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Balancing Act

January 13, 2013

I’m getting busy. Really busy. I know, I know, everyone is busy these days. We live in a very busy culture. I’m not so sure that is a good thing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m taking on more time at the part time job I am working. I’m officially launching my own business, and joined a program to make sure that I stay on track with it. Those two things are relatively new and could easily take up all of my time, except that I still have all the things that used to take up all of my time. I have three kids to raise and house to maintain. I also have an ailing mother in another state. And I have a creative streak that is a vital part of who I am… and a body I try to keep healthy… and friendships I am trying to foster and maintain… How can I keep up with it all?

Yesterday, I told Joe that the next several months are going to be a bit like a residency for me. See, Joe actually went through a medical residency in which he worked 80 hours per week (at least) for 5 years. The way I see it, even though my work doesn’t look anything like his, and I happen to be home more often, I need the discipline and long hours of a residency to accomplish my goals this year.

But then I remembered something I wrote in 2007 during the peak of Joe’s residency. It was an essay for the NPR program “This I Believe.” (I’m an NPR junkie, if you haven’t noticed). I submitted it, and nothing ever happened, but it is still true. My life looked a little different then, but it was good for me to revisit my belief as I look toward the near future:

I Believe in Balance (For NPR’s “This I Believe”)

I believe in striving for a balanced life.  I am a mother of two toddlers, a consultant for nonprofit organizations, someone trying to stay in shape, fuel my creative spirit, be a global citizen.  I could write an entire essay about any one of these things.  But, I have come to realize that the most important thing is just trying to keep all of them in my life.

Oh, did I mention I’m also a doctor’s wife?  My husband, Joe, is an orthopaedic surgery resident.  My belief in balance has been confirmed over the past two years – six if you count medical school – as I watched my husband’s life be consumed by medicine.  Don’t get me wrong, medicine is a noble profession, but I can’t imagine having such a singular existence.

Tonight, Joe came home after a 32-hour shift, too tired to give our kids the quality daddy time they so desperately want.  He fell asleep in a chair after dinner.  So, our 2 and 3-year-olds helped me take daddy upstairs, tuck him in bed, and kiss him good night.

Besides work and sleep, Joe doesn’t have time for anything else.  Typically, he doesn’t even have time for three meals a day.

I believe that people need many things in their life to be fulfilled.  I believe extremism in any single facet of one’s life is limiting to the human spirit.  Joe’s extreme work situation is constraining his creativity, spirituality, relationships.  I know he misses spending time with the kids and me, and doing things that feed his soul like playing the guitar, building things, and even making a good home-brewed beer.

As for me, I try to find balance in my life.  In addition to raising our two children, doing my work, and maintaining our home, I’m also trying to go to the gym regularly, take voice lessons, volunteer at church, learn a new language.  Then I realize I’ve achieved extreme busyness.  True balance means also having some down time, some reflective and relaxing moments along with the busy times.  I’m not sure I’ll ever find the perfect balance, or even that it exists.  But I find fulfillment in having many facets to my life, and to my self.

Right now, having quality time with my husband is one of the things that is out of balance, for both of us.  Although, the other night, he stayed awake to spend a half an hour singing duets with his guitar for old time’s sake.

Holiday Cheers

December 22, 2012

Sarah on the Radio

Yesterday, I went to the studios of Wisconsin Public Radio and interviewed with some producers from NPR in Washington D.C. for a segment on All Things Considered. I was so excited and nervous that the interview didn’t go anything like I had imagined or hoped. But hopefully they got enough useable content for their piece, which will air on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

It all came about when I heard a request for stories about food that people eat on Christmas. “I have to do this!” I thought. Our family Christmas is steeped in all kinds of traditions, though not many of them involve food… unless you count a 7-layer taco dip. So I decided to write about the holiday drink that my family has been serving for 29 years. Here is the essay I submitted:

My Favorite Christmas … Drink

My favorite culinary Christmas tradition isn’t actually food… it’s a drink. Whenever the family gathered at our house for Christmas, the dinner was always different. But there was one thing you could count on. As the adults were sitting and chatting, my dad would bring out a tray of “Holiday Harveys.” It seems like we may be the only family who still knows of this drink, since Google came up surprisingly empty when I searched for “Holiday Harvey.” Not a single hit!

A Holiday Harvey is based on the “Harvey Wallbanger,” a drink made with orange juice, a shot of vodka, and a splash of Galliano liqueur on top. My mom found the recipe in a 1983 issue of Good Housekeeping, and we still have the clipping today. The Holiday Harvey uses Five Alive instead of orange juice for a brighter citrus taste. Though, the original recipe called for “Squeeze Six,” a citrus juice drink that no longer exists.

But more important than the drink itself were the tall, lime-green frosted Blendo tumblers that they were served in. Our whole family has a sentimental attachment to those green “Holiday Harvey” glasses. The tray my dad carried glowed like the northern lights. Unfortunately, over the years, their numbers diminished and we had to use other serving ware. But a Holiday Harvey never tastes quite as good, at least to us, as one served in a tall lime-green glass.

As a child, I was, of course, not allowed to partake. But as my cousins and siblings and I grew older, getting handed a Holiday Harvey of our own was like an initiation to adulthood. With time, as our family grew, we introduced this drink to significant others and spouses. While some were skeptical at first, everyone came to look forward to their Holiday Harvey at Christmas.

Holiday Harvey GlassesI remember one year my dad interrupted the conversation to ask what everyone wanted to drink. Perhaps he thought it was time to move on or that some people might want something else. But everyone looked at him with confused expressions on their faces. “Aren’t we having Holiday Harveys?!” And ten minutes later, the tray appeared and we haven’t questioned the tradition since.

Inspired by this assignment, I went on a search, and this time Google did not let me down. I was able to find the exact same vintage tumblers, and I can’t wait to surprise my family this year with a lime-green tray of Holiday Harveys.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Wasted Time

September 26, 2012


I just went for a walk around my neighborhood, and up the street there was an old man laying in his front yard listening to the radio and pulling weeds by hand. He greeted me and joked about having a weeding job for me (at least I think it was a joke). Then he said, “Keep an eye on that patch,” pointing to a patch of dirt in his yard about a foot in diameter. “If that patch doesn’t have weedless grass in the spring, then I’m just wasting my time.” I smiled and agreed to keep an eye on it, assuring him that I didn’t think he was wasting his time.

But it got me thinking. What if there is no grass in the spring? What if it grows back with weeds, which, more likely than not, is what will happen. Does that mean the beautiful sunny day he spent working outside was wasted? Absolutely not! At the end of today, he will have a sense of accomplishment, not to mention a lot of fresh air. What happens 9 months from now won’t change that. If his efforts turn out to be a failure, does that mean he shouldn’t have tried in the first place? That it was a waste? On the contrary, he should learn from his first effort and get out there and try again.

This is important to me right now, since I’m spending most of my time trying to do two things: raise my kids and start a business.  The idea of parenting being a waste of time is laughable, though there are individual moments when I wonder whether what I am doing matters. But what if my business fails (as many do)? At times, both of these things feel like an endless field of weeds. I work hard pulling weeds, planting seeds, and praying for rain. And inevitably more weeds pop up. And I do the work not because I expect to have a perfect lawn, but because I believe that each small success along the way makes a difference.

Trying to make the world a better place, one child, one business, or one patch of grass at a time is never a waste.

Different is Different

September 22, 2012

An apple among oranges

During our year in Switzerland, we experienced many differences between things there and what we were used to in America. Everything from the smallest details of daily life like greetings and food to large cultural and value differences like the language and the education system. There were thousands of differences of varying degrees, which is a big part of what makes living abroad such an amazing experience. There is value in opening your mind to different ways of doing things, adapting your own behavior, and eventually understanding the underlying reasons for the differences and making informed decisions.

It is very easy to be judgmental about cultural differences. Some Americans travel abroad and complain about everything. They believe that the good ol’ American way is the best, and that the rest of the world is just wrong. They wonder, “How can people live like that!?” They refuse to change what they wear, or what they eat, not to mention the nuances of how they talk or the language they use. “Doesn’t someone around here speak English?” As you can imagine, it can be somewhat off-putting to the people around them.

Fortunately, not everyone is like that. Many people enjoy experiencing other cultures and do their best to integrate and try different lifestyle choices. We tend to be on the extreme end of this continuum, assuming the best about the cultures we visit. Different is good, right? The food is… fresher. The people are… more loyal. The transportation system is… amazing.

Of course, there are other adjectives, good and bad, that could be used to describe each of those things in Switzerland. (Well, except the transportation system… that really is amazing). And the more we experienced the Swiss culture, the more complex our descriptions became. The food is fresher, more local, pretty bland, and very expensive.

When you have a deeper understanding of something, it is much harder to categorize it as “good” or “bad.” It just is what it is. Different isn’t necessarily better or worse, it’s just different.

Coming home, we had this experience in reverse. Now we see American things with new eyes, and it is easy to jump to judgements about which is better, and I keep reminding myself, “It’s just different.”

Anyone who is married knows this feeling. Integrating into a new family is a lot like integrating into a new culture. It’s amazing how different two families can be! The dynamics, the expectations, the values and beliefs, how they talk, what they eat…. It takes time to embody the ways of another family and understand them fully, or as fully as possible. After 10 years, I love my in-laws like my own family, but it is still different.

Just like I love both Switzerland and America. I wouldn’t want them to be the same. That would be so boring! Then we wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience differences and challenge ourselves to understand them.

So maybe different is good after all.