Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So... Many... Changes...

I've been wanting to write a blog post for a couple days now, just to update on what's been happening in the Lives of Mark and Hillary since we moved up to the Twin Cities, but every time I thought I would actually sit down and do it, trying to decide what to write about was simply too overwhelming. So many things have happened, so many things have changed.

So, instead of trying to choose what to write about, I'm just going to make a list of all the changes. Maybe this will be therapeutic for me. I always say I love changes, and I'm always terribly excited for changes up until the day of. Then, the day of the Change that I've been anticipating for months, I feel kind of numb. I don't feel happy or sad that the Change is happening; it just is, and I'm just doing what I have to in order to get through it. Then the day after the Change, when unexpected challenges start to crop up, I turn into an emotionally volatile sniveling lunatic who is absolutely sure that life as she knows it is at an end. Ergo, it may be both informative for you and therapeutic for me to write down all the recent changes that have taken place in our lives.

In the list below, changes are numbered. Sub-changes are listed below each numbered change.

  1. Mark and I moved into my parents' basement.
    1. We now have to compromise with two middle-aged adults (one of whom is a fairly picky eater) and one teenager (who is definitely a picky eater) on what we eat for dinner. I want vegetarian, more vegetables, and all bread products to be whole wheat. My dad wants ground beef, fewer vegetables, and is actually now okay with most bread products being whole wheat. We haven't talked about other grains yet, like quinoa. My sister wants Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Doritos, and Cheez-Its. Thankfully, it seems so far like we can all be adults about this, except perhaps my sister who insists on being a strong-willed teenager, and heaven help us with that. 
    2. We now have Internet all the time. This sounds like a good thing, and in lots of ways it is, but I have to re-learn how to have Internet in my life and not feel the constant need to check my e-mail. I kind of seem to myself like a dog that's been starved regularly. When the dog finally does have food, it gorges itself. It has to re-learn to eat in moderation, trusting that the next meal really will appear. I just realized how very odd and somewhat disturbing those previous two sentences sound. However, since I can't think of another more appropriate simile off the top of my head, I'm not going to delete it. I'm just going to strike it out in deference to how strange it sounds.
    3. All of our stuff is in boxes. Except the books that are now airing out after their near miss with gasoline. Even in my parents' basement, the belongings we brought with us that we 'needed' for our time with them are still mostly in bins and boxes, as there's not really place to put them. (Did I really need to bring all those pairs shoes? I'm still not sure.)
  2. I went to a Teach For America hiring fair last Friday and Saturday.
    1. I got to meet many of the fellow corps members I will be working with over the next two years. That was a lot of fun except that due to a recent ovulation combined with stress, I have had a killer outbreak of acne. So I spent all of Thursday wishing it were socially acceptable to wear a paper bag over my head to meet fellow corps members and the school officials who would be interviewing me.
    2. I learned more about the achievement gap, particularly in Minnesota. Did you know that Minnesota ranks dead last in graduation rates for African-American, Native American and Hispanic students? We are failing our kids, and that's really depressing. What's even more depressing is that Minnesota kind of has this reputation of having really great schools. Apparently this is only true if you are wealthy and white. However, on the plus side, I left Friday's discussions feeling completely energized about education and oh-so glad that I'm committing my next two years to combating this totally unfair gap in achievement.
    3. I switched from planning on teaching English as a Second Language this fall to teaching general Elementary Education. Yep. I know what you're wondering: So, all those hours studying for the ESL Content MTLE test... do they mean nothing now? Yep, pretty much. Now I have to take a new MTLE test, the Elementary Education Content test. Surprisingly, I didn't start crying when I went online to register. In all honesty, though, the reason that I'm switching is the cost of obtaining the licensure. Over the next two years all the TFA corps members will be taking education classes through a university up here to get our teaching licenses. Because ESL teachers need to take not only general education classes but also linguistics and language acquisition classes, their degree costs more. Twice as much, in fact. After thinking very hard and praying about whether we thought we could/should scrimp and save over the next two years to pay for a $19,000 degree, we decided that it just wasn't worth it. Given our desire to adopt (and soon) combined with other financial obligations, the $19,000 is just plain too much. So, elementary education it is. But I'm not disappointed. I'm still very excited to teach!
  3. I gained new compassion for people with medical problems and little to no health insurance. I don't really even want to go into detail on this subject. We're still working things out, so the mere mention makes my blood pressure rise. But combining expensive COBRA insurance with an HSA that is entirely out-of-pocket until the deductible is reached with some PCOS-related medical issues that need attention is definitely teaching me to trust God with each dollar and making me more sympathetic to the plight of people with big medical needs.
  4. Mark and I pretty much took over errand-running and grocery shopping for my mom. That has been fun, but the way we use gasoline up here is a rude awakening after being in a small town. However, being near Goodwill, Savers, Plato's Closet, and Half-Price Books definitely will have its perks when we have an income again...
  5. We switched phone plans.
    1. Now we each have our own cell phone, which is nice. (Those phones were donated to us by Mark's sister and her husband. So we didn't even need to purchase new phones to start our new plan. Thankful, thankful, thankful!)
    2. We have some texting now, which is also nice.
    3. My phone is turquoise, which I love. 
  6. My parents have Netflix and my mom likes the same kind of movies I do. (We're both BBC junkies.) I don't know yet whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I just reviewed this blog and realized it seems a bit long. But I was able to process some of the recent changes, so that's good! And you are now all caught up on our New Life in Minnesota. That's also good! If you leave a comment, I'll consider sending you payment for the therapy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Not Stressed. I am NOT STRESSED.

I haven't disappeared from this blog; I've just been moving. I'm now typing this from Minnesota instead of Iowa. We're at my parents' house. Most of our belongings are in storage in Mark's parents' basement. The rest of our stuff, that we thought we'd need in the next couple of months, is in boxes and totes here at my parents' house.

Nothing is organized now. We have piles of papers. (I hate piles of papers. I want them in files.) But overall, things have gone well. We are here.

In the two weeks leading up to our move I was really not stressed. I was not worried about the upheaval or the transition. Even as we packed boxes and approached the time when we would have no income I did not feel stressed. And I was so very proud of myself.

Mark's parents came down to drive the moving truck on Saturday, and we weren't going to follow until Wednesday. This meant that we were camping out in our house for about four days. That was okay. All the cleaning was okay. No hiccups in our plans.

We've had a couple of hiccups today, though, and I'm beginning to feel a little stressed.

Well, okay, I'm pretty stressed. I feel a little bit like my life is over. It started this morning when the inside panel fell off of the door of our car, the same car that was hit by a tree branch two weeks ago. Mark knew what to do to get it back on and I helped him duck tape it on. That was alright. No big deal.

Then when we stopped at Mark's parents' house on the way to my parents' (because my bin with essentials like underwear had accidentally ended up on the moving truck), we found out that a can of gasoline that we had packed in a box (yes, we know now what a bad idea that was) had gotten turned on its side and leaked a puddle all over my in-laws basement and our couch. Oh dear.

I handled that alright, though, after apologizing profusely to Mark's parents.

Then when we arrived at my parents' house, I realized that my sourdough starter had gotten sealed in it's container, thus cutting off its supply of oxygen. When I questioned Mark about it, he said he'd sealed it last night. The starter smells funny and there isn't a hint of a bubble. I think it's dead.

That was the final straw. I cried. Tears dripped down my face as I unpacked the rest of our refrigerator items and nestled them into my parents' fridge. It wasn't Mark's fault. This is just one of those communication lapses that seem to happen during times of great busyness. But still. My baby.

After we were all done unpacking, I opened the mail that had begun to accumulate at my parents' house for us. I was expecting to see the letter in response to the health insurance I'd applied for, since Mark's and my health insurance through our Iowa jobs will end on April 30. I was not expecting, however, to have our application denied.

More correctly, my application was denied, because of my 'pre-existing condition' of polycystic ovary syndrome. I was not expecting this little wrench in things, and that was the final final straw that left me feeling like my life is pretty much over.

I know it's not. I know there are things we can do and that we will probably be able to find health insurance before May 1, even if it's through a COBRA plan from our previous employers. We'll be making phone calls tomorrow.

But tonight, I don't have much of a sense of perspective. I'm just tired and stressed.

It wouldn't be a major life change for me if I didn't expend some good solid stress over it, right?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hamster Escapades

We got a hamster for the library. It was my idea. (See? My raging desire to nurture something is even following me to work.) I had a number of hamsters growing up. I think I counted one time, and I’ve had a total of twelve hamsters from the time I was six until the time I went off to college. Mooney, Rose, Squirt, Alice, Creamy, Calico, Smokey, Sparkles, and Soybean are the hamsters I remember with clarity. There was a string of three in the middle there that died within days of bringing them home. I think one of them was called Mustard.

So, there was this library somewhat near here that adopted a stray cat that they named Dewey. Dewey lived in the library and welcomed patrons. He climbed around on the shelves and the library director cleaned his litter box and made sure he had food to eat. Now there are books written about him. National Library Week is coming next week, and those of us on the planning committee for this Big Event in the library world decided that we would like to have a pet in the library too. Not feeling quite ambitious enough to take on a cat (and not wanting to deal with allergy problems that would certainly arise), we decided a hamster was a good choice for a library pet.

Hammy and me at the library

The rest of the committee was willing to go along with this plan, but I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t propelled the idea forward, it wouldn’t have happened. You see, I loved having hamsters when I was little. I carried them around in a little plastic traveling case all day as I went around the block visiting friends. The poor nocturnal rodent—he just curled up right there in the middle of this little plastic case rocking back and forth and slept as best he could. My friends and I built mazes for the hamsters out of Duplos and toilet paper tubes. I even have a faint memory of carrying one of my hamsters (probably Mooney or Rose—bless their little hearts for being the pets of a six-year-old) around on a tennis racket and bouncing him up and down. Gently.

My friend Allison and I once tried to introduce my hamster, Mooney, to her hamster, Peaches. They immediately latched onto each other in what looked like a furry trembling ball. We couldn’t even see their heads. At first, I think I thought they were hugging (I was only six, after all.) But we quickly realized they were not hugging and we should probably separate them. One nasty hamster bite later, I learned never to introduce adult male hamsters to each other and expect them to be friends.

Squirt was my only dwarf hamster. He was too squirmy for me, though. He escaped from his cage one night, disappeared (probably down the heat register) and was never seen again. Alice was my only albino hamster. When I was little, I had a fixation on being albino. I still have pictures I drew of myself as an albino human being. Alice allowed me to experience the thrill of being albino vicariously.

Creamy is the hamster I remember with the most fondness. Creamy was a long-haired hamster, so I could brush him with a Barbie brush. He moved with me from Wisconsin to Iowa when I was nine and I considered him my only friend for a while. He also escaped down the heat register once, but thankfully during the summer. After he didn’t turn up for a few days, my mom and I went down to the basement and opened up the side of the furnace. There he was, a lovely shade of grey from all the dust, curled up in a ball, sleeping right in the middle of the furnace.

Sparkles probably should have lived longer than she did. I was fifteen when I got her, and I had three very rambunctious guy friends who hung out at my house most weekends. They took a liking to Sparkles right away, but not because he was furry and cuddly. They played catch with Sparkles. Sparkles was the ball. At first they were content to toss him from about four feet apart. After a while, they became so confident in their hamster acrobatics that they would put her in the middle of a throw pillow, pull it taut suddenly at an angle, and Sparkles would fly through the air toward the other boy with another throw pillow. (Please try to refrain from sending me hate mail for my animal abuse. I was an irresponsible sixteen-year-old, and I really am quite horrified at my past self!)

Soybean was the last hamster I had before I went to college, and he spent most of his life in his cage. I was too busy with school and friends and extracurricular activities. I had no time for a hamster. I can remember many times when I suddenly remembered I needed to feed Soybean or give him some water that I would think to myself, I’m so glad God doesn’t care for  me the way I care for this hamster! I wouldn’t say I was terribly neglectful, but I wasn’t a good pet owner at age eighteen.

And now, I have the library hamster to take care of. He doesn’t have a name yet. I’m going to let the kids vote between a couple of names during National Library Week. He will either be called Humphrey, Reepicheep, Freddy, or Midnight. Humphrey and Freddy are both hamster characters from book series. Reepicheep is the adventurous mouse in the Chronicles of Narnia, and Midnight is just a name I thought preschoolers might prefer if the names I gave my hamsters at that age are any indication.

But I really do enjoy taking care of little Library Hammy. One of the hardest things to do with a new hamster is tame it. You need to make it feel comfortable with your hand reaching in the cage, comfortable with your smell as a human (so it doesn’t try to nip curiously at any hand thrust into the cage), and comfortable with being picked up. I’m finally to the picking-up stage, which is by far the most fun. Hammy is comfortable enough now with me that he will let me scoop him up in my hands and carry him around the library (before it opens—I’m still not sure he’s ready for a stampede of children clamoring to pet him).

Contrary to what it might seem from the stories above, I do think I was a good hamster-owner, and I really did like having hamsters. I like having one in the library.

I realize that this is not a baby:

But it is kind of fun to care for, all the same.