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In all of the talk leading up to our move, BWB has been very focused on it only being for a year. It’s been so heart-wrenching to say goodbye to our friends and to leave our city that he kept telling people we would be back next year. And hopefully, we will be. We have our fingers crossed that the match this year will finally work out for us, and that we’ll find ourselves back in New Orleans again this time next June.

Still, the way he kept saying it was bothering me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. After some thought, I came up with an answer.

When I was four, we moved from a small town to a small city. It was supposed to be just for a year or two, and so I approached the situation as temporary. It wasn’t until six years later, when we moved from one permanent house to another, that it dawned on me that we were not, in fact, moving back to the small town I still for some reason thought of as home. This perception of impermanence colored how I interacted with the city I grew up in. After watching the documentary BRATS: Our Journey Home with my father, I realized that not only did this movie give me insight into his childhood, but it explained a little bit about mine, too. The expectation of leaving made it harder to feel rooted to any place or person, even though in my case that expectation was false.

It would be easy to approach New City with this same transience, to resist putting down any solid foundations or making any solid connections here. After all, we think we’re only going to be here for a year. Or will it be three years? Or five? It could be five. And even if it is a year, aren’t we doing a disservice to ourselves to spend a year feeling disconnected and disjointed? I brought this up with BWB, and we talked about it.

It’s true that this town is only going to be home for a year. It is, however, still going to be home. Rather than rest here only long enough to take off again, we have made the decision to land here with our full weight, build a nest, and settle in. It might make leaving harder when we go, but the time between now and then will be richer for it.

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Last night as I fell asleep, I had an image of our house.

We stayed at a friend’s house last night, and the couch was much more comfortable than the slightly leaky twin sized air mattress that my husband and I are sharing at the moment. It was late, since we had stayed up talking until far too early in the morning, and after the last week of moving my exhaustion was rapidly overtaking me as the lights went out.

In my half-awake state, I saw the house we’ve lived in for the last year, our awkwardly shaped, sideways shotgun house in New Orleans. My mind drifted through the rooms we’ve grown to love — our bright and airy bedroom, the strange loft space we had only just gotten the hang of using to its full potential, the kitchen built for an NBA player. The furniture faded to nothing, and I saw the house empty, and it hit me that I will not be returning there. My bed is not waiting for me to return to it, my desk is on a truck somewhere, and the kitchen is no longer taunting me with cabinets well out of my reach.

We don’t live there anymore, in those empty rooms.

As I write this, I sit in a different, equally empty room. The truck with all of our furniture is supposedly going to arrive sometime at the end of the week, maybe, if all goes well, but it’s not definite yet. The uncertainty is not helping my state of mind, I have to tell you. Our new house is a funny little cottage, perfectly sized for two people. We have grand plans for decorating and furnishing this place. It will be our home. Eventually.

Right now, though, all I have are a whole lot of empty rooms.

BWB and I have fallen in love with cruising. It helps, I think, that we got engaged on a cruise and then had our honeymoon on a cruise. Cruises are like a little sampler platter of a handful of different places, with water, sun, and a huge boat thrown in for good measure. We’re planning on more in the years to come, hopefully longer and with even more exotic locations.

One of the most fun parts of cruising is picking out shore excursions. They give you a long list of activities, about three-quarters of which sound amazing, and then you decide on something awesome to do at every port. It’s exciting just thinking about it — do we want to go on a zip line through the rainforest canopy? Learn to scuba dive? Horseback riding? Snorkel in a coral reef?

After our last cruise, I told BWB that I thought we needed a shore excursion list at home, too. Let’s make a list, I said, which has all of the fun, touristy, unique things we want to do when we’re at home. He thought that sounded like a good idea, and then we promptly didn’t quite get around to it. The remnants of that list make up the previously mentionedNew Orleans bucket list.

We’ve talked about it, and have decided that when we move, we will start a shore excursion list for New City. We want to explore all that it has to offer, and from our initial inquiries, there’s an awful lot out there! The theory behind the shore excursion list is that the number of days we will have off will be limited, and the number of days we have off simultaneously will be even smaller. With this list, we don’t have to find the stuff to do together on the fly; instead, we can just pick something from the list. That sounds like a lot less trouble for two tired interns, and a lot more likely that fun activities will actually occur.

I’m looking forward to declaring a shore excursion day and tromping off into the great known of our backyard. Who knows what we’ll find, and we’re certain to have fun doing it!

Nearly two weeks ago now, we received the incredibly good news that we have both matched into residency. Not into our first choice, but in a program which is doing amazing, innovative things and which felt like one of the best options for us. The interviews I had there were among the most up-front and honest of any I experienced on the interview trail, and I am certain this program will be an exceptional place for us to learn.

It was not our first choice, however, because it is not in New Orleans.

It is a little ironic to me that I am immediately following my previous post declaring New Orleans as home with one about having to leave it, and yet here I am. It has been such a roller coaster of emotion, glad to be moving forward, glad to be in a program I liked so much, excited about exploring a new place, but then it occurs to me that I am leaving this place and my heart aches.

It is 80 degrees here this week, mostly sunny although a storm is rolling in tonight. The trees and plants have fluffed out into the proportions of spring, and the tourists seem to be getting in a few more good weeks before the heat gets too bad. French Quarter Fest is two weeks from now, and since we’re close enough to walk this year I’m planning on soaking it up. We still haven’t finished sorting the last of the Mardi Gras beads, and I guess the plans for next year’s costumes are going to have to be on hold. We have invites from friends for dinner, lunch, puppy play dates, and/or coffee every week. I get to feed random friends on a semi-regular basis. We’re finally making inroads at synagogue, and I’m going to miss both our priest and our rabbi.

I’m going to miss New Orleans for its quirky spirit, for the glorious weather, for the community of friends we have here. I’m going to miss walking the dog down to Cafe du Monde for beignets, running in City Park, and knowing that when we go out to dinner, we’re going somewhere local and eating food we can’t find anywhere else. I’m going to miss St. James Cheese Co. and the Creole Creamery and Sucre. I’m even going to miss the bizarre roads that go in strange directions, are full of potholes, and have names that only locals are sure how to pronounce.

We’re determined to come back here as soon as we can, but there’s no telling if it’s going to be next year or ten years from now. I really am grateful for the opportunity ahead of us, and I know we’re going to discover amazing things about the new city, but I’m still sad about leaving this place I’ve come to call home.

Recently, the university administration has started collecting information to put in the graduation bulletins. Where did you go to undergrad? What are your previous degrees? Where is your hometown?

Most of these are no-brainers, but I stopped short in my response when I came to that last question. Where is my hometown? No really, where is it?

Is it the small town I was born in, but moved away from when I was four? Is it the town I lived in from age four until I went to boarding school at fifteen, but haven’t been back to for the better part of 15 years? Is it, as the one administrator insisted, where my parents now reside, somewhere I have never really lived in? Maybe the last address I had prior to medical school, a place I lived for two (admittedly wonderful) years?

Or perhaps it is the city I moved to five and a half years ago with the mindset of putting down roots. The city I watched drown, the city I sobbed hysterically over having to return to. Maybe my hometown is the city I met and married my husband in, or the place I have spent more consecutive years living than I have any other town since I was fifteen years old. The city my great-great grandparents are buried in. The place I am terrified I will have to leave in a few months, and the place I want to grow old in.

New Orleans is one of those towns where if you weren’t born here, your parents weren’t born here, and your family hasn’t been here for generations, then saying you’re “from” here results in polite chuckle from “true” locals. To claim it as my hometown seems presumptuous, especially when I’ve only lived here for school. And yet, to give any other answer feels wrong. This city has engraved itself on my heart. I want to claim it, declare it to the world.

In the end, I took the wording literally. On the university-wide form, I responded with the place of my birth, the answer that every Southern-born individual considers to be where you’re “from”. The email from the medical school, however, specified that we should respond with “the place you call home.”. So that one ended up being easy.

New Orleans is my home.

It’s Friday evening, and Christmas is all over the table. Yes, as of the first week of February, Christmas has migrated into bins on the dining room table, slowly being sorted into ornaments (breakable and not), garlands and soft things, and breakable non-ornaments. Hanukkah is there too, in slightly larger proportion than when they came out of the boxes as we made a concerted effort to find more Hanukkah-related decorations this year. The jury is still out as to whether there will be interfaith storage, or if the blue bins will sit beside the red ones in the closet. All of this is progress from the last week of January, when it still looked approximately the same as the last week of December, only with slightly more wilted and brittle greenery.

With Christmas and Hanukkah holding court on our dinner table, there is no room to put out candles, wine, and bread. The smell of challah hangs in the air, filling the house with the essence I am coming to associate inextricably with Shabbat, but I fret over how this will work without a clear space to put our food or sit. How are we going to do this?

My iPhone plugs into the television, and soon Shalom Rav is quietly playing in the background. My husband and I stand in the middle of our kitchen and say prayers over the candles, wine, and bread which are waiting on the countertops. We have dinner on TV trays from the couch, listening to my very short Shabbat playlist and talking about inane secular topics like what the dog has found and whether he’s supposed to be chewing on it.

Even without the dinner table, without elevated discourse, without the good china or cloth napkins, standing in the middle of the kitchen with doughy dishes soaking in the sink, even with Christmas and Hanukkah haunting us and the stresses of school driving us both insane, even with all of that, we still eked out our little holy space tonight.

Blessed are you, oh God, who blesses Your people with Peace.

I feel as if I should, on this day, write about Katrina.

Except I haven’t wanted to.

As the coverage of the fifth anniversary has ramped up, I have seen the #5yearsagotoday tweets, the documentary premieres, the news stories and the blog posts, and I have found myself avoiding them. I avoid them because when I think about five years ago, I feel myself falling into a dark, angry-sad, miserable place, sucked back into the emotions of the time. I have worked pretty hard to move away from that place, and so I am not keen on falling right back into it — so, to take care of myself, I am opting to avoid most of the coverage.

Still, it is hard to completely avoid marking this event which has so permanently marked me and my life. I have a tattoo of a hurricane symbol on the bottom of my foot, because Katrina marked my path, but I still stand above it (and because this way I can stomp on it every day). I moved to New Orleans exactly one month before the storm hit, ready to begin medical school. I was also moving in the spirit of establishing a home base; up until then I had been moving around quite a bit and I was ready to embrace this city and call it my own.

After the storm, I sobbed because I realized my school would not permit me to transfer, and I couldn’t bear the thought of coming back here to this unsafe and broken place. If, five years ago, you had told me that I would be fighting to stay here, thinking of raising children here, calling this place home, I would have told you about some nice padded rooms and delicious anti-psychotic medications.

And yet here I am, five years later, doing exactly that. I can’t explain it. New Orleans gets under your skin, insinuates itself into your heart, your nerves, every fiber of you. I drink it in when Mr. Okra goes by my house, or a seemingly random parade marches by. I taste the words coming out of my mouth with New Orleans flavors, and I go hoarse from Who Dats on Sundays. I am fairly certain there is a portion of my blood which has now turned to hot sauce. Nola Notes has a wonderful post up about Katrina, and why we stay in this crazy sinking city. I suppose I am one of the “hard-wired” people she talks about, called to New Orleans by some unexplainable drive. I love this city in strange and unusual ways, and I truly am proud to call it home.

That is all nice, of course, but still leaves the problem of the fifth anniversary of Katrina. The sad truth is that there are still people whose houses are not rebuilt, cultural landmarks that have faltered or never re-opened, and of course an entire hospital whose fate is still in question. I have seen the marks on the minds and souls of my patients, too. We are better, we are moving on, we are rebuilding, but we are not “back to normal”, as people from other places like to ask me. We have established a new normal, we are coping, but New Orleans will never be the way it was before Katrina.

New Orleans will not be the same, and neither will I. And really, as much as the me-of-five-years-ago would deny it, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

If it had not been for Katrina, I wouldn’t have come to know Slappy and, through him, Katie. Slappy was one of my classmates and became my roommate the year we were in Houston immediately following the storm. He was exactly the right person for me to lean on that year, and I count both him and his lovely wife as two of my dearest friends.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would never have come to know a whole host of friends, people who are now among my family-of-choice. Certainly other relationships would have developed, but I cannot imagine my life without these friends who sheltered me, physically and emotionally, in that year and in the years since. My life is richer for knowing them.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would never have met my husband. I would have still been in the class ahead of him, and our paths would likely have never crossed.

If it had not been for Katrina, I would be a lot more stressed out right now. Pretty counter-intuitive, right? Granted, I am still a little stress fiend, as I think most medical students are, but having been through this has strengthened my faith that things work out. Even if I can’t understand why on earth this is happening to me (whatever ‘this’ happens to be at that moment), some part of me now deeply believes that I will understand it in the long run. I could, for example, be completely in pieces over our excessively complicated and potentially terrifying residency match prospects, but I find it hard to get worked up about it when I am completely confident that in the end, it will work out. I credit that directly to the effects of the storm, and how I’ve grown since.

Katrina was horrific. I would not wish that year (because it was truly at least a year before I started feeling even remotely okay again) on my worst enemy. It was a deeply destructive force, on a physical, psychic, and emotional level, and it laid me flat for a long time. It shattered me, but not into a million pieces as I might have thought at the time. I look at it like moving through a prism — split apart into my barest components, I moved off at a new angle, and I see the world in a new light because of it. Five years later, I am choosing to focus on that light, and move on.

It is no secret that I love tradition and ritual.  They aren’t just about doing things the way they’ve always been done, though; to me, traditions and rituals create a safe space, a feeling of belonging.  Anything is fair game — if we’ve done it twice, it must be a tradition — but it is the traditions of my family and my faith which I hold closest to my heart.  As BWB and I build our life together as a married couple, we are establishing our own traditions, some of which are treasured childhood rituals and some of which are new to both of us.

One of the new to both of us traditions is Shabbat dinner.  While my family obviously never observed Shabbat, we did sit down to dinner together more nights than not.  Looking back, those nightly conversations were hugely important to my development as a person as well as my relationship with my family.  I am determined to give my someday-children the same thing.  Combining ritual, tradition, discussion, and food — it should really come as no surprise that I love the idea of celebrating Friday night Shabbat dinner in our home.

To that end, a few weeks ago I ordered The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat. A couple of the reviewers on Amazon had said it was helpful for non-Jewish mothers, and I have to agree.  While it didn’t answer all of my questions, it did answer most of them, and offered information I didn’t even know to ask about.  I’ve read it a couple times through, and I’m sure I’ll go back a few more times before I’m done.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone, mom or not.

Friday afternoon I called BWB to ask if he wanted to go to temple or not.  He said no, he was just too busy, and I could tell from his voice that he was super stressed.  I was exhausted myself, so I said I’d pick up some food on the way home and we could just stay in.

When I got home, he was upstairs studying.  I got out the kiddush cup and two little candles from our wedding.  The only white tablecloth we have has embroidered menorah and dreidels on it, but I put it on the table anyway.  The food was nothing special (a rotisserie chicken, red pepper strips and frozen corn for him and peas for me), but I put it on the plates and made it look pretty anyway.  A few weeks ago I made four small loaves of challah and froze them, so when this week’s loaf came out of the oven, I called him down for dinner.

“Oh, you can start without me.”

“Um.  No, really can’t.”

“…fine.  It’ll be about ten minutes.”

About ten minutes later a stressed out and distracted BWB came down the stairs, but as soon as he saw the table, his tense expression eased and his face lit up.  “What do we do now?”  I pulled out the book, and opened to the part explaining the prayers.

I covered my head with the wedding shawl one of my bridesmaids made for me, and somewhat sheepishly lit the candles. After waving my hands over the flames the way I’ve seen my Orthodox friend do, I said the prayer (almost from memory, even!).  He said kiddush over the cup, and then we followed the steps through the rest of the book, giggling a little from time to time.  Dinner was not excessively long, our conversation wasn’t particularly enlightened, and the soundtrack was the TV coming in from the other room where our housemate was watching something.  Despite all of that, I could see BWB re-centering.  At some point, he thanked me for setting it up.

“You needed Shabbat.” I said.

“Yeah, I did.  Shabbat Shalom, honey.”

I love tradition and ritual because of the shared sacred space they have the ability to create, any time, anywhere.  Last night, our imperfect prayers created a holy place in our house.  Amazing.  A slightly belated Shabbat Shalom, yall, and God be with you tonight and every night.

BWB and I are moving next week, and there will be a lot of changes in the new place.  It’s on the other side of town, in an area that neither of us has lived in before.  It has an awesome pool, and we don’t share a wall with any neighbors.  There are three floors, which I am sure will prove interesting when trying to get the puppy and his exploding bladder out of the house in the morning.

Also, when we move in to the new house, we’ll have a housemate.

When we first found the house, we had a friend lined up who wanted to move in with us. Unfortunately, after we agreed to the rental, he changed his mind.  He would have been much more of a known quantity, as BWB has lived with him before and we’re good friends with him, but when he backed out we decided we’d go ahead and find someone else.  After running through several other friends, we turned to Craigslist, which is how we found the roommate.  She’s a very nice girl, and she’s bringing her cat and a “fitness pole”.

There are many things about having another person in the house which I’m looking forward to.  She likes to cook, and I think it’ll be fun to have someone to share recipes and ideas with.  She loves dogs, so we won’t have as much trouble figuring out what to do with Asha when we need to go out of town — which will be especially nice given there are at least a few month-long away rotations planned over the next year.  We’re pretty sure her interests (read: geekiness) line up with ours fairly well, and it’ll be fun having someone else in the house to play games with.  Plus, when BWB is on nights, I will feel safer in the house than I would by myself.  The drop in rent from what we’re paying now is no small thing, either.

The closer we get to moving, though, the more I realize there are things I will miss.  Silly things, like not having to worry when the cat pushes the bathroom door open while I’m sitting on the toilet.  And selfish things, like being able to use up all the hot water with a very long shower, or having guests in the house whenever we want.  In the category of probably good for me are things like being able to leave dishes in the sink overnight if I’m feeling lazy, or letting the stinky workout clothes languish on the bathroom floor a little longer than they should.

There’s a freedom in living alone, or with one’s partner, which one just doesn’t have when there is a housemate sharing the space.  It’s been a while since I had a roommate, so some of the details had faded a bit.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I regret our decision — I don’t (yet, knock on wood) — I think it is the best option we have right now, and there are plenty of benefits to the arrangement.   That said, I also think this will just make it sweeter when we are alone in our house once again.

BWB and I are moving at the end of the month.  We’re headed into a beautiful condo which we will share with a housemate.  We love the new place (especially the pool!), but there is a distinct lack of storage space.  As we prepare to move, we are trying to pare down.  Some things, mostly furniture and seasonal items, we will probably put in a small storage unit nearby.  Other things are going to Goodwill.  I’ve been working hard on decluttering for some time now, but I think if anyone were to look into my craft closet as it is right now, she would have a hard time believing the volume of stuff I have already removed.

There will not be a craft closet in the new house, as there is simply not a spare closet.  As I look at the bins, shelves, and bags full of fabric, stuffing, thread, and other assorted crafty items, I find myself wondering what to do with them.  In fact, I find myself thinking perhaps I should let them go.

For over a decade, I was involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism.  I spent a great deal of time and energy working on clothing and other items in a medieval fashion, and collected a large stash of beautiful fabric.  As my involvement dwindled, I kept thinking I would parlay some of my sewing experience into making clothes for myself, and collected a large stash of interesting patterns.  I knit, and have many unfinished projects with their associated yarns, and many more odd balls of yarn leftover from previous projects.  I keep trying to scrapbook, although my success at that endeavor seems mostly limited to assembling bins and bins of pretty stickers, fancy papers, and photographs forlornly waiting in a filing box.  I quilt, and with that comes boxes of colorful fabric scraps — insidious because even the smallest scraps can be held onto with the excuse that they might be useful someday.  And then there are the bags of stuffing, rolls of batting, polybead filling, bottles of glitter, extra zippers, tins of buttons handed down to me from my mother, and all of the assorted associated clutter of the craftaholic.

I love my craft closet.  I love being able to go in there and dig out all kinds of interesting things for projects, when I have the time.  The problem is, I am a tiny bit busy and “when I have the time” is a little rare these days.  In the meantime, the bins of patterns collect dust, the fabric sits unused, and the scrapbooks remain empty.

There is a part of me that thinks I should keep all of this stuff, because someday I will have a proper craft room where I can organize it better.  Someday I will have the time to make pretty dresses out of the beautiful silk, someday I will get the hang of scrapbooking, someday I will finish all of my knitted UFOs.  Someday.

Then there is the part of me that thinks when the time comes that I have a proper craft room, I can buy another bag of stuffing.  I can find another pretty silk, and there will be patterns I like just as much as the ones in the jam-packed filing box.  This radical part of me is suggesting that I might be happier in a house with less Stuff.  That, if I get rid of the craft stuff I am hauling around with me now, I can more easily justify the fun of picking out new patterns and fabric when I want to do a new project.  This part of me thinks that a clean slate would make it easier to focus on new projects, and that in the long run I would finish more of them if there were fewer of them to focus on.

My husband just read part of this post over my shoulder and IM’d me with the following*:

BWB:   I haven’t read your post, but it seems to be (at least in part) about the loss of crafting storage space. Well, it occurs to me that you will have your old craft storage space in the china cabinet. We will have two closets in our room, and three dressers.  You don’t like putting clothes in dressers anyways…

Me:  Yes, but the question is, do I need to keep all that stuff.

BWB:Oh…
Well, no.

Well, no, indeed.

When I think about how it would feel to get rid of those things, I have to admit that I get a little anxious.  My inner pack-rat is screeching, “BUT I COULD USE THOSE THINGS!  THEY ARE PRETTY!  WASTE OF MONEY!”  And yet, when I think about how it would feel to not have the clutter anymore, I imagine that would feel pretty good.

Maybe it’s time to get a little radical on the craft closet.

Maybe.

* Yes, we are sitting next to each other and IM’ing rather than speaking aloud.  We’re in a coffee shop, but we do it at home so that’s not really an excuse.  What, doesn’t everybody do this?

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