Dissertate, alleviate, try not to hate, love your mate

Oh, but it's been a month. 

I had put aside the month of May for the Finishing of Ye Olde Dissertation. It's now or never, folks. I've been trudging along in the grad school weeds for far too long and, though I officially took two separate leaves of absence from the university that don't count against my total PhD student time, even when I account for that time off it's been a fair few years. The move to Australia didn't help. Despite a supportive advisor, the process and turnaround time for feedback, approvals, and green lights, etc., from a committee of busy professors is made more complicated when you're a continent or two away. Anyway, I resolved that after Lauren got home and resettled from her mission in March and after our trip to the US in April for M's college tours, May would be my dedicated month. I'd do it like it was my job! (Oh, what's that you say? It kind of is my job? Hmm, oh yeah.)

Well, the universe laughed. 

While we were in the US, we got an email from our property management company: the owner of our Aussie house was returning from overseas soon and (understandably) wanted to move back into his home in six weeks. Which is, inconveniently, our home at the moment. May suddenly became dissertation month + search-for-a-home and move-all-our-belongings month. And, a week or so later, recover-from-the-flu month. The universe positively guffawed.

At first I panicked. Then I was resigned to it but doubtful that I would realistically be able to get it all done. But you know what? I forgot about the power of constraints, pressure, and a deadline. Now that I know each day has to count, I am in tunnel mode. And writing this helps keeps me accountable going forward. Here are my methods so far, in case you are someone who googled "please help me, I'm a 45-year-old PhD student/mama/dilly-dallier who needs to find some self control and finish this big project and maybe move this month":

  • I took myself pretty much off of Facebook for now (but, full disclosure, am totally still on Instagram. And look: I'm blogging! A girl's gotta connect.)
  • I'm doing the pomodoro technique to structure my writing sessions, doing cycles of 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes off (using this howler timer app on my computer, which celebrates the end of each session with an awesomely victorious wolf howl).  Although I've tried the timer tactic before, it's really working for me this time. And I'm evangelizing the heck out of it because WHY DIDN'T I DO THIS IN UNDERGRAD and all the ensuing years? I can do anything for 25 minutes and 5 minutes is the perfect amount of time to get more Cheds crackers and Diet Coke or throw in a load of laundry or do a few sit ups and stretches or check Instagram. After a few hours worth of 25/5 I take a longer break and Maddy and I go to lunch or take a hike or watch a show. This has been a game changer! 
  • Having Maddy around has been perfect, too. She's a willing errand runner and turns out I'm way more productive when someone's around. (I'm much less likely to crawl into bed with a book if someone else is going to be aware of my bad life choices). 
  • I'm letting the professionals take care of the move. G's work offered to hire a relocation agent for us and packers/movers. YES, PLEASE. So I'm 65% in denial and 25% just letting it happen when it happens and 10% going through and organizing things for our move. In five minute increments.
  • I've pretty much given myself permission to fail in all other aspects of my life right now. This month, it's all about my family and this ever loving dissertation. It's minimum levels of maintenance on everything else because there's no other choice. (Sorry, body that wanted to be fitter for the summer reunions. Sorry, church calling where I could always be doing more more more. Sorry, fun side trips I really wanted to take. Sorry, fun writing projects. Sorry, nice homemade meals. Also, sorry about the perpetual twitch, left eye. Hang in there! I guess you're my canary in the coal mine.)
  • Speaking of nice homemade meals, I've handed over the reins to the family. And they've taken them! WHO KNEW? Each of us makes one-two dinners a week (including shopping for their ingredients if necessary). We're eating better than ever. We've had made-from-scratch tortillas (S). We've had yummy butter chicken (M). We've had bacon-wrapped scallops (G). Turns out I've been hogging the reins and everyone's more than capable to take on shares of the cooking and house running. (Ditto driving and laundry. We're sharing! Everyone's leaning in!  It's awesome.)

Still. It's still going to be close. And maybe I'm cursing myself by writing this (oh, the hubris).  I'm probably about 5/8 of the way finished. The movers come at the end of the month, right about the same time when the final diss draft is due to the committee. But I think it just might happen! 

In fact, it will probably happen no matter what. Things have been set in motion. My dissertation defense is officially scheduled and on the calendar for June 22nd in Boston at 10 a.m. My presentation is open to the public and you're invited. Let me know if you'd like to come and I'll pass along the details. Truly. I'd love to see you.

These four? The best pit crew around

These four? The best pit crew around

The great college tour of 2015

When we moved to Australia, we knew that it probably wouldn't be realistic to go back and tour the US colleges on Maddy's wish list before she applied to schools so we promised her we'd make every effort to go take a look at them in person after she applied, heard back, and narrowed her options. Since there's only a month between the school decisions and the student's decision deadline, we knew it would be in April--which just so happened to be during Sam's semester break and right at the point when Lauren would be heading back to university in the US for spring term.

The schools she's deciding between could not be more different from each other. One school's strengths are one of the other school's exact flipside in terms of setting, feel, location, program, and price. They're all great options, though, and Maddy knew she needed to actually stand on campus to get a better feel each of them.

I'm the lucky gal who got to accompany her on her coast-to-coast campus research trips. I loved our long walks and talks, lazy jet-lag motel mornings, and watching her try on each of the parallel future paths. 

Now back home, Maddy's in decision mode as the notification deadline rapidly approaches at the end of the week. She's reviewing her notes, compiling more research, and constructing an impressive infographic display from index cards on a big blank wall in the house. We're asking questions and doing a lot of listening. They're all great options and this is the tough part. After mentally projecting yourself in each place how can you not mourn a little for the several paths not taken--no matter how wonderful your final choice is? 

[I have a lot more to say about this whole exhausting, somewhat broken process of applying to universities but will have to leave that for another day. Suffice it to say she's had some bumps and bruises along with some doses of happy news and trips to tour schools. Ah, life.]


I have more feelings than words these days but I want to document some of our doings while we've got the fab five together. We had a great roadtrip a couple of weeks ago on a Monday holiday:

Picnic before the hike

Picnic before the hike

Fizroy Falls

Fizroy Falls

The fam. (We need to work on our group posing configuration, clearly. Also, our hat game is strong. We need to convert Lauren, though.)

The fam. (We need to work on our group posing configuration, clearly. Also, our hat game is strong. We need to convert Lauren, though.)

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley. Oldest wooden suspension bridge in Australia.

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley. Oldest wooden suspension bridge in Australia.

We found a cool river/swimming hole beneath the bridge (the view downstream). 

We found a cool river/swimming hole beneath the bridge (the view downstream). 

Stone skipping contest (the view upstream, from the same spot as above)

Stone skipping contest (the view upstream, from the same spot as above)

G and I tried lawn bowls, which was great fun--more like that winter sport curling than bowling. It was such a great group game--we will be back with our kids for sure.

Sam and I attended academic conferences (aka parent-student-teacher conference) at his school, Aussie style. Which is not unlike speed dating. In case you're wondering (spoiler alert), it turns out his teachers are big Sam fans. 

[Which reminds me, I think amidst my parents' visit and M's graduation I neglected to document here for posterity that Sam was named Dux at the end of the school year. It was a great surprise and we were really happy for him and with him. Here's the photo of the big auditorium screen:]

Yesterday I got up early and drove to attend the Merimbula Branch Conference, which meant I got to watch the rising sun bathe the countryside. It was breathtaking. (But, sadly, no photo does it justice, especially not a blurry one from the car. Also, I forgot to take a picture of seaside Merimbula, where the branch building looks out over the ocean! Next time.) Also, I love my calling. 

Hey, I have a dissertation defense date! (Well a range of dates, awaiting confirmation from one of the committee members. Somewhere between 18-22 June.) Things are getting real up in here. I hired undergrad coders here to do some work for me and they're almost done, which means the next phase of analysis and writing is about to commence. (Big, restorative, calming breaths and Stuart Smalley affirmations.)

Typical scenes around here lately: 

  • Sam doing homework with headphones on,
  • our five NCAA brackets spread around the kitchen counter, 
  • Lauren Skypeing/FBing with friends & catching up on movies/shows,
  • Maddy in and out: data entry job, debate coaching, running/bike riding,
  • laundry piled up on the foosball table waiting to be folded, 
  • a happy mix of scriptures, magazines, Easter decorations, calligraphy supplies, notebooks, research articles, and textbooks on the kitchen table
  • outside, the edges of the leaves are hinting at reds and oranges and the cockatoos are back en masse, holding conventions of hundreds on the field across from our house. 

Home again, home again jiggity jig

She's home! The eaglet has landed! We're so delighted to have Lauren here. Our full house is complete--three of a kind and a pair. Every once in a while I do a mental happy dance: Five plates on the table! Lauren's laugh drifting in from the other room! A full car for road trips! Sibling dance offs and song sharing. I love knowing that all of my chicks are sleeping under our roof. I know it's fleeting and will be increasingly rare so I'm just basking in it as much as possible. My people are humoring me here; truthfully I have to stop myself from shouting out a Walton-style roll call from my bed every night.

It was a long trip. She left from Macon, drove to the Atlanta airport, flew to Dallas and had a six-hour layover there. That plane was late leaving for Australia, which meant she missed her connection in Sydney. And then the long customs process meant that she missed her rescheduled plane, too. Finally, three hours after her scheduled arrival (and after 30+ hours of travel for her!) we were jumping up and down and watching her walk through those glass doors. In fact, we were all so excited to get to Lauren that we completely forgot we were videotaping so there's some initial footage of her coming down the escalator and then a good few minutes of quality footage of the floor and random fabric and shoulders while we welcomed her home, ha!

I think Lauren's first words when she saw us were "you're huge!" (To Sam, whew!)

I think Lauren's first words when she saw us were "you're huge!" (To Sam, whew!)

The growth she's experienced is unmistakable. She's had soul deepening, life changing experiences. It's been a happy time exchanging 18 months worth of stories and experiences and embarrassing/spiritual/learning moments.  In the interest of full disclosure though, she's been surprised at how weird and hard these first days have felt. This transition time is no joke! She really loved serving people full time and being a missionary and so she's simultaneously mourning its loss while celebrating its completion. And those habits and rules she abided by are not easy to shake off, particularly the highly scheduled routine and the big no-no rules (e.g., no alone time nor dating, for starters). More than once while doing regular, appropriately "civilian" things she's said, bewildered, "I kind of feel guilty to be doing this!"  

Watching Lauren navigate this process I sometimes think of this image: Remember those rides at Lagoon that would speed us through a dim, unfamiliar, herky jerky route filled with twists and turns? Just when we got accustomed to the ride there would be a loud honk and the car would emerge through loud doors into the bright light, suddenly yanking us to a whiplash stop. Blinking in the brightness we would fumble for our seatbelts and stumble out, thrilled, bewildered, and slightly in shock. There can be a similar mission-->home whiplash effect, I think.

Or, better, this: When my kids used to wake up from naps they were not the chirpy, straight-back-to-the-day types. There was a period I always called "hatching from the nap" where they were semi-dazed and seemed like they had one foot still back in their dreams. I would read to them or talk quietly and rub their little backs until they were ready to emerge from the nap world and fully re-engage. That's what this period feels like--sitting with her through a delicious, slightly disoriented time between the memory-rich mission time and the rest of her life.  

The rest of her life starts soon. In the next few weeks (probably mid April) she'll be heading back to a new apartment, new to-be-found job, classes, etc. at university. She's weighing different adjustments to her major since she's refined her goals and interests over the last year and a half.

In the meantime, we're lapping up this family time--okay, I'm just shamelessly picking up the bowl and slurping all I can. Life is full of change and adjustment but so, so good.  

This is love to me

It's kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years today since that snowy day in Logan, Utah, when these two kids launched into the crazy glorious challenging leap-of-faith venture of marriage. The snow had closed the canyon by the end of our reception so we were stranded in the valley and delayed in leaving on our honeymoon. Instead, we stayed in our newly rented tiny tiny basement apartment on 4th North and the next morning we went back to my parents' house and ate leftover reception cream puffs with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins and opened presents, complete with mildly raucous comments from the spectators. Love and happiness was all around and we felt it.

I've written often about G and will write more, I'm sure, but today I want to borrow other writers' words that I've underlined lately. As my kids get closer to marriage age I think as much about them on my anniversary as I do about my own marriage: what I hope for them, how I hope they find a partnership that brings them as much joy as mine has. In that spirit, here are a couple of passages I think beautifully sum up what I hope that most intimate, vulnerable of relationships will be for them--it's about as far away from the however-many-shades culture as you can get but it's worth waiting for and hoping for and working for, the room you build together within a marriage:

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all in your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room? If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"It would be again like the coming of the rhymes in a song, a different song, this one, a long song, the rhymes sometimes wide apart, but the rhymes would come. The rhymes came. But you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent." (T. S. Eliot)

Title stolen from this favorite love song from The Light in the Piazza, which I loved from the moment I saw at its Lincoln Center debut. Swoon.