29 September 2013

still lit

Driving home tonight, I noticed that the lights are out to the north of us, and to the east, and to the west. There are two blocks on our street that have power: ours and one other. 

Given that I've been on the wrong end of power outages many a time (see also: 40 minutes of power per day, on average, my last few months in Rwanda), I will take it. 

I'm not even superstitious, but after I told my roommates about the power situation in our neighborhood, I rapped on the wooden frame around a doorway, just in case. 

driving problems

I secretly take a little bit of joy in letting my manual transmission car roll backwards just a tiny bit when people pull up too close behind me on a hill.

Does that make me a bad person? 

Even if you are in a hurry, it is a good idea to be kind to other drivers.

Which is possibly the opposite of what I am doing by letting my car roll back. But I'm not doing it to hit them (I have never hit them), just to remind them that some of us have manual transmission cars, and on especially steep hills, we need a little more space. I think people forget that manual transmission cars still exist. 



A couple of times lately I have thought there was something wrong with my headlights. It would be annoying if I had to replace yet another headlight.

I feel like I forgot to turn my headlights on, but I look and look at the road before me and there are two widening Vs of light, so it can't be my car.

Why is it so dark?

It turns out that the power has been going off every time it rains, in different parts of town, which in the Pacific Northwest is a problem. It rains a lot here, you see. 

(Weirdly, Universe City gets 13 inches of rain per year more than Gone West, possibly proving my ancient theory that it rains more often in Gone West but not as hard. Gone West drizzles. Universe City pours. I needed an umbrella much more in Universe City.)

And still, every time it actually rains (v. drizzling), both towns fall apart. This would be like the Mitten falling apart every time it snowed, ONLY WORSE because it rains 9 months out of the year here. The drains fill up. The electricity goes out.

It is unnerving to be at a major intersection in a major city with no traffic signal. In Liberia, where the traffic lights haven't worked in years, everyone seems to just figure it out. Here, people are so dependent on the lights that they stutter forward hesitantly at the intersections so that I want to open my window and say, "Yes, it's your turn. Yes, all three of you who are headed east. All three of you go at once, and then those of us headed north and south will go at the same time, see?"

That said, I almost ran an intersection completely because it was so dark that I didn't even realize I'd already come to it.

24 September 2013


I went to Universe City a week and a half ago, just for a night, for the birthday party of a friend of mine. I drove down after my Spanish lesson, and because of traffic concerns, I took a route into town that I never took while I lived there. I drove up the hill behind my old house without passing it. I parked at a corner that I rarely saw.

And then I went into the backyard and snuggled a baby for three hours.

I love it when my friends provide me with babies to snuggle. My friends love eating with both hands. It's a perfect party tradeoff.

We went out to a college bar, later, one I'd never been in before (we did not bring the baby), and the birthday person got drunk enough that he spilled a beer on himself and I had to put a plastic garbage bag (that was handily in my trunk - always prepared) down on his seat before I drove him home. 

The thing about staying in a house with three drunk friends is that you will never get to sleep because every time you attempt to walk toward the bathroom with your toothbrush in your hand, one of them will start talking to you and three hours will pass before you finally have to go to bed right now or the world will end. (I get serious about my sleep.)

In the morning, driving through town to meet the baby (and some grownups, I suppose) for brunch, the whole place seemed so small and old. It felt like the past, somehow, even as I was there. 

It's the same. I know it's the same. I drove down the same roads with the same buildings on either side every day for two and a half years. I could drive that route through downtown in my sleep. And yet. Even in only six months, the buildings seemed to have shrunk. The sidewalks seemed dirtier.

I got the same iced chai in my old coffee shop, with the big south-facing windows, but the servers were different, and they didn't know my drink. 

I don't fit there anymore, and that makes me happy, and that makes me sad. I made some great friends in Universe City - you need friends more there than here, where so much is going on all the time - but my life isn't there, anymore. I've escaped, and what I still feel most, leaving, is relief.

17 September 2013


There were two young Middle Eastern men at the table next to me outside Starbucks this afternoon. One of them took out a cigarette and started smoking it, but when the smoke wafted my direction and I leaned back out of the way, he said, "Oh, sorry," and they both got up and moved to a bench a few feet away, at the edge of the street, where the smoke wouldn't blow toward me.

A few minutes later, a homeless white couple came over and sat at that table. 

One of the original occupants of the table came back over and suddenly there was a little commotion.

I looked up, and realized that the first guy had left his frapuccino on the table when they went to the smoking bench, and the homeless guy had started to drink it.

"Sorry, man," the homeless guy said, "I didn't know it was yours. Sorry, bro." He offered it back, partially consumed.

The two young men threw their hands up in despair and left.

I can sort of see both sides: it did look abandoned, but you don't really expect a frapuccino to be stolen from a few feet away.

It occurred to me, too, that I could have watched it for him, considering that he only moved to accommodate my dislike of cigarette smoke.

12 September 2013


Today in jiu jitsu, we did this exercise where you grab the sleeve and collar of your partner and jump up so your legs are around their waist. The exercise is really for the standing person to practice taking the weight, so we practiced with people roughly our own size.

Being a tall woman, I ended up working with a man who was a couple of inches taller than me, but reasonably slender. 

I surprised myself: I actually did dare to jump up like that, to trust myself to hang on. 

And then I surprised myself even more: I had no trouble holding the guy up.

And then I surprised myself still more: I could hang on with my legs and lean my head back down to the ground and do situps to work on core strength.

Apparently I am stronger than I think I am. 

See also: the 2.5 minute plank in stand-up fighting is no longer a problem.

It's funny, because those 90 minute stand-up classes are still kicking my tail. I can barely make it through. But I must be getting stronger somewhere in there.


It's the time of year when people bring grocery bags full of tomatoes into the office, and I am stocking up for winter. I roasted a big pan of cherry tomatoes yesterday, all different colors, and today I am simmering down tomatoes with butter to freeze in an ice cube tray. (Next time I am going to flash-boil them and take the skins off. They are quite annoying in the sauce.)

The corn is getting big and too starchy, and I bought the wrong kind of beans, so the salad that my niece called "the stinky salad" didn't taste great.

I'm starting to wonder if squash is back in season.


I had a conversation today which I switched to Spanish, and the communication was better in Spanish than in English. 

Which is not saying much. 

But it's better than a month ago, when I couldn't find any words at all in Spanish. I think the mere act of thinking about Spanish when I'm with the teacher and while doing the homework has made me think in or about Spanish at other times. I find myself thinking of how to say things in Spanish even when it isn't necessary.

That, and I've had a bunch of situations where I needed Spanish interpreters lately. It's all fresh in my head.

09 September 2013

nothing to fear

One of the things that happens when you move around the world is that you meet people who don't fit the framework you were given in your little hometown in your little home church.

One of the things that happens when you move around the world is that those people you were always told about are now the coworker in the office next to yours who tells those funny jokes and the new friend from the cafe down the street.

I grew up in a place and time where we were told that it was okay for a person to have feelings of attraction to the same sex as long as that person didn't sin by actually acting on the feelings.

That always seemed fundamentally unfair to me, even at my most conservative. How could you ask a person to go through their entire life without even the possibility of a romantic relationship? If I couldn't survive without that hope, how could someone else? Was my straightness all that spared me from a life that seemed to require horrific loneliness? Why would anyone think a good God would ask that of people? How could I ask it of people when I knew, had it been me, I couldn't have done it? It just seemed mean.

But because of that teaching, for a long time I didn't know how to act around people who were gay, even as I stopped believing that there was anything wrong with gay relationships.

It wasn't until I was in law school and a good friend told me over a good cup of British tea that she had decided to become an equal opportunity dater and oh by the way that girl she introduced me to in the elevator was her new girlfriend that I realized exactly how one does react when a friend tells you the truth about herself: you react with joy, because she is closer to who she is meant to be. You react with excitement, because she is excited about her new love. You react with gentleness, because she trusted you with who she really is, and that is what friendship means: that we are gentle with the real version of each other. We love the real version of each other even more than the facade we first encountered.

Where I live now, I have friends and coworkers who are gay couples, men and women, married and just starting out, childless and raising kids. I have friends and coworkers who are bisexual and transgender and fluid in their sexuality.

A wedding between two men or between two women makes me cry with the joy of it in a way I never do at a straight wedding, because in a gay wedding I see hope deferred and finally realized, and it is beautiful.

The funny thing is that I realized that the gay men and women, the transgender men and women, the bisexual men and women, they were all around me the whole time. They were around me in my little hometown. They were around me in my home church. They just had to hide, in a world that told them that their full beautiful selves were wrong, and many of them are hiding still: from themselves, from their families, from their churches.

I have long joked that the thing Christians are most afraid of in this country is that their son might be gay or their daughter might get pregnant before she is married.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: there is nothing to be afraid of.

People are beautiful and wonderful and mysterious, and the more they can be their real selves, the more beautiful and wonderful and mysterious they are. When we ask the people we love to be real, when we ask them to be gay or bisexual or queer or transgender just as they really are, when we ask them to trust us enough to let us love who they really are, then the fear disappears, and all we have left is love.

We just have to keep being honest and gentle, with ourselves and with the people we love. There is nothing to fear.


I wrote this in honor of a friend, who was brave enough today to share with the world the fact that he is transgender. Friend, you were a beautiful woman, and you are a beautiful man. Love always.



04 September 2013


I thought I was in pretty good shape in Universe City. I worked out three times a week, mixed martial arts and such, and I tried to hike or walk or run or something at least one other day.


The MMA classes I took in Universe City were a maximum of 45 minutes of hard-core workout. We would then move on to some sort of self-defense scenario.

Now that I am in the advanced MMA class here in Gone West, it is a solid 90 minutes.

I am not in that kind of shape.

Today, at the end, I waved goodbye to the guy I'd been working with and said thank you, and I realized that I wasn't opening my hand all the way. Odd. I looked at it again in the women's changing room, and when I tried to pull my pinkie and ring finger back to be level with the rest of my hand, they started shaking.

I am struggling to type even now. My pinkie and ring finger seem to be out of my control. A little too much of the 16 ounce gloves?

Don't worry, it's not the golf elbow hand. It's the other one. So it's fine, right? Totally fine.

03 September 2013

funny bone of the knee

So did you know that if you do a switch-kick at the same time as your sparring partner does a round kick, your knees will slam together and it will feel like you've hit the funny bone of your leg?

Yeah, me neither,  until yesterday.

I hopped around for a minute, and then grabbed a shelf to stay upright.

"It feels like I hit my funny bone, only on my leg," I said. "I can't feel my foot."

"That always makes me feel like I'm going to throw up," the coach said. 

"Yeah, that, too."

But when the feeling died down, I was back in the ring.

I iced it last night, and today the bruise is dripping down under the skin below the extra bulge in my knee. It hurts to bend my knee, but I'm operating under the assumption that this is the kind of wound that benefits from forcing it to move while riding my bike rather than the kind that gets worse with use.

Sometimes I'm tempted not to ice things so that I can have a wicked bruise to show off, until I remember that I need to be able to kick things again by tomorrow night, and I dig out the ice pack (the one I can find; it's amazing how much I cannot find after moving). I would rather fight again immediately than have a grislier wound to display to the world at large.

02 September 2013


WARNING: this post mentions gluten and the eating or non-eating thereof. Proceed at your own risk.


A friend of mine hosted a Blindfolded Tasting Dinner Saturday night. It was a warm, clear night, and we gathered along a long table in her yard. We each got a blindfold, a pen, a napkin, and a bingo sheet with various ingredient combinations in different boxes.

I love eating outside. I especially love eating outside in a backyard at night in the summer, with a big group of people. It reminds me of holidays in Liberia, or Rwanda, or Honduras.

The rule for the dinner was that you couldn't have any food allergies. There are a lot of things I seldom eat (meat, gluten, shellfish), but I decided to risk it because none of those are eat-and-die  allergies for me. I just don't like them and/or feel better without them.

We began.

For each of the 15 courses, we all put our blindfolds on at the same time and sat with our hands out in front of us. The servers came by and put something into our hands. "I'm giving you a cup," they would say, over and over, moving down the table.

Once we had the cup/plate/bowl, we could touch the contents, smell them, and taste them. When we were finished with our sensory experience, we held the cup/plate/bowl in the air for the server to come and remove it. Then we all waited until everyone's dish had been taken away before removing our blindfolds and checking the box on the bingo card that contained what we thought was in the food.

Some of them were easy to guess (blueberry soup! corn ice cream with blackberries!). Some of them were harder to guess (cucumber and zucchini, maybe?). Some of them were nearly impossible to guess (pickled watermelon rind with ginger). Some of them I would never have touched if I'd known what was in them (pulled beef tongue with cilantro cabbage slaw). 

Actually, that last one was amazingly good. They were all amazingly good.

01 September 2013


We have discussed before - and by we have discussed I mean I have soliloquized* - about how money doesn't buy happiness but sometimes a new thing that you buy can make your life so much easier that you don't know how you ever lived without it.

Case in point: 

My parents bought me my bike for college graduation. (I distinctly remember my mom asking me what I wanted for college graduation, and I said, "A bike," and she literally went, "Awwww," as if it was the cutest thing she'd ever heard. That was before she had grandkids. They have trumped all cutenesses.) 

We went down to the Schwinn store and bought one, and we tricked it out. For some reason, I thought it was sexist to have a women's bike with the lower bar in the middle because I CAN SWING MY LEG OVER THANK YOU (I regret this now in my dress-wearing days), so I got a bike with the higher bar and we put fenders on it and a rack on the back - even then I was thinking that I wanted to live in a city where I could commute to work by bike.

This worked for a while. When I first lived in Gone West, I had a huge purse that I would put under the bungee net on the rack and all was fine, but eventually I wanted a new purse, which was not as large or as structured, and it got more complicated.

My old friend S. gave me a milk crate, the red plastic kind, and I belted that onto the rack with a few bungee cords. With the bungee net over the top, it could handle most of my daily commuting needs - I could even carry a gallon of milk plus other groceries in there. 

The only real downside was that the bike got really top-heavy when the crate was full, and it sat right against the seat, so if I put anything in the crate that stood up tall - a binder, a box of cereal - I couldn't sit back in the seat. Another minor issue was that I couldn't put the bike right up against a lot of bike parking spots, so my locking mechanism didn't work as well. 

It was fine, though. It worked for a long time.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in the bike store waiting for them to replace the tire that was shredding, I bought a pannier on a whim. One can very easily spend $200 on one pannier, but I bought the $50 kind.

Life = changed. 

I cannot even explain how much easier it is just to throw things into a pannier and ride off, with no worries about whether my purse is zipped completely closed or something small is going to fall through the cracks of the crate. I can just grab it off the bike when I get to work, carry it into my office, and have what I need right there. It isn't in my way when I ride. And best of all, it lowers the center of gravity of my bike and makes it much easier to ride.

Money cannot buy happiness, but the money spent on that pannier has made me much happier for several weeks now.

* I spelled this right on the first try, which... whoa.