30 May 2012

that easy

When the keys got locked in my car while we were camping, we tried the logical thing first: everyone else's keys. We even shaved down one of SHO's keys by scratching it on the ground and some concrete structure, just because he happened to have an extra on his keychain. We were hoping that the fact that I drive one of the most commonly stolen mid-1990s cars would make it easy to break in. 

Apparently it's only easy when you have a shaved key belonging to that brand of car. Or something. Shaving a key did not work. I would make a painfully inept car thief.

One or more of us could drive back to Universe City, an hour each way, but we couldn't get into my house, because that key was also locked into the car. I could call my roommate to let us in, but my phone was locked in the car, and I don't know her number by heart.

We could call a locksmith in One Horse Town nearby, but it was impossible to predict how much that might cost on a Sunday on a holiday weekend.

And so I ended up wandering around the campground looking for someone with the same model of car and/or the camp host and/or anyone who looked like they might know how to break into a car.

The first people I came upon were two men, a middle-aged man and perhaps his father, standing next to their boat, still on its trailer, tying up fishing tackle. They did not have the same model of car, they were not the camp host, and they did not look like they knew how to break into a car.

Of course I asked them for help. What could possibly make more sense than asking the first random strangers you see to break into your car?*

The crazy and miraculous thing is that they did it.

They didn't have the professional tools, but they wedged some wood in the top of the door and straightened out a wire hanger, and partway through we realized that the ignition was set to on, so they didn't even need to get to the lock, and one of the men managed to hit the power window button for the back door, and we were in.

It was just that easy. I'm still sort of awed by this.

* I actually have precedent for the random stranger thing. I locked my keys in my baby Land Cruiser in Rwanda more times than once. The first time, I tried to hire a thief - a random thief off the street! - to break into my car. He was unsuccessful. I was disappointed, but also reassured that my baby Land Cruiser was not so easy to steal. The final time it happened, having learned a thing or two in the intervening two years, I called the Toyota dealership. Their technician needed less than 30 seconds to break into my car. And it was free. And I didn't have to worry about running into a random thief on the street who already had practice on my car.

29 May 2012


There is nothing like one's own bed for comfort, even usually, but particularly when you have as perfect a bed as I have. I always head off for camping thinking how wonderful it will be to be away from everything and just lounge about and sleep, but then I get to camping and I remember that sleeping on the ground is really not that comfortable. No matter how many hours you spend doing it, you are never really rested.

Maybe it is easier for people who sleep on some other body part than their side, but I always wake up with a sore hip and neck, even with my embarrassingly thick sleeping pad that is too thick to be called a sleeping pad and so is called a camp bed.

I like camping, don't get me wrong, but it feels really very nice to come home and step into a warm shower and wash off the smell of campfire. 

Not so nice is the cleanup of all the food that has been sitting in boxes and bags all weekend. I did find the source of that stench, but it took a while. (It was pineapple juice dripped into the bottom of the no-longer-cool cooler bag.)

25 May 2012


I don't understand people who do not empty the lint trap in the dryer as they take the clothes out. 

Do they not realize that they are missing the most satisfying part of doing laundry? It's so pleasant to gather up the lint while it is still warm and good-smelling from running the dryer. I don't get why they would skip that.


23 May 2012

stupid, miserable book

I can't remember how this came up, but the other night I was telling my friend D. about this book: Preparing for Adolescence.

When I was nine or ten, just before we left Liberia, my parents were reading this book to me, and I hated it. Hate is too gentle a word, actually. I despised it. I don't even know what I despised so much, except that 1. I was deeply embarrassed to have both of my parents sit down with me and read me books about sex and dating (keep in mind, I was TEN), 2. I never could stand having someone talk down to me, and James Dobson is the king of talking down. I never did like him, for that reason, even when I was far, far less liberal than I am now.

On one hand, I was only ten, and mortified at the idea of sex and dating. On the other, one of the neighbor boys had already asked me to sneak off with him to have sex. I told him he was rude and excluded him from any neighborhood games over which I had any say from them on. And I had say over a great many games considering that our yard had the treehouse, the swingset, the only mom who would give us real food to cook, the bikes, and the soccer ball. My parents were both too early and too late. 

I'm sure someone credible recommended this book to my parents and suggested that reading it with your kid would open up conversations. Or in my case, due to embarrassment: cut off conversations, permanently. I notice that they never tried to read it to my younger brother and sister. The oldest kid is always the experiment.

Given my personality, though, they would have been better off just giving me the book, or leaving it among other books for me to find and read. I would have despised it much less, although I still would have noticed the grating tone of the whole thing.

I despised this book, and the experience of having my parents read me awkward, moralistic stories about adolescents and their supposed problems, so much that even though it somehow came to the US when we evacuated from Liberia, I promptly hid the book deep inside the couch in my grandparents' basement, betting that in the confusion of evacuating from a country and deciding where to live and whether to send us to school in the middle of the school year, the book would be forgotten. 

And it was. I felt very guilty about it (I was not exactly a rebellious child), but I hated that book enough to live with my guilt.

Years later, after my parents had inherited that couch, the book reappeared. By then, though, I was long past the days when my parents might have tried to corner me and read the rest of it. I had escaped. 

I can still feel the disgust and embarrassment I felt back then, though, viscerally, when I think of that stupid, miserable book.

I still shudder at the sound of the word adolescence.

22 May 2012


One day not long ago, I bought a loaf of delicious cheese and onion bread. I brought it home and opened the drawer to take out the serrated knife, only to discover that the serrated knife was gone.

My roommate had returned to the house long enough to remove her good knives and bring them to her boyfriend's house, where she spends nearly all of her time. (She hasn't slept here since before Christmas.)

It is a sad, sad thing to go back to one little paring knife for every type of cutting. I lived this way for nearly three years in Gone West, I know, but the mangled chunks of cheese and onion bread seem less tolerable after a year and a half with good knives.

This from a girl who lived for two years in Rwanda with a two-burner gas hot plate in lieu of stove/oven/microwave/toaster and never once bothered to find a way to replace the knobs that had fallen off, which I'm sure would not have been hard. I just pushed and twisted the little metal pieces to turn the burners on.

(Parents! I see a birthday/Christmas gift opportunity! Because I doubt that I will ever get around to buying my own knives. Ever.)

21 May 2012


It wasn't, but it felt like the first real hike of the year. It was my kind of hike, which means that first we met up for breakfast, at the restaurant right near my house - oh, wait, confusion, the other one, across town - and lingered over coffee and food. 

It was noon by the time we left town for the trail-head. This is just how I like my departure times: late.

Two of the three of us had hiked the same trail last summer, in the rain. What I remember of it is the closed in feeling of being surrounded by fog. I think I had forgotten that the makers of this trail were switch-back refusists. Would it have killed them to direct the trail in a direction other than straight up the hill? I think not.

This time, the world was open in front of us. The sun was out. We argued about which mountain was which. Is that far-off one the mountain that looms over Gone West, or the one north-east of it? (I really need to buy a good book or map about the Cascades.)

There was a man geocaching, and we caught up with him at the top of the little mountain and again at the cave. SHO listened to him talk about geocaching while I perused the hiking guide book, back against a rock, munching white cheddar cheez-its.

On the way home, driving, I blinded myself trying to look up at the eclipse, visible off and on behind the clouds and through the trees. It was worth it.

19 May 2012


There was a festival not far away, in a town on the coast. The streets were filled with motorcycles, and teenagers screamed on the falling rides. 

I do not go on falling rides. Neither does B., which is convenient, because it meant that we could enjoy some curly fries dripping with oil while sitting on a curb watching the crowd, and then we could ditch the place for the beach.

The hoards in town did not translate to hoards on the beach. The beach was nearly empty, and the sun wavered in and out between the clouds. It was one of those silvery days when there is enough light to make everything shine, but not so much that you are blinded.

We walked, and then we found a little shelter made of driftwood, and we sat in there for a while. I laid back on the coats and felt the sun come out and warm the left side of my face.

I could have stayed there in the sunshine for a very long time, but then the clouds came back and the wind picked up, and it got cold, and we left.

14 May 2012


I really love the moment when flip flops can become the default shoe in which to leave the house in the morning. (I am that girl who has a row of shoes under her desk, so I wear whatever shoes I want to work and then change.)

Obviously that moment only comes in northerly climes, because in other places I've lived (ah-hem, LiberiaRwandaSouthSudan), that moment is all year round, plus flip flops just aren't done except inside one's own house.*

That moment is not now. The temperature is on its way back down. But I caught a glimpse of it, and I'm clinging to that glimpse.

On my way into the grocery store to buy milk-and-only-milk (it's the end of a pay period today) after work and fighting class and more work, a man was walking briskly toward the door carrying two cases of Miller Genuine Draft. 

"Are you going to pay for that?" an employee called out, and he turned and went to the checkout line as directed.

But when I came back to the checkout lanes with my milk, he was gone, and the cases were sitting on the floor.

"He tried to do that earlier, too," an employee said, picking up the cases to put them away.

Apparently the man really wants him some beer.


* So this one time, in Liberia, one of my female coworkers finally pulled me aside and said, delicately, "We [the women of work] were wondering why you wear the same shoes every day?" I was amused.

And frankly, the reason that I wore the same shoes every day is because I was broke, and I was a student, and I was living out of a suitcase for the summer, and since I went to school in the cold Apple, I had spent all of my shoe budget for the previous few years on warm shoes and had to resort to a pair of sandals that I bought on the coast of Kenya to wear to work in Liberia. They only caused blisters for the first few weeks. And I only had to get them repaired once.

I slunk into work the next day in some other shoes.

13 May 2012

misplaced snake

E. - the E. who was born in Liberia when both of our families lived there in the 1980s, and somehow we ended up in the same little town in State of Happiness lo these many years later - and I climbed the tiny mountain just outside of town today. 

It was that perfect sort of day that is cool in the trees and hot in the sun, and we lingered at the top, lounging on rocks.

Two girls were walking by on the little path just under our rocks when one of them startled and fluttered. 

I didn't believe E. when she said there was a rattlesnake down there, but I looked down, and there was a rattlesnake.

I was... displeased. I have been reassured over and over that there are no rattlesnakes west of the Cascades, and guess what? THOSE JERKS WERE ALL LYING TO ME.

E. took a picture. I stayed far away.

I really hate snakes. 

But at least I didn't jump up on the nearest high object and scream like a frightened toddler.

So then on the way back down the little mountain, I got to tell the story about how I watched episode after episode of Untold Stories of the ER while I was in South Sudan, and one of them involved a doctor who specialized in rattlesnake bite treatment, and his little son was bitten by one, and the kid's mom knew exactly what to do while getting him to the hospital where his dad was on duty, but the dad still had to make a terribly difficult decision about whether to give the kid so much of what might be the wrong anti-venom that it might permanently damage him, or risk him dying of the snake bite. 

It all turned out okay in the end.

(I went back and looked, and for some reason snakes and these crazy Discovery channel shows seem to go together. Also, I really hate snakes.)

12 May 2012

stick fighting

Last night I slept for almost 12 hours, which I'm not sure I knew was possible for me anymore, outside of illness or travel. 

I used to do that all the time in high school, but if I recall correctly, that was much more intentional. I would wake up and remember that I didn't have to get up, and doze for a while longer. 

Last night I dropped into sleep like a stone and stayed there. I am going to blame the non-allergy inflammation that has been making me want to give up and surrender these last few days. 

Also, I appear to have taken up an additional martial art. By accident. (That totally happens, by the way. People pick up additional martial arts by accident all the time.)

Anyway, my new martial art is kali. Just give me a stick. I will whack you.

Supposedly even little kids learn this stuff in the Philippines, but I can tell you that I have never seen another woman taking the class here. 

When has that ever stopped me, though?

09 May 2012

who are you?

Sometimes I just don't even recognize myself. Who are you? 

I mean, last summer I bought zip-off hiking pants. Zip-off hiking pants! The bane of my Africa years!

And today? Today I bought spandex running pants. Spandex. SPANDEX. Words do not even begin to convey.

I bought them for an entirely legitimate reason: we are back to ground survival in fighting class, and I need something that will stay in place so that my knees don't get torn up.


I intend to wear these things in (semi)public, yo. Possibly even public, if I have to stop at the store afterwards. As in, I do not have shorts that I intend to wear over them. 

Ovaries: I have them. 


My house lies partway up a very steep hill, right on the corner of a very steep road that goes up the hill and a flat road that goes around the hill. The steep road dead-ends into the flat road with nary a stop nor yield sign in sight.

I generally deal with this corner by slowing down but not stopping as I come up onto the flat road. If I have to stop for a passing car, I have to actually back down the hill about 200 feet because I drive a stick and, emergency brake or no, there is no possible way to start again on that steepness of hill without burning out the clutch. Trust me, I have tried. So have my friends who drive manual transmissions.

As I came home after fighting class tonight, I saw a motorcycle on its side right at the steepest of the steep parts of the hill, right at the lip before the steep road meets the flat one. There was an older man on his cell phone next to it, explaining where he'd dropped the bike. 

He was right in the middle of the road, so I drove around him and parked in my garage and then went back. The bike was a blue Harley-Davidson, lying with its seat downhill.

Another neighbor arrived just at the same time, and the three of us lifted the bike up past the horizontal  to the vertical. The neighbor and I held it up (one word: heavy) while the rider fidgeted to get it into neutral, and then we pushed it up onto the level.

There had been a round yellow light cover under my feet as we picked the bike up. The rider thanked us and started the engine, and I spotted the little yellow disk, rolled a ways down the hill. I chased it down, picked it up, and fitted it to the taillight. Just as the bike started to move, I gave it a sharp hit with my palm, and it snapped right in, undamaged.

07 May 2012


I made a salad for SHO's birthday party this weekend. I made this salad, actually, even though I was slightly skeptical. 

(Mostly I was skeptical because my primary experience with kale was the two summers circa 1990-1991 when my family lived in the muck of the AZO river valley amongst the greenhouses and the old Dutch farmer down the street gave us unending supplies of kale and sweet corn. I think we ate boerenkool and sweet corn literally every night for months. We were broke, and it was cheap.)

The good part about this salad is that I got to spend the entire weekend complaining about the need to massage kale. 

"I don't have time for that. I have to massage kale."

"I would have bought your birthday present already, but I had to massage kale."

"I need time to shower and massage kale between the hike and the party."

"I need a massage myself, and instead I am massaging kale."

See? It works brilliantly.

The fact is that I had no idea how to massage kale. Surely there is a knack to it?

But right about the time the party was to start, there I was, massaging kale. It turns out to be much easier than it sounds. Anyone can do it. I think I did it quite well, actually. I might even have a talent for massaging kale.

I'm still not sure what I think about that salad, taste-wise. Kale has such a strong taste, but it is somehow tempered by the grapefruit. A bit of grapefruit in each bite removes the bitterness of the kale.

I must like it enough, because I'm making it again right now to take to work for lunch. It is a nice alternative to the salad that I finally got sick of after four years: baby spinach, red pepper, carrots.

Do you know how tedious the same salad gets every single day? It's a relief to find a new salad base. (Don't even talk to me about iceberg or romaine lettuce. I have no time for light-colored leaves. They are a waste of chewing energy. And one of the things in mixed greens tastes like dirt, and I don't know which one it is.)

03 May 2012


For the second time in recent memory, I was paired with a new person for sparring in advanced fighting class. 

This generally culminates in disaster, major or minor. 

I have never had what one might call good reflexes. I'm slow, okay? I will admit that. And I'm just not that good at sparring yet.

The two new people have one level of intensity: hard.

And that is all fine until I miss a punch and get hit in the face. Getting hit in the face, hard, makes me mad. I don't mind getting hurt when it is an accident but when I'm getting hurt because someone cannot moderate their intensity no matter how many times I say, "Gentle!," I get mad. 

I get extra mad when someone can't remember whether they are throwing punches or catching them and so keeps hitting you in a whirlwind-like manner when you are supposed to be throwing punches at them, and even more mad when someone tries to do things like catch your leg that they don't have the skill to do. 

And I get hardcore mad when someone flails about hitting me when they are supposed to be blocking and catches my arm and wrenches my elbow, the very elbow that suffered from golf elbow in law school and has been hurting again lately.

I refuse to work with either of the new people now until they know how to correctly throw a sparring punch that will not knock someone out. I will fully and completely blame that on my lack of skill. And theirs.

02 May 2012

sugar, cont.

I'm still not eating sugar.

Well, mostly.

I still get my chai every day, because chai is a reason to force myself to get out of my office, take a walk, and sit for a few minutes. I am a better and saner person for that. 

Also, I have to allow myself some sugar. I am not the sort who does well with no-sugar-ever-or-bust. I will bust. So I get one exception per day, and usually that exception is the chai. 

Additional exceptions are permitted on Friday and Saturday night if out with people who order something scrumptious (I do not allow myself to order it, except in the form of an alcoholic beverage when applicable).

On Sunday all bets are off, except that I do try to stay away from excessive amounts of sugar on Sundays.

Oh, and birthdays/parties. Those are exceptions, too.

Basically the entire thing is exceptions. Cancel the first part about not eating sugar.

What really happened is that, in taking a few days off of sugar two weeks ago, I realized that a diet consisting largely of Sour Jelly Bellies and Chewy Sweet Tarts was perhaps not... ideal. Or healthy. Or sustainable, in the long term. 

So I no longer buy bags of candy.

I avoid those cookies someone brought into the office. 

I don't stop at the donut place when it occurs to me to pick up a dozen and bring them to work.

I don't order the organic soda at the pizza lunches. 

It doesn't sound like much - I should get a treat every now and then! - but it turns out that recently my life was almost entirely treats. All day. Every day. Because I neeeeeded them. 

That just cannot go on. Pretty soon an occasional treat has turned into a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup and Red 40. 

And it had.

I wish I could be one of those moderation people, but I know better than that. My taste buds do not know the meaning of moderation. 

One exception per day (except Sunday) is a good rule for me. My bones and heart and muscles will thank me when I am 80. 

But sigh. The sugar craving has not gone away. Not yet.