29 July 2012

public restrooms

Despite my claims that I have no interest in running a marathon, ever, I had a flash of interest when my friend R. mentioned a half-marathon in October. I have no idea why that briefly sounded like a good idea.

Then I googled "half-marathon training schedule" and I had to laugh at myself. What possessed me to think for even one second that my knees would allow me to run 11 and 12 mile practice runs? 

Hint: they won't. 

I ran three days in a row this weekend, and now I can't walk down the stairs. And that was only seven miles in three days. (I fully intended to run more, each day, but things kept getting in the way. Things like laziness and phone calls from my Momma.)

Today, I intended to run 4 miles. I was actually at the parking lot when my Momma called, and of course I had to talk to her. After we talked for a while, I had to pee, but there were no bathrooms around, so I started out on my run without going.

This does not work, by the way. 

Just over a mile in, I found a clump of trees that appeared to be large enough to hide me, and I burrowed in. (One has to be careful which set of trees one chooses in this town, since many of them are already inhabited by camps of homeless people. I do not need anyone watching me pee.)

That would be the second time I have peed outside within the city limits of a city in State of Happiness. The other time was... worse. There were no trees, only bushes, and everything was people's yards. But it was also dark.

The bad news today was that I was nearly limping at the end of three miles. Adding another mile seemed unwise, so I headed over to the bars where I am working my way up to one single pull-up. 

Hey, I never claimed not to have gimpy arms. My arms barely function sometimes. Last year I was very proud that I could do 20 pushups in a row on my toes. It wasn't until I stopped taking a constant stream of ibuprofen that I realized that I was only masking the nerve pain. Now I trying to stay off ibuprofen, and I am back to pushups on my knees, most of the time. I might have to go back on ibuprofen for my knees, though, if I want to keep running. Sigh.

27 July 2012

some Olympiad or other

My old roommate moved out last month to move in with her boyfriend (kind of; her stuff is all still here), and I had to transfer all the utilities to my name. This took me a while, due to the heartache previously mentioned and the ensuing lack of energy for anything except dragging myself to work, but the eventual result was that my new roommate and I now have some cable channels.

I actually turned the tv on tonight. That hasn't happened in years. Even in Gone West, when I had a tv and paid for basic cable, I somehow managed to flub up the tv/cable situation, and my cable stopped working at least a year before I moved away. (Things like this are why, despite being fairly technologically capable and fairly engineeringly capable - I actually can often fix things - while lacking any education whatsoever in either one, I really should be kept away from anything that can be flubbed.) I never did bother to figure out how to fix it, because I just don't really care if I have a functional tv.

Nonetheless, I turned the tv on tonight. 

I didn't even know that it was opening night for the Olympics, but once I saw that it was, I had to watch the parade of nations to catch the important countries: Honduras, Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan (not present), Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States. That's the same important countries list everyone has, right?

The Olympics are reason enough to pay for cable.

I was feeling quiet and introspective tonight, and I spent most of the evening reading and writing and running. For the first time in this round of running, it felt good to run. It felt easy. It almost felt like the running nirvana I used to feel immediately post-Rwanda, when I was running 45 minutes at a go.

It was, admittedly, only two miles. I used to view running as useless if I did not have the time to run a full three miles.* The experts suggest THIRTY MINUTES A DAY, you know.

But now I work out independently of running. Running is only to augment my workout regimen. It is not the thing on which I am depending for my exercise. Also I read an article that basically said you will live longer if you run between one and, um, some other number of miles per week. 10? 20? 10 miles a week is only two miles five times per week. Bring it. I am trying to re-wire my brain to believe that a mile or two is enough, if three is impossible. 

Running is also very good for thinking. I suspect that might be why I have suddenly found the willpower to do it a couple of times a week, willpower that was heretofore missing in the years between departure from Rwanda in 2004 and just this last month.

* I did not have the time today because, well, I was reading a good book out on my deck and did not realize how quickly sunset was approaching.

26 July 2012

on a dark street

Some friends are worth standing out on the sidewalk well past your bedtime just to talk to them for a few more minutes before they move away. Even on a work night.

We found a new roof deck a few weeks ago. This is a summer-changer. For a town with such amazing summers, and only 100 miles south of an awesome city with outdoor options galore, Universe City's outdoor dining options are limited to the point of pathetic. A covered north-facing corner just isn't going to do it in the land of cloudless summer evenings. 

So five of us sat out in the setting sunlight, eating pizza and mussels, drinking beer and girly drinks, saying goodbye, for now. At length, we migrated out to the street, where we stood at the bottom of the stairs to the parking structure as the night grew later. Pickups full of teenagers cruising by cranked their music so loud that our ears hurt half a block away. Cars eased down the alley, and we jumped out of the way to let them pass. There were hugs, and maybe another one for good measure. And not-the-end goodbyes, we hope.

24 July 2012


The (adult) students of my martial arts studio were invited to play lasertag at an abandoned outdoor arena in the woods. (This is all sounding very Hunger Games, suddenly. Did I mention that I saw the Hunger Games two days in a row back in March? The second time in IMAX. Awesome.)

Things got to a late start, because J., the organizer and possesser of knowledge of the location of the arena, had forgotten to go pick up a friend of his.

Conscious of the fact that we would probably lose people on the route, I sped out of the parking lot. I was third in line.

Other people were not so lucky. When we turned off the main road, I stopped at the turn and got out of my car to wait for the stragglers.

Who didn't arrive.

Not having exchanged phone numbers or even directions to the lasertag arena, I called my roommate, who looked up the number for the martial arts studio. No one answered that number, but a few seconds later, S. called me back on her cell phone. She had seen my number pop up on the studio line, looked it up on their list because she knew the lasertag was going on, and called me back. 

J., the organizer, came back to the turnoff where I waited, and the two of us tried multiple times to call the missing driver. Nothing.

We drove back to the martial arts studio, looking for the missing truck all the way. Nothing.

Just as we got back to the turnoff, the missing passenger finally called. They were "[crackle crackle], turning around, [crackle]."

We described our location as best we could through the crackle and waited.

J. and I talked about travel. He traveled through Central America a few years ago, and of course I will take any opportunity to talk travel shop. 

"I met all these women traveling alone when I was in Central America," he said, "and I never worried about them. But for some reason now that I'm married, I worry about traveling with my wife."

I was effusively reassuring. 

An hour after I first got to the turnoff, there was no sign of the straggling truck. 

The missing persons finally called and explained that they had taken that other road out of town, and were irretrievably lost. They were abandoning hope of lasertag and going for a drink. 

We proceeded. 

Lasertag in the woods is amazing. I could have kept at it all night were it not for unwashed laundry and an early morning alarm waiting for me at home. 

We fought every person for themselves (I got tagged out in about 30 seconds.) We fought teams. We fought hold-the-high-ground. K. and I snuck up around the side to take the fort. 

"You should have stayed!" she said, the next day. "We played zombies when it got dark!"

23 July 2012

dancing in daylight

S. and PH. got married Saturday, on a lawn overlooking the valley and hills. This was not one of those weddings that you attend out of obligation, oh no. This was two of the people I most genuinely like in this town, making official what everyone already knew.

And so we drove out into the perfect afternoon and sat in the sunshine while they stood in front of the chuppah and drank a mixture of cider and porter from bottles that the officiant carried down the aisle in his sagging pockets. The little ring-bearer walked with his mom holding his hand. When he got to the end of the aisle, he took his place half-hidden behind his dad, the officiant, and PH. and her mom walked down the stairs, hand-in-hand.

We ate, of course, and drank, and even though it wasn't yet dark, we danced. You know I love me some bride and groom when I am willing to dance in daylight. And I was. I would have danced alone in daylight in front of the whole crowd, for those two.

Fortunately for all concerned, that was not necessary.

20 July 2012


The other day I was sitting at a red light, one car back from the front, when the car in front just up and drove straight through the red light. 

I can't really convey how strange it seemed. I mean, the light was red. We were all stopped at the light. And that car just... went. 


It isn't just that it's not legal. It's more that it's so counter-instinctive. My instinct says, "Red light! Stop!" so strongly that I can't comprehend how that guy overcame his.

I inched forward to the front spot and looked over at the woman in the car next to me. We both laughed and shook our heads. 

19 July 2012

light and lightning

I fully intended to run after fighting class tonight, despite a relatively hard workout, but when I got to the park, there was lightning off to the right and lightning off to the left.

It doesn't lightning much in the western part of State of Happiness, and the weather here is unpredictable. At my parents' house in the Mitten, you can pretty much watch the weather roll in from the west, cross over your head, and head east. In Rwanda, I could see the storms gathering to the east and sweeping toward my house over the bay. 

Here in Universe City, there is no knowing. See those clouds gathering south of here? Maybe on their way. Maybe not. East, ditto. Also west and north. 

I sat in my car in the parking lot for a few minutes watching the occasional lightning bolts and a deepening rainbow, and I decided that I did not want to run a circle around the park badly enough to risk wherever the storm decided to go, and I drove away.

The clouds from the south promptly moved in and started pelleting my car with rain. 

Good decision, then. I do not run in rain. Or cold. Or anything but sunny and beautiful, really.

One of my problems with exercise that is not structured (i.e., a class) is that I am so very all or nothing about it. I either try to kill myself by running every day (er, my plan this week, until foiled by exhaustion and weather) or I give it up completely (which is what I appear to be actually doing this week). I either push myself too hard, or I can't get off the couch. Oh, moderation. Wherefore art thou, moderation?

All this to say that I do so love my fighting class. Not just because I've finally found the exercise I love (getting the shit beat out of me, obviously), but also because of the structure: the instructors push me when I'm tired, and make me stop after an hour when I get crazy. Perfect.

18 July 2012


I have been trying to run a mile or so after fighting class most days lately (and to run three miles on non-fighting class days), and I fully intended to do so today, until I got to fighting class and felt how very slow I was. I could barely lift my arms. 

Some days are like that.

So I gave myself a break, and instead of heading to the dirt loop that is the only place my knees will allow me to run, I went home, to carmelize some more onions and roast some tomatoes and boil some sweet potato for enchiladas. 

Nearly two years ago, when I started this fighting class, I was dragging every single day. Some days I could barely climb the stairs to my office. 

Now my easy day is one with just fighting class. 

That is kind of awesome.

17 July 2012


My friend PH. tells me that she can carmelize onions in 10 minutes. 

I am floored.

It takes me an entire evening. If I want to carmelize onions, I have to plan my whole day around it, practically. Everything outside of the kitchen must be completed in time to spend two hours carefully tending the pan full of onions. I turn on music and play around online, but I am constantly on guard regarding my precioussssssss.

And then the whole thing risks ruin anyway, because I could eat the entire panful of perfectly carmelized treasures in one go. Straight up. Alone. Neither food nor human accompaniment needed.

15 July 2012

back when

The first time I ever started running was in Rwanda. I didn't actually intend to start running. Every day around 5 pm I would lay off work and go for a walk.

I walked up the road behind my house and along the little dead end road that led to the high point of the peninsula on which I lived. 

Then I walked back down and around the long part of the peninsula out to the end where I would sit on the rocks and watch the sun lower itself into the hills of Congo, or the smoke rise from Mount Nyiragongo to the north. 

Little boys swam back from the island off the end of the peninsula holding the horns of the cows they had been tending.

Fishermen set off in their outrigger canoes.

Sometimes I would walk toward the bay instead, toward the birthday-cake hotel, where little kids would shout "Muzungu!" from the hillsides and run down to hold my hand as I walked.

"Si ni twa muzungu," I would tell them, "Ni twa M-a," and by the time I left it was my (Kinyarwand-ized) name they called from the hillsides.

Eventually, walking was not enough exercise, and one day I ran a little part of the trail along the peninsula, and soon I was running more and more without stopping.

I never set out to run. I set out to enjoy the evening. If there was something interesting to see, I would stop. If a storm was rolling in, I would sit on the rocks and let the fury of the storm kicking up waves frighten and thrill me. If I needed to think, I would sit somewhere pretty and think. If I had a guest, I would walk with them. S. and some other random muzungu - I can't remember who - and I once swam out to the island at the end of the peninsula. It was never about the running, and there was no pressure.

I am trying to keep that feeling of the absence of pressure as I add running to my life here. If I have only a little time, I run a little. If I have more time and I feel okay, I run more. I think I've forgotten until just now, though, writing this, that it is possible to stop and walk and watch the sky. I need to remember that.

(This whole story has been told in this spot before, but I do so love to reminisce.)


A couple of little delights have shown up in my mailbox recently. (And trust me, if ever I needed little delights showing up unexpectedly, now is the time.) 

Delight the first: my Aunt Lisa sent me a card and some dangly earrings. I love dangly earrings. They are sort of my thing. And so to open a card and see dangly earrings picked out by my lovely Aunt Lisa (everyone should have an Aunt Lisa) made me very, very happy.

Delight the second: my sister, knowing that I have been experiencing heartache, sent me a gift certificate for - I am not kidding - an hour long massage. I'll tell you what will cheer a person right up: a massage. So much so that I don't even want to use it. I want to keep the gift certificate indefinitely so that I can keep looking forward to it. (I also really, really want to get the massage. Soon. Although I am a little worried that I won't be able to stop at one massage, that I will become addicted. That is an expensive addiction.)

And so I plug on through, keeping my delights close at hand, because I need them.

13 July 2012

I feel like I've told this story before

I used to send my chips back in Rwanda. Fries, to US Americans. 

I was totally That Girl. (I hate That Girl.)

Rwanda has some of the best chips/fries in the world, when they are made correctly. Not for nothing were they colonized by Belgium, Homeland of Chips. (I don't know that I've ever been to Belgium, other than the Brussels Airport. But the chips thing is well rumored.)

The problem with chips is that they must be fried twice. They simply must. And sometimes people skimp on the frying and do it only once, and disaster ensues. Once-cooked chips are soggy and mushy and taste like stale potato. 

And so three or so times a week when I lived in Rwanda I ate at the Kibuye Guesthouse, and three or so times a week I ordered chips and grated carrots (you never knew what you were going to get if you ordered a straight salad), and three or so times a week I sent my chips back to be well-cooked, and three or so times a week the chips came back a few minutes later steaming and crisp.

I was totally That Girl, but it was totally worth it for those delicious bits of fried potato eaten with American Greenland Ketchup (made in the UAE. I note that tomatoes do not grow in the desert. I have no idea how this ketchup gets made, but it has a hint of spice and it is amazing).

Tonight I had to turn into That Girl again. 

We were sitting on a deck in the sunlight at a crappy campus bar, and I ordered mac and cheese because I needed comfort food.

Two hairs into our beverages and appetizers (one hair in the straw of a water cup, one hair in the hush puppies), my mac and cheese arrived, freezing cold in the middle.

I sent it back and they microwaved it (literally - she said, as she brought it back, "We put it in for two minutes"). 

Then it was luke-warm in the middle, and I sent it back again.

It came back hot and mushy, like all bad campus bar food, but I piled on the black pepper and it was tolerable. 

And possibly contained spittle, after the annoyance I caused the kitchen.

11 July 2012


It is finally warm enough to be called summer here in Universe City (and everyone who is now complaining about 80+ degrees F can SHUT UP. You get your nine months of rain. Let us have a few weeks of sunshine. We have to stock up on Vitamin D sometime).

Anyway, it is finally (almost) warm enough to satisfy me, so obviously I jumped at the chance to float the river on Sunday. 

One of my major complaints about State of Happiness (and the Pacific Northwest in general) is that the water is so cold. The water in the ocean is cold. The water in the rivers are cold (snowmelt). The water in the lakes is cold (snowmelt, springs). This is not okay, people. You cannot swim in water that causes hypothermia in mere minutes, even in the middle of the summer. Particularly not summers here, where everyone whines when it hits 90 degrees F.

Somehow, though, on a 91 degree F day, the water in the river had warmed enough to be tolerable all these miles from the snowmelt, as long as only one's butt and feet were in the water.

Problems abounded. Probably because I was involved. K. had an extra tube for me, but he blew it up. As in, over-blew it, so that it popped. SHO's raft had been chewed by a varmint. So SHO and I went to the most Africa-looking store I have ever encountered in the US (few aisles, lot of bright plastic crap made in China) and bought tubes for $11.99. The good kind, from the sporting good section. Okay, as good as a store that sells tubes for $11.99 offers.

We arrived riverside with our tubes, and all piled into one car to shuttle up the river. K. and SHO held a tire tube onto the top of the car with ropes through the window. Periodically it would blow back over the back windscreen and sort of flutter there, begging to be let loose.

Then that tire exploded, just about as soon as K. set it down on the ground to tie some rope around it.

We all got back in the car and went to the Africa-looking store on that side of town.

The floating, though, was lovely. It was peaceful and comfortable and sometimes a little bit exciting.

There were, of course, a few minor glitches. 

At the risk of talking about work, floating the river does come up sometimes at work, in a context that is less than flattering about the standards of some of the people who float the river. And sure enough, there were the teenagers lying to the cops about having life jackets. ("We lost them back there on that curve.") There were the teenagers who were hiding beer cans. There were the teenagers who somehow managed to keep cigarettes and lighter dry in order to contaminate the air of all concerned when we got stuck floating next to them.

You know you are old and boring when you wear a life jacket the whole time you are floating the river, and you are tempted to scold the smokers. And when you thoroughly sunscreen yourself well in advance, just so that sunburn is not much of a worry. Because otherwise I would, in fact, worry.

09 July 2012


On my drive home, there is a woman who sits out on her porch late at night, reading a book. The porch light is dim and yellow, and she sits with her feet propped up on the railing, alone, well past midnight. I feel lonely and happy all at once when I see her, because she seems so complete out there alone. I admire her from afar.

In the daylight, I saw a little girl wearing a long skirt drop her bike on the sidewalk and run up the stairs of the same house, and I smiled. The woman's late nights make even more and less sense now.

01 July 2012

sugar high

I have not (so far) overdosed on sugar on Sunday exception day, so I'm calling this a victory.


Things have been tedious around these parts lately. I am seriously bored with the car culture. Passing someone in a parking lot does not lead to interesting encounters, not like sitting on the side of the road waiting for a dalla-dalla to show up. It really is no wonder that Americans are crazy. We have so much time to think and stew.


I had a long, hard day on Thursday, and when I went to advanced fighting class, I found the instructor beforehand to ask him what we were doing, because if it was boxing I was turning around and going home, because getting punched in the face would have made me cry. It wasn't. It was kicking. 100 of these kicks, 100 of those, three sets of 25 on each side of the other, one set of 25 double round-kicks on each side, and then 25 right-then-left round-kicks. Only today have I been able to contemplate moving my legs again. (Lie. I was fine.)


Oh! I went up to Gone West last Sunday, to spend an afternoon with my friend D. from law school. It's really a very strange sensation to see someone who knew you in such a different context, because it reminds you of who you used to be. Remember when I spent my summers in Tanzania, Liberia, (South) Sudan? I miss that person. Now I am a person who has to ask for days of leave without pay to go to the Netherlands. (I remain, however, the person who will take leave without pay to travel. Oh, yes, I will.)

We wandered around Gone West on a perfectly typical Gone West day: it wasn't raining, but it could have been, but then it was sunny, but then not. That's just how it is. It was fun to show my favorite places to new people. I do love that town.


Between the beginning and end of writing this post, I succumbed to addditional sugar. Oops. This is why Monday is always the hardest day of no-sugar. I crave it on Mondays, because my body got it the day before.