of like laughing. I think I was, indeed, stressing about all this, until the new year hit and I started making some changes. For one, I’ve started jealously guarding my weekends, committing at least one of the days to fun time. This is crucial, it turns out, because—who knew—we apparently like each other best when we’re having fun. Dating is a funny thing, isn’t it? You invest a couple years spending time with each other, primarily engaged in activities that would be enjoyable almost regardless of the company…and then you settle in with that person and suddenly the majority of your time together is spent on miserable tasks like paying bills, cleaning dishes, or grocery shopping. Play is vital to a happy relationship, and that’s a hard thing for an A-type like myself to remember. Generally, I operate like a sled dog: the harder the work, the better I feel. Well, I’m learning that relationships need a gentler touch, though I still insist we play hard, too.

I digress. The moment just recently that made me laugh a bit about the pitiful state of our honeymoon period hit me while I was finishing up the dining room. For lack of a better space, we’ve put our book shelves in there, and I was admiring the neatly organized books when I noticed the layers of cardboard stuffed under the righthand edges of both structures. It dawned on me that Brian had stuffed about two inches of cardboard under each bookshelf in an effort to straighten them out, because the house is so ridiculously slanted. As I wandered around the apartment, I realized that over half of our paintings and photographs have been weighted on one edge with taped-on pennies and bolts. (It’s an easy trick, just tape them behind the frame, not in front.) Again, this is an attempt to compensate for the crookedness of the leaning house. It dawned on me that everything in the house was jury rigged in these improvised ways; that my lemons-into-lemonade apartment is held together with packing tape and good wishes. For reasons I do not fully understand, this made me sublimely happy. Perhaps because it’s really like a little nest now, made out of spit and branches and mud.

We’re having a small housewarming gathering to kick off my 30th birthday month in a couple weeks. I think the place will be looking pretty swell by then. As for the two of us, well, I’m okay with the weird turn our newlywed journey’s been taking, but I’m pretty tired of finding upbeat ways of answering the question, “How’s married life?” as it’s posed to me a dozen times a week.

Maybe my answer should be, “Married life, like our nest, is off-kilter, exhausting, and held together with taped-up pennies.” After the circle skirts are stowed away and the casserole’s been eaten, isn’t that the bones of marriage, anyway? I shall strive to embrace my slanty little nest and my modern mishmashed marriage; it’s a little off-beat, but I think I like it.