Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where the Buffalo Roam

This past weekend, we took a retreat to the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. Despite the cold (overnight low was 30F) and the wind (gusts up to 35mph), we still managed to have a great time on our first camping trip together.  Looks like we'll need to buy a tent after all!

 Our little home away from home.  Thanks, Travis, for letting us borrow your tent!  

Our lovely campfire.  Since neither of us had really built a campfire before, this was a big accomplishment. Nice and warm, too! 

 We hiked Elk Mountain while we were there.  It was cold and really windy at the top, and I didn't want to fall off the mountain, so we didn't stay too long up there. 

Feeling hardcore as a pregnant lady who just camped in sub-freezing temperatures, and then climbed a (n admittedly puny) mountain. 

Us at the summit.  The day cleared up quite nicely, despite that it was quite foggy when we woke. 

Meet Buffy, our new friend.  She wouldn't come home with us, though. :-(  This photo was taken earlier in the day than our hiking photos, so you can see how foggy it was before. 

Prairie Dog Town--not to be missed!  They're so cute and chubby.  We wanted to take one of these home, too.  His name is Sgt. Pickles McGee.  

We also saw and / or heard a flock of wild turkeys, a pack of coyotes, some ducks, some migrating Canada geese, a cute little bunny, and some Texas longhorns (the animals, not the UT fans).  It's a great little haven, if you get a chance!  

So who's coming with on our next trip??

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Yes, it has been a while since our last update. It certainly hasn't been for lack of fodder for posting, but just that the blog hasn't been the right forum to discuss what has been happening.  It has been a whirlwind of change: I started a new job, which meant I was working two jobs and out of the house from 7:15am until 7:00pm daily, and eating lunch in the car between jobs.  Then, I subsequently resigned from the first of the two jobs, which cut 40 daily miles off my commute, and lots of stress out of my life.  In the midst of all of this . . . 


It's nuts. 

So, on to the FAQs: 

How did the baby get there? 
I am not sure.  I've spent a lot of time with children and babies in the past couple of years.  I think I must have caught it, like the flu.  Also, I'm not sure how the baby transfers from my belly to the little blanket in the stork's mouth.  You'll have to ask your mother.  

When is your due date? How far along are you?  
June 18th.  Andy's birthday is on June 9th, and Father's Day is June 16th this year.  Oh, and my school year ends June 11th.  That puts me at 12 weeks on Tuesday.  

How do you feel? 
Thanks for asking! I feel fine--insomuch that at times, I don't feel pregnant at all.  I haven't been sick once.  The most I've felt is a bit of fatigue and some aches and soreness.  Also, I feel pretty hungry.  

Is it a boy or a girl? 
Don't know yet.  We'll find out, but we're not into the whole "pink and blue" bit, so it will mostly be to mentally prepare ourselves for the outcome.  You know, and help us choose a name.  

Speaking of names, have you thought of any? 
Not really.  If you have any ideas, please send them our way! 

Who was the first person you told? 
After our immediate families, the first person I told was my girl Januka, a Bhutanese 65-year-old who speaks very little English.  She was my English student in Pittsburgh, and calls me every couple of weeks just to shoot the breeze.  She says she wants to come visit me and the baby.  

Any cravings? 
Nah.  I've been eating a ton of eggs lately, so maybe that counts.  But at the same time, I am not really sure that my constant desire for sweets and fatty foods count as "cravings," and not just "fat kid disease," which I suppose is a condition that pre-dates the pregnancy. 

How did the cats react when you told them? 
Yunus is happy, and has taken to protecting my belly and giving extra massages to the baby.  Annie is just too wrapped up in her own cuteness to care, really.  

Also, here's a picture of Nugget, taken at 10 weeks.  Love that little belly! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Run for your life!

Until a few years ago, I never considered myself as anyone who could run.  Running was for skinny people.  Fit people.  Not chubby girls who used to place themselves strategically on the playground to avoid having to play sports with the other kids.  (True story. And speaking of the playground, I first developed body image issues there.  Stupid seesaw.)

Nevertheless, I'm back into my training.  I'm doing about 2 miles now, and proud of it.  It's hard for a chubby girl to run.  You could strap a couple big ol' bags of flour on your back and try it if you don't believe me.

I digress.  I wanted to tell you the story of the very first mile I ever ran.

I'd been sort of training for a race.  Not following a plan, just kind of running when I felt like it, interspersed with walking (and, let's be honest, it was really just mostly walking).  It was less than successful.  But race day came nonetheless . . .

It was the Cowtown, and we were doing the 10k.  Starting shots fired.  And then this happened:

From the actual 2010 Cowtown Race. Running News Online. 

But it felt to me more like this: 
Image from the Pamplona, Spain.  The Telegraph

My choices were: (1) to run, or (2) be trampled.  

I ran.  There was adrenaline, there were 36,000 feet running with me, and I ran.  I ran until I realized I'd just passed the first mile marker, and then I thought I was going to die.  (Didn't.)  

We've got another race in just a couple weeks, and I think this time I'll actually be able to finish the whole thing running--or at least shuffling.  Plus there will be hot air balloons.  Wheeeee!  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Rachel's Rage

It's about to get real.  

Today, church made me really angry. 

We've moved to a new place, and that means a new church congregation.  Being Mormon means that our congregation has been predetermined for us based on where we live, much like school districts are drawn.  So, due to illness, visiting family, and other factors, it was our first week in our new ward.

First, a bit of the back story: 

The Church and I are not as good friends as we used to be.  In high school, there was early morning seminary.  At BYU, it was all but unavoidable.  In the UNT Singles' Ward, they do a pretty good job of inundating you with activities and Institute classes . . .

. . . and then you get married, and you're left to your own devices. 

We went to one Institute class when we were in Pittsburgh--unfortunately, the first one we went to was (unofficially) the "stay-at-home Mom" class, so neither of us felt comfortable there, and we never went back.  Then, we got busy with work and school, and Institute fell off the radar.

At the same time, we started to have jobs that required us to work on Sundays, making it impossible for us to go to church for weeks at a time.  We fell out of touch with our ward.  I think that was the beginning of it. 

As weeks would pass and we would have no contact with our ward, I felt less and less a part of the church at all.  Yes, I self-identified as Mormon.  Yes, I still held to the basic tenets.  But the more time I spent away from the church, the more I realized that my core beliefs were no longer the same as those I'd been taught in Sunday School. 

Anyway, this brings us to today.  To a Rachel who is probably less "Mormon" than she's ever been in her life, who is trying to make sense of it all, trying to figure out if she is going to dive back in or run away from everything . . . and who is visiting her new ward for the first time.

I am an introvert.  And I don't just mean that I prefer staying at home and reading to going out and partying.  I mean that new people make me really, really, really, REALLY uncomfortable.  I don't make eye contact.  I try to be unseen.  I don't talk, or if I do, I mumble.  So, going into a new social situation is already a terrifying experience for me.  Add to that the anxiety I felt about trying to figure out where I stand, and what kind of Mormon I'm going to be from here on out, and you might imagine how I was feeling this morning.

We went unnoticed in sacrament meeting, and snuck into Sunday School with little trouble.  But after Sunday School, we were immediately bombarded.  "Are you new in the ward? Are you visiting?  Are you investigating? Where are you from? Do you live here?  Where do you live? What is your address? Are your records here yet? Can we take your picture for the ward directory?" So, in the ten minutes between Sunday School and the third hour classes, I met more people than I cared to on my first day.  And was introduced as a new sister in Relief Society.

Thanks.  I was trying to lie low.  

"Raise your hand, Rachel, so everyone can see you!" I raised my hand, sheepishly.  "No. Higher!" I want to die.  I have never felt so uncomfortable. 

. . . at least until after church.  One of the lead question-askers from before came up to me, and asked a few more questions. I walked around the building, and she kept popping up out of nowhere, like some sort of wizard, asking more questions every time. Then, she said, "Oh, let's go see if the Ward Clerk is here, so we can get your records here."  I don't want to. Luckily, he wasn't there.  I found Andy and we made a break for it. 

As we left, I found myself very angry.  I guess I don't take well to being man-handled when I'm already feeling extra-vulnerable.  Luckily, though, my rage has been tempered by a tuna melt and some vanilla wafers, so I think I won't go all Hulk on anybody anymore. 

So, how was church for you today?

Monday, June 4, 2012


I guess we still have a blog.  And I also guess that I have news to post thereupon:


I will be teaching preschool music in Frisco, Texas.  Full-time.  Crazy stuff.

It means leaving the position I have loved so dearly, the families that I have grown to love so much, and the wonderful, beautiful friends that I have made.  It makes me really sad in a lot of ways.  Pittsburgh is a great place.  I'll miss it terribly.

However, the choice to take the job came down to the fact that this will get me to where I want to be in the next chapter of my life.  It isn't precisely where I want to be, but it will get me there.  Also, it puts me in the same zip code as Andy, and a month and a half earlier than planned--a huge plus.

My emotions are very complex.  I'm at once heartbroken and excited.  Terrified and confident.  Relieved and entirely stressed out.  The transition stings. (I still haven't told my students--goodbyes terrify me.)

So, Andy signed our lease on Saturday.  We will be living in downtown Plano, right next to the DART rail station (hooray!).  It'll be a change for us to live in a very normal, white-wall, cookie-cutter apartment, and it will not be without its advantages (e.g., a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer in the apartment).  We're trying it on for size, as both of us seem to have an affinity to cute, quirky apartments.  We'll see how it feels to live in an apartment complex in the suburbs.

In other news, we adopted a kitty from our friend Zainab, whose name was Dudley until we changed it to Yunus, as an homage to my students at Prospect Park, as well as the lovely lady who handed him over to us.  I met him while I was in town over Memorial Day weekend, and he's super-cuddly and sweet.   It will be nice to be a forever-home to a kitty this time, since fostering kind of sucks.

Also, I learned how to hula hoop this weekend, for the first time in my life.

Needless to say, our lives are moving forward at warp speed. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Misplaced Emotion

For the past (almost) four months, Andy and I (and now, just I) have been fostering two adorable kitties (see above).  One of my friends at our partner agency at work frantically contacted me, asking how I felt about temporarily taking in two kitties: a client was unable to house them for a time, but didn't want to have to turn them into a shelter, where they would most likely be adopted and she'd never see them again.

To say I'm a softie when it comes to animals is probably an understatement.

I like animals more than I like most people. 

So, it didn't really take too much convincing, despite the fact that I hadn't consulted Andy (sorry, Andy!) and pets are not allowed in our apartment . . . it was the right thing to do.  I couldn't let that woman lose her kitties!

The terms of our arrangement have always been vague.  It might have turned into a permanent home.  We didn't have an end date, or have direct contact with the woman.  We were told their names, but still don't know which is which.  We tried to keep ourselves at arm's length . . .

. . . and failed.  Miserably.  It took all of probably 48 hours for us to fall in love with them.  And the fact that there was even that much delay came mostly from the fact that the poor kitties were so traumatized by their experience that they hid behind the bookcase for most of that time.

Yesterday, the dreaded time came.  I got the call (well, email): Mom's ready now.

I knew it was coming, so it didn't come as a surprise.  What did surprise me, however, was the intensity of my emotional reaction. 

Keep in mind that six weeks ago, I said goodbye to my husband for 4 1/2 months (with a few visits in between).  I love Andy, and I miss him every second, but I wouldn't say our separation has been heartbreaking.  This might be attributed to the fact that it's temporary and has a specific end-date, or that I'm trying to pace my loneliness (4 1/2 months is a pretty long time, after all), or that we talk / text / email / Skype / etc. all the time, but if I say so myself, I've been handling it well.  For one who tends toward emotional breakdowns, this is saying something.

I was at work when I got the news about the kitties, so I had to fight back the tears.

On my way home, I called Andy.

And cried.  A lot.  Wept, actually.  "I can't get the words out because I'm gasping between sobs" kind of crying.

The cats have been, for me, a symbolic connection to life.  I won't say that they are by any means an adequate substitute for my husband, but they wait for me at the door when I come up the stairs to the apartment, they talk to me, they snuggle me, and they show me lots of affection (as I type this, Goatee Kitty is sitting on my tummy, eyes half closed, purring).  This meant that I wasn't really alone--and that I didn't actually have to confront my loneliness. 

It looks like now I have to do just that--or find another cat.  Hmmm. 

I'm really sad.  We've bonded.  We've reached the point of ultimate trust, each knowing the other means no harm.  And I know them.  I love them.

Now I have to give them back to their real mommy, because that has been the plan all along.  Stupid plan!  I know--if you love them, you have to be willing to set them free.  Blah, blah, blah.

To make matters worse, one of them just brought me a "gift."  Bird head.  (Actually, I suppose not having bird heads in my house would be a positive.)

Maybe it's a parting gift.

Farewell, sweet kitties.  :-( 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big Announcement

Well, here it is:

We're moving back to Texas!  Back to DFW, our old stomping grounds.  Back to the (general) place where we met and fell in love.  Back to the place where our families live.  Back to the world of Blue Bell and Pantera and Dubya. 

Andy has secured a job with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member before coming out to Pittsburgh.  It's a full-time position in Dallas, working with many people he already knows from before, including his former supervisor / mentor. And so, finally, we don't have to worry about what will happen after graduation (at least, that is, Andy doesn't), or that maybe grad school was a mistake, or that we'll just have to spend the rest of our lives biding our time until something happens to come along. 

It feels strange.

It's the first "career" job either of us has had, and it feels strange to know that it won't just end after a year, or when we graduate, or after a semester, or anything like that.  It will be there, indefinitely.  So surreal!

He begins on March 12, and will be flying out on March 9th.  We are very excited!

The sad part of our story is that I will be staying in Pittsburgh until the end of July, to finish out my AmeriCorps service year.  I've so enjoyed my time at Prospect Park, and I don't want to abandon my post and put my colleagues in a bind.  Besides, the extra few months give me time to earn income while I figure out what to do once I get to Dallas myself. 

So, we'll have 4.5 months of a long-distance relationship.  This is the part both Andy and I have been trying to forget.  I keep reminding myself that people do this sort of thing (deployments are a good example), and that we have phone calls, emails, Skype, snail-mail, and a million other ways to keep in touch in this day and age, but when I think about coming home to an empty apartment, and not having anyone to talk to after work . . .

Tears have been shed.  But we agree that this is the best for us in the long-run, and it's worth it to both of us. 

Plus, you know . . . Blue Bell Cookies 'n Cream.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers

[Andy and I have been reading The BFG, a book neither of us have read by one of our favorite writers.   The subject matter is quite juvenile, but it's presented in such a charming way that I can't help but love it.  I love the creative use of language, and the deep-thinking side of me likes the interest in cultural sensitivity. When I read it aloud, I had to stop in several places because I was laughing so hard. Maybe I'm really just as mature as a fourth grader.  Still, I think it's worth sharing.] 

"Here is frobscottle!" he cried, holding the bottle up proud and high, as though it contained some rare wine. "Delumptious fizzy frobscottle!" he shouted.  He gave it a shake and the green stuff began to fizz like mad.

"But look!  It's fizzing the wrong way!" Sophie cried.  And indeed it was.  The bubbles, instead of travelling upwards and bursting on the surface, were shooting downwards and bursting at the bottom.  A pale green frothy fizz was forming at the bottom of the bottle.

"What on earth is you meaning the wrong way?" asked the BFG.

"In our fizzy drinks," Sophie said, "the bubbles always go up and burst at the top."

"Upwards is the wrong way!" cried the BFG.  "You mustn't ever be having the bubbles going upwards! That's the most flushbunking rubbish I ever is hearing!"

"Why do you say that?" Sophie asked.

"You is asking me why?" cried the BFG, waving the enormous bottle around as though he were conducting an orchestra.  "You is actually meaning to tell me you cannot see why it is a scrotty mistake to have the bubbles flying up instead of down?"

"You said it was flushbunking.  Now you say it's scrotty.  Which is it?" Sophie asked politely.

"Both!" cried the BFG.  "It is a flushbunking and a scrotty mistake to let the bubbles go upwards!  If you can't see why, you must be as quacky as a duckhound! By ringo, your head must be so full of frogsquinkers and buzzwangles, I is frittered if I know how you can think at all!"

"Why shouldn't the bubbles go upward?" Sophie asked.

"I will explain," said the BFG. "But tell me first what name is you calling your frobscottle by?"

"One is Coke," Sophie said. "Another is Pepsi. There are lots of them."

"And the bubbles is all going up?"

"They all go up," Sophie said.

"Catasterous!" cried the BFG.  "Upgoing bubbles is a catasterous disastrophe!"

"Will you please tell me why?" Sophie said.

"If you will listen carefully I will try to explain," said the BFG.  "But your brain is so full of bugwhiffles, I doubt you will ever understand."

"I'll do my best," Sophie said patiently.

"Very well, then.  When you is drinking this cokey drink of yours," said the BFG, "it is going straight down into your tummy.  Is that right? Or is it left?"

"It's right," Sophie said.

"And the bubbles is going also into your tummy.  Right or left?"

"Right again," Sophie said.

"And the bubbles is fizzing upwards?"

"Of course," Sophie said.

"Which means," said the BFG, "that they will all come swishwiffling up your throat and out of your mouth and make a foulsome belchy burp!"

"That is often true," Sophie said.  "But what's wrong with a little burp now and again?  It's sort of fun."

"Burping is filthsome," the BFG said.  "Us giants is never doing it."

"But with your drink," Sophie said,"what was it you called it?"

"Frobscottle," said the BFG.

"With frobscottle," Sophie said, "the bubbles in your tummy will be going downwards and that could have a far nastier result."

"Why nasty?" asked the BFG, frowning.

"Because," Sophie said, blushing a little, "if they go down instead of up, they'll be coming out somewhere else with an even louder and ruder noise."

"A whizzpopper!" cried the BFG, beaming at her.  "Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time!  Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness.  It is music to our ears!  You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping is forbidden among human beans?"

"It is considered extremely rude," Sophie said.

"But you is whizzpopping, is you not, now and again?" asked the BFG.

"Everyone is whizzpopping, if that's what you call it," Sophie said.  "Kings and Queens are whizzpopping.  Presidents are whizzpopping.  Glamorous film stars are whizzpopping.  Little babies are whizzpopping.  But where I come from, it is not polite to talk about it."

"Redunculous!" said the BFG.  If everyone is making whizzpoppers, then why not talk about it? We is now having a swiggle of this delicious frobscottle and you will see the happy result." The BFG shook the bottle vigorously.  The pale green stuff fizzed and bubbled.  He removed the cork and took a tremendous gurgling swig.

"It's glummy!" he cried.  "I love it!"

For a few moments, the Big Friendly Giant stood quite still, and a look of absolute ecstasy began to spread over his long wrinkly face. Then suddenly the heavens opened and he let fly with a series of the loudest and rudest noises Sophie had ever heard in her life. They reverberated around the walls of the cave like thunder and the glass jars rattled on their shelves. But most astonishing of all, the force of the explosions actually lifted the enormous giant clear off his feet, like a rocket.

"Whoopee!" he cried, when he came down to earth again.  "Now that is whizzpopping for you!"

-Roald Dahl, The BFG

Friday, February 3, 2012

I just realized it's been a month and a couple of days since the last post.  I'm sorry. I've been somewhat uninspired lately, at least where blogging is concerned.

Part of it, though, is that we're waiting right now, and posts about waiting are not that much fun.  Especially if you don't want to talk that much about the thing that has you waiting.  We're at the stage in our lives that it could be a lot of things, so go ahead, kids!  Let your imaginations run wild. 

It's a quiet Friday afternoon, and I'm sitting on the couch next to two kitties (by the way, we are currently housing two kitties) who are snuggled in the warmth of the sunlight streaming in through the window.  It's been an uncharacteristically mild winter so far, much more like the Texas winters I'm used to, so the heat is off in our apartment today.  It's beautiful, actually, and I enjoyed my walk to and from the bus station today.  The groundhog must have been wrong. 

Work is still going great.  Unsolicited hugs and kisses from tiny humans are highly recommended.  We were able to participate in Read Aloud with our buddies in the apartment downstairs (South Hills Interfaith Ministry), and it was a lot of fun.  I really, really love these families. Check it out:

Yeah, it's awesome.  I am so fortunate!

I've been practicing a little more (i.e., at all) lately, too.  It's funny, though.  In a lot of ways, the time away from my instrument has relaxed my playing, so I feel like it's actually easier to play in some respects, even though I'm pretty badly out of shape.  I think it's removed some of the anxieties I have about my own playing, and a lot of the negative self-talk that so often came into the practice room with me isn't an issue at the moment, because I can count it a success that I'm behind the instrument at all.  The result, then, is that I can focus on dissecting my playing to make it better, which allows me to be more clinical about it than emotionally driven. Pros and cons.  Interestingly enough, though, this is probably the first time in my life that I have ever practiced willingly, without any attached (outside) expectations.  Maybe not having those expectations is good for me, at least for the moment.  The sad thing is that I don't always have time to practice, so even when I want to, I can't always act on it. The allure of the unobtainable, I suppose, may also add to the appeal.

Anyway, all this talk about practicing is making me want to . . . you know . . . practice. Bye.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Break Photo Essay

 We kicked off our Christmas vacation by building gingerbread houses with our friends the Seegmillers. Cristy's was the bus, Neal built the tower, Andy built the two-story cottage, and I built the "Merry X-mas" house. Good times!

 We went to Texas, and visited our favorite park for some high-adventure box sledding.

 Andy's turn. This is probably one of the steepest inclines in my hometown, and box sledding is a time-honored tradition.

 Linda (sister-in-law) takes her turn.  Looks like she lost the box!

Andy and I walked at this park a lot when we were dating. 

 My brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Linda).

 Just look at that face! Sweet old beagle, Zoe.

 "Hi, my name is Rachel, and I am a Mormon."

 Beth Marie's.  If you know, you know.

 Rocky, the pug.

Andy's (maternal) grandparents. MoMo seems to be disapproving of something that PoPo finds very funny. 

It was a great trip--but altogether WAY too short.

Hope your Christmas was great, too.  And Happy New Year!  Any good resolutions this year?