Friday, May 13, 2011

Hans: manager of disasters

Hans, Hannah and I moved back to the US almost a year and a half ago after teaching English in Japan for 3 years. In some aspects Japan was kinder to us than our homeland ever was. For the first time in our marriage we were both working full time, and pulling ourselves out of debt rather than falling further in. Japan also gave us the best health care we'd had since getting married, and consequently we decided to have Hannah while we were there. We met some of the kindest, most loving and selfless people we've ever encountered - Megumi and Miwako (whose affectionately given  nicknames are "Baba" and "Wakan") - who helped us through the toughest aspects of living and giving birth in Japan. If not for them we probably wouldn't have stayed as long as we did, but life has a funny way of connecting us with the people we need in order to thrive in our circumstances.

Other aspects of our life in those 3 years were not so kind to us, and our homecoming wasn't as triumphant and momentous as most would have liked it to be. With broken spirits and a rather bruised relationship, we felt truly lost coming back to Kansas. On top of it all, America's economy was grim at best, and finding employment would prove to be a long and arduous journey. Hans had begun online graduate work in Emergency Management while in Japan, and upon our return tried for months to schedule a meeting with Leavenworth's Emergency Manager to see if there was some kind of internship he could do while taking classes. Meanwhile he worked for the Census Bureau (which would only last the summer), attended networking gatherings at bars where he was completely out of his element, and applied, applied, applied for anything and everything. But nothing.
This is how we found him most times of the day. :)
Somewhere along the way, Hans was advised that the best way to get his foot in the door in the the local Emergency Management field was to get his EMT and paramedic licenses and volunteer or take part in the various branches of emergency response in our town. So, in a single semester he finished his EMT license and volunteered at the fire department, for which he is now on call two nights a week. While continuing to apply for jobs as an EMT, dispatcher, intern for FEMA, and about a dozen others, winter came, and Hans and his brothers chopped and sold firewood for a little extra money, and were rather good at it too. They called themselves the Lumberjack Guild, and they are lucky to still have all of their limbs in tact.

As a doting wife, I'm ashamed to admit I'm a bit out of practice. I don't think I will ever fully understand or appreciate the pressure and stress that husbands and fathers endure in order to provide for their families and be called "Real Men." In fact, I'm not sure I give much credence to the title "Real Man" in the first place. Hans is a Good Man. For 8 months of late-night studying, odd jobs, volunteer work, and rejection, he has been patient, determined, focused, and optimistic. Somehow he has managed to keep himself pulled together and happy, and subsequently, so have we. It has been no small feat, and I admire his sheer gall and courage which have taken him this far. For that, and for being a giving, affectionate father to Hannah and bearing with me through the most difficult time our marriage has seen (and hopefully will ever see), I should probably take more time out of my own trivial schedule to dote, and dote often. There are more disasters in the world than we know what to do with, not only natural disasters and national security threats, but disasters of the heart and mind that take years of forbearance and dedication to manage, clean up, and heal. It's a good thing he specializes in this stuff, because I would be lost without his steadfast bravery and love.
It's true.
We finally heard back from two of the four employers he was really hoping for, and this week he began work as an emergency dispatcher for Leavenworth County. So far he loves the job, and even better, he loves the people he's working with. This is still only one step on his path to becoming an emergency manager, but it is a big step, and I am so, so proud.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Playing Catch-up

When Hans left for class I begged him to leave the laptop at home so I could write a blog without having to sit in the cold, windowless basement where the desktop resides. He agreed, "but only if I promised to write a blog."

Er, ok . . . since then I have:

1. Taken a nap (which was less napping and more tossing and turning, scratching my nose and wondering why I always have to pee when I'm trying to sleep).

2. Checked facebook (for what feels like the zillionth time)

3. Researched doll-making patterns and materials, comparing prices, adding and removing things from my shopping cart, all the while thinking doll making? Really Suz?

It's now close to dinner time, which means I only have a short time to make my mind sit still long enough to write a few cohesive sentences about my life, which really is a challenge when I haven't done it in so long. Seriously, what has happened here? I spend hours each day reading blogs about other people's lives - what they feed their kids, crafts they make for themselves or their Etsy shops, divorces and separations, new babies, new homes, new jobs . . . and when I am done I think I should walk away feeling informed, refreshed, full. Instead I feel numb, complacent and silenced by all the amazing people in the world - the work they put into their lives - the things they must struggle with. Everything I write and the pictures I post seem so trivial in comparison. But this is not a competition.

So . . .

I'll start with what I've been doing the past few months. In February I auditioned at the University of Kansas (KU)  to begin work on a Masters in Music with an emphasis in vocal performance. After being accepted (yay!) I am now left with the daunting task of deciding: a) Whether I should go, and b) How we are going to pay for it if I do. This inner dialogue is still very private, and there are a lot of factors playing in the decision-making, but suffice it to say I am happy/conflicted/elated/confused/excited/anxious about what the future may hold. Does that clear things up a bit? Good.

Most of my time is filled with Hannah. We try to go on 3-4 outings a week - to the park, to the library, to the farm, to Amy's house, shopping . . . whatever I can think of to get us out of the house and burning as much winter-stored energy as possible. On the stay-at-home days we usually play outside, where she likes to pick flowers from Nana's garden, dig in the sandbox, pick up shards of glass (don't ask) and pedal around on her trike. We're also learning how to build fairy houses in the forest, which I'm beginning to think is more for my own benefit and entertainment than hers. I try to plan at least one art project a week for her, whether it's painting, coloring, sculpting with play-doh, making tissue paper flowers, or dying Easter eggs. Next week we are going to try dying our own wool felt and play silks with my sister-in-law Kerri at the farm. I love to see Hannah's little mind, hands and heart create.

Enjoying the mud puddles at Powell Gardens
Our Fairy Houses so far . . .

We crashed the Baptist Church's Easter egg hunt and got tons of loot.
More on this cutie in later posts. :)
I also spend a lot of my time knitting, crocheting, needle felting and sewing little toys and gifts for the children in our lives. Hannah and her cousins enjoy most of these special gifts, but I am thinking of starting my own Etsy shop and joining the masses of stay-at-home-mothers who are really just looking for a source of income to fund all of their craft supplies.

Leonard the Lion 
 Lately I've especially enjoyed working with natural materials and fibers - wool, cotton, wood, bamboo, and silk - to make toys. Using these materials adds a certain organic warmth and integrity to the toys. They feel more "alive," and I feel better about the end product knowing there are no man-made materials in it. Of course, I still have scads and scads of acrylic yarn in my stash, but I'm slowly converting. I'd like to start learning some woodworking skills to make a doll house, doll crib, barn, toy boxes, furniture etc. Hans promises to help me with these projects, so hopefully we'll have something made by Christmas.
Hattie the Goat - named after Pete and Kerri's new baby goat, whom Hannah loves to death.
 The rest of my time is filled with reading (currently: "Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales" and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks") and teaching piano and voice lessons - some whose houses I travel to, and some who come to me. I truly love teaching. Truly I could do this for the rest of my life and be happy. I'm still involved at the community theater, and will probably audition for their production of "Cinderella" this summer.

Next post: I'll tell you all about Hans' school work, volunteer work, and new job!

Also, I cut about 7 inches of my hair off.
. . . and I got a new camera!