Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.

DSC06812.jpg

Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.

skjennunen.png

We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.

  • In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
  • In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.

Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!

DSC06854.jpg

Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.

|

DSC06879.jpg

We're the Camps. We camp. It's something we've done together since the beginning. Jonathan and I have pitched two-person tents in Yosemite and Grand Teton and Joshua Tree, as well as myriad other campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. When we moved to Norway, we brought all our camping gear along for the ride, including both our 3-season and 4-season North Face tents. In the last five years, we've camped out on Kvalvika Beach in Lofoten and in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's tallest mountain, but mostly we've stuck close to home, trekking not so very far into Oslomarka, the wilderness area surrounding the capital city. Having the marka so accessible is one of the reasons we love living in Oslo. 

Two years ago this month, we traveled to Bodø in Nordland to chase the midnight sun. We rented a little fishing cabin to allow us to travel light. What we didn't know then was that the girl basking in the glow of midnattsola--slathered in bug repellant, signing the guest book tucked into a tall cairn at the lookout, and grinning victoriously at her husband--was a couple weeks pregnant. That was the last "camping" adventure we had before our daughter was born in April of 2015.

Last summer, camping couldn't have seemed more impossible.

Our little Cheeks McGee was a born screamer, and her mama's best coping mechanism was a controlled eating and sleeping schedule. The babe was six months old before we attempted putting her to bed anywhere except her own crib. That trip to Berlin proved she could be a champion overnight sleeper no matter where we went, but it was already October, and the window for camping in Norway had closed. 

When my semester ended in May, I was craving some time in the woods. I hauled our camping bins up from the cellar and inspected the contents. If we wanted to pull off any camping trips this summer, there was much to be done and much to be acquired: a tent to accommodate three people; sleeping bag for the babe; a backpack-style carrier; a new first aid kit. 

On top of that, it's been five years since we owned a car, so any camping trip here requires backpacking, as well. This was no problem in the old days. We tramped many, many miles with 20-25 lb packs. Now one of us would also be shouldering a growing toddler, along with her proper-care-and-feeding miscellany.

But I was determined we wouldn't miss another summer. It was time to go camping in Oslo with a baby!

Preparation

  • We started working out in the evenings after the baby was in bed, focusing on strength-training for our glutes, quads, hams, and calves, as well as core exercises.
  • We researched tents and ended up buying an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3-person, purchased at Oslo Sportslager downtown. Adqequate brand selection; knowledgable staff. An employee allowed us to set up the tent we wanted in the store before we made our final decision. 
  • We tried on multiple backpack baby-carriers, ultimately borrowing a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 from a friend. In the weeks leading up to our camping adventure, we tried out the pack around our neighborhood and on a shorter hike. This worthwhile endeavor taught us lots of important things. Especially that my hips were impressively designed to bear children, both in the sense of birth and lugging the kid around later on. When the time came, I would carry the babe; my husband, devoid of hips, would carry almost everything else.
  • We followed the weather forecast, watching for a dry week and weekend. Best weather website for Nowegian weather: yr.no.
  • We made food plans and packing lists.
  • We purchased bug repellant; natural stuff for the babe and her dad and DEET-heavy stuff for her sweet-blooded mama. Also bug-bite reliever. Also a bug-net for the backpack carrier, a last-minute panic-purchase that didn't get used once. All this I found at Chillout Travel in Grünerløkka. Fun little shop with lots of expensive gear, but also a campy cafe and a cozy basement spot to hole-up and plan an adventure.
  • We pored over Den Norske Turistforening (DNT: Norwegian Trekking Association) website and maps, choosing our destination and route. Criteria included proximity to transportation and personal familiarity. 
  • We repeated to each other over and over that our bar for success on this outing would be low. Everyone comes out alive = We did it! No pressure.

The stars aligned two weeks ago. After several hot, dry days, there was sunshine in the forecast. All three of us were fit and healthy. Jonathan was in town. I was still on summer break. McGee hadn't yet begun barnehage. It was time.

Look for future posts this week on the hike itself, along with details about our destination (Skjennungen), and additional commentary on the gear we used. Spoiler alert: It was awesome! Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.

See also: Camping again: Baby on board - Part II (Destination & Gear)

|

12489342_10156449112015603_7423414369377301531_o.jpg

We barely remember what life was like without her. Until we do. And then we wish for the old ease. Time, energy, money, the ability to focus on and tend to one another. But then we hear her wake from a nap, and we both want to be the one to collect the grinning, nine-month-old babe from her crib.

I was asked if it's been worth it. This monumental change. This tectonic shift. The trials and tribulations of trying to change something that wasn't in need of changing by being crazy enough or foolish enough to stuff something else bigger and shaped differently inside of it. Was it worth it? The way no single thought will remain solidly in my mind; like undercooked spaghetti hurled at the wall, everything just bounces and flops disappointingly onto the kitchen tile. 

The truth:

She is worth it because she is here and full of exuberant, inspiring promise. And because there's just nothing else you can say about having a child once she's no longer a luxurious and naïve hypothetical.

She is worth it because she overwhelms us with joy at odd and surprisingly frequent moments. And because she looks exactly like both of us at the same time, even though that doesn't seem like it should be possible.

I don't know that I'll ever forget those first dark, chaotic weeks of her infancy, but maybe I will. I'm still not myself. Often I feel like I've ransomed my intellect and my emotional well-being just to have her.

Worth it. Absolutely.

Or at least that's what I'll say without thinking about it too hard. After all, anything less than reckless and total commitment to the cause of motherhood will get you branded as some very unfortunate things in this world.

And besides, I love to sing to her--Red River Valley tonight at bedtime--and I love to kiss her toes, and read her books, and brush her hair. I drop down on all fours in our dirty hallway to coax her forward in the rolling walker. I burn my fingers as I skin hot sweet potatoes to puree and I wipe her running nose again and again. The indiscriminate ma-ma-ma sounds she makes send my heart scampering in my chest, because soon she could say it to me and mean me all at the same time.

Won't that be something? Her Eve moment. Naming the things that walk, crawl, swim, and fly in her garden.

This is motherhood. Parenthood, actually, as Jonathan is now on papaperm three days a week.

We've put the ball in the air and we're moving downfield. Tomorrow we get the keys to our new home. It's all so adult, I can hardly stand it. And though we're exhausted, and though we sometimes question who we are, and though my self-esteem has been hobbled, and though our bathroom often smells like dirty diapers, we wouldn't trade that little girl away.

She tried to pinch a freckle right off my soft, fleshy forearm today--thinking it was just another small thing to be inspected and picked up--and I laughed through the smarting tears in my eyes, because that girl is the most precious, perfect little being in the universe. And we get to keep her for a while. Guide her, guard her. It's a privilege.

You couldn't pay me to have another, I don't think. (And Norway would!) But this little one, this Cheeks McGee, this Little P, this dancing baby... oh, we thank everything from God to our lucky stars for letting us be the ones who have her.

Perhaps, one day, my brain will unfracture; perhaps my hands will refind their places on the steering wheel of sanity. Until then, I'll be taking photos and videos of my giggling, squeaking, precocious girl child and hoping she'll look back on her life with us one day and decide it was all also worth it.

|

11873715_10155947074160603_4160396796585709563_n.jpg

Dear Husband & Father of Our Child,

Thank you for stopping by the grocery store on this cold, drizzly morning to pick up bread and milk. Our cupboards need refilling so much more frequently these days, and the kid isn't even eating solid foods yet! 

And thank you for swinging by Crepes d'Elen for a pain au chocolat, as well. It was a lovely treat to have awaiting me after I failed to put our daughter down for her morning nap. Again. After having been cried and screamed at for almost twenty minutes in the dark. 

Drinking a cup of hot tea and eating a French pastry allowed me to hold it together a bit longer. Meanwhile, you played on the bed with our daughter, distracting her from her fatigue, making her smile. You know, by juggling or making hand-fart noises. Whatever works.

Isn't that smile beautiful? And isn't it a rare kind of privilege to be one of the two people on earth who know exactly what to do to coax it from her?

I love watching her draw a tiny, pink palm across your face, perplexed a bit by the texture of your stubble. This is Daddy, she is thinking. 

Daddy. The guy who woke and sat up in bed beside me last night at 3am as the kid cried herself into an unprecedented frenzy. This, after I'd fed and changed and burped her. We were all up for more than an hour for the first time in months. Your hand on my back as I sat on the edge of the bed, sighing heavily at the thought of returning to her room again--oh, again--made the whole thing infinitely more bearable. Your level of calm maintained my level of calm. You refusing to blame me for any of these tough moments makes it easier for me not to blame myself.

Well, no. I still blame myself for every failure--major or minor--but I don't have the added pressure of your blame. And I can turn to you in those dark moments of self-flagellation and hear you say, No, she's not still awake because you're doing something wrong. She's still awake because she's a baby. She's 25% the product of what we do and 75% random banana. (Which, by the way, is my favorite thing you've ever said to me. Ever. When she goes bananas, I always think of this. It saves me. It save us all.)

|

frognerparken_unborn_baby_statue.jpg

It's Mother's Day in Norway. My first. Before becoming pregnant, I think I would have raised an eyebrow at a first-time pregnant woman celebrating the day. After all, I haven't had to do any of the classic tough mom things yet. Staying up all night hanging onto a screaming infant. Changing diapers. Cutting grapes in half. Tending to scraped knees. Telling hard truths at the right times. Forgiving endlessly. You know, the stuff that deserves a whole month of gratitude set beside on an institutional level. (But sure, we'll take a single day. No biggie.)

So can I call myself a mom yet? For the last 30 weeks, I've been making a person. Fingernails. Eyelashes. Earlobes. Heart. Brain. Uvula. Pinky toes. It'll be 10 more weeks before she's in the world and separate from me and begins requiring the classic mom stuff. But I am getting prepared.

Yesterday, we went to Bærums Verk for a childbirth class. It's been a rough week for Jonathan and me, but this thing was on the calendar, and I thought it would be good for us to get out of the house and into the bracing winter air. 

We spent four hours learning from a pair of Norwegian jordmødre (midwives) about childbirth. The phases of labor, the pain, the breathing, the impossible strength and flexibility of the vagina, the way a baby spins in the birth canal, the role of the husband in support of his laboring wife. We watched a film of a water birth. We watched a doll manipulated through a plastic model of the bones of a woman's pelvis. We heard that babies emerge facing the floor, but that in a very small number of births, the baby will arrive facing the ceiling. 

"These are called... um... star-lookers," said one of the jordmor. 

Star-gazers, I thought. But it was an unnecessary correction. Here were two women, longtime midwives and advocates for mothers, leading an English-language class for foreign women in Norway and their partners. Their English may not have been perfect, but it more than sufficed for us, a collection of people from France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, India, England, Pakistan, and the United States. 

I took copious notes. Both because that's what a perpetual student does in anything that even resembles a "class," and because it helped to keep my mind centered on the task at hand. 

"It is a myth that a woman may begin pushing immediately at ten centimeters dilation; the baby must also have arrived at the pelvic floor. This can take several hours."

I've experienced a few Braxton Hicks contractions recently. Never painful, just strange and rigid. They pass quickly. It's a reminder that, though I'm not yet nervous about the birth, it's still coming. Overwhelming and brutal and entirely outside my control. 

|

climbing_baby.jpg

We love to climb. I wonder if she will.

That's not always the way it works. When I was little, my parents played volleyball on weekends with their friends. They trucked my brothers and me out to the elementary school playground and then, after putting up the net, proceeded to ignore us while they had fun.

Heat wavered above the blacktop. The metal slides and chains on the swing set were scorching to the touch. After a while, bored with the games of my little brothers, I'd crawl into a shady spot to read. I couldn't have cared less about volleyball. It was the thing distracting my parents from the pleasure of my company. If anything, I resented the sport for being worth their time. 

They wore neon windbreaker shorts and tank tops. For a while, my dad even had a pair of Reebok Pumps. I think. Anyway, they played with two other couples while a boom box blared Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. They were slick with sweat and red with exertion, and they were having a blast. Between games they stopped to chug water, and we skipped over to be nearer to them. But soon enough, the game would be on again. 

If someone shanked the ball, we were called upon to shag it. I hated that, too.

When, a few years later, I prepared to start high school, they suggested I try out for the volleyball team. I scoffed. I choked. I rolled my eyes. I gagged. I grimaced. What a stupid idea. What a beyond stupid idea. The kind parents have. Parents who don't know anything. Ugh. God. Lame.

|

At some point during a blogger's pregnancy, it's obligatory, right? 

audrey_hazelnut_bumppix.png

For so long, the Hazelnut was only with me. She was the shock and the blurry, happy numbness in my fingers as I held the positive pregnancy test. She was the raw, beautiful squeeze of a bear hug Jonathan gave me when I told him the news. She was a blinking set of pixels in the middle of a kidney bean shape on a screen at the 8-week ultrasound. She was on my mind. She was the exquisite curve of a forehead and shoulders bobbing and spinning at the 12-week ultrasound. Even after I shared the fact of her with our family and friends, she remained mostly my own. She was the galloping horse of a heartbeat on the doppler. She was the flexing arms and kicking legs and precious lips at the 18-week ultrasound. She was the tightness around my middle that required elastic-waisted jeans and belly bands.

Then, one day around week 20, she was a flutter. She was a vibration, a shudder, a spin, a tumble. She was a blink, a fidget, a bubble bursting, a breath against my skin. But still all inside. Still all mine. 

From the outside, to the stranger on the street, I looked like the same girl I'd always been. Or maybe that same girl after recently enjoying a few too many pints of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream. Which is fine by me. The better shape I stay in now, the easier time I'll have regaining my previous shape after the birth. At least, that's what the books tell me. I can still zip up my parka without too much trouble, which is important as temperatures plummet, as they did around Christmas. That's the milestone I'm not looking forward to... losing that capability. Here's hoping we can make it to March first. Probably a pipe dream.

Only recently has the Hazelnut become a presence in the world, too. Something obvious. No more guessing. She gets noticed. I get congratulated. It's lovely. And I'm proud to wear her out in front of me. Better still is the way I now share her with Jonathan, as her kicks and turns have become, at least occasionally, unambigous and strong enough for him to feel with his hands.

This is as close as we'll ever be; it's as much control as I'll ever have. For the rest of my life, she'll only be drifting further and further from my side. Now, at least, I can move my palms over the rise of my own stomach and feel her there. My kid. That dandelion of potential. She's safe with me. All mine.

My third trimester begins in a week and a half, just after I start a second semester at the university. It's going to be a challenging few months for body, mind, and soul. Wish me luck!

|

I almost hate to kiss 2014 goodbye. It's been a fun year! But there's also a lot to look forward to, so I'll be happy to kiss the new year in.

campxmas14.jpg

And this year it was Disney's turn to "write" the card...

    |

    nativity.jpg

    Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from? 

    That might well have been Joseph's question as Mary swelled in front of him, soft and glowing with a future for which she'd never asked, and in which, Joseph held no physical stake. 

    We now know all about fertilization: pollen grips stigma, sperm penetrates egg. Though it happens in the red-shadowed darkness, conception is not magic, either in flora or fauna. Unlikely to the point of miraculousness in its overwhelming repetition the world over, certainly, but not magic.

    Yet, in those early days of prophets and shepherds, the spontaneous fire of life in the womb of his betrothed must have stymied Joseph. 

    And what of Mary? A child herself in both age and stature, limited by social constructs and by her religion to a small geography and an abbreviated list of choices, most of life's mysteries likely seemed magical to Mary. 

    Were the conception of her child not, in fact, immaculate, it is equally doubtful either that she consented to a lying down in the dark with a man not her betrothed, or that she understood the consequences of such actions.

    Whatever the case, a blastocyst implanted itself in the ripened lining of Mary's uterus early in the spring of a year that would be zero. Was it the product of egg-meeting-sperm? Or egg-alone plus a tadpole-sized dose of the Holy Spirit? And does this matter?

    |

    feministeducation.jpg

    Suffice it to say that there's a lot of garbage out there on the interwebs. It's tough to sift through the majority of it to find the relevant, articulate, credible stuff. Social Media is sometimes the worst way to do it. Then again, social media guarantees that I--deep in my liberal bubble lined with back issues of The New Yorker--won't miss out on at least a few bits of priceless crap. Like this one: THE SEXODUS, PART 1: THE MEN GIVING UP ON WOMEN AND CHECKING OUT OF SOCIETY. Please don't click on it. You don't need to read it. Chances are it will offend you, as it offended me, and as it would offend anyone who believes that the ultimate goals of humanity should be love, respect, intelligence, and dignity for all. 

    For those who aren't aware of it, there's a movement that has begun to swell. It's a group, mostly men, who believe that the American way of life has been bastardized by the Feminists, and that the rights of men have been severely trampled by the advancement of women over the last century. These men rally. They march. They rant.

    It looks, in fact, a lot like the very beginnings of the Feminist movement must have looked so long ago. Whiny and irrelevant. And we all know what happened there, so maybe we'd better keep an eye on these guys.

    Or not. Because there actually is no deep Feminist plot to keep men down and put women in all the high places.

    Which is one of the major differences between the Feminist movement and the, shall we say, Masculinist movement. When Feminists call for "women's rights," they're talking about rights which previously have been granted to men, but not women in equal measure. When Masculinists call for "men's rights," they're talking about rights which used to be theirs exclusively, and have been allegedly usurped by women. So, these are rights that the men want back. 

    What rights are the Masculinists talking about? For starters: American education has, allegedly, been so twisted by the Feminist "establishment," with the focus placed entirely and obsessively on the needs of girls, that boys have stopped being accommodated at all. This has, according to the Masculinists, led to a decline in male literacy, male high school completion, and male college attendance/degree acquisition. Teaching has been Feminized, and the poor little boys are suffering.

    I'll grant you that the decline of male educational achievement is no myth, but the only way you can blame that decline on Feminists is if you simultaneously admit that women have never been the weaker sex... simply the dormant one. If you believe what these Masculinists are preaching, the only logical conclusion is that, the second women stood up to fight on fairer ground, men sat down. Which is ridiculous. 

    Unfortunately, Masculinist propaganda like this Sexodus piece manages to reach its intended audience: men who aren't part of that movement, but who due to personal circumstances and/or upbringing, believe they are entitled to more than they have actually earned, and are looking for someone to blame. These guys grew up watching Disney's Cinderella, too. But where the girls were being negatively saturated with the image of a helpless, stoic, beautiful girl who is rescued from her plight by a nameless prince... the boys were being negatively saturated by the image of a nameless prince whose only task was to ride up on the horse with a glass slipper to have the beautiful, silent girl throw herself into his arms. Now, we're reaping the consequences.

    I love the marriage Jonathan and I have built. And there may be people out there who are surprised to learn that our relationship includes almost zero power struggle. We split the tasks required of us based on personal prerogative and aptitude. It could be that our conservative Christian upbringing has positioned us to maintain some kind of modern relationship hybrid in the liberal setting to which we've moved ourselves--including the best parts of love, sex, monogamy, fidelity, partnership, respect, and equality. Or not. Maybe it's all luck. But I'm writing this piece while barefoot, pregnant, and in the midst of sending my husband off to the office with a kiss... and I'm still a Feminist. And so is he.

    |

    Holidays are here again. Jonathan and I just spent four days in Malmö, Sweden celebrating an expat Thanksgiving with friends. We hopped the DFDS overnight ferry home yesterday and enjoyed a buffet dinner full of Scandinavian holiday classics (ribbe, meatballs, potatoes, gravy, etc.). Pulling into Oslo this morning, we found Christmas in full swing. The Karl Johans gate julemarked is up and running; white lights are tangled in the trees; the large Christmas tree is up in the square in front of the university; and as we climbed the stairs to our apartment, we noticed that a tree full of lights had appeared in our building's backyard, too.

    advent2014c.jpg

    Thankfully, I'd managed to be enough on the ball before we left last week to pull together our advent calendar. Since we married, I've made an advent calendar for Jonathan every year. Past models have included Christmas jokes, Christmas memories, quotes from Christmas movies. There are usually presents, too, of course, but I flatter myself that Jonathan looks forward to my wordplay more than he does to the goofy gifts I wrangle together.

    This year, daily slips of paper suspended from a red velvet ribbon will be opened to reveal my own written version of The Nativity Story. The opening lines:

    Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from?

    Happy December, everyone! 

    |

    pregnancy_announcement_audreycamp.jpg

    I stood contemplating our pin map, which hangs in the entryway of our flat. It was my first anniversary present to Jonathan. Red pins for the places we've been and green pins for the places we want to go. There's a little plaque at the lower lefthand corner that reads: Jonathan & Audrey Camp's Adventures. I stood there in the afternoon light and considered the pins.

    Red smattered across the U.S., from San Francisco to Boston. Red from the Arctic Circle down through Scandinavia and across Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy... all the way to a tiny Greek island off the Turkish coast. A pair of red pins on the southeast coast of Australia. Each one brought to mind a place, a time of day, the taste of croissant flakes on my tongue, music, sand between my toes. Ten years of adventures.

    So much in our lives is going to change.

    Jonathan was behind me, suddenly, that warm, calm, solid presence.

    And he said, "We're going to need a third color."

    |

    10498594_10203838835787862_2655392372970091998_o.jpg

    Journal entry from 20 July 2014:

    This morning the wrinkles of our sweatshirts smell like pipe smoke and DEET. We left the hytte at 20:30, slathered in bug spray so that our cheeks shone in the late sunlight. Stopping to watch fish rise in the river--just a slip of dark, shiny head above the sparkling surface, then rings expanding to the shore--we found ourselves surrounded by a cloud of insects.

    They hovered and glowed in the light, whirring and bobbing. It took me a moment to realize they were mosquitos. Enormous mosquitos. Their terrifying blood-sucking apparatus long and curved and visible. They appeared more like hummingbirds than insects. Thankfully, the spray kept them at bay.

    We walked on up the road to the turnoff just before Rundvatnet, then up another steep fire road to its end. There we found no trail, but our object was the North-facing ride of Ostre Omasvarri (654 m), an understated hunch of a hill in this region of sharp-peaked giants. We turned and wandered in to the forest of birch--widely set from one another and branchlessly white down low, a departure from the forests of our Sierra home--which happens to be excellent for off-trail tramping and bushwhacking. 

    |

    shadowkisses.jpg

    Apologize for stuff. Forgive immediately.
    No, faster than that. Forgive before you get the apology. But always apologize. Beyond try-not-to-do-things-that-result-in-a-need-to-apologize, these are the two most important rules you can live by in a relationship. 

    Say thank you for everything, all the time.
    In our house, this includes "Thank you for making dinner" and "Thank you for bringing me socks" and "Thank you for playing Scrabble with me" and "Thank you for stopping by the store for toilet paper on your way home" and "Thank you for washing the pans in the sink" and "Thank you for marrying me" and "Thank you for suggesting a walk" and on and on and on. No action is too small to thank the other person for, and this way, no one feels taken for granted, even after ten years of establishing a routine.

    Flirt.
    Continuously. Face to face, over text, instant message. Tell him how handsome he looks when he comes home from work. Tell him what you're wearing. Tease her over dinner. Play footsy under the table. It's attention we all crave, proactive affection, proof that we're worth the time and energy it takes. Proof that we still make the other person's heart flutter.

    Be honest, but be kind. 
    The best answer is a straight answer, the truth, always. Anything less leaves a wound. A scratch, maybe, but something vulnerable to blisters, festering. There are only two lies allowed: You're more beautiful than the day I met you, and Yes, I want to hear more about your work. (I'm not being sexist. These two lies go both ways, especially in a marriage of equals.) Incredibly, if you are selfless enough, and if the person you choose to spend your life with reciprocates often enough, these two things will become mercifully true.

    Embrace every day. And really hold on.
    Longer. Put your nose to the part of her hair and inhale. Memorize the warmth of his hands on your back. Listen to his heartbeat. This is what's important. Even when you don't have time for it, hang on tight.

    Before you fall asleep, tell her three things you love about her.
    Then do the same thing for him. Do this often. Even if you have to repeat a few things over the years, the list will soothe her soul and build up his self-esteem. It will also act as a mantra and reminder for you. Why do you love this person? That's easy...

    Clean up the messes without her asking. 
    Cats, kids, dogs, friends over and drinking their way toward clumsy... messes happen. You see vomit, excrement, hairballs, blood, spilled garbage first--the unglamorous inconveniences of life--and you shield her from it. Grab the paper towels and the cleaning spray and make it gone. Like magic.

    Read aloud to him.
    On road trips, kick your feet up on the dash and bring to life a story that will pique his imagination, answer his questions about the universe, make him laugh. Fill the miles with your voice and new ideas, and enjoy the conversations that rise in your wake.

    Maintain the element of surprise.
    If you're up early, make breakfast. Bring home flowers. Give gifts. Make love at random in a new room of the house. Tell him something he doesn't know about the way you think, the things you believe. And to that end, never stop learning or growing as an individual. If you don't change it up, she'll have you all figured out within the first decade. Stability is desirable, and knowing someone intimately enough to be able to finish their sentences is sweet, but without the promise of something new to learn, it's easy to lose interest. The element of surprise is absolutely key.

    Laugh often and much.
    Now, I can't say that this is one you can teach yourself to do if it doesn't come naturally. It's best if you join with someone who cracks you up in the first place. But this may be the most essential thing. If you laugh together--if you can make each other laugh, if you can laugh at yourselves in front of one another--the years will feel so easy. Tough situations will be diffused. Pressure won't be allowed to build. Joy will be at the surface of every day, and that's what makes you want to keep waking up beside the same guy. Every morning. For the rest of your laughter-filled life.

    Happy Anniversary, Mr. Jonathan Peter Camp! I'm looking forward to the next decade very much indeed.

    Past anniversary posts:

    |

    My score is a 9. I put my cold feet on my husband's legs at night to warm them. I never dress for breakfast, nor do I personally put my children to bed. I can't play a musical instrument, and I've never darned a sock in my life. Silly isn't it? But in 1930, these shortcomings would have made me an unequivocal failure as a wife, at least according to Dr. George W. Crane.

    maritalratingscale_wife.jpg maritalratingscale_husband.jpg

    Dr. Crane wanted to know what made a good wife good. He interviewed 600 husbands, asking, "What does your wife do that annoys you?" He then took the 50 most common complaints and created a quiz for couples--conceivably to help improve their marriages. Today, the list is dated to the point of hilarity. Trying to apply the quiz to my modern day marriage is a hoot.

    I mean, on one hand, the seams of my hose are never crooked (merit). On the other hand, I don't wear hose (demerit). I run around bare-legged. Bare-footed, in fact, and my visible toenails are almost always some shade of red (demerit). 

    On one hand, I don't not like children (merit). On the other hand, I have elected not to have children, something which wasn't even contemplated by Dr. Crane, because... duh (demerit).

    On one hand, I do manage to keep my house neat and tidy (merit). On the other hand, my personal definition of both neat and tidy are likely different from those of good wives in the 1930s. Ask my dust bunnies; I'm sure they'll back me up on that (demerit).

    The real bummer is that neither my prowess as a conversationalist (merit), nor my willingness to let Jonathan sleep late on Sundays (merit) outweigh the ten points I lose for not taking my children to Sunday school (demerit). Shoot. 

    |

    I'm thirty-one. It's not one of those big ticket ages that everyone looks forward to. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five... I enjoyed them all. Thirty should have been a big year for celebrations, but as those who are close to me might recall, turning thirty knocked the wind out of me. I wasn't ready to be in my thirties. Not really. I felt like a huge faker. In the same way that it took me a year or two to realize that getting married didn't automatically qualify one for adulthood (that it should be the other way around, if anything), I needed roughly 11 months to adjust to the idea that thirty-year-old me wasn't different from twenty-nine-year-old me, and didn't need to be. Age is just a number. And birthdays are just an excuse to throw a party.

    So, this year, we did. Thirty-one-year-old me and thirty-seven-year-old Zoë, my writing buddy and movie soul mate. We had a kostyme fest (costume party) with a Hollywood theme. After all, if there's any activity which disproves the myth of an age/maturity congruence, it's playing dress-up. My costume (and my honey's costume) were inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time.

    How to Steal a Million (1966) Nailed it.

    how to steal a million - them.jpg how to steal a million - us.jpg

    |

    I delegated the writing of our Christmas card to Crypto this year, and she was full of her customary snark, but hopefully it will give you a giggle, dear friends. That's what this season is all about. Warmth and fun and friendship and making sure we don't forget to cherish auld acquaintance. 

    xmascard2013_front.png

    Front Photos (Clockwise): Old Town Tallinn, Estonia; The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Lofoten Islands, Norway 

    |

    Tonight, I couldn't remember all the words to the famous Christmas poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. I tried to recite the thing from memory and failed. When I looked for help from my husband, his answers cracked me up--so far were they from either the truth or, in some cases, common decency. I pulled up the full poem (thank you, Google) and read it aloud, stopping occasionally and allowing him to fill in the blank. The results were too amusing to keep to myself. And so, I present to you now, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas as approximated by Jonathan Camp:


    Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

    In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.


    The children were snuggled all snug in their beds,

    While visions of Pamela Anderson danced in their heads.

    And mamma in her lover, and I in my cap,

    Had just settled in for a long winter's nap.


    When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

    I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

    Away to the window I flew like a bat outta hell,

    Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

    |

    advent_calendar_jokes.jpg

    Do you wake up, gaze out your window into the cold pre-dawn, and think, Bummer. Not Christmas yet. Just another ho-hum December day? If so, I've got a remedy! 

    Observe the season of Advent with a calendar crafted to help you count down the mundane days of this long, dark month until you reach Christmas! What better way to celebrate Advent--to build up the anticipation of Christ's humble birth in a manger--than with twenty-four mornings of candy, gifts, and other commercialized paraphernalia?

    No, really. It works great. I create an Advent Calendar for Jonathan each year. Always with a theme. In the past, I've opened his days with 24 Things I Love About You, 24 Disneyland Memories, 24 Photos of Us Around the World. That kind of thing. This year, I decided to do 24 Christmas Jokes! And the jokes I found were so funny, I just had to share them here for you, too. (And by "so funny", I mean that every one of these jokes must be followed by a nudge-nudge... do ya get it? Do ya?


    #1 What is red, white and blue at Christmas time?

    A sad candy cane.

    #2 What do you get when you cross a snowman and a vampire?

    Frostbite.

    #3 Why did Santa call in a workplace psychologist?

    Because his workers were suffering from low elf-esteem.

    #4 What did the gingerbread man put on his bed?

    Cookie sheets.

    #5 What does Santa say when he walks backward?

    Oh, oh, oh...

    |

    1383582_10153314972810603_1268449502_n.jpg

    When Jonathan and I decided to move to Norway almost three years ago, we knew only a few things for certain: 

    • We'd be able to travel more.
    • We'd need warmer clothes.
    • And we'd likely never receive any visitors.

    This last, we understood, because, unlike France or Italy or Switzerland, Norway just isn't one of those legendary, popular European destinations. Few non-Europeans can name any Scandinavian city other than the three big capitals. Even fewer could locate the capitals on a map without help. Plus, unlike Denmark, which shares a border with Germany, Sweden and Norway are just plain UP THERE. Oslo and Stockholm share roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia. So, we resigned ourselves to our loneliness, determined to make new friends and buy plane tickets back to California as often as necessary to remain recognizable to our old crowd.

    And then the unthinkable happened. People came.

    |

    halfdome_jonathancamp.jpg

    I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Tom McClintock titled Yosemite National Park: Closed for Preservation, a rant instigated by the following legal action against the National Park Service:

    Environmentalist groups such as Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government challenged the National Park Service's 2000 and 2005 plans to manage the Merced River, which runs through the park, claiming that the Park Service was insufficiently preserving the river's "wild and scenic" character. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs and invalidated the Park Service's plans in 2008. A settlement, agreed to in September 2009, required the Park Service to draft a new plan for the Merced River--and also paid these professional environmental litigants more than $1 million, courtesy of American taxpayers.

    As a true Yosemite girl, having climbed the domes and hiked the backcountry, having read Muir's musings on a flat rock in the Merced at dusk, and having married into the surname Camp, I felt the need to respond:

    California Democratic Rep. Tony Coelho wrote a letter to the director of the National Park Service, vowing to fight any measure which removed current recreational facilities from Yosemite Valley, stating: "The Merced River in Yosemite Valley has been recreational for almost 150 years. Yosemite Valley has never been wilderness."

    That's idiocy. And it's also the difference between someone who wants national parks to be preserved for generations to come and someone who actually understands what that will take to achieve.

    When President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant in 1864, he designated Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as a protected area "upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation". But in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect who served on the Yosemite board of commissioners, warned that "the slight harm which the few hundred visitors of this year might do, if no care were taken to prevent it, would not be slight, if it should be repeated by millions." This classic conflict between the desire to keep our parks pure and to attract tourists is what pressed President Theordore Roosevelt, after camping in the Yosemite wilderness with John Muir in 1903, to remove control of the valley and grove from California and return it to the federal government. President Lincoln's mid-Civil War desire to set aside a national treasure had been absolutely essential to the process, but it was an incomplete one, and Olmsted's words continue to ring true.

    California's population density breaks down to roughly 283 people per square mile. That's pretty crowded. (For the sake of comparison, Norway's population density breaks down to only 35 people per square mile.) The wear and tear of people and their vehicles, not only on the ground, but to the air, the water, the amount of trash and sewage generated and accumulating in the parks, is astonishing, and must be slowed. The most militant environmentalists want it to be stopped altogether. And I don't blame them for that, but I pity them their shortsightedness on another hand. What good is a beautiful thing if no one gets to see it? If it languishes in a secret spot, we run the risk of forgetting it's even there.

    Yosemite and Yellowstone and the like are some of my favorite places in the world. I have great childhood memories there, and sharing Yellowstone and Teton with Jonathan for the first time in 2007 ranks up there with the truest pleasures of my adult life. But there's a line we must make and be willing to hold, those of us who claim to admire and uphold Muir's legacy. He wanted Yosemite preserved for the generations to come, but he couldn't have known how large those generations would be, or how much strain we would put on the environment. He couldn't fathom families arriving in enormous gas-guzzling SUVs, using diapers that don't biodegrade, with seven different electronic gadgets, each with its own charger. At sixty, John Muir was still climbing to the tops of 80-foot trees to sit and consider the music of the wind. He couldn't guess that obesity would become an American epidemic, and that his favorite valley trails would be paved over to allow, not just foot and bike traffic, but scooters and electric wheelchairs. He wrote in his journal every day; sang songs robustly as he stomped off into the trees; camped so he could rise and walk directly into the mist of the waterfalls. He never imagined whole families would spend their evenings ensconced in deluxe rooms watching television and checking Facebook.

    So, where is the line?

    |

    huma02.jpg

    It's so easy. Too easy. 

    A man sins, breaks his vows, lies, gets caught, denies it all, gets confronted, confesses, apologizes, begs for forgiveness... and we judge him. Disgusting. Unworthy of the public trust. And his wife holds his hand. Forgives. Steps with him back out of the spotlight. Helps him repair his marriage. And his image. He stands up again, calls for attention, swears he's changed, improved. Credits his wife for her deep understanding, patience, mercy, and love. Nowadays, this is enough for the public to grant him that second chance we believe everyone deserves. 

    Then the man sins again.

    Because, as a very wise friend of mine has said, "People can change; they just can't change a whole helluva lot."

    That's not the easy part, though. It's human nature, sure. This is how we fail. Over and over and at our own weakest point. We recognize the pattern. It's predictable, but no, the failing part isn't easy.

    What happens next is the breeze.

    |

    oldfridge.jpg newfridge.jpg

    Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds. 

    This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.

    On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.

    Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.

    And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.

    I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!

    I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.

    |

    I'm a spoiled child. Not only did my husband work from home this afternoon so he could take care of me after my traumatizing morning dentist appointment, but I got to spend a couple hours curled up with my best snuggle buddy.

    sickday_aud&diz3.JPG sickday_aud&diz2.JPG

    Feeling sorry for me? You should be.

    After all, I'm thirty years old, and until this year, I'd never had a cavity. Thanks to my Dad (Mr. Flossing-Every-Day-is-For-Sissies-So-Let's-Do-It-Twice-A-Day-And-In-The-Living-Room-So-As-To-Set-An-Example-For-The-Kids), I've practiced superior dental hygiene my entire life. And I put in that kind of effort specifically to avoid the trauma of the dentist's drill.

    Now, my bid for dental perfection hasn't been easy.

    When my baby teeth grew in, everything seemed all right at first, but then they wouldn't leave. While other kids got regular visits from the Tooth Fairy, my baby molars were digging in for the long haul. I had to get them removed manually by my dentist. Needles and Novocain; the whole nine yards. Problem solved, right? Hah! My adult teeth couldn't wait for the dentist to perform the extractions before they began squeezing in. No room? That didn't stop my teeth. They popped through the gums in all the wrong places, at weird angles, too. Snaggletoothed doesn't begin to describe me and my mouth back then. When I smiled, people cringed. Full-grown people with excellent manners. One grin from this gal and they headed for the hills. 

    |

    Never kiss your sweetheart on a drawbridge. If the two sides can pull apart, so can the two of you. On the other hand, sharing a kiss on a solid cast bridge will give you an extra dose of luck and longevity. 

    p1547672060-4.jpg

    The Potseluev Bridge in St. Petersburg spans the Moyka River. Every bar on the bridge is covered with shiny padlocks. Like diamonds or fish scales, they catch the light when the sun pushes between the clouds. Inscribed on the locks are the names of lovebirds, the dates of their unions. Declarations of everlasting love in a variety of languages.

    |

    Which black hole has Audrey fallen down today, you ask? Well, I'll be happy to share. 

    This video clip is one of dozens which has been posted by a Baptist preacher out of Tempe, Arizona in the last few years. This guy is a NUT JOB. Unfortunately, he's handsome (Jack from Lost, anyone?), affable, articulate, has ample proof of his personal virility (seven kids), and enjoys wearing a suit and tie. I say unfortunately because all of these things make him prime preacher material, whether or not he has any real handle on the Truth. 

    Today alone, I've watched him preach on the role of women (surprise, he doesn't like Feminists), gender (he thinks women shouldn't wear pants), and our President (Barack Obama is the devil... "and get the hell out of my church if you don't want to hear it!"). 

    In the clip I've posted, Pastor Steve Anderson holds forth on the "righteous government" which at least one of the original thirteen colonies had in place back in 1639. This government did away with jolly old religiously-persecutorial England's rule of law which included a whopping 150 crimes which were punishable by death. Whew. Because killing someone who forged a check is just dotty! And then the New Haveners in the Connecticut colony instated the Hebrew rule of law which had a much more reasonable list of 11 crimes punishable by death. 

    You're wondering how this is better than the old British standard the colonists escaped, aren't you? Good news for check forgers: they just get time in the stocks. But the new and improved list includes the following crimes: 

    1. Murder
    2. Treason
    3. Perjury against the life of another
    4. Kidnapping
    5. Beastiality
    6. Sodomy ("Which is homosexuality... being GAY!" Wait for the jazz hands. Seriously excellent.)
    7. Adultery
    8. Blasphemy in the highest degree
    9. Idolatry
    10. Witchcraft
    11. Rebellion against parents

    Now, I'm not going to get into a debate with anyone about capital punishment. At least not here. So, why post this? 

    Because it frightens me and I want to call it out of the darkness by name.

    |

    breakfastattiffanys_2004.jpg

    Dear 20-year-old Me,

    You're running around your college apartment in a Blue Man Group tank top and a pair of boxer shorts because the only place you could afford in Davis, California doesn't have air conditioning. You're eating Pop Tarts for lunch while an episode of ER runs in the background. Tivo is the greatest invention in the history of the world. Just so you know, that cheap, strawberry-scented kids' shampoo you always buy isn't doing your hair any favors; adults use conditioner. And before you stick your tongue out at me and pretend you haven't grown up yet, remember what you're wearing on the ring finger of your left hand. That's right, it's almost your 21st birthday, and you think it's high time you got hitched for life. In honor of our birthdays, I thought I'd reach back and give you some insight about the next ten years.

    |

    When Jonathan took the day off work on Friday, neither of us knew what we were going to do with that extra free time together. Unfortunately, we're not practiced enough with the cross-country skiing gear to pull off a last-minute run anywhere. So, it was up to me to choose something. I poked around Visit Oslo first because I would rather live like a tourist in my own city than be cool, in-the-know, and bored at home. 

    2013-02-22 12.55.26.jpg 2013-02-22 13.35.48.jpg

    Turned out, the game plan for the day was easily settled once I came across a couple of bowling alleys in town. One we've passed many times because it's at Solli plass, just down the street from us. Solli Bowling.

    |

    It was a day of Romance with a capital R:

    • Roses (Not a dozen. Apparently Norwegian blomster shops sell them in bunches of ten or fifteen!)
    • Root beer floats (with real A&W root beer, which made this expat very happy!)
    • Reservations at Pizza da Mimmo
    • Roman Holiday

    campvday2013.jpg

    This about sums it up. And if you need some help deciphering my gift to Jonathan (paper airplane? really?), don't forget to check out my Paperman Valentine.

    Remember... this faux holiday is Ridiculous. Participate in Romance year-Round. It's more fun that way!

    |


    This is the way love should be. (And is.) Disney's Oscar Nominated short film, 'Paperman.'

    Ten years ago today, Jonathan told me he loved me for the first time. It felt like a big deal then, on a beach in Sausalito, California. He'd just trounced me at Go. My beautiful new board and bowls lay in the sand, his gift to me that Valentine's Day 2003. I pouted. I hated to lose. But it was warm enough that February day to be barefoot on a beach in Northern California, a kind of miracle, so I couldn't be down long. I stood, jammed my fingers into the back pockets of my jeans, and stared out at the surf.

    When Jonathan came up behind me to loop his lanky arms around my waist, I snuggled close to him, clasped my hands over his. We'd been together (like... together together) for only a few weeks. But it felt deeper than that already. Perhaps because our first real date had lasted something like twelve hours, and we'd been inseparable since. Perhaps because he was four years older than me and, almost by definition, far more mature than any of the young men I dated before him. Perhaps because we were meant for each other, soul mates, if you believe in that kind of thing.

    He'd written it down on a piece of pink paper, a Post-it. I love you. And he pressed it into my hand. It had been in his pocket all morning, those words. They'd been in my heart much longer than that. Just waiting to be set free.

    The waves arrived and flattened across the packed, damp sand, then retreated again. Seagulls spun cartwheels in the air. And even though I'd lost the game (oh, I hated to lose), these words held the promise of innumerable games on countless days to come. Plenty of time to win again. Time to learn how little winning matters. Or that, in being together, we will always both win. I threw my arms around his neck. That's love.

    acampvalentine_2013.png

    |

    Not even mid-winter here in Norway, but we've already got guests lined up for summer. When Jonathan and I moved over in April of 2011, we weren't sure anyone would come see us in Oslo. After all, that's a long way to go, for Californians especially. It's expensive. And Norway, surprisingly enough, isn't high on the priority lists of most travelers. But last summer, we mananged to lure a couple of couples up into the Nordics. What a blast! We visited museums, ate delicious pastries, took lots of pictures, and generally goofed around. Memories! Best of all, we got to play a lot of Kubb, a tradition I hope to extend through Summer 2013 as more friends venture north to hang with us.

    kubb_amyandme.jpg

    Left: Amy and me in full-on Kubb-box-model mode. We make it look like the best game ever. Who wouldn't want to play with us?  Right: Amy and me in full-on gonna-kick-the-boys'-butts-at-Kubb mode. We make it look like the toughest game ever. Who wouldn't be afraid to play with us?

    What is Kubb?

    Our first summer in Oslo, we noticed groups of people engaged in some kind of stick-throwing game. On the palace grounds. At Frognerparken. On the banks of the fjord or beside small lakes in the Oslomarka. Throwing sticks at sticks. And while some might roll their eyes at such a juvenile-looking pasttime, Jonathan and I were gripped by curiosity.

    The game turned out to be Kubb, a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks (kubbs) by throwing wooden sticks (klubbs) at them.

    |

    Dear_Mr_President.jpg

    Dear Mr. President,

    I voted for you.

    Home. My husband and I moved to Norway from the United States for adventure, opportunity and the chance to try something new. We stay because, given our new perspective, it is difficult for us to believe that moving "home" would be in our best interest. Norway is consistently listed as one of the "happiest" and "best" places to live in the world. This is due to the country's high standard of living, access to higher education, national wealth, cleanliness, and independence. Children are healthier, better educated, and safer. We pay high taxes, but in return we receive tremendous benefits. Watching the vitriol of the last election from afar, I was ashamed. All that fighting, all those hard lines, all those promises, all that MONEY... and in return, what? I can't say Norway is a better country than the United States, but nor can I say that the U.S. is the best country in the world. And wouldn't you want to live and raise your family in the best country in the world? Please do what you can to make me want to come home.

    Signed,

    Audrey Camp from Oslo, Norway

    Four years ago, I was as idealistic as any other 25-year-old. Well, that doesn't mean much. Kids today become so jaded so quickly. Maybe I'll say it this way... Four years ago I was as idealistic as young Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, just before he ascended to the Presidency. The man wanted to bridge gaps, soothe the rancor of Washington, and accomplish lots of important stuff. In 2008, I liked his message, but I didn't vote for him. I believed he was too young and inexperienced to make headway in our white-haired White House, let alone the big, bad world of international relations. He won without my vote. And almost immediately, I was thrilled about that. Even in the face of a GOP machine intent on making him, young Barack Obama, a Democrat, fail in four years, whether or not that hurt our country, the man himself strove to meet his own ideals. Four years later, he earned my vote with guts, humility, and the overall optimism and decency of his party's platform.

    I'm no longer a shiny-cheeked idealist, but neither, I'd guess, is President Obama. Yet, he seems to remain optimistic.

    |

    itsasmallworld_2003and2012.jpg

    Enjoying Small World covered in Christmas lights... in 2003 AND 2012, Disneyland Trip 34.

    Deep-fried, cinnamon-and-sugared churro. That's the smell. Music and the rattle of roller coasters and laughter and the murmur of the crowd. Those are the sounds. Disneyland is a theme park. I won't try to make it more than that for anyone else. Many adults I know find it gimmicky and childish. But some don't. Like me and my guy. Disneyland was our first trip away together. It's where we went when we got engaged and where we began our honeymoon the following year. We've celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in the park, and we've even completed two Disneyland half marathons! 

    At Christmas, it's doubly special. In December of 2008 I blogged our 25th trip to Disneyland, detailing our list of park rituals. When the opportunity arose for Jonathan and I to hit the park for a day during our recent trip back to California, we jumped at the chance. Even just one day would ease our withdrawal. We hadn't been to Disneyland since December of 2010, just before we moved to Norway. Not only did we check off most of our old favorites on the ritual list, but we tried out the new Star Tours, lunched at the new Jolly Holiday Bakery, sang Under the Sea on the new Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure, and explored the recently-opened Cars Land.

    The night ended with the annual Candlelight Processional and the holiday edition of the nightly fireworks spectacular. When the faux snow began to fall, backed by purplish-blue lights and a slow, sweet rendition of "White Christmas," we held each other close. Though our life now includes the chance for a real white Christmas in Oslo, we loved spending a December day the old way... and remembering all the twinkle-lighted Decembers that have come before for us.

    Trip 34

    |

    DSC08656.JPG

    Most years, Jonathan and I have put up our Christmas tree on or around December 1st. This Christmas season has been different. I've been in California for four of the last six weeks. The first trip was for pleasure; the second was to celebrate the life of Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson, a wonderful man, who passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. Jonathan and I were fortunate to make it home for the memorial service. While we were in California, we helped decorate two Christmas trees, but it wasn't the same. I couldn't wait to get back to our flat here in Oslo and make it all piney and glowy.

    Yesterday we walked a couple of blocks to the nearest tree seller. This one only opened on 14 December; last year, because we wanted our tree earlier, we took Trikk 13 out toward CC Vest (a mall) to get a tree. Riding on a tram with a tree was a new experience! We were happy to skip that ritual this year, though, as the season has been much colder and there's a LOT more ice on the ground.

    We spotted this year's tree right away! A little sparse, but beautifully proportioned. A nice, straight trunk. A rich shade of green. How much does a Christmas tree cost in Norway? Ours, just under 2 meters tall, cost 450 NOK ($80), including netting. We think they might be cheaper outside the city.

    My manly husband carried it home and hauled it up the four flights of stairs to our place. He set it up in the tree stand while I made cocoa. Then, with When Harry Met Sally on in the background (I don't know why I think of it as a Christmas movie, but I totally do!), we began to decorate.

    |

    geilo_winter.jpg

    Before his alarm sounds in the morning, I sometimes get up and push it back by a few minutes. He wakes then to my shuffling in the dark room. Even with the shades up, the bedroom remains dark; dawn come so late this time of year. I crawl back under the covers and wrap my arms around him. Waking is much easier on the system this way, quiet and tender. We talk in whispers about the oncoming day. How many meetings does he have? What will I write? Skin hot, breath stale, sleep crumbs deep in the corners of our eyes. The sheets on our bed are ill-fitting because we skimped on them at IKEA rather than hauling an extra set home from the U.S. in our luggage.  The cats mew outside the door, hungry and bored. Sleet slides down the gabled windows, only visible when a car's headlights reflect through it. Temperatures hover just above freezing. When the alarm goes off this time, he's already awake, rises and shuts it off. Ditto the fan. The hollow beside me in the bed goes cold quickly. While he showers, I go to the kitchen and brew his coffee in a to-go cup. Half a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of milk. While he dresses for the day, I help him gather the winter necessities: wool socks, cashmere scarf, gloves. I take his earmuffs and clasp them onto the plastic coffee cup so that they become warm, then transfer them over his ears. Because I don't own a bathrobe, I wear a thick sweater and a green blanket wrapped around my hips like a sarong. I ask if he likes my outfit. He says it's impressive how I make do, how I somehow survive. I hope he takes the hint and plans to get me a robe for Christmas. I worry that he will take it a step too far and order a Snuggie or a Slanket or something equally uncouth. Perhaps a One Piece, so I can truly be a Norwegian. He likes the way I do his scarf, halved, with the ends tucked back through the bend. As he pats across his chest and hips, feeling his pockets for keys, phone, badge, and pen, I make sure the scarf is high across the back of his neck. His hair is still damp from the shower. I worry he might freeze. But the true cold of winter, the blue dive into below-freezing temps, hasn't happened yet. A dip is scheduled at the end of the day. We keep the weather tab open on our computer all the times--an oracle to consult before we walk out the door. Before he leaves, I go to the front room and turn on the red paper star hanging in the circle window so that it glows. If he crosses the street and looks back, I want him to see how cozy our home is. Just a reminder. Our winter days run together this way, a dark ribbon of layered clothing and other survival routines. Weekends are for adventures, if we can coax ourselves out the door and into the chill. Evenings are quiet and spent in recovery. I cook. We eat. We talk. We laugh aloud at episodes of The Daily Show, Modern Family, The Office. Sometimes he asks me to read aloud to him, something I love to do. If he has a late evening conference call, I am in bed before him, reading and ignoring the cats as they scamper laps around the apartment. When he joins me, he plants kisses in my hair.

    |

    Do you ever feel nostalgic about the present? On Friday, this not-as-of-yet nostalgia overwhelmed me. It was a clear day; the chilly wind smacked my cheeks red and wrang tears from my eyes. The tears weren't attached to anything, unstemmed, like the dry leaves that skittered on the sidewalks around me. But if I paused and thought, there were a million things I could give the tears over to. Distance from my family, the troubles of a friend, the fading of youth, buried griefs, the painful quickness of time.

    fall_colors_oslo_akershus.png

    Audrey and Jonathan enjoying the fall colors at Akershus, 30 October 2011.

    Such feelings are the terrain of the season. The trees and bushes which have, for so many months, flourished with health around us, now exhale brightly for the last time this year. The colors of fall spark something in me, memories and regrets. Last year, when Oslo was new to us, I walked Jonathan home from work, more than four miles, many times. (Sometimes I took the train with him in the mornings and walked or jogged home on my own.) But this year I've neglected the practice. For no reason. After only a year, I began taking it all for granted.

    |

    IMG_2010.jpg

    Plans for our first overseas vacation began in early 2007. A couple of friends offered us use of their summer home in Denmark. Understand, I had no real desire to go to Denmark; I'll even admit I wasn't certain of its geographic location at the time. (Somewhere near Finland, right?) But when you don't have a lot of money, you don't say no to free lodging. Period. We accepted.

    Then we pulled out the map and I said, "What? Denmark shares a border with Germany? That's awesome. We can drive."

    Jonathan agreed to this initial whim for two reasons. First, he was a die-hard United Airlines fan, and their European hub is in Frankfurt. Second, he liked the idea of being on the road in a country known for its beer and battlegrounds. We used our United miles for two Business Class tickets from SFO to FRA, then rented a car. 

    Unfortunately, no one had thought to take the map away from me in the meantime. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of our living room saying things like, "Did you know that Germany is right next door to Belgium? Home of amazing chocolate?" and "If we drive straight west from Frankfurt to the Belgian border, we can't really avoid Luxembourg, and Luxembourg is tiny, and I love all tiny things!" and "Oh. My. Gosh. Wouldn't it be fun to make our way north from there through The Netherlands? Windmills! Wooden shoes! Tulips!"

    Try as he might, Jonathan couldn't convince me to give up the chance to see all these countries in one swoop. I'd fixated. Even prying the map from my fingers and hiding it didn't stop me. I'd memorized the geography at that point.

    "Then we can swing back through northern Germany and across the Danish border, hit the coast for a couple days, and drive across to Copenhagen."

    You might be thinking this all sounds a little ambitious or obnoxious. And you're right. But then I want to remind you that I believed this trip was our once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it all. How often do people travel to Europe from California? It's far. It's expensive. To do it right requires an amount of time that's almost impossible to get off of work in any normal career. We had one shot, and I was going to pack it all in.

    Jonathan put his foot down when I started looking at train tickets to Paris. We had 10 days. I'd selected 5 countries. That was that. 

    |

    I was in Livermore, California, preparing for my best friends' wedding. And by preparing, I mean embossing place cards and choosing flowers and squabbling with the wedding coordinator and cramming into a Banana Republic dressing room to try on honeymoon clothes. But I also mean that we were goofing off--er--I mean, rehearsing the ceremony. And as you can see, we know how to make rehearsals fun!

    b&c_rehearsalday.jpg

    Since then, I've been cherishing their marriage (albeit from afar) for three-hundred-sixty-six days. Cindy and I have a weekly Skype date, so I get all the dish on how things are going. I couldn't be prouder of the life she and Brad have crafted together, or of the goals they've set for themselves as a couple. Life comes at us so fast, and it's so full of distractions. It's refreshing and inspiring to see two young people so focused on what makes love fun and strong. Jonathan and I miss our besties. Being able to celebrate their wedding day at the altar with them meant more to us than they'll ever know. 

    Happy 1st Anniversary, Mrs. & Mrs. Lackey!

    |

    There is a meme that has made the obligatory number of rounds on the interwebs and is now lodged, probably forever, in my life. This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult on the wonderful and hilarious blog Hyperbole and A Half. It is the story of one woman’s personal history of productivity, the ups and downs. And, as with so many great and simple stories, this one is illustrated with zany stick figures.

    allthethings_hyperboleandahalf.png

    The thesis to all this, of course, is that the definition of an Adult is a person whose capacity for responsibility is rarely, if ever, overwhelmed by the petty rigors of daily life. You know the ones. Chores. Errands. Getting one’s child (or husband, in my case) to eat his vegetables. Working at a job that earns one money. Hitting the gym. As well, an Adult is someone who manages to fend off the temptations of sloth and gluttony, even in this world of Double Stuft Oreos and Project Runway.

    The punchline is that an Adult manages to do all these things in a day, as well as to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! Exquisite hyperbole. And the bonus punchline is that wannabe-Adults can't maintain this level of responsible productivity for longer than a couple of days. Then we breakdown, forsake all other goals, and succumb to the lazy-brained pull of the Internet. Forever. It's a cycle; one I've been churning through for years and years.

    And, like any other average twenty-nine-year-old woman, I’d love to break the cycle and cross off Adulthood on my list of achievements.

    So far, I haven’t. Not that my list remains impossibly long. I’ve crossed off other important milestones like Master’s Degree, Living Abroad, and Reach Eighth Year of Marriage. Not to mention the lesser goals, like Master Pumpkin Bread Recipe, Watch Every Episode of Friends 19 Times, and Defeat Gag Reflex When Scooping Kitty Litter. You see? Progress.

    |
    anniversary.jpg
    It's tough to put my fingers back on this keyboard. One week away from technology has made the plastic, clicking keys foreign to me. I'll get over it. But for the moment, my mind and heart are still back on a sandy, pebbly beach in the Grecian archipelago. 

    Jonathan and I traveled to the little island of Kalymnos for a week of off-the-grid relaxation, some rock climbing, and a chance to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary in a new country. The vacation was successful on all counts. We came back with sunburns, a few natural sponges (a Kalymnian specialty), and easy hearts. I plan to blog more about the trip itself soon. But for now, I wanted to share something I read while lying on one of those shallow, sunny beaches next to the man I love. 

    Earlier this summer, a friend recommended Terry Tempest Williams's memoir When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice. I downloaded a copy to my Kindle just before we boarded the plane, knowing very little about the subject matter. As it turns out, When Women Were Birds is a very unique kind of memoir. In reading it, I felt like an oceanographer, learning and cataloging the layers of the sea on a deep, deep dive... surprises at each new fathom. It deals in relationships, certainly, but many of these relationships are unconventional, long-ignored, and controversial: parishioner to Church (big C, the author is a Mormon), human to nature (the author has been an environmentalist since the early days when such a term was truly unpopular), a poet to truth, an activist to her cause

    But as Jonathan and I celebrated our own anniversary, it was what Williams wrote about marriage, her own having lasted more than forty years at the time of the book's publication, that struck me as most relevant and authentic:

    A marriage is among the most private of landscapes. It is also the most demanding if both partners are to maintain their individuality and equipoise. How do you contain within a domestic arrangement a howling respect for the wild in each other?

    Rilke provided us with a map: "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." I need my solitude. Brooke needs his freedom. When we come together, we meet whole.

    But sometimes the distances become to great, and words don't help in the articulation of our souls when we want to share where we've been and who we have become.

    I have never been as lonely as I have been in my marriage. I have also never been more seen or more protected. Love has little to do with it. Marriage is more sandstone than granite, similar to the terrain of southern Utah: the geography of mountains, canyons, and plateaus. The weathering creates the redrock windows and bridges. Beauty is transformed over time, and not without destruction.

    Landscape is dynamic. So is marriage. Brooke and I have changed, and changed each other. What has been washed and eroded away is as important as what remains.

    What remains for Brooke and me is conversation, our shared love of ideas. We have never stopped loving all things wild and unruly including each other. We raised each other, grew up together. And as a couple, we have given birth to each other, both as lovers and refugees in a culture foreign to our true nature. The feral fury of our twenties is such a different fire in our fifties. Deeper, fuller, the fire fanned now is just as intense and surprising because of the spaces we honor between us that hold a history. Brooke remains a mystery.

    Yes, our landscape is constantly changing. We've no idea what it will look like in 40 years; it is merely faith that makes us believe we'll still be standing together in those distant days. Meanwhile, we can only learn from the shallow, snaking grooves in the ground around us now, the ones that have appeared in the last 8 years based on our moves and moods. For instance:

    • 8 years
    • 50,759 digital photos
    • 2 cats
    • 2,922 nights (First on a beat-up, blue futon, then on the softest European Sleepworks' mattress in the world.) 
    • 2 rental houses and 1 rooftop flat
    • 17 countries on 3 continents
    • 1 enormous, black, leather couch
    • 10 weeks of Norwegian language lessons
    • 1 nephew
    • 7 full bookcases
    • 398 blog posts
    • 3 cars, then 0 cars
    • 4 climbing harnesses
    • countless kisses
    • countless fights
    • countless boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese
    • 1 (full) storage unit in Livermore, California

    I wonder which will become the fins, the arches, the pillars, the rockfalls, the plateaus, the canyons. But I don't wonder how beautiful the culmination will ultimately be.


    |
    I just couldn't resist. 

    Jonathan and I began dating in 2003, and married in 2004, while I was still in school. We lived in Livermore, 10 minutes from his job, and I commuted to and from UC Davis for the next two years. The round-trip was 160-odd miles, and by the end, I could do it with my eyes closed. When I graduated with my B.A. in English in 2006, I felt grateful for many things, but Jonathan was definitely at the top of that list. He supported me financially and emotionally that whole time. My education was as much his prerogative as it was mine. 

    Six years later, I graduated from Lesley University with my MFA in Creative Writing, and as you can see, not much as changed. My hair color, sure. And my commute time increased a bit since we moved to Norway. Hah! But we haven't lost our style, our energy, or our love.  

    Audrey's Graduations.jpg

    Just for fun, though, let's look back about 11 years and see how much times (and Audrey's hair) have changed since graduation from Livermore High School in June 2001...

    645_1075225074985_4313_n.jpg


    |
    We have a green checked rug in our living room. Last summer we picked it up at IKEA, marked down on sale (a sign!), to fill the blank spot on the floor. It's bright and friendly and fits perfectly in the space. But that's not even the best part.

    It doubles as a giant game board!

    Checkers? Chess? Go? Not today. In honor of the (extremely cheesy) new Liam Neeson movie in American theaters this weekend, we thought we'd give Battleship a try.

    DSC05441.jpg

    DSC05422.jpg

    I made the aircraft carrier, battleship, submarine, destroyer, and patrol boat out of colored paper. Gray, of course, because battleships are gray. (I would've used my cherry-print or pink paisley paper to add a dash of ironic juxtaposition, but I'd already committed a fairly severe Battleship faux pas by referring to the pieces as "boats" rather than "ships," and was afraid of being hanged from the nearest yardarm.) Because the regular Battleship board is only 10 by 10, and our equally divided giant-board is 15 by 30, I was careful to scale the ships accordingly.
    |
    redwrapper_swisschocolate.jpg
    Today is 17 May, Norway's Constitution Day, the biggest national celebration of the year. Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the parades, national costumes, the king and queen, and the spectacular weather we enjoyed all day. Tonight, all I have energy for is a simple post about a singular pleasure.

    The sun was still high in the sky as we took an after dinner walk down to the fjord. We walked the bike path by the quiet harbor, leaving behind the pump and whine of ten thousand parties vibrating throughout the city center. The water was glass. The green of the spring-plump trees like alien flames against the sky. 

    It was good to stretch our legs and find some time away from all the activity. Spectating on days like today is fun, of course. We ogle the colorful bunader, silver jewelry glittering at the waists, the wrists, the throats. We bob along to the bass beat as marching bands pass by playing songs we do not recognize. But under it all, there is a danger for foreigners like us. 

    Days like today, we feel freshly outside. Untouched. Unnecessary to this long-standing tradition. This is not our history. And while tourists are able to run back to the familiar confines of their home countries and rejuvenate their own sense of identity and national pride, expats aren't so lucky. This is our home. Even when we have not the language nor the costume nor the roots of everyone else around us. 
    |
    DSC03524.jpg
    About six years ago, Jonathan and I attended a game night organized by our church. It was meant to be a gathering of young married couples, a chance for us to commiserate as we learned to navigate those secret tunnels of early marriage. After a rousing round of Apples to Apples, four or five couples reclined in chairs around a table, still littered with red and green cards, and began chatting about the events of the day. The group was diverse in terms of age, parental status, length of marriage and, as it turned out, political values. 

    We knew several of the people in that room, but Elliott* and his wife were new. In their mid-thirties, they were a full decade older than Jonathan and me. She was a teacher, petite and blond. I'd seen her wrangling their two little boys, dressed to match one another, in the halls of our church the Sunday before. That night, she remained quiet, eyes on the collar of her husband's button-up shirt. 

    Elliott was small, skinny, and his eyelashes were so fine and white-blond, they were almost invisible. He blinked a lot. I don't remember what he did for a living, only what he said.

    "Gays shouldn't be allowed to marry, and they definitely shouldn't be allowed to be parents." 

    Elliott spoke with soft authority, nodding, blinking his bald eyelids and scanning the faces in the room. As often happens at church gatherings, he made certain assumptions about our larger group. He thought, Oh, I'm among friends. We read the same Bible. We pray to the same God. We must agree on the core tenants of our religion. I'm in a safe place. No matter what I say, I'll find support here among my people.

    But I pushed back.  I knew gay couples who had adopted children and were parenting like pros. I also knew straight, married, Christian couples who had screwed up the parenting gig profoundly. Why shouldn't gays be allowed to parent?

    "Homosexuality is a sin," he said, disdainfully. Had he been holding a Bible, he would have thumped me on the nose with it. "It's a depraved lifestyle, and against God's law. And it's no environment for children."

    Lord help me, I tried to argue. I was 23-years-old and still believed all people were, deep down, reasonable. Elliott's mind was sealed up like a clamshell. Everyone else in the room was quiet, watchful. And silence, as we all know, is tantamount to support of the loudest party in the room, acquiescence to the belligerence of a bully. 

    His chest swelled with pride as he said, "One thing's for sure, I would never let my children play with the children of gays."

    I thought I saw his wife twitch, but she said nothing. Neither did I. My mouth was open. I stared at Elliott in his plaid shirt and pleated pants, his graying crew cut, his lashless eyelids. The man was a bigot, and he had total control of his wife (Biblical principle?) and his children (Biblical principle), and because no one was stepping up to stop him, he had control of the room, too. 

    It was Jonathan who finally broke the silence.

    "And I'd never let my kids play with your kids."

    Elliott flinched. Then he took a long sip of his water to cover for it, but his reaction had been obvious. Without meaning to, he'd looked right at my husband, his eyes suddenly weaker and questioning. He'd been hurt. We thanked our hosts and walked out into the warm summer night of our small California town.

    President Obama supported same-sex marriage in 1996, opposed same-sex marriage in 2008, and has since "evolved" to become a proponent once again. (And the crowds went wild.)

    Columnist Mona Charen penned a response to the President's of-late position on this issue for the National Review Online. I appreciate that she took the time to point out the hypocrisy of the GLBT community in using a different standard for measuring our President's position on their numero uno issue. (Republicans who stand against them have been accused of "hate speech," but Obama stood against them and they merely expressed disappointment.) However, Charen diminished her credibility entirely once she stated her own reasoned opposition to same-sex marriage.

    "Traditional marriage is recognized and to some degree privileged by society because it performs the most essential task of any civilization -- providing the optimal environment for raising children. Men and women bring different and complementary qualities to parenthood... Having parents of opposite sexes gives children male and female role models. And the sexes differ in a thousand little ways that, when blended, tend to redound to kids' welfare. Just to name a few: Mothers are more protective, fathers more challenging; mothers are more comforting, fathers more stimulating; mothers are more relational, fathers more disciplinary."
    |
    DSC01596.jpg
    "I want to repeat one word for you: Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word... Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed." -- Don Miller

    So we left.

    Maybe it was that all of our familiar furniture was already placed in these foreign rooms, or maybe it was that sunlight streamed in through all our garret windows and made the place glow. Whatever the case, our cats had no trouble adjusting to their new surroundings. We unzipped the carriers slowly so that Disney and Crypto could ease their way out into the new space. They still wore their harnesses. Green camo for Disney and pink floral for Crypto. They'd spent the last 24 hours enclosed in the carriers, most of that time on planes between San Francisco and New York, then New York and Oslo. We'd pulled them out a few terrorizing times: going through security at SFO and then again at EWR, for a brief rest period at an airport hotel in Newark, New Jersey, and then finally at OSL where a veterinarian was on hand to examine them and grant our precious cargo official entry into Norway.
     
    That was the longest day of our lives. 

    Two planes, a train, a taxi. Five giant suitcases, two cat carriers, and two whining cats. Four flights of stairs. 

    But as we entered the new flat, at once aware of our solitude and our togetherness, all the stress of the melted away. 

    Disney found the circle window in the living room quickly. He hopped up to the sill multiple times that first day to check out the new street so far below him. Birds played in the sky at his eye-level. He purred contentedly. Crypto sprawled on the floor in one of the rectangular patches of yellow sunlight on the wooden floor. She lay there like a swimmer floating in a pool of light.

    Jonathan and I stepped out on our patio and walked to the corner of it. I pushed up on the banister and leaned forward, face full into the fresh April air, pointing myself southwest where I could see, half a kilometer away, the water of the Oslofjord. Jonathan stood behind me and placed one hand on each of mine, his chest pressed warmly to my shoulder blades. 

    That was exactly one year ago. And since then...

    |
    Yesterday was my sweetheart's birthday. He's a thirty-three year old man. Can you believe it? I can't. I mean, look at him...

    myguywhenhewaslittle.jpg

    Okay, I know. He's grown some since these photos were taken (all of them in the '80s!). But his inner cutie pie remains to be about eight years old. This 8-year-old spirit is what compels him to climb cliff faces, juggle fiery torches, and make faces at me when I'm being too serious. Between all that capacity for fun (and those big blue eyes!) how could I not continue to be madly in love with this man?

    myguymorerecently.jpg

    We've known each other for a decade, been married for 7 and a half years, have visited 16 countries together, and by the end of the week we will have been living in Oslo for a full year! I guess I know him pretty well by now. Last night, as we walked home from the birthday dinner I'd planned at The Nighthawk Diner, Jonathan said, "That was great. It doesn't get any better than a spicy burger and good beer." True true. 

    Here's to another thirty-three years, my love!
    |
    Jonathan and I are both avid readers. Though we continue to debate who reads the better stuff, we do agree on one thing: there are few things more comfortable or nurturing than sitting together, in a coffee shop or on the couch or in bed at night, reading side by side. 

    Reading dates are possibly my favorite "little thing" that we do together. Over the years, we've had our usual spots. In Livermore it was the Starbucks near our house in Springtown or Panama Red on First Street. In Dublin it was the Peet's Coffee on Tassajara. Here in Oslo it's the Åpent Bakeri on Inkognito Terrasse. Feet touching under the table. The rattle of porcelain. Pages turning. Jonathan's order (mocha) and my order (yummy pastry) don't change, but our books rotate on through. It's our life. Stopping to operate in tandem silence allows us to slow that life down and appreciate what we have here together. Now. Peace and freedom.

    afewdates.jpg


    Clockwise from Top LeftCommitted: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert & Scientific American magazine; A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin & Women's Health magazine; Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder & Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein; Foundation by Isaac Asimov & Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller; The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg & The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss; Make magazine & Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
    |
    The following is a cross-post from my second blog (Feeding the Trolls). I feel strongly about this issue, and I hope that, upon reading my remarks, you will, too.

    wp_birthcontrolhearing.png
    The United States of America, my home country, is stepping into a new era regarding the availability of health care. Because health care is such an enormous issue, people are bound to have trouble with individual provisions within the larger bills and debates. One of those provisions has to do with Birth Control. I capitalize Birth Control because it is, in my mind, after certain vaccines and quality-of-life-enhancing medications, THE most important health care advancement in history. But even in the U.S., where women are liberated to the point of achieving the majority of advanced degrees offered each year, there is something scary looming large around the availability of contraception: Religion.

    Now, I understand that there are countries where women are still considered property, and in those places I wouldn't be at all surprised to see religious leaders refusing to allow contraception to their chattels. But when the Legislative Branch of the United States' government convenes a panel of male religious leaders to weigh in on the availability of Birth Control to American women, I am blown away. And pissed off.

    So, I thought I'd write a letter to the eight male witnesses (dominating two panels of ten total witnesses) called by last Thursday:

    • The Most Reverend William E. Lori (Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, CT)
    • The Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (President, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod)
    • C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. (Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University)
    • Rabbi Meir Soloveichik (Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University)
    • Craig Mitchell, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Ethics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
    • John H. Garvey (President, The Catholic University of America)
    • Dr. William K. Thierfelder (President, Belmont Abbey College)
    • Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver (President, East Texas Baptist University)
    |
    iceonoscarsgate.jpg
    As of midnight on New Year's Eve, I only had one spoken-aloud resolution. 

    "I want to take the time to sit and eat breakfast each morning before checking my email." 

    It was a noble, if somewhat unambitious, goal. I've noticed that my heart races and I can't calm my mind at night if I've spent more than a little time before the glowing specter of my computer screen. It's just email. It can wait fifteen minutes for me to make tea and peel a banana.

    Day Two dawned and I slipped into my office and began working without a moment's hesitation to boil water for oatmeal. 

    Resolution Fail. 

    So, what's important? What am I aiming for this year? After all, there must be a goal, something to work toward and anticipate. 

    I'd like to post more often here. My thesis work sometimes coincides with first drafts here, but not always. It would be good to take some of the pressure off of myself and write journal entries here, too. After all, daily life just isn't always interesting, inspiring, or memoir-worthy.

    _____________

    Dear Journal:

    Woke up late. Checked my email before breakfast. Resolution Fail. Got caught up with work while listening to Adele belt out Someone Like You on repeat for two straight hours. Her voice haunts me. I switched to Adele after trying the same thing with Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, and ended up dreaming about a stomping, gyrating Carson Kressley. The growling of my stomach startled the cat into jumping off my lap around 1:30. Almost forgot to eat lunch. Down to my last frozen bagel, really only a bagel in the literal sense. Round. Risen dough. Works as a vehicle for cream cheese. I'm dying for Noah's.

    Especially since the cream cheese is hardly worth chewing my way through a make-believe bagel. I cave and buy reduced-fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese every time I visit the store just because of the look Jonathan gives me when I grab the real thing. Like he knows so much better. Like we'll gain ten thousand pounds if I shop the way I want to. Like I don't know that. So, I buy the reduced-fat garbage and suffer through the oddly rubbered texture of it all for peace at home. And less poundage on my hips. Hips which, as Shakira warned me years ago, do not lie. 
    |
    Christmas cards and Christmas letters, chronicles of our year at a time of supreme reflection, appear to be a very American phenomenon. It's one I like. I have a box of cards collected over the years from my friends, and in the pictures I can see them fall in love. I am reminded up their weddings. I can marvel at the growth of their children and follow their adventures throughout the world. 

    We may live in a digital age that allows us uniquely (and sometimes disturbingly) intimate access to the lives of friends and acquaintances alike, but these paper cards are important to me. In fact, the more digitized the world becomes, the more special it is that someone would take the time to sit and put pen to paper or lick a stamp and press it to the top corner of an envelope. (I'm exaggerating. No one licks stamps anymore.)

    This year, due to the cost of printing and shipping and paying for international postage, I wasn't able to send as many of the paper cards as I have in years past. To make up for that, I thought I'd post the card here, too. After all, if you read my blog, you're important to me. You remind me that my writing is worthwhile. You help hold me accountable. You make me go on.

    So... drum roll please...
    |
    DSC04094.jpg

    The black digits blinked against the fluorescent orange background of our alarm clock. 1:30 a.m. All the bedroom lights were still on. Jonathan and I were sitting up and staring at each other across the rumpled down comforters. Our expressions were heavy, numb, the calm after a storm. For a moment we were absolutely quiet. My cat raised his head sleepily and eyed me as if to ask, "Are you done now? Can we all go to bed like normal people?"

    Jonathan yawned and pressed his bookmark back between the pages of his book. I shook my head against the sleepiness and tried to remember how we got here, why we were up so late.

    It had started as an ordinary Sunday night. I took my birth control pill while Jonathan refilled his nightstand water cup. He switched on the morning alarm and I peeled off my socks and tossed them into the dirty clothes bin. We eased under our blankets side by side, lamps on, books out. He is re-reading The Lord of the Rings; I'm working my way through Robert Wright's The Evolution of God.

    This is, again, pretty typical: Jonathan swimming in a fantasy novel while I root around in a work of non-fiction. 

    That's sort of what the debate was about. 
    |
    lackeys.jpgMy best friend recently got married. I was Matron of Honor (or Best Woman, as the bride and I both prefer). Cindy and I have been friends for thirteen years, almost half our lifetime, and I know her better than many. Helping her plan things from half a world away was difficult, but she managed, and I helped most in the two weeks before the wedding when I flew back to California to deal with the details. 

    Her wedding was exquisite. Absolutely one-of-a-kind. For the last several years she has worked for an architecture firm doing space planning, a job that required all of her artistic ability and attention to detail. She brought those skills to the crafting of her wedding, too. Every element was handmade, plucked from her imagination. And in keeping with the spirit of making everything one-of-a-kind, when she asked me to do a reading in the ceremony, she also asked that I write it myself. I did. What I wrote came to me easily because it is precisely how I feel true, lasting love begins, grows, and endures in real life. I watched it in Cindy and her husband, Brad. I've seen in happen in the lives of many of my other friends, too. And I've lived it with my own husband, Jonathan. 

    It was Jonathan who stole my heart and made me realize that, while marriage done wrong can be an archaic institution which disenfranchises women in favor of maintaining a damaging patriarchy, when done right, it is also full of potential for fun, support, adventure, and peace. Together we're focusing on maintaining our own as the latter.

    My reading:

    Love is all in the look.

    The first glance is sidelong. 
    Is she pretty? Does he have kind eyes? 
    A quick glimpse is all you need to answer 
    these questions. But love requires more.

    The second glance across the room 
    is more daring. You will her to look up. 
    You want to catch him rather than 
    to be caught yourself. Staring.

    Over dinner you look deeper. Does he 
    prefer dogs or cats? What is her favorite 
    ice cream flavor? And deeper. What is this
    woman's dream? What is this man's passion?

    After a while, you feel comfortable enough 
    to look away from each other. Back to the world. 
    What do they think of you? How do you look 
    standing there side by side? 

    But you soon realize the appearance doesn't 
    matter. It is what he sees in you, what has 
    piqued her interest, which really counts. 

    You seek it, digging for the foundation 
    of your attraction, and along the way you 
    discover flaws. She may be quick to anger. 
    He may not be apt to listen. 

    But because this is a path to true love, 
    you take the time to look again. 
    And you see in the flaws the potential 
    of your own best self. He is eternally patient. 
    She knows how to give you your space.

    Now, when you look at one another, 
    you see everything. The children you were. 
    The young people you are. The man and 
    woman you aspire to be. Best of all, you 
    want to be there to see it all unfold together.

    So you join hands before this alter, 
    in front of your families and friends, 
    and seal your love with rings and a kiss. 
    And so-joined you turn again, 
    bound by name and vow, and stand 
    shoulder to shoulder, anew. 

    From that place and time you look 
    down the road, the one that winds out 
    away from this day of declaration. 
    It shines with optimism. But you know, 
    because you've seen others walk it, 
    that the journey will take both luck and effort. 

    And you're more than willing to begin.  
    Because now you have a partner, a playmate, 
    a confidante, a darling. You're looking 
    the same way and you're hoping 
    for the same things.

    He will look after your heart as long as it is beating, 
    and she will look after your soul so long as it remains.

    And love, true love, is all in that look.

    I know how hard it can be to find something to read in a wedding that isn't 1 Corinthians 13 or a poem that nobody in the audience will get. If you come across this piece in your hunt for the perfect ceremony reading as a Maid of Honor, Matron of Honor, Bridesmaid, Friend of the Bride, and you'd like to use it... Please do! I'd be honored. Post a comment and let me know how it goes for you!
    |
    DSC03209.jpgOn September 22, Jonathan and I joined the rest of Oslo in celebrating the Autumnal Equinox. We followed the crowds down to the Akerselva River walk in Grünerløkka, and snapped photos all along the way. Night lowered itself over the city, flooding the winding river canal with shadows. Colorful light installations glowed at every other turn. We saw fairies, giant mushrooms, an enormous dragon kite leering from behind a building in vicious shades of pink and orange. We stuffed our hands deeper into our pockets and walked slowly with everyone else. There was muffled laughter and catcalling in Norwegian, all of it made somehow more sinister by the darkness and the otherworldly images around us.

    Several different small choirs had gathered to sing traditional songs. Their breath puffed white as they sang. We stopped for waffles and jam at a stand near a bridge. The pastry was hot through the napkin and warmed our hands, though just for a moment. 

    All of the color and fluid light, candle flames dancing in the windows, reminded me of why I love this season so much. It's the spirit of the people, children beginning anew at school in spite of the way the natural world is drawing itself to an end, young people dancing in pairs and trios, stretching their mouths carelessly around every lyric, and old people standing back, wrapped in the wisdom of their experience, considering the minor beauties of this time from a place most mindful and most appreciative. 

    Recently in Norwegian class, Jonathan and I learned a new verb: å glede seg. It means to look forward to, or to anticipate. So what am I anticipating this season?

    Baking pumpkin bread.

    Mom passed along her scrumptious pumpkin bread recipe to me the moment I asked for it. It was the fall of 2005. I'd been married a full year and hadn't baked a thing in my new kitchen. She came over and walked me through the recipe, swiping the flour flat in the measuring cup, scooping the pumpkin goop from the can into the bowl, and showing me how I should err on the side of extra with the cinnamon. 

    Since then I have baked it several times each autumn. Here in Oslo, though, a single can of pumpkin costs something around $12. Pumpkin bread will be a luxury for us here, but as the days retract into darkness and the cold wind forces us to close our windows tight, I look forward to pulling golden-brown loaves from the oven and letting the scent of cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin fill the flat.

    Piles of leaves.

    Walking in the fall is more fun than it is any other time of the year. The sidewalks are covered in a deep, crunchy blanket of leaves, brightly colored and dry and light as air. Every step kicks up a few so that they tumble into new piles around me. If I move fast enough, they whirl a bit in my wake. I like to stand on our street when the wind begins to blow just to watch the yellow and red leaves in the trees release their hold on the branches and take their fluttering, circuitous journey downward and into my path.

    Sweaters & scarves.

    Here the wardrobe change has happened quicker than I'm used to. In California I would wear sweaters from November through the beginning of March. In Oslo, sweaters are necessary from the beginning of October all the way into April. The thick woolens feel soft against my skin. I layer a scarf around my neck, swirling and tying it so that it protects me from the cold fingers of the wind. I am wearing overcoats and rain coats. Soon I'll be pulling on a parka! But for now, I'm excited to be reunited with all my colorful sweaters.
    |
    DSC03281.jpg
    Today I went out to watch other people run the Oslo Marathon. It's a big event. In 2010 it attracted 16,000 runners, more than half of them women. People came from all over the world. It's a beautiful course, winding along the edge of the Oslofjord and then up into our sparkling city. Jonathan and I live about three blocks from the middle of the course, so we walked over to cheer the runners on.

    Running is not second nature to me. It's not even natural. My gait isn't graceless or anything. I played sports for too many years to be clumsy when I run. It's just that my lungs, my heart, my mouth, my thighs, my calves, my feet, my knees, my arms, my hands, and my ponytail can't seem to find the appropriate harmony when I try to use them all at once. 

    Believe me, I've tried. Jonathan and I have completed the Disneyland Half Marathon twice, first in 2008 and then again in 2010. We also ran the Death Valley 30K together in a record rainstorm, and Jonathan had an injured knee that time, so we basically walked the last half of it. I've also done a sprint triathlon with the Mermaid organization in California, an event which required me to face my fear of sharks and swim out around a pier in Santa Cruz (and making excellent time, I might add, due to that fear). After the swim, I biked 11 miles and ran the final 2.5. I dragged myself over that finish line, my skin a vibrant shade of pink blotched with red. Throw in a couple of 5K races and the weekly timed miles in my high school P.E. class and you've got the grand total of my life as a runner. 

    But it all seems like so long ago. And unfortunately, being able to point back a year or two and say, "See? I ran that once. I went from here to there. Not very fast, mind you, but faster than if I'd walked it," well, it stops being satisfying after a while.

    The start time for the Oslo 10K had been 9:40 a.m. When we arrived at the part of the course closest to our place, the stragglers from that race were huffing and puffing their way up Karl Johans Gate, the long pedestrianized street which runs from Oslo Central train station uphill to the grand, yellow royal palace. We watched people of all ages, all sizes, and all levels of skill as they rounded that turn. 

    Most were dragging their feet, sweat thick in their hair. Some were limping over muscles strained somewhere earlier on. These were the survivors. I knew they'd finish. Give them another hour or two and they'd barrel stiff-legged over the line. Victorious, but pained, haggard, battle-worn.

    I've been there. If I were to attempt a half marathon now, having not run seriously in over a year, it's how I'd look and feel. That's a tough truth for someone who likes to think of herself as healthy.
    |
    DSC02685.jpg

    Jonathan and I travel because we want to see the whole world together, but we have our individual interests, too. He wants to climb every mountain. I want to see all the people.

    The farther I go, the more people I see and meet, the more convinced I am that everyone on earth shares a commonality of soul. Language and religion and skin pigment and eye shape are merely the reasons we use to bicker and go to war. But behind it all is a beating heart, a mind, the same basic survival needs. We want to live well, and we want to be allowed to define "living well" for ourselves.

    Travel is an education more than anything else. It is humbling to find yourself unable to communicate because you don't know the language. It is an exercise in resourcefulness to navigate the crooked, careening streets of foreign cities without a smart phone. New territory under your feet means a new perspective on the rest of the world, a vantage point from a corner you may not have considered before.

    The lessons you learn are not easily forgotten, especially if you find that seeing new places does something for your self esteem. Everything about travel requires patience.

    You'll have to find your way through the labyrinth of Geneva International Airport, forced to exit the rental car facility on the airport's France side and reenter the terminal on the Swiss side in order to access the correct airline.  You'll have to drive Germany's infamous Autobahn while doing miles-to-kilometers per hour conversions in your head. You will get lost in Brussels and Paris, where streets change names every time they bend more than 15 degrees in any direction. Rue des Poissonnieres becomes Zwarte Lievevrouwstraat which becomes Rue de Laeken. You will accidentally order a dish full of mushrooms when you specifically tried to avoid them. You will get stared at, bumped in crowds, stymied by train station ticket machines. You will arrive breathless at the dock just as your boat pulls away, your flight takes to the sky, or your train whistles its way out of the station.

    And when you do make it home, because you always will, you will find that your patience has increased twentyfold and you're proud of the person in the mirror, the one with an independent sparkle in her eye.

    |
    norwaybridge.jpg
    Somewhere there is a plane buzzing across an azure sky, a big one.  It shuttles people across oceans, countries, continents. Most of those people are merely traveling, and having been one of them fairly frequently over the past six years, I envy them both the journey and the return home. 

    But some passengers are doing something else far more permanent. The homes they have left behind them are vacant, doors locked and lights off. Rather than saying 'Goodbye' to their loved ones at the airport gate, they hugged longer, kissed harder, and said 'Farewell.' These other people aren't coming back anytime soon. They are relocating. And in less than ten days, I will no longer be able to refer to that determined group as 'They,' for soon it will include my husband and me.  Soon we will be on our way to Norway.
     
    Somewhere there is a boat, a cargo ship whose bulk and breadth I cannot comprehend. She is doubtless a mathematical and mechanical wonder, forging prow-first through waves many, many stories high. That boat holds cargo containers the size of a train's boxcars as ably as I might handle boxes of matches.  The boxes are strapped down, bolted to the floor and the ships' sides because the ocean treats gravity like a chew toy. Inside one of those containers are contents of my life.  
    |

    tweezers.jpgI cried out and pulled my knee to my chest, hopping to the nearest spot on the wall where I could easily lean without knocking anything over.  I turned my bare foot over between my hands and squinted at the sole, twisting oddly to catch the light. 

    There, buried in the pink, translucent flesh was the pine needle. 

    It was the stubby, dark green remnant of the redwood tree which, last month, took up a festive residence in our loft, bore our many sparkly ornaments, sheltered our prettily wrapped gifts (as well as the occasional sleepy kitty), and throbbed with a fresh, pine scent which greeted us every night on our return home. 

    We loved that tree, with its upward arching branches. It made us pause with wonder in the evenings. It made us remember the holiness of Christmas.

    It took Jonathan hours to chop it apart, reducing it to pieces which would fit in our green waste bin.  The floor was littered with sharp, angry pieces.  We vacuumed and swept and picked the bits up with our fingers, gingerly, having experienced the extreme sharpness of each needle and the way nothing from cotton to burlap could fend them off. 

    Naturally, we missed a shard or two, but one of them found me.  

    I pinched the entry wound between my polished nails.  There was no blood, of course.  The skin on the ball of my feet is tough, used to slapping around bare on concrete, tile, asphalt, and grass in the summer time, and the blood vessels are hidden way up inside. Thus, I could see the belligerent face of the culprit clearly.  He'd backed into his den and was baring his teeth at me. 

    Picking, scratching, tweaking, prodding.  Finally, still straining like a one-legged stork against the wall, I squeezed my foot between my palms and let our an exasperated squeak, letting my eyes, big and forlorn, find my husband's eyes, sympathetic.   

    Jonathan hopped up from his place by the computer and helped me to the sofa.  I limped like an amputee, letting my lower lip tremble for a fraction of a second, just long enough for him to notice and take pity on me.  He tilted our lamp toward us and pulled my upturned foot into the pool of light.  When his fingers found the sliver and I let out a tiny yelp, he looked up and smiled at me, stroking my naked calf and giving my knee a kiss. 

    You're okay. I'll be right back. 

    |
    084.jpg

    I dedicate this entry to my husband, the best man I've ever known. Happy 5th Anniversary, Mr. Jonathan Peter Camp!

    Five years ago, I stole down the curving staircase in my parents' home, an undulating cloud of white train and veil in my wake.  My hands met Jonathan's first, anxious fingers pulling us to one another.  Suddenly my hands and wrists and arms and elbows and shoulders seemed very grown up. 

    With these hands, I would soon be working as half of a husband and wife team to make a stable home.  With these arms I would hold my husband, would care for him and comfort him, would convey love and desire and unity.  With these fingers I would provide nourishment (both by dialing the phone to order pizza and cooking, at least annually).  With these shoulders, I would bear the weight of responsibility that comes when there is no longer a parent to protect, but only you and your spouse to support each other.

    As I reached the bottom step, we came together, embraced and kissed.  A shimmer of tears tangled in my lashes and threatened to fall, but then we were laughing, surveying each other in all our wedding day finery. 

    Who were these sparkling, squeaky clean people?  Not a trace of dirt or sweat or chalk anywhere!  Not a scuffed sole, a torn jean, a wrinkled ballcap!  He was absolutely clean shaven and I was manicured.  For crying out loud, I was pedicured!  Where was the mountain man?  Where was the tomboy?      

    I have been inspired by my friend and fellow blogger, Anthony (Anthony and his wife are expecting their first baby, and Anthony has taken it upon himself to catalog the throes of impending fatherhood with grace and humor.  Check out Baby C's Blog if you have a minute...), to tell the story of my first date with Jonathan.  The only trouble is I can't pinpoint the first date very easily.  There are several date-ish candidates which could apply.  That being the case, I thought I'd take a stab at summing up all three (or four) and then putting it to a vote.  When did Jonathan and I actually begin "dating?"

    |
    grossmunster09.jpg

    Drops of perspiration trembled along my jawline, clustering defensively in the face of gravity, and then splashed onto my bare, pumping thighs. We have a 'new' exercise bike, gifted to us by a friend who has acquired truly new exercise equipment and needed the space. The bike sits in our loft, three feet from our giant television. From the seat, I can watch a full version of Friends while "biking" eight miles. It's new. It's not something I ever pictured myself doing in this house. But little in my life looks the way I once thought it would.

    I'm married. That happened much sooner than I'd ever considered. I'm a cat owner, even while everyone knows that I am a big dog person... both in the sense that I love all dogs all the time, and that I especially love BIG dogs. I work as an Account Manager for a large commercial insurance firm. I work for my mom. I do not have an advanced degree. I have not moved away from Livermore. I have watched more X-Files episodes than I care to admit.

    These are the facts. I lead a charmed life, an adventurous life, a life of love and activity and purpose. It's coming to terms with the truth that the purpose is so different than what I'd once believed that can sometimes trouble me. Only for a moment, though, and then I'm holding my husband's hand and we're off to have Chinese food before it's time to hit the gym.

    Recently, Jon and I were asked about our "two-year plan."  Jon looked at me, and I nodded in agreement as I watched a wan, tepid smile appear on his handsome, thirty-year-old face.  Two-year plan? 

    If we'd been asked that question two years ago, our Plan would have included home ownership.  That's why, last year at this time, we were in the throes of purchasing what we were thrilled to think of as our first home. That was shortly before the housing market collapsed around us. We'd imagined that town home as a buried treasure, a place meant just for us to find, within walking distance of all our favorite downtown spots, a sweetly priced deal for the size, a fun floor plan just begging for paint and artwork and furniture all our own.

    But lenders ceased lending and, though we had our down payment prepared, though we'd signed all the papers, though the bank had 'okayed' the deal, our mortgage wouldn't come through.

    We lost money on that process.  What's worse, we lost time, four summer months spent entirely focused on that purchase.  What's worst of all is that we lost our enthusiasm.

    Today, neither of us is intrigued by the idea of home ownership. What ought to have been the next exciting adult step in our combined life has become a dreaded secondary path, something which we simply know will give us ulcers and bleed our savings dry.

    And so, our response to the concept of any plan beyond the next month or so is sardonic.

    To get around this, we deal in dreams rather than plans, and our biggest dream for the future includes living abroad for a couple of years.

    |

    openreddoor.jpgExactly four years ago, Jonathan and I were wrapping up our eighth month of marriage.  We were newlyweds. Our kitchen appliances still had that just-unwrapped, straight-from-the-registry shine.  Without enough furniture to fill our three-bedroom rental house, we could do occasional cartwheels in the hallways, sommersaults in the living room. 

    Once, we set up a badminton net downstairs and bopped the birdie back and forth. The cats sat sentinel on the kitchen counter, their twin tails twitching, their heads bobbing in time with each volley. 

    I was still attending school, making the mind-numbing commute to and from UC Davis twice a week.  We owned only one car, the Audi, and had to shuttle one another to and from work... Jon at the lab, me at Banana Republic in Stoneridge Mall.  In the evenings, we played board games, played video games, played with our cats.  Every day brought something new, an insight about eternity and sharing four walls, a shower, and a car with only one other person.

    Hours in the car, hours of folding sweaters and stacking them in perfect, fluffy towers on tables, hours of homework, hours of life... the time would snake by me, so fast I couldn't always keep up. We traveled and camped and attended church and spent time with our families. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I was overwhelmed. Where were my pretty words?  Where were my imaginings?  I was numb, unable to create something poetic for my own sake, and it scared me. I was like an amputee staring at the void where my long lost limb ought to have been. Had I missed my chance to be the author I'd long dreamed I would be?

    Exactly four years ago, Jonathan built a blog for me. 

    |

    hangin.jpgMy Jonathan turns 30 today.  I have thought of a thousand gooey, sticky, lovey-dovey things I could write here, but he's 30 now. He's entered a new era of his life.  While I can (and will) continue to be his silly, sugar-sweet "wifey" at home, in public and in print I'll refrain.  This time.  ;-)

    Though he's now 30, Jonathan definitely isn't "old."  He bounds around our house and the climbing gym and Yosemite and Disneyland like a tousel-headed kid on a sugar high!  He continues to love his toys, though they become increasingly expensive (and colorful) with every passing year.  His sense of adventure is enhanced with each trip we plan and complete.

    My Jonathan continues to be my playmate, my Peter Pan, my complement, my favorite human being.  (LEFT: An example of his perpetual boyhood take on life... the way he envisioned our loft as the perfect place to tie an anchor and use his new climbing rope last year. I shudder to think what he wants to do now that he has nuts, cams, and quickdraws!) 

    |

    m&mwithmistletoe.jpg One May day in 2003, my then boyfriend Jonathan Camp suggested a spontaneous trip to Disneyland on a Friday morning.

    According to him, I had only to say, "Yes!" and then pack a small bag before our drive down.

    I  informed my parents (much to their initial chagrin... after all, I'd never gone away with a boy before), threw clothes and a toothbrush into a backpack, and ran out to the front porch to await Prince Charming in his red Jetta.

    Jonathan and I had been dating about five months, though I think we'd both agree our love affair had begun prior to that, nurtured by debates at Bible study, flirting sessions after church, etc. 
     
    I don't remember much about that drive, our first 6+ hour stint in a car together, except that we talked and talked and talked and then, when it didn't seem possible that two people could have more to say to one another... we talked some more.

    When we arrived at the park, pulling into the giant Mickey & Friends Parking Structure which was brand new to both of us, Jon could hardly contain his excitement.  I have a slightly blurry photo of him hopping up and down, pointing toward the tram stop, making a goofy face.  It's a favorite photo of mine: my happy, excited little boy, about to share Disneyland with his true love for the first time.

    That was more than five years ago.  And this weekend, we completed our 25th trip to Disneyland!
    |
    mmcavern.jpg

    Last week, I found myself musing among boxes. Some gaped open, begging for sustenance like baby birds. Others I had already closed and taped shut, firmly shut, three or four strips of tape apiece. 

    As I sorted through the immense and innumerable piles and drawers and baskets and shelves of stuff, I felt like the worst of sinners. Here, filling boxes and trash bags with my gadgets and gizmos aplenty, was proof of my materialistic gluttony.

    Why all the packing and disposing?  We're supposed to be moving. We bought a place downtown and we're ready to embark on home ownership and all the fringe benefits. But the Home Buying Train is slow to start. We signaled the conductor, but he's asleep at the wheel. So, right now there's a lot of steam swirling and hissing at the platform, clouding our visions of the immediate future, but no chugging, lurching, or inching to denote progress.

    One side effect of this delayed departure is a dampening of my nostalgic self. I haven't been able to sigh and smile as I pick up our mail for "what could be the last time."  I haven't felt the urge to thoughtfully brush my hand over the doorbell which stopped working the first year we moved in... or the faded explanatory sign we taped above the bell, either. I haven't baked my last batch of biscuits in our first oven, or played the last game of darts in our first garage, or laughed for the last time at the way our first bedroom door will only latch easily during the summer months.

    |

    5k.jpgOn Saturday, Jonathan and I woke early and ran 8 miles.

    Yes, you heard me correctly.  We dragged ourselves out of bed at six in the morning on a Saturday, walked to PW Market for a Power Bar and a banana, waited an hour for the sake of digestion, and then began our run from the corner of Vasco and Scenic.  The first three miles took us to the base of Brushy Peak, beginning through residential neighborhoods and after that, winding between farms and ranches. 

    I paused briefly after the second mile to say hello to a beautiful black horse, scratching his nose with one hand and wiping the sweat from my brow with the other.  Then I had to hurry to catch up with my sweetie.  Every couple of miles we would take a quick walking break, but only for a 100 yards or so before we were at the running again. 

    Somewhere around mile six, I hit a zone like none I've ever experienced before.  My breathing and my heart rate and my stride all evened into a steady thrum.  I was gliding down the frontage road near 580 West, eyes on the next turn, about a third of a mile away.  I couldn't hear anything, couldn't think about anything.  The blankness was a welcome change for me.  As we rounded that turn, we slowed to a walk again so that we could refuel for the final mile and a half.

    This must all sound very strange, especially those of you who know that I have stuck rigidly to the claim that I am not "a runner" and have never been one.  But, much like the way I claimed not to be "a math person" in school as a youngster, I have discovered that such claims are self-defeating.  In seventh grade, it wasn't that I wasn't a math person.  Rather, math was the one subject which actually challenged me.  So, as the easy out, I opted to let myself rely on the vague, deceptive comfort that some people just can't do math, no matter how hard they try (never mind that I wasn't trying terribly hard).  And my math struggles were compounded later on because of that early pessimism.  Even if I'd wanted to know and enjoy math later, missing the opportunity of building a foundation of mathematical knowledge at the same rate as my peers crippled me for life.  Today I still have issues with basic algebra.

    |

    pork-chops-ck-1599620-l.jpgMy husband is cooking dinner. 

    That's right.  The man is standing at a cutting board chopping ears of corn in half so that they will fit in our smallish pot of water (we don't own a big one).  Pork chops are searing on the stove and will soon be whisked into the oven to bake. 

    I caught a glimps of some kind of bread crumb coating on the chops as they sizzled on the stove, but I didn't dare go closer.

    Until tonight, I didn't realize that pork chops could be dipped in bread crumbs and seared.  Sad, right?  

    What I should explain is that I'm not dumb, I just haven't really spent any quality time considering the many possible methods by which I might prepare pork chops.  Or steaks.  Or chicken breasts.  Or anything for that matter.

    |
    curve of tongue around the ell
    dipping tone beneath the oh
    sultry vibration of lips on vee
    faith in the silence of invisible ee

    -Audrey Camp, 2008-
    |

    rockwell_thanksgiving.jpg

    Jonathan and I are in the kitchen of our house, our first home, making the stuffing to take to Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents' house tomorrow.  At this exact moment, Jonathan is on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor using a dicing tool, pounding the thyme and rosemary into submission. 

    These are the lengths to which we're willing to go for our now famous Sausage, Corn Bread and Chestnut Stuffing (originally a William-Sonoma recipe).  We've made the stuffing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last two years.  Our fifth batch is sure to be our best yet.  After all, we've been finessing.

    We know how to multi-task, whipping up corn bread and dicing herbs and washing mixing bowls between ingredients.  We've added notes to the recipe to help us in future years (because we have no intention of ever learning another dish...).

    Today we were both off work early, and we've been cleaning like crazy people.  After all, guests are coming soon.  And heaven forbid they see our house in its ordinary, slightly dusty, very cluttered state.  Our downstairs is all but empty. (No real furniture... just bookshelves down here... couches and chairs are on the Life Agenda, but they appear somewhere after the flat-screen TV, the mattress set, the trip to Australia and the Eclipse Jet).  The dining room table (where we rarely eat, but where we often sort the junk mail from the fashion mags and REI catalogs) is clean, and live flowers make a cheery centerpiece.  The kitchen is sparkling.

    |

    I'm here with Jonathan, who has already chalked up 5300 points on a 5.12a.  No pun intended.  And if you're asking, "What pun?" I know you've never been to a climbing gym in your life, and so I'll explain.

    Everywhere I look, the air is filled with floating chalk particles, the remnants of dusty-handed ascents up the forty-foot concrete walls.  Each wall covered with oddly-shaped, chunky holds.  Each route is named and marked with bright tape flags.

    Jonathan is out there somewhere in a sea of athletic, lanky bodies, spandex and rubber-toed flexible climbing shoes.  I own a pair, and a few minutes ago I even had them on.  Squeezing into the shoes is no easy task; I feel a bit like one of Cinderella's step-sisters... though the slipper is not glass, smells like sweat and ultimately fits me like a glove.  For the foot.  Anyway...

    I can see him, sporting a green shirt and the black harness I gave him for Christmas years ago.  This hobby began for him in early 2003.  We had just begun dating.  A friend at work offered to take Jon to a gym and teach him the basics.  For while, almost a year, I accompanied him.  I wasn't bad.  But quite quickly it was evident that climbing was Jon's niche.  His height, long, slender physique and strength-to-weight ratio gave him an advantage on most routes.

    Sometimes I think God built him for exactly this intent. 

    |

    just married.gifTonight I'm not feeling wise or witty.  Like a sponge I've spent the day absorbing all that was spilled around me.  My family's pain, the result of my brother's impending divorce, is excruciating.  And I feel it daily.  Even though it is not my life, I hurt.

    My life, the one I'm creating with my husband, is lovely.  We laugh a lot.  Talk more.  Kiss and hold hands and order takeout and book our weekends until they are solid.

    It's something I'm proud of, this fledgling marriage we're caring for.  Yet, it's hard not to feel guilty even in the midst of our success.  What if someone else, someone who tried and couldn't quite pull through, is hurt by our love?  Does that matter?  Should I worry about flaunting it?  Or should I just keep enjoying what we've been doing?


    And what about thinking about this situation another way...?

    Of the seven young couples I know (us included) who have been married in the last three years, three have fallen on hard times.  One has ended, flat lined.  My brother's is ending.  Has anyone learned anything?  Is there something Jon and I are supposed to be learning?

    So far, and perhaps predictably, I have been the one most emotionally affected by these things.  Jonathan keeps his head up and his feet on the ground, one arm around my shoulders, affectionately.
     
    "These things," he whispers in my ear, "have nothing to do with us."

     
    |

    us waterfall.jpgTomorrow morning, Jonathan and I leave for the quickest of trips to Disneyland.  We're celebrating our anniversary.  Three years ago (August 14, 2004) we wound up at the alter of our church and vowed to love and support and cherish one another forever.  I cannot believe it has been three years.  And a jam-packed three years at that.  We've done so many things together and grown tremendously as people.
     

    He continues to be my best friend, my biggest fan, my supporter, my confidante, my defender, my lover, my playmate, my everything.  Thankfully, our first 1000+ days have been filled with laughter and flirting and planning for a future we're striving to make great. 

    However, as is always the case, the serious things that come with growing up are forever prying into our relationship and twisting through the day-to-day like the undaunted, impervious roots of weeds in our little garden.  Jobs take up 40 hours each week.  Bills come in at the beginning of each month.  Car trouble.  Cat trouble.  Scheduling conflicts.  Family commitments.  It isn't always easy to smile. 

    I suppose the way we work through it is by carrying that analogy of weeds a bit further.  Every day we manage to laugh and learn and love anyway.  The lessons we take to heart are packed in and around and between the roots like dirt.  A real relationship is both of those things.  The positive and the negative.  Without dirt, no weeds can grow; but without weeds, the soil is fragile and subject to inevitable erosion and depletion. 

    Jonathan and I truly want to make our marriage a success.  So, when something new or difficult comes along, we remember that it is relative to all that is fantastic in our life.  (Sometimes it takes Jonathan literally reminding me of this...)  Then, even without realizing it, the trials strengthen our bond as husband and wife.  And every joy, even the littlest one, is magnified because not everything has been easy. 

    In this way we find that all things work for the good of God and His purpose.  At the end of the day, we curl up in our bed together and, in the darkness, we can easily recall and rejuvenate our childlike faith in love and our own personal fairy tale.

    I am one lucky girl. 

    |

    images/climbing%20helmet.jpg

    Jonathan's new climbing helmet is lime green. He fits the strap under his chin and clicks the buckle into place. He smiles. This is his most recent toy, puchased today at REI in Berkeley. At the store, I found it hard to be enthused by the process of hunting for a helmet. Jerry Seinfeld's jokes were running my mind...

    "There are many things you can point to as proof that the human is not smart. But my personal favorite would have to be that we needed to invent the helmet. What was happening, apparently, was that we were involved in a lot of activities that were cracking our heads. We chose not to avoid doing those activities but, instead, to come up with some sort of device to help us enjoy our head-cracking lifestyles. And even that didn't work because not enough people were wearing them so we had to come up with the helmet law. Which is even stupider, the idea behind the helmet law being to preserve a brain whose judgment is so poor, it does not even try to avoid the cracking of the head it's in."

    And it wasn't funny in the aisle at REI. My precious husband, the man I live for, the one who makes everything funny and fun and worthwhile, was studying a selection of safety equipment because he was planning a potentially head-cracking outing for Monday.

    Now he is reading the helmet manual while seated on the couch in our loft, prodding the plastic and adjusting the pieces. To him it is simply necessary. It does not carry for him the implication of danger which it carries for me.

    Earlier today, the two of us made our annual Easter Egg Dyeing trip to my folks' house. Each year we use Mom's eggs, Mom's pots and pans, Mom's food coloring and counter space for this activity. It began before we were married and never migrated to our own house. What can I say? It's tradition.

    At any rate, while there, Jon mentioned his forthcoming outdoor climbing expedition to my dad. Dad was silent and then, smirking, directed his attention to me.

    You're letting him do that?

    Letting him? While Jonathan respects my opinions and definitely weighs in the effects his behavior/hobbies have upon me, I am not in the position to forbid him the right to any activity. As intelligent, caring adults, we want what is best for one another. As man and wife we put the needs of our spouse above our own. But, aside from forbidding me to eat a second donut at Starbucks (as I would almost always do, otherwise), Jonthan does not dictate my behavior, and I do not dictate his.

    riding%20helmet.jpgI answered, I'd stop him, but I have no leverage. Christopher Reeve took it.

    For the past nine months or so I've been taking English riding lessons at Highland Riding School in Dublin. This hobby also requires a helmet. And I've taken a fall. Jonathan has been incredibly supportive of my desire to ride, though the thought of me ever jumping competitively shakes him up a bit. Again... he's not "letting me"... he's "supporting me".

    That Golden Rule will get you every time.

    Now Jonathan is walking around our house with the helmet on. It's goofy, and he knows it. Just trying to get the feel of the equipment I suppose. Bonding. Learning to trust the plastic and padding. I want to give the helmet a pep talk/ultimatum. You've got one job, buddy. Bring him and his brain home safely. But, as the helmet is made to withstand a beating, I realize that my ultimatum lacks an "or else". I guess I'll skip talking to the inanimate object.

    |

    crock%20pot.jpgDid you know that there has been an invention that will forever change my mind set about cooking dinner? It's called a "crock pot". I'm fairly certain my mom owned one when I was young, and that it had a brown lid, but I wasn't privy to the awesome (yet simple) chain of steps that led to dinner via the crock pot.

    Apparently all one needs is a pound of beef (you can buy it pre-chunked at Safeway or PW), three carrots, two potatoes, tomato juice, water and a package of "beef stew mix". Chop and throw it all into the crock pot, replace the lid and let it sit for hours. Did you hear that? Hours. Six hours of blissful non-kitchen-related activity later, you'll have yourself a meal!

    And we did. The succulent scent of beef stew welcomed us after we returned from lunch with Jon's folks and a trip to Alameda to see Josh perform in Aida (he did a wonderful job, by the way, and totally creeped me out as the evil man with a plan, Zoser). On the drive home, both Jon and I whined about how hungry we were, which wasn't obnoxious at all. But rather than make a quick stop at the nearest drive through for grease with a side of fat, we trucked on home to enjoy the fruits of our efforts earlier in the day.

    Yum!

    This is the second time we made stew, both times on a Sunday. Stew is the perfect Sunday meal, you know? I think because it can be described as "hearty". Especially as the days turn chilly, it's a delight to come home to.

    How did this start, you ask? As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago we were discussing how little we actually spent cooking for ourselves. For a long time we justified our lack of domesticity with our level of contribution to local restaurants. Without people like us, the little guys would go out of business. We owed it to the entrepreneurs of Livermore to keep being lousy and lazy when it came to the kitchen.

    Then Redz and Chuan Yang went out of business. Our argument left town with them.

    On a completely innocuous trip to Target, the kind we take frequently and end up spending way too much money, we took a detour through the Home section. I'd just picked up some new lip gloss, Jon had new sunglasses, and we were looking for a cheap movie to take home when Jon grabbed my arm.

    "Let's get a crock pot," he said, navigating me down a completely unfamiliar aisle. Before I could say a word I was surrounded by kitchen appliances. Coffee makers and blenders and teapots, oh my!

    I felt edgy. "A what?" I asked, keeping a weather eye on a suspiciously violent looking waffle iron.

    "A crock pot," he repeated. I kept my back to the wall and shot a glance at my husband, who was leaning in and examining several strange looking items on the shelves.

    "Are those crock pots?" I asked.

    Before I try to describe the look of disgust/irritation that was flung in my general direction at that point, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about one of the best parts of marriage. Trust. No matter how dumb I sound, no matter how ignorant I appear, I can always trust that Jon will love me anyway.

    He gave me a slightly exasperated look. Of course those were crock pots. In another moment the look had passed, and was replaced by the generally loving, patient expression I enjoy so much. "Let's get one. They aren't very expensive."

    "Why do we need one?" The waffle iron had decided I wasn't much of a threat, and had gone back to grazing.

    "For cooking. Dinner," he said, lifting lids and turning knobs. "Stews and stuff."

    I was catching on. "We'll never use it," I said, and I wasn't being pessimistic, either. Merely honest. We'd registered for so many nice things for our wedding, the majority of them for cooking and baking. I'm proud to say that we've used almost everything at least once, but almost nothing has been used twice. Except the toaster. We put a lot of miles on that baby.

    "Sure we will. It's so easy." And he went on to explain the ability to leave the thing on and working and unattended all day.

    I was skeptical. But eventually I caved. It was a combination of the eager light in his big blue eyes and the fact that I got to choose the crock pot we bought. It's red, in case there was any doubt. And now we've used it twice, both times with yummy results. With autumn just around the corner, my favorite season by far, I'm looking forward to fending off chilly evenings with the occasional pot of stew.

    If you are ever in the neighborhood, and you encounter the thick, enticing scent of simmering beef and potatoes wafting toward you, give me a call. There's always the chance that I'm playing Susie Homemaker for the day. And I promise, if I'm wearing my full skirt, apron, high heels and pearls, I'll invite you it for a Leave It To Beaver style dinner you'll swear I spent hours slaving over. You'll know the truth, though. Jon and I chopped, dropped, crocked and walked.

    That's just the way we roll, thanks to the miracle we call the crock pot.

    |

    climbingjon_01.jpgThree years ago, Jon talked me into trying a new sport with him. The climbing gym in Concord, Touchstone Climbing, was exactly half way between my apartment in Davis and his place in Livermore. So, because we made that drive all the time, he thought it would be great if we picked up climbing as something to do together.

    In the beginning we went three times a week, minimum. And we improved at about the same rate. But, by the time the wedding rolled around, and then the commute to school became a solo thing for me, our number of climbing dates dwindled. Thankfully there was an alternative to the rope-in climbing we'd been enjoying. Jon began bouldering twice a week. Little did he know how far this new hobby would take him.

    climbingjon_02.jpgA year later, Jon is now very good at bouldering. The scale of difficulty for bouldering problems is fairly simple. To give you an idea, I can handle most V0 problems, some V1s. Once, I pulled off a V2 (much to my proud husband's, delight). But that was ages ago. As an intermediate level climber, Jon is in the V4-V6 range.

    When the chain our gym belongs to announced a bouldering competition series, with one meet at each of the six gyms over a span of five months, Jon got that gleam in his eye. He'd done some minor, miscellaneous competing before. But never anything big like this.

    So, he went to every single one of the competitions. And each time his score improved. I went to three of the six to cheer him on, keep score for him, hold his chalk bag, consult with him on which problems to climb, rub his shoulders between runs, boo his competitors... okay, not that last part. I'm a very good sport.

    climbingjon_03.jpgLast night was the final competition, the culmination of the blood, sweat, sore muscles, aching toes, broken finger nails, chalky skin, etc. Jon had a great time. His parents came to help me cheer him on. I took these great pictures. We stayed for the announcing of the scores. And, even though it wasn't Jon's best single night (he came in 27th in his bracket), the overall standing was a thrill!

    After all was said and done and climbed, Jon was 5th overall in the Men's Intermediate Category, with 87,020 points!

    Now that is awesome. And I am so proud.

    smartone.jpg

    (P.S. He went shirt shopping on his own... I cannot take the blame for it.)

    |

    teather wedding.jpgI remember the first time I spoke directly to him. At Sunday school (how quaint). I was there when he came in, wearing his red Stanford sweatshirt. We'd already maneuvered through the very early stages of flirtation... minor eye contact, indirect teasing. But he was so handsome, I just couldn't help myself.

    "Cute sweatshirt," I said.

    He stopped. Was the crazy, loud girl with the big brown eyes talking to him? Did she just call his sweatshirt cute? And, most importantly, was that a good thing?

    "Thanks."

    I don't know what I expected. Perhaps I thought I'd make him blush. Instead he locked his blue eyes on mine and smiled. I couldn't just let it go now.

    "I'll have to borrow it sometime." You're right, hinting at borrowing a guy's clothes could be termed "forward". I'd prefer to call it "gutsy". Anyway, as would soon become a staple in our relationship, Jon and I allowed the situation to escalate... he couldn't let me win.

    Without hesitation he began tugging at his shirt sleeves. "Sure," he said, pulling it over his head. "Here you go." He taunted me with it.

    You know me. I was sitting in a room full of my closest friends, at church. And, because of fate and Jon's blue eyes and my indomitable spirit of competition, I reached out and took the sweatshirt from his hand. With a sweet smile, I pulled it on. Jon's warmth and goodness were still in the fabric.

    That was the beginning.

    Beyond that are many love stories. But my favorite, and the one that needs to be told in honor of this day, is our first Valentine's Day together.

    In Jon's Jetta, as red as our happiness, we zipped up to Stinson Beach and played Go on a blanket in the sand. He creamed me. I frowned and walked towards the surf. It was a truly beautiful day, bright sun and blue sky, pure ocean. But I'd lost a game, and my brow was furrowed with frusteration.

    What happened? I ran over my plays in my mind. Because in the beginning it has looked like I would win. Because I'd captured so many of his stones. Because I was so confident, cocky even. I focused on the blinding horizon, squinting.

    Jon came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. He pressed the pink sticky note into my hand. On it he'd written, "I love you." When I looked up, he was smiling. His smile warmed me from deep inside. I focused on his mouth, the tender curve of his smile.

    "I love you." It was the first time he'd ever said it.

    Simple. I suddenly knew what William Blake meant when he said:

    To see a World in a Grain of Sand
    And A Heaven in a Wild Flower,
    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an Hour.

    Jonathan is, to me, all the things that make human love possible. He is my best friend, my companion, my supporter, my sounding board, my guardian angel, my conscience, my lover, my boyfriend, my date, my everything. And it's not easy. That's what's so human about our love. The promise to stay forever, and to forgive and to cherish, that was easy. Actually staying, always forgiving, never ceasing to cherish... all of these are more than difficult. But with daily maintenance, a sense of humor, God, all things are possible.

    The boy who let me borrow his favorite sweatshirt (which, incidentally, I kept for many months, long before we even were dating, and still is worn on occasion) is still here with me. Even as he is also the man who provides the strength and determination for our marriage, the man who knelt before me and asked that I accompany him on the proverbial walk through life, he is my boy. My guy. My knight. My prince.

    Valentine's Day may well be just a commercialized Tuesday. More than that, though, it is an opportunity that all should take to think about those they love. To jump-start the cherishing of family, friends and lovers alike.

    hearty kitty.jpgJon sent me flowers, and a stuffed bear wearing a red sweater. I loved it all. But the biggest reminder of why I love my Jonathan came when he gave me a conspiratory wink, and helped me put the little red sweater on Disney. For all who are ready to jump down my throat with accusations of animal cruelty... don't. Disney liked his new accessory. He didn't want to take it off. And the sight left Jon and I reeling with laughter, a very important element to any happy relationship.

    Today I choose to forget about the commercials and the cliches. Instead, I remember all the things I loved and love and will love about my husband. And I'll do my best to do the things he loved and loves and will love about me... as long as we both shall live.

    vday 038.jpg
    Valentine's Day 2003: Our first picture together.

    |

    mobius-strip.jpg
    One joyous byproduct of marriage is the inevitable influx of mail. All kinds of mail. Double the bills. Double the fun! And junk mail, too. Thankfully Jon likes the daily trip the mailbox. He takes the little jaunt down our street, fishes the mail out of our teensy little mailbox, rolls his eyes when he sees that everything has been folded exactly in half, and then he gets down to sorting.

    Sorting entails mumbling and tossing. He sits, leafs, mumbles (either, "Cool." or, "Yours."). It's his thing. The cool stuff (i.e. Wired, Rock & Ice, Quizno's coupons) is his. Junk mail makes a nice pile on the floor near his feet... with my stuff (Redbook, The Independent, anything from UC Davis) just to the right of that pile, also on the floor.

    I just sit there and smile at him, and when he looks up and catches me... that's okay. He understands. I am amused.

    Anyway, a few months ago we noticed that we are receiving two issues of FamilyFun magazine simultaneously. Yes, we couldn't get two copies of Time or the Reader's Digest. Instead we are treated monthly to the exciting contributions of happy Christian families everywhere.

    On the upside I can now assemble a playdough ladybug in just eight easy steps!

    Not that every article in the magazine is mind-numbing. Also included are kids' birthday party ideas (throw a shindig set is space!), snack recipes (four-leaf clover cookies for St. Patty's Day) and time management tips for stressed-out moms.

    But the real treasure was right there on the back page.

    "Make a Magic Loop"! proclaimed the festive purple text. "Turn a strip of ordinary paper into a marvel with just some tape - and a twist"!

    Let the games begin:

    With a sigh of frusteration, I began, "Can you believe it? They've finally run out of fun craft ideas for the kids."

    "Who?"

    "What?"

    "Who ran out of fun craft ideas..."

    "Oh, the FamilyFun people." I really ought to know when to stop, but I never learn. "Honey, isn't this the dumbest thing you've ever seen?"

    Jon flipped to the back page of his FamilyFun magazine (as long as we have two, we might as well use 'em). "What? The Mobius Strip?"

    "The what?"

    "Mobius." Then he gave me the look; that we-really-should-have-discussed-these-kinds-of-things-more-before-we-got-married look. It's the identical look that I send his way when he attempts to tell me a Family Guy joke. "M-O-B-I-U-S."

    "How is that even remotely cool?"

    "What?" His incredulity overflowed. "It says right here, the 'Mobius band's amazing properties come from the fact that it has only one side!'"

    "Honey, paper has two sides."

    "No." And then he decided to dumb it down for me. "You see, my darling little wife, the inferior half of this relationship, one so lacking in relevent knowledge that I am ashamed to have to explain this to you... a strip of paper has two sides, of course, and so would a loop made simply by taping the strip end to end. Add a twist, though, and the strip becomes one sided."

    There was simply no convincing me.

    "Jonathan, paper is two dimensional. Each side is a dimension." I announced victoriously, "Two dimensions means TWO SIDES!"

    "Sweetie," he countered. He had taken a blow, but wasn't going down without a fight. "If you can put your finger on something and run it all around and come back to where you started without your finger ever going over an edge, but still touch all the surface, then the object only has one side."

    I looked confused.

    "That's the definition of a side!" he insisted.

    But that was his fatal mistake. You see, I am an English major and, whether Jon likes it or not, I dabble in words and their definitions.

    "That is so, so, so, so NOT the definition of the word side."

    Sensing he'd gone too far, Jon began to retreat, nonchalantly flipping through the magazine and avoiding eye contact. From the corner of his mouth he gave a stubborn, "Yes, it is."

    "So, you're telling me that's the dictionary definition?"

    He cringed. I sat up higher on the couch, tucking my legs beneath me to attain a height advantage.

    "You're actually telling me that if I went and got the dictionary and flipped to the S section and found the word side, that it would say exactly what you just said?"

    Silence.

    "Are you sure it's not... from the Big Book of Silly and Slightly Ridiculous Definitions by Jonathan Camp?"

    Ah, the victory.

    "No, ladies and gentleman." I gave my best Atticus Finch impression. "Again, I say no. Everything has at least two sides."

    Like Neo at the end of the first Matrix movie, riddled with bullets and lying in a pile of smashed concrete, Jon stood up from the couch, inexplicably defying ultimate defeat, and surveyed me with a sneer. He might as well have called me Mr. Anderson.

    "Oh yeah?" It was my turn to cringe. "Everything has two sides?"

    I grabbed the magazine and held it up in front of me in desperate self-defense. But Jon was quick. He tossed it aside and grabbed me.

    "Have you ever had the other side of ham?"

    Okay, that wasn't the chilling blow I thought it would be. Again, I was confused.

    "No," he continued. "You've only ever had a side of ham! There is only ONE side of ham! And what about sausage? When you're out at breakfast, do you ever ask for sides of sausage? NO! You say, 'May I have A SIDE of sausage, please?!'"

    The fact that this degenerated into a tickle fight should hardly surprise anyone. Not the most intelligent conversation we've ever had, but it's the kind of thing that comes from receiving two issues of FamilyFun.

    (Now if only we knew why we get the magazine in the first place... even one issue would be a mystery to us. Which of our parents decided to send us the gentle start-a-family hint after only 18 months of marriage? Something fishy there.)

    Möbius strip on Wikipedia

    |

    badminton.jpgOur home is lovely and cozy. Not elegant, of course. The kitchen is consistantly and prettily red. The loft is the most finished, with the big movie posters on the walls. The bedroom is, well... a mess. That leaves the living room. Empty.

    What to do?

    First we got bookshelves, then a couple hand-me-down end tables from my folks, a stereo. Still, there's this massive space in the middle. It looks like such a lonely room. But you'd be surprised.

    In the living room we unpack, regroup, play with the cat, dance, inventory Christmas decorations, pile stuff... and tonight we found a new activity. Badminton.

    Honest. We went out tonight specifically to get a badminton set, for tomorrow. Thanksgiving with my folks usually incorporates some kind of sport. And, since Dad has torn his achilles and had his gall bladder removed in just the last 18 months, he's not really up for basketball or football anymore (despite everything he says to the contrary). Jon and I figured that, next to walking around the block, a rousing match of badminton might be just the thing.

    Then we had pizza and went to see the new Harry Potter movie. Too long, too slow to start, amazing special effects.

    Once home you'd think that we'd be exhausted, and ready to go to sleep and start the holiday off immediately. Instead we both had the same idea. And within minutes the game was unpacked, a line was traced in the carpet to symbolize a net, rules were sketched out, and play began.

    We rallied back and forth, laughing at our own clumsiness. I told stories about the badminton team at Newark Memorial High School. Jon thinks that badminton isn't enough of a sport to deserve a spot at the Olympics. But the little booklet that came with the game gave a short bit of history on the game, including the fact that Bette Davis and James Cagney were avid players! (If you don't know who those people are, then I don't know you.)

    Anyway, we played badminton in our living room. Our wonderful, all-but-empty living room. Isn't it fun to be young and couchless?

    |

    tarzan_jane.jpgI love Disney's Tarzan. When it came out in the theater back in 1999, my friends and I saw it three times! There was something about the swinging, intense hero... searching for himself by finding others just like him.

    After a series of less-than-Disney calliber flicks, it was refreshing to see a romance that had to do with two people separately seeking their own kind of truth, and then finding it in one another.

    Besides the all-Phil Collins score, which I love, Tarzan is colorful and energetic. Sub-plots involve the bond between mother and son, father and son, reaching for your dreams, never letting people tell you "it" cannot be done, how to be a good friend, siezing the day... the list goes on.

    My favorite part, of course, is the scene where Tarzan takes Jane up into the treetops to see dozens of beautiful birds... and it's also the moment that he realizes he never wants her to leave. Jane's voice is perfect...

    honeymoon.jpgOh, and I'm writing about this because Jon and I just watched it while playing the worst game of Scrabble ever. In fact, we abandoned the game because it was soooooo boring! And the word choices we rotten! And there was nowhere to play! Anyway, we watched Tarzan. When the falling-in-love moment came, I got teary eyed. Not because the romance between two animated characters is overly emotional for me, but because that moment reminds me of our honeymoon.

    "Go get the book, honey." Jon wisely thought to suggest that we look at the honeymoon scrapbook I made. As long as I was gonna cry, why not make it over something understandable. (And no, I didn't weep. Just happy, reminiscent tears... graceful, understated...)

    We paged through the twelve lovely, loving, Disney-filled days and laughed to the tune of our memories there. Never has a trip been so much fun! And relaxing. We ate delicious meals, stayed at the best hotels, played and played and played, saw the sights, lazed in our room, drank ice-cold lemonade, took pictures with Minnie... we were newly married and loving every second of it!

    Jon and I have been to Disneyland many times. In a month or so we'll be going back after my finals are over. No matter how many times we go, though, the magic and romance are still floating in the air. Music, lights, smiles, love. It truly is a land of fairy tales. Thank goodness the people at Disney have the good sense to make movies like Tarzan.

    (On a side note, we went to see Chicken Little the other night. Aside from the many amusing references to other movies including Star Wars, Indiana Jones and King Kong, it didn't rate terribly high in my book. There's a dancing fish in a scuba helmet... worth seeing on DVD if you're trying to get in touch with your inner child. Do NOT spend more than $5.)

    |

    WeddingVows.jpgJon showed up at my parents' door on a week night when I was away at Davis. He had notes in hand, a smile on his face. The moment had come. He sat in the living room with my folks to ask their blessing before he asked me to marry him.

    Mom helped pick Dad's jaw up off the floor.

    Since I wasn't there, I can only say that Jon emerged alive and not at all dissuaded from his original purpose. And I can report that the first phone call I received after the meeting was from my father.

    "Audrey, do you understand what it means to be married? Have you gone through the scenarios? Asked the questions? Do you have the faintest idea of the ups and downs, the gravity of the decisions?!" (Insert scary Jaws-type music here.)

    Dad already thought the world of my guy, but I am, after all, his only daughter. What's a man to do? Some dad's bite their nails, others hire mobsters... Mark Edward Pancoast is a list man. His answer to any problem: make a list. Pros and Cons. Grocery. To Do. Laundry. Destinations. Chores. In this case he called to make sure that I had a list prepared of questions for Jon and I to ask of one another before we decided on something so permanent.

    The fact was that Jon and I had talked about marriage a lot. We'd known all along, in fact, that our love was destined for matrimony. But Dad has always had a talent for scaring the living daylights out of me by using his BIG voice, throwing around HUGE words and basically strangling me with hyperbole.

    I wrote out a list.

    Then Jon called.

    "I told your parents that I am going to ask you to marry me."

    "I know."

    "How do you know?"

    "Because I have been given homework."

    Together we ran through the rough list I came up with that night. Most of the questions were simply more specific than the ones we'd discussed previously. Of course, some were unnecessary. Others were fun. Others made us get very quiet and serious.

    I want to be cremated and Jon doesn't want to talk about death.

    Jon refers to the nearest child as "it", and I, though far from maternal, do feel a little warmth in my heart when I see cute baby hats in boutiques in downtown Pleasanton.

    Anyway, my brother, Ted, has announced to my family that he is engaged! Exciting? Yeah! Scary? In so many ways... He doesn't read my blog, so this isn't necessarily for his benefit. But today I came across this list, done almost exactly 2 years ago as I prepared to say "yes" to an eternity with one good man.

    1. Define love.
    2. Do you love me?
    3. How many children do we plan on having?
    4. How far apart should they be in age?
    5. What will we do if one of our children is born with a physical/mental disability?
    6. Which is more important: having expensive cars or investing money for our future?
    7. Are we doing the right thing?
    8. Is there anything about yourself that you hope I never find out?
    9. If one of us meets an unexpected failure in education or work, how will that affect our relationship?
    10. Will you share my crazed enthusiasms just because they are mine?
    11. Will you require me to share your enthusiasms?
    12. What does my family do that annoys you?
    13. If we have two cars, who gets to drive the new one?
    14. If there's an issue in our relationship that could cause a divorce, what is it?
    15. If we were to eliminate our physical attraction to each other, what would we have left?
    16. What is our most important joint goal?
    17. Do we have a plan in the event that one of us gets too angry?
    18. How would you describe yourself?
    19. How do you think I see you?
    20. Are you a saver or a spender?
    21. Do you consider going to the movies together/going on vacation every year a necessity or a luxury?
    22. What are our financial goals?
    23. How will we make decisions together?
    24. Are we both willing to face difficult areas, or do we try to avoid conflict?
    25. How important is it to maintain intimacy in a relationship?
    26. Are you comfortable expressing your sexual likes and dislikes?
    27. What kind of birth control do you want to use?
    28. Do you believe there are different levels of forgiveness?
    29.If we fail at having children, how long do you want to wait before we consider other options?
    30. Would you consider adoption? Invetro?
    31. What is your parenting philosophy?
    32. What is your definition of commitment?
    33. If you are in an accident which results in you being in a coma, do you want me to keep you on life support?
    34. If an accident happens in which I end up in a coma, will you have a problem taking me off of life support?
    35. Do you plan to continue to romance me after we're married?
    36. How important is that to you?
    37. Is there anything in our relationship you would like to change before we're married?
    38. What do you expect of me as your wife?
    39. How do you define the role of the husband?
    40. On a scale of one to ten, how patient would you say I am?
    41. How patient are you?

    They're all good questions, ones that I now think people should ask of their significant others long before marriage even enters the equation. But my list is incomplete! Why did I spend so much time wondering about the "kid thing"? What's with the death questions? I mean, there is so much more important stuff that comes up just in the first 18 months under the same roof.

    42. Who gets to choose if your boxers have waaaaaay outlived their prime, thus rendering them to the fate of the garbage can?

    43. How many times will you clean up the disgusting things that make me feel sick to my stomach before you go on strike and I am forced to grow up and put dishes in the dishwasher before the mold sets in?

    44. Do you have a problem with sleeping facing me?

    45. Who is in charge of making sure that we don't sleep ALL day?

    46. If I hypothetically forget to put gas in the car, how upset will you actually be?

    47. On a desert island you can bring me and a board game. Which board game do you choose? (No, Halo does not count as a board game. No, you can't bring two board games and not me.)

    48. Whose parents' do we spend the different holidays with?

    49. When we enter a room and I flip on the light, will you always turn it off when you come in directly behind me? Leaving me then to wander aimlessly in the pitch blackness with my hands out, praying that I don't trip and break my neck...

    50. Is it that you're incapable of putting the new roll of toilet paper on the roll when the last one is exhausted?

    51. Will the eventual sharing of previously and amazingly hidden natural bodily functions turn me into more of a "roommate" than a "girlfriend"?

    52. Define date.

    53. Do you consider me high maintainence? Low maintainence? High maintainence, but I think I'm low maintainence?

    54. Why do you consider Simpsons/Family Guy/Other Crap good TV?

    55. If I promise not to leave my trimmed toenails on the coffee table, will you please, please, please promise not to bring your stinky climbing shoes into the house?

    56. Are you prepared to bear my wrath if/when you beat me at Scrabble? (For the record, he trounced me in the game we played as I wrote this.)

    bride_n_groom.jpgOkay, so none of these things are really THAT important. But they are worth considering. Even asking aloud. If you haven't... have fun with it. We did.

    As a final note, marriage is about answers, too. Who will be beside me every morning? Jon. Who will massage his back after a long day's work? Me. How many times will I forget to put the grape juice back in the refrigerator? A thousand. Will Jon be able to deal with that every single time? Absolutely. Who gives us the stamina and wisdom to make it through the rough times and the simple times? God. Family. Friends.

    I love when the BIG questions get answered.

    |

    nancy_and_frank_dark.jpg "How would you like to go to a party, Frank?"

    Frank Hardy glanced up at his attractive, eighteen-year-old girlfriend and smiled. "Nancy, you know I never stay home from a party."

    With a toss of her red hair, Nancy pulled the invitation from her pocket and said, "I'm glad to hear that, Frank, because I've got a mystery for us to solve!"

    The idea of a new puzzle made Frank's pulse quicken. He stood quickly. "What kind of mystery, Nance?"

    "Just take a look at this!"

    The two huddled around the ornate invitation. Nancy slid her finger around the edge, tracing the twisted gilded gold frame. Her eyes lit up.

    "What do you see, Nancy?" Frank furrowed his brow and waited for her answer.

    "Well," Nancy began, moving her face closer to his so as to direct him appropriately to her discovery. "Look at the rose in this corner. Do you see anything strange about that?"

    Frank gasped. He grabbed Nancy's hand and picked up his trusty flashlight. "Come on, Nance. We've got work to do."

    nancy_and_frank_lights.jpgOkay, so the original idea for our Halloween costumes didn't quite turn out the way we'd planned (the Kandy Korn costume was too much for me...). Instead we opted for an original idea that also gave me an excuse to buy cute shoes. I was America's favorite red-haired sleuth, Nancy Drew. And Jon was my buddy Frank Hardy, of the Hardy Boys, of course.

    Our day didn't start with the idea of a mystery. Rather, we had a plan. And it worked! Breakfast, grocery shopping, bread baking, watching Ghost Breakers, costume prepping and partying. The pumpkins look great! Let's hope they stay fresh at least until tomorrow night. I can't wait to give out candy. That's another cool thing about being all grown up and in our own house... we get to answer the door for the trick-or-treat crowd. Someday we may not see that as a privilege. For now, though, I jump up when I hear the doorbell ring!

    There was no mystery about the night, naturally. We went to the annual Halloween party at the Youd's house (or Mr. and Mrs. Dracula's castle), and had a really good time! There were some really original costumes, too:

    1. Ultimate Dodgeball Team Members
    2. A chick magnet (Pete in a black shirt peppered with peeps.)
    3. The Geek who missed BlizCon
    4. A Pirate and his booty... er... Treasure
    5. The Bride and Pai Mei (of Kill Bill Vol. 2... Steve did carry around an eyeball all night for authenticity's sake)
    6. Post-Baby Britney Spears
    7. A Cat Burglar (who did not once let her cat out of the bag!)
    8. (Center Director) Bob the Builder (it was a guy named Bob, which made the costume funnier)

    baking_pumpkinbread.jpgMy contribution, beyond my cute costume, was my famous pumpkin bread. Now that we've come around to the three months in the year that pumpkin bread is appropriate... I plan to churn it out for any and every occasion. If you don't want pumpkin bread, don't ask me to bake.

    After some good rounds of Apples to Apples, which really is one of my favorite games, and some classic (seemingly endless) games of Beirut we called it a night. I'd blog more about the party, but today is a very sleepy day.

    The pictures are up in our gallery (user name/password: friends/friends). Hope your Halloweens are happy!

    P.S. I am a red head now. It's exciting. And thankfully the reviews have all been positive. It wasn't just as a tribute to Nancy Drew, either. I actually dyed my hair before the idea to change costumes came to me. But it turned out great! And Jon likes it, too. Hehe!

    |

    pumpkinday_03.jpgOctober Sundays are so beautiful. My favorites, in fact. Jon and I have been planning for today for a long time. It's a tradition of ours to drive out to Half Moon Bay to pick out our pumpkins. There's a pumpkin patch on the way into town, a darling little one called Pastorino's Pumpkin Farm. We go there every year and find the perfect pumpkins, eat candy corn, pet the fuzzy farm animals... get ready for the big day! Halloween!

    I'm sure I'll write more about October and Halloween this month. For now I'm just going to talk about today. Today was Pumpkin Day 2005.

    pumpkinday_05.jpgWe got a late start this morning, leaving the house around noon. Lunch was at Red Robin (again, yummy fries!). Traffic was horrible! Apparently everyone was out to get their pumpkins... their October fun. So we detoured.

    It was a beautiful day at the beach. We kicked off our shoes and jogged in the sand, played in the ocean, took lots and lots of pictures. The warm October sunshine washed over us, we blinked into the glint of the sun off the water. After forty-five minutes of winding through the oak-covered hills of the California coast, the splash of icy water on our bare feet was refreshing. I dug my toes into the wet sand, relishing the gritty softness on my skin.

    pumpkinday_06.jpgJon's love of photography is always encouraged by our day trips to lovely, local locations. Today I saw him kneeling in the sand, twisting the lens to get focus and contrast perfect. He snapped shots of seagulls posturing and crying in mid-air, of the cliffs fading into mist at the horizon, of me.

    And then it was time for the pumpkins!

    We braved the traffic a little longer and smiled at one another when the pumpkin farm came into view.

    pumpkinday_02.jpgWhen I was little girl my parents took me there. We have some great pictures of me playing a water-balloon game with my dad, cradling a pumpkin I'd chosen (easily weighing as much as my 3-year-old body) with my mom, and pointing at the "Aunt Audrey's Pie Shoppe" sign hanging above the snack shack near the gift pavillion. That sign is still there, which is part of the reason we go back now. Jon is helping me keep this October tradition alive.

    As Jon played Ansel Adams all around me, I was on the hunt for the perfect pumpkin. Too small, too lumpy, too yellow, too tall, too flat, too icky, too big... OOOOOH! I found it in the middle of the patch, between thousands of other mediocre pumpkins (that's where you should look, because other, lazier, distracted pumpkin-pickers tend to stay on the edges). My selection was a perfectly round, bright orange pumpkin with an adequate stem handle and enough of a face for a terrific jack-o-lantern.

    Jon annexed my pumpkin.

    Or, he attemped a hostile takeover. But no one should ever underestimate the seriousness with which I take the choosing of my pumpkin. Once a year, folks. That's all I get. Jon backed off and found a pumpkin of his own. His was too bulbous for me, onion-shaped. But my Jonathan is creative. His jack-o-lantern will surely be unique (no pressure).

    pumpkinday_01.jpgAfter we'd purchased our lucky pumpkins, we picked up some candy corn for me (Jon hates them... ALL MINE!). Yummy. Inside the store we enjoyed the displays of Halloween figurines, quilts, autumn leaf wreaths and garlands. Everything about this holiday, this season, I love.

    We're home, ending the second gorgeous October Sunday of this year, looking forward to the next one (when I will hopefully be recuperating from Half Dome 3). Now we're two pumpkins richer and only 22 days from Halloween! BOO!

    By the way, all the great pix we took today have already been posted in our Gallery.

    |

    delladuck.jpgWhat you are about to read may easily be mistaken for a discussion between third graders at recess. Do not be fooled. It is actually a discussion, practically verbatim, between my ultra mature husband and the ever-adult me. Again, please don't freak out. As long as we've been together we've played a game in which I throw out hypothetical names for our very hypothetical children (usually a hypothetical daughter because girls are more fun to name anyway... hypothetically), and Jon rejcts each and every prospect for various, silly reasons. Not making any sense? Read on.

    "What about Della?"

    "Smella."


    "Lydia?"

    "Chlamydia."

    "Ewwwwwwww!"

    "I know. Lydia is a disgusting name."


    "Charlotte?"

    "One letter away from 'Harlot'."

    "Actually, it's three letters away from Harlot."

    "What?"

    "Harlot doesn't end with T-T-E."

    "Oh."


    "Cora?"

    "The name of the girl I had a crush on in 2nd grade."

    "Awwwwwwww."

    "That doesn't matter?"

    "No."

    "Oh."

    "She wasn't a tramp in second grade, was she?"

    "No."


    "Okay then. What about Mariska?"

    "What?"

    "Mariska."

    "I don't even understand what you're saying."


    "How about Daniella?"

    "Why does that sound familiar?"

    "I don't know."

    "Oh, it's because I was talking to a woman today named Danielle."

    "I see. So?"

    "So what?"

    "Is that a bad thing?"

    "No."

    "So you like the name?"

    "No."


    "Clara?"

    "Clare-uh?"

    "CLAR-uh."

    "We're already having trouble."


    "No, seriously. What about Della?"

    "Okay."

    "Really?"

    "Only if I get to pick her middle name."

    "Fine. You wouldn't brand our hypothetical daughter with something ridiculous."

    "Right."

    "So what is it?"

    "Della...."

    "Della what?"

    "Isadumbname."

    "Jonathan."

    "Not a good name for a girl."

    "No, I'm talking to you."

    "Oh."

    "You can't simply veto everything I put out there."

    "I can if I think it's dumb."

    "You don't think all of these names are dumb."

    "Yes I do."

    "I like Della."

    "Audrey, think about it. If her name was Della and we were attempting to get her dressed in the morning, there's a chance that you might call out to me, 'Honey, what should Della-wear?..."

    Not that this is a reason I married him, this complete compartmentalization of all things random. Who breaks words down into their elements and considers them syllabically? No one. No one except my sweet husband. Who also, I might add, mentioned Della-cate and Della-gate as reasons to reject my favorite name. Oh, and Della-catessan.

    Anyway, we laughed a lot over this episode of the Name Game. And it was even funnier when we heard that Nicholas Cage named his brand new son Kalel (Superman's name on the planet Krypton... Jeremy, aren't you proud?). Apparently I'm not the worst at this sport.

    |

    merge.jpg"Come here!" Exclaims Chandler as he grabs Monica's hand and pulls her to the entrance of their bedroom. "I have another great idea!"

    In this episode (a classic) the two best friends have fallen in love and have decided to move in together (setting aside my personal aversion to the idea of "shacking up"... ). And here they have reached a pivotal moment in the new phase of their relationship: combining themselves. In fact, just moments before, Chandler has triumphantly been a witness to Monica's compromise to allow his favorite, beat up lounge chair into her OCD-level perfect living room.

    Successful relationships are all about compromise. I, a proud member of what I consider to be a very successful, blossoming relationship, have learned a lot about the concept of giving and receiving to achieve balance. That's no secret really. Anyone enters our house and can see the fruits of our labors of love, catering to each other, bargaining for the sake of peace. Examples?

    On our bookshelves one can find the essence of each of us mixed together. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson leans leftward onto Hacking Windows 2000; Nabakov's Lolita props up The Eloquent Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with the help of Yosemite Valley Free Climbs; The Far Side Anniversary Collection is at the bottom of a stack that includes Fredrick Douglass' Slave Narrative and Stranger In a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Our library has boomed and become more ecclectic simply by marriage.

    It's the same with our art. Jon's fractals flank the walls behind our bed. Those face a wall graced by a sweet Norman Rockwell print of an engaged couple filling out their marriage license, circa 1950. Our giant Disney attraction posters brighten the loft, and downstairs a lovely portrait done of us on our wedding day by Jon's mom is displayed above our fireplace. Vintage Coca-Cola signs adorn the kitchen, but Escher's startling, confusing works in black and white are scattered throughout the house.

    And speaking of black and white, the decor of our home in general is a perfect example of our fusion. Jon, when I met him, was all but anti-color. Not that you'd have known it as he pulled up in his bright red Jetta. That was a phase apparently. It's like pulling teeth to get the boy to wear clothes that aren't a shade of gray, black or blue. I, on the other end of the spectrum, love vibrant color! Red is my favorite, obviously. So when we set about decorating our home, compromise set it big time! I gave in on the "blue towels" in our bathroom as long as our kitchen could be a cheery, cherry red. He bargained for his black couches by offering me the guest room to decorate as brightly as I wanted to (here I will admit that between the periwinkle and the teddy bears, color and I ran amuck).

    We meet in the middle. The movies we watch are almost all my choices. Jon is very tolerant of my love of the classics. Tonight we watched "Dear Ruth", a darling romantic comedy about two people who allegedly met through the mail during the war... too much can be given away even in a brief synopsis. Not that anyone is planning to hunt this treasure of a movie down... but it IS worth it. Anyway, he bears and often ends up enjoying my movies. But I truly can't stand his choice of TV. The Simpsons? Really? Occasionally I'd cave and sit for forty minutes of an interesting History Channel production on the building of the Alaska Highway or the inner workings of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, though. That counts.

    One of the most amazing ways we've learned to compromise, though, can be found in our travels. Disneyland is the perfect place for both of us, meeting all the needs of our curiosity, inner-children and romantic dreams. But not all our destinations are like that. We both love to camp, though Jon prefers being as far from the next living soul as possible and I prefer the security of an organize camp ground (electricity, plumbing, drinking water, fire pits and neighbors). We both love seeing nature's beauty. I, however, would rather walk 20 flat miles in a secluded valley, while Jon's primary urge to conquer the highest mountains and navigate the steepest trails.

    The treasure at the end of the rainbow is the same: a gorgeous lake or untouched miracle of a meadow. We sigh as one. So, when it comes time for a Yosemite trip, we give one day to Jon (let the trekking begin) and one day to me (reading under trees, exploring neat lodges, actually visiting the Visitor Centers). Our system has worked well so far.

    Tonight I folded the laundry, something I do because I hate to clean the kitchen (and Jon cleans the kitchen because he hates to fold laundry). Every day we do a zillion different things, large and small, conscious and subconscious, important and trivial. In everything we do, though, we can find some fragment of compromise. It's the essential ingredient, holding a batter that would be too liquid otherwise together (not because I'm the one cooking, but because a relationship without mutual sacrifice and giving is an absolute mess).

    Still holding Monica by the hand, Chandler spouts out his "great idea". "You know those big traffic signs that say things like 'Left Land Ends, Please Merge'?" His loving girlfriend gives a tentative nod. Where is he going with this? "Well, we could get one of those signs and put it up over our bed... because that's you and me!" She's confused; he's elated. Joyfully he cries out, "MERGE!"

    Although Monica hits the punchline dead on with an equally enthusiastic and animated, "NO!", I think her reply is unrealistic, shortsighted. If Jon wanted to put a giant, ugly, yellow road sign above our bed, I'd probably agree to it. Of course he'd have to let me put that yellow and white flowered quilt and matching decorative pillows on our bed...

    |

    go_jon.jpgA long, long time ago Jon took me to a warehouse in sunnyvale, an unassuming spot. We parked in an all-but-abandoned parking lot and made our way to the front of the building. I can always tell when Jon is about to surprise me (his eyes sparkle and his dimples show when he fights back the urge to smile). That day, the reason for our stopping, was a surprise. But, as we'd only been dating for a month at the time, I was tentative as we approached.

    Inside was a giant, dusty space crowded with mazes of boxes and shelves that stretched to the 20-foot ceiling. The man who greeted us was also giant and dusty, but he smiled when we entered and stretched out his hand. I don't remember his name or his face, but I do remember what he gave to us that day. Our Go board.

    It was one of Jon's Valentine's Day presents to me. As the man pulled it from the tissue-lined box and unfolded it for our inspection, I smiled. The top was a warm, natural glossy brown; the black 19 x 19 grid was perfect and even. I ran my hand across the top and imagined how many games of Go we would play together.

    You see, even after a mere month I knew that Jon was in for the long haul. The fact that we'd both picked up Go (an ancient Japanese board game boasting the simplest rules and the most impossible strategy) in the weeks before we met had been an unbelievable coincidence. Playing together made the addiction to the game complete.

    So that day we invested in a gorgeous board, glass stones and a set of polished wood bowls... all that we needed. Jon wrote the man a check, shook his hand, and we hurried out to the car.

    The rest of the day is gone from my memory specifically, but I know we played. And over the course of that year we played at my parents' house in front of the fireplace, at a friend's house as he coached our strategies, in parks, at coffee shops... but the best place to play, the most peaceful and lovely, was the beach. Valentine's Day you can find us at Stinson Beach north of Sausalito. We find a spot overlooking the ocean and we play. For three years now that tradition has ended with a victory for Jon.

    After that first V-day loss for me, one who has never fancied losing at anything, I pouted. But it turned out to be a marvelous day anyway. As I stood looking out at the ocean, letting the whispering tide push the soreness of defeat from my mind, Jon, my boyfriend of six weeks, came up and wrapped his arms around me.

    I love you.

    It was the first time he said it to me, and I was overjoyed. No, I didn't say it back right then. But that's another story, one with much less of a point, because if I'd actually followed my heart and told Jon I loved him when I first felt that way... our first date would have been even more dramatic.

    The following year, after we'd been engaged for a few months, after we'd begun planning for the wedding, after we'd moved ahead at a full-out sprint, we went back to Stinson for a rematch. In between we'd played some, but not nearly enough. Between school, work and wedding plans, taking up rock climbing and figuring out where to live and what to drive after we were married, Go had all but stopped. We decided to use Valentine's Day as the perfect excuse to jump start the competition.

    Jon won again. What's a girl to do?

    go_me.jpgThis summer we've played a lot of Go. Mostly because our friend Amy got a job as barrista at a local coffee shop (not Starbucks) and it gave us a terrific atmosphere in which to match wits. The stakes were raised after each game. Handicaps were raised and lowered accordingly. I won about as much as Jon did, by about as many stones, too.

    But losing never gets any easier for either of us. At any point during the game, the person who is smiling believes they are winning. Of course, because we love each other, the winning player often attempt to cheer up his/her opponent. "I love you!" But to no avail. The loser is always a slightly sore loser, denying any and all positive comments from across the table. Sometimes the tables turn dramatically, massive amount of territory change hands, assumptions crumble and goals are dashed. More than once I have been the Phoenix, rising from what had seconds before appeared to be a series of terrible plays and ascending to victory. Just as fast, the roles of cheerleader and grumpy-face switch. It's amusing to watch from the outside.

    I cannot begin to explain this game to anyone who has not seen it, heard of it, watched it for more than sixty seconds. This isn't about the tedious strategy, jargon, or history. What it all boils down to is that we learned this game together as we learned the game of life together. Thankfully we're better at balancing jobs and juggling use of the car and planning for our future than we are at the placing of black and white stones on a plain, grid-covered board. But at both we get better each time we takes a stab at playing.

    After that first game, after Jon told me he loved me for the first time, I sat down and, as all poets do, allowed that love to inspire me. Ever since it has been in a frame on Jon's desk, reminding him that I admire his talent, and that I will always be there to keep him on his toes.

    GO

    on a blanket in the sand we match wits
    my love and i
    smiling strategy & playful plotting
    i rush my plays ruthlessly
    claiming territory quickly

    he eases into battle
    setting up tricks and traps for me

    I
    capture his
    pieces

    there is a rush of white on our board
    the beginning is my hour of gold
    i wink at him
    so confident

    and i place another piece

    slowly I unravel
    his traps are evident then

    too late for me to set traps on my own
    i defend

    dark shadows stretch over the board
    as the sun sinks in the west
    snatching my victory
    away

    he
    captures my
    pieces

    so I lose the game, gaze off towards the horizon
    my competitive spirit
    subdued

    for the moment

    he touches my hand
    the afternoon is sweet
    i live to win another day

    -2003

    |

    streetlamp.jpgWe're walking, arm in arm, down a street we're proud to call our own. I'm smiling because our individual strides become like one so easily. Off to our left our gray shadows lope along with us, grazing the bushes and fences on our street. The sun is just low enough to hide behind the houses on our right, and he plays peek-a-boo with us between the roofs and chimneys, blinking brightly every few steps. We're thankful for the breeze that plays with my hair.

    Jon smiles at me. He's thinking about how nice it is to have a friend, a love, a gal like me. And my thoughts echo his. Autumn is coming, gently pushing at Summer, easing in around evening time to practice being cool, comforting and lovely.

    Jon has his new camera in hand, my anniversary present to him. He's snapping pictures of the flowers, the street lights, the neighbors' cats... and me. I smile. He runs around me in a circle, zooming and clicking, playing with the settings on his new toy.

    swinging.jpgWe're coming up to a park where children are playing. Their laughter reminds me of my own childhood, and I look for the swings. No one has claimed them, amazingly. I simply can't control myself, and I skip across the playground to the swingset. Swinging is glorious. Taking my feet up off the ground I feel a thrill. Freedom. I close my eyes and swoop up in a smooth arc into the air, then comes the free, sloping fall. Jon kneels somewhere out in front of me and snaps a few more pictures. Obligingly give him my biggest smile, tossing my hair back and gazing flirtaciously into the lens. My photographer is enjoying his newfound hobby.

    Soon we're walking again, turning left and wandering down the warm, bright streets of our neighborhood. A dog waddles up, a malamute mix with alarming white-blue eyes, but his wagging tail puts me at ease. He whines slightly and licks my hand. I miss my own dog so much sometimes. Jon knows, and he takes a firm, sympathetic hold on my arm and navigates me away from the reminder of my Scout.

    me_at_night.jpgSomewhere tucked within the friendly neighborhood is a charming square of grass, large enough for children to play tag or to entertain a party, complete with a gazebo graced with lilacs, gracefully curved park benches, pretty street lamps that flicker on as we pass through. We pause to sit, and our seamless conversation about paintings and friends and history stops all of a sudden. The crickets have begun to sing, to each other or to us, we don't know. But their crisp voices herald the night. We enjoy their song together on the park bench.

    I take a few pictures of Jon, who objects, saying I am too pretty to be taking the pictures. We laugh, and I hand the camera over again.

    jon_at_night.jpgAfter a while we stand and move on, down the street and back towards home. Jon keeps tossing glances over his shoulder, searching for the moon. It makes me think of Jimmy Stewart.

    "What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull her down."

    That's love, and it's a wonderful love. But so is mine. He tells me that we're lucky. Why, I ask, though I agree heartily and have a long list of reasons on my own. Just look, he replies, at what we are able to do. He means that we can freely stroll down a street at nightfall, squandering our freetime and never doubting our motives for a second. Youth, love, intellect, ambition, faith... all ours to do with as we please. And he means that we can talk about everything to one another, best friends.

    Our fingers lock together, and we're silent. Just the padding of our feet, mine bare, on the warm sidewalk. It occurs to me that this walk isn't about exercise, or meditation, or any particular destination. This is about nothing but togetherness. In the process of simply being together, of course, our blood pressure drops, our breathing is deep and soft, purposely filling our lungs with cool, sweet air. Everything is better, even the things that seemed perfect before our walk began.

    |

    disney_love.jpgWe did it! The first year was a huge success, we celebrated our luck and talent, toasted the upcoming 365 days, spent four romantic days in the happiest place on earth... we had our second honeymoon. It was perfect.

    On Saturday Jon's dad picked us up at the crack of dawn and drove us to Oakland. The flight was on time. We shared a poppyseed muffin. Heaven should be so great. Jon rented us a convertible... wheeeeeee! And there, at the end of the street, rising from the overcrowded Southern California horizon, was our place.

    Magic. Some do not share our enthusiasm for what they term to be a "theme park" or a "kids' place". Let me just say that nothing in this world is more romantic than a summer night stroll down Main Street with fireworks exploding brilliantly over the castle... with the one you love.

    Jon and I took a tour on Monday afternoon, "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps". Learning about a man who had big dreams when the world had forgotten how to dream at all, about his wife who stood by his side long before there was any hint of success, we had a glimpse into the inspiration behind our favorite place in the world. Disneyland was built because of, by and for love.

    Our anniversary dinner was at the Blue Bayou, we got all dressed up. And over the entree we remembered our wedding day. But then we remembered our first year together. That was the important part. Marriage, year one, amateurs take the cake!

    Every day we did something new, riding the omnibus down Main Street, riding the carosel. Year two began on a high note... the note that begins "When You Wish Upon a Star".

    The four day vacation was just what we needed. This summer has rushed by us in a flurry of boiling hot days, friends stopping by and staying for a while, work, play, games of Go at the coffee shop, movies, shopping trips, early wake-up calls, rock climbing, bills, trips to the grocery store, dinners with the folks, no cable, travel, reading in the evenings, being very happily married. Taking a break to breathe in the churro-scented air of Disneyland... that's what we got.

    So we're back, up at 6:30 in the morning to get to work by 8:00, to work until 5:00, to have fun until 10:00, to sleep until 6:30. The grind. But there's something about the kiss on the nose that wakes me in the morning, or the darling emails we exchange while at work, or the long talks we have about our hours away from each other, that make the grind totally and completely worth it.

    At home we learned that the first anniversary is the "Paper Anniversary". How do we know? Well, the Ya-Yas each sent a sweet card (Cindy's was pretty; Amy's was adorned with monkeys.), and enclosed in each was a piece of paper. Binder paper, one-ply toilet paper... both useful gifts. Thankfully my mom let the joke opportunities go by and, instead, gave us a beautiful set of stationary. So thank you to all for the gifts and the kind thoughts, the cards and the encouragement. We're better off because of you guys.

    Next year it's cotton! Bring the Q-tips on.

    |

    anne_gilbert.jpgAs a little girl, I fell desperately in love with Gilbert Blythe. If any of you is asking who Gilbert Blythe is, stop reading. You make me sad.

    I, after all, was so like Anne. We were indeed kindred spirits. Secretly I wondered if I should have been born with red hair. Many was the time I wished for a slate to crack over a boy's head (and many was the boy who needed a slate-cracking badly!).

    Reading was the perfect pasttime; I'd lose myself in the worlds crafted by talented writers. If only someone I knew had been the owner of a row boat... I undoubtedly would have transformed myself into the Lady of Shalot (today Tennyson remains to be one of my favorites). Anne inspired me to teach English (I'd tame those Pringle girls, sure enough), to write (if only my bosom friend would steal one of my pieces and send it to be published behind my back!), to set my standards high.

    And Anne had her Gilbert. He was, naturally, handsome, but also smart (as smart as Anne... wonderful competition) and funny. Watching Gilbert grow, in the books and in the movies, how could any girl in her right mind not fall head over heels in love? I was no exception. When it came time to consider the boys around me, Gilbert was my standard. Prince Charming had his strong points, but such perfection was boring to me. Besides, I was no damsel in distress. I was a strong, competent young woman with a destiny of her own. What I wanted was a man who would keep me on my toes, self-assured and intriguing, strong... yes, I was looking for my Gil.

    I found him.

    One day, in church, my Gilbert strolled in. I remember him because he argued with me, a stranger, about God and faith. He wasn't afraid of me, he was attracted to my outgoing personality. He wanted me to question assumptions. I thought he was so handsome, wearing his red Stanford sweatshirt and blue jeans, his dark blond hair curling around his temples. And those big blue eyes!

    Yes, that was the day I met Jonathan. Maybe it fate, maybe a coincidence, maybe an accident. But any way you slice it, the moment was perfect. Jon says he fell in love with me then, long before we even began to get to know one another. *sigh*

    We've been married a year. Our vows are still fresh, and we plan to keep them that way, recalling our emotions and our commitment. Occasionally the slate idea still pops into my head. But Jonathan is the man I'd cross a war-torn country for; he's the one I'd write about; he's the one I'll stand beside for the rest of our lives.

    He'll always be my Gil.

    |

    cute_bunny.jpgIn less than a week Jon and I will have been married for one year. That's not very long. And it flew by! But we've amassed more information, more insight, more experience in that short time than in any and all times before. I've been a wife for twelve months. While few may be willing to bow to my authority as an all-wise wife, I'd much rather take this opportunity to share my experience rather than my intellect anyway. I, too, have much to learn, grasshopper. So what makes up the first year of our marriage?

    In my head I can boil that down into:

    -the number of dinners we've eaten together
    -the number of breakfasts we've had in bed
    -the countless tons of laundry
    -the To Do lists we wrote but never quite finished
    -the holidays we divided between in-laws
    -the gifts we had to sneak and save to purchase as surprises
    -the handful of big fights
    -the gazillions of happy make-ups
    -the number of movies we had to compromise on before we'd see them
    -the hours spent on the phone with one another when we were separated by work or school
    -the thousands of words I put down in essays and made Jon read before I turned them in
    -the number of nightmares I awoke from and was comforted by Jon's presence beside me
    -the teensy considerate things I'd think of to do for him
    -the many flowers he brought me just because I was so pretty or sweet
    -the number of misgivings
    -the number of forgivings
    -the inumerable jokes we've told
    -the number of hours we've spent laughing together over those jokes or at nothing in particular
    -the times I've been sick and he's cared for me
    -the very few times he's been sick and I've been a good nurse
    -the number of pizzas we've ordered because I can't cook
    -the number of pizzas we haven't ordered because Jon wants me to eat healthier
    -the patience and respect we've learned simply by sharing the space in our home
    -the presence of mind I've learned from him
    -the breadth of our smiles when we're together
    -the amount of encouragement we've extended to each other
    -the low blows we've dealt and the buttons we've learned just how to push
    -the number of realities we've been hit with
    -the different ways we learned from mistakes and leaned on each other to stand up and live again
    -the joys we shared at all hours of the day or night
    -the secrets we have only with one another
    -the dreams we've built and will build and are building
    -the way we've maintained an outright belief in adventure and ultimately happy endings

    In my short lifetime I've seen good men stumble and hurt the people around them. I've seen good women turn bitter and drive those good men away. I've seen marriages tumble and break on the concrete of our modern society. But I don't believe for one second that failure awaits my Jonathan and me. Certainly there's a chance for failure, but the adventure of life would be much less fun if there was no risk at all. I want our success to be a product of our hard work, our prayers, our guts and blood and sweat. There is no shame in making an effort.

    For a book club at church I've been reading a work by a woman with whom I've failed to feel much of a connection. At every turn I've questioned her bias, her authority. Then today, during the exact chapter with which I was prepared to take the most issue, she spoke to me. Whether you believe in God or not (and I definitely do), marriages rise or fall because of the actions of the people who make them up. My job as a wife, as outlined in the bible, is a submissive one. My job as a woman, as outlined by the world, is an independent one. Which do I choose? Do I have to choose?

    I believe I am here to help my husband. I can do that by honoring his decisions, making his life easier, catering to his needs. And I'm fortunate in that God blessed me with a man who understands that true love is all about service. Still, our relationship isn't perfectly harmonious. It may never be. But we're off on the right foot. What's more, I read something today in my book that made so much sense I'm ready to memorize it in order to put it into action in my own life:

    God said that man needs a helper. The true woman celebrates this calling and becomes affirming rather than adversarial, compassionate rather than controlling, a partner rather than a protagonist. She becomes substantively rather than superficially submissive.

    I have always believed I was the protagonist of my own story, the heroine, the leading lady. That's me. But now I'm "us". And the most amazing thing is that I'm more than okay with that. Jon is a wonderful man. He deserves my attention, my respect, a full 50% of my story. By relinquishing that control, affirming Jon's duty as a loving, leading husband, I may be able to conquer the role of wife.

    Finally, I've realized that submission must be conquered. Especially today, submission is one of the hardest jobs to do for women. I believe it might well be more difficult than ascending to the top of a high-paid power career field, or juggling several jobs while attempting to raise children. Jon wants me to succeed as me alone, but he loves that I won't even think about establishing myself without him. It's entirely okay to revolve life around my husband. He, after all, wants to do the same for me.

    |

    baby_ cartoon.jpgBaby. It was my first word, back when I was a baby myself. But the mere idea of eventually having one of my own (and there will only be one) scares me to distraction. Jon, too. Last week when I was sick and word got out, four different people made the smug, teasing inquiry:

    "Morning sickness?" No.

    No no. Just plain, old, ordinary, non-pregnant, decades-from-babies sickness. Jon and I were warned as we neared our wedding that, while being thankful that the incessant "So, when are you two gettin' married"s had stopped with the advent of our engagement, our joy would be short lived.

    "So, when are you two gonna have a baby?"

    Delightful. It hasn't been too bad yet. I am exaggerating. My closest friends do it simply to antagonize me. Jon's closest friends do it... also simply to antagonize me. Jon's folks have left the entire subject alone. My parents promised not to put that pressure on us, but the surface of the subject has definitely been scratched once or twice. The rest of the world population is slowly getting around to posing the question.

    After all, it's the logical next step, right? God made man. God made woman. And then He got tired and asked, "So, when are you two gonna have a baby?" God started it; I blame Him.

    And it doesn't help that so many people around me have begun procreating like rabbits. My friend Jen Fraser and her husband, Geoff, were the first in my circle. She got married a few months before we did, and in just a couple more she'll have her own little family. A baby boy. It scares me because of how close it hits to home. I don't deny that I'd like to help with her baby shower. Like any other normal young woman I get a soft fuzzy feeling from baby blankets and tiny baby shoes. Making the every day stuff small and pastel evokes the maternal instinct in us all. We have no control.

    Jon's cousin Marci had little Mackenzie Joy just before Christmas. We watched Marci's husband, Jake, who'd seemed ripe from boyhood when we'd met him at their wedding the year before, transform into a man, a loving father, seemingly overnight. Amazing and inspiring. But scary, too, because I'm not at all sure I'm ready for Jon to leave the last remnants of boyishness behind in order to become the rock and hero for our future child.

    Another of Jon's cousins, David, married his wife Adis last year, too. And last week she had Isabella. Seeing David and Adis at her baby shower a couple months ago was fun because David glowed with love and pride as he gazed at his pregnant wife. I've long heard about the stereotypical aspects of pregnancy (i.e. "the glow"). Adis proved them true. Still, I like fitting into my jeans. I like not having stretchmarks around my middle. Call me shallow, but I'd like to keep myself this size as long as possible. For now at least losing my "cute figure" is too much of an expense to consider.

    Okay, that sounded even more shallow than I had originally intended. But I truly believe that there won't be a time that I actually want to gain the weight and blow certain features completely out of proportion. However, that isn't to say that I won't deem such events absolutely necessary and totally worth it when I am mature enough to have kids.

    Besides all of these things, I'm not one of those people who can't see beyond nine months or a year when it comes to having children. It isn't about prenancy, really. Motherhood. A role I'm not prepared to take on and conquer. The kid will be around for twenty years at least! Maybe more! Not everyone is blessed with happy, healthy children who skip easily and manageably through life in a predictable and optimal pattern.

    After working two summers with children with autism I began to worry that God might be preparing me for the future. I loved the little boys I worked with, but watching what their mothers had to deal with every single day (I got to go home after four hours... and I was fatigued at the end of it!), and watching how they dealt with it hurt my heart. Incredible, devoted women, both of them.

    I'm not strong enough. My character is not iron. I couldn't stand watching the little person I loved more than anything in the world, the one I'd helped to create by God's grace, suffer through it each day. Even less imagineable, of course, is the chance of physical defect. When faced with great opposition some people rise to the challenge and become wise and strong, surpassing everyone's expectations. While I like me a lot, I doubt I'd be able to handle that kind of turmoil.

    Every day I come into contact with children and their parents. Some are giggling pink babies who coo and smile at strangers, sleep in every kind of surrounding and smell like roses. Some are darling blond toddlers in overalls who want to help and play, are patient and obediant. The rest... minions. All of them. Screaming and ripping, running in frantic circles. Demons of destruction, they never heed their parents, which renders all other authority helpless. I can't stand to watch children like this. What will they become? I shudder to think.

    And when they get there, to the dreaded pre-teen years, what do parents do? Once children figure out how to lie and cheat, fork the truth, forge parental signatures, cut class, do drugs, shoplift, commit armed robbery... my poor future-mama mind just spun completely out of control. Pessimism plus the years of knowing kids exactly like that created a tornado in my head. I'm never having kids.

    How does anyone make the decision to place their own spawn on this earth? Is it really just pure ego? Push the family name into the future... Raise a productive member of society... Make someone just like me... Oh, God, let it not be so! Even people who are trying to have kids have only really decided they're "ready" to take that step. They want a baby to play with and to bounce on their knee. They DON'T want the disciplinary problems and the expense of preschool, day care, babysitters, extra-curricular activities, injuries, education and the staggering amount of miscellaneous junk that every human being comes to do/want/need/produce.

    For some the decision is the easy part. My mom knows so many people who couldn't have children of their own without outside help. It's a terrible thing to watch someone go through. They've done the seesaw process like this, come to the conclusion... but they've happened upon a road block. Some adopt. Some artificially inseminate. Both are extremely expensive options; neither are 100% guaranteed successful.

    That also scares me. What if, right now, while we are our most verile and fertile selves, our most energetic, what if we dilly dally and make the mistake of passing the window right by? What if we get to the end of this zigzagging tunnel of logic and counter logic only to find my environment inhospitable? When I end up wanting a child, I'll want him/her right then. No delay (okay, nine months). Occasionally, though, that just isn't in the cards. Punishment? Bad luck? Who can tell?

    babyblues.gifNo, I'm not taking this time to debate having a child now. I'm not through with school, something that is essential to me. I want a career first, something I can call my own and experience in order to have memories and knowledge to carry me through the jobless, raising kids years. And, in certain ways, I'm still a kid myself. I build forts and laugh at knock knock jokes. Jon, too, still likes the occasional cartoon. We have no business trying to raise a person ourselves. Does anyone?

    Or is that right ordained by God and given to every man or woman who, wittingly or not, comes to have children? Maybe we really don't have the right until the baby is placed in our arms for the first time. Then we have no other choice but to craft a character, build a self-esteem, plan a future, support a life, strengthen a mind, care for a body, love a child.

    Sometime in the next decade, after a few goals have been reached and a few realities have been learned, Jon and I will sit down and make that fateful decision. We'll say we're ready. And then, hopefully, before we can come to our senses, I'll be pregnant. No turning back then. Our path will have been chosen, and God will be smiling.

    |

    firstribbon.jpgI officially have the "Best Wife In The World" prize wrapped up and in the bag. Yessiree. You see, on a whim Jon and I decided to cancel our television for the summer... to give us more time for the little things. So, TV is gone. Whatever shall we do?

    "Well, sweetie, let's build a fort!"

    No, I was the one who said that. We'd been remembering how much fun fort building had been when we were little. Not together, of course. But on opposite sides of the bay area we were in our own houses constructing fabulous forts out of blankets and chairs and couch cushions.

    Jon jumped at the chance to recapture a part of his youth and enjoy it with me. First we gathered all our blankets and sheets together, brought chairs upstairs and out from the guest room, office and bedroom. Then... I got a glimpse into my engineer-husband's psyche. Apparently there are certain unalterable criteria when it comes to what makes a "good fort".

    1. No part of the fort may include features of the actual room it's in. (That includes walls.)

    2. If furniture from the actual room is utilized in construction process, the couch or chair must be completely covered with sheets, etc.

    3. This includes the floor. A sheet must be put down to cover the floor entirely. (Don't even attempt to mess with this one!)

    4. One staple in the fort-building world is couch cushions... (We don't have couch cushions. This is a problem.)

    5. The resulting fort must be structurally sound. A ceiling that collapses under the weight of a bounding kitten is not acceptable.

    6. No natural light is allowed in the fort. Instead we must craft some alternative light source involving a lightbulb/lamp surrounded by white sheets.

    7. Did I mention that any "real" fort must include couch cushions?

    8. There must be an actual entrance included in the building. (This means no removing of parts in order to step inside...)

    There are probably more, but I think I blotted them out. He took forever figuring out his different steps and priorities! Finally I took matters into my own hands. While Jon took a little break, I stepped in and threw the rest of the fort together, ignoring some of the rules, too. Amazingly he was pleased with the results (I had left up the guest room mattress as the main ceiling... vaulted of course).

    It remains to be a great fort! We'll keep it up until other people come over... our childish joy is something others may simply not understand. That, and we don't wanna share!

    Anyway, I've been a little sick recently, so when Jon went climbing I had to stay home. But I thought that everything would be great as I hung out in my cool new fort! And it would have been great... until I thought of The Sixth Sense. I don't think I've ever left anywhere that fast!

    |

    bouldering.jpgWe should do it. Every one of us. No excuses. But I don't like it. Ugh! Yet, on Saturday morning I woke up and went for a jog voluntarily. Scary. Occasionally I will be motivated out of nowhere to care about what I eat or how much I exercise, but most of the time not so much.

    You'd think it would help that I married the king of all things physically active. The man climbs mountains, lifts weights... and even when there isn't another second left in the day he's trying to find a reason to go outside and walk/jog/skip/jump/sommersault. It's endless.

    I think it intimidates me a little. While I find all of his outdoor interests attractive, I know that I'll never be as good at them as he is. Motivation right out the window. I weigh more than him, too. That's a major faux pas for any husband to commit. Yet, it's my fault, not his. And it's always been true. (He's not any more thrilled about the situation than I am, by the way.) He eats like he's got a hollow leg (eh, Cin?), junk food by the ton when he's at work, but never gains an ounce. Then there's me, counting calories or ditching cheese (that lasted all of two days), following the mindless trend of the generally overweight American masses.

    And I'm not even overweight! Why do I obsess about this stuff? When I weigh... er... okay, I'll be honest... 138 on a good day. At 5'7" tall I'm well in the midst of the healthy weight range. I've accepted the fact that I'll never be size zero. I appreciate the amount of muscle I was blessed with, actually. It's the jiggly places on my thighs and backside that I'm not exactly cool with. My insecurities about my "wobbly bits" come screaming to the forefront the second bikini season hits. That's probably true for all women, right? Please tell me I'm right. Our cellulitophobia sets in and sends us grabbing for sarongs and robes to conveniently cover anything that's not tight and toned.

    But who wants to live like that? Summer happens to also include perfect weather for working out. Coincidence? Or did God in His infinite wisdom foresee the feminine fears and allow for some opportunity to better ourselves. Rather than whining, why not lace up the sneakers and take a walk in the sun? Well, because an hilarious rerun of "Mad About You" is on! Duh! I'm ashamed to admit that, even as a proud owner of Tivo, certain shows keep me indoors when I should be huffing and puffing myself around the block.

    exercise.jpgThankfully I have friend suffering by my side. No, I'm not thankful they suffer, it's just that I'd rather not be alone. And I'm supportive of all their efforts to actually utilize the gyms or diets. Today, motivated by an email from my pal Cindy, I knew I needed to exercise. Why not? School is out and I have all the time in the world. Therefore I am proud to report that I accompanied Jon to our gym this evening and spent half and hour climbing and bouldering, and half an hour doing a fairly strenuous regimen on an exercise bike. Calories were blazing right off of me.

    The best part is, of course, that afterwards I felt rejuvenated. All of those people who say that running makes them feel less tired... aren't lying! Yes, my legs felt like putty after my stint on the bike, but I walked out of the gym feeling a major sense of accomplishment. I bested myself. And I climbed well, too.

    So will I continue in this vein? It's obvious that I understand the benefits. I've lived the fit lifestyle before. Unfortunately I have more than one Achilles heel. First I must force myself to workout two days in a row. Sounds easy, but it really isn't for me. Second I have to battle shin splints (something I've been tormented by since my days in volleyball) and sore muscles... both of which hinder my chances at exercising that second day. And then, even if I make it through that... if I take a day of rest... getting back into the groove is the hardest thing for me to do.

    Jon is on my side, though, giving me encouragement and kisses. Tonight he told me I was beautiful even as I peddled furiously, sweat dripping down my red face. And he wasn't making it up either. Seeing me exert myslf, push my body to it's potential, bettering my health all make him very happy. He loves it. Hopefully I'll translate that love and encouragement into motivation, continuing to exercise regularly. If I can drop 8 pounds I'll be happy. Some kind of goal is always good to have and, as I learned repetitively from my father, it's best to write that goal down so that others can help to hold you accountable. This will work.

    Tomorrow I have a day off of Banana, no homework, just some projects around the house. Perhaps I'll work out a bit in the morning. Wow, that makes me sound so put-together and in control of my life. We'll see. For now I have slightly aching hamstrings groaning at me. But if I listen really close I can hear them say, "Thank you, Audrey. It's about time."

    |

    silly.jpgTonight Jon is on the East coast. I dropped him at SFO this morning, early early early this morning. And even though he'll be back late Wednesday night, I cried a bit. We prayed together for his safety and my productivity. And then he was gone. Boarding a plane that would take him 3,000 miles away from me.

    silly2.jpgThat's tough stuff. I find it hard to do things when he isn't around and won't be around. Before we married I was a known "slob". Then... BAM!... we said "I do" and suddenly I liked to clean. Our house may not be spotless, but it's neat. Why? Because I know that our combined stress level goes way down when we aren't surrounded by mess. I clean because it makes my husband happy, our marriage easier. That kind of thing. But why clean today?

    When Jon is home I do my best to eat well. It may sometimes take an act of God and/or effort from Jon to help me make a real meal, but that gets done when he's here. But why eat well today?

    I've always liked being hygenically clean. Marriage, though, has taken that to the next level as well. Even as we've become more and more comfortable accepting each other at our very smelliest, I find myself kicking myself into action to shower, do my hair, use perfume, wear makeup... all for Jon. I want him to be extra proud of his darling, yummy-smelling, well-dressed wife. But why bother with that today?

    So the day was hard. I tried to nap when I got home from the airport, but I was restless. Too much space in the bed, I guess. And then I found myself on the couch watching stuff in the backlog of our Tivo. Some things I'd already seen! How bored could I possibly have been? Apparently just knowing that Jon was not five minutes away at the office, that he wouldn't be home to have dinner with me and play games and be silly after work, was enough to stagnate any and all of my activities.

    No worries. When his plane landed in Maryland in the afternoon, I was his first phone call. Just a quick "I love you" and "I miss you" before finding his rental car. That was all it took. I wanted to be able to tell Jon about my day, to make him smile and know that I'd be ready and waiting for him to come home on Wednesday.

    Within moments of hanging up I was cleaning the kitchen, singing, making myself a turkey sandwich and milk for lunch! Laundry was done and folded, the shower was running and ready for me. When he called again once he was on the road to his hotel, I had been truly productive. I'd accomplished much, and by doing that I'd given myself the boost needed to accelerate me through work later in the day.

    He told me about how he switched to a lousy seat on the plane because a nervous young lady beside him wanted to be next to her boyfriend. He was thinking of me. Diane Feinstein was on the plane, too, with bodyguard. How cool! Even though I didn't and wouldn't vote for her. He asked me how my day was going...

    And I said, "I've done a lot, honey. You'd be proud." And he was.

    Tonight I miss my husband a lot, but he will be home soon. I hope to get a lot done before then, too. School all day tomorrow. Visiting Cindy. Work on Wednesday. More cleaning. Preparation for our vacation this weekend. With the thought of my happy, proud husband ever in my mind, that shouldn't be too difficult.

    Wish me luck!

    |

    boxing_gloves.jpgDo Jon and I fight? Argue? Bicker? Pester each other? Certainly. But truth be told, it doesn't happen that often. Most of the time we can sidestep potential problems by finding the humor in the given situation, laughing at ourselves. Honestly, all Jon has to do is hug me in the middle of a fight and... the bell sounds, the match is over. Nobody wins and, thus, everybody wins.

    This may seem like a fairly odd, even depressing way to start an entry. My point is simply that what Jon and I ended up doing last night happened as a direct result of what could have been a big, fat argument the night before.

    I had finished an unusually long day at school on Thursday. Ugh. And recently the fatigue of going to school and working and being a wife has been wearing on me. Jon doesn't have it any easier. While he may not be going to school, dealing with me is a major lesson in patience and maturity every single day. (The frequent pop quizzes don't help much, either!)

    So, at the end of that day, I wanted to do something "fun". And that's how I posed the idea to my husband. "Jonathan, let's go do something fun." He said, "Okay, like what?" I, very unreasonably, didn't want to have to actually think of what would be fun for us to do. That was his job, at least in my head. So I said, "I don't know. What do you want to do?" And he responded, "How about going bowling."

    At this point I really should reiterate that I was very, very tired.

    You see, Jon's response had begun the countdown. He'd lit the fuse and now it was only a matter of time before we exploded. Here anyone can see our amazing progress as a couple. Instead of freaking out and turning this one into the World War XXXII(because I think that's the one we're on now), I decided to be funny.

    "Darling angel, love of my life," I began, "You are especially lucky that I am such a very cool wife. Other wives who heard their husbands give them Granada Bowl as the only fun thing to do together would be oh-so-very angry. But I am not like that. I am going to give you another shot at choosing something which I, a youthful, sexy, intriguing gal like me would find to be fun."

    The rest of this human comedy shall be left to play offstage. Let it simply be said that the situation was resolved peacefully, and we found ourselves once again moving along towards happily ever after.

    Yesterday then, I enjoyed my first full day off of everything in quite a while. And I definitely wasn't expecting a drastic change in Jon's definition of fun. We had lunch together with the Youds and couple of Jon's friends from work. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Jen Youd at her house, "helping" her organize her scrapbooking materials, etc. I relaxed. After dinner I suffered a devastating loss at Hearts to both Youds (something which will not happen again as I have resolved to kick my "delightful competitiveness" into a higher, scarier gear). But the evening had only just begun.

    Jonathan had a surprise up his sleeve. We got all dressed up, cocktail dress, high heels, big hair, the works. At 9pm we left for San Francisco. But that is all Jon would tell me about our destination. Oh, except that it would be "fun".

    levende.jpgWhere did we end up? A chic "talking bar" called the Levende Lounge. Very cool. Even cooler once God blessed us with a free and convenient parking spot! We even got to skip the whole velvet rope, standing in line routine because we had a reservation at 10pm. The inside of this place was very snazzy. Deep red walls, soft brown leather furniture, amber lighting and lots of candles. A darkly-clad DJ offered up pulsing electronica into the dim yet vibrant atmosphere.

    strawberry_martini.jpgTogether we resolved to try something new. I ordered a strawberry vodka martini called "La Fresca". Hands down the best I've ever had. Sweet, warming the back of my throat. A wonderful complement to the grilled bread and assorted sausage platter we chose later on. With the chef's compliments we also got to try a slice of melba toast with real goat cheese and a dab of onion jelly. Delicious!

    In the dark my husband and I got the chance to talk. Sounds like something we do every day. But no. It was a date like the ones we had when we were first together. When we were discovering every tiny little precious thing about one another.

    I've heard some people mourn the fact that the dating period of their relationship is over. That they already know everything about the person they love. So far I cannot agree with that. I believe that I know Jon better than anyone else in this world. Also that the opposite is true. Yet every day we bind closer by continuing to discuss that which we already know. Until we have stopped growing and changing our minds as individuals, there won't be an opportunity to run out of things to learn together.

    Our conversations from last night varied widely from our plans for the summer to religion to music... to how much alcohol it will take for me to get Jon out on the dance floor with me when we visit Vegas in July. (A good tidbit of info I didn't have until last night, I might add.) But the bottom line is that we finally found some common ground in our quest for the definition of "fun".

    |

    red_rose.jpgSeven months after tying the knot with my wonderful husband, I finally got around to changing my name. Officially according to the Social Security office I am Audrey Jean Camp. And, as of 9:30 this morning, I am able to sign everything that way, too (new driver's license is on the way).

    Now I just need to decide what to do with Audrey Jean Pancoast. The girl who was me for almost 21 and a half years has been replaced. Where does she go? I cannot simply cast her off entirely. But she can no longer take credit for the things I do. No, any and all success achieved from here on out belongs to Audrey Camp. Audrey Camp will be the one to graduate from college, begin a career, have a family, publish countless best-sellers.

    But Audrey Pancoast isn't dead either. She did a lot, now that I think back. And, if I do say so myself, she was a pretty good person. That shouldn't end with a legal name change. And it doesn't.

    I never understood why women made such a fuss about taking their husband's name. It's a symbol of unity. And I know that Jon doesn't care precisely under which banner we do unify... as long as it happens. So we chose his (easier to spell). Hyphenation would have made my name too corporate. I'm Mrs. Camp. Do I sound old? At some point I will be old. Then, perhaps, it will suit me better.

    My signature will require a lot of tender love and care. I used to flourish my pen through all eight letters of Pancoast. Now I must learn to handle Camp in all its monosyllabic glory. Is there a way to make a capital C pretty? I sure hope so!

    For now the remnants of Audrey Pancoast are still tangled up in me. Hopefully she can remind me to maintain childlike faith, a sense of fun and the importance of context when it comes to handling life. She'll most likely never leave me completely, and I'm all right with that. I liked her a lot.

    |

    About this Archive

    This page is a archive of recent entries in the Marriage category.

    Writing is the previous category.

    Faith is the next category.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

    Monthly Archives