20 July 2014

all you can do is try

A couple of nights ago, I went to bed at 1:30 am after staying up too late to work on a project. I set my alarm for 7:00 am, and I was not pleased at the thought of getting up at that time.

The fire alarm in my building went off at 3:22 am. 

I was severely disoriented, as one is when a fire alarm wakes you up smack in the middle of your first REM cycle, but I managed to gather the most vital things (computer, phone), throw on a sweatshirt, and stumble down the stairs. (I couldn't find my glasses, so it was rather a dim stumbling.)

The firemen came. (It should be firepeople but there are never any women.) They did their thing. The alarm went off. I got back into bed.

By this time, it was almost 4 am, and I had three hours to sleep.

The sleeping did not go well. It was that sort of sleep where you are hyper aware of the fact that you have to get up too soon, and so you never really sleep. 

When I got up, not having slept much at all, I ended up cancelling the thing I had to be up for so that I could get in at least two solid hours of sleep.

And for some reason, that night was apparently the end of my ability to sleep. I have no explanation. I just toss and turn every night now.


I drove down to Universe City yesterday, and I saw it with new eyes. I was so unhappy to leave Gone West in 2010 that I never noticed what a pretty little city Universe City is, with the hills all around.

My friend and former neighbor had a slip-and-slide set up in the yard for her son. We sat out under a tree, talking, while the kittens ran around and the sun shone and her little boy tried to put her earrings back into her ear. She laid down on the blanket so the baby would move and put my hands on her stomach so I could feel the strange little bulges under her skin.

I went to a party with some of my old coworkers. One of them drove a remote control car around the back alley like it was a drunk cat, chasing the kids, threatening our feet. These people, these people. I miss them. I miss the camaraderie of the little back corner of the building where four of us had offices, where we could yell questions back and forth, where I could go plop myself into a chair in any of their offices and get the benefit of 45 collective years of experience among them all. I would take that back in a second, but I can't, because three of us have moved on.

This afternoon, I had brunch with more lovely people who are leaving Universe City to move across the country. They got great jobs there, and they will be much closer to their family. Still. "You left us!" they said. "But I came back!" I said. "Maybe we'll come back!" they said. I held their munchkin and fed him pieces of broccoli from a little bowl. As I carried him out of the restaurant, an old lady with a walker looked at him with that open admiration that so many of us have when we look at babies.

I wrapped pictures in bubble wrap for another friend who is also moving across the country (curses! why must all my friends move away?).

Then I stopped downtown for tea and some delicious ice cream. I bought a scoop of basil strawberry peppercorn ice cream, and the owner got all excited when I asked about the seasonal corn flavor they had last year (next month, when the strawberries and blueberries are done), and so he gave me a little scoop of smoky caramel ice cream with apricot cardamom chutney on top. I would normally balk at the idea of apricot chutney, but sometimes you have to accept that the purveyors of food have come up with a good combination, and they had. I can't quite explain the flavor, but somehow the two things together made something completely new.

And then I drove home up the ribbon of highway, singing along to the radio.

10 July 2014


I made myself some chai this morning and took myself for a walk. Not an exercise walk, just the sort of walk that ensures that I do not miss the entirety of a beautiful day because I am stuck to my computer.

On the way back from my meandering, I saw a truck stopped about 20 feet back from a stoplight. My first thought was to shake my head at Gone West drivers. They love to leave huge gaps between themselves and the crosswalk box/the car in front of them. Space is frequently wasted. 

I had to walk over and back a block to mail a letter, so I walked past the truck three times. By the third time, I had noticed that it wasn't moving through cycles of the light.

"Can you put your hazard lights on?" I called to the woman in the driver's seat.

"No!" she said. "Nothing is working!"

There was a construction site a block over, with a lane of the street blocked off by orange cones. I went over to it and asked the guy loading the flatbed truck if I could use one of his cones. I explained that the truck was stalled in the middle of the road without lights and I was worried that one of the cars coming up on the light wouldn't see that it was stopped and so would run into the back of it.

He came over with me to help try to push the truck out of traffic.

Only the truck was so dead that even putting the key in the running position wouldn't allow her to shift into neutral (I knew there was a reason to drive a manual transmission). 

I waved oncoming cars over into the other lane while the guy from the construction site went to fetch a cone, which was actually more like a skinny orange pole. 

People in this country are so well trained. It's like magic. You put up an orange cone, and cars just miraculously move aside. We didn't even have any authority for the orange cone! We just put it there! In the middle of the road! And people responded like it was an officially sanctioned traffic device!

A van driving by asked if we needed help and I sort of nodded and shrugged at the same time, so they turned around and came back and parked behind the cone.

One of the guys from the van crawled under the truck and did something, I know not what, and suddenly the truck was in neutral. I was in awe. You can do that? I had no idea. 

That guy pretty much on his own (the other guy from the van was directing traffic and the cone guy had abandoned his cone to get back to work) pushed the F150 around the corner to a parking spot. I pretended that I was helping, but I had my purse and my tea mug in one hand, and I was wearing a skirt, so I probably looked like a comedy sketch of a woman pretending to help push a truck. 

After we got the whole thing straightened out, I went back to my apartment feeling full of purpose and vigor, like I had done something helpful already with my day. 

Then I called Sallie Mae to talk about my student loans. Pro tip: talking to Sallie Mae is guaranteed to ruin your day. Never do it if you can help it.

08 July 2014

bad parking

When I came home from the store, someone had parked badly in the limited space on my block. There was barely space in front of the car to fit my car next to a driveway. I parked, and then I got out and looked behind my car, and then I reversed about 8 inches, marking my progress against a crack in the sidewalk.

When I got out again to check, there was approximately an inch and a half of space between my car and the one behind me. I considered it a victory.

A while later, after doing a sprint/walk stint, I was sitting next to my window, drinking water and admiring the sunset, when a group of people came out of a nearby restaurant and got into the poorly parked car. 

The girl who would get into the passenger seat walked up to the front of the car and checked to make sure that my car had not made contact with theirs.

I was very tempted to yell out the window, "I didn't touch your car. But you are very bad at parking!"

I refrained, though, and just laughed at them from inside my apartment.

03 July 2014

mind = lost

The English language needs a word for that moment when the brilliance of the reflected light of the setting sun starts to fade out of the evening clouds. 


I have noticed about myself that I get ridiculously excited when I figure out an exercise thing that works for me. Possibly this is because I spent my entire childhood being the awkward tall girl tripping over her own feet on the soccer field. Details. 

This alternating running and walking thing is working brilliantly for me. I feel like I am working much harder than I ever did while jogging. It's a feeling that I never knew I could enjoy until I did martial arts: the feeling of pushing your body in bursts until you can hardly see, and then giving it a chance to catch up with itself. I didn't know that the burning in your lungs could be satisfying.

Now I find it kind of addicting. Endorphins and all. Much more satisfying than jogging, because I can do anything for a block. I can sprint full out uphill for a block. And I like it. I like pumping my arms and aiming for a goal. I like it so much that I deliberately did not go to a Spanish class tonight because I wanted to do my running. Like a person who has lost her mind. I have lost my mind.

Jogging, on the other hand, just requires gritting your teeth and plodding on. I get bored with it. I put it off. I don't do it.

The other thing is that I suspect that my running form is better when I run faster. I am actually running instead of shuffling. I don't have time to think about how I am running, so I don't overthink what my body is doing. I may take this all back in a couple of weeks when I have royally screwed up my knees with the sprinting on concrete, but so far my knees seem okay. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, superstitions etc.

02 July 2014


There is pretty much one and only one thing that will really get me to exercise hard on my own. (Meaning not in a martial arts/circuit training class where someone is yelling at you to work harder.)

That one thing is hiking. I do not like being the slowest hiker. Thinking about being the slowest hiker will get me out doing something cardio-like when nothing else will.

After being the slowest hiker two hikes in a row (once because I didn't eat the right food and once because the other people were in better shape than me), I have had enough. 

I can't afford to pay for martial arts training right now.

My right knee can't handle jogging.

So I am doing the best combination I can. Instead of jogging slowly for three miles, I run hard for a block and then walk for a block and then run hard for a block again. As soon as my knee starts hurting, I give up the running and instead I periodically do some burpees. 

When I pass the stairs in the park, I run up them (or down them and then up them, depending on where I am). 

The result is that I spend the entire 35-40 minutes breathing hard. Interval training is better for you than jogging anyway, right?

When I get home, I run up the stairs sideways, hoping to strengthen the other muscles in my legs so my knees don't get so beaten up.

And then I do some situps and pushups and planks because, well, someday I am going to go back to martial arts, and I don't want to humiliate myself. I may add in some combatives work with my boxing gloves, too.

The weird thing is that I think that running fast might be easier on my knees than jogging. It seems like it shouldn't be, with the impact and all, but I ran a lot today without any knee pain, and I can only jog right around a mile before the pain sets in.

Maybe someday I will strengthen my knees enough to run a marathon...

A girl can dream, right?

For now, I will settle for a 13 mile hike on Saturday.

29 June 2014


You know how you don't think about things for years and then suddenly they pop into your head? 

I just thought about how, when my brother and I were little but old enough to do things like the dishes (so I was maybe 8 or 9 and R. was 5 or 6), my parents would go for a walk in the evening and leave us to do the dishes. I mostly washed, and my brother dried and put away. I suspect that my sister was around there somewhere, toddling about.

The sink in the kitchen in our house in Liberia faced setting sun and the road and, much farther away beyond the trees, the ocean. We would watch to see when our parents came into view again.*

R. and I would sometimes sing as we did the dishes (or possibly I sang and he humored me):

hurry hurry hurry hurry come on the run
hurry hurry hurry hurry day is begun
come along and hurry now there's work to be done
when you are finished there'll be time for fun

alright I come now, alright I come
don't be so worried, my little one
if I should work hard out in the sun
I'll be so tired that I cannot run

Mostly I was singing so that when my parents came within hearing distance they would know how very hard we were working.

Even before we were old enough to do the dishes or be left home alone for half an hour, we used to clear the table. The floor was cement, but that didn't stop us, especially my brother, from piling all five of the Corelle-ware plates on our heads and trying to carry them to the kitchen without our hands.

It's a really good thing that Corelle-ware plates are just about indestructible, is all I have to say about that.

* I feel like I remember, when the war started upcountry, that there was a curfew, and part of my watching for the parents to come into view was hoping that they would beat the curfew. It may have just been the memory of the earlier curfew in 1985, though, combined with knowledge of the problems in Nimba County in 1990.


While writing this, I looked up our old house on google earth, again, and noticed that there is still a path behind the house to the other house that was on the road between the office and the high school. The path no longer cuts from the right side of that house, though. It has moved over the years, as dirt footpaths do, and now it cuts from the left side of the house.

One time, as I was riding my bike on that path home from school, I looked up as I rode under a tree and saw a green mamba lying along the branch I was just going under.

I have even more vivid memories of the other path, from our house to the office, especially the corner by the office:

Trying to push an old bicycle wheel with a stick, only to get it caught somehow and jabbing myself in the stomach.

Jumping over the inevitable ditch between the path and the road next to the office.

The time that the G. family daubed their house with mud and we got to help.

Looking at the scab on my arm that finally taught me which hand was right and which was left.

Watching the clouds and thinking how wonderful it would be if I could just get up onto one and nestle into its softness and tell it where to take me.

28 June 2014

slightly more successful hiking

* Talk of gluten/gluten-freeness will be in this post *

I went for a hike today that was possibly a little beyond my current fitness level (no money for martial arts + bad knees means that all I do for exercise these days is go for long walks). But I met a new friend this week who suggested that I go on this hike, so I did.

I was determined that while I might be slower than the crowd, I would not have to stop for the dizziness of hypoglycemia that slowed me down on the last group hike I joined. I packed enough food to feed the entire group for the day. 

Most people seem to be able to eat breakfast, drive for an hour, hike 3.5 miles/2800 feet of elevation gain, and then sit down at the top of the mountain and eat lunch. I cannot. I will be dizzy and shaky a mile in. I need to eat immediately before I start out up a mountain, especially now that I do not eat whole wheat cereal for breakfast. I also need to eat along the way. By the time I get to the top, I hardly need to eat anymore. 

I ate in the car on the way to the mountain (a few rice crisps and hummus, some almond crackers, and some chocolate covered almonds - I told you I was not playing), and I filled my pocket with sour Jelly Bellies. I also drank a chai and started in on some Vitamin Water.

Good news! I am out of shape, but if I eat ridiculous amounts of food, I can make it up a mountain at a decent pace. (Side note: I am a turtle on hikes. I can hike forever and ever amen as long as I have adequate food and can go slowly, but I find that, as a general rule, men hike too fast. Even in my best shape, I still want to go slowly uphill. If you go slowly, you need fewer stops! It is brilliant. Men were leading this hike, however, and eventually I just slowed down and moseyed at my own little pace while they went fast and stopped, fast and stopped. Keep in mind: 2800 feet of elevation gain in 3.5 miles. It was steep.)

I ate so much that I was almost too full to breathe while hiking, though. Clearly I need to find a balance.

When we got back down to Gone West, I came home and laid down for "just a minute." Upon lying down, I immediately lost 4 hours of my day. Oops. This happened because I had two very short, interrupted nights of sleep in a row (I brought a friend to the airport at 5:30 am on Friday morning and got up at 6:30 this morning for the hike after going to bed later than I ought). 

I have no idea how I am going to sleep tonight.