Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Visit MASC's blog Mixed Space!

Hello friends!  I'm just popping in to mention that another blog post of mine is being featured on Mixed Space, a blog by Multi-Racial Americans of Southern California (MASC).  Click over to check it out!

Mixed Space - Big Hair by Kathleen Ojo

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An ending; a beginning.

Oh, 2014, you were a banner year in so many ways.

In 2013 I learned a lesson on acceptance, and vowed to approach 2014 with humility, focusing less on what I already know/am/have and more on how I can do/be better.  Somehow, by February, this sentiment evolved into hard determination.  I was ready to stop making excuses for myself, stop telling myself that I'm fine the way I am, that there's nothing I can do to change things, that I am willing to take opportunities but only if they come up and knock on my door.  I threw caution to the wind and started betting heavy on myself, putting myself out there fearlessly and trying to make things happen.

And things did happen. I am ending 2014 in a place very different, physically and mentally, from where I began.

My goals for 2014 were modest.  I wanted to finish my MBA, and I did.  I wanted to earn a certification in Toastmasters, and I did not, but I made good progress.  I kept this little blog going.  I wanted to PR in a distance, and I did, and also exceeded my wildest dreams for the year by training for and running the Long Beach Marathon.

Can 2015 get any better?  Honestly, I doubt it.  The coming year is going to be a different one for me, I think.  My primary goal is to be less goal-oriented.  Ha!  Hear me out, though.  My theme for the coming year, the word I choose to be my mantra and guide and point of reflection, is: MINDFUL.

Through all the wonderful things that I've experienced this year, I've still had a vague feeling of uneasiness.  It's hard to put a finger on it, exactly, but its a sense that maybe I'm missing out on some of the best parts of my own life.  Living it, but not feeling it to the fullest extent.  I suspect this might have something to do with how immersed I have become in technology.  Necessarily so, for the most part - my job revolves around software and computers, one of my primary hobbies is keeping up this blog, and I really do enjoy capturing moments and sharing my life via social media.  Still, it is easy to feel unbalanced, living this way.  Feeling like my closest human connections involve a keyboard, and that I'm living life through the lens of my iPhone.

I'm not setting hard and fast goals here, not saying I will put my phone down for x hours every day, or only check Facebook so many times a week.  Instead, I aim to be mindful of how technology permeates my life.  That might mean unplugging more often, or stopping before I check a friend's profile and consider if that's really the best way to get in touch with them.  This isn't a quantitative goal that can be measured, but it is the theme by which I choose to live this year.  Connect.  Consider.  Be more involved with my tangible life, instead of my life on the screen.

Good enough?  Not really.  Being me, I can't let it go without laying out a few things I intend to work on in 2015.  Those are:

1.  Participate in a speech competition through Toastmasters.  I did competitive speech in high school and was pretty good at it, but didn't have the discipline, maturity, or support to take it to another level.  I want to give competitive public speaking another shot this year, not necessarily with the goal to win, but just to see if I can discipline myself to practice and prepare well enough to bring my best performance to a competition.

2. Join a professional organization and/or start working on a professional certification.  Sub goal: kick ass at my job.  After so many years of floundering and exploring, I finally understand where my strengths are and what I want to do with my life.  My current job is a step in the right direction.  I just need, once again, discipline and mindfulness to grow and make the most of it.

3. Celebrate my 30th birthday in the best physical shape of my life.  I've come to really understand my body in the last year - I know what kinds of exercise give me the best results, and I know how to eat in a sustainable, satisfying and healthy way.  I have the tools, and I intend to put them to use in the next few months. Training for another half marathon PR, strength training 2-3x per week, and regular early morning P90X3 sessions combined with a simplified, paleo-esque diet should get me where I want to be when I usher in a new decade of my life.

Mindfulness is the thread connecting all these things. I intend to simplify this year, and be mindful of how I spend both my money and my energy.  I will devote more of myself to creating experiences rather than making/collecting stuff.  I will turn down the noise, literally and figuratively, and seek substantive connection with my loved ones instead of knowing them primarily through their status updates.  I will actively cherish and nurture my family, while mentally and physically preparing myself for the changes that lie ahead (another little Ojo maybe?  Not yet, but soon we hope).

I will be mindful of how I spend my time, cognizant that every minute gone is a minute of precious life that I will never get back.

Happy New Year to you and yours.  Go make memories.

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...



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


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.


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.