And for once I was SuperMom

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back in the saddle (or shoe) again.

The moment I hit the dirt in South Africa I got sick. I haven’t been this sick in years. You know those little mucus monsters on the commercials (I usually duck behind a pillow and let Scott tell me when they’re off the screen)? They have taken up residence in my face. I have the type of cold that leaves you sitting on the couch most of the day wondering where your normal amount of energy went. In these past few weeks a friend lent me a book called Born to Run. The author tracks down a legendary tribe in Mexico that runs 100 mile races just for fun. All the time. Like it’s no big deal. The crux of this book is that we were all born to run and the enjoyment of it comes from doing it correctly and having an intrinsic love of it. Reading this while you have a face full of little green monsters is a large booty biting irony.
I have run since I was about twelve years old. I think I was the only person on my lacrosse team that actually ran the miles that our coach assigned us. I am slow, but I like it. I love that moment where your hips fall into line, into that easy sway. I love that moment where your breathing eases and becomes rhythmic, finding that beat with your footfalls. I love the open road, that endless possibility. I love going somewhere on my feet. That’s how you get to know a place through running, walking or hiking. Not from behind the stale glass of a car. Whenever I am on vacation and I can I run. Whenever I go back to a place I have lived I re-visit my running paths. I say hello to my old friend, the prairie path, or that patch of beach, or those curves in that neighborhood road.
A fear that I had was that after I had a kid I would have to stop running. I’ve seen so many of my friend’s exercise lives stolen by that sweet little tot that they gave birth to. Seen lots of excuses pop up. Gyms with day care are expensive. I don’t have time. Jog strollers are too expensive. Yada, yada, yada. Still, though, I was scared.
Some time ago in a far away mind set I used to get up at six am and go running. At first it was hard, but then eventually I knew that the extra fifteen minutes of guilt ridden sleep did not add up and that I might as well just get up and pound the pavement. I loved those days; you started the day feeling healthy, alive and well. They died when I was about six weeks pregnant and morning sickness set in. I tried to run through a bit of my pregnancy. I ran a 10k at fifteen weeks pregnant and then hung up my running shoes because with that big of a belly it just felt wrong. I switched to walking and had to talk myself through it, it’s okay to walk, it’s still exercise. I was back in my running shoes four weeks post-partum. The other I went out and just kept going, when I got home I had been running for about 50 minutes, it seems that I am back. I have yet to start the six am routine, four wakeups in the middle of the night really puts a downer on your get and go in the morning.
There is always that line with being sick where you cross over from feeling like a bedridden invalid, that tired place where you decide that you’d better sit this one out, and then finally that place where you decide that you will feel less sick if you dive back into your normal daily activities. Monday was that day for me there were two milestones. Scott is running a wilderness training right now and I have realized the only way for me to get any exercise is to do it before he leaves. So I did it, I ran at seven thirty. Not quite six, but still it counts. I only ran for twenty five minutes, but still it counts. It hurt, but still it counts.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jack Frost is nipping at my nose...

And about everywhere else for that matter. The coldest I have ever been in my life has been in Australia and South Africa. Not Chicago. Not Colorado. Not Wisconsin. Not Michigan. And not Minnesota. Australia. And South Africa. Strange, you think, because those are hot countries. Yes for most of the year. But for about two to three months they do actually have winter. Their winter is in our summer months of June and July. And often during the day it can heat right back up to livable temperatures. During the night however it can drop below freezing.
As we drove away from the airport on the Sunday night that we landed I could feel the cold soak into me through the car window. I started doing mental lists of the clothing I had for Emma and for myself. Would we be warm enough? Our Kenyan wardrobes full of short sleeves and sandals may not cut it here. I kept telling myself don’t worry because tomorrow might be warm. In Kenya the nights can be cold, but you can almost count on the days warming up.
When we got to the house the bitter snap that greeted us indoors was an unwelcome shock. I quickly buried my child in as many blankets as we brought. I told my husband that I was going to shower to warm up. The plan was to get nice and hot and then jump in bed. This was a severe miscalculation. The open shower, which would have been in nice in 80 degree weather was torture in near freezing temperatures. And all the windows were open. We disbelievingly slammed them all shut and I threw on my sweatpants and a t-shirt and jumped into bed, my tank tops and shorts that I had been sleeping in surely weren’t going to cut it here.
The next day proved no warmer. I have spent the last few weeks not being able to feel my feet or my fingers. Emma cries when I change her diaper or clothes because I’m sure having your warm behind wiped by human icicles isn’t the most comfortable. Even Scott yelps when I press my cold hand into the small of his back. To which I usually respond, ‘Take me somewhere warm.’ I’m sure this only strengthens our marriage.
I remember the cold in Australia being a shock as well. One of the places we stayed in had one heating unit right next to the toilet, right next to your legs. I sat on that toilet for as long as I could muster until my right thigh was practically on fire. Because that was the warmest I had been in weeks.
You see the houses are not air tight, there is no insulation, and there is no central heating. Even though there is much talk about weatherizing your house our houses are practically hermetically sealed compared to much of the rest of the world. In countries like Australia and South Africa where it is only cold for a few months or weeks of the year insulation and heating is unnecessary and expensive. So during the night the cold air soaks into the walls and stays in, chilling you inside, even though it might warm outside. Here you just have to dress in layers all the time and find yourself under a blanket for as much time as you can. The only time I have felt completely warm has been in bed, under about four blankets and in newly purchased flannel pajamas. (A word about the pajamas; I never wear the top and bottom of those uber unsexy flannel, 'I got them for Christmas from Aunt Nelda' pajamas. Not that I am opposed to unsexy sleepwear, I am just usually too hot. Pun not intended. I've been wearing them here, and layering them. That's right LAYERING. Not cool underarmor, keep yourself warm camping layering, no, wearing an old maternity tank top underneath, grandma style layering. Ma would be so proud.)
Being this cold in such ‘warm’ places, warm industrialized countries has made be think about how we function as a nation. Even my homes in Southern California, where it rarely drops below sixty degrees, had central heating. Was that really necessary? I was never this cold in California. Will I die if I have to watch TV in a sixty degree home? Not likely. Even in a place like Phoenix the houses are airtight and have some kind of air conditioning or heating. Don’t get me wrong an airtight house is a good thing. If the houses here were weatherized it would much warmer, but since in much of the year you would like the cool breeze they don’t bother. It just makes me wonder, how much money and resources are we using because we don’t want to be uncomfortable?

Monday, June 21, 2010

There's no place like home...

In all the places I have been I always struggle to make something look like something else. I usually try to make it look like California, which is my own personal promised land, my land of milk and honey. Not everything in this world looks like California. I am always slightly at a loss how every place looks like it’s own special place. No matter how hard I try to make stuff fit in my California shaped box, if I’m honest with myself I can’t really.
Australia, to me, looked like some cross of Europe and California. One area looked a bit like Carmel, with more European houses. Another looked like Santa Monica with more cosmopolitan shops. But really if I was true to Australia, it really just looked like Australia.
South Africa, to me, looks like some strange amalgamation of California and Kenya. Those hills look the hills around Camarillo and Paso Robles except instead of oaks on top they have flat topped acacias. The shopping malls look like something you’d find in Orange County, except somehow they are distinctly South African. I don’t know that I can really place a finger on what makes them particularly South African, maybe it’s that they store right next to the one that looks like Pac Sun is selling biltong and not extraordinarily fattening cinnamon rolls. The clothing in the department stores looks like the clothing in our department stores but something is not quite right maybe it’s because the pots of body butter are flavored with rooibos and marula berry and not green tea and citrus. And the ants here are the color of yellow raisins and not the sun-dried black of the American ones.
Driving down one of the Motorways in England I was reminded of the American mid-west, except every now and then their rolling hills would be cut by stone fence, a paddock for sheep. Other things would break up my comparison; the cars were smaller, the billboards were hung parallel to the road and the dollar signs were replaced with the more fluted pound sign, and the truck stops felt distinctly, I don’t know, European. I suppose they weren’t truck stops, probably had a cuter name.
With globalization everything is growing more and more similar, a lot of the plants that I grew up looking at are present here in Kenya and South Africa. Bougainvillea, birds of paradise, bottlebrush trees, eucalyptus (which belong to Australia), so our uniqueness is growing smaller. Still we remain quite different. I don’t know why I have the compulsion to compare every land that I visit to the place where I grew up. Maybe it’s the call of our hearts for home. May be it’s my attempt to connect my increasing placeless-ness to the place where I grew up.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

See you later...

Written while sitting in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and I discovered that I was twirling my hair...
This time around I haven’t said goodbye. I am not really sure why. I don’t know if I have been so focused on the practical matters of life that I haven’t had time to see past closing up bank accounts and packing bags to hug my hugs and say my goodbyes.
I think I’ve moved too much. My heart is tired of bonding quickly, finding similarities, sharing joys and living life and then having to pack up my relationships in a TSA approved bag and say goodbye. Connecting with people and discovering that I really connect and then never seeing them again.
This time is even harder.
I was teasing a pregnant friend about naming her daughter a name that Scott and I had considered for a future child. In her matter of fact way she said,
“Are our children ever going to know each other?” She’s right. If they move to the states they are going to Texas. Not California. Not Colorado. Not even Chicago. None of the places that my life seems to orbit. It stung, not that she said it, or even the way she said but because it’s the truth. They won’t.
One of my best friends from college twirls her hair in a particular way. Around her ring finger. The tendril will whip around in a peculiar helicopter like fashion. When I am very deep in thought I will find myself fwipping my hair around my ring finger as if my thoughts are going to propeller me right off the ground.
I have a friend in Nairobi that’s from Myrtle Beach. When I am around her I find myself fighting back the urge to imitate her bright southern accent. An accent that makes you think, ‘Yes I will have a set down on the veranda and drink a mint julep.’ (And she is probably cringing right now as she reads that.) It is exactly her fault that when I greet my daughter with a big grin and say, ‘Sweet girl!’ I am hearing the way she does it in my head with her belled voice.
I think that’s problem, this time around I am realizing that these people make an imprint on me. I pick up their mannerisms, I appropriate their sayings. Scott and I have stories that encompass their lives. We were there for the birth of their kids, they were there for Emma’s birth. Friends before were there for my college graduation. Were there to watch me walk down the aisle. And now so many of them aren’t a presence in my life, except for the occasional Facebook status change.
Three Saturdays ago we moved from our apartment into our friends the Nipper’s house. Keturah hugged me that night on her way out the door, and as she did she said, ‘See you later.’ As I saw her profile as she let go of our hug I realized, ‘oh, that was goodbye.’ Now I know why she said, ‘see you later,’ some of us have said goodbye too much.
So to all those in Nairobi that are reading this, ‘See you later.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I bake to relax

I bake to relax. I have noticed this in the past few weeks as the stress in my life has ramped up; more cupcakes, cookies, and muffins have appeared in our kitchen. Maybe it’s just because I like to eat the aftermath. As Michael Scott said, ‘you like to eat, baking is just a preamble to eating.’
One thing that I have been thankful for is because we had to provide our own housing we did get to buy our own things, including our own stove/oven. Homes in Kenya do not come furnished with a range or an oven. You have to provide them for yourself. So we bought our own cooker with an electric oven, big enough to fit a cookie sheet in, and I have benefited from it for the last two years. Our Rosslyn friends that live on campus have cookers provided for them, so I have been using my friend’s Rosslyn issue oven. It’s gas. I have never used a gas oven before.
Earlier this week I decided that I needed to bake, I’ve been thinking about Peanut Butter Cup cupcakes. These needed to happen. Before I started I eyed the oven. The temperature gauge on the oven does not have degrees on it. It goes from Little Flame to Big Flame, and most of the Big Flame is worn off. So this oven goes from Little Flame to Flame of Indiscriminate Size. Also this oven does not get just turned on, you have to light it. I asked my next door neighbor, Jessica, how to do this. She laughed and her husband asserted that it still scares him every time he does it. Awesome. She showed me that you turn the knob with the flames on it which opens up the gas and you stick the match in this little hole down in the bottom of the oven. A perfect recipe for blowing off your eyebrows. Jessica did show me that inside the oven there was a thermometer.
I made the peanut butter cake batter with chocolate chips and lit the oven, without blowing off any body or facial hair. I let it pre-heat, to 500 degrees. Big Flame. I turned it towards the Little Flame and thought about leaving the door open, I didn’t because I thought that make the temperature drop too much. It ‘cooled’ to about 200 degrees. I turned it up towards the Big Flame. ‘Heated’ to about 400 degrees. Okay, I get it, we just have to keep adjusting and checking. I may never get a nice a 350 but it looks like I’ll pass in on the way to the bank. Popped the cakes and on to the frosting.
In my head I had pictured rich peanut butter cakes and creamy dark chocolate frosting. I squished the softened butter into the bowl and pulled out my friends hand mixer to cream it until it was in pain. Her mixer had a European plug. The sockets are African. Our converters are hidden somewhere in the five massive already packed pieces of luggage that have taken up the Nipper’s playroom. Through a miracle of God I had a hunch that one was in a backpack, and there it was a blessed little multi-national plug. I got everything all plugged and fired it up. Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, and it stopped. The plug was loose. I walked away for a few moments. Came back and decided that my miraculous multi-national plug maybe wasn’t so miraculous, so I tried holding the plug in place with one hand while mixing with the other hand. I fiddled with this semi-dangerous situation for a few minutes. I had to walk away again. Eventually I found the sweet spot and the mixer cooperated. This was odd because I had borrowed this mixer before and it never gave me a problem.
I followed a recipe that called for adding melted unsweetened baking chocolate to a vanilla butter cream. I dutifully melted some Cadbury baking chocolate and blended it into the frosting. I do know the difference between levels of chocolate: milk, sweetened, unsweetened. I have subbed them out in various recipes with varying degrees of success. Unsweetened chocolate isn’t available here. This recipe wasn’t kidding when it wanted unsweetened chocolate. I had to triple the amount of chocolate (which meant three different times that I melted chocolate and beat it into the frosting) and only achieved a middling brown color, not the dark velvet that I had envisioned.
As you can see the bottom of this little cake shows you that my varying degrees in the oven did not perfectly cook my cupcakes. They are done, too done. I think I saw 350 degrees once in the ten times that I checked the oven and turned from Big Flame to Little Flame. To all my friends who bake regularly with a gas oven, you are the burliest of bakers, the caber tossers of strong men, the ‘I hiked the AT all by myself’ of backpackers, I salute you.
Of course through all this I was manning my child who is in a ‘HOLD ME AT ALL TIMES’ phase. I would pick her up, plop her on the kitchen floor at my feet with some toy or safe kitchen accoutrement only to have her fumble it around for a few moments, whining all the time until I gave up, picked her up and tried, unsuccessfully to do whatever I was doing one handed. Oh, she also hates the sound of the mixer. Hates it. Screams. In total it took me three hours to achieve Peanut Butter Cup cupcakes, but I did and they were good. And now I will SIT DOWN to eat one.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week One

Yesterday marked the completion of my first week as a stay-at-home mom. Friday was my last day of school for a long time. Now this was an unusual week because we moved over the weekend and we are staying in a house that is not our own. It's hard to process what my life will really be like as a SAHM because these are slightly unusual circumstances. I am also still in Kenya, and my career as a SAHM will be largely in the US.
I have put together a few thoughts on what my life will be like and things to do to keep myself from going crazy, and promises to make to myself (which I will have to watch to not beat myself up when I break them).
The First Observation: I haven't had a full length mirror in my home for three years. Keturah (the matriarch of the house we are staying in) has one planted right at the end of her main hallway. What have a noticed from this: NONE OF MY CLOTHES FIT ME. Because of what handwashing and line-drying does to clothes here most of them are faded and pulled in wierd places. Also because of my developing nation diet and nursing I am one size smaller. As another friend stated, 'A great problem to have.' So I need new clothes. I think to myself, 'what is my new look going to be?' I already post-partum freaked out on my hair and cut it off. I realise that my work wardrobe doesn't really work anymore (baby food on pin-stripe trousers, not so much), so what am I going to wear so that I don't feel like a sweatpant wearing schlub all the time? I can't shop yet, so I find myself salivating over and I think that I will avoid the t-shirt and maybe invest in these new-fangled camp shirts that they have now...
Second Observation: I can't do everything every day. If I do laundry every single day I will feel like I AM ALWAYS DOING LAUNDRY. I think I'm going to have to go pioneer on this one, I love Laura Ingalls Wilder and her mom had days; washing day, baking day, laundry day, etc. I think that I am going to have to do that, Monday is shopping day. Tuesday is baking day. Wednesday is laundry day. Or else I will spend all day spinning.
Third Observation: I need to enjoy my baby. She is at the stage where she wants to be held all the time. Especially when Scott leaves the house. So instead of rushing around trying to bake while she is making whining noises while playing, because she'd rather be held. I should just put baking on hold, wait till she's napping, and HOLD HER. This occured to me while running, she's not going to want to be held forever. I should enjoy this cuddly stage now, because when she's a crazy toddler I am going to miss this tiny, sweet, cute, 'I need you and can openly express it,' snuggly stage.
Fourth Observation: Today is Saturday, a day off. I already went grocery shopping, will clean the kitchen and am hosting a friend of Scott's. I don't get days off anymore. I need to take moments off. After I got home from shopping instead of rushing around to put groceries away I sat down. I took my reward cup of coffee, sat down at the computer, window shopped online, and wrote this blog.
There it is, my first week 'not working' anymore. But, oh, how much work it was.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving on up...

We have left our old apartment, we have made the transfer. The first move in our trek home. We are now mooching off of our friends (the Nippers) hospitality and staying in their home that they have abandoned for the summer. In two weeks we go to South Africa for six weeks (no, not for the world cup).
Moving internationally is a strange feeling; it’s like a going out of business sale. Everything must go!!! All the things that you would just keep and load into a Uhaul we have to sell or give away. If it doesn’t fit into a suitcase it’s not going home with us. Then there are all the little things that you would just shove in the corner of some box or basket and take with you, like a half-empty container of Q-tips, if I was moving across town I would take it with me. I’m not taking a half empty box of Q-tips across the world with me. It must go.
Our stuff left our apartment in shifts, on Thursday our friends from Tanari came and took our refrigerator, stove/oven, and television as well as all our Tupperware and baking dishes. No more cooking for a few days. On Friday Rosslyn came and took all the furniture that they had lent us for the two years; an extra bed, our love seat, a chair, three small tables and a bookshelf. Then on Saturday people that had bought the rest of our furniture came and got it throughout the day. Our bed to the librarian at school. Emma’s crib to some fellow missionaries, pregnant with their third. Our couch, Emma’s dresser, and the dining room table (that was brought from England and had been in Scott family for a few generations) to a doctor we had met through a connection at Rosslyn.
Those three days were spent in an odd kind of limbo with things slowly disappearing from our home. We ate out for almost every meal. Our clothes started to throw themselves out of dressers and onto the floor. Gaps developed in our house as furniture disapeared.
On Saturday we said goodbye to the Nipper’s and took up space in their home. We reveled in the use of their washer and dryer, we felt like we were on vacation because we could have hot showers with water pressure. Hot water came right out of the tap, we no longer have to boil water to wash dishes.
On Sunday we woke and starting trying to ‘organize’ our life. This was hard considering that the places where all our clothes and food would go already had, rightfully so, our friends things in them. I spun about the house trying to figure out to put order to our piles of stuff and bags belongings. I stood with a pile of my clean clothes in next to the master bed and I thought to myself, what if? I leaned over and carefully opened one of their dresser drawers, something I had been so careful not to do…
“Scott, they cleaned out their dressers for us!” I was so excited, I could put something away. I could make a little bit of sense of our lives. I could put away something, just for a little while…