On Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize, motherhood, and memories

After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?
Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day

So. The hubby is returning back to work tomorrow after a cycling accident that rendered me awestruck at the miracles we witnessed. To write or not to write – that is the question. Because to me, whose digital footprint spans three blogs, there are just some milestones and moments that are too precious, too close to the heart to be shared with strangers. Thus. At the moment, all I want to proclaim is Hallelujah! God is good. God is sovereign. He cares. He provides. Angels to carry us …. I will write anyway, please keep on reading. ūüôā

Like everyone else, life sucks me into a vortex of busyness that months later makes one ask “Where did the hours go?”

Maybe that’s also what Stevens, the butler, thought at the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Who really knows? But yes … it must be. Stevens’ ruminations on his past life while traveling through the British countryside can – if you think about it long enough – be brought to conclusion with the question “Where did the years go?” It’s the query to end time travels to the past.

Which, as any housewife can tell you, is a question that most mothers ponder at the end of the day, er, years of their servitude as household managers, cook, laundromat, etc …. Hopefully, you get the point.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. Yesterday morning, I could not get back to sleep. The subject on my mind was the previous night’s news: the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature had gone to Ishiguro,¬†“who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”¬†

Having slogged through his last book, The Buried Giant, I was stupefied that an author whose last work had brought down my esteem for his writing had won. (My review of  The Buried Giant is here.)

The hubby, bless his heart, does not overthink. He gets up, reads the Bible, digests the news, then thinks of the jobs to do around the house that need his attention. Me? I overthink. All the time. It’s a bad habit, I know (and the reason why I can never finish an entire stack of clothes to be ironed.)

Back to yesterday morn: I sat up in bed and mused on my years of motherhood. Then struggled to rationalize the committee’s choice. In a flash, the lightbulb moment came despite the lack of coffee. Authors win the Nobel Prize because they not only distill our experiences into words that conjure images in our mind and sensations in our hearts, approximating how we feel to a degree that is uncanny for a work of fiction… according to Waseda University Prof. Koji Toko, Ishiguro’s win reflects the fact that “vague sensations such as memories, nostalgia and delusions are what constitute the reality of our lives.”

Do they? Frankly, I don’t think so. But. Let’s face it, the fictional lives that authors create so resonate with us because we can easily step into their shoes of their characters. In fact, most often, we wish we were in their shoes. Literally.

I suppose all well-loved writers accomplish those things. In my case, I hated The Buried Giant yet have to concede that for all the cumbersome work of wading through its pages,¬† Ishiguro still accomplished his goal in writing it. I was left with the sense that a “mist of forgetfulness” can serve a higher purpose in life (the fact that I am now entering the golden years and have become forgetful has no bearing on this sentiment, believe it or not). Don’t we all wish to erase certain memories? As the Swedish Academy’s secretary Sara Danius remarked, Ishiguro won for “exploring what you have to forget in order to survive in the first place as an individual or as a society.”

Then too, like Stevens, I have often wondered whether, with graying hair and feeble bones, I will be forced to be content with whatever remains of my current life will still be there in the future. Like Stevens, whose blind loyalty to his foolish employer kept him from seeking relationships, have I been blind to the emotional needs of my children as I struggle to keep the house spic and span? The latter is something I feel ambivalent about – it’s how stay-at-home mothers are judged – not only because I like order but because it takes away a lot of time from mothering. Age has brought security in my choices, yes, but should I have been less fastidious and mothered more?

Perhaps I would not have pondered Ishiguro’s win so much if I had not had experienced memory loss and its effects so close to home recently. But the hubby’s incoherent babbling and transformation to Dory forcefully reminded me that we are creatures of memory as much as habit. Memories shape our responses to love, loss, the passage of time and emotions such as regret¬† if not as equally well as the physical reality of the present.

Would amnesia leave as much devastation if memory and time were not inexplicably linked? Why is it that older memories are always associated with our younger selves? For most of humanity, photographs bear silent witness to what others may dismiss as figments of our imagination. For the hubby, his Tomtom testified that he crashed at exactly 6:28 pm on the last Tuesday evening of September. Without it, we would have been forced to rely only on the testimony memory of his cycling companions. Because. Try as he can, the hubby cannot recall the events leading to and after his crash.

But. Enough of thinking! There’s one difference between Stevens and moi. I’m married to the boss of the house, ha, ha. Ishiguro¬† and I both share one thing in common, though: spouses who enable us to write by picking up our slack in housework. Meanwhile …¬† being a night owl …¬† here’s my favorite quote from Remains of the Day:

You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.¬†

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The kindness of strangers

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
               Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire

Several months ago, I had no idea that there was a sisterhood of mothers with grown and flown children. When I learned about the group, my immediate thought was “Nah, my eldest still has one more year to go before leaving home.” And then. Our eldest bared his plans after high school graduation. It meant leaving for another continent during the summer before twelfth grade to pursue a B2 language certification. It’s a prerequisite when one is applying to a public university in Europe.

Two months. Away from me. Away from us, the family.

My heart went beep, beep. There were late-night discussions with the hubby on doing what’s best for our child’s future. There were number-crunching dialogues on how we will send four children to university. ¬†There were questions as to whether this was an answer to prayer. Was this a way out of sending our boy(s) to the Philippines where teenage boys are being killed with impunity? The boy and his father went over his goals and options repeatedly, an activity that they had begun maybe two or three years ago.

In the end, we both agreed that,¬†whether he’d be accepted into a German university or not in the future,¬†this child needed to further his language studies. After all, he had exhibited incredible self-discipline¬†(he deleted his FB account to focus on his language studies which was conducted entirely at home)¬†to attain A1 and A2 mastery and be eligible for a B1 class in the language school where he was enrolling.

And. We all agreed that the optimal plan was to send him away. The only other option was to enroll him in a language school in the city where he would have to pay rent but not get the immersion experience that he needed. Both options required the same financial investment but the latter offered the lesser return.

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When your child is flying alone for the first time, what do you do? We guessed that most flights were delayed due to the outward-bound flights of G20 leaders that day. 

Why does supporting kids in their pursuits and plans almost always tear the heart? I don’t mean this in a negative way but when I consider my children’s abilities (one son can play the drum, guitar and piano – and we never paid for music lessons for him!) I am always heartbreakingly blown away at the feats they have accomplished at such a young age. They surpass me, these seeds that grew in my womb.

Back to our eldest. This is the child who did not care for the German language classes that he was forced to endure in ninth grade. The child who had resisted purchasing a language program because “Duolingo is free.” And now here he was, begging permission and money. We had no choice but to acquiesce.¬†But our German friends whom we’d visited last year were moving to the US three weeks after my son would arrive. It was uncertain where he would stay afterwards. Nevertheless, he flew and we prayed for the best.

Indeed, his experience was more than we could have hoped for: he stayed with a family where he was forced to think and speak German all the time.

So. Now, here he is again and I’m awash in tears. Not by his presence. But by the letter that he handed to me within minutes of our arrival at home. There’s a line that opened the floodgates (or it could be hormones at this period in my life) amidst praise for my son’s language ability and a reminder to trust in God.

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Reading it, I’m awestruck at the thought that the woman who became his surrogate mother, a working mom with small children still at home, ¬†spared time to pen a letter to me, his birth mother.¬†It’s handwritten. Who writes handwritten letters nowadays? Members of my generation, mothers with grown and flown children who understand each other’s concerns though we’re geographically and culturally worlds apart.

Indeed, I’m staggered at how she opened her home to my son despite being so busy with her own family and work. It’s not something I would have thought to do, being so tired of taking care of myself and my own brood. Beyond that, she affirmed our parenting and sought to quiet a mother’s heart. For being there and holding my child’s heart, Frau Maria, thank you.

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I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

On being a Christian, motherhood and life after forty

Now really, I’ve just been dragged along this techno revolution where one had to upgrade every few years to a newer and sleeker version of a gadget that was only in the realms of science fiction during my adolescence. Thus, you did not find me ruing the fact that ¬†Facetime and Viber are banned in the UAE. Because – goodness! With so many channels for communicating, why would one need Facetime and Viber?

Still … maybe it’s a good thing that there are apps that allow people to chat without being physically tied to an oral conversation over the phone. A person can reply at one’s leisure. The negative side is that one is always distracted by the constant stream of messages from different sources. Also. They do not afford privacy, according to my privacy-obsessed 13yo who uses ProtonMail and has converted my smartphone browser from Safari to Duck Duck Go. Hubby says it’s appropriate for me since I am constantly making dakdak, ha, ha.

Anyway, several days ago in a group chat, someone posted “If and when (insert hubby’s name) loses his job (hopefully not), that’s only when you’ll find your true allegiance.”

Duh? Being a writer, words are my love language. I feel their implied meanings, the emotions they convey, the angst they arouse, etc … I was tempted to reply. But did not .

Later, I discussed it with the hubby. Implicit in the statement, we both agreed, was the insinuation that my Christianity hinges on the comfortable life we have abroad in contrast to those residing in the Philippines. Yet. Much as I resented the innuendo, I had initiated a conversation on that same topic two years ago with close friends. We’d asked ourselves: What if we were to be suddenly destitute? Would our Christianity suffer or would we remain faithful till the end? And we agreed that it’s not so much that we’re shallow Christians, it’s that we don’t know ourselves that much to be sure that we will never complain of hardships. I mean, if we can’t help but compare and complain of financial and physical strains right now, how will we be able to endure financial and physical suffering in the future?

Now I’ve been a born-again Christian for more than 20 years and being one is at the core of Me. It permeates nearly every decision I make, nearly every thought I have, and nearly every action I take. I say ‘nearly’ because clearly there are some things I still grapple with. For example, were I not a Christian I would buy a pair of shoes every month. It’s not difficult to do so when UAE stores average four to five sales every year (four seasons plus Ramadan). But how can I teach my children not to be materialistic when they see my row of handbags imported from the US, some of which have not been used for several years?

Then again, I struggle with the injunction not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. I think we should tell our children where our tithes, offerings and donations are going just so they’ll know we are obeying God’s call to give back what is rightfully His and that we’re not spending for our needs and pleasure only. I believe we should model financial generosity but will that make them more generous when they become wage earners? How does one model generosity in a town where there are no slum dwellers or homeless?

I know we’re supposed to reach out with the gospel but really, how can I reach out when I’m tired all the time? Heck, I can’t even keep the house in order all the time, what with the laundry, ironing, cooking, homeschooling two kids, and the sand, the sand, the sand! that gets into the house even when there hasn’t been a sandstorm. How can I reach out to others when just keeping my sanity is wearing me down all the time?

Life may begin at forty but I know there are others out there who will agree that middle age sucks big time when you’re undergoing perimenopause. It’s a sisterhood that one is violently inducted to by nature. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that those around you have no idea why you can’t sleep when you’re so sleepy and why you feel inflamed for two years then feel frozen all of a sudden all the time. Believe me, the first time I visited an ob-gyne, I broke down. It was a relief to finally have someone completely understand what I was going through. Without. Any. Judgment. (I once confessed to a friend about trying not to use my situation to excuse my bad behavior and I was downright disheartened when she pointed out someone who was able to do so. Caveat was that mother had several maids to attend to her needs! To me, if you’ve got a maid, I can’t reach you. Sorry.)

I look at Jeremiah and wonder how he continued to be faithful in the face of scorn and ostracism. How could he? What was God thinking when He chose Jeremiah to deliver a message that He knew would be rejected? Maybe I should be inspired by Jeremiah’s devotion to his creator. After all, I have teenagers who are increasingly stubborn about doing things their way. But no. Methinks my diatribes sermons speeches started falling on deaf ears years ago when they began going to school.

How does one contend with a God who tells you to proclaim an unpopular message? Surrender to Babylon or die! Today, that would be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy, nay, treason. If I were in Jeremiah’s place, would I have been faithful?

I. Really. Don’t. Know. But I have a suspicion I may not be. Just like in the hypothetical situation above wherein our source of income has been cut off.

Perhaps I think like this because I belong to a church that equates growth with active service and regular attendance in church activities. Which, to me, seems like a stunted way of becoming like Christ because honestly, how can one grow spiritually without practicing the spiritual disciplines and being connected to the source of that spirituality in the first place. How can one grow in love or mature unless one is in the path to which God has called you? Why isn’t motherhood honored as a worthy calling? If your primarily calling is inside the house, why isn’t it affirmed to be as worthy as visible ministries? I suspect that many church workers would have less discipline problems at home if they prioritized their families first.

And really. Without being mean about it, a person’s level of personal spiritual growth is reflected in one’s words and values not by 100% attendance in bible studies. Thus, even though one has no intention of measuring a fellow believer’s spiritual maturity, one can know just by learning what a friend watches or does in his/her spare time. Paul’s injunction to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable‚ÄĒif anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) may be archaic, yes, but they’re still relevant to our times in light of the trash that is produced by television and film producers.

Not saying here we shouldn’t watch movies but that we should practice discernment concerning our spiritual intake much the same way we control the food that we eat. Because the world’s values seep in and permeate our mind without our knowing it. Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t be surprised that we are in a church where most believers values are shaped not by the Word (“they deserve to die because they’re bad people” is a common refrain for defending Duterte’s drug war) but by the world.

Last night, my eldest asked me to call. So I did. In our conversation, he remarked “You never call me, it’s always Dad who calls.” That sort of blanked me. I’d sent messages via SMS, What’s App and Messenger without getting a reply sometimes. I thought I’d been gradually letting go gracefully. I’d greeted him “Good morning!” and kissed him “Goodnight!” with nary an emoji save for a thumbs up. Sometimes. And now this. Just when he’s about to return. I was at a loss and stammered “It’s your Dad who’s always upset when you don’t communicate. Just a sign from you in the morning and before you sleep is okay with me.” And then we discussed sundry things.

The truth is: I’m trying to find the right balance. How does one let go of a person whom you spewed out of your womb without breaking down on the outside? How does one try not to smother a child? Boys are funny creatures, you know? They don’t like the feeling that they’re being controlled. They don’t like being told what to do. Wily creature that I am, I thought I’d been giving my boy more independence. Yet “I’m always low priority” is what I now hear. And. The Old Testament isn’t much help. It’s a struggle to find inspiration. ¬†Tell me, how does one navigate midlife motherhood beyond the feels?

PS. Here are some noteworthy articles on motherhood in the Old Testament by Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary

I dreamed last night

Found an old poem written years ago …

I dreamed last night of the (insert name here) tree
Atop the Thousand Steps
From where we rowed a banca
When we fished for tilapia
The summer we turned twenty.

I’d never seen a kapre or dwende before
Though they’re common in folklore
But Lola’s tales before she died
Swiftly rendered me tongue-tied.

Oh, it was a fearful sight!
Standing above in a circle of light
Sword at his side, with whiskers brown and ugly,
Clothed in belted, black tunic, a kapre glared malevolently.

“Halt!” cried he while his minions
Blocked the escape trail to Muzon
And an army of dwendes garbed in green
Descended from nearby Curly Mountain.

“The password or your life!” he threatened me.
Looking around for Ali Baba’s cave, I
Saw dew-dropped leaves glitter obliquely
Like diamonds on a lightning-struck sky.

‘Twas the same (insert name here) tree
With its verdant, rustling canopy
Where we’d carved our initials that third of May
Before dusk drowned out the light of day.

I never gave the password
But
That surreal scene
Of a leprechaun and elves in green
And a first love’s kiss
Amidst the smell of fish
Are all I can now remember
Of a long and blissful summer.

Untitled IV

Have been wanting to write for the longest time but life throws a curve each day …

Still, I do write.
In my head
As I try
To drown out the list of things
To do tomorrow
While lying in bed
And driving to La La Land.

There must be a thousand opening
Paragraphs I’ve composed
About
My eldest’s flight and
Mid-air meeting with Trump,
The salads that brighten my world
Each day I’m in a stump;
The online friends I meet
Whose chat gets me through each day,
The flab on my belly that greet
Me each morn and refuses to go away.

Most days life sucks,
Some days ecstasies abound.
Whatever shit I’m buried in –
Don’t worry, dear,
I’m still around.

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“Ohm’s Law, Boyle’s Law, cole slaw …” my son chanted a few years ago and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what Cole’s Law was, ha, ha!¬†

Wonder Woman I am not

It seems all I ever do is catch up. Yeah. Take this post, for instance. It was slated to be posted on Mother’s Day. Now it’s the first week of June and I’m still on the first paragraph.

So yeah, my life consists of catching up with –

…. the news.
…. what’s been happening in my friends’ lives.
…. my family.
…. my extended family (meaning: the long-lost relatives who found me on social media)
…. my kids (wow, I nearly forgot to mention them!)
…. my reading (see the photo below of some of the books on my TBR list)
…. my age (a friend recently remarked “Only our body ages, we’re still teenagers!“)
…. my gardening (see photo taken today of my drooping peace lily)
…. my household cleaning (having a maid ranks on top of my wish list till my dying day)

Then again, there’s the laundry. Who has ever caught up with the laundry IRL? Conquering the pile of dirty clothes, bedsheets, towels, etc … would not require Wonder Woman powers so much if, if only the missing sock syndrome didn’t plague our household.

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Okay, so the lonely socks syndrome only affects mommies. Of which I, obviously, am one. That it was not a problem in our household during our blissful BC (before children) days has been lost on the hubby. He fumes whenever it takes him more than 30 seconds to find matching socks I, of course, have the wisdom not to mention that I am not a maid nor a slave to make his life easy.

Here is one solution that I have yet to try because I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever keep the first bag of unmatched socks out of sight and later on forget where it is stored. I am notorious for having a poor memory. There was a time when, while on vacation in the Philippines, the hubby asked, “Where’s our money?

Struck with fear, I asked, “What money?

He calmly replied, as if explaining the alphabet again to a first grader, “You know – our cash for this holiday.

Oh! Are you sure you gave them to me?

Of course, they’re not with me.”

Couldn’t you have stored it away somewhere?

Heck no, I entrusted them to you, remember? I even told you that it was all our spending money.

I kid not, with the specter of losing two months’ worth of holiday currency looming large on the horizon – not to mention the possibility of a word war that I was sure to lose – I turned our entire bedroom upside down. In a matter of minutes, I sweated more than I ever I think I will ever do with a Jillian Michaels workout. Think that you need physical exercise to perspire? Believe not! I’ve never been able to replicate that feat¬†of perspiring a bucket in less than ten minutes in all my dancing since then. Yup – never!

You’d think that by now I’d know every nook and cranny in our bedroom. After all, that was not the first time I’d treasure hunted to find something I’d hidden (usually, my jewelry). But no. On that same vacation, my eldest son found Dh1,700 in the pocket of a pair of shorts in our closet. Which I’d hidden nearly three years before. ūüė¶

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So let’s get back to the problem of missing socks. I’m no Wonder Woman. In fact, I don’t even aspire to reaching Wonder Woman status. Watching Gal Gadot’s achievements actually prompted a question in my mind: how many maids does she have? Does that sound mean? Well, so be it. I’ve no bones to pick with former beauty queens who maintain their looks while having children but every mother knows that one can’t balance work, family responsibilities, workouts, Me time, and stave off the ravages of time without paid help.

Two nights ago, I asked a friend who’s now doing Emily Skye’s workouts, “How was the movie?

She replied, “Her body looks good. From all angles.”

Hearing that somehow depressed me. Yeah, I know, it’s escapist fiction. I have yet to watch the film so I really can’t comment about its storyline but if my friend’s overall impression of the movie was Gadot’s physique and prowess, well … maybe it’s a good idea to pass up on the latest superhero(ine) franchise.

I do watch escapist fiction under duress. And I usually can’t remember the plot the next day. Thus, I prefer my choices to have some semblance of justice for middle-aged matrons with plenty of white hairs and wrinkles. What that means is a plot that has heart, a story that everyone young and old can relate to. Like Kevin Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables.

Enthusiasm and melancholy, perseverance and grief, romance and regret ‚ÄĒ in short, a dollop of everything that contributes to the human experience. Still a resonant cornerstone of our national cultural identity, Anne of Green Gables pays affectingly nostalgic tribute to the slower pace and simpler times of an earlier era, while its heroine embodies such ‚Äútruly Canadian‚ÄĚ values as moral conviction, intelligence, and perhaps most importantly, empathy and understanding towards other people.

                                David Davidson in Anne of Green Gables

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or perhaps it’s because I can recall a time when life was simpler and less grim. ¬†And films did not distort nor deviate from an author’s mood, like Netflix’s dark¬†Anne with an E. Either way, age has a way of distorting one’s views. Even though what continues to be a problem must be addressed and solved, wisdom acquired via experience makes one let go of daily botherations. Especially if it concerns laundry and disappearing socks.¬†¬†Lonely socks? Let them go to sock heaven!

In the meantime, La La Land beckons so I’ll be off to catch up on some sleep …

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Maybe I should have a bin just for socks? 

Valentine’s Day 2017 (on dealing with non-expectations)

Is there anything in Me
That can’t be fixed by a cup of tea?

Ugh. So yesterday was another busy day of homeschooling. And. Wanting some comfort, I turned to my cache of tea boxes bought from Germany last summer. Only to discover that creeping crawling insects had invaded most of them. So now I’m throwing them away. Ack! The meandering thoughts they would have inspired while being sipped! Alas, adieu was the order of the day …

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Some of the tea that I threw away … and they cost more than four times as much here in the UAE!

Anyway, I had a most pleasant surprise yesterday. Like I wrote before, we don’t normally celebrate Valentine’s Day so I was not expecting anything nor taking the hubby’s mutterings about not having a present for yours truly seriously. Truly. I can’t remember if he ever gave me a rose before we were married. (In fairness, he started giving roses after we were married and it was only last month that he gave me tulips)¬†

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Sadly, these tulips wilted within two days of purchase

So. He took youngest son out for a haircut. And returned with these and an apology that they were the best he could find in our desert town.

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I’d seen them advertised on Facebook and thought “Who would ever give those kind of roses to their dearly beloved!” I couldn’t help it – I laughed. And told him he need not have bothered – there were roses aplenty in our garden. Thereupon he articulated his hurt and vowed never to give another Valentine’s Day gift again.

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One of the rose varieties that grows in sandy soil – these are not sweet-smelling

Realizing that I’d crushed his delight in giving (not to mention jeopardized all future chances of ever receiving a Valentine’s Day gift again), I immediately sought to rectify my thoughtlessness. Articulating my gratitude, I remained mum concerning the box of chocolates that accompanied the rose. Though really, my first thought was “Oh no, are you sabotaging my calorie counting?

Anyway, I’ve since then been enlightened by Joe Carter’s piece on How to Write a Love Letter.” He says

Being in love has nothing to do with being reasonable. In fact, love requires that you make completely irrational choices. If we didn’t there would be no romance, no second marriages, and no jewelry stores.

So maybe purchasing a long-lasting rose is unreasonable, irrational ¬†and downright corny. Yeah. When I think about it, what rose is supposed to last a whole year? Still … after all the busyness of yesterday and the middling musings on life and marriage that kept me awake till one in the morning, I finally found a way to allay the hubby’s hurt (who knew men could be so onion-skinned?)¬†and express my appreciation for his selflessness throughout the year… by finally writing the dedication/Christmas greeting in the book that I gave him for Christmas. I’d asked him to read it prior to reading the book and was perplexed to find that I’d never written it. Who knew I could be unreasonable and irrational to ask someone to read something I’ve never written?

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Honestly, I don’t know whether to feel gratified that hubby is turning romantic as he ages or mortified at the thought that we’ve now been swept into the tide of crass commercialism of a day commemorating the gruesome death of a Christian martyr. No one needs a special day to convey his/her love when it’s communicated everyday, eh?

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Image Source: The Idealist on FB

Belated Heart’s Day from the sands of Arabia!

Expectation