My husband, the brewer

In addition to being a fantasy fiction aficionado, brainy neuroscientist (redundant?), sick ultimate player, devoted cross fitter, and lovely man, Hubs is a legit home brewer.  Over the past five or so years, he has homeschooled himself in the fine art of turning grain into alcohol, with mostly positive results.  At this point his palette is refined:  he can taste the difference between an APA and an IPA, a doppelbock and a maibock, or a heifeweizen and a dunkelweizen and then tell you about it and how you make it using all the right vocab. I love that he is at once so creative and meticulous with his brewing, creating recipes himself that come out awesome.  I also love how passionate he has become about beer:  he started a Friday afternoon beer club with some other scientists and the conversation at those meetings waxes poetic on the subjects of hop origin and esters.  When we’re with friends who also care (even just a little bit) about beer, the conversation can stay on the topic for hours based on Hubs’ unrelenting interest.

But what’s the best part of all?  Drinking this:

Helles, the best brew to date

Having it all

Wow!  I just read this article from the Atlantic* that is sweeping the interwebs, and my head and heart are so full.  First, I am so thankful to Anne-Marie Slaughter for saying publicly that she wants to be home with her kids.  When I say that I would like to work part time when I have kids in order to stay home with them to most people in science, this declaration is usually met with one of two responses:  1. Polite nodding, frequently (though not always) backed up by a slightly incredulous look or tone of voice OR 2. “I can’t imagine not working full time” (this second response more often comes from other women).  What Slaughter’s piece helped me realize is that these responses are less about me and more about a system that values hours worked over productivity and devalues parenting over other pursuits.

Second, I feel profound relief in knowing that other, smart, ambitious, high-powered career women (like Slaughter and other women she mentions, such as Mary Matalin, who worked as an assistant to President George W. Bush) have achieved high ranking positions while also having families, have not been forced out of these positions, and have still chosen to leave these jobs in order to be the mother and partner they want to be.  In spite of reading the very encouraging Professor Mommy and following the blogs of several tenured female scientists, I still can’t see how having to be on the tenure clock at a Research 1 institution is going to allow me the freedom to be the mom and partner I want to be.  This is absolutely about how I feel, and not about other women who choose to go into academia.  Slaughter points out, in fact, that the flexibility of her schedule as a tenured professor and former dean makes it infinitely easier to achieve work-life balanace than her job in government did.  I am just glad to see female role models that have prioritized their families in the way that feels best for them.

Finally, I am elated that this conversation is happening and that smart, driven people everywhere are reading this article and responding to it.  Slaughter’s message is twofold.  In addition to being about the expectations women (and men) of my generation have regarding work-life balance and why they can be really difficult to fulfill, she delves into how we can change the current climate for everyone by revaluing family, redefining the arc of a successful career, and encouraging the pursuit of balance and happiness.  As Hubs and I explore plans for our future, I pray that we can keep these things in mind, too.

*If you don’t have time to commit to reading the whole piece, watch the interview video that is included with it.

Money

Before you read this, you should know that Hubs and I are doing just fine financially.  We have some [minimal] student loan debt (currently deferred) and a mortgage.  We do not have credit card debt and we have savings in the bank.  We will not be grad students forever.  While I know all this in my rational mind and realize that we are SIGNIFICANTLY better off than many people, what I need to write about is my anxiety around money, which persists in spite of all rational evidence against it.

Hubs and I went to his high school reunion on Sunday.  I was kind of anxious about it (having never met most of the people that were going to be there), but also excited because it was at a fancy restaurant that we don’t go to often and because I usually have fun at parties.  So we got there at six and realized we were going to be paying for our own drinks.  I thought, “Oh, hey, no big deal.  We’re paying for our drinks because the money we paid to be there [$75] was for dinner.”  So I happily drank my six dollar beer and waited for dinner.

Around 7:15 food was set out and it was four different types of appetizer of low to medium tastiness and low to medium temperature appropriateness.  I had a couple of things, but didn’t love them and so I just hung out and chatted and waited for dinner.  But dinner NEVER came.  The four small trays (for 40! people) of appetizers was dinner.  I was pretty hangry (thanks for the highly appropriate word Jen) and getting hangrier, but we still had maybe an hour or so of reunion left.

I hung in there, expecting to get to go home and eat leftovers, but then everyone was hungry and they really only get to see each other once in a blue moon so it really made sense to all go somewhere to eat.  And I was happy for Hubs to get to hang out with these friends, and mostly I enjoyed the people we were with, but on the drive to the second restaurant and in spite of the promise of real food, I started to FREAK OUT about the amount of money that we were spending (basically our entire month’s fun budget in one night).

Rather than chilling out and enjoying the company of a very talented and interesting group of people, I felt like I could only focus on the impending doom of spending more money.  I didn’t enjoy my food (cheese fries, I should have loved them), and my anxiety spilled out to Hubs in the car on the way home.  He was surprisingly patient with my catastrophizing, but we’re both at a bit of a loss on how to handle me around the money issue.

Some friends and family have offered good perspective and suggestions:  the mantra, “Don’t believe everything you think; fear lies,” and the idea that we have to let money go, so that it can come back to us.  I’ll of course be taking this specific instance of awfulizing to my counselor (along with my tendency to awfulize in every challenging situation), but I’d love any feedback or ideas you all have to help me find more peace with our finances.

The Red Tent

The red tent (in addition to being a fantastic novel by Anita Diamant) is a tradition found in many cultures.  In the red tent or moon lodge (the equivalent found in some Native American traditions) women gathered during their monthly menstrual periods to celebrate their feminine energy and support each other.*  Since the publication of Anita Diamant’s novel, red tents have sprung up all over the US as a way for women to connect to each other and recharge.

This past weekend I went to an every other year red tent retreat.  It was awesome to be in nature with other lovely ladies (including my mother- and sister-in-law).  We yoga-ed, sauna-ed, hot tubbed, and ate lots of amazing vegetarian food.  We had an opening circle where everyone shared their intentions for the weekend or their lives and then a closing circle where we reflected on what we had experienced in the company of our sisters and shared womanly wisdom.  It was a very powerful weekend for me, not only because I realized how joyfully grateful I am to have the in-laws I have, but because in the closing circle, it really hit me how much I enjoy communicating and processing with other women, how much I need time for the red tent in my life, and how maybe the enjoyment and affinity I have for red tent type activities and relationships could be a hint about my calling.

Hubs and I have had some pretty intense conflict in the recent past, which is currently being handled in an ongoing way (with the help of a counselor), and while it’s no fun at all, I am SO THANKFUL for the support from the women in my life around the conflict.  In one 24 hour period, I talked to two out of town friends and my mom on the phone (each for an hour at least), was walked to AND from work by my heart sister here in Nashville and received a supportive email from another friend.  If I hadn’t felt their bracing love, I would have been non-functional that entire day (as it was, I actually did science).  I realized at the time how lifted up I felt, but I didn’t realize until this weekend’s retreat how amazing it was and IS to have so many women that I feel comfortable calling on and that are willing to support me at the drop of a hat.

Several of the women retreating with us this weekend don’t have one woman that they can call in times of need, let alone three or more!  They don’t have great relationships with their moms, let alone with their sister and in-laws.  They grew up in a time or family that stigmatized mental health, struggling with body image, coping with abuse, and lady business.  They kept taking care of their families and working their jobs and pouring themselves out for roles that they are increasingly too empty to do, until they couldn’t take it any more and hightailed it to the retreat center to fill back up.

The red tent can fill you up, whether you have a virtual red tent or a real life one, but for me, it has to happen more than every other year.  Here in Nashville, I have been meeting with a group of women casually calling ourselves the red tent, but it may be time for me to get more deliberate about it.  I’m going to keep thinking about how all women can find ways to empower themselves and empower each other to fill our emptiness up, and see what I come up with.

Do you have the support of the red tent in your life?  What ideas do you have about how you can cultivate this kind of support for yourself and the women you love?

*In my limited reading, I haven’t found any evidence for menstrual synchrony (either of women synchronized with other women or women synchronized with the moon), in spite of the significant anecdotal evidence for roommates and sisters menstruating together.  In fact this review of some scientific evidence concludes that menstrual synchrony is probably random.

Breakthrough? (a reflection on 2012 so far)

On January 1, Husband and I did an exercise where I cut circles out of colored cardstock and then we wrote our vision for 2012 on them in each of five categories:  Him, Me, Us, Home, Money.  He wrote the vision for Him, I wrote the vision for Me and we wrote the vision for Us, Home, and Money together.  We taped them to the fridge, so they are VERY present in our everyday lives.  (Our counselor aptly calls it the “visioning fridge”).

Inspired by my very incredible sister-in-law, who before the end of 2011 chose a word to embody in 2012, and with the help of my Relationship Cards, I chose “breakthrough” and wrote it boldly in the middle of the Me circle.  Wishing and manifesting and visioning can all be tricky because the skeptic in me can never be sure whether I am more aware of things that are happening or whether more things are actually happening because of intention.  That said, here is a list of breakthrough-ish things that happened in January:

  1. I finally understood and did two yoga poses (in two separate classes) that have been a challenge since I started practicing regularly in November.
  2. I moved out of the serious science slump I have been in since Octoberish in one day last week.
  3. Hubs and I did serious emotional work on money in our relationship.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s in store for the rest of 2012.

The marriage YOU are in

The blog world was rocked this week by the announcement from Heather and Jon Armstrong that their marriage is currently in a trial separation.  Twitter exploded, hundreds of comments were left on their respective blogs and some of my friends who are readers got together on a hangout so we could process together.  Tack on to that all the celebrity break ups that are consistently happening all around us, books featuring the end of a marriage as a main plot point, and the hardest of all, the end of the marriages of people you know and love in real life, and marriage seems pretty pointless.  In the past, I’ve felt derailed by the hurt all around me.  Sure Hubs and I are mostly great now, but what happens to us when we have kids, the next time we move, in 30 years, or when our marriage faces challenges I haven’t even anticipated?

What has really helped me to get past all of those worries is one simple fact (which can be repeated like a mantra):  our marriage is OUR marriage.  Our marriage is not Jon and Heather’s marriage or the marriage of anyone close to me, no matter how much I admire what they seemed to have.  Because only the two people in the marriage can really know why it works or doesn’t work, I can’t let the end of anyone else’s marriage derail me because as long as I know what’s going on in my marriage, I’m doing the best I can.  And there are always times when marriages end because one person did something, but I think it’s more often that people grow apart and there are convincing reasons not to try to grow back together.  So as long as Hubs and I keep working on it, we’ll be fine. (I think).

Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the day I married Hubs three years ago.  I’ve said it before, but marriage is hard work and it’s about making a choice every day to be present in the marriage.  Hubs pretty great and I knew that then, but I’m not sure how much I appreciated it.  We have made huge strides with each other lately and the other day, as we discussed a future that may involve living apart temporarily in order to set ourselves up best for each having an opportunity to fulfill our callings in the same city in the future, he said something along the lines of, “We’ve grown up together so much recently and I’m so happy with where our relationship is now, I might not want to be apart from you.”  Friends, my cup runneth the eff over!  So in honor of our anniversary, I’d like to highlight some improvements between us since we tied the knot.  (This is by no means an exhaustive list).

1.  Hubs is a good cleaner upper.  When we first moved in together, a couple of months before we got married, I had never lived in close quarters with a man, having not grown up with brothers.  I was SHOCKED by the base level of cleanliness that seemed acceptable to Hubs (how low can you go?) and I didn’t handle it well.  As I am not one who really keeps feelings to herself and at times blames them on other people, I was a, ahem, challenge to live with until we worked that all out.  What helped eventually was me being reasonable about what I was asking, giving advance notice of chores I felt needed doing, and avoiding the following:  hysterics, gross generalizations, and unrealistic expectations (this last bit involved a compromise from both of us on a mutually acceptable base level of cleanliness).

2.  I try to be nice to him ALL THE TIME.  Growing up, it was really easy for me to treat my parents or my sister badly if I was having a bad day.  They quickly forgave snappiness and rudeness, and I don’t think I heard enough that it wasn’t okay to take my feelings out on other people.  Like most of the other things I’d been doing for my first 23 years, I brought this modus operandi with me to my marriage.  It wasn’t ’til I was spending time with family that my eyes were opened to a different way to be.  My dad’s sister said that when she first started dating her partner, he said to her, “You can’t treat people like that.”  She now makes a concerted effort with everyone, especially him, to behave better when she is in crisis.  I realized that weekend that I needed to change the pattern of behavior in my own life, and I set out to be nice to Hubs all the time, even when I’m mad at him.  This effort has not been without its failures, but we are both SIGNIFICANTLY happier than we were.  The commitment to this new way of interacting was also much easier for me to make and keep than I thought it would be (though looking back, I’m not sure why I thought it would be hard; I hate acting like a bitch and always regret treating people badly).

3. Our sex life.  (YESSSSSSSS)

So what’s the key to this pretty great list?  Communication.  1, 2, and 3 are a result of us trying to be tip top communicators.  I’m one who’ll talk a subject to death, and Hubs keeps things locked up inside, but now we exist mostly in the happy medium of being able to share and confide and also let each other have time to process things alone (Hubs) or with extramarital support (me).  I’m pretty thankful for the past three years and psyched out of my mind for the rest of our marriage.  If we keep improving at the current rate, we’re going to be the best married couple EVER.