Friday, January 26, 2007

The Motivation of Friendships

Motive, noun
That which incites to action; anything prompting or exciting to choice, or moving the will; cause; reason; inducement; object.

For years I have been fascinated with "intention" and "motivation." That which causes us to do something; the initial impetus that spurs us to action. When it all comes down to it, everything we do has a motivation behind it. Even if I don't think I can explain why I do something (or choose not to do something) often when I think about it, there is some explanation behind it. I had something in mind which guided me to take the first step, make the first inquiry, even if I just thought it would make me a happier person.

But what has really made me think about this has come from my interactions with others. Why is someone kind to me? Why does someone choose to contact me? Why do they make the effort to make friends with me, to call me, to email me and discuss issues that interest me? Do they do so because they expect something in return? Do they stay in contact with me because they feel wonderful when they are in contact with me, because they appreciate who I am, because they enjoy spending time with me, because our discussions inspire them?

And all of the same questions vice versa from my side!

There have been times when I misunderstood pure motivations from someone and consequently failed to follow through with a potential friendship. There have been times when someone made friends with me because they wanted me to do something for them or they were trying to get something via contact with me. And even times when a supposed friendship was a one way street - I was supposed to offer support and listen and be friendly but when I wanted support and someone to listen to me, I was brushed aside. Unfortunately, I usually don't realize these situations until after the fact and I end up feeling very used and hurt and withdraw again into my private shell where no one can hurt me. As with traumatic episodes in general, these are hard to forget and difficult to recover from.

It is hard to know the true motivations of others so I end up just doing my best by trying to pick up on clues that are available. The tone of voice, the purpose for the conversation, the choice of words and the intonation. These all start to form a picture of the person with whom I am having contact (and I assume they do the same with me). Sometimes we walk around one another, taking time to understand the other. Other times we just jump in, take the plunge, open our hearts and minds and souls with the pure hope that the other will protect us as we travel along in our budding friendship.

I will continue to contemplate motivation and its role in my life. And I will continue to allow others into my world, taking the chance that they have ulteror motives but assuming that they have only pure intentions (unless it is proven otherwise). And I will continue to keep my heart open and my spirit full and to offer my friendship fully. I know I run a bit of a risk here but my hope is that others will take as much responsibility for their motives as I am of mine.

Ironically, I have found the most understanding connections and support from people I have never met in person! I sometimes wonder if this is a sign that something is wrong with me - too shy, insecure or self conscious? And I have been known to fall into a sort of love with someone's words, their ability to describe things so exactly and perfectly. Words can be a kind of drug: sweet, heavy, all-consuming and obsessive - always wanting more. Concepts, ideas and perceptions revolve my world: observations, contemplations, discussions. And friendships based on this can be formed via email or telephone or IM in our technologically swollen world.

Thus, until I have proof that I have some kind of personality disorder, I prefer to believe that I have found friendships across continents via cyberspace because finding others who can share in and appreciate my unique idiosyncrasies is hard. Others who wish to communicate with me on all levels sometimes just can't be found in my neighborhood or even in the city where I live. Sometimes it takes a place as big as our world to find others who can understand us well enough to keep us just a little bit more sane.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This Is Where I Want To Be

I want to be in South America traveling in the Yoda Van! Allison and Matthias, you guys are my heroes! So many of us talk about traveling for a year with our kids but you guys are actually doing it! Look at you go, woooohooo! These photos are from your first blog entry, I hope you don't mind me stealing them - they are so great!

Allison is American and is married to Matthias who is from Germany. They have two wonderful bilingual boys. We got to know them in our local German language playgroup, Kinderstube, and quickly became friends. Perhaps it is our mutual die-hard hippy perspectives that brought us together? We both drive VW vans (ok, we don't actually DRIVE ours right now since it is broken down but one day we will drive into the sunset again with our Vanagon!) and they used to drive a Eurovan but sold it for an air-cooled VW van (the Yoda Van) for their year-long trip. Way to go hippy friends! Drive on, drive on!

When we heard they would be quitting their jobs, selling their Eurovan, purchasing an air-cooled VW van, and driving south through the Americas for a year with their two sons, we were in awe. What a fabulous thing to do. This is the kind of experience that can define you for a lifetime, for many lifetimes! How envious I am of you guys. You are actually living your dream.

I remember travels in our VW Camper Van when I was young. Those are some of my most wonderful memories. It isn't really any of the actual events that stick in my mind, it is more the overwhelming feeling that overcomes me when I think back on those trips from California through Mexico. There was something that felt like total freedom, the unknown unfolding before us, even though I was only a child. I remember wind in my hair as we drove along the desert roads and drawing pictures of what I saw pass by on the fold-out table in our VW. This is a taste of travel and freedom that has stuck with me for my entire life and has helped to define who I am inside and out. This may even be the source of the joy that I feel each time we take our road trips from Seattle to California and back.

I long to see what Allison and Matthias are seeing, to smell the saltwater, feel the sand and sun but most of all, to simply be there, that place which is different and so foreign. To live, even for just a little while, in the unknown can be so eye-opening and the world can take on new meaning. And knowing that for the next year, the world is your oyster, all yours for the making.

However, I also cherish my home and knowing what each day will bring. I guess in the end what I want is to have both worlds (between worlds again). I want to have my home, my income, my security half of the year and then the other half, I want us to have the freedom to travel, to roam, to see the rest of the world, to live without having to plan out tomorrow and the next day and the next. Is this too much to ask for?

Unfortunately, my husband and I haven't figured out how to make this happen for us. In the meantime, I will travel vicariously through the lives of those who are winding their way through the unknown, like Allison and Matthias. Maybe Rick Steves will contact us and ask us to travel the world for his "family vacations through the back door!" Here we are Rick, give us a call! We can be packed up in an hour, I swear! And no, I'm not kidding, give me a call!

Make sure to check out "Travels of the Bay Family and the Yoda Van" here: Enter a comment, say hello from wherever you are! They will love it!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Around the House

I was looking through some photos from 2003 and came across these of our house remodel. We own a 1911 craftsman home. When we first saw the house and considered purchasing it, I said, "No way! I wouldn't even want it if it were free!" The reason is because it was DARK and smelled damp. The rugs were dark brown, the wood was dark brown, everything seemed like what it was: a student rental. The bathroom had a moldy ceiling, and on and on.

However, when the owners agreed to sell it to us for a price that we could afford (R was still a student working on his PhD at the time) we figured we had to go for it. We knew we wouldn't find a price like that for a house in this area. But it has meant years of remodeling since we can't afford to have someone do it for us (plus, it ends up that my husband is REALLY, REALLY good at this).

In 2003, R and I decided that to really make the house livable, we would need to replace the old lath and plaster walls with drywall and in the process put in insulation in the outside walls (the drafts in the living room in the winter were deadly). So, while I was pregnant with C, the big remodel began. All rooms other than the kitchen, back bedroom (which already had drywall and insulation) and the bathroom were to get new drywall. What happened is this: I went to work one day and when I got home, I opened the front door and saw something like what you can see in the second photo.

It was a tough time since dust was everywhere and I had to be careful since I was pregnant. R had to do much of the work himself which was no fun for him. Luckily, when my mother and brother came for a visit, they could help (I included a photo of my brother playing guitar and P) and when R's brother came for a visit, he helped put up the drywall. We now live in a wonderfully light, warm, cheerful home thanks to R's continuing work on our home. The best part is that he has learned so much through the process. I wonder if there is anything he couldn't do on the house now? How did he learn it all? From friends and books.

The most frustrating part was that we had just refinished the floors (I will NEVER, EVER do that again!) and had new drywall put up on the ceiling (too difficult for R to do himself and something had to be done about the glue spots on the ceiling after R and his brother removed the asbestos - another great story!). Talk about incorrect order of things. We were supposed to have started with the walls, then had the ceiling drywall put in and finally done the floors. Oh well, we never were ones to think through things very well. The second to last photo is of the dining room after the drywall was up and painted. Where is the molding? Well, that is another story... it took another 6 months before that went up. R spent most evenings in the basement planing and finishing each and every piece. The result? Beautiful molding that has made all the difference in the house! R is in the last photo putting up the newly finished molding. Unfortunately, you can't see the color very well.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Short It Is

Ah, it is so nice to have so much of my hair gone. Like starting over, beginning again. Kristin at the Caruh salon was fabulous! She asked me questions, listened to what I said I liked and didn't like, pulled out a book of photos and we decided together what would be a good style. Wow, I was really impressed. Of course, as expected, the scalp and hand massages were great. I think I really need some pampering. ;-)

Here are a couple of photos that I took a few minutes ago. They don't really do the haircut justice since the lighting is poor in our bathroom (by the way, check out that cool, retro tile we have in the shower/bath. Ackkk, I hate it! Was there when we bought the house).

The catch will be how the cut withstands my not doing ANYTHING fancy with it. I'm a wash and go kind of gal. Now that it is winter and too cold for that, I'm a wash at night, quick blow dry and sleep kind of gal which means I often wake up with one side flat against my head. Anyone have that problem as well? Any advice?

Friday, January 19, 2007

How Short Should I Go?

I haven't had a haircut since my last one in August, right before going to Germany (CLICK here to see a photo of me and Alice). And since I am giving a seminar next week, I decided I need to get a haircut so that I will look at least semi-professional. I mean, who wants to participate in a seminar with someone who looks like she can't even take care of herself! (At least no one can see the mess of a house we have - but, I digress...)

The question is how short should I ask them to cut it? I am extremely UN-photogenic and have this face that looks horrible in photos no matter what I do, so I can't really tell which length is best. When I got my hair cut really short right before C was born, I got quite a few compliments. But having it that short means I lose a lot of my natural curls. Yet, when my hair is long, it seems to bring out features that I'd rather forget I have... like that jowl that I inherited from my grandfather (sorry grandpa, but it is true) and which it looks like my kids inherited as well. Sigh.

Well, I go into the salon this afternoon so we'll see what I end up with. I'll probably decide while I'm sitting on the chair, after they give me that great scalp and hand massage with relaxing oils. A scalp and hand massage for a busy mom with three kids is enough to make me say, "Just chop it all off... be done with it. And can you give me just one more massage?"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How A Playmobil Catalog Taught My Child To Read (ok, not really, but it is helping)

Kate asked about my kids learning to read, which I will definitely blog about soon - thank you for the reminder!

In the meantime, I wanted to thank Playmobil (and other toy manufacturers) for their free color catalogs. My oldest son (5 years old) simply LOVES looking through toy catalogs. Right now, his favorite is the Playmobil catalog that he picked up from a toy store a few months back. He sits for hours and peruses each page in detail, announcing which things he will want to have in the *near* future. The hilarious part about these catalogs is that they have actually been helping my son learn to read... or better said, helping him WANT to read. He wants to know what each section says and the name for each item. Ok, I know, he does this because then he can say, "Mama, I want to have the 'Zoo Superset' for my birthday!" On some level I feel like I am completely encouraging consumerism. But hey, he's reading! And what better way to use phonics than on a word like Superset!

The additional benefit of the Playmobil catalog is that they list a specific toy number for each item! Yippee! This means, when my son wants something specific, I say, "Ah, interesting. So, what is the name of the item? And what is the item number?" Hee hee. No, I don't ever say he will get the toys. I always say that when his birthday gets closer we can talk about the items again. Plus, later he forgets these details of our discussion after he has moved onto other toys. In the meantime, however, he is very seriously reading words and numbers.

Just a few minutes ago he asked me, "Mama, what does this say?" I asked him to try and sound it out. So, word by word he sounded out "The... new... Tractor... on... the... Farm!" He looked to me for confirmation and then smiled. He repeated it again, "The new tractor on the farm!" and then went onto the next page, proud of having sounded it out all on his own. I mean, look at that page with the words all surrounded by sunflowers and a burst of yellow! Who wouldn't want to sound out those words. They look simply delicious!

So, I say, "thank you Playmobil" for helping the world of literacy. Now, can you make your toys just a little less expensive!? My son has requested the whole Zoo, Farm, Viking and Castle collections... for now. Next month he'll have a new list. Hmmm, actually, now that I think about it, maybe this whole reading thing wasn't such a good idea.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

For the Love of MAOAM

I have a weakness for MAOAM. Those fruity flavors, that chewy texture. I generally like fruit-flavored candy but nothing matches MAOAM. I'm not surprised that my kids love these little guys as well. And I won't even go into the joy we have when we open one of those mega-mix packs! Mmmm! I haven't found them in the US yet, which is GOOD! If you know where to purchase them here, don't tell me! Spare me the extra pounds that I really don't need!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Meet Moritz

Here kitty, kitty, kitty...

We finally did it, we got a cat! We looked through pages and pages of adoptable cats at and decided on this wonderful guy. We picked him up on Wednesday evening in the middle of another Seattle snow storm. It took us HOURS to get up to the Lynnwood PAWS and back since everyone was trying to get home before the snow turned to ice. I think I chewed down three or four fingernails on the drive up since I was afriad we'd not make it. Good thing we stuck with getting him on Wednesday since the next day everything was snowed in.

The kids decided to name him Moritz... I am assuming they must have read some story with a character named Moritz - I can't think of any other source for the name since it isn't a common American one.

Moritz is a perfect cat! He tolerates the chaos of the kids (even joins in a lot), is very playful (loves to chase strings and a little feather toy we purchased) and purrs like crazy when he is in his mellow mood and is looking for attention. When we first took him out of the travel box, he was extremely curious but came and snuggled up to each of us as he checked out his surroundings. And what silken fur!

The people at the shelter said that he is around 1.5 to 2 years old. They found him wandering the streets of Arlington. His vet check-up shows him as being in perfect health and he is current on all of his shots. He is also no longer able to help make kittens as of last Tuesday. Awww, poor guy.

The only dilemma we have is that one of our boys possibly has a mild cat allergy. We just got Mortitz on Thursday so we are going to give it some time to see how things go (as well as consult with the pediatrician and the vet). If worse comes to worse, we'll have to give Moritz back to the shelter where we found him so that another loving family can adopt him. I can't imagine that would take long since he is so wonderful!

In the meantime, until we know for sure about any allergies, we are going to start by following the advice from some pamphlets we got from the shelter:
  • Wash Moritz once a week with a pitcher of warm water (this should remove a large amount of the dander which causes allergies)
  • Keep Moritz out of the bedroom
  • Possibly get a HEPA air filter (I will do some searching on the internet)
  • Clean the floor with a damp mop and the furniture with a damp cloth.
There is more that we can do but we'll start with this and see how it goes. I don't think Moritz (or us) is going to like the washing-with-a-pitcher-of-water part at all but maybe it will go better than we think? Either way, if that helps it will be worth it!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Living Between Worlds

My husband and I live between many different worlds and belong fully and completely to very few. When I first used the title, "An American Between Worlds," it was from an essay I wrote for the first Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network newsletter.

But over time, I have come to realize that living between worlds is more than just language and culture for me. Living between worlds is the result of the accumulated choices my husband and I have made to live a fuller life. Perhaps it has to do with wanting to have our cake and eat it too? Why must we limit ourselves to one choice, one group, one reality? I'm not asking that the society in which I live change its most basic structures and nuances. I am simply wanting to live in it in a way that matches my image of who I am on all levels.

The choices of language and culture in my life are simply the result of having fallen in love with someone from another culture and wanting to understand him completely. How can I understand who my husband is if I can not speak his language, have never lived in his country, have never spent time with his parents, siblings and cousins? I need to walk on the soil of his family's small, now-retired dairy farm; I need to smell the halls of his university and meet his friends; I need to taste his favorite foods and to squint when the winter sun hovers just over the edge of the horizon at noon and to then run home and snuggle on the rug in front of the heater in our tiny two-room apartment which had no shower or hot water and our toilet half way down the building's staircase. I needed to live with my husband in his world to understand him, to be able to be a part of his life. But to do so has meant to compromise my comfort and security, to step over an invisible threshold and to stand between two worlds, never committing to either fully yet cherishing both completely.

The same is true for other aspects of my life. My husband and I are homeschooling our children which has meant we have become friends with a whole new group of families (and unfortunately has made others choose to not have anything to do with us). But even in this choice we do not belong 100%. We are homeschooling while also both working part time. This means, we have to be extremely creative with how we go about this, a level of creativity that many other homeschooling families do not have to deal with (and which coworkers can simply not quite understand how we cope). We are unable to participate fully with the plethora of activities, events, gatherings and more that our local homeschool group organizes each month. Thus, we live a little on the edge of this world, not fully able to participate yet commited fully.

And what about working part time? I work in an office where most employees work full time and more. Our country has not yet come to appreciate the benefits of letting skilled workers who want to work part time do so. Working part time offers my husband and me a balance in life between participating with other adults out there in the world while at the same time giving us the space to be parents of three children and to foster our private nest at home. Living between these two worlds is often the most difficult, in part because there are so many unspoken judgements that are placed on us from society as a whole. In addition, we live at the whim of others who can influence our standard of living so completely. If we were to lose our jobs, our incomes would disappear and from there many changes would take place. Not that these changes would be bad, they would simply be placed upon us without our wanting them to take place. So, we are forced to work hard on this balance - not letting our jobs take over too much of our lives and not letting ourselves forget how important our jobs are for our family's livelihood.

Then there is Multilingual Living Magazine. Ah yes, this magazine is in a world of its own. It itself straddles worlds, cultures, languages, families. Each issue makes me realize how little Alice and I actually shape it and form it. We simply start the ball rolling, lay out the foundation, set up the canvas and then stand back and watch as others complete their creations. We then we put these creations on display for others to enjoy as much as we do.

This is my life between worlds; an American between worlds. Somehow, when I am not looking, these worlds fit themselves together and create something colorful, rich, fascinating, boring, frustrating, stressful, joyful, amazing and exactly what my husband and I have always been looking for.