Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Decking the Halls





Last year I put up my first Christmas tree (as an adult) and attempted to decorate for Christmas, thinking Amaliya, at 17 months old, would care.  She didn't.  I still enjoyed basking in the extra light the gaudy tree lent to our perpetually dim apartment.

This year is different.  I knew she would care, and I wanted to put in the extra effort to make magic for her.  I dragged the Christmas tree and our box of tired, overused garlands out of storage.  Since funds are tight this year, I ran to the thrift store and bought 6 random bags of assorted Christmas junk for $15.


Which is why we have handmade ornaments on our tree that were not made by anyone we know.  



I hot-glued stuff to an ugly straw wreath base and came up with acceptable festivity for the front door...


... ordered a $10 star from Amazon (a splurge)...



... and, with the addition of a batik stocking sewn by a dear friend, I called it good.  Halls = decked.  The two-year-old is overjoyed, fingers her stocking on the way down the stairs and says, "Mama, Santa Claus is going to be here!"  That, friends, is worth every penny and hot glue burn.

I've written before about how we struggle to find a sense of Christmas spirit,  and how, little by little, we are carving out our own traditions as a family.  This year Amaliya is older, and it's all starting to come together for her. We've been checking out Christmas books from the library, and as a result she is thoroughly enamored of snowmen, Santa, lights, sleigh rides, jingle bells, the Christian Christmas story, candy canes, and sparkly trees.  She has a little book of Christmas carols and knows them all by heart.  She's made it worthwhile, all the effort that goes into making memories this time of year.


Behold!  My childhood works of art.  The 3rd grade (4th?) pumpkin-seeds-on-a-pog poinsettia, the 4th grade (5th?) beardless Santa star.  The 1st grade silver and gold macaroni masterpiece that I was (hell, am) so proud of.  We may or may not bake Christmas cookies, we may or may not leave treats out for Santa, but I was determined that we would start an ornament tradition of our own this year, so that Amaliya can accumulate her own stash of sometimes-weird, sometimes-gross, often-nonsensical treasures to adorn her adult Christmas tree one day.

So we did!

If I've learned anything over the years, its that you don't become a family instantly when you get married, or when you push out a baby.  Forming and solidifying familial bonds is a continuous process of accumulating, amalgamating, taking all your random bags of junk and hot-gluing them into something new and beautiful and uniquely yours.

Day by day, Christmas by Christmas, we're getting there.


I hope you all are enjoying the holiday season, whatever you celebrate.  Go out and make memories!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Ojos lately


 Lately, we've been...



Painting...



Picnicing...



Hanging upside down....



Potty training.... (or not)

 

Sharing her first hot chocolate...



Decorating our Christmas tree....



And wearing our Christmas socks....



Enjoying holidays with family.... and loving life.  So much. 

This year has been.... not a rollercoaster, per se, but more like a journey by hot air balloon.  We're soaring, the scenery is changing rapidly. I am nervous and breathless and exhilarated.  What a ride.

My husband starts a new, full-time job a week from tomorrow.  This has been a long time coming and is a welcome, and necessary, change.  It will also double his commute time.  The whole family will be adjusting - Amaliya will be in daycare four days a week now, instead of two.  She and I will be on our own in the late afternoons.  My morning runs, if they happen at all, will need to wrap up by 6:15am.  This is forward motion and is bringing us closer to our long-term goals as a family. No change is ever without stress, though, so I am bracing myself for some potentially difficult months ahead.

I'm feeling more or less settled in at work, four months into my new career. Post-marathon recovery went smoothly, and I am looking forward to training again (I'm starting a half marathon training plan tomorrow, and hoping that I can make it work with the new schedule).  I've taken up oil painting, which deserves a post to itself, but suffice to say that this blog has unfortunately taken a back seat while I pour my creative energy onto the canvas.  I have no plans to abandon this space and hope to start posting weekly again soon.  Thanks for sticking with me while I find a new balance.

Amaliya is doing wonderfully, of course. She's made another massive growth leap in the last two weeks - she looks different, her sentences and thoughts are suddenly more robust and complicated, and her attitude is off the charts.  Potty training was a bust for reasons I did not expect, but more on that later.  She is super excited about Christmas trees and snowmen and carols, and comes downstairs every morning proclaiming, "Santa Claus is going to be here!"  Holidays are infinitely magical through the eyes of a child.


I hope you all are doing well and enjoying a fabulous holiday season. 

How is your December going so far?  Any fun traditions you're starting with your family?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude, basi na sasa.

I feel like a broken record at best, and terribly cliched at worst, going on about gratitude and thankfulness and yada yada today. It's Thanksgiving.  We all get it. You're going to have to bear with me though.  I am sitting here with a mug of sugar cookie flavored tea, having just put the little one to down to nap, inhaling roast turkey perfume wafting from my kitchen.. and I just can't resist lending my voice to the chorus.

The world is not always a nice place to be, frankly.  Accidents happen, babies get sick, cancer exists. Jobs are one stock market fluctuation away from being lost and bills sometimes go unpaid. Good guys do bad things; bad guys have communities that love them and families that need them; the very institutions that are meant to protect us often fail to do so.  It can be overwhelming, all the bad in the world. Feeling like you're one poor decision, one act of fate away from the worst case scenario.

It may seem unnecessarily bleak, dwelling the terrible things that happen, but in a way I think it's an essential ingredient to happiness.  See, when you stop for a moment and fully appreciate that you are living life on a precipice, you can't take that life for granted any more. You don't wish away the day when you know that all you have could be taken away tomorrow. And when you consider all that could go wrong, you can relish what is going right.

Thanksgiving for me is a time to be thankful for what I have, but also to recommit to being more deserving of it.  More considerate of my friends who stand by me through anything. More loving towards the family that gives my life meaning. More involved in the communities that enrich my life. Less focused on owning all the things, less possessive of my time, less obsessed with maintaining control. I am reminded to let it be.  The only way to deal with the bad, after all, is to overwhelm it with the good.

Life is only as wonderful as the people you invest in. I found this little piece, written eight years ago when I was still living in Nairobi. It wasn't the greatest time in my life, I was young and overwhelmed and very lonely, but even through the fog of youthful narcissism there were moments of clarity in which I stopped and marveled at the humanity surrounding me.

October skies over Nairobi.  My view every evening for 2+ years.
11/2006: It's been a happy month. Maybe not entirely, but it's looking to end on a happy note. I have a lot to be excited about and, as always, much to be grateful for.


I am grateful for my shopping routine. I go to Nakumatt to get most necessities.  When I exit the big store I find the fruit hawker, David, sitting by the sidewalk with neat little piles of apples and oranges. I buy from him, then walk across the parking lot to find the sugarcane guy who, for 30 shillings, uses a large machete to peel and cut up a fresh cane for me (and there is NOTHING better on a hot and dry day than sucking on cold sugarcane). I then stop at the corner to meet some guys who sell Chinese bootleg 5-in-1 movies out of a cardboard box, and browse to see if they have anything new (and they always do!)



 I pick up my bags and walk home, along the way passing the spot where the boda bodas (bicycle taxis) hang out; they always ask if I need a ride, I always refuse. Past the matatu parked on the roadside, whose driver always reaches out to touch my hair when he thinks I won't notice.  A quick stop at the roadside, tin-and-cardboard vegetable stand for tomatoes, onions, chilis and spinach, then up the alley towards home,  usually passing our happy drunk neighbor and lots of church-goers (who scowl at me viciously if I wear anything that shows my arms) on the way.  I greet the guards who man the gate to my apartment complex, and scale the 4 flights of stairs to our little apartment.

Looking out behind my apartment complex.  Waaaaay down there, you'll see my husband riding a bike  :)

It's a routine, but it's sort of blissful. My American self is driven crazy by the pace of life here sometimes, but I do have to appreciate how everything revolves around, not what you do, but the people in your life. It's nice. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

True then, true now. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letters to Amaliya - two and a quarter



Amaliya,

Every night, I read you stories.  It used to be three books, but these days it's one really long one, since you seem equally interested in words and pictures.  After, we snuggle up in the rocking chair, and I ask you what was your favorite part of the day.  At first you didn't understand.  You repeated the question back at me, so I told you all about my day, and you repeated my answers.  Suddenly, this week, you get it.  Monday night, you answered, "finding raisins in my oatmeal."  Last night, "playing with Daddy and eating shrimp." Then you asked me, and I answered, "playing with you, and going to the gym at lunch with my friend."  You looked concerned, turned to stroke my arm and said, "Mama very sore!"  Yes baby, I will be tomorrow.  Then we "blow out" your light, and you squeeze me tightly around the neck while I sing lullabies.  Two kisses and your blanket are requested before we say goodnight.

Two is a magical age.



You started Music Together last month, and while I knew you would enjoy it, I didn't expect it to be quite so transformative for all of us.  You love music, as all kids do, but your delight in gathering with the group to sing songs, experiment with tonal patterns, and explore new instruments surpasses my wildest expectations.  You picked up a dozen new songs in a week.  We've collected an ensemble of instruments for you, from sticks to a triangle and a tambourine, and you grab a different something to play with every song you hear. You sing loudly and confidently, no matter where you are.  You are quick to catch on to a beat.  Suddenly your days - and my days too - are infused with music from beginning to end and sometimes long after we put you to bed (when you really should be sleeping, but we hear you singing in your dark room instead).  It's amazing for you, and absolutely delightful for me, in a way I did not expect.  Watching you learn to love music and make music is helping me understand and love it in an entirely new way.  I am so grateful to share these experiences with you.



You have become such a complex human being, and grow more nuanced by the day.  Your vocabulary at times renders me speechless - walking to the stairs at bedtime, you put a hand on my leg and said, "I want to go first, mama.  Be patient" - and I can do nothing but laugh.  Communication at two is delightful, and so easy compared to how it used to be.  You can tell me what hurts and if you're hungry and who-pushed-who at daycare. Your tantrums (though frequent) are easily resolved when I look you in the eye, ask you why you're mad, and explain why the universe isn't working the way you want it to.   You've quickly become my favorite person on earth to talk to.



You're so mature in so many ways, you hardly seem like a two-year-old to me.  I feel bad about this, sometimes.  It's the curse of the first-born girl child, I think. We heap expectations on you and require more responsibility and patience than, maybe, one should expect from a child.  You handle life so beautifully, though.  You love to be in the kitchen with me, sitting on the counter and watching me cook, identifying each ingredient and asking for smells and tastes.  You help me make my bed in the morning and fold laundry, and you always put your shoes away in the proper place.  You like things just-so and thrive on routine.  With that said, you have also surprised me with your grace and flexibility.  We've been through some big changes and have dealt with hectic schedules this summer, and you adjusted seamlessly.  I am so proud of you, for how you handle yourself, and how patient you are with your sometimes-crazy parents.

This is not to say age 2 is without its challenges.  You have been extremely attached to me lately, and screams of, "Go away Daddy!" and, "Mama, stay with me!" echo after me if I so much as walk to the next room without you.  You must do everything by yourself, from changing your own diaper to brushing your own teeth.  And, my love, you are definitely not your best self when you are sleepy or hungry.  Keep that in mind for the future. 



Sometimes I feel like I can do nothing right.  You whine and cry and demand from the second we get home to when I finally put you to bed 15 minutes early, because I can't take it anymore.  Everything, everything is a fight some days - sitting in your high chair, putting on pants, applying chapstick.  You've burst into tears because I sang the wrong verse in a song that you requested.  You scream hysterically if you find one chia seed (out of hundreds) in your bowl of oatmeal that looks suspicious, and will not be mollified until I remove it. I am frustrated often, but mostly I find it hilarious, and can't help but laugh when you fall to the ground shedding bitter tears because I had to help you put your diaper on. 

You are a spitfire, so determined and independent and stubborn, and as much as it makes me want to tear my hair out some days, I wouldn't change you for the world. I love how gentle and nurturing you are, always feeding and changing your baby dolls.  I love that you are a thinker and an analyzer, rarely acting impulsively, slow to try new things until you are absolutely sure what you are getting yourself in to.  I love seeing you start to relate to other kids, playing with them at daycare and talking about them when you get home.  I love that you still eat basically everything (last night for dinner: shrimp, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes, half an avocado, and a little bit of rice - who wouldn't love that?!) and you sleep nights like a champ (though napping might be on its way out).

I just love you, that's all.  In this season of thankfulness, I am most thankful for you.



Love,
Mama

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A home.

Now that all things marathon are behind me for a while, I'm stopping to take stock of the other craziness that happened over the summer.

For one, we moved!

New kitchen, with actual counter space.  Be still, my heart.

Perfect for blueberry muffin-baking.

This was not something I saw coming, necessarily, but became critical over the summer for a few reasons:

- The apartment we currently live in was raising the rent. While the main selling point of the complex used to be the price, especially given the fantastic neighborhood, the rent hike would put our monthly cost on par with other places in the same area.

- It was a second floor unit, and I was getting extremely tired of trying to guide a 2-year-old down the stairs in the morning, in heels, with my laptop, lunch box, gym bag, her backpack, etc.  It was logistically challenging, and dangerous.

- We moved into said cheap, second floor, two bedroom apartment in the great neighborhood with the thought that maybe, just maybe, that would be our home until we were in a position to buy a house.  It became abundantly clear during the year, once the reality of childcare costs and my impending student loan payments hit, that a house to "own" was probably not going to happen for us soon.  If we're going to rent anyway, why not rent a place we love?

Speaking of counter space, this is her new favorite place to be when mama cooks.

We shopped around locally and in neighboring towns, and quickly concluded that while our apartment was nothing special, our neighborhood is a treasure that we were loathe to give up.  Quaint old houses, quiet streets, proximity to downtown activities, the ability to run in the 5am darkness and only encounter elderly dog-walkers and the occasional possum?  We couldn't leave.

Lucky for us, a place across the street opened up.  We loaded up our belongings and settled in one block away from our former home.  And we are happy.  There is a bit more space, a functional layout, natural light streaming in, and friendly neighbors on all sides.  I can see us staying here for years and growing our family.



It's so nice to feel settled, even if our "American dream" is not quite textbook.  While 10 years ago the social pressures revolved around going to school, getting a job, and having enough money to go out on the weekends, now... now, as I'm approaching 30, the pressure is centered on having babies and buying houses. Owning your own house is the hallmark of stability, financial responsibility, and general grown-up-ness these days.  I have many friends who have made that happen, and I couldn't be happier for them.  It's not for us, though.  Not right now.  Honestly, a small part of me is glad that we are not in a position to buy.  I am an adult.  I am responsible. But I do not feel ready to take on the obligation that is owning a house.  I know what you're going to say.  "Equity!" "Independence!" "Security!"  I hear you.  We'll get there some day.

For now, I am in love with our quaint little rental.  You can never really "own" the things that matter, anyway. Evening walks, the smell of bacon sizzling on a Sunday morning, warm bodies to snuggle up with at night - these things are mine, with or without the mortgage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Longest Run (part 2)

Alternative title: 26.2 thoughts on my first marathon.




I woke up at 4:30 to start the pre-run coffee/breakfast/bathroom routine, and we were out the door by 5:15.  We walked a mile to the start line, I used a porta-potty (no lines!), kissed the husband goodbye, and took my place near the 5:30 pace group to await the start.  I fought the urge to cry for no good reason, really.  It was one of those long anticipated moments, finally arrived - and yet, I still couldn't wrap my head around the reality that I would actually be running 26 miles.  Luckily I didn't have much time to stew before the horn signaled the start of the race.



1.  First mile!  Here we go!  Why do I already feel tired?  I'm not going to turn on my music for a while so I can soak this in.  How funny that I feel like a crazy person for doing this, but here I am, surrounded by more than 2,000 other crazy people!

2. Definitely feeling tired.  Probably the ~4 hours of sleep I got last night.  I need a distraction until the endorphins kick in.  NPR podcasts to the rescue! I catch a glimpse of the leaders after they round the first bend - how do they make it look so effortless?

3. It's kind of eerie, running in the pre-dawn light with the coastal fog rolling in, on streets with no cars. 

4. Time for my first Gu.  Espresso Love, I've been looking forward to you allllll morning.

5. Bacon.  Mile 5 smells like bacon.  Did they really need to have the course run behind so many good-smelling restaurants?

6. Gay For Good is running a water stop, so I take a mini break and say a sincere thank you to the volunteers. I spend the rest of the mile reflecting on how, out of all the various communities I have belonged to throughout my life - Catholic, ex-patriot, student, etc - the only two in which I have ever felt completely comfortable and accepted are the gay community and the running community.  I am so grateful for both.



7.  At this point I start doing funny mental math just to pass the time.  At 6 miles I was 23% done with the race.  7 miles,  26ish%.  Once I get to 8 miles I'll be almost a third of the way through!

8.  HELLO endorphins!  I was wondering when you were going to kick in!   With a runners high in full effect, I spend the mile running along the beach breathing the ocean air deeply and blinking back grateful tears for the beauty of nature and the joy of running (told you I was high).  I take my second Gu and pick up the pace, possibly a bit too fast.

9. Still feeling awesome.  Take a moment to appreciate the spectators along the beach with funny signs, including "run faster, I just farted," and, "hurry up, I have a Bronco game to watch!"

10.  This was a really fun stretch. At the mile market there was a big "30th Anniversary" balloon arch, tables upon tables with all sorts of food and beverages, and amazing loud support from the crowd.  I turned off my podcast and soaked it in for a while.

11. Heading inland now, no more ocean view.  The little beach houses are super cute though. I spend the mile pondering what annual income I would need to afford to life on the California coast.

12. I become very focused on getting to Cal State Long Beach, where I'll cross the 20 mile mark.  26.2 still seems impossibly long and my little brain refuses to accept it, but I know for a fact that I can do 20.  I pop a few Gu chomps.

13.  Half way point!  Why do so many men run practically naked?  I ponder why it would not be socially acceptable for men to wear sports bras, even though some of them have serious jiggling going on and would probably be more comfortable with some support.

14.  Only 12 miles to go... that's less than halfway... no big deal... oh look!  The bay!  Running next to water is so much better.  I turn on my AMR podcasts and listen to funny Ragnar anecdotes for a while.

15. Now we have entered the part of Long Beach that looks like the Inland Empire.  Not pretty, but also, familiar and oddly comforting.  I wave obnoxiously and smile at drivers, who don't look amused that the streets are still closed for the race.


16. Cal State finally comes into view!  As promised, I hear the cheering crowds of students before I even reach the campus.  I take my 3rd Gu, high five some wrestlers, and dole out plenty of "thank you"s to the phenomenal students, who by this point have been standing out there cheering for hours.

17.  Remembering the last time I was on this campus, for a state speech and debate competition in 2002.  I reflect on how far I've come, from that obese high-school kid who lied to get out of PE, didn't know how to commit to or work hard for anything, and whiled away every waking hour on the phone or playing video games.  Get teary again, thinking about humanity and our boundless potential for change.

18. The clouds have finally burned off and now the sun is intense.  I take 3 cups of water at the next stop, and dump two over my head.  It helps.

19.  Hot.  No shade.  We're running around the perimeter of the campus which is less distracting.  I start noticing some pain in my knee and groin, and hope it doesn't get worse.  I take a few more Gu Chomps, earlier than planned.

20.  We're leaving the campus now, and mentally I'm in a bad place.  It's funny, how fast things can shift.  My body doesn't feel different, but my mood is suddenly depressed.  6.2 miles isn't much compared to the 20 I've already run, but it seems practically impossible. I decide to turn off the podcasts and crank up the music.  Eye of the Tiger may or may not have been repeated several times.



21. Seriously contemplate jumping into every police car or ambulance that I pass and asking for a ride back to the hotel.

22.  Feeling better now.  Body hurts, but with only 4 miles left, I am fairly certain that I'm not going to die.  This gives me more confidence, and my spirits lift a little.  I focus on my music and plow ahead.

23.  I've been walking for 30 seconds - 1 minute for every mile since I started, but now when I walk the pain when I start running again is excruciating, so I just keep running.  Most people are walking, so I am passing people left and right.  Confidence is rising.  I suck down my final Gu.

24.  Out of nowhere, I feel a little pep in my step.  I keep repeating "2 miles.  I can do anything for 2 miles."  While earlier in the race I kept thinking about doing a second marathon some day, now I'm not so sure.  I ponder how similar marathons are to childbirth - the pain is good, cleansing, productive, but also so intense that it is slightly traumatizing, and it will be a while before I can think about doing it again.

25.  Almost there!  ALMOST THERE!  I feel like I'm running fast right now, but I know it's a shuffle at best.  Still, I'm passing almost everyone, and have to weave in and out.  The half marathoners are with us (and have been for a while, but I wasn't paying attention).  One old man cruises past me, looks back, and yells, "Vamanos!" so I pick up the pace and pass him.  This makes me smile.

26.  The 26 mile marker sneaks up before I know it.  Right before we get to it another marathoner yells, "there's the turn to the finish!  Right up there!"  I don't believe him.  I am preparing myself for the last .2 to feel like an eternity.  But suddenly...

.2. I'm in the chute, and it's over.  I might have cried if I were less dehydrated. Someone hands me a medal and a bag full of snacks, and I'm guided towards the exit with crowds of other wasted, sweaty runners.




I got to come home to my biggest fan (and my second biggest fan - my Mama!) which made the experience even more magical.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.

Was it worth the months of early wakeups and hot summer training runs?  Without a doubt, yes.

Was I satisfied with my time?  Yes.  I am competitive by nature, and it really is hard for me to be involved in an activity where I know, in no uncertain terms, that I will never come in first.  Or 10th.  Or even 100th.  I am always fighting against my childish inner monologue that says, "If I can't be the best, then why bother?"  Running is humbling, which is one of the reasons I love it so much.  When I'm freed from the need to win, I can look around and appreciate the journey.  My time of 5:23:50 was exactly what I trained for, and I am incredibly proud of myself for running a strategic race, acing my nutrition, staying hydrated, and finishing strong.

Will I do it again?  Most definitely.  I can't promise when, though.  I don't see myself doing more than one per year, and with a young family (that is hopefully not done growing yet) I do not know if I'll be training at this time next year.  But whether it's two or three or 10 years down the road, I guarantee I will see the starting line of another 26.2 one day.

Thanks for indulging me, friends  :)  I promise my next post will be on a different topic!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Longest Run (part 1)


Last week, I ran a marathon.



I wrote a (too) long post with the play-by-play that I will put up later, but for now, I just need to put it out in the universe in writing.  I haven't processed it yet.  It doesn't feel real to me.

Maybe there were too many emotions, too many highs and lows, to put into words?

Maybe I can't believe that I voluntarily put myself through that much pain?

Maybe I can't accept that,  hard as it was, as long and difficult as the training was, that it's all over?




So much preparation, anticipation, eagerness/dread, Gus and sunblock, sweat and tears, worn down shoes, and so, so many early mornings... all in the past now.  My first marathon.  I'll never get it back.

(Typing this, I realize it sounds like I lost my virginity. Funny, since during the race I couldn't stop comparing the mental game and various unpleasant physical sensations to childbirth).

Six days later and I can finally walk down the stairs normally. I still have a sharp pain in my right foot now and then, but it is fading every day. I have slept 8-9 hours every night this week, a rarity for me.  And I have been eating, everything, like it's my job.  Life goes on.  I am recovering.



I am thinking a lot, too. Thinking about that 240lb girl who, just 9 years ago, would get winded walking across the parking lot. So many years spent miserable, misdirecting my energy, filling voids with food, not realizing that feeling good in your body means much more than a pair of jeans that fit. It means nourishing yourself, not feeding yourself.  It means activity, not exercise. Doing what you love, not what you are obligated to do. Turning your passion and pain and energy into forward motion instead of standing still and letting it burn you up from within.



I did not discover these things through running. Knowledge and a willingness to change led me to running, and running has taught me to embrace all the best parts of myself.

My mantra over the last 6 miles:  Fearless. Free. Grateful.


Floating!!  And passing the guys, because I can   :)






Always grateful