Scenes from the Front Deck, vol. 1


I'm sitting on the front deck of my new, albeit temporary home.  We're on the second floor of a little beach bungalow that is 3rd from the beach, and has ocean views from every room.  It is the quintessential beach house; it is old, small, has two decks and lots of windows (read: lots of sun and ocean breezes)

So I'm sitting here on the deck, enjoying the quiet solitude of nighttime.  The stars are out in full force, and all I hear is the ocean -- rising, cresting, and falling onto the shore a few steps away.  It is so peaceful here, and even though we're only an hour and a half away from home, I feel like we're on the moon, or somewhere equally exotic and peaceful.  But really, we're in Jersey!  Just goes to show that once you throw an ocean into the mix, it really doesn't matter where you are.  Put an ocean in a dumpster and it becomes paradise.  No offense, Jersey. 

Anyway, being here is so restorative, and not just in a cliche vacation kind of way.  I can't tell you how many summers I've spent here on this same beach; how many warm summer nights, just like tonight, I've spent listening to this ocean while pondering the beauty of this big, wide world.  And although Jay and I day-trip here often, it's been years since I've been here at night and experienced the stars and the quiet and the all-encompassing headiness of the beach at night.  So it feels quite restorative being here because, well, it just is, but also because so much of myself is here; so many memories and experiences and lessons learned unfolded right here, and the recognition of that fills my cup in a way that just feels really really good.  

Anyway, I better sign off and get some shut-eye, because one of the best parts of the "beach at night" experience is watching the night give way to day.  Regardless of how many sunrises I've seen, especially on this beach, it never gets old, and is always worth the early alarm.  So with that, I'll say goodbye and wish you each a peaceful night and a beautiful day ahead.  xo

8 for 8


We just celebrated our eight year wedding anniversary, and to celebrate (for real), we're treating ourselves to a week at the beach on LBI.  We figured eight years of marriage deserves eight days on the beach -- one day for each year together :)  Unlike other types of vacations, beach trips are really dependent on the weather.  Sure, a cool, rainy day or two at the beach is nice, but nobody goes there hoping for rain.  So now that our trip is within the "10-day forecast" range, I've been checking like a hawk, and this is what I see:

Nothing but sweet sun icons as far as the eye can see!  I couldn't fit all the days, but you get the point -- it's just more of the same... sun, warmth, no rain, blah blah blah... 

So, Happy Anniversary to my sunshine, my best friend and my beloved, Jason Michael Stewart.  Here's to our eight years of marriage, to our eight days of sun, and to eighty more years of love, laughter and life together! 

Labor of Love


Okay, I'll admit it -- I'm just a little obsessed with all things baby right now, so please allow me to indulge my obsession, at least for today.  

I am currently so fascinated by birth, and by the enduring legacy of the billions of women who have carried and delivered babies since the beginning of time.  Talk about a sisterhood!  I feel overwhelmed by the collective strength of all of these women who -- whether in a hospital or at home, with meds or without -- have labored and birthed their babies.  

I imagine going through labor is one of the most intense experiences a woman can have, and I love hearing about and seeing the various methods women use to help them cope with the pain.  After seeing The Business of Being Born, I realized that not every woman wants the pain to be numbed; rather, some women see the pain as part of the whole experience and don't want to be numb to any part of the process.  Having never gone through labor, I cannot comment on the pain nor what I would do in that situation, but for those women who have chosen to walk through the pain, I am in awe of the ways in which they cope.

I've been watching youtube clips of home and water births, and just cannot believe the strength of these women.  It's like they tap into and draw from the Divine, and from the strength of the generations of women who came before them.  One clip that I find so moving is of a woman singing through her contractions.  It is so beautiful.  She is clearly a spiritual woman and is deeply connected to the Divine in this clip, despite having two strong contractions.  She almost makes me want to have contractions.  Almost :)

Baby? Maybe!


It's no big surprise that Jay and I want a baby.  We've been trying to conceive on and off now for a couple of years without any luck (sorry if that's TMI, but it's our reality and I think it's important to talk about these things).  We've tried a variety of methods, from charting cycles to using ovulation strips to meeting with fertility docs, but nothing has worked.  During all of this, I was going to school full-time, so in all fairness, school was my priority and trying to conceive always landed on the back burner.  But still, it's been incredibly frustrating, especially when everyone around us was either getting pregnant or having babies.  

But now, I'm done with school and we're ready to really pursue this again, for real this time -- no distractions, no school stress, no excuses.  Earlier this summer, I had lunch with friends who are the proud parents of a new baby boy.  We got to talking, and they shared their lengthy and frustrating journey to parenthood, which, like ours thus far, had been full of disappointment and heartache.  Our stories had so many parallels, including cycle irregularity, the books we'd read, the charting we'd done, the fertility doc procedures, etc.  "Finally", I thought, "someone who really understands".  

Obviously, the sheer existence of their precious baby boy means that somewhere along the way, our paths stopped being so similar.  They conceived and we did not... yet.  Whereas our path branched off and was more about finishing school, their path led them to the discovery of a little device called the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.  Never heard of it?  I hadn't either, until they told me how they finally achieved pregnancy.

Friends of theirs, who also struggled to get pregnant, used it and swore by it, so my friends decided to give it a whirl and try it out.  After two months, they were preggers.  Incredible.  Unlike ovulation test strips that so many of us are familiar with, this fertility monitor detects both LH and estrogen hormones, and therefore helps to target ovulation.  For women like myself who have irregular cycles, ovulation is unpredictable, so having a device that does the charting for you and tells you when it's peak fertility time, well folks, that's a miracle.  Well no, babies are miracles, but you get the point.  

After my friends told me about the fertility monitor, I went online to read reviews and to see if others got the same result.  I can't tell you how many couples, especially couples who struggle with this, have gotten pregnant with the monitor.  Story upon story, women everywhere are getting pregnant with this thing.  Just go onto Amazon's page and read through the reviews for yourself.  It's pricey, and most couples use it as a last resort before thinking about In Vitro Fertilization or continuing to meet with fertility specialists, so the stories of couples trying to conceive for years prior to using it are so touching.  So many stories of couples on the cusp of losing hope, and then BAM, baby-on-board.  I was in tears just reading through the reviews on Amazon, mostly because I could relate to and empathize with these women, but also for the hope their stories provide. 

So, I ordered it and it should arrive today.  We are hopeful, yet realistic, as nothing is guaranteed.  But, we are hopeful.  We know that whatever is meant for us will unfold for us, and we are grateful.

Here's hoping for the expansion of StewMody, Inc. in 2011 :)

Open House, Open Mind


It's official, I have a new hobby: going to open houses!

Now that I am no longer a voluntary slave to the pursuit of higher education, I have my Sundays back.  And now that I'm about to get a great job and have steady income (manifesting), Jay and I are finally ready to kiss our renting days goodbye and purchase our first home.  This is terribly exciting, because for years we never thought we would ever be able to buy a home, but with a lot of savings, some luck, and a carpenter husband who loves to fix things up, we are in good position to be homeowners.  Plus, in this incredible buyers market, we'd be fools to not to look for a home. 

Since I don't actually have a job yet, we're not actually looking with an agent.  BUT, thanks to Sunday open houses, we're able to look around, check out areas, figure out our must-haves and deal-breakers, and just get a feel for the market.  Unfortunately, our largest deal-breaker is the Philadelphia public school system, so we have already made the difficult decision to leave our wonderful neighborhood in Philly and head back to the 'burbs.  I wish more than anything that we could stay here, but some things are just non-negotiable, and education is one of those things.  So in addition to a home, we're on the hunt for a new area, preferably an area that is still close to the city, has a nice community vibe, and a solid school system.  

Yesterday we went down into Delaware County and saw about seven homes in the Folsom / Aldan / Drexel Hill area.  We went to this area primarily because it had a lot of open houses, not because we're looking exclusively in that area.   We saw a great mix of homes; some were ugly and had zero character, and others had a lot of charm and potential.  We learned that pictures can be quite deceiving, both in good and bad ways.  For instance, look how cute this house is:

Now look at the view from the front door


But on the other side of the coin, this house looked small and uninspired from the outside:

...but the inside was full of character, big windows, unexpected nooks, and beautiful built-ins:

This house sat on a large lot, had a fantastic front porch, and had tons of potential:

...but it was in a crappy neighborhood, or at least a crappy section of a neighborhood.

So you never know what you're gonna get, which makes for fun outings to open houses!

In my perfect-world scenario, we would buy a fixer-upper home like this:

...and turn it into something like this:

And while I'm talkin' dream scenario, this house would be right here in Mt. Airy, would have a large backyard, and Philadelphia schools would offer a world-class education.  A girl can dream, can't she? :)  But seriously, I'm open to new possibilities; I'm open to the potential of ugly spaces and unfamiliar places.  I am open.  And grateful for open houses!

The Job Search: Stories and Signs from the Front Lines


A little over a week ago, I was feeling really frustrated with the lack of feedback I was experiencing on the job search.  Despite the effort I was putting into it, nobody was contacting me and it was starting to feel like nobody ever would.  When you're home all day alone and have no real sense of purpose, it's easy to let these frustrations take over and dominate your thoughts.  I just needed some feedback, from anyone.  So I had a friend eyeball my resume and cover letters and asked her for feedback.  She thought they were strong and reassured me that the process of searching for a job takes awhile, and that it's not unusual for organizations to take over a month before they start contacting candidates.  So with that, I took a sigh of relief and got a little wind back in my sails.  It's amazing what a little feedback can do.

Two days later, I received my first call from an employer.  It was the boost I needed.  And better still, it was regarding a job that was a perfect fit with my experience and I remember saying to myself, "if these people don't contact me, then there's something wrong with my resume".  So it felt great to finally have an interview on the horizon, especially for a job that I felt beyond qualified for.

The interview was unusual in that I didn't have to say a word.  I literally walked in and the woman explained that she had just happened to have lunch with two of my prior bosses who vouched for my abilities and encouraged her to hire me.  She knew I was looking for full-time work and that the position was only 20 hours per week, but explained she was in the process of calling around within her network to see if anyone could hire me for an additional 20 hours so that I would have full-time work.  "Wow", I thought, "this woman is doing my job search for me".  I didn't have to sell myself at all.  It was weird.  She showed all of her cards way early and let me know that I was the only candidate they were interested in, and that the job was mine if I wanted it.  I knew I didn't really want the position, but it just felt so good to be wanted that much by an organization, especially after feeling so frustrated.  So we left it open-ended.  I expressed that although I was seeking full-time work, I was open to exploring other options such as two part-time gigs, or just working 20 hours a week for six months, kind of as a way to prolong my real job search.

I left the interview feeling great, but confused.  "What should I do?"  On the one hand, I thought, "It's silly to turn down any opportunity in this economy", but on the other hand, I was afraid to settle for a position that I felt lukewarm about, and especially fearful that the minute I accepted the job, more appealing offers would start coming in.  So I thought long and hard about it and weighed the pros, cons, and risks.  I was tempted to take it, but something held me back.

I spent the weekend with my parents and talked it over with them.  They felt how I felt.  Big suprise -- they are my parents!  Dad came down more in the "take it" camp and said things like, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", and Mom was more hesitant and  posed questions like, "how will you feel if you take it and then another organization contacts you?"  "Great", I thought, "well this was helpful!

But later that night, Mom and I got to talking, and she did was she always does; she told me to pray about it, and to ask God for a sign.  After a slight eye-roll, I remembered that she was right, and that the woman has a long history of asking for and receiving signs.  Seriously.  She's been doing this for years, and it never ceases to amaze me.  There are too many stories to share in this post, but one of my favorites was when Mom & Dad were house-hunting in Georgia and not having any luck, Mom prayed that God would lead them to the right home, and asked God to show her either a statue of Mary or yellow roses when it was the right home.  Well, imagine the look on mom's face when she stepped into the backyard of a house and found a garden that had a statue of Mary surrounded by yellow roses.  That house became our home, and little did we know, the next door neighbor turned out to be the sister of my mom's dear friend from Connecticut.  Another interesting piece of info that wouldn't become relevant for another two months was that this neighbor, in addition to being mom's friends' sister, had recently lost a child.  They didn't know it then, but they were about to have a lot more in common than merely being neighbors and knowing the same woman in a distant state.  This story still gives me chills...

So anyway, back to the job dilemma, Mom suggested that I ask God to send me a sign.  She felt that if this part-time gig was really meant for me, then God would open that door a little further and let me know, and if that job was not truly meant for me, then either the door would shut or another door to another opportunity would open.  I liked that perspective, and chose to pray my way out of this dilemma.  Monday morning I said, "look God, I am so grateful for the opportunity before me, but I'm just not sure if it's the right fit for me right now.  Please send me a sign, a clear indication of what to do."  One hour later I got my sign; I received an email from a second employer (an employer who I REALLY want to work for) stating that I made the first cut and that I was invited to participate in the second phase of the hiring process.  I couldn't believe it, but actually, I could. Mom's words echoed in my mind "...another opportunity would open...".  This was it, and in that moment, I made up my mind.

A few hours later, the woman who I interviewed with last week called and asked if I had made up my mind and if I wanted the position.  It felt so good to confidently say that I didn't think it was the best fit for me right now, and that I have another opportunity in the works that is full-time.  She understood, but asked that I contact her if my plans change.  Wow.  

So now I'm working on phase two of the hiring process for a job that I can really get excited about; it's a writing assignment that is due by Friday.  When I called Mom and let her know, she was thrilled but not surprised, and reminded me that even if this job doesn't pan out, maybe it's purpose was simply to close the door on a job that wasn't meant for me, and that it did.  So we'll see what the future holds, but for now I feel excited, and grateful, and like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. 

The Train Game


We all excel at certain things; some of us are excellent storytellers, or painters, or cooks.  Me?  I'm really good at missing my train.  I cannot tell you how many times I have raced to the train station only to see the train pulling away from the platform.  It is such an infuriating feeling, but hey, at least I'm consistent and quite good at it.  

Last night was no different.  My plan was to meet my friend Suzen for happy hour and then come home and spend the rest of my night with Jay.  I caught the train into the city without a hitch; in fact, in a serendipitous twist of fate, my friend Jen just happened to be on the same train and we got to spend a solid 25 minutes of unexpected quality time together.  Anyway, I got into town and met my friend for happy hour, which by the way, if you've never been to Palace at the Ben, you must go.  It was delicious.  We drank mango martinis and shared plates of Murg Malai Kabab and Panir Tikka.  YUM.  

Anyway, we wrapped up around 7:00, and left the restaurant at 7:04.  I thought my train options were something like 7:15 and 7:40, so I knew I had to hustle if I wanted to make the 7:15, but I was only a few blocks away from the station and felt confident that I could make it.  When it comes to train times, I tend to remember general times, but not exact times -- this is bad, and ultimately makes me really good at missing trains.  I decided to call Jay as I hustled so that he could check the exact time of the train for me.  I was still a solid two blocks away when he said, "The train leaves at 7:10, you have four minutes".  

I started running, really really running.  I was weaving in and out of people on the sidewalk.  My pants were falling down so I had one hand clutching my pants trying to keep them in place, and used the other hand to propel me forward, the way runners do when they pump their arms in unison with their legs.  I'm pretty sure I didn't look like a graceful and coordinated runner though.  Nope, I'm pretty sure I looked more like the hot mess express, all crazy-eyed and sweaty, charging through the city streets trying desperately to keep my pants up.  

I finally reached the station, tore open the door, flew down the first set of stairs, raced down the corridor, glanced at the clock, saw the numbers 7:09, said "shit", glanced down to the platform, saw my train sitting there, tore open the second door, flew down the second set of stairs, swung the door open, flung my body onto the platform, ...and saw my train pull away. 

Mentally, I collapsed.  Physically, I just stood there, lungs heaving out of my chest, sweat pouring down my face, eyes staring with bewilderment and defeat at the now-empty track.  Despite the fact that the next train was scheduled to arrive in only 30 minutes, I felt like it was all over, I had lost the game, again.  Train: 5, Jen: 0.  I never seem to miss my train by a few minutes, which I think would be much easier to stomach; I seem to always miss my train by seconds, with one foot on the platform, watching the train snake out of the station.  The two train taillights, like evil red eyes, lock with my eyes and say "ha ha ha, got you again sucker!"  Ugh!  So infuriating.  I'll get you next time, train!

But, once I get over the initial disappointment of missing my train once again, I inevitably  tend to enjoy my time at the station, where there are abundant people-watching opportunities and sometimes excellent street musicians offering musical distractions in exchange for a buck or two.  Last night was no different, I sat on a bench and watched the comings and goings of all sorts of different people, and even watched someone miss their train.  I empathized with his frustration, recognized the crazy look in his eye, and quietly raised my fist in solidarity as he took his respective place on a bench and resigned himself to the fact that he had just lost a round of the train game.  Train: 1, Man 0.