30 November 2012

[30] hugs

Funeral visitation is exhausting. I can't tell you how many people I hugged tonight who I haven't seen in years. Or ever. Yet I hugged them. It happens.

My Aunt Lisa hugged me but said that she had arrived with no intentions of hugging everyone, which I thought was smart. I came unarmed with such intentions, and I ended up hugging people sometimes just because I didn't know what to say to them. (This happens sometimes when it's been a decade since you saw a person but you once did churchy things together. Or they are vaguely related to you. Or they just look sad.)

My little niece and nephew were there, running around shrieking like small banshees, and I love that. When my Oma died two and a half years ago, a friend of mine commented that sniffing a baby's head is one of the best ways to deal with grief, because it makes you feel so alive. I agree. B. and R. are no longer babies, but sweeping their sturdy little bodies up into the air or holding their small hands is the best salve one can get. Their tiny hugs I would never turn away. They feel like life.

29 November 2012

[28] [29] use your imagination

At 12:10 am this morning, in a hotel room in Gone West, I made an executive decision that 3 hours and 50 minutes of sleep was more important to me than victory in accomplishing the fifth of six years that I have posted every month in November (I skipped 2009 to go to Vietnam.)

So we are just going to pretend that this, here, now, is both the 28th and the 29th. At once. We are living two days simultaneously. This is for my sake, because I like to finish things I start (ahem, 30 days of blog posting, ahem).

My dad called me at 7:05 yesterday morning to tell me that my grandma, his mom, had died during the night. We had known for several days that she was not swallowing, and she was fading quickly.

Thirteen and a half hours later I had worked a full day, bought a flight to the Mitten, reserved a hotel at the airport in Gone West, gone to fighting class, packed (in one tiny suitcase despite the need for winter clothes - victory), and was driving to the city.

Twenty-three hours after he called me, I was on a plane, and seven and a half hours after that, I was hugging my dad and mom in the airport in Greater River Town, where I went to college/university.

Flying in, over that familiar flight pattern, I realized that the Greater River Town airport is probably the airport into and out of which I have flown the most, of any in the world. Whether I am going to State of Happiness or New York or Rwanda, i almost always fly through Greater River Town. It is a little further from my parents' house, and still not that big (in college we used to mock it for still listing the morning's arrivals and departures at 10 pm, because all the day's flights only made up two screens worth of listings), but flights to Greater River Town are often significantly cheaper than to Azoo.

Random occurrences of two flights in early December:

A very short guy came out of the bathroom as I went in, but with that short guy swagger. He smirked at me in a checking out sort of way, and i smiled my pained polite smile, reserved for those who seem like annoying assholes. When I got into the bathroom, the seat was covered in pee. Really? You can't be bothered to move the seat? Instead you are going to make me wipe it down. Keep it klassy, dude. Sometimes first impressions are so right.

The woman sitting next to me started hacking uncontrollably about three hours into our flight to Chicago. Despite the fact that I packed for a week in a tiny suitcase and a purse, I pulled out a cough drop, like a magician from nothing, and gave it to her. Apparently packing light and packing unprepared are not the same thing.

The gate agent in Chicago made me throw away my beverage at the jetway. I was confused. "I thought you were allowed to take drinks on the plane if you bought them in the airport." I said. "Nope," he said, "you have to get rid of it." So I shrugged and threw it away, and as I got on the plane the man who was now just in front of me said, "That was weird. I bring drinks on the plane all the time. But you handled it really well." Just inside the plane, we asked the flight attendant, and she said, "Oh, there are lots of reasons. We don't know how much alcohol is in it, for one," and I started laughing. Apparently you are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages on the plane. And yes, I had purchased my beverage at a bar. It was club soda and lime, and only the bar had club soda.

I almost just accidentally pasted some law on the bottom of this. Thank you, Webster, for pasting at random.

27 November 2012

[27] replacement

I forgot to mention that I changed my headlight on Saturday afternoon, on my own, in the pouring rain, in the parking lot of the auto parts store.

"Go somewhere out of the rain!" some young guy yelled at me, as he left the store. 

Staying warm and dry is for sissies, obviously. (Ha! I am dying in these clouds and rain. If staying warm and dry is for sissies, I am the person you see in the encyclopedia when you look up the word.)

But I didn't really have time to go somewhere out of the rain, because J. and I were driving up to the other town to watch the game. It was, as previously mentioned, dark and dreary, even though it was only 10 am, and I wanted functioning headlights to drive up the country highway. (Plus a burned out headlight is like giving the cops permission to invade your privacy rights by stopping you and turning the stop into a search of your car. Even if you have nothing to hide, why invite that? Erm. Criminal procedure talking, much?)

So I pulled up the hood on my jacket, and J. sat in the passenger seat with the door open, the car's manual in one hand and the new light in the other, careful not to touch the glass. 

I struggled with the hood. (I always struggle with the hood. It's the silly latch that holds it down even after you pop it up, and it's too far underneath to see which way it needs to move to release the hood.)

Then I ran back and forth a few times to check the manual, and then wah lah! Two perfectly functioning headlights. I feel so competent when I manage to fix my car all on my own.

26 November 2012

[26] brussels sprouts

I have always despised brussels sprouts. In my opinion, they are pretty much the worst of foods. 

When I was a kid, they were somehow available in Liberia. (HOW? HOW WAS THIS POSSIBLE? THEY ARE A COLD-WEATHER FOOD. IT IS 90 DEGREES IN LIBERIA EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Maybe they were frozen?

My mom would serve us boiled brussels sprouts, sometimes (whyyyyy? They have perfectly good potato greens full of delicious iron and vitamins in Liberia! Why the brussels sprouts?), and I would sit there with the brussels sprouts in front of me, trying not to throw up as I ate them. I know I gagged on them, most of the time, and they sat in front of me long after supper on multiple occasions until I could force them down. 

(See also: that cold oatmeal that one time, the green beans that I threw in the trash as a high schooler and my mom made me fish out and eat before I could go skiing. Yes, stubbornness runs in the family.) 

(See further: my sister once sat in her baby chair attached to the table all day long because she refused to take her chloroquine pill. She was two or so, and we have a picture of her taking a nap with her head on the table, a little white pill in front of her nose. Which is fair, because chloroquine has the most bitter taste of any substance known to humankind. It's hard to explain the need for it to a toddler.)

In law school, my roommate S. loved brussels sprouts, and she would roast them and gobble them down. She offered me some and told me they were a thousand times better roasted than boiled, but I distrusted even the non-boiled version. I would not touch them.

For Thanksgiving last week, one of my friends made roasted parsnips, garlic, and brussels sprouts, and I braved up to try them. I think I managed three brussels sprouts. They were better than my childhood experience (no gagging occurred), but I have reached the conclusion that brussels sprouts contain the same bitter taste as cooked broccoli (ew), and my delicate taste buds cannot handle that bitter taste.

Excuse me while I go coddle my delicate taste buds. 

25 November 2012

[25] cook's paradise

I've kind of become a crazy cook/baker this weekend. It's a little out of hand.

It's the squashes and the sweet potatoes. I can't resist them. There they are, glowing with beautiful orange, and I just want to roast them and put them in things.

I had extra sweet potato after I made my Thanksgiving sweet potato biscuits, and so I whipped up some sweet potato oatmeal muffins, using my trusty old pumpkin oatmeal muffin recipe. I had more sweet potato than I usually have pumpkin, so I threw it all in and subtracted a little yogurt. 

Wow. Yum. People were impressed. I was impressed. Sweet potato, you are a delicious, delicious little beast.

My roommate is complaining that she could lose weight if only I would stop baking things.

Random side note: double the vanilla. And one can rarely go wrong adding substantial quantities of extra pumpkin pie spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

Then today I tried my hand at this salad: Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas. It can be made with pretty much any grain (I used barley), and trust me, you will not regret doubling the pickled red onions, no, not at all. (I think we will be making it at Christmas with quinoa, for the newly gluten-free amongst my family members.)

My house smells gorgeously of roasted squash.

The extra butternut squash may be going into to these muffins: Butternut Squash Muffins with Candied Ginger, or I may just make the same pumpkin muffin recipe and throw the candied ginger that I just happen to have in my cupboard in there.

Speaking of just happening to have candied ginger in my cupboard, I am starting to have a cook's cupboards. I mean, today I opened my cupboard and got out white wine vinegar and started pickling things. I have white wine vinegar in my cupboard! Routinely! 

Who is this person?

Also, I happen to have more than five little bottles of cookie sprinkles. And cookie cutters. And more than two casserole dishes. 

It's like I'm a grownup or something.

24 November 2012

[24] alcohol

My roommate J. and I got up early this morning (seven hours of sleep on a holiday weekend: not okay) to drive to a nearby city to watch a football game. Not, I will note, to watch the football game from inside the stadium, oh no. We drove to a nearby city to watch a football game at a bar. Useful.

The friends we were meeting drove in from Gone West on a party bus. I had never been on a party bus before, and I assumed it would be a full-sized bus of the Greyhound sort, but it was not. It looked like a retirement home bus - you know, the short white ones? I am also pretty sure I took an identical bus from Arusha to Nairobi once. 

Except on the inside this bus only had two benches along the sides, facing each other, with a bar at the back. Apparently party buses are the one exception to the open container rule.

We met the bus around 11:45 am, and they had been driving and drinking (not the driver) since 7 am. It might be the drunkest I've ever seen a person before noon. (Or... not. I retract that comment. I suddenly remembered the field in which I have been making a living for the last five years.)

Before things were over, one girl had been puking for over an hour, the cops had been called on one guy (he decamped to another bar before they arrived), and two couples seemed on the verge of breaking up. And that was just the people with whom we arrived.

I remembered why I really don't like drinking that much. 

Which is not to say that I drank much today, or that I didn't have fun. I did have fun watching the game and talking to people. I had to drive back to Universe City, so I had a drink and a half at the beginning of the game and then nothing more. Club soda and lime, baby.

It's just that watching other people drink themselves into oblivion looks miserable, and nothing I have experienced while drinking has ever made me feel differently about it. (I have a recovering alcoholic friend who says, when I say things like this, "Yes, and you aren't an alcoholic." Which is true. I recognize that there is frequently more going on than what I see, which is: excessive drinking is tedious.)

Not to mention the hangover, which one does not even have to think about if not drinking or only having one drink.

23 November 2012

[23] cars

When I had my baby Landcruiser in Rwanda, I felt like I knew it so well. I drove it non-stop for two years, and by the end, it was almost an extension of my body.

I knew its foibles (a tendency toward electrical problems that periodically made the horn not work or the gauges go crazy, an inability to keep power up the first long hill out of Kigali to the west unless I turned off the air-conditioning and opened the windows because it was four cylinders instead of eight).

I knew how to get out and lock and unlock the wheels for 4-wheel drive, and what kind of mud it could handle in 2- or 4-wheel drive.

I knew exactly how much space it took up, and exactly when I could dart between those other cars.

When I moved to Universe City and bought my little Honda two years ago, I felt clumsy behind the wheel. I hadn't had a car for three years in New York and three years afterwards in wandering + Gone West, and driving no longer felt natural. 

This from a girl who started drivers training two days after her 15th birthday and proudly accepted the surprised "You are a good driver!" comments from U. in Rwanda, who didn't expect her to be able to drive through mud because 1. she was young, and 2. she was a girl. (I was, I mean. My persons are getting confusing.) I am from the Mitten, where we drive. We drive a lot. And we have snow. Of course I had no problem with mud.

This evening, after purchasing a $10 bottle of fragrance-free shampoo (available only on the other side of town and the bottle is small - duurrrrgh, my skin issues are getting even more expensive), I stopped to buy a scarf. After trying on about 15 of them and determining that acrylic, viscose, and cashmere do bother my skin, as does any texture to polyester, but that generally polyester, cotton, and silk are okay, I turned on my car and something felt weird. 

My car has once again become such an extension of me that I know immediately upon turning it on that a headlight has burned out. I know the pattern my headlights throw, and it wasn't being thrown. My Mitten training has come back, full force.

22 November 2012

[22] full

It was the perfect morning for a little run/walk. Cold, yes, and I wore my hiking boots and pants, because those are the best shoes I have and all my fighting class pants are knee length and I wasn't going to be running to get warm. I didn't exactly fit in. 

But it was sunny, beyond the cold, and I waited for 2 mile walk time with the owners of my martial arts studio. Then my friends I was supposed to meet called and said they had already started with the four mile people and were intending to walk the four miles, so I ran to catch up with them, and we walked.

We walked. We talked. We didn't hurry.

The result was that we were perhaps literally the second to last people to finish, period. The four mile runners finished before us, and so did the two mile walkers. There were not many four mile walkers, and even those had started ahead of us.

I meant to rush home to shower and bake, but there was a massage therapist doing short free massages next to the finish line. Massage-o-phile that I am, I forwent immediate departure and waited in the little tent, next to the heater, until it was my turn to have an elbow dug deep into that spot right under my shoulder blade that always hurts. 

"How long has it been bothering you?" the massage therapist asked.

"Since high school." I said.

"You don't look that old," she said, "but still, that's a long time."

Almost 20 years, it is.

I baked and chopped and prepped, all in a hurry, and then we sat around a beautifully set table to eat until we could only groan. My corn pudding was a hit.

Afterward, we settled in on the big L-shaped couch with pillows and blankets, and I was so full that every time I changed positions my stomach complained all over again at the shift in the weight of the food inside it. (The funny thing is that, not being much of a meat eater, I don't actually eat that much at Thanksgiving. It's just that my body is not used to eating one whole plate of food at once. And I have a bad habit of being REALLY FEROCIOUSLY HUNGRY FEED ME RIGHT NOW and then not being able to actually eat very much. One big meal of a plate of Thanksgiving food is much harder for my stomach to accept than the equivalent amount of food in several little meals throughout the day would be.)

E. put on a Christmas movie. I had never seen it, but everyone else had and was horrified at my missing piece of culture, so of course I fell asleep in the middle.

My fridge is filled with food, now, all sorts of holiday dishes. Unfortunately, I find myself wanting to never again put anything but water into my body. Hmmm, water. So delicious after all those fats and carbs. So light and refreshing.

21 November 2012

[21] antes

I am operating on the assumption that a supposedly orange-fleshed sweet potato that seems to have somehow turned out 2/3 white and 1/3 orange is just fine to eat.* Nature contains variations, right?

I think I am boiling up approximately seven times as many sweet potatoes as I need for my sweet potato biscuits. Oh,well!

I like baking, and I like baking for other people (well, I like baking for other people who appropriately appreciate my baking), but I have a bad habit of thinking that I will come home and bake things, or at least get started on things, and then instead I go to fighting class and then back to the office for something I forgot and then to the mall to see if there is anything I want to buy at Banana Republic on the last day that my 10% coupon off is good (there isn't) and then I get home and realize that I am almost out of milk and most stores are closed tomorrow and suddenly it is 10:00 pm and I haven't started baking, so the only thing that is happening tonight is the cooking of the sweet potato so that it will be soft and ready to mash in the morning after the fun run walk.**

(Unfortunately, it has taken me a while to learn to just give up on making 1 million baked goods at this time of night, after many occasions of resentment at various times when I did stay up late and the recipients of the baked goods did not seem to appreciate the time, money, and insomnia that went into the baking. P.S. Baking is expensive. In some ways - letting go of that twinge of perfectionism - I love being a grownup.)

Meanwhile, I got a 103 point word in scrabble. It was fanfares, on a double word score and making the additional words def and en. Congratulations will be accepted from 9 am to 11 pm daily, or any time online.

* Googling "orange sweet potato is white" was... not helpful. Google informed me that yes, some sweet potatoes are white. Duh, google. We all know that. I want to know why this particular sweet potato is 2/3 white. You have failed me.

** I have always envied the people with the cross-out feature, but it used to be only on non-blogger blogs, and I am too lazy and cheap to switch to another blogging platform, but I just noticed that it has appeared on blogger. Expect crossings out pretty much every day from here on out. At least until I get sick of it.

20 November 2012

[20] moan

What I should be doing is getting some Thanksgiving dishes started. (I am in charge of salad and biscuits, and I think I am bring corn pudding, too.) 

What I am doing instead is, uh, nothing. NOTHING. Unless playing on the internet counts as something, which it does not.

I am supposed to be joining my friends for a run on Thanksgiving morning. Just a little four miles. 

This is all very well except that I gave up running for Lent because my right knee hurt too much and then my left hip started hurting when I started overcompensating for my right knee and it was all a cluster.

So on Sunday I decided that I would go for a little run, just to see how the four miles were going to go. I don't really doubt that I can run four miles, cardio-wise. The problem is the knee. I thought I would test it.

1.25 miles in, I started limping. I walked a bit and then ran again. Then I did my walk-backwards-and-sideways exercises to try to strengthen the muscles in my legs to hold my knee in place. 

Not only did my knee hurt for a day, my hip still hurts, and I must have tied my shoe too tight, because my foot is even worse. (I have narrow feet with high arches, and sometimes in trying to tie my shoe tight enough that my foot won't slide around, I end up putting too much pressure on the top of the arch. I don't really feel it until it's over, though, often.)

Oh, and then we did sprinting in fighting class. I did the sprints, because I felt FINE, just FINE, but it was a big mistake. Running + stops and starts did not contribute healthily to my feeling like a 90 year old woman. 

I am only going to do the 2 mile walk, not the 4 mile run. I think my body is telling me something.

I'll be the one stepping slowly along, one step at a time, holding my hip and moaning. Maybe with a cane.

You think I'm kidding.

19 November 2012

[19] flood

I was really hoping it wouldn't come to this winter nonsense. This morning I was thinking that this weather reminds me of Halloween in Michigan: cold rain falling on brown, dead leaves.

Then it started pouring, and I regretted wearing flats when I had to walk down the street. For a city that experiences rain most of the year, this one is remarkably unprepared. On my way back to the office, the corner was flooded and my only choice was which shoe to douse first. I sloshed back to work with water-filled shoes. And on the way home from fighting class, I drove through at least six or eight flooded sections of road.

Did I ever mention the time the road flooded in Liberia? The last time I was there; obviously it flooded many a time when we lived there in the 1980s. Witness: the mud pit on the way to the LAC hospital when my mom was in labor with my sister.

But anyway, in 2006 I dropped off a couple of other law student interns at the airport in Liberia. I was driving a little sedan that was not fit for dirt roads, but the road to Robertsfield from Monrovia is paved, so one would assume not a problem. Except. 

One of the low-lying areas was flooded a good 18 or more inches deep, and some enterprising young men had set themselves up as a ferrying service. The problem with driving a low car through water is the engine, of course. The big Land Cruisers with the snorkel intake have no problem with it because they are not taking water into their engines. 

I turned off my car and put it in neutral, and these guys pushed us straight through the water. On the other side, I paid them a dollar or so, started up my car, and drove off. We did the same thing in reverse when I came back through.

(worst photo ever - it is hard to take a photo while steering through deep water)

One of the things I miss about living in Africa is having people around to just literally move your car where it needs to go. Dropped a wheel into a random hole*? People will lift it out. High-centered your Prado on a rut? People will lift it off. Sometimes they will accept money for the help and sometimes they will not. I miss that.

* And oh, there are many random holes. I have done that in two countries.

18 November 2012

[18] East of Eden

I don't really think of myself as much of a reader of the classics. So many of them are just so boring. I don't do boring books, which is why I don't read much non-fiction, unless it is a memoir.

(L. and I were talking about fiction the other night, and how narrative is a different kind of truth, if you don't make the mistake of thinking that truth = facts. (It doesn't. In this age of science, we would like the two to be the same, but they aren't.))

(I borrowed The Poisoner's Handbook from my boss probably close to a year ago, and I can't get into it. I want to get into it, badly, because what is more bad-ass than sitting in a coffee shop reading a book called The Poisoner's Handbook? 

But, alas, it's not working.)

The classics, though. I generally write them off, but then there are the ones that I love. Jane Austen. The Brontes. Dracula. 

Middlemarch got wearisome.

I put East of Eden on hold at the library a while ago, after reading a quote from it online somewhere, and I renewed it three times without reading it.

Then it sat on my bathroom counter for almost a week, open to one of the first pages. I just couldn't get started, not when I had the next in the Temeraire series to read.

I read Grapes of Wrath years ago, so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with Steinbeck. At least, I think I read Grapes of Wrath. I remember the movie more clearly than the book, which may not be saying much for my AP English class. But I remember conversations about the book, so we must have read it. (Isn't it odd how reading something for a class makes it inherently less interesting, even if you would have liked it absent the assignment?)

This is a very long and tedious way of saying that I finally got into East of Eden, and it's good. Go read it, if you are looking for a book to read.

17 November 2012

[17] fragrant

I went to the allergist on Thursday, and she took one look at the eczema on my neck and asked if I'd gone fragrance-free yet.

As if.

My shampoo smells like lovely green tea and lime, although the last one I had was a really powerful pear smell that I had to give to my roommate because it actually burned when the conditioner touched my neck... oh.

She sent me home with samples of Free & Clear shampoo and conditioner.

I have also avoided the delicious-smelling smoothing gel I'd been using, and suddenly my hair doesn't feel all scratchy on my skin when it touches my neck.


I suppose this means I have to give up my favorite lavender laundry detergent, too. And my favorite lavender dryer sheets.

I am going to smell like nothing but deodorant from here on out. So far deodorant does not bother my skin.

16 November 2012

[16] bumper

So I was going to go to a bar that has pool and darts and video games with my friend J., but instead J. and L. invited me over for dinner, which was a delicious cold grain and squash dish. (J. contested the description of it as "a salad" because it was more grains and seeds than vegetables.)

Then L.'s friend needed help moving a tv that apparently weighs as much as L. does, so J. handed me his computer and they left, which means that I am sitting in someone else's living room, typing on someone else's computer, just a little bit tipsy from a gin and tonic.

Sitting here after half an hour of playing online, I remember that my car was behind J.'s car. I am not exactly sure how they got the car out. When they first left, I kept expecting them to come back and say, "Uh. We just hit your car" but this hasn't happened, so I assume that the departure went smoothly. Now I wonder how they will get the car back in.

That car thing has happened. I think I once backed a car into my grandma's car in her driveway. Or maybe it was the other way around. I don't really remember. Nothing was damaged.

And once in Rwanda I was backing my Prado out of a parking spot on the main road by the post office boxes and someone else was backing his little Corolla out of a spot directly across the road and our two rear ends collided, gently. Well, gently for the Prado. It was my bumper versus the top of his trunk, and the bumper won. My car was fine. His trunk was severely dented. 

I got out of the truck and walked back to see how things were. People gathered.

The other driver took one look at the trunk, got back in his car, and drove away.

I was confused, but someone knowledgeably informed me that the other guy probably didn't have insurance and couldn't risk the police showing up. With nothing else to do, the crowd dispersed and I drove away.

15 November 2012

[15] ice bells

When I lived in New York, the first year, when I was homesick for my little town in Rwanda every single second, homesick for that house huddled under the hill next to the lake, I would go out walking along the edge of the city. I knew the piers along the Tribeca/Soho/West Village/Chelsea stretch of the Hudson by heart.

In the summer, there are plenty of other people out there, too, with dogs and kids and lovers, but in the winter, it was often just me.

One day in the winter of my 1L year in law school, as snow was pouring down, I walked out to the end of one of the piers, all bundled in warm clothes. I couldn't see New Jersey across the river. When I looked back, I couldn't see Manhattan, either. I was alone in a snowglobe, shaken and set down.

The world was silent. That isn't common in New York, but I couldn't hear any people noises. As I stood there, I finally realized that the one noise I did hear sounded like music. I looked around, and it was the ice on the river. The river had frozen, somewhere upstream, and then broken up, and all the millions of pieces of ice were gently knocking against one another with a noise like bells.

I stood there for a while, just listening. I closed my eyes and raised my face to the snow.

And then I walked back to school.

14 November 2012

[14] dithering

I can be wildly indecisive. It usually involves electronic devices. For some reason, I will spend $1000 on a plane ticket to another country without even blinking, but purchasing a $500 white iPad instead of a black one sends me into a tailspin. Travel is a necessity, I suppose, while electronics are superfluous.

Last night I skipped off to a big box store to purchase a pink Smart Case for Webster, my (black) iPad. (I think part of my breakdown about the white v. black iPad is that I was buying a new Webster, and Webster was a black iPad. The white seemed all wrong. I couldn't even open the package.)

In fact, I went to two big box stores to find a pink Smart Case, and the customer service guy helped me put it on Webster, and I skipped off home, delighted. 

"The pink makes me happy," I told D.

The pink made me happy for about 12 hours. 

It was just so... PINK. "Pepto-Bismol," the other D. said, when I commented on it. "I'm just saying. Pepto-Bismol." 

In the bright white light of my office, the pink looked even pinker. It started to reflect the light badly, the longer I looked at it. It started to hurt my eyes. 

"What should I doooo?" I said loudly.

"Pepto-Bismol," D. called from next door.

I went back to the big box store, where I experienced another crisis of color. Dark grey or bright red? Dark grey or bright red? 

The sales guy literally just ordered the red for me while I dithered. "You like red," he said. "You are wearing a red scarf. Red is you. It will go with your purse." The whole time he was ordering it, I sat there with the dark grey one in my hand, periodically taking Webster out of my bag to hold him up next to the dark grey one. 

I still may end up with the dark grey one, after I see the bright red.

It isn't that I didn't need a new case. Webster's original DoDo case, which I adore, has been replaced twice for broken bamboo corners, and I am tired of it. I want a case that does not break every time I set the iPad down a little too hard (okay, fine, every time I drop it, even a foot or two). One corner broke the first time I put Webster in the case. 

Right now Webster falls out of the case at random, because all four corners are broken. Something had to be done.

So why do I vacillate so? Maybe I need a shopping buddy whose opinions I trust. Maybe I need to just not spend money again, ever.

13 November 2012

[13] wool

Let's talk about wool (baby). 

I have always been a big fan of wool. Warm! Cozy! Comfy!

I also sort of didn't understand the people said things like, "Wool is so itchy" or "I can't wear wool. It bothers my skin." Wimps. What is wrong with them?

I seriously think this life is just one long series of incidents of the universe mocking me for my lack of understanding of people's allergies and sensory issues.

Yes, wool now bothers me. It itches where it touches my neck. It itches to the point where I have little raw spots where the wool touches.

Not just any wool, though. Not just the scratchy sweater kind of wool. My silk and cashmere scarf itches where it touches my neck. My suit jackets itch where they touch my neck. Even - get this - my double-cloth dress coat from jcrew itches where it touches my neck. 

I think I'm losing my mind.

When I started law school, one of my friends who is eight months older than me told me, wisely, that your body starts falling apart when you hit 25. I can testify to the veracity of this, because that was the year that my eczema kicked in. Suddenly I was visiting the doctor to figure out what to do about these dry, flaky patches on my arm.

It was the beginning of a long and devoted relationship between hydrocortizone cream and me.

As far as I have read, eczema and allergies and things like Type 1 diabetes are all vaguely related because they either are all auto-immune responses or symptoms of an auto-immune disorder (I'm a little fuzzy on that part). This makes sense to me because my dad has Type 1 diabetes and eczema and possibly allergies and possibly celiac disease, and I seem to be headed that way myself. (Except for the diabetes, please God, I can handle anything but removing sugar from my diet.)

Summary: your body changes as you get older, and it gets more expensive. 

To wit: replacing all the wool items in my closet. Like I have that kind of money.

12 November 2012

[12] radio silence

I've got nothing. Nothing interesting happened today. Nothing even reminded me of anything interesting.

I'm bored with my life.

My friend T. taught me, back in college, that it is okay to listen to one song over and over. I suppose I didn't realize that in part because I started listening to music on tapes, and the simplest way to listen to a tape is to listen to one side and then the other. Cds made it much easier to listen to one song obsessively. 

Lately I am obsessed with this song, which I have not purchased and so I just hit replay over and over on youtube:

(Merry Go 'Round; Kasey Musgraves)

[11] sameness

The other day I had a conversation about what I miss about living in places that are not Universe City, and what it comes down to is that I miss feeling like unexpected things might happen. Even in Gone West, I felt like things need not be the same every day: I rode the train to work, or biked, and there is plenty of opportunity for the unexpected when you interact with strangers every day.

Here, where I drive my car to work and home again, I feel like all the little moments are gone. No kids do cute things on the crowded dalla-dalla on my way to work. No mentally ill homeless person shouts something crazy on the train. The kids may very well be doing cute things, but they are doing them shut up in their parents' SUVs, and the mentally ill homeless people are hanging out down by the river, outside the windows of my car. I can't hear them.

I miss that. 

I miss people, I suppose. It's the extrovert in me. 

I prefer to live in a world where when I walk to the market on a Friday I am surrounded by young boys who offer to run off and find maracuja (passion fruit) for me. 

I prefer to live in a world where when my tire goes flat on the side of the road just outside Kigali, a whole crowd gathers to try to help me get the lock on the spare off and, when we are unsuccessful, two bicycle taxis load me on one and the flat tire on the other and we ride off to the Toyota dealership.

I prefer to live in a world where when I sit in a downtown park, someone will talk to me.

I prefer to live in a world where some guy gets on the train and preaches, or some kid gets on the bus and sings, and we all applaud together.

None of that ever happens here. We just get into our individual cars and go our individual ways, and so every day is so very much the same.

11 November 2012

[10] to move

I randomly love helping people move. 

I hate moving myself, understand, because it is such misery to pack everything into boxes and make multiple trips and try to get it all to fit into the new place, but I love helping other people move. It's fun to show up in the morning and wrestle large, unwieldy objects down the stairs and into the truck, fueled by grocery store donuts (yum).

I blithely suggested to C. a few weeks ago that he should not hire movers but just have us come help, because I love helping people move.

I regretted that when my alarm went off this morning. 

It was indeed fun, though, as soon as I had a shot of pure sugar and starch in my system via a donut. Someone arranged the U-Haul like a game of tetris, and I fell on my butt trying to pull the lawn mower up a steep hill. We put together the bunk beds not-quite-right in the new house, and then we got some pizza and sat around eating it.

And later I sat in the window of a delicious-smelling tea shop with my lovely former neighbor, S., who gave me a moment of the wisdom I needed today. I am going to give her this blog address soon, when I remember, when it is not 1:26 am, and so I may as well say here how very much I value her perspective and encouragement. Some people have the ability to see straight through you and also tell you the best of yourself, and she does that, and I need it. I hope my friendship gives as much to her as hers does to me.

09 November 2012

[9] non-sequitor

Today's non-sequitor being that I just cannot do that flip-up thing with the rear view mirror in my car. It just doesn't work. Whenever I do it, I end up adjusting the mirror as soon as I need to see what is behind me, with the result that I have now bent it so far down that I might as well have not flipped it up in the first place.

This is bad news when you drive a little bitty car and there are many huge vehicles with very bright headlights that shine straight into my eyes.

It is a fortunate thing that I spent two years driving in Rwanda, where everyone drives with their bright beams on. After the first three or so months, during which I just had a headache every time I had to drive in Kigali, I got quite used to it and learned how to look not-quite-at other vehicles so they didn't blind me.

One time, driving from Rwanda to Kampala with two other Americans, my coworker E. and college student S., we hit the last, busy piece of road just after dark. The lorries barrel down that narrow, crumbling road with their bright beams on and without any consideration for smaller vehicles. I was driving my US style Land Cruiser on the British side of the road, so I was not really in a position to see where my car ended over in the middle of the road and where the lorries began, and if I looked for one second at their lights, I would have been blinded. The only possible thing to do was avert my eyes from the lights and fight to keep the truck into some approximation of my lane without falling off the abrupt edge where the rains have washed away the dirt along the side of the road, hoping desperately that no pedestrian would get too close.

I had a headache that night.

08 November 2012

[8] stuff

So I was not aware until today, not being a news watcher (I got out of the habit when I didn't have tv for a long time) that the pundits on Fox News think that Democrats vote for the candidate they think will give them "stuff."


I am truly amused. 


No, no, really?

Do they really think that? 

I can only assume that they haven't bothered to look at the people who volunteered with me at the Obama campaign: middle-class retirees, lawyers in private practice, and several people who volunteered every single night and weekend after a full day and week of work. 

They haven't bothered to look at the people standing in line to vote for President Obama in every state in this country: middle-class people who want their country to be the best, most compassionate place it can be, children and grandchildren of immigrants from all parts of the world, women who want better for their children than they had, minorities who've been ignored by the parties for centuries, because when WE get something from the government we deserve it, but when THEY get it, they are acting entitled.

Let me tell you what unites the Democrats I know: we all want to know that when someone needs a boost in this country, they will get it. And I think we are all better for that, and stronger for that, and richer for that.

So if you've ever received a Pell grant or gotten Social Security benefits (survivor, disability, or retirement), if you've ever paid more for your health insurance because poor families can't afford basic health care and have to rely on expensive emergency rooms to keep themselves healthy, if you've ever had to worry that your company would downsize you and you'd be made homeless, then Democratic policies benefit you, too.

Look, I pay taxes. I work for a non-profit that does for less money a service that the government is required to do by the United States Constitution. I make far less than I could, and I don't begrudge one penny of my taxes, because I want to live in a country where people with mental health problems can get treatment, and people whose manufacturing jobs move overseas can get an education that will improve their chances of getting a better job, and kids who grew up poor don't have a crappy education that makes it difficult for them to go to college.

I want that, and so I voted for Barack Obama, because he wants that, too.

07 November 2012

[7] clavicle

Two nights ago, at fighting class, we were practicing tackles. When someone tackles you low and fast, you are supposed to sit back, catch your leg around theirs, use your momentum to flip to the side, and come out in a full mount (still cannot help giggling over that term like a 13 year old).

We do the tackle technique on an extra set of padding, for obvious reasons. 

The former Marine, my friend A., was the tackler when I was the tacklee, but he caught his feet on the edge of the mat, and instead of tackling my legs, he just sort of fell on top of me. All 180 or 200 pounds of him, directly on my clavicle.

I finished the scenario, pushed off his chest with both hands, and stood up, and only then did I realize how very difficult it was to breathe. 

That hurt. 

I was pretty okay by morning, but all day yesterday when I sat wrong or tried to take too deep a breath, it hurt again. Apparently you need chests in order to breathe? Strange. 

We sat around at work today trying to find all the legal liabilities for tackling someone and injuring them in a martial arts class. Civil? Criminal? Torts? Negligence? Reasonable standard of care in the situation? My clavicle became our own little law school class. If I ever become a law professor, the clavicle is going to feature prominently. 

[6] relief

Around 3:40 pm, I could no longer bear to continue incessantly refreshing a browser that was not complying by producing information on the state of the election, so I went over to the Organizing for America office, picked up a clipboard, and went off to do some more canvassing. Alone, this time.

This is a university town, and there were 64 students on my list. Most of them seem to live in apartment buildings built like rabbit warrens. Apartments 2 and 3 are here in the front, but you have to walk around the side and through a hallway for number 1. Oh, and there is 20, but when they open the door, you see two flights of stairs going straight up.

One building was build four stories tall like a cheap motel, each little room opening to a walkway far above the ground. The stairs were crumbling. The walkway gave a little under my feet. I was tempted to cling to the wall and walk with my eyes closed, but I'm not actually that afraid of heights. I just don't like falling.

By the time I reported back to the OFA office, having gotten out the vote, it was dark, my feet hurt, I was dizzy with hunger, and I had no idea what was happening with the election. (I still somehow survive without a smartphone.)

It took two pieces of pizza and an Italian soda at the election watch location before I was able to think coherently again.

And in the end, I was just so very happy and relieved to know that this country will spend four more years in the experienced hands of a man who is thoughtful, compassionate, and truth-telling. It can only do us good.

Assuming the Republican House of Representatives doesn't stone-wall him completely, of course.

05 November 2012

[5] canvas

I went off to canvas for the Obama campaign yesterday, because I've got a president to get re-elected here (if I could do it by sheer will I would, but unfortunately things like this require more), and as I predicted (maybe only to myself, but I did nonetheless), it was much more fun than phone banking.

(I hate telephones.)

"It's like Trick-or-Treating for adults!" I said, skipping up to doors.

But people don't seem to answer their doors very often. "How is this even possible?" I complained to the older lawyer who showed up for canvassing at the same time and thus ended up going door to door with me. "How do you not even come to the door? We know you are there. What has the world come to, that people just blatantly ignore a ringing doorbell? It's so rude. This wouldn't happen in [the Mitten]."

(Actually, we were not canvassing to convince people to vote for Obama. We were just convincing them to vote, period. When more people vote, Democrats win.)

The most interesting house was one where a middle-aged woman opened the door and said, regarding the girl we were trying to find, "That's my daughter. She's not voting." 

"What do you mean, she's not voting?" I asked. 

"I don't know. She says she's not voting," the woman said, shrugging hopelessly.


"I don't know," the woman said. "I tried."

"I'm not voting!" a voice called from inside the house. "It's not important!"

"It is important!" I called back.

"I'm not voting!" the voice said.

"Well, I submitted my ballot," the mom sighed, "and it was for Obama."

04 November 2012

[4] light(less)

I am huddled in front of my happy light, because even when the sun is shining and it is 70 degrees in November, that light out there isn't strong enough to keep me from the sad. The happy light is my one remaining link to sanity this time of year.

It's Sunday afternoon, and you know what I should be doing? Working. I have a Major Work Event scheduled for Tuesday, and my preparation so far has been along the lines of "Meh, I've had pretty much the same Major Work Event twice before. I'll just use those documents."

Also I am canvassing for the Obama campaign at 6 pm, so it's starting to feel useless to go to work. Except that I need to, really.

But I don't want to. I want to sit in front of my happy light and do nothing and rest. And rest. There is so little rest in life, and I am the girl who wants to have things to do all the time, adventures to take, friends to see. Some weeks, though, it feels like the things to do are all business and no fun. Fun busy is restful. Work busy is not.

03 November 2012

[3] judging

Today I was a judge for a law school competition. 

It was... weird. I still think of myself as the judged one. I could hardly imagine that I would have something to offer the contestants in a legal skills competition, and yet there I was, volunteering to be the first judge to give comments on the first set of contestants.

Because I had things to say. I had comments. I had suggestions. I had praise. 

This being a grownup is a strange world. 

I remember the first time I was on an interview committee, how odd it was to be the one asking the questions, and how I wanted to give the opportunity to everyone, you all seem so nice, I don't want you to feel bad being rejected.

I felt the same way about my evaluations today. I wanted to give them all high marks so they wouldn't feel bad when they saw the sheets, but I had to be fair and honest, and I was. 

I still want to scoop up all the contestants and hug them and say, "You did great! Good job!"

I also tried to sleep with all my stuffed animals when I was a kid, in a row around the edge of the waterbed in Liberia. All of them at once. And I rotated which ones got to sleep up by me, so their feelings wouldn't be hurt. 

I haven't quite gotten over that urge.

02 November 2012

[2] vote

I am a little obsessed with the election. I think I know more about polling and the electoral college than ever before, thanks to Nate Silver.

I read both the Washington Post and the New York Times, and I find it fascinating how differently they forecast this election. Just days ago, the WaPo thought the popular vote would go for Romney but the electoral vote might go for Obama. The NYTimes FiveThirtyEight analysis of the polls had Obama at 50.3% of the popular vote and a 74.4% chance of winning the electoral college.

Now the WaPo has Obama up by 0.06%, and 538 has Obama at 50.5% of the popular vote and an 81.4% chance of winning the electoral college. 

It's no secret where I stand on this subject: I have been an Obama fan since I read Dreams from My Father in 2004. This year, I put my time where my mouth is and signed up for three rounds of volunteering for the Obama campaign here in Universe City. I want a second Obama presidency, and I think we as a nation need it.

I feel a sick sense of dread at the thought of a Romney presidency. And yet, I know that I come from a place where there are committed Republicans who have the same feeling about the Democratic candidate winning.

I read an article recently that suggested that the difference in philosophy between conservatives and liberals comes down to how we see humans as a whole. 

If you see humans as inherently bad and unable to make wise decisions, you will tend to be conservative politically (distrust the government's spending of your money on things like healthcare, believe that people receiving TANF are mooching, outlaw abortion because women will just use it as birth control if it is legal, own a gun to protect yourself). Conservatives tend to trust the market more than they do individual people. If people are inherently not to be trusted, then I can understand the panic at the idea of a liberal movement in this country.

(Although, as an admitted liberal, I have to say: isn't the market made up of people, too? So... why would you trust it/them?)

If you see humans as inherently good and able to make wise decisions (the article used the word "utopian," but hey, I'll own that), you will tend to be liberal politically (believe that healthcare reform is important, believe that people receiving TANF are probably mostly those who really need it, keep abortion legal because you trust a woman to make that difficult choice herself, favor gun control). Liberals tend to trust people more than they do the market. This is why I feel panic at the idea of a Romney presidency: I think he's going to pass us off to greedy corporations.

Tonight I sat down to fill out the rest of my ballot. I'd already filled out the important elections, but State of Happiness has various proposals on the ballot for or against which a person may vote. I have a whole stack of flyers and booklets from various groups with their take on the proposals, and I'm wading through them, trying to make a conscientious vote.

"We are grown-ups now," someone said to me today. "We have to be responsible voters." 

I'm doing my best to do that, and despite our differences, my conservative friends and family, I know that you are doing your best to do that, too. We just differ on what the best is.

01 November 2012

[1] November

It's November now.

I wrote that and then couldn't think of anything to add for about an hour, because what more is there to say? It is November.

I don't like November very much, even though it has two holidays and one of them is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and even though it means that Christmas is approaching. 

Even with two holidays off work, the month seems so very long.

It's such a gloomy month. The leaves get duller and older. The sky is so often grey (and we all know how I do with grey skies: badly.)

I am not starting off the annual month of daily blog posts very cheerfully, am I? I feel a little Eeyore-ish this month. 

I whine, but there is a pan of my favorite tomato sauce simmering on the stove and another of my favorite stirfry, all set to be boxed up in little containers in the freezer for a week of delicious eating. The last of the summer's tomatoes went into the two pans. The house smells amazing.