30 August 2011


It's funny how I spent much of my life thinking exercise was possibly the most miserable thing one could do, and then one day I walked into a fighting studio and suddenly exercise was worth the pain that comes with it.

Because there is pain.

I don't mean the trembling muscles on your 150th push-up of the evening. I don't mean the time when someone accidentally elbows you in the nose. That's just temporary pain. That's nothing.

I'm talking about the damage you do to yourself when you train for several hours four nights a week and go hiking most weekends.

I'm talking about icing your knees and groaning as you walk up the stairs, for months and possibly the rest of your life.

I'm talking about wearing trousers and sturdy shoes to work instead of fun summer skirts and sandals because you have aggravated your Achilles tendon (or possibly your plantar fascia; details) and the back of your heel burns.

I'm talking about potentially lifetime damage to my body, and how I think about that and then think, Yup. Worth it.

I seriously could not have fathomed a world in which I would be annoyed not to be able to work out on a Sunday, and would straight-up dismiss the idea of skipping a day of kung fu to let my Achilles rest.


I put almost $500 into my car yesterday and today. When they first told me how much it would cost, when they asked if I wanted to do it all at once or wait on some of it, I gulped a little and said, "Go ahead."

None of it was absolutely necessary yet.

Despite the massive output of money (August: the month that drained my bank account), I actually feel like I got quite some value for my dollars. For an average of a mere $120 per replacement, I got all of the following changed:

1. Some arm that holds a tire on. (Or something. I'm unclear on the details.)
2. Front brakes.
3. A muffler.
4. A throttle cable.

My driving now goes like this:

Turn ignition. Wow! This car is so quiet! Is this how everyone lives?

Put car in gear. Release clutch. Move forward/backward. Change gears. Wow! This car accelerates so smoothly! Is this how everyone lives?

Stop at intersection. Wow! This car stops so quickly! Is this how everyone lives?

Turn right. Wow! This car doesn't make a creaking noise when it turns! Is this how everyone lives?

It's tedious to be inside my head. Also, repetitive. I just keep marveling that this is how most cars (apparently) function. Mine has been, in recent memory, loud and clattery and lurchy. And now it's not.

The arm thing that they replaced was oddly bent. "We can't imagine how this happened," the shop guy told me. "It was bent as if someone hit the wheel straight from the side, pretty hard."

Since the car shows no signs of damage, and has not, to my or anyone else's knowledge, been in a side accident, "it will probably remain a mystery," he said.

It's actually not much of a mystery. It's my car, isn't it? Weird stuff like that just up and happens when I am around.

(My roommate S. from law school and I both have a talent for breaking printers. Oddly, though, the printer that was not working when one of us stood next to it would start working again if we both stood next to it. Apparently our breaking-abilities cancelled each other out.)

28 August 2011

on notice

Notice to myself: when you are already feeling not-happy about the place where you live (where you are trapped, it seems), it's not a good idea to 1. read blogs by people living overseas and/or in Gone West, or 2. to look at photos of what was once your life overseas and/or in Gone West.

As far as ideas go, that is a very bad one. Because you will come across the simplest photo, one like, say, this:
Itabire, Rwanda, 2003

(chosen at random), and you will think, "I used to live there. I used to live there, and now I am stuck here. What has my life become?"

And it won't be the first time you've thought that. It won't even be the first time today that you've thought that.

27 August 2011

parade tomatoes

There was a parade in Universe City. Parades out here are wacky, and Universe City is much smaller than Gone West, so the professionalism bar is low. Very low.

That's a good thing.

The result is a crazy, laughing mix of sleeping babies, kids calling out to their friends, sullen teenagers, aging beauty queens of all genders, and a great many hippies. They have to keep their clothes on for the parade, though.

One guy blew huge, persistent bubbles with sticks and rope. They floated far above us and then popped into gooey pieces that fell back down to the pavement.

My roommate M. and I kept hoping the jui jitsu guys would fight again - they'd done it long before they got to us - but as far as we could see as they walked off, they just walked. No fighting.


I have decided that I am a better person when I live with other people. I lived alone for almost five years of my life, two in Rwanda and three in Gone West/Universe City.

I thought I wanted to live alone when I moved to Gone West. I thought I needed to live alone when I moved to Gone West. It turns out that I was just burned out by the three months of living in team housing in South Sudan. Team housing in a place where you can barely leave your compound due to mud and a lack of places to go is a very different thing than having a roommate, particularly when you have your own activities and transportation.

So I have a roommate, and the presence of another person makes me better, even though I almost never see her. It gives me incentive to get up and do things, and so I clean more, and I have guests more, and I try more new things.

Today I tried roasting tomatoes. I love orange cherry tomatoes, having discovered them about this time last year, and I bought too many of them this week at the farmers' market. I couldn't eat them all.

I cut up and roasted a pint of orange cherry tomatoes (using this recipe), and even though I roasted them a little too long, they were so good that I ate the entire roasted pint in one sitting, plain and with pasta.

Seriously, try it.

24 August 2011

driving my cranky car

Yesterday I was in a parking lot, getting ready to leave a lovely little space marked Compact, when a large Excursion pulled in across from me, in a space also marked Compact.

I was in a highly cranky mood, and I was severely tempted to roll down my window and say, "Hey! That is a compact car space! You are the reason people like me in actual compact cars can't get out of our car doors sometimes!" But there was no one parked around him, and there was a kid with him, and I'm a little turtley anyway.

After I drove past him, I noticed that every single spot in the lot said Compact, which is both awesome (everyone should drive a compact car unless they need hauling capabilities on a regular basis), and insane (what about those people who have to haul things? Where will they park?). I actually suspect that the stores did that to maximize their number of parking spaces, not because they care whether their customers are driving big cars or small.

Then I stopped at Trader Joe's, where my cranky mood was exacerbated by the people who stand there helplessly while the cashier rings them up and finishes and then still has all of their stuff to bag. Would it kill you to put a few items into a bag yourself, a bag that you HAVE IN YOUR HAND BECAUSE YOU BROUGHT IT IN? Really? You are going to just stand there while the cashier does it all? Who raised you, anyway?

(I am a bit of an egalitarian. I think everyone should work retail at least once in their life, and then live as if they understand the fact that retail employees are not servants. People who don't understand that tend to look like entitled jerks, and there are a lot of that sort of people at Trader Joe's.)

When I went outside, I pulled out of my parking spot and started to pull forward just in time to be cut off by a girl pulling out of a spot just in front of me. She looked back, saw me inching forward, and kept going.

I may have honked more than once.

Not nice little "hi, I'm here!" honks, either. These were serious, arm-on-the-horn honks, and she did not look back at all.

Honking did not improve the crankiness.

Kicking the door and swearing today when I realized I was locked out of work after 5 when there might be no one to let me in did feel good, for a moment.

I'm still pretty cranky.

22 August 2011


There is a deceptively deep little blue pool in the middle of the woods in this State of Happiness in which I live. I tried to get to it last fall, but I took a wrong turn out of the parking lot and then mostly forgot about it.

This time, S. and I set out with coffee and snacks in the early afternoon, and turned the right way out of the parking lot ("Right?" she said, joking. "YES," I said, "it is absolutely, definitely right. Do not go left.").

The path meandered gently along the river, through the woods, along a lava field, and up to the pool. It was easy. It was lovely.

And then suddenly there was this pool beneath our feet. I had seen a photo, but still we both just stopped and said, "wow," and "wow" again, and possibly a few more times for good measure.

We made our way down to the edge, past the dry waterfall.

A waterfall looks so strange without its water, like a home with no people.

The water was just-out-of-the-ground, snow-melt cold, but we went in anyway, me in my quick-dry hiking clothes, S. in her suit. It was so icy cold that it hurt within seconds, and I hoisted myself back out so fast that I slammed my foot against the rock overhang that was the shore without even realizing until it swelled black and purple as the cold numbness wore off.

Three teenage boys dropped rocks off the cliff opposite us, over and over, and then jumped themselves. The small crowd on our shore watched, stunned, as they went over one after another.

We all thought, If they don't come up, I don't think I can make it across to help them. It was that cold.

But they bobbed up, each in turn, and set out swimming as fast as they could for our shore, too cold even to shout back when their friends asked, "How was it?"

S. went in twice, and after hiking another two miles further in and four miles back out in 80 degree F sunshine, after driving an hour and a half back to Universe City, she said, just as we pulled into the grocery store, "I don't think I've actually gotten warm since I got out of the pool the second time."

One dunking in 38 degree F water was enough for me.

18 August 2011

piney wedding

The morning after I arrived back in Gone West, we packed up my car and drove to Other Western State, where my friend R. was getting married.

The wedding was in a little piney grove on a bay. Fine, it was in a grove of Douglas Fir. Piney sounds so much more romantic, though. It's one of my favorite words.

The wedding was in a little piney grove on a bay, and the sun shined, and the trees shaded, and the water sparkled. There was rose champagne (love) and smoked salmon, and later there were little bitty burgers and jalapeno watermelon juice.

We married off the happy couple, and then we talked and ate, and talked, and ate, as one should at a wedding, and then we kicked off our shoes and danced.

The fiddle played. Feet stomped.

We circled and bowed and promenaded.

The ladies swung from one gentleman to another until our partner pulled us back into the square.

We held hands in a long, looping line, in tighter and tighter circles, and then out and out and through the door into the trees and back in the other door, arms outstretched as far as we could go, my sweater hanging off my shoulder, laughing.

And then, in the dark, we sat around a fire with marshmallows and chocolate, and I drove us back to our campsite, just trying to stay awake.

08 August 2011


If there is one thing that I miss about living in the Mitten State, it is the warmth of the water in the summer. I love the mountains of my New State, but the cool summers and the ocean currents and the snow melt make for very cold bodies of water, even in August. Rarely do I summon the nerve to swim in them.

Here in the Mitten, though, the water is warm. Even on a not-so-sunny day, we jumped right in off the boat in the middle of a little, slightly scummy lake. (They are all slightly scummy. It comes from the warmth and the seaweed.)

We splashed and, I confess, I dunked my sister, just once.

I was the only one who wanted to go tubing, though, strangely. What is wrong with these people? (My sister and her friend were "too tired," they claimed. Uh... they are also 23. What on earth is going on? They should never be too tired for anything at 23.)

So I went tubing alone. It took a little while to get it all worked out - I didn't like the feel of the first rope, and I pictured it breaking and whapping me in the face, and then it turned out that it actually had frayed almost to breaking - but eventually I was sailing over the glassy water out beyond the wake.

That is some perfect Mitten moment right there, with the deep summer green all around the edges of the lake, and the smooth water right in front of you.

I could have whipped around the lake all afternoon, but, uh, my back hurt. Apparently I'm too old for this.


07 August 2011

in between

I am a bit of a passenger aircraft nerd. Not supremely, not so that I can recognize them flying in the sky above me, but just enough that when I walked onto my plane in Gone West and saw the seat configuration, I thought, "I wonder when I was last on a 767. Was that the KLM flight on the way back from Nairobi in 2007, or did I fly Kenya Airways and they had switched that route to a 777? They don't fly them very much within the US."

(If I recall correctly, the nighttime flight from NBO to AMS is KLM, and that was a 767, but of course thinking about it I googled "Kenya Airways 777" and started watching videos of landings in Amsterdam and Nairobi and then Kigali, and then a video of some guy walking to work in Kigali. Because there is just too much internet out there.)

I felt strangely overwhelmed at O'Hare airport.

I mean, it's just an airport. I have been in many, many airports in my life. I don't think I could remember them all to count them.

But for some reason, at 5 am (Chicago time; 3 am in Gone West), the hordes of frantic people made me jumpy. There were just so many of them.

You know you need to get away from your small, deadened-downtown city when a bustling airport makes you nervous, particularly since I like bustling. I miss bustling. So maybe it was just the early hour, or the brightness and noise on two upright, middle-seat hours of sleep.

There were dozens of sailors in the airport, and one of them was standing on the moving walkway with his girlfriend, hugging quietly, until his friends walked up beside them and catcalled.

I slept for an hour across the seats of a plane sitting at the gate, until that flight was canceled and I found a couple of empty seats across from my new gate, where I slept for another hour. I woke up once to notice that an elderly woman had sat down right by my head, but I was too sleepy to care.

I was the only person happy about the canceled flight. The other people on my flight were talking about renting cars to get from the Big D to Mitten Capital of the World, but I wanted to go the Big D, and flying straight there saved me from the need to pay a taxi or persuade a hotel shuttle to get me to downtown Mitten Capital of the World, and from a two-hour bus ride to the Big D airport.

I just walked straight out into the C-S family car, where I held hands with the baby until we got to the pupuseria.

06 August 2011


I should go to bed - I flew what they claim is an overnight flight from Gone West to Chicago last night, overnight being three hours and 19 minutes and then suddenly you are emerging into a bright terminal - and I'm operating on less than four hours of sleep, none of them in a bed, since Friday morning.

But now there is a baby sleeping on my chest, here in the Big D, and I'm in no rush to move away from his tiny warm self. I can hear his little snores every time he breathes.

02 August 2011


The other day, I was driving along, talking to my momma on the phone (on a headset! never fear!) when I passed a homeless man standing on a corner.

This is nothing new; there are a lot of homeless people in this city. They frequent many of the major intersections around town, holding up cardboard signs about this or that.

This man, though, had no sign. Instead, he just stood there holding his hands out, as though they contained a sign, and grinning at passing cars. After a while, he switched his hands so that he was holding his imaginary sign at the top and bottom instead of on the sides, still beaming at the cars driving past him.