You can diagnose something as an addiction when you have two competing responses to being without the object of your addiction. Response one: Inability to function without it and the constant presence of the thing in your mind, like a taunt going around and around and around. Response two: The freedom and personal empowerment that floods you as you live without this thing you thought you needed. Perhaps it’s a two-step process with the two responses following each other.

These were some of my thoughts yesterday as I went without our Macbook again, this time by choice (read this post and this post if you want some background). I think I can say without a doubt that I had (and perhaps still have) an addiction to our computer and the Internet, and the irony in all of this is that I wasn’t doing anything that would be considered “bad” or “illegal” or “immoral.” The word “addiction” sounds like something serious, and our minds go to alcohol, drugs, pornography or sex, and those are serious addictions with debilitating personal consequences.

But they are certainly not the only kind of addiction, and most of us living our happy little lives in suburbia are nursing plenty of addictions ourselves.

The stuff we think we can’t live without. The people we are trying to please. The lifestyles that cost us personally and financially. The way we do things that rob us of our peace and only compound our stress. The attitudes we rely on that drain our joy and keep us from loving others. These are our addictions, and they are emptying us of what is truly valuable. 

All of us have intangible things – and real things – that we treasure. I suspect that relationships are at the top of our lists: Spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, mentors, coaches, teachers, bosses, and the list goes on. Perhaps after relationships come the sense of calling that we can have toward a way of doing things – I don’t want to say work here, because we all know that we can work and have it not mean anything. When I say calling, I mean the thing you put your hand to that energizes all of you, body, soul and spirit, and when you do it, you know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do.

Addictions are the thieves who come in the night and steal our most valuable treasures. In my own life, my computer and Internet addiction kept me from fulfilling my calling in this season of my life. It kept me from being an effective woman, wife and mother. I have not been operating from my full potential of energy, creativity and mental capacity, and it has been so easy to scapegoat caring for my son, breastfeeding and change. Yes, those things were draining, but not nearly as draining as the self-defeat that came from not getting things done because I was wasting time in front of this screen.

I felt powerful yesterday. I told Husband to take the Macbook with him to work because I didn’t want to face the temptation, but he told me he would keep me accountable and to leave it here. Honestly there wasn’t one moment in the day that I felt like opening it. Instead I felt free, powerful, more creative, and some of the tasks I finished are things I have been planning to do for almost two years (like sorting through kitchen drawers). I made a Sri Lankan chicken curry that tasted like home.

Living without addictions gives us back our time, our freedom, our dignity, our creativity, our relationships, and so many other things.

What is something in your life – or a person, relationship, attitude, lifestyle – that you think you cannot live without? What is this addiction stealing from you? How much will you have to lose to give it up? 

I dare you to do it – go without this thing, start the journey of getting rid of these ties and see where the road takes you. My guess is it will be a destination more beautiful and peaceful than you could have ever imagined.

  • Watermelon Salad     This salad makes me think of freedom – light, fresh, summery. It’s easy to pull together, and it does something wonderful with watermelon, which is wonderful on its own, but oh the joy of pairing it with feta. I first heard about this in Melbourne several years ago from a friend named Kylie. I couldn’t imagine the idea of watermelon and feta together, so I had to try it. The salad I made then had chopped watermelon, mint, lots of crumbled feta, lime juice, kalamata olives, and thinly sliced red onions. It was divine then, and a few weeks ago I was reading Joy the Baker who also had a watermelon salad, but hers has fewer ingredients. Reading about her salad made me want to eat a watermelon salad again, so we did it. This one has watermelon, feta, a few Greek olives and lime juice sprinkled over it. It’s fabulous.

Photo from our wedding day by Robb Duncan of Pixxil Photography

Two years ago today, I was singing – a lot – with some of my closest friends, putting on a white, glittery dress and getting ready to make a bunch of promises to the man who is now my husband. I’m thankful for those promises and vows – Husband and I started an anniversary tradition last year on our first anniversary of reading our vows to each other again – even though I had no idea how impossible it would be to live those statements out daily on my own, they are still a daily reminder of the boundaries within which I desire to live as a wife.

If I could  tell myself two years ago what I would know now, the list would be long, full of things that would make me laugh and cry. Here is a small sampling of what it would contain:

1. The “us” is always the loser in the right and wrong game – no one wins when one of us is right and one of us is wrong.

2. It’s possible that every time I’ve been angry at Husband about something, I have been guilty of doing the exact same thing.

3. It means something when I come through on my promises even if it is as simple as posting a letter on the day I said I would mail it.

4. Laughing together does something for our relationship that no deep conversation could ever do.

5. Deal with selfishness because it has a way of cropping up at inconvenient and unexpected times.

6. Receive love – learn how to do it, learn how to be loved in all ways without the pressure of having to return it because wallowing deeply in love in the receiving of love is the only way to learn how to love.

7. Don’t make a deal in your head with Husband unless you also tell him his part of the deal.

8. A conversation that begins with “I did _____, I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” goes much better than a conversation that starts with “You did ___ .”

9. Honesty. At all times. Always. Even when it hurts both of you. Even when you don’t want to say it. Even when you think you sound like an idiot. Just say it. What remains unsaid becomes a minefield of lies in your head and will bring devastation.

10. If you hear an accusation about your spouse in your head or from another person, you have only two options ever: a. resolve it immediately in your head and heart so it does not come between the two of you or b. talk about it with your spouse. Unresolved accusations about Husband turn into beliefs about Husband. You can go a year treating him in a negative way because you believe something false about him.

11. Clean the bathroom.

12. Keep beer in the fridge.

13. He loves starters, so make them.

14. He doesn’t like it when you’re verbally negative about other people. Learn to talk to him and get his advice without tearing others down.

15. Thinking that he’s great in general or great at something specific nurtures a positive attitude in your heart toward him, but it still doesn’t mean he knows that you have those thoughts about him. Tell him. Write it down. Set it in stone. All people flourish from specific affirmation.

16. Expectations that aren’t communicated are going to bring you down. Take time regularly to think about what your expectations are, then communicate them to Husband, and then you need to let them go because you don’t get to tell someone how they should love and care for you. He decides how he wants to love you and that’s how it should be. Don’t try to control him in this or interfere in the process. 

17. Surprises – small and big – keep the fun alive and the fire going.

18. Be mindful when you plan your surprises because you share a computer and a bedroom. Hide your paper trail.

19. Take a shower.

20. Listen to him. Always. Always. Always. Just listen. Don’t talk. Not every conversation has to go two ways.

21. Listen to him when he says loving things about you, just listen, there isn’t always a need to respond with a compliment in return. Listen, receive it, and most importantly believe him.

22. When you are happy, he is happy. Impossible to understand? Yes. But it’s true.

23. What everyone says about marriage is true – it keeps getting better and better.

Thank you, Husband, for two years of life, love and friendship. Your love continues to touch my heart and change me.

Last week the unthinkable happened. The power cord for our Macbook broke, which meant the computer was out of commission until I could go to the Apple store for a new cord. It took me more than a day to get there, so yes, I went for a day-and-a-half without access to our computer.

Husband and I try to keep our lives as simple as possible – we do not have a TV, but we have a nice monitor through which we can set up our Macbook to play DVDs. We don’t have personal smart phones; he has a Blackberry for work, and I have a basic Nokia that allows me to sms, make phone calls and take photos of Small One. It’s possible that it does more than that, but I would have no idea what that “more” would be be. All of our household administration, creative work and the general “brain” of our family is located in our Macbook.

After Small One went down for his nap, I tried desperately to make the cord work, I prayed over the lap top (seriously), and nothing worked. I couldn’t do any of my pressing tasks – monitoring our budget, design work, emailing, the Internet, working with photos – nothing. I sat in our living room and wondered what to do next.

And do you know what happened? My soul sighed a little when it realized that I could do something for myself. I read a book. Then I picked up another book and skimmed it. And before I knew it, I was going through my day feeling rested, energized, healthy and whole.

I wrote at the beginning of the year about my love-hate relationship with our resident screen as well as my decision to use the computer only in the morning. Oh how I wish I had re-visted that post a few months ago because I have been wasting so much time passively sitting in front of this screen, clicking on pretty things, following the lives of other people and letting that all turn into a mental game of sorts that has only brought me down.

My computer use generally fell into a few categories – household administration (using our budgeting software to track our monthly expenses, typing in Excel or Word for schedules and lists), design, photography and the Internet. Obviously the bulk of my computer time was spent online, and of that time, I would say a big chunk of time went to email, Facebook and Skype and the second big chunk of time went to reading blogs and articles online, getting creative ideas for home decor, cooking and baby-related things.

Let me be a bit more specific. There is obviously nothing inherently wrong about a computer or the Internet. It is one part library, one part creative commons, one part innovation and so many other parts that I don’t have the time to list here, but it’s problem lies in the speed and availability of it all. If I spent the afternoon in a library, it means that I am only inhabiting the walls, the physical space of the library. I will read whatever I can pick up, if it doesn’t interest me, I can get something else, but that’s it. My mind engages with the material I give it in those walls for those hours. My life online is a different story. I have access to the world, an unending stream of ideas, analysis and opinions, I have the ability to connect with meaningful relationships from the past and to create and deepen new friendships.

Living in the 24-hour, seven days a week world means living within limitations because this is part of what it means to be human. Nurturing a life on the Internet makes us feel limitless – it makes us feel like we can know everything, make everything, be friends with everyone and be engaged in the details of other people’s “real” lives. This is a false reality that sets in the moment the Macbook is snapped shut, and that’s when – for me – the comparison, bar-reaching and self-loathing begins. 

Simply put, using the computer – the Internet specifically – fills me with ideas that are impossible to fulfill and expectations that cannot be met. It feeds my hunger for more – to have more, be more, do more, make more, but I am still a few online tutorials short on how this provides a way to have that “more” in my 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week life.  

This isn’t a rant against the Internet, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest tools I have in making my life easier than it should be (hello Google Translate and Google Maps), but I am tired of the way it invades all parts of my emotional and spiritual life.

The day-and-a-half I spent without a computer was one of the most peaceful days I’ve had in weeks. I got things done, I picked up an art project I haven’t looked at in over a year and now I have an idea of how to finish it, I was able to think through some things that we need in the next few months and develop a plan for how to get there. But most importantly, at the end of all of this time, I was rested in a body, soul and spirit kind of way.  All that without the help of my computer. 

I don’t have a real conclusion for this. One would think that after this kind of experience I would be off the computer again this week. One would be wrong. I’ve still been at it, but I am processing my computer-less experience and thinking through what it would look like to be more computer free. One thing I know, I need to be less connected to this box of silver metal. When I’m engaged with the life around me, I am happier, slower, kinder and more whole.

What are we losing every time we open our computers and go online? 

This thing that’s supposed to give us more time, drains our time. It promises ideas to get our creative juices flowing, but we’re really using other people’s ideas, photographs and words and are emptied of our own creativity. It gives relationships via Instagram, likes and wall posts and keeps us from our neighbors.

Is it worth it?

If my life was a Bollywood movie – and believe me, I spend more time than I probably should daydreaming about a life where Husband and I sing and dance our way through life’s ups and downs with full-blown orchestral accompaniment, harmonising grocery employees and the random shuffling elephant, but suffice it to say this is not Husband’s vision for our future (silly me for never mentioning it during our pre-marital counseling). Admittedly, a shuffling elephant on Swiss sidewalks was probably a bit unrealistic of an expectation.

But I digress.

If my life was a Bollywood movie (I’m not going to lie here, I wish I could begin every writing every post with that sentence), I would be the young woman who arrives as a new bride in a foreign country. She’s a bit unsure of herself, she misses her family and her free-spirited ways clash with the in-the-box central and northern European way of doing things. (Cue the scene where this young woman sits on the balcony, looking longingly at the moon one summer evening and a melancholy tune begins in the background, and she sings her lament to the air while the camera pans across the Alps, Lake Geneva and the Jet D’Eau that she can see from her balcony.)

I am getting to my point, I promise.

If the past two years of my life were a Bollywood movie and I am the clueless young bride in a new foreign city, my neighbor Bal was the crazy aunty, sent by God to keep me sane and make me laugh. We met at our church retreat, and we had both been in Geneva for about two months. After a few minutes, we realized we lived in the same building, separated only by two floors and four flights of stairs. Other than Husband it goes without saying that Bal was the single-greatest gift in the form of another human being I have experienced in the past two years.

She is crazy by anyone’s standards, crazy fun, crazy wild, crazy generous, crazy serious about serving, and just plain crazy. For all of the days I spent crying in these first two years in Geneva, Bal was one of the few people who made me laugh. I’ve lost count of the number of teas and glasses of water I’ve had sitting on the bar stool in her kitchen, the topics of conversation ranging from mundane to the intensely serious to our mutual horror at Geneva’s winters.

It was always a happy day when my phone beeped with an sms from her with the words “I’ve made some curry, do you want some?” or “I’ve got some bolognese, do you want some?” Yes, I wanted some. Bal is a fabulous cook, and without a doubt one of the most generous people I know. There are no words for me to describe how thankful I am for the way that she loved and served Husband and I in this way. Every day that I was in hospital after Small One was born, she brought Husband dinner. When we returned after our long trip to Australia, I turned my phone on in the Geneva airport to be greeted with an sms from her telling me she had dinner for us and staples for our pantry and fridge. One day I opened the door to her always-sunny “How are you, Devi? Are you alright?” and I had been having a low day, so I just fired back “I’m having a terrible day” and promptly burst into tears. She hugged me, talked to me, prayed for me and then made me a curry. She was equal parts friend, sister, older sister, aunty and mom.

Being a newlywed and a new mother in a foreign country is not an easy experience, being all of those things in a city where people tend to live their separate, isolated lives makes it even more difficult. But Bal is different in this way from everyone I knew here, and she went out of her way to be our family. There are no words to fully express how grateful I am for her friendship and her presence in our lives.

She moved out of our building two weeks ago; thankfully she is still in the same city, but our building feels a bit emptier to me now that she is not here. I had planned to write this on the day of their move, but life was too busy. I made their family dinner the night before they left, and I knew I had to make her either a curry or bolognese in honour of the many, many dishes of this variety that travelled between the fourth and sixth floors of our building.

We cannot live our lives without other people in it. We were not created to live in isolation. I know this now in a sweeter, deeper way because of Bal and the past two years we’ve spent chatting, serving, loving; simply put, her presence alone in our lives brought a greater richness to the living of life, and Bal, I will always be thankful.

  • Spaghetti Bolognese    (from a Food Network recipe by Emeril Lagasse)   Normally I just wing it when it comes to bolognese, but I wanted this one to be special, so I followed a recipe. Let me just say that I don’t plan to wing it again with bolognese in the future. What a huge difference it made to pay attention to proportion, quantities and cooking time. I made several modifications to this recipe, which I will list below, but oh it was fabulous. I will probably make this our family staple bolognese recipe.
  • I used the main ingredients but skipped the celery because I didn’t have any.
  • I stayed with all of the quantities as listed, but did not use bacon or sausage. The recipe calls for a pound of ground beef or veal plus half-a-pound of pork sausage, so one-and-a-half pounds of meat total. I used close to three pounds of ground beef, so I doubled everything else in the recipe.
  • I don’t use canned tomatoes anymore, so I used jarred pureed tomatoes. Once again, I added up the recipes tomato “intake” (two cans of crushed tomatoes and their juices and a can of tomato sauce), and used the equivalent quantity of only the crushed tomatoes.
  • I used a good quality red wine, and I cut back on the cinnamon and nutmeg (half what he suggests in the recipe).
  • I skipped the cream and butter at the end.
  • Definitely cook it for the amount of time suggested – I had no idea what a difference it makes to the flavour of bolognese to cook it for one-and-a-half hours.

It is no secret that the avenue through which everything comes to me these days is through the practice and process of parenting. I suppose anything that consumes our minutes, hours and days will affect us in these ways, perhaps the only difference is that a baby does not come with a manual and is unable to communicate his or her needs clearly. This shouldn’t be a problem except that babies are needy creatures, so to a certain degree parenting is a never-ending process of assessing what the needs are and attempting to meet them and suffering the consequences when needs go unmet as they have to because no parent in the world can – or should – meet all of their child’s needs.

So today this is what it looked like for me.

One of my dearest friends in Geneva moved, so Small One and I went to spend the day with her thanks in part to our “new” car. Problem number one – and this one has nothing to do with the baby – is that I have to drive said car to my friend’s house. Technically this is not a problem. I have a driver’s license, and in my short history of driving, I have been reliable, safe and have never received a speeding ticket or a traffic violation. I love driving and enjoy driving for long stretches of time. But for whatever reason, I have a lingering driving insecurity that makes me nervous, and narrow European roads do nothing to assuage the fears. And I won’t spend time here talking about parallel parking because that deserves a separate post all together.

So the day begins with a mostly-happy baby, an insecure and nervous mother (that’s me) and beautiful weather. We arrived at my friend’s place in one piece, and all went well minus this one point when I turned into a one-way street going the wrong way (too bad I don’t understand the symbols on Swiss street signs but good thing the handyman gave me a strange look and gestured to turn around).

We arrived just in time for Small One’s morning nap, a nap he has been taking reliably for most of his life as full-time baby. We set up the travel cot in the guest bedroom, and the crying (Small One’s) begins before I’ve even left the room. I’m just changing his nappy, but as the shutters close and the room darkens, he knows what’s coming. I have his favourite polar bear stuffed animal, his pacifier, everything he needs to go to sleep on his own, but he is crying. By this point in his life, I know that there is whining, talking-whining, anger, crying and then there is crying. The last kind of crying is the screaming-his-lungs-out-red-in-the-face crying, and in the brief moments when I look in his eyes, one emotion embeds itself there: Fear.

You are leaving me alone. I don’t know what will happen here. I am afraid of what will happen when I am all alone. 

 It doesn’t matter that he knows how to fall asleep on his own, the fact that this is nap time and has always been nap time is irrelevant, the presence of all of his sleeping aids don’t do any good, never mind that he is clearly exhausted and ready to sleep. None of this matters in the face of his fear of being left alone in a new environment.

When it comes to tears, I am no softie. I don’t melt and run when I hear Small One crying, but when I saw the look of fear in his eyes today, compassion for him overwhelmed me, and I picked him up, held him close, rocked him and sang to him my own made up song for the moment, He is holding you close, he is holding you near. I kept singing, and Small One cuddled close to me. He almost never does this anymore, and as much as I wanted to just leave him, I know enough now to see a Big Moment coming. We stayed together in the room, rocking, singing, putting him down, screaming and crying, and repeat. Every time I picked him up, his relief was palpable. He didn’t fight me or get angry with me as he normally would in this situation, he snuggled close to me as I held him like I did when he was brand new.

He trusts me. He knows that he is safe with me. He has the assurance in his heart that I will respond to his fear and take care of him.

And I thought about my fears and insecurity about driving that morning, and if I were going to be honest, the fears and insecurities do not stop at driving, there are more, old ones I thought were dead that rise up to meet me in the darkness, new ones born out of  life situations and experiences and just the ones I let in through too much media exposure. My face rarely betrays the frantic desperation of Small One, but it is written all over my heart, all over my mind. I have been desperate. I have been frantic.

But as I watched Small One sink into peace and stillness in the instant that I held him in my arms, God reminds me again and again and again – I have the same peace and stillness available to me always in Him. Do I realize that I have a trustworthy parent who responds to my fear? Do you?