Thursday, April 30, 2009

Princess Rebecca

So, although I have proclaimed some discomfort with another big wedding, I'm coming around to the idea in a few areas. One of these is the dress.

One of my closest friends has a bachelors degree in Fashion Design and learned all the physical skills of constructing a garment there. She then went on to get another bachelors in Costume Design and a masters degree in Costume Design at Penn State. Plus, she has an almost identical style aesthetic to mine. She made my first wedding dress and has been nothing but excited to make this one.

When I called her to tell her that I was engaged, it was such a good conversation. When I was first engaged, I often felt uncomfortable telling people because it seemed like everyone began asking about the event immediately. Not Camilla. She asked about Jacob. We giggled and gossiped and talked about her life, too. Then, we dreamed a little bit about the dress.

She sent the first round of designs and I have to admit that it took me a morning to tame than inner bridezilla that seems to be latent even in the most laid-back of brides. So many pressures from so many sides makes you just want to take the whole event by the throat and shake it so that it knows who is boss. Luckily, our capitalist society has seen an opportunity for profit in that emotional response and said, "You know what? You shouldn't feel bad about that. In fact, that is a totally appropriate thing to want. This should be all about you. On this day you can be the spoiled princess you always hoped you were when you daydreamed about your parents not being your real parents because they were actually poor peasants chosen by the king and queen to spirit their baby girl away to suburbs to keep her out of harm's reach when the boogeyman threatened to steal you."

Well, maybe they don't say all of that.

But I don't want my wedding day to be all about me. There are lots of people that this day is important to. It's about the lives that our parents dedicated to our raising. It's about the siblings who helped us find our way in the world. It's about the long nights and fun days that our friends spent supporting us and shaping our worldview. It's about the faith traditions that provided the framework for identities.

For my first wedding, I told Camilla exactly what I wanted. It reflected only my personality. This time around, I want the dress to reflect her personality as well. Plus, she's better at designing dresses than I am.

I don't want to be a princess. The princess gets lonely a lot. I want to be a member of a community.

But I also want a dress that makes me want to say, "I have the coolest fucking dress. I can't wait for you to see it!"

So, when none of the five designs managed to be the complex fusion of whimsical and sexy that I had asked for and it was a tough day so it felt like the dress would never be right if this was the foot we were starting off on, I had a personal princess moment and walked around campus saying mean things in my head.

But since the building I was walking to hadn't been unlocked yet, I got to spend some time in the early spring sun and just breathe a little.

Then, I was able to send Camilla an email that thanked her for the work she was doing and that thanked her for telling me to be honest and for preemptively assuring me that we would keep working until it was right. I wrote a few sentences about what I'd like to see that wasn't there and was able to neutrally analyze what worked and didn't work for me in the designs. Camilla's response was wonderfully supportive and a whole new set of designs is on its way.

As part of the process, I got to put together a few inspiration boards to communicate with images what I can't seem to say with words. This was an incredibly satisfying experience and great distraction from the homework I didn't want to do.

You can see them here, here and here. (Jacob asked that I make them links rather than embed the images so that he doesn't accidentally see them. How cute is that?) If you want to know where a particular image came from, leave a comment and I'll provide the link. If I had to wait until I had time to list all the links, this post would never see the glowing blue monitor light of day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weddings from the past

I have been reading a blog called A Practical Wedding lately and Meg has had several very good posts lately.

This morning, I got my first response from a caterer when I sent my plan for appetizers and champagne. She said that a budget of $3000 would not be enough since it would barely cover the cost of servers.

This is bumming me out. This is what I feared when we decided that we wanted a wedding in the city. This is making me pine for that potluck affair in my parents' backyard that niggles in the back of my imagination.

But while this would be enough of a celebration for my family and friends, Jacob's family is coming in from all over the country and really only get to see each other at weddings and bar mitzvahs. They deserve a little bit more of a party for coming so far.

My nuclear family has narrowed its scope over the years. We invest our time in about 30 members of our extended family and have lost touch with the rest. For us, this is a good choice because we get so much more from these people we love so much and do not have to spend energy on near-strangers who offer stress and guilt.

On Sunday, I attended the family shower of another best friend who is getting married in July. Her family still sees the larger family at weddings and funerals and watching them interact, I have forgotten that a dynamic like that is also valuable. To be aware of the tribal nature of our identities is important.

I think Jacob is like this. I think Jacob gains strength and reassurance and confidence from seeing with his eyes the collection of people who stem from the same root that he does.

This is why I've become comfortable with a fancy wedding in a rented hall with caterers. Because I want this day to be as special to Jacob as it is to me.

But knowing that we will have to go a lot over budget to accomplish this has sent me running back to the comfort of my homey fantasy.

So when I read Meg's post that quotes one of her commenters saying,
"I definitely began wedding planning with the idea of, "We'll keep it small- we'll have it pot-luck.Traditionally, that's what people used to do." (My family is Congolese and Haitian). But the reality of people flying in from all over the country and the world to attend our wedding has completely changed that. We have cut and cut as far as we feel is comfortable and our wedding is still over the top- mostly, because, as it turns out, we are hosting a family reunion that we are footing the bill for. Yes, I know that standards have changed and certain items have become a must-have but the reality is, is that our lives have changed drastically from the 1960's. People weren't hopping into airplanes to crisscross the globe so casually and people's social circles tended to be smaller. Also, people get married 10 years older than they used to. This means that they probably didn't have work friends + college friends+ high school friends. Maybe many of us are trying to hard to thread together the disparate parts of our lives. Or maybe one day we will get back to the idea that a wedding had more to do with building a home for the couple, rather than pretending as though we're richer than we really are."
I was struck a little dumb and calmed a little (just a little) that we're on the right course. I suggest reading the whole post that honors the good ole days and finding inspiration there while inserting realism about how times have changed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

For Susan

My best friend Susan complains when I tell fabulous stories about my amazing life in the city because they make her feel like she should leave the Quad Cities (where she is happy) and come live by me. I don't necessarily think that would be a bad thing but, as a favor to her, I'm going to tell an Alexander's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day kind of city story.

On Friday afternoon, I was driving back into the city from the suburbs and the electrical system in my car started to blink on and off as I drove. Sometimes, the gauges would go dead and the radio would flick out but the car would keep driving. Once, the car died completely. I gave it a few seconds and it started up again. I was about 30 minutes from home and there was nothing to do but turn the AC off, roll the windows down, turn off the radio and grit my teeth to see if I could make it the rest of the way. So, I'm 8 minutes from home and you guessed it.

At 4:43 on a Friday afternoon, on the Grand Avenue bridge where there is no shoulder, in the lane that in second in from the right, I have to explain to Tony in Ontario from the Roadside Assist that Lake Shore Drive is actually the name of the street.

I was the recipient of the entire spectrum of curses. The cursed me: "Asshole!" They cursed my vehicle: "Your car is a piece of shit!" And they made fun of my life: "Sucks to be you!"

One cab driver honestly tried to be helpful and made a motion with both hands as he slowed down on my right, clearly communicating that I should put my hazards on.

Yup. Thought of that. However, when your electrical system dies, so do your hazards.

Ultimately, the police came and sat behind me with his lights on so the cursing stopped. I got a little reading done for school while I waited for the tow truck, which took less than an hour. I've waited up to three hours before for the insurance-certified tow company to get in from the suburbs. The tow truck driver was talkative but not creepy. This was ideal, all in all.

So, today I go to pick up the car and the mechanic cannot figure out what is wrong with it. It all checks out.


So, I take the car home and when I opened my mailbox I discovered that a fat envelope that I sent last week had been returned to me for a second time. The first time it came back to my mailbox, it was stamped for lack of postage, but the post office had not indicated how much postage was still owed. So, I slapped another stamp on top of the message (as instructed) and sent it off again. When it came back this time, both stamps had been canceled but no indication given why it was being returned. I figured I'd nip this thing in the bud and run over to the post office.

I parked the car and put a quarter in the meter and stood next to my car finishing my conversation with my friend. I saw that the woman from the car behind me was having trouble finding a quarter so I gave her one of mine. I never dreamed it would take more than 15 minutes to clear this whole thing up.

But there was only one teller at 5:45 and by the time I got back to the car, the private company to which Mayor Daley has leased the parking meters to had slapped a $50 ticket to my driver's side window with that adhesive that won't come off without a razor blade and some Goo Gone. They didn't even stick it under the window wiper!

So, Susan, here is a very good reason to stay in Geneseo where, as you told me, "The only traffic jam you can get in is during harvest season when two tractors are ahead of you on the highway."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Offbeat Bride

My friend Tabitha is getting married this summer and since her planning is almost entirely complete, she was in a great position to recommend good books. (By the way, Tabitha introduced me to my own fiance.)

The only one she felt was worth my time was called Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-Free Alternative for Independent Brides. Although I'm slightly leery of things that self-proclaim as alternative, indie or hipster, I gave it a shot. Here's my review.

I liked it. I liked the author's ability to self-deprecate. I liked the narrative format in which she tells the story of her own wedding and brings in examples of what other couples have done. I like her constant reminder that you should have the event that makes you most comfortable. I loved her descriptions of her hippie mother.

Mostly, I liked that she admitted that things must be held in tension and gave examples. I was intrigued by the chapter entitled, "Vanity, Fashion, and Other Things We Shouldn't Care About." She writes about not wanting to have an all-vegan meal but compromising with her husband because she loved him. Where is that in most bridal magazines that advertise only to women and tell them, "Today is the day when you get everything you want." No joke. I saw that in an ad from a stack of Chicago Style Bride that someone donated to me.

The only thing I didn't like was that there was a lot of emphasis on rounding up your friends and getting them to do the work with you. If I waited until my life was in a place where I could put the time and energy into coordinating my friends and rolling up my sleeves and working alongside them, Jacob and I wouldn't get married until 2010 or 2011. I believe that marriage changes a relationship and I know that we would start to flounder if we had to stay too long in this liminal state of engagement. Not because our love isn't strong enough but because who we are and where we are in our lives needs the structure of the institution to act like a trellis for our love to grow on. So, I would rather be married than married in a perfect microcosm of the community that surrounds me. We'll be in a rented hall instead of a backyard or forest preserve. We'll have caterers instead of homemade cupcakes. So, the challenge for me is to transpose the author's spirit to my medium.

I just found the website that she started after she published the book. Also worth taking a look at. She shows real couples getting married. Not just cute, perky tattooed city-dwellers. I like that, too.

So, the book is well worth someone's time if regular bridal magazines make you just a little bit sick to your stomach.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Woman Who Makes Jacob Happy

Jacob really only sees his parents twice a year. They live in Syracuse, NY and he generally sees them at Thanksgiving and Passover. This year it made sense to ask them to come out here for Passover since the first two nights were on Wednesday and Thursday and I would have to miss a lot of class to attend. Once they were here, they stayed through the weekend. It seemed like a perfect time for our parents to meet.

What was unfortunate is that many Jewish people restrict their diets further during Passover to remember the affliction of the Jews as they escaped from Egypt. Wheat flour that has been leavened at all is out, as well as all legumes (peas, chickpeas, soybeans, corn), all other grains. Do you know how many products have a derivative of either soy or corn? For Jacob's family, this is in addition to eating only certified kosher meat and keeping milk meals and meat meals separate. Also, during Passover, it's impossible to eat in restaurants since there is no guarantee that the ingredients are pure.

(Some families go even further and use separate dishes and pots and pans for milk and meat meals plus they kasher the house, which involves throwing away all existing food that is not kosher for Passover. Luckily, that's not part of Jacob's tradition.)

So, my parents invited Jacob's parents over for dinner. They also invited all of my brothers and all of Jacob's brothers to recreate the experience we had with Meena's family.

Despite my anxiety beforehand, things went swimmingly. I didn't engage many of the 15 other participants in conversation because I was happy just wandering from room to room and seeing small groups Montagues talking with Capulets. (Today, my younger brother told me that Jacob's mom had a story about Jacob, saying that he was the easiest child to shop for presents: one year he only asked for "his own bag of oranges." How much do I love that man? And how much do I love that his mom told that story?)

I am hoping that the evening calmed some of their fears. We all have those kinds of fears. Fears that someone you love will attach to different kinds of people and drift away from you. Fears that you will be judged and found lacking by new people. I totally empathize.

However, I hope that in seeing that I come from good, laid-back people who have produced other children that are stable enough to successfully social, some of their fears will be put to rest. There were no giant crucifixes on the wall; the house doesn't communicate ostentatious wealth. I am also hoping that once those fears are put to rest, the difficult interactions will decrease.

Jacob's brother Josh and his sister-in-law Claire were extremely gracious and brought a bottle of Champagne to toast us but neither set of parents were really comfortable giving the toast. Each side said some halting words regarding long life and love. Then, Jacob's brother Barry stepped forward.

"I didn't know Rebecca before she knew Jacob but I've known Jacob for a long time. I've never seen him as happy as he is now."

I cried.

Of course.

I have found that this aspect of marriage is very important to me. To be The Woman Who Makes Jacob Happy is an identity I never expected to have. It turns out that I'm very proud of it. The day after we got engaged, I wrote this in my journal:
It's just that I had sort of written off ever being that woman. . . It's somewhat overwhelming that Jacob can change my identity with one question. I know that people will say, "Jacob didn't do it. You're the agent of your own destiny" because we all want to believe that we are completely self-sufficient. But I could not be a woman who makes a man so happy he's willing to bet the rest of his life on her without Jacob's agency being involved just a little.
Joining families of different traditions is hard work but if it makes it easier to be The Woman Who Makes Jacob Happy, then I'm willing to do it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


This is my cubicle at work. I have had several in the time that I've worked there since I keep getting bumped as the intern. Still, this one seems pretty permanent. So, I decided to bring in some artwork to make it my own.

We're not allowed to put up our own pictures so I had to wait for three corpulent union guys to come up with a cart full of wall-hanging paraphernalia to do it for me. I kid you not, this involved hammering nails directly into the plaster. Tough job. (I love unions and have been on strike before. But seriously? Aren't they tired of being a cliche?)

So, starting from the left, wiggling down and across to the right and then back to up, here are the pieces I have:
Transplanting by Laura Berger

Toprock2 by Ward Jenkins. (I bought the 8.5x11, scanned it in and printed out an inferior copy for my desk.)

She has not yet decided whether to use her powers for good or evil by Anne Taintor

We are in this garden together such a short time by Patience Brewster

Love Sonnets, 1894 by Marie Spartali Stillman

Yellow by Erin Tyner

On the left, on the front wall of my cube, you'll notice a sign that reads "Believe." This was a gift from my boss, who has now been called up to Washington DC as part of the Chicago Brain Drain. He said that our work would be useless unless we actually believed that urban kids could accomplish the same things as all other kids. To emphasize this point, we are constantly reminded with these signs everywhere. This is why I like working here more than anything else.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

I think the way some people think - or people used to think - is, "I will subscribe to a religious or philosophical idea based on its rational merit." And I don't think that way and maybe that makes me dumber than the average bear. I don't know. But the way I think is, "I'll subscribe to a religious or philosophical idea based on the kind of person it creates." And so if you belong to some sort of organization or club or subscribe to some bit of theology and it makes you a jerk then that must not be a valid system. There's something wrong with it.

-Don Miller, World Vision Chapel Address, 3/1/06

I have been struggling with Judaism. Between Jacob's father's discomfort accepting my parents' hospitality and the seemingly monolithic view of rabbis that intermarriage is completing the work Hitler didn't finish, I'm not feeling particularly welcome. Using Don Miller's framework, it seems like it must not be a valid system since it makes people into jerks.

But last night's shabbat gave me a new sense of what Judaism can offer my spiritual journey.

Jacob and I have become famous for our Shabbat dinners. Well, I guess it depends on your definition of famous. We were recently featured in the Chicago Tribune.

For the first five, we invited mostly Jewish friends and my family. The first was a little awkward, with cliques forming on different sides of the living room. I invited my friends Jake and Jess, who seem to have the joint super-power of cohesing groups of people (making them cohesive, for those that didn't follow me on my language adventure). This was a good decision on our part. Not only did it change the timbre of the events, it gave us a chance to become closer to these extremely good people. They are the couple whose back is to the photographer in the picture above.

For our sixth dinner, we extended the invitation to a couple of Jewish acquaintances that we've encountered lately and, by coincidence, none of the usual crowd except Jake and Jess could make it this time. So, we had one interfaith couple of 23-year-old artsy kids we met who live down the street, one quiet couple made up of a woman who was roommates with Jacob's sister-in-law and her boyfriend who had a yarmulke that matched his brightly colored and natty button-down shirt, and the woman who introduced Jacob and I.

A disparate group of near-strangers.

We had a fabulous evening full of hospitality, Youtube, beer, Lou Malnati's pizza, laughter, conversation and shared interests.

Setting aside an evening and a day for rest and fellowship is a worthwhile spiritual practice. It makes us into people who are distinctly not-jerks.

Shalom is a Hebrew word that means "a place for everything and everything in its place." It's a word that tries to express the concept of God's plan for the world before Adam and Eve wriggled their way out of the palm of Her hand. It's a state of being where every person feels valuable and wanted.

Shabbat shalom.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I've been nesting pretty fiercely lately. I don't even realize sometimes that I've put aside my homework "just to rest my brain for a minute" that turns into an hour and a half that I have spent on some crafty twist on a utilitarian object. This is an alley-find bookshelf that lived in my old apartment quite happily with it's chipboard faux bois backpiece. In the new home with Jacob, though, it was not at all acceptable.
I went to some cutie stores to find decorative paper that I could use to go all modge podge on its ass. However, that was cost-prohibitive, so instead I went to the fabric store and scored 2 yards of fantastico diagonal stripes that pull together my yellow dresser and the green walls.

Ah, home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More best friends

This is what one of my best friends said about having a second wedding:
"It's nice to have another chance to realize the best part of yourself, to remember what the first wedding/marriage taught you about who and what you don't want to be, and to rebound from that and realize, make manifest, the part of yourself you do want. I believe in you."
I love this woman.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Patchwork Life

So, you know that I make quilts.

Jacob and I believe that our lives are a patchwork of all of the people who have surrounded us throughout our lives.

To symbolize that these influences will now become something new as Jacob and I create a family together, I'd like to put that patchwork of people together in a quilt.

Would you consider creating a 6 inch by 6 inch square of fabric to contribute to our quilt? It can be just one piece of fabric or it can be a quilt block of two or more fabrics joined together in a pattern. The pattern can be as simple as this:
or this:
As long as it is a 6 inch square when you're done, we will love it, even if it is all crazy, with crooked seams and oddly-shaped pieces.

If everyone could use green fabrics, we'll get a very cool-looking quilt.

We'd love to get a quilt block from everyone that will be participating in our wedding, whether you are simply sending us good wishes or attending the ceremony.

Completed quilt blocks can be sent to our house. If you need the address or you have any questions, email Rebecca at rebica [at] aol [dot] com.

Some of you will be moving outside of your creative comfort zone to make this gift for us. Please believe that we will love whatever you create. Like the song says, "Don't worry 'bout it's not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song."

Luh la la luh la la. Luh la la luh la la. La la luh la luh la la.

Luh la la luh la la. Luh la la luh la la. La la luh la luh la la.

Thank you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Best Friends

There is a reason that Lorinda and I were drawn to each other 20 years ago.

A week or so ago, when she emptied out her pockets on the way out the door, she had a piece of broken pottery with a cool glaze, a pistachio, half of a clothespin and a blue bottle top.
Have I ever showed you my junk jars?

They're full of exactly that kind of treasure. (You can click on the pictures to see more detail.)

These are her beautiful boys.
We had a good day together at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. I held the small one's attention for a little while by showing him his own picture.
He'll break my heart one day, mark my words.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Festival of Freedom

Last night was my first full seder.

Not only did I attend and participate fully but I also hosted the entire thing. My in-laws were wonderful and did all of the repetitive chopping that was necessary.

My matzo balls were light and fluffy and perfect on the first try. I used this recipe and Jacob made the stock a couple of days ago. It was also perfect. My mother-in-law talked for a little while about how there are two kinds of families: those that like dense, heavy matzo balls and those who like them light and fluffy. She said her children were in the first since that was how she made them.

I have heard otherwise.

But I asked her opinion throughout about consistency and size. I think this successfully distracted her from noticing that I was ignoring her every time she suggested that it would be fine if I skipped one of the steps. Oh, you don't need to use seltzer water. Oh, you don't need to refrigerate the batter. Oh, you don't need to boil them in water; just put them directly in the soup.

Mine were good.

Here are some pictures of the evening:

I really liked the haggadah that Jacob's parents brought for us to use. It started by making this remembrance of the exodus from Egypt universal. It reminded us that many people in this world still need freedom from the tyranny of poverty and the tyranny of loneliness and that this need for freedom unites us all. It actually made me tear up a little bit. Possibly because my experience with Judaism thus far has not indicated that it was very welcoming to people who are not Jewish. I'll print the entire poem if I remember to make a copy tonight.

The recent events in Iowa and Vermont which make it legal for homosexual people to marry in those states (especially the legislative victory in Vermont!) excite me. They combine in my head with this unexpected appeal to free those people who are still bound and unable to fulfill the same basic dreams that other people are allowed to fulfill. I remember that Jacob and I have talked about the possibility of designating a portion of our wedding gifts to a gay marriage advocacy group. Then, I wake up to find this post on my blogreader. We would also want to suggest donations in our name in lieu of gifts.

Do you have any suggestions for which groups are most effective?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The second note from the Kremlin

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kruschev sent Kennedy a confidential letter that offered terms that would allow both countries to back down without shame. He wrote, "If you have not lost your self-control, we and you ought now to pull both ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war." Good stuff, right? However, very soon after receiving this note, Kennedy received a second, more public note that had clearly been influenced by Communist hardliners that insisted on terms Kennedy would not be able to accept.

What did his advisers tell him to do?

Ignore the second note.

All is not well on the in-law front. After an initial wash of good-will, we've received several messages full of desires for our wedding and protests regarding Passover at our house. Each time, he and I have come together to draft a response that is honest, respectful and that sets boundaries. This has generally involved much cursing and shouting in private on my part but the responses that we've sent out haven't reflected that. We have asked for space and time to plan the wedding in a way that is joyful and manageable to us. I have explained my struggle to feel good about a second wedding. We have lined out what we are willing to do and invited them to help or do for themselves whatever they need to.

Each time we went back to them to say, "No, but thank you," we've received silence in response, even when it was a genuinely vulnerable email about my struggles.

That hurts a little. It also hurts to think that they don't seem to be considering how their behavior will make me feel, or if they have considered, they don't care.

I'm over here busting my butt to be gracious and accommodating and honest so that we can get through this awkward phase of not really knowing one another because I know that this awkward phase will set a precedent for the rest of our lives together. It's the unfortunate paradox of marriage. Early hurts stick with us for a long time.

So Jacob has done a really nice job of supporting me and keeping the strength of our relationship as a top priority. Part of that has involved trying to explain WHY his parents are behaving like they are. And he's persistent about it. After about seven hundred times of listening to me say, "No, they're doing this because they don't like that some shiksa is marrying their son! They don't like me!" he still patiently explains about their faith and their life story. After about seventy times seven conversations, I finally got it.

I'm not really being very gracious at all.

I'm responding like a defensive teenager who doesn't really believe that she's worth being loved. I am acting grace-less. I am forgetting that God loves me with a love so bright that it washes out any other love like the sun washes out a candle. With that in mind, I can reflect that grace by listening to their life stories and trying to respect their spiritual insecurities. I can ignore the second letter that was influenced by their fears and act as if I've only received the first letter that longed for reconciliation.

Recently, some new friends asked about my divorce and as I launched into the familiar story, I found that I was a little rusty. It was especially patchy when I got to the part about not taking vengeance by revealing his lies to his parents and friends and mistress because I believed that forgiveness would actually heal me in the long-term. I even said, "Wow, I had totally forgotten about this." But it was such a huge part of my identity then. The advice I always give to people in turmoil like a divorce is, "Picture the person you want to be when you have walked out the other end of this storm. Now make your decisions as if you are that person already." It's not reasonable to think that they will feel like that person, but actions can be controlled and eventually, emotions follow.

I need to start seeing myself as a forgiving person again.

I think the added bonus to this is that it might pull every muddled thing in my life into line with it. Because let's face it, my life is in tumult right now. I'm trying to graduate and working as a full-time student. I work at a job 2 days a week. I'm giving any extra time to keeping my church from having to close for lack of funds. I'm navigating a life-changing relationship and trying not to screw up too much. I moved. I am trying to keep a kosher home. I have two close friends and a cousin getting married and three friends having babies and they all need time, celebration and presents. I'm over-weight and trying to figure out how to exercise and diet without being the world's biggest bitch for several weeks because I'm hungry. I want to support my fiance as he struggles with his job. I desperately want to sit down for tea with my friends (or chase their children around parks) more than once every three months. I'm half of a wedding planning team and I'm failing at holding up my end of the work.

I keep saying to Jacob, "This just doesn't feel like my life yet."

Maybe I should take my own advice about picturing the other end of the storm. And this is why I am grateful to my in-laws. By interacting with them, I hit bottom with regards to forgetting my identity. And now I know which way is up.

I want to be a person who is full of grace. I want to be a person who makes safe spaces for the insecurities of others. I want to be a person who makes other people feel welcome in my home and my life. I want to be a person who sacrifices her own wants to take care of other people's underlying needs.

I should start acting like that person now and then when the storm is over, I will actually be that person.

The Christian story appeals to me because it is about sacrifice and forgiveness. It says that because God became a human and accomplished both sacrifice and forgiveness, then I am capable of it also. We are neither angels nor worms but something in between and there is hope in that.

I will be like Nick in the Great Gatsby and remember that not everyone has had the advantages that I have had. Because I want to be a person who does not criticize. I will ignore the second letter.

Grace and peace to you, friends.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Patchwork Swap

I recently participated in a patchwork swap organized by Linda Permann. Basically, people agree to raid their fabric stash for little pieces of fabric and then trade. Since I make charm quilts, this is perfect for me.

Also, you were supposed to make some sort of patchworky goodness. I used some of the hexagons that I'm working with to make a quilt for my brother Paul and his new wife and made what I think is a flower trivet. See, the brown loop is supposed to be the stem and the green ribbon is supposed to be the leaf.

I hand-stitched and hand-quilted it because I'm in that kind of mood while I'm on spring break.

Here's the stack of fabrics I sent my swap partner. Click here to see what she sent me. I'm pleased to have been introduced to her. The stuff she makes and posts on her blog are total eye-candy for me.

Friday, April 03, 2009


When my younger brother was first engaged, his in-laws pushed right into my insular family's life and made themselves at home.

Almost literally. But actually figuratively.

After having my parents over to their house first, they called back and asked if they could come over to our house for brunch. Oh, and could my parents make sure that all of their children were there so that they could meet them, too?

We were all a little taken aback.

But by the time we got to the wedding, we felt so comfortable with them that the foreignness of a Hindu service felt incidental. We had been to several family events at that point and felt known. When I attended the sandeep on the night before the wedding, I knew the names of most of the people who told me how lovely I looked in my dress. How different from my experience with marriage!

My in-laws saw me as a threat from the very beginning. I was this bourgeoisie girl who didn't laugh at their racist jokes. Actually, I have no idea what they actually thought of me. They never spoke to me directly unless we were part of a group and I was only 21 years old and didn't know any better. I felt their disapproval and retreated into a victim mindset. I protected myself by not offered any parts of myself to be disapproved of. I was quiet at their house (I know! Me!) and didn't invite them to mine. When they would call and ask for Dennis without saying more than hello to me, I let them.

Whatever they thought of me, they behaved as if they were threatened by me. They were kind sometimes; I remember that my mother-in-law bought a case of Coca-Cola for me once she learned I didn't like Pepsi. But when I refused the second and third that she offered me on the same Sunday afternoon, she crossed her arms and walked away in a huff. Mostly, we tolerated each other. I later learned that my ex-husband reinforced this separation by telling each side what they wanted to hear. If we couldn't compare stories, neither side would discover his lies.

I remember feeling especially hurt by my in-laws' behavior as we were planning the wedding. I spent a week in Minnesota with them and pulled out several bridal magazines and books when we first got there. I put them on the coffee table and said to his mom, "I brought these so we could be girls while the guys fish and talk about dresses and stuff." She was noncommittal in response and we literally did not speak about the wedding until the last day when Dennis forced the issue. Once we got home, she would ambush him when he went home and ask him questions about what I was planning. Once, she asked, "Is she wearing a white dress?" What a question! Clearly, she had a stake in what happened at our wedding and clearly she thought that nothing would be what she expected.

Jacob's parents are wonderful. I told him they were 10% of why I was marrying him. Their relationship and the family that they have raised is probably a very good predictor of what will be possible for us. They live in Syracuse, NY and I've only spent time with them at Thanksgiving, which was extremely pleasant.

However, when Jacob told me that his mom had asked if Jesus would be mentioned at the wedding, I kind of lost it. I had a major melt-down that took me awhile to figure out.

These were the contributing factors to my anxiety.
-It had been a month since we announced our engagement and I had not heard directly from them. They had simply passed along good wishes through Jacob.
-Early in the relationship, Jacob's father shared his concerns with Jacob about marrying a non-Jew.
-It felt like a preposterous question. Along the lines of whether or not I would wear a white dress. Clearly these people had a stake in what happened at our wedding. I hate that kind of pressure. I never measure up.
-His mom was asking Jacob rather than asking me. Also, she had asked his sister-in-law whether or not Jacob went to church with me. Clearly, she thought I would respond to a direct question like a monster.
-As fondant on the wedding cake, I had really been struggling with the fact that the entire Jewish people would consider our marriage null and void as a contract since I wasn't Jewish. Lots of rejection. (I'm mostly over this sense of rejection now. I'll write about it in a separate post.)

I was having flashbacks to my unhappy marriage with my terrible in-laws.

But Jacob's parents are fantastic.

How to resolve this dissonance?

If I've learned anything in my life, it's that if the world doesn't make sense, it's probably because I'm wrong and could think about someone else for a change.

As I talked with various people about my feelings, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have sons getting married. Men so often allow their lives to be directed by their wives and wives generally prefer their own families. There must be some fear of loss and rejection on their part, especially considering that we have different cultures. This fear of rejection might cause them to be cautious about what they stick out to be judged.

Hm, sounds familiar.

But, I'm not 21 anymore. I'm 31 and don't have to wait for things to happen to me. I can take my relationships into my own hands.

So, rather than wait for them to act like Meena's parents, I decided to reach out to them. I wrote them a note:
Dear Michael and Wendy,

I want to thank you for the kind words of welcome that Jacob has passed along to me from you since the announcement of our engagement. After spending time with you and your family at Thanksgiving, I was able to fully relax into loving Jacob, knowing that he came from people of love, fun and substance. I predict that the life we will all create together will be good and worthwhile. I look forward to it.

If I were in your shoes, I suspect that I would feel a certain amount of trepidation regarding my faith and the spirituality that Jacob and I practice together. He and I have had months of intense conversations to become comfortable with the idea that our different faiths can coexist inside of one cohesive family. Without these hours of tears, reassurances, questions, dreaming, prayer and compromise, it's likely that you are not to our level of comfort yet. I'd love to sit down with you when you are here at Passover to discuss any questions or thoughts you may have.

I want my relationship with the two of you to ultimately be as wonderful as my relationship with my own parents. Jacob has such a good relationship with you and I want to make sure that he and our children will always have that. I want you to be as comfortable in our home as you made me in yours.

If there is ever anything that you would like to talk about, I would be happy to receive your phone calls or emails. I am excited to be a part of your lovely family.
What do you think? A little affirmation, a little boundary setting, a little hospitality. You can never go wrong with making people feel welcome.

Daniel has told me that the most important part of his interfaith marriage is communicating that he and Meena are fine with it and so everyone else just needs to get on board. They don't get a say about the relationship itself, only on whether or not they want to be a part of it.

The response has been fantastic. Wendy wrote me a lovely email in response and Michael, who did not speak more than two sentences together during the four days that I was at his house, left me a voice mail with four sentences and the phrase "lovely letter" used at least three times. When the come to town for Passover, Wendy and I have arranged to spend Wednesday (the day before the first night) together preparing the meal. She was sweet to assure me that she would only be helping, not directing.

This feels good.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


So, I have been diagnosed with having ulnar collateral ligament laxity in my right hand. This is also called skier's thumb.

I hate skiing.

I have pain in my right thumb when I type and when I sew or knit and since I want to keep on doing those things well into my old age, I figured that I should take advantage of my access to the University of Chicago Medical Centers and get it looked at.

Over the past two years, I've seen three chiropractors, an acupuncturist and a massage therapist about the pain.

Since they couldn't help, I figured that I would give Western medicine a try.

So, it feels good to have an authoritative answer. The occupational therapist in Hand Therapy showed me clearly how when I hold my hand in thumb wrestling position, he can move my right thumb from side to side while the one of the left hand stays rock solid. It was slightly freaky.

So, he says if I wear a split while I do things like typing and knitting, it will give the ligament a chance to heal and tighten up. I've been using it all afternoon and it already feels better.

The problem is that the splint is veryvery ugly.

Since I might use this thing off and on for the rest of my life, does anyone have any suggestions about accessorizing it? What paint works on this kind of plastic?